Today has been a tough day, emotionally.
Twenty three years ago today I made a vow before God and about 100 family and friends to take James as my husband, to have and to hold from that day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and health, till death do us part.
Those are some serious promises. Better, worse, richer and poorer, sickness and health have all been part of these 23 years. Honestly, most of it has been hard. We weren’t a very likely match at 19 and 21. He from the big city, me from a small town. His dad a pharmacist, mine a log truck driver. We met in a child development class, taking pre-reqs for nursing. He hated it. I loved it. He had long hair and torn jeans and loved Journey. I was on fire for Jesus after having decided to heed the call to follow him a year previous at 16. He was raised as a Catholic, but more as tradition than devotion and by his teen years religion was not on his radar at all. He had already been in a very serious relationship and at it’s end decided to move to Roseburg, Oregon from Phoenix, Arizona to take his dad up on his offer to pay for college as long as he lived at his house. I had never had a true boyfriend. I liked a couple of different boys, but that’s about as far as it went. One guy from my youth group at church was really trying to win me, but I thought of him as a good friend and not a boyfriend or potential husband. And then I met James.
We had a few conversations during the breaks at our evening child development class at Umpqua Community College. He teased and asked me to share my chocolate cake and wondered what kind of music I liked. I thought he was handsome and talked about my favorite Christian artists and invited him to church. He came. He met my family, played basketball with my dad and brother, went to the beach and camping with my friends while I worked as a C.N.A. at an Alzheimer’s facility, and on Easter Sunday he wrote me a love note. I would say we started dating after that, but it really wasn’t dating. In fact, I think we only went on maybe one or two “dates” before we were married. Most of our time together was spent at either my house or his dad’s house, church or after work talks.
I was head over heels for James almost immediately after we became an official couple, but because of my convictions as a Christian, my relationship with him between April of ’92 and September of ’93 was stormy and full of indecision, conviction, guilt and desire. I knew, after 8 months of hanging out with each other that we did not share the same desires in life, but the desire to be with him and the dream of being married and on my own and having my own family overtook my conviction that we were not heading the same direction in life. Storming around my dreams, desires and convictions, the emotions of that time made it very hard to discern what I just wrote. If you were to have asked me then how I felt about James and marrying him, I would have said I loved him and believed we would grow together. I was naive to say the least. On Christmas of 1992, the same year I graduated from high school, James proposed to me and I accepted. On Labor Day of 1993 we were married at the church I grew up in.
In the past 23 years we both have come face to face with the reality that we want different things in life. Through 2 separations and the birth of 2 sons we’re still married. I’m sure that means something different to him than it means to me.
Over these 23 years I’ve learned that life is not about me, it’s not about my marriage, it’s about Christ. The trials and fires of this unequally bound relationship have caused me to wrestle with God, ask hard questions, face hard answers and no answers, and come to grips with what I really believe. I believe I can’t really know who I am, or why I am or what marriage is, or how relationships work best until I know God in Christ. I believe marriage is his creation and has little to do with romance and anniversary presents and wedding rings and much to do with displaying how Christ has self-sacrificingly and faithfully loved his people.
I believe happiness in marriage ebbs and flows. I believe in toughing it out when everyone says you shouldn’t stay in a marriage where you’re not happy. Every married person is not happy with their partner at some point. It’s inevitable. We’re human.
I met a couple at work the other day who have been married 59 years. While talking with them about the significance of that, the wife said she didn’t believe it was good to stay married if you weren’t happy. I was taken back. Here was an 80 something year old woman who had endured 59 years with a real man (not a contrived romantic ideal as seen on t.v.) telling me a person who isn’t happy shouldn’t stay married. In my surprise I asked, “I bet you’re glad you didn’t give up on this marriage when you weren’t happy somewhere in those 59 years or you wouldn’t be sharing with me the achievement of being married this long?” She conceded and admitted there were unhappy times, but that they were too broke to afford a divorce then. She was glad of that now.
We’ve looked divorce in the eye a couple of times in these 23 years, I’d be lying if I didn’t say those eyes were alluring and I still catch a seductive glance from them now and then. I can’t say with pride that I’m a woman of my word and I made a vow and I’m going to keep it. Nor can I say that I am doing it for the kids or grinning and bearing it. So what’s keeping us together? I can’t speak for James, but for me, it’s love. Real love. The kind that is happy to make the beloved happy and hurts when the beloved hurts. The kind that endures brokenness and offense and strives for forgiveness and reconciliation because it wants to be close to the beloved. I wouldn’t know this kind of love were it not for Christ. I’ve looked around and have seen a few other examples of “love” in the world. None compare to the love of Christ. And his love is in me. And I love James. It’s that love that binds that vow I made before God through every minute of every year with him like flesh and bone and vessels. We were James Dougal and Sheila Deane. And God made us one. We are bound to each other through this life and it’s the love of Christ that binds.
With all that in my heart every day, I woke up today and faced the hard reality of Sundays: I love to gather with Christ’s local church and worship him together and receive his heralded word and my husband does not. And, at this point, neither do my kids. My oldest is more vocal and defiant about it right now. My youngest goes cause he wants to be with mom. This is a deep ache in my heart that spurns a constant pleading with God for salvation to come to this house.
So it was an emotional day. My husband worked in the yard. Connor metal detected for coins in the yard. Ryland worked on a school project. My eyes were heavy with hot tears all day and they spilled out a lot while I sang to Jesus at church and drove between errands alone. I read a Psalm today that defines what I long for in this 23 year old unlikely marriage and precious family:
Oh magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together! -Psalm 34:11
Hello. I’m married to an unbeliever, and I was searching for something read about what the Bible said about being unequally yoked. I stumbled upon your article from desiringGod.com (“Christians Never Suffer Alone”), then I went on to your blog and read “An Unlikely 23 Years”, and then “ Still Seek to Win Him”. I’m in the closet, reading and ugly crying and praising God at the same time, and I just felt a release of burden; a burst of energy; that everything is going to be okay. Having read your story (and you took the words right out of my mouth. Everything is, yes, yes, yes) helped looked at my marriage and my husband in a fresh, new way. Thank you for sharing and breathing life into my weary soul. God is so good. He knew just what I needed hear/read. May the Good Lord continue to equip us and strengthen our faith as we walk this road.