Today I am celebrating my 16th wedding anniversary. In some ways, 16 seems like a really big number…in some ways, not so much. However you feel about anniversaries, weddings and marriages, the reality is that we are all involved in relationships. And great relationships take work. The Overboard Life cannot be lived alone. If you are going to follow Jesus out on the water where He is building His Kingdom, you will need other people in your life. For me, Traci has been the most significant relationship I’ve had in pursuing Jesus. She has believed in me, invested in me, pushed me, prayed for me and endured me all along the way. Eight years of roller-coaster dating followed by 16 years of marriage has made for a wild ride -- but she has shared every part of the journey.
I want to share with you some values I’ve learned from my wife during our 16 years. We work hard at being married, and while we both bring glaring flaws to the marriage table, we’ve committed ourselves to the choice of standing by each other. These values work in all relationships, but especially in marriage, and my wife has been exemplary in living them out with me.
- Take failure off the table. I know divorce is a touchy subject, but Traci and I started our marriage commitment by removing it as an option. I know we all change. I know we sometimes enter relationships without caution. I know we see things in people that sometimes don’t exist, and that people can flat-out lie about who they are or what they want. Relationships are risky. I’m not saying there is never a reason for divorcing someone or filing for separation, but when Traci and I said, “I do” to each other, we agreed to take divorce off the table. When you take failure away as an option, you are required to do whatever it takes to make things work. Traci and I have weathered some bad days with each other (more than I wish to admit!), but a commitment to stay together forces us to work hard, even on those bad days.
- Make remarkable the new normal. Not only did we remove divorce from our marriage vocabularies, but we made the choice to not be content with just “making it.” I remember a few years back when we committed to one another that our marriage was going to be remarkable. Not perfect by any stretch, but remarkable. In other words, just staying together or living the status quo wasn’t going to be enough. Here are some of the tangible realities of that choice:
- Date night every week. Kids can complicate marriage a lot, but we weren’t going to let that stop us from dating. It’s been tough and sometimes expensive, but date night has been worth the sacrifice. Our weekly date is a major part of our marriage commitment to live together remarkably, and not just in survival mode. We also take off for one week a year without the kids. It takes a month of planning to pull it off, but the week away is worthy of the effort. The kids actually enjoy being with friends and family, and we enjoy a kid-free week!
- Marriage growth. We’ve both read books about marriage, we’ve attended seminars, and we’ve intentionally hung with people who have great marriages so that we can grow in our relationship with each other. Like any quality, skill or value you want to improve, marriage demands work. We’ve worked hard to be better spouses. I still have colossal screw ups. I still neglect her needs from time-to-time and I still occasionally forget important events. But I still keep working on being a better husband so that despite those things, the general curve of our marriage is up.
- Personal growth. You will only be as strong of a spouse as you are a person. You cannot make your husband or wife do anything to grow, but you can choose to work on you, no matter what. There have been seasons when I was stuck in a rut and Traci continued to plow ahead. I was apathetic and listless, but she was passionate about growth. And you know what, her desire to grow became contagious and on several occasions, her own journey has inspired me to rise up and be a better husband and father. The more you grow personally, the better your marriage will be.
- Dream together. Traci and I share big dreams for our lives, together. It’s not that all of our goals and dreams are mutual -- in fact, most of them are not. But Traci has often been more committed to my dreams than me! The result has been that when I was faltering or ready to give up, she kicked me in the pants until I got going again. I know Overboard Ministries would not exist without her. And likewise, I’ve invested in her dreams, too. Big dreams make for strong bonds.
- Get help when problems arise. Relationships are hard. So when problems creep up, get help. Talk to trusted friends, visit your pastor and see a specialist when struggles come up. Too often, in the past 16 years as a pastor, I’ve gotten the call for help after both parties were already in divorce mode. If they had called when they were fighting over the bills, we might have been able to help. But by the time things escalated to sleeping in different rooms, intentionally working off-schedules so that you aren’t home with your spouse -- it’s almost too late (especially if you haven’t followed steps 1 and 2!). Traci and I have requested and received help on multiple occasions. Our pastors, our parents our friends…we’ll ask for help when we’re struggling.
- Make God the center of your marriage, not your spouse. As much as I love Traci (more than anyone or anything I’ve ever loved!), my love for God is even bigger. I know Traci loves me more than any other relationship she has, but she loves God exponentially more. You see, I let my wife down all the time. I will fail her again in the future. But God has never once failed Traci and He never will. His love and plan for her is so much more than mine, she can trust Him fully in every circumstance -- even when her husband is being a giant doorknob! When I fail, God remains faithful. When I am mean, God remains loving and kind. When I drop the ball, God helps Traci catch it. When I don’t give her a reason to keep believing, He does. And when God (not love, not happiness, not staying together) is that the center of your marriage, you can endure anything.
I think Traci and I have a great marriage. It’s not perfect, but I can confidently say it’s better than it was 16 years ago, and by God’s grace, tomorrow it will be better than it is today. My wife is amazing and when people see us together they know I “married up”! But a great marriage didn’t just happen, and it won’t continue without hard work. Your marriage is worth the effort. Let me know if there is anything I can do to help you strengthen yours.
Happy 16th Tra. Thanks for taking the plunge with me over and over again, during this journey. We’ve definitely seen that life is always better on the water, especially in marriage.