The house is quiet and you are sleeping – you and two others who were only a hope to us on this day nine years ago.
I just went downstairs to find a little volume of poems by Wendell Berry. The book bears the title The Country of Marriage and I thought I might find something to quote: something more beautiful than what I’m able to write on my own, something that spoke with eloquence of the love I feel for you and the life we’ve shared for these nine years.
I found the book – but not a poem. Berry doesn’t sound like me. Better said, I don’t sound like him (unfortunately. I’d love to write like that).
This is a little book you gave to me, but I had forgotten when. As I thumbed through the pages, finding nothing for you in the poetry, I found something from you. A brief sentence you had written on the title page. You always like for something to be written inside a book when you give it (and receive it). Even now I think of the first book I gave to you early in our dating days. I was so formal and careful. You were under-whelmed with what I wrote as I recall, and it was indeed under-whelming.
But there on the page bearing the words The Country of Marriage, you added a few handwritten words of your own. “We’ve entered this wonderful world and country.” And then the date – September 1, 1996. You gave this to me the day after our wedding. I had not remembered that. I can only guess that you had bought the book before our wedding and you gave it to me that day. As I remember September 1, 1996 we didn’t go in any bookstores. We’re both geeky sometimes, but not that geeky.
Here’s something that strikes me as fitting. As I searched in the basement office for The Country of Marriage I came across another book entitled Blink (by Malcolm Gladwell - not about marriage). The title of one book speaks to the title of the other. Our nine years in the country of marriage seem to me like a blink. Our seniors may smile at that because they’ve got 20 or 30 or maybe even 50 years to reflect upon – but what is true of decades is no less true of a decade minus one.
The other day you told me you had found some important video tapes – our wedding, your ordination, my ordination. I think about nine years and it occurs to me that in the same sanctuary where we were married nine years ago, I was ordained nine years prior to our wedding. And on that warm Sunday evening in May of ’87 you were seated in the choir loft singing with the choir. It causes me to marvel at what I would have never dreamed on that night. There we both were, in the same sanctuary, seated on the platform behind the pulpit (as we so often are now) but without the slightest idea of what would take place in that same room nine years later. Did we even speak to each other that night in 1987? Your father placed his hands on me and prayed or said something. He knew no more than we did. I would not even know he had participated in my ordination were it not for the video record of it.
(Those two who were only “hopes” to us nine years ago have come into the study. They are very real and wanting some attention. I’ll finish later).
In May of 1987, kneeling in the sanctuary, I could not imagine what God was doing or was going to do over the next nine years. On August 31, 1996, standing with you in almost the exact same spot, the same was true. I was certain and remain certain of our vows, but we had no idea where the next nine years would take us – to our little house on Jane Street, to our semi-rural home in North Carolina, to the stomping grounds of our youth in Atlanta; growing from 2 to 3 in Houston, and then becoming a foursome in Raleigh. God has been so good to us.
This day of our anniversary is marred by the images and news of destruction and loss on the gulf coast after hurricane Katrina. There’s a slight sense of dissonance in sitting comfortably in front of this computer, now with sunlight streaming through the windows, meditating on the string of blessings that runs through our years of marriage. There is and always will be much in the world that is broken. Today these words from Calvin Miller resonate with me as words that are right and honest.
And though the floods of life may come and the waters of life threaten us, (this) scripture still stands: “Many waters cannot quench love, rivers cannot wash it away” (Song of Sol. 8:7).
So these nine years, as I think of them this morning, speak so clearly to me of grace. The gift of grace that you are to me; the ways you bring life to me and our home; the laughter and determination and restless zeal; the ways you parent our children; the grace of seeing you use the gifts God has poured into your own life. These nine years speak of the grace that is hidden in the mystery of time; grace that does what we never dreamed of.
I’m writing this to let anyone who reads it know that I am a blessed man, that God has been kind to me far beyond my deserving.
I’m writing this to let you know that I love you and I love the nine years we’ve shared. What will the next nine, or next one, hold? We will live by grace and continue to make our way through the country of marriage.