I remember what it felt like to be twenty-one years old, walking home from class, raising my face to the sun’s gentle kiss and almost laughing out loud for joy. We would live in unity on our knees, I was certain, receiving this gift only to pour it back out at His feet and for His kingdom.

We’d met on a crisp December night, as a crowd of friends sang Christmas carols under a starlit velvet sky, and before we parted ways for the holiday, I knew. I’d stepped inside another’s soul and found my home. I knelt beside my bed and prayed, “Lord, I can’t know this for him. You will have to tell him.”

And God did tell him, but I didn’t know it yet. We built a friendship around worship and the Word, each keeping our hope a secret, both in need of healing from the past, neither eager to hurt or be hurt again. We waded in the creek or took our guitars outside under the trees. We sang, and the harmony blended as though our voices had been meant for this. Because they had been.

He proposed on our first real date, and he kissed me for the first time right before the preacher announced us husband and wife. He was my best friend, my soul-mate, the agent of God’s healing. Our foundation was solid, and I entered marriage without fear. But not without expectations.

If you’d asked me then, I would have told you that I had no delusions. Of course marriage would have its storms, but we would weather them together. We meant our vows. And Jesus rules the winds and waves. He would keep us afloat.

I would have told you I didn’t have them, but I had them. Expectations and delusions, and there wasn’t the slightest chance they would survive this crucible.

We can blame culture or Cinderella or a hundred romantic comedies that might as well be the same one, all of them painting a picture that doesn’t exist. We can blame the tendency we all have to put on our best face in public and hide our flaws, but I wonder if there’s a bride or groom on the planet who hasn’t awakened at some point (or many points) after the honeymoon, disillusioned at best.

We would live in unity on our knees, I’d thought, but words pierced and misunderstandings divided, and I found myself bruised in spirit, trying to scale impossible walls, broken-hearted, and full of self-pity.

I remember one day, about ten years into our marriage, when the fortress wall had stood between us for weeks, thick and unyielding, and I asked him a question, and he turned cold eyes on me and refused to speak. He went outside to work in the yard, and I stood at the kitchen window, fuming, praying for God to convict him, change him, make him love me the way he should, and the Lord whispered into my rant, “You’re praying against him, not for him,” and what can you do when God speaks a word like that?

Did I love my husband, or did I love the life I expected to have with him? That day I was the one convicted, changed, discovering what it means to love, and I wish I could say the violins began playing right then and the camera angle showed me in my best light, but the Lord doesn’t tie up all the loose ends in ninety minutes. He takes a lifetime to conform us to the image of His Son.

Marriage is like a symphony, with dark passages and happy dances and long sections of quiet contemplation. There are frenzies and rests, joyful surprises and loud cymbal clashes, and through it all the Conductor directs. He sets the rhythm and calls forth each instrument with purpose, and not one plays a note longer than He intends.

They say that extreme conditions make a tree’s roots go deeper and the trunk stronger, and when you look at the rings on a long-lived tree, you can see the evidence of drought, storm, fire, and blight. But those hidden stories shaped the tree, as thirsty roots grappled for deeper streams, and branches curved upward, reaching toward the sun. These mighty ones that withstand the tests of time, they form a canopy that shelters seedlings, and they offer the hollows of their hearts to nesting birds, and they simply stand, content, steadfast, trusting the wise choices of their Maker.

Marriage isn’t a fairy tale. It’s Christ loving the church and giving His life for her. It’s the Gardener pruning His vines that they might bear more fruit. It’s roots and branches, tangled, broken, mended, restored, beautified by redemption and raised in praise to the God who orders the seasons. It’s two clinging to each other through all the chiseling of rough edges required to make them one — not sharing the load 50-50, but each giving 100% for the sheer love of the giving, and keeping no balance sheet.

And so, it proved true, but not the way I imagined it thirty-two years ago. We live on our knees. Sometimes those knees have been bloodied in battle, and we’ve come out of the wilderness, limping, leaning on our Beloved. We’ve received beautiful gifts that can only come to those who venture trust and risk vulnerability. We’ve fallen hard, and we’ve lifted each other up. We’ve been given much and we’ve forgiven much, roots going deep, love growing.

We love with expectations refined, shining, and we receive this gift, only to pour it back at His feet and for His kingdom.

And I lift my face to the sun’s gentle kiss, and I laugh out loud.

(Thank you, Jeanne–writer, musician, wife, mother, grandmother, you do the God-thing so well…)

Friends, find this beautiful woman here, at her blog, or over here at her personal website.