The August day, fifty years ago, was hot and sticky. It didn’t matter. Nothing mattered except that I was about to marry my best friend. Ken and I had dated for two years in college, and when we kissed goodnight outside my dormitory we would say, “We’re another day closer!” We had finally reached that day. I saw Ken waiting for me at the end of the aisle and couldn’t stop smiling.
It wasn’t a “picture-perfect” wedding by any means. Ken was starting graduate studies at Yale so we didn’t have a lot of money. My parents prayed for me before the ceremony, thanking God for “loaning” me to them for the past twenty years. Dad was very nervous. I was the first of his three daughters to marry, so this was new to him. As he walked back to his pew after kissing me goodbye, his shoe caught on my veil, dragging it with him. I scrambled backwards to keep it from tearing off my head, whispering, “Dad! Dad, stop!” He thought I was changing my mind.
Ken and I held hands as we spoke our vows—the ones that promise “For better for worse, in sickness and in health, until death we part.” Then the pastor dropped Ken’s wedding ring and it made a lovely, pinging sound as it bounced down the three wooden steps from the altar to the aisle. Our best man chased after it.
We knelt down and the pastor laid his hands on our heads as he prayed for us. But my headpiece had real roses in it, and I could feel the thorns digging into my scalp. I envisioned trails of blood coursing down my brow. I still remember what he prayed, though—that God would bless our marriage and make it endure as an example of what a strong marriage in Christ can be. Fifty years later, I think his prayers have been answered.
Our reception was in the church basement. My sisters and I had decorated the hall, Mom made the food. A woman we knew baked the wedding cake. We don’t have many photos of our wedding because our photographer had a heart attack a few days before the wedding and his replacement was inexperienced. It didn’t matter. The memories are engraved on my heart.
Four years ago, Ken and I attended a relative’s picture-perfect wedding. At the reception, the DJ invited all the married couples onto the dance floor for a Generations Dance. Each time he called out an anniversary—five years, 10 years, 15 years—couples who had been married for only that length of time had to sit down. At last, only the longest-married couple remained. Ken and I had won. The DJ handed us a microphone and asked us to tell the new bride and groom the secret of our long, happy marriage. I’m not sure how I replied, having no time to prepare. But I’ve thought about it since then and here are two of our “secrets.”
The most important one is to build your marriage on the foundation of Christ. There’s a good reason why scripture tells us not to be unequally yoked with a non-believer—it’s because it doesn’t work. Since a Christian’s life-goal is to serve and glorify God, marriage becomes difficult when your partner has a conflicting goal. A successful marriage is going to require grace and forgiveness many times over, and this doesn’t come naturally to us. We learn what love and forgiveness are from God, who continues to love us in spite of our stupid mistakes, and who forgives us at great cost. The secret of a happy marriage is to follow His example and love each other sacrificially.
Ken and I were fresh out of college when we married, and we each had dreams for our lives. Ken’s first goal was a Master’s degree, so I postponed my dreams for a few years to support us. His bigger dream was to play full-time in a symphony orchestra, so when he won a position as principal trumpet in the National Symphony Orchestra in Bogota, Colombia, we moved to South America. We did the same thing a few years later when he won principal trumpet in a Canadian orchestra.
In the meantime, my first dream was to be a mom. Ken took several jobs in addition to the orchestra so I wouldn’t have to work outside the home. When I began to pursue my dream of writing, Ken became my greatest cheerleader. He bought our first computer, an expense we couldn’t afford, before I’d published a single word because he believed I’d be a writer, someday. My second secret to a long and happy marriage is to take time to prayerfully plan and dream together. Then do everything you can, sacrifice whenever you can, to help your partner fulfill those dreams.
Happy 50th Anniversary, Ken! It has been an amazing adventure!