This past Tuesday, Travis and I celebrated 8 years of marriage. Since we dated a little over 2 years before tying the knot, we’ve been together for 10 years. A full decade. Besides making me feel old, that length of time makes me feel grateful. Grateful most of all for our God who doesn’t give up on us, but keeps blessing us abundantly and transforming us into His Son. Grateful for Travis, who bears with all my flaws, failures and annoying habits with patience, thoughtfulness and humor. Grateful for our two amazing daughters, who are both blessings and opportunities for growth.
Ten years ago, Travis and I were baby believers. We had both trusted in Christ as our Lord and Savior just a year before. We were diving headfirst into the community of Campus Outreach (CO), a campus ministry we got involved with through the friends who led us to Christ, soaking up truth and fellowship like sponges. Even though we both grew up going to church — me, Lutheran and him, Catholic — we knew practically nothing about the Bible, salvation and what it meant to be a Christian. God surrounded us with passionate Christians who were gung-ho about Jesus. Besides going to class and studying, we spent most of our waking hours going to Wednesday night meetings (which, by a vote, were named both “Ministry Training Time”, and “Travis”), Sunday school, Sunday services, Sunday night prayer meetings, weekend Nerts competitions, study breaks during finals with banana chocolate chip pancakes, and get-togethers organized by CO.
Some may look at that lifestyle and think “Whoa, CULT!?!?!?” But for us, it was life-giving. Campus Outreach is a very unique atmosphere — like a greenhouse for spiritual growth. Ten years later, I can say that I have not seen such intentionality and vulnerability anywhere else. It was especially good for me and Travis, who had both had previous romantic relationships that weren’t healthy or glorifying to God. We both lost our virginity in high school and did our fair share of partying. In Campus Outreach, we had strong Christians to mentor us, not only in our budding faiths but also in our relationship with one another.
In my case specifically, I went from making out with random guys at parties and sleeping around (before I was a Christian) to not even holding Travis’ hand for the first 4 months we were dating. We were both in Myrtle Beach at the CO Beach Project soon after we started dating and when we hung out together alone, we took long walks on the beach and got ice cream. Afterward, when we were back at home base (an old hotel that our whole group of 75 students was staying in), Travis would say goodbye by playfully punching my arm, “Well, see ya later.” When he did finally hold my hand in the back of my parents’ conversion van on the way home from a canoe trip with my whole family that August, my heart leaped with butterflies. Two months later, after much consultation and advice-seeking from his mentors, Travis told me he loved me and we kissed for the first time on a hundred-foot-high bluff overlooking the Mississippi River in Winona, Minnesota.
It was not easy to date for two years and not have anything go past kissing. We had a couple minor incidences of “crossing the line”, both of which happened when we had had a little bit too much to drink (old habits die hard). Afterward, we talked about what had happened, and in one case, we stopped kissing for about a month to give us time to “cool down” and reflect.
The summer of 2006, when we had been dating for a little over a year, I went back to Myrtle Beach with Campus Outreach and Travis stayed in the Cities. Three and a half months later, Travis and I sat together on the banks of the Mississippi once more, this time on the U of M campus in Minneapolis, and he told me that he knew he wanted to marry me.
That same night, we told each other the complete, ugly stories of our lives before Christ. I won’t lie — it was VERY hard to hear, and to tell. But by God’s grace, we worked through it and can truly say now that our marriage is a story of redemption. Jesus is so much bigger than our baggage and sin.
On our wedding day almost 9 months after that night, I clutched my dad’s arm and walked down the aisle to a man who was a new creation. It is that same hope of transformation, that same Spirit in us giving us love and compassion that holds our marriage together today. By the grace of God, our marriage is what it is. It’s not perfect — far from it. But with each year that passes, Travis and I understand each other better. We learn what to avoid. How to phrase things. When the best time is to talk. When the other person just needs us to listen. We still forget these things. We’re still selfish and sinful. But we forgive. Move on. Try to bite our tongue next time, or listen better, or let go of our personal desires to fulfill the other’s. We compromise and sacrifice. We encourage and correct. We share and give. We apologize and admit.
I used to beat myself up over not being where I want us to be in our marriage, or not being the kind of wife I want to be. But as Tim Keller says in one of his marriage sermons, marriage is about seeing the potential in the other person. They’re not perfect. They have flaws, sins, failures, annoying habits. But because of the hope we have in Christ and the transforming power of the Spirit, we can look past the rough exterior and see the pearl on the inside. We see what they’re becoming.