On a 103 degree afternoon 13 years ago today I wore a black suit and tie. I stood between two tall, healthy trees sweating bullets. It wasn’t the oppressive July heat but the nervous anticipation for what was about to take place. I was about to behold my bride adorned in her wedding dress for the first time! Here’s the expression of a man who just won the lottery of lotteries!
I’m not sure why my left hand is in my pocket, but I might be double-checking to make sure I have the ring to seal the deal with later that afternoon! I can tell you that’s the purest smile you’ll ever see on my face. And here’s why!
I wish I could recall my exact thought or feeling at that moment. I’m guessing it was something like, “Are you kidding me?! I get to marry her!? Really?!” I wrote a song when we first started dating that tried to put into words what I felt when she first began looking at me in a way she would never again look at any other man. (Listen here.)
I saw her standing there
A tall blue-eyed girl, wind in her hair
she threw a smile at me
and nearly knocked me off my feet
she stole my heart away
and nothing’s been the same
since that day….
We walked and talked
We ran and swam
We sat like children in the sand
I said, “Geez Louis, my achin’ knees
Can someone call the doctor please?
‘Cause my heart’s a wreck
My mind’s a mess,
This girl’s three leagues above the rest
If she’s the one for me
Lord, show me a sign
Or take me please, please please
My heart can’t take the pain
So please don’t tease, tease, tease!”
God spared my heart. She was and is the one. So, what do you do when you receive a gift as great as this? What do you do when heaven pours down a blessing as great as I got in my matchless wife of now 13 years? Standing between those two strong trees, we stood with feet of clay and shaky knees and practiced the words of the great doxology. We “Praise[d] God from whom all blessings flow.” I love, love, love this next photo.
Look at the photo. Was I confessing ahead of time all the ways I would fall short of being the man she deserves? Was I giving her one last chance to reconsider? Was I whispering to her: “I’m tall, but I’m no oak tree. Yes, go ahead and marry me, but lets be sure to fasten our marriage to something, or Someone, more stable than our feeble selves.”
Let’s just state the obvious since most of you know Keri: I’m a lucky man. I married out of my league. I don’t deserve this precious gift. She’s exceptionally beautiful. Her energy is limitless. She gives abundantly of her time, her talent, her joy, her hospitality, her love. Everyone who steps within range of her orbit gets swept up into the attractional pull of her life-giving, life-renewing spirit. I bask daily in that blessed orbit, and get to raise our children in a home infected with her charm and permeated with her electricity.
I don’t recall what we prayed under those trees. I do know that the vows were were about to make and the sacred union of marriage we were about to enter into before many witnesses wasn’t something we were taking lightly. Looking at this photo and the way we clung tightly to one another, like two tall trees becoming one, we were hoping in the presence of God that our marriage would grow strong as we put down deep roots into the love and promises of God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Trees are amazingly resilient against all life’s storms and windy gusts. They grow steadily toward the shining Sun, decade after decade, so long as their roots are strong and their inner sap healthy. Jesus’ words about the vine and the branches can be applied to a married couple as well: “I am the vine, you two are the branches: A marriage that lives in me, and I in them, brings forth much fruit. But without me you can do nothing” (John 15). If you ask Keri why she was willing to give herself to a guy like me, she’d tell you that with me she knew she was would get Jesus as well to make up for my shortcomings.
Having dedicated ourselves and forthcoming vows to God, we erupt in joyous expression of our young love!
Thirteen years later, we’re at our best when we keep repeating this pattern. Behold each other with gratitude and adoration. Embrace one another within God’s strong and loving embrace. Praise God from whom all our blessings flow. Hug and smooch.
Oh, and eat cake!
Who says you can’t sometimes “Have your cake and eat it too?” That certainly is the case with my marriage! Thanks for choosing me, Kjerstin! And for all the cake, too.
The pastor in me doesn’t want to leave you with only cute, drippy sentimentality regarding our marriage. (Though I have a secret J & K folder filled with ample evidence of much fairy tale like gooey-ness in our marriage.) The reality is our lives and marriages aren’t as perfect as our airbrushed, photo-shopped Facebook and Instagram activity portrays.
What Keri and I celebrate this 13th Anniversary is not mainly our marital happiness, our compatibility, our ability to overcome all our challenges, the level of our romantic affection, etc. These things ebb and flow, rise and fall, wax and wane. To celebrate those things alone, is to give credit to the two shaky, wobbly figures praying under that tree 13 years ago, rather than the strong oak-like Savior and Lord to whom we bound ourselves to keep our marriage standing strong and growing up toward the Son.
I have a small favor to ask of you who wish to congratulate us on our anniversary today. Before congratulating us, will you please say a prayer of thanksgiving to our Lord and Savior for being our firm foundation, our solid rock, our life-giving vine, our tall strong oak? Thank you!
“Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone. Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken” (Eccl. 4:9-12).