35 years seems like such a long time. I've been married nearly twice as long as I was single.
But it also seems as if the years have just flown by. There have been good times and bad times, sorrow and joy.
I was 19 years old when we first married, and knew everything. You didn't even have to ask me - just being around me, you'd figure out that I "knew it all". But underneath that bluster, I was really a scared, insecure kid. I thought I knew how to love my wife. I didn't even know what love was!
(More thoughts on love here.)
Here's our engagement picture. See, I had hair once!
When we were married, our relationship was established on a close friendship. We didn't start out that way. When we were dating, everything we did publicly was "Christian" - church services, Bible studies, Christian concerts, youth group meetings. But when we were alone, let's just say we didn't exactly devote ourselves to pursuing God, or even to getting to know each other as friends. We jumped right into the boyfriend/girlfriend thing, based on physical attraction. This is not the way to develop a lasting relationship.
My parents could see we were making some poor choices, and thank God my father made a wise decision for me. He sent me off to college 60 miles from home, without my car. And God took care of the rest by putting me into a traveling singing group, effectively filling nearly every weekend with rehearsals and performance. (That story is here.)
35 years ago, there were no cell phones. And long distance phone calls were very expensive, and only used for emergencies. There was no Internet, no e-mail, no easy way to quickly communicate. (We did have ham radio, but my Morse code abilities were pitiful.)
Usually, when a couple whose relationship is built on physical attraction is separated for an extended time, their relationship withers and dies. In our case, we genuinely felt God had put us together and we desired to stay true to each other. So, we kept in touch by writing letters. A lot of letters. Mushy letters, at least some of the time. And we talked of our hopes and dreams, and our plans for the future. We became real friends, building our relationship on solid values with faith in God as our foundation.
At the end of my sophomore year in college, we were married. We chose the weekend before finals, so all our college friends would be able to attend. After a honeymoon weekend in Omaha (romance capital of the Midwest - you didn't know that?) we were back at school Monday morning so I could take finals.
There have been lots of trials and difficulties - everybody has them. Some people didn't think our marriage would last. But we were determined to make it work. Divorce was never an option, not even a consideration. And over time, we learned to love, really love each other.
We discovered that love is an action, not a feeling. And we've slowly developed the character qualities manifested in love - you know, patience, kindness, not jealous, not seeking one's own way, all those 1 Corinthians 13 principles. According to verse 8 of that chapter, love never fails. We're not there yet; we've failed lots of times. But through forgiveness and love, we keep going.
God blessed our union with three children, one of the great joys of our life. They've all grown to be responsible adults, and we're eagerly anticipating grandchildren as the next phase of our life. Katie married a great guy 2 years ago, and Melody's wedding is coming in September. Lowell lived his life to the fullest before he left this earth 3 years ago. I miss him every day, but take comfort in the knowledge we'll be together again in eternity. (More on that story here.)
Our last Christmas all together. A very rare shot of me clean-shaven.
I am so thankful for my wife. She's a blessing and a joy, my closest friend and companion. She challenges me and keeps me active and engaged. She's my greatest cheerleader, and gladly puts up with my crazy ideas. (Okay, maybe not always so gladly...)
Our kids organized a costume party last fall.
We went as Mary Poppins & Bert the chimney sweep.
35 years is a long time...but it's only the start of a lifelong commitment. I love Patricia more now than ever. We've enjoyed a good life, and with God's help we'll overcome the challenges and make our way to the finish in victory. The best is yet to come!