As of today I've been Mrs. Meidinger for ten whole years. A decade.
I'd been chomping at the bit to marry this man for over two years, he had finally asked, and it was finally happening. Total thrill and delight. We didn't see each other before the ceremony, and when those double french doors of the sanctuary flew open and he saw me, my groom got down on one knee as I came down the aisle. Pure romance. Beautiful ceremony. My Grandpa married us, and it was perfect. Later, bagpipes serenaded us into our reception and we danced for hours. Best day and night of my life, followed by the most romantic honeymoon a girl could ask for.
And then, real life started.
WHAT? Did we actually sign up for this? This does NOT match the chick-flick script I had in my head for 24 years! In the words of Charles Dickens, it was the best of times, but it was also the worst of times. And I was NOT prepared for that.
Many times in the last 10 years I've heard Sheryl Crow singing in my head, "No one said it would be easy, but no one said it would be this hard."
It's so true. And I realize that the reason no one tells you how hard it's actually going to be is so they don't scare you out of getting married. But on the other hand, someone's got to start talking about how hard it is - honestly, vulnerably, and hope-fully - so that when young couples feel like something is wrong with them because marriage is so stinking hard, someone else can come alongside and tell them that that's totally normal.
And, so that someone can let them know, it'll get better. So much better.
A couple weeks prior to our wedding, at my bridal shower, my Great Aunt Lillian, whose husband of 60 years had just passed away, gave me the wisest words I've ever received outside of the Bible. She said, "Rebecca, I know you think you love Paul a lot right now. But it's important that you understand that your wedding day will be the least you love him for the rest of your life." She went on to explain how her love for her husband had grown stronger over sixty years.
I totally didn't get it. I was a naive young bride and I had no idea what she was talking about. But I wanted it.
Even though I didn't get what she meant, her words spoke to my soul in a deep and profound way. I remember thinking, "I have no idea what she means, but I totally want that."
(We later named a daughter after her because those words were so profound in my life. Thank you Lillian!)
But let me tell you...that sixty-year kind of love has not been easy coming. I mean...we're still far from sixty years, but it's still not easy coming. Nothing good is easy, right?
As Paul and I learned right away in marriage, we agreed on all the things that really matter: Jesus; the Bible; raising kids; family priorities; finances; fitness.
And we disagreed on everything else: how to roll toilet paper; how to organize a kitchen; what movie to watch; which route to take to any given destination; how and when to pay which bills; how to organize a closet; how to spend an evening; how to decorate a Christmas tree; which kind of peanut butter to buy; butter or margarine; how to order a pizza; how to correctly make hamburger hotdish; how to fold laundry; how to handle pregnancy hormones; when to sleep; how to potty train a child; even how to argue.
Now, 10 years later, we're mostly in step with each other. (Or at least we've figured out the dance well enough to more quickly get in step with each other.)
But oh my. We were so not in step with one another then. For years. And we had no idea how to learn this dance called marriage. Not that any of those silly disagreements matter, but when it's so many things all at once, it's utterly exhausting. And painful. And maddening. And sometimes suffocating.
We had children fairly quickly - our first daughter was born right after our 2nd anniversary, and our second was born right after our 4th anniversary, so even if we were making progress on figuring out marriage, we didn't actually feel any progress because we were also trying to figure out parenthood and then parenthood of multiple children...so in those first four years it felt like we were "one step forward two steps back" on the whole "enjoying each other" part of marriage.
(Now, please don't misunderstand. We loved each other very much and liked each other probably most of the time. But we struggled a lot too. And I'm just keeping it real here. There's been far too much sugarcoating marriage and I think it does more harm than good.)
If you asked either of us at our 4-year mark (which we consider to have been our lowest point) if it could be this good at our 10-year mark, we would have said "No Way." At that point, the future looked dismal.
But then Paul's doctor prescribed date nights for us. Like, he actually wrote down "Weekly Date Nights" on a prescription pad.
Best. prescription. ever.
Our date nights revitalized us. Our date nights reminded us why we loved each other in the first place. Our dates nights made us laugh. On our date nights Paul was relaxed enough to be funny, and I was relaxed enough to laugh at his jokes. I got to put on perfume and he opened my car door.
Date nights saved us. And lots of praying. And some counseling with our pastor. And great friends that we could be really real with. And the girlfriend I could call in those early years and tell her about our huge fights because I knew her marriage had a rocky first few years too. And depression meds. And more praying. And lots of books about marriage. And staying the course. And more dates. And more babies. And more praying. And having each other's back every day. And choosing, whether we felt like it or not, to love each other every day. And lots of forgiveness.
And at our 10-year mark, we can say with full assurance that we love each other so much more now than we did on our wedding day. Just like Aunt Lillian said we would. And not only that, but we like each other. Alot. More than ever.
And of course we're not in the clear - our children's teen and young adult years will surely bring challenges that we can't foresee. Only God knows what lies ahead. (I'm so glad that only God knows what lies ahead). But I'm so thankful that these first 10 years were hard enough that we had to learn the dance simply by getting through each day together. And we had to learn that to get through this thing called marriage we have to get on our knees, a lot, and let Jesus lead us.
In these first 10 years we've had "for better and for worse." We've had "in sickness and in health."
We've had diagnoses that scared us and doctors that helped us and medical bills that stressed us. We've celebrated the lives of four babies and grieved the loss of two babies. We've marveled at God's gift of life and we've suffered at the reality of death. We've had the greatest of joy and the deepest of sorrow. We've had times of abundance and we've had times that we only had $12 in an account. We've had to learn to confess sin and learn to forgive more frequently and more fully than we ever imagined.
And it's good. It's so hard. But it's good. Marriage is a beautiful thing.
But here's the thing...we have to start sharing our stories, friends. Because when we share our stories of struggle and hardship and the days when you really didn't like your spouse but then it got better, it gives people hope. And marriages need hope. And if your story is one in which help and hope came too late, and the brokenness was already too much, then I'm so sorry. I grieve with you. And I pray for your healing. And we need your story too. We all need each others' stories of brokenness and healing. No matter what your story, somebody else's is similar and they understand. You're not alone.
And the truth is that every single marriage really is hard. Even those marriages in which the husband and wife are both really "laid back and chill" and they "never really fight" (I've heard those marriages exist...) But guess what? That doesn't mean their road is easy. It's not. Their road is hard too. Just in different ways. And we need those stories too.
And we need the hope of my Aunt Lillian, that this butterfly-heart-thumping love that brings you to the altar is nothing compared to the deeper-than-words, stronger-than-death love that has gone through the fires of life together and has stood the test of time. And that love just can't happen in the early years. It starts there, yes. But it takes decades and there's no fast way to get there. And that kind of love will never be easy.
But it will be so worth it.
Because the joy is in the journey.
And Paul Meidinger, if you're reading this, in five more decades when I'm 84 years young, I cannot wait to experience that sixty-year-kind-of-love with you. Happy Anniversary.