It took a lot of faith to get in that car twenty-nine years ago, and drive seven hours to a town I’d never been to, with a boy I hadn’t known a year. It took all the faith I had to stand and face him, and take his hands, and promise before God and three strangers that I would love him the rest of my life.
I honestly can’t believe that twenty-nine whole years have gone by since we said, “I do.” That number sounds as big as a hundred to me, yet the fullness of my marriage feels much younger. But I also don’t feel 52 (about to turn 53). I feel exactly 23 years old, which happens to be the age I was when I ran off with Dave.
Someone once said that a great marriage is made up of two great forgivers. To that I say, “amen and thank you,” because Dave is the greatest forgiver I know. And that’s truly the secret to our longevity. I have had very little forgiving to do these past 29 years; the work has almost entirely been his. He is absolutely the kindest, gentlest, most patient man I’ve ever known, and I have learned the most about who Jesus is by seeing Him live through my husband. I so often wish I hadn’t made so many mistakes along the way, and if I could have a “do over,” I would take it in a second. I would go back and apply all that I’ve learned to my marriage, and my parenting, and my friendships, and all my other family relationships. I would be more loving, less selfish; quicker to say “yes,” slower to deny; less impulsive, more thoughtful and far-thinking.
We don’t get do-overs, though. We just have to take the lessons we gather and use them for today and tomorrow.
For our anniversary this year, we took a spontaneous, three-day trip to Ocean Shores. While walking with Dave along the shoreline the first day, I spied the most perfectly round, beautifully orange little rock. I picked it up and rubbed it between my fingers, and marveled at the smoothness of its edges.
I showed it to Dave and told him I was keeping it. And he said, “You should paint “29” on it.”
Yes, I should. I might. Right now, though, that little rock is in a jar on my kitchen windowsill, along with about forty other smooth-and-rounded rocks I couldn’t help collecting along that shoreline. Black rocks, gray rocks, one green rock, and a few other orange ones like the first that I found.
It took me awhile to find the orange ones. At one point, holding my ground in the surge of an incoming wave, I thought, “Just one more. I want just one more orange rock.” And right into my mind came a verse I’ve been meditating on lately, one I’ve needed a bunch. “The Lord will fight for you; you need only be still” (Exodus 14:14). Just be still, my heart heard. So I stopped where I was, and I turned to look shoreward, and as the tide drew back out, leaving me standing in its wake, I watched as one last orange rock somersaulted toward me. It skittered and rolled and tumbled right to my feet — a gift from the Author of Exodus.
As I was bending over to pick it up, a dozen thoughts hit me at once. I thought how nice it was of God to give me that one more rock. I thought about how flat and smooth it was, and I wondered how many tides it had endured to reach that state of perfection. And I thought how very like that rock we are. Life is a series of giant waves and small irritating grains of sand and wild, tumbling rides. One after the other after the other, all doing precisely what God designed them to do. And one day, when our square parts and our rough edges have been worked over and chiseled down and polished smooth, we’ll take one last tumble — not knowing it’s the last — and He’ll reach down and scoop us up and carry us home, where we’ll be displayed forever as a trophy of His grace and patience and power.
I’m still tumbling. But I have a lot of faith that God is using it all to smooth me. And today I have a new sense of gratitude for the ride.