Last week we celebrated our tenth wedding anniversary. It came and went without a lot of pomp and circumstance. We felt loved and acknowledged the life we’ve built and are continuing to work on. It was just different than I had always imagined it would be.
We didn’t write our own vows, opting for the traditional ones instead. To be honest, I don’t actually remember our vows. There was something about richer and poorer, sickness and health, good times and bad, but as I was proclaiming these words while holding tight to my almost-husband’s hands, my heart was holding tight to a plan I had carefully crafted for our life ahead.
We would spend a few years in Seattle and then move back to Montana as soon as we could. Our house would have a mountain view on the outskirts of town. After a few years of marriage we would start having kids, either two or three, each two years apart. I would continue teaching, Brett would work as a family medicine doctor, and our kids would spend oodles of time with their grandparents since they would live so close to us. On August 5th, 2016 we would be kicking off a week in Hawaii to celebrate our tenth wedding anniversary. We would spend our week hiking, kayaking, eating delicious food and enjoying cocktails while watching the sunset.
Fast forward ten years, and not one part of that scenario has come true. Instead, we woke up on our tenth anniversary in our small apartment on the Upper West Side of Manhattan well before the sunrise to our only child decorating my face with stickers. It was very romantic. Some of them were hearts. We spent a lazy morning together and then went to brunch, just the three of us on a quiet Friday. A few hours after brunch, Brett climbed in a taxi that would take him to the airport so he could spend 12 days in Rio working at the polyclinic in the Olympic Village (yes, he has a cool job). Norah and I then flew to Montana to spend some time with family while Brett was away. Our flight was delayed, we missed a connection, Norah threw up, and then our next flight was canceled. It was almost as relaxing as sipping a cocktail on the beach.
If someone would have given me a glimpse at the reality of our tenth anniversary on our wedding day, I think I might have panicked. That is not my plan.
East coast? Only one kid after ten years? Not teaching anymore? Living in an apartment? This is not what I signed up for. It does not reflect the silent subtext of my marriage vows.
My biggest lesson after ten years of marriage is that we are not good planners. That feels like a much bigger confession than you might think. You see, we are planners to our core. Color-coded lists and spreadsheets and budgets are our mutual love language. But we have learned that there is something that brings us much more peace and security than our well laid plans. Rather than sitting at a table scribbling out our future together, we’ve learned to sit at the feet of our Father and ask him to prepare us for the plan He already has. It’s been a slow learning process, but as we shared a delicious meal the week before our actual anniversary, we agreed that this is the most important lesson we’ve learned in ten years of marriage. We’ve been getting better at doing this earlier in the decision making process than we did in our first few years. Now, instead of spending a few weeks planning and then asking God to follow through, we start with Him and spend a few weeks listening before making a decision.
He’s prepared us well. Most of the time in ways we didn’t even realize we needed to be prepared because we didn’t know the plan. We’ve never doubted a decision we’ve made, even though all of the big ones have gone in the exact opposite direction of our original plan. We’ve been united in the process because we’ve trusted that God will prepare us together. He has molded our hearts’ desires towards His own and surprised us with how much joy we can have in this new reality. Perhaps the biggest surprise is just how much this new reality feels like it was the plan all along.
This is not to say that we don’t miss those things we were certain we would still have now. We miss Montana. I miss teaching. We miss many aspects of our life in Seattle. But just because we miss them doesn’t mean we need to go running back to them. It means that those things were a blessing in our life and they were exactly what we needed when we had them. We are at peace in letting those things go to make room for the things God has for us now.
This is also not to say that we’ve found that magic key to a perfect marriage. Marriage is hard, and it doesn’t seem to be getting any easier with time. We still annoy each other with some of the same little habits we did ten years ago. We still argue over big and small things. And, contrary to that age-old marriage advice, we have gone to bed angry a time or ten. However, the shift of asking God to prepare us for His plan rather than make the plans ourselves has allowed us to be pointed in the same direction and move at the same pace. Whether we’re laughing or arguing along that path, we’re together.
If I were to write my own vows, they would be very simple. I would vow to approach the throne of grace holding hands, to listen to our God before sketching out our plans, and trust the adventure He has written for us. Still, I’m not going to lie and say I don’t hope that a week-long kid-free Hawaiian vacation is somewhere in His pages.