I was 19 and he was 22 when on Monday, February 16, 1976 he drove me to Phoenix for a Bill Gaither Concert. Three friends from his church rode in the backseat of his parents’ car for the 100 mile trip. The front seat was our own private world.
At the concert , his friend Marty sat on the other side of the auditorium so I could sit with Doug.
Toward the end of the show, as the Bill Gaither Trio crooned in flawless harmony We Have this Moment, he took my hand in his.
It surprised me recently to discover that we both remember the precise moment we first held hands. It was immediately following the lyrics “and don’t wait for tomorrow to look back and wish for today”.
The song continues:
We have this moment to hold in our hands
And to touch as it slips
Through our fingers like sand
And tomorrow may never come
But we have this moment today
Two days later Doug ordered a French Dip sandwich at the restaurant where I waitressed. When it was time to pay, I rang up the order and turned to hand him the receipt. He reached across the counter and grabbed both my hands his gaze piercing through my eyes and into my heart. “If I didn’t know better, I’d ask you to marry me right now.”“Well you’d better not, because I’d probably be dumb enough to say ‘yes’.” That was February 18th.
After telling our parents our plans and receiving their blessing on our plans, Doug wrote in his Bible: February 24, 1976 Lani and I declared to get married. Hallelujah!
It’s 43 years later and our love today is far stronger and more tender than we could have imagined then.
My son tells me that the love his father and I share is oh so rare, no longer attainable. The parents of all his friends, he says, even if they have remained married, cannot stand to be in the same room with each other. He insists that my dreams of lifelong love and marriage for my three sons are unrealistic in this day and age.What a tragedy that my generation has lived married love so poorly that our children believe it’s impossible to stay happily married to one person throughout life.
But, I’ve not lost hope. We recently hosted seven young newlywed and soon-to-be married couples in our home. Each couple is joyfully determined to live a lifelong marriage, growing in selflessness and compassion through the ups and downs of family life.Last month we also gathered with dozens of Catholic deacons and wives, nearly all whom have been married thirty years or longer. We celebrated the 60th anniversary of three couples and the 50th of several more. All of them show undeniable signs of tenderness and affection for each other. Because of this, I do not believe that our love is as rare as my son imagines.
Has our marriage been without suffering or pain? Absolutely not. The love we promised and live suffers and faces pain and change together. We each suffer the weaknesses, inconsistencies, and growing pains of the other.
Have there been moments when we felt like giving up? Certainly. That’s what the solemn promises are far. Nobody needs vows for good times. We need them when we feel like running, when we feel alone and misunderstood. We live our promises because we made them with our whole beings, not just our voices.But there is something more than our vows to each other. We married in Christ; Love Incarnate has always been part of our marriage bond. My love fails, so does Doug’s, but God’s does not. He gives us the power to put aside our own selfishness and choose love when we’re tempted to withdraw or to insist on our own way.
This same resolve, to keep Christ at the center of our marriage relationship is what makes the difference for us and for all the couples I mentioned earlier.It’s much more than giving lip service to Christian doctrine or going to Church on Sunday. I’m talking about praying together like God is really listening and trying to live the self-giving love of the Beatitudes better each day than we did the day before. It’s a daunting work, but it’s not an impossibility.
That day in the restaurant we were fearless in a way that seems impossible for young people who’ve lived the pain of broken families, or seen their friends live it.Still, I want to shout out to all of them: You were made for this! You don’t have to be afraid! You have what it takes to be a husband and wife, a father and mother! Married love is meant to last a lifetime!