I’ve clung to this promise during the dark, “valley” seasons of my life, desperately believing that even the most abysmal circumstances would someday reveal God’s glorious power to redeem.
If you’ve heard my talk “Healthy Marriages Major in History, Not Math,” you know that for many years, I harbored attitudes of apathy, anger, and contempt toward my husband. While I know that God has given me a new heart, I’ve had lingering worries about the impact of my old attitudes and actions on our children. Did I scar them for life?
On September 11, 2008, when Daniel and I walked in the front door after a lovely dinner out with another couple, we were met by a surprise. The living room was completely cleaned and straightened, the carpet freshly vacuumed. Soft music played on the stereo.
On the kitchen table, a vase of freshly-picked white roses stood next to a framed photo from our wedding. In front of them lay a bar of Dove chocolate, a bag of Milano cookies, and a letter from our 17-year-old daughter, Annemarie.
Tears filled our eyes as we realized she had devoted some of her precious senior year time doing something special for us. The tears flowed freely as we read her letter:
My Dear Parents–
September 11, 2008. Today’s your 20th wedding anniversary. In case I haven’t already, I congratulate you! That’s a pretty long time to put up with — or get along with — each other. And aside from congratulations, I thank you for that.
The traditional 20th anniversary gift is platinum or china. As I can’t afford platinum, I hope the Milanos and Dove will do. (They’re bound to be tastier, I’m sure.) And as for the china? Well, I read the description:
“It symbolizes the beautiful, elegant, and delicate nature of your love for one another over the past 20 years . . . “
. . . and promptly laughed out loud, as you may have. The last 20 years have been anything but beautiful and delicate. And elegance? Have you SPENT a dinner hour around our table?
I’m sure you both have your own memories of your first few married years — and that they were far from the hazy, marital bliss pictures we so often paint in our heads and hearts. Occasions like that first Thanksgiving dinner, the ill-fated lemon meringue pie, and those 43.5 hours might make you groan or chuckle, but they’re still yours.
And then you made the third best decision you could have ever made — giving me life! I’m thankful for that as well. The second best decision? My baby brother, of course. Thank you for the life you’ve given both of us. We enjoy sharing it, even if we do aggravate each other occasionally. He’s my very best friend, and I’m so blessed to have him in our lives.
But I will admit the early years I can remember — when Jonathon and I were growing up almost constantly behind closed doors or tearstained fingers — were horrible. You two used to fight, and your angry raised voices would carry upstairs. Pots and pans banged. Mom would start crying — it was awful. Jonathon and I would sneak out of our rooms and sit huddled together in the hall.
I don’t say this to cause you pain or to bring shame to your faces. I say this to THANK YOU. Without the rough road of the first years, you’d have nothing to have come through. It’s also given Jonathon and me such an example — that no matter what, your duty is to God and each other. That whatever argument isn’t as important as the honor you give God and each other. That love and respect come above all else, that marriage is something worth fighting for, not about.
Believe me, now I believe you two are so in love it’s sickening. You’re like a pair of teenagers, kissing and cuddling in the hall. It’s halfway between romantic and revolting, but I assure you, the impression it’s left on Jonathon and me will never fade away. (We are scarred for life!) We’ve realized that you must care about and care for each other — to put God and your partner first, no matter how hard that may be. Again, I thank you for the strong example you’ve left us.
Daddy, you’ve taught me never to settle for someone who treats me less than I deserve. Your overpowering love and protection for Mum shows me that a man is someone who will love me for who I am, respect me for what I am, and treat me as more than I am. You protection and open affection for me has also helped me be more self-assured and secure in the knowledge that you will always be there. And the love that just pours through you for Jonathon and me has helped me know God. To have an earthly father who loves me so much he’ll get me Jamba Juice, buy me jogging shoes, threaten any boy who looks at me, sit through my math rants with me — teaches me that my Heavenly Father must love and adore me even more! You’re the best father — and the best husband — ever.
Mum, you’ve taught me that to be myself is the best I can be. Your overflowing love and affection for Daddy has helped me see that even when I feel out of control, even when I know I’m right, I can respect another person’s views and feelings. That my first duty is to God — He alone has my heart. You’ve shown me to prayerfully consider relationships, to seek my self-worth in God because I am His adored daughter. I know I am also and forever your adored daughter. The trips I’ve taken to speak with you, to go to Jamba Juice, or pick out fresh fruit have meant more to me than traveling anywhere abroad. And your nurturing nature has helped Jonathon and I become who we are. I see God just shining through you in your patience even when you’re tired, your willingness to cook when we’re sick or snappy, and your insight and interest in our lives. You’re the best mom — and the best wife — ever.
God bless both of you, the most amazing couple on earth. The memories, good are bad, are yours to laugh over and learn from. The kids, good or bad, are only around for a little longer. Then you’re allowed to smooch in the kitchen without the gagging sounds or shouts of “PDA!” But “those kids” are eternally grateful for the strong, fighting, loving, and respectful example that you’ve emblazoned on our hearts.
To the best parents in the whole wide world, happy anniversary.
All my love,
I share this letter not as a trite sigh of relief, that somehow negative consequences were avoided. I share it rejoicing that God uses our worst failures to demonstrate his restorative power.
What a gift of grace!