Brett and I vowed that only death will part us.
When I really think about that vow for too long my eyes widen and sink back into my skull as if I'm trying to look at our live and marriage in full but can't get far enough back... I wonder how long we have till death parts us. Some days death seems so close, and some days it seems like a dream, far and fuzzy. I honestly think 'Till death do you part" is supposed to be overwhelming, unexplainable, and fear-inducing... because then it leaves room for the kind of love that's work, the kind of trust that takes time, and the kind of awe that points to God.
On our rainy wedding day, Brett and I covenanted "death in love, not death of love." And how abundantly we believe that we (and those around us) will live if we pursue one another in the ways in which we believe we were created to... never to let a "creeping separateness" as Sheldon Vanauken would call it, slowly come between us as the years go by.
I thought I'd share a few marriage decisions we made before we were married (and a few made since we've been married) in our fight for "death in love".
If life circumstances are permitting, we get into bed at the same time every night. He gets his homework done before bed so he doesn't have to stay up late working on it and I try my best to leave my work at work so I can be present during this sacred time. So if I'm in bed at ten, he's there too, even if I end up falling asleep while reading next to him, we're there together. To cuddle. To talk. To get on the same page. To read the Harry Potter series out loud. To be still.
We won't call each other out in front of other people. I know how deeply this would hurt Brett if I called him out for doing something wrong, embarrassing, rude, or mean in front of others. Even if Brett or myself is in the wrong, bringing it up in front of others isn't the place. And let me be straight with you: Its tempting to bring it up right then and there, because being married to the person that said something stupid in front of everyone else immediately associates you with the stupid thing they said. You feel responsible. You wonder if everyone else thinks you're okay with that stupid thing they just said. Calling them out, even if we think it would make our spouse learn his or her lesson...would crush them. Pulling Brett aside, going into another room, talking to him about the situation afterwards; those are all ways I can show him respect without deflating his identity. He cares so deeply of what I think of him, and if his friends or colleagues see me put him down or argue with him in front of them, he loses self-esteem and confidence that is important to who he is. I can see the look of joy on his face when we are in front of others and I mention how grateful I am for him or how excited I am about what he's doing in our lives and marriage. This might sound simple, but I can't tell you how often in my lifetime I've observed couples who do this with each other and one of them ends up deflated and hurt. How often I'm tempted to nag Brett or get onto him for saying something I think he shouldn't have said in front of the company we are in. How often he works diligently to not criticize a decision of mine in front of my students or colleagues.
Choosing better, not bitter. My mom taught me this one and I'll forever cherish these words because they are some of the most difficult words to live out. Oftentimes, when expectations are not met, bitterness can creep in, making the heart seep with loathing & regret, sucking life from it's dweller and anyone they surround themselves with. That goes for marriage, friendships, work relationships, and family relationships. Already in my life, and especially in my marriage, I have been dealt cards that make me want to turn bitter towards my circumstances or situation. For short seasons of our marriage I've chosen pity parties and bitterness instead of choosing to positively take steps forward, accepting the hand I've been given. When I choose joy and choose to move forward (not loathing myself or Brett) I am living in the love I covenanted to Brett. When I choose to not regret and not just cope with my circumstances, I am choosing to live freely in the present for the sake of the joy-filled future. We could waste our lives being bitter towards each other. Many people do. We are choosing not to.
No blame or grudges. Pointing fingers at each other or blaming our circumstances on the actions of the other person (even if they did do something wrong or made a mistake) will be a temptation, but not an action. Brett will forgive me. He will offer me patience and grace when I mess up or even walk away from what we value or hold to be truth. He will continue to cheer me on, love me, and protect me as his wife like he vowed he would. And he will move forward with me, even if the consequences of my actions effect him. Blame leads to bitterness.
Date night. It's a mandatory must. Similarly to our going to bed at the same time, date night offers us a sacred time to slowly reflect on our week and ask, "How were you really this week?" or "Is our marriage making the most of this season?". Making DN a habit was easy for us after coming out of a long distance relationship, where busy schedules and intentional time to talk HAD to be scheduled. I need time to express my weekly reflections and I know Brett is unhindered in school work or tasks so he can freely listen and respond. And I care to know not just how Brett analyzed his week, but how he is feeling, which is sometimes hard for him to express without my asking. I love that date night gives us a space to do that. I value not just where his mind and heart are, but where his feelings are in relation to those things. This is a night where we attempt our best to not allow phones. Where we get off campus every now and then or order pizza in without feeling guilty about "being lazy" (because sometimes dates in are more of what we need than dates out). Where I beat Brett at MarioKart... most of the time.
Hospitality and Realness. Open doors, open homes, and open hearts. We desire to head up and initiate such deep and vulnerable community for those we live amongst and work with. That means being real with my students when Brett and I are having a difficult week. It means moving past surface conversations toward heart conversations that reach into joy, pain, and that sort of human authenticity we all secretly crave. It means taking them out to eat to celebrate or let them know that whatever circumstance they are in, we are for them. It's making posters in my apartment while watching Harry Potter. It's reaching out to hold their hand or play with their hair because that's what their mom used to do when they needed to know they were loved. If Brett and I are not doing these things with one another, we often are not doing them for others. We must have these in both our marriage and our community.