The Face and Saving Grace of My 25th Anniversary

moron wedding g 001

On Tuesday, May 26, 2015 I will have been married to Monique for 25 years. To many in our culture, this is a significant anniversary. From one perspective, it seems a bit arbitrary: Why is 25 years more meaningful than 24 or 26? Those are pretty darn close to a quarter of a century, too, right? But from another perspective, it is a symbolic representation of a longevity not seen in very many areas of life anymore. Who today stays at the same job for 25 years? Who lives in the same house for 25 years? Who drives the same car for 25 years? Who wears the same underwear for 25 years? Don’t answer that last question…

As I consider the 25 years of water under our marital bridge, the most shocking thing to me is the speed at which that current is flowing. When I was a young boy and we marked my parents 25th while traveling in Europe in 1977, 25 years sounded like 250 to me. “Wow! My parents are old!” I couldn’t conceive of that vast amount of years! Now, I consider 25 years with my wife and think, “Wow! How in the name of my giddy aunt did we get here so fast?” Our perception of time is a funny thing. Certainly it doesn’t slow down or speed up but each of us has moments when we could swear that time is either crawling or sprinting. The last five minutes of a playoff hockey game, when your team is up 2-1, seem to last an hour. The past 25 years of something way more meaningful, like your marriage, seem to hurtle by you in a blur of life, work, play, sex, kids, meals, trips, bills, talks, spats and hugs.

The events and experiences that make up our 25 years have flashed by. I see them in my mind’s eye as quick snapshot memories, like a slide show clicking by way too fast. But where my 25 years slows down, where I can feel my feet on the ground again, where everything that swirls around in my brain finds a center, is when I look at my wife’s face; that most familiar of all faces, maybe more familiar to me than my own image in a mirror. In her eyes, in the lines and shapes that make up the person that I fell deeply in love with, I find time at a standstill. At the 25 year mark, this truth is taking my breath away.

Mo c. 1990 001

Monique is a beautiful woman (or as young woman put it to me last night “She’s a babe!”). She is not “model” beautiful or “actress” beautiful in the modern sense of how we label these things. But I have always considered her a beauty in the timeless sense. That is, comparable to the women painted and drawn by artists throughout the centuries; the women they were inspired by and drawn to, not because of perfect proportions but because of a beauty that comes from a deeper place; a beauty that seems to be a reflection of Beauty itself; Beauty that gives image to hope and love and peace and dreams.

That all sounds very poetical but, of course, I was first attracted to her ’cause I thought she was hot! But even in those crazy head-over-heels days, I saw something in her face that I could easily imagine taking in for my entire life. Even as a love-drunk twenty-something, I realized that I found the person whose face I would gladly look at for decades and never grow tired of it. That wasn’t because she was gorgeous perfection personified; it was because I found a home, a place I wanted to stay for as long as possible.

Of course, over the years I have been attracted to other women. As the saying goes, I may be married but I’m not blind… or dead! But every time I consider that other woman I may be attracted to, I realize that no one can take Monique’s place. Again, not because of her perfection, but because there is no one else like her for me; no one else I am meant to be with; no one else that could possibly mean what she has meant to me in my life. After 25 years this feeling just gets stronger and stronger. After 25 years of being together through all the amazing times, frustrating times, painful times, beautiful times, I can honestly say that I am on this journey with the one and only person I am meant to be with as a traveling companion.

MoRon Montreal 2006

I want to make something abundantly clear, however. All the above may lead you to believe that either I am delusional or that I am in the kind of marriage most people can only dream about. Neither is true (at least I think the delusional part isn’t true; but if I were delusional I’d think so anyway because I’d be so deluded… Hmm). The fact is that our relationship has been subject to all the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune that any relationship can be subject to. We can annoy the hell out of each other at times. We have had tough days and bitter arguments. After 25 years we can still be miffed and mystified. We have never endured unfaithfulness or any kind of separation but there are times when we can behave like roommates who are fed up with each other. Any couple who tells you they’ve never felt like “The Odd Couple” is lying. I don’t believe in the perfectly compatible person. I don’t believe in the romantic ideal that is pitched to us over and over again in our movies and TV shows. I am weak and petty at times and so is Monique.

Yet after 25 years there is an undeniable strength to our marriage; there is a faithfulness that keeps us tied to each other no matter what happens; there is love that has gone from gaga to grounded over these two and a half decades. To what do we owe these resilient qualities of our marriage? To our own upstanding moral character? To our fine personalities and intellectual capabilities? To the simple fact that we’re just superior human beings?

Exactly!

OooKay… I’m kidding. After 25 years it is clear that the strength, faithfulness and love at the core of our marriage has very little to do with us. I know this is true because we are as fallible as anyone, if not more so in certain areas. After a quarter century together there is really only one thing we have in common that I could point to as the X Factor in our relationship: Our commitment to Jesus. There may be some reading this who will think I’m slipping into delusion again. But after all these years I simply can’t point to the perfection of my spouse or to my own outstanding-ness as a reason for our marital longevity. I know us too well. We are neither perfect nor outstanding. We are very human. Very much like you. We are as much in need of saving as anyone else. And it is only my Savior that I can truly credit with the strength, faithfulness and love at the core of my marriage.  Why? Because only he is perfectly outstanding; only he is unshakable and perfectly solid. He is the only explanation that makes sense to me for 25 years of wonder I can celebrate with Monique.

So much of what I’ve written here seems pathetic to me, as if I can’t summon up the words to really communicate what I’m thinking about. But I hope you understand. I believe that there can be a person who is meant for you. Not in a “you complete me” sense but in a “God’s purpose for me” sense. I also believe that I am that person for Monique. And I believe that there is a spiritual reality to all of this that can’t be easily explained but also can’t be easily explained away.

On the occasion of this significant anniversary I find myself thankful for the face of Monique, the one I get to see every day that keeps me grounded despite the frenzy of life; and I find myself thankful for the saving grace of my God, that keeps my marriage sound and solid despite our weaknesses and failures. On one hand, that doesn’t sound all that spectacular. But on the other hand, it sounds downright epic.

MoRon 24th pic - Copy

Aside

Not Striving for Significance: A Mother’s Day Tribute

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When I look in the mirror, I see my Mom. Not because I’m having a vision of my dearly departed mother but because I look so much like her. I have so many physical traits like her side of the family that I’ve had people look at me and say, “You must be Eleanor’s son.” Yes, I must.

When I look down at my hands, working on some detailed project, I see my Mom’s hands. They tremble just like hers did. She became quite self-conscious of this as she got older. Likewise, I am becoming more self-conscious of my shaky hands. People think I’m nervous about something when they notice it. The only thing I’m nervous about, however, is that you’ll notice it make a comment like that. At those times I feel my Mom’s frustration.

When I consider the follicle challenges I have on my head yet see the copious amount of hair that happily grows everywhere else on my body, I think of my Mom; not because she was bald and hairy but because her brothers were bald and hairy. As I understand it, I got that genetic quirk through her side of the family. The scant hair gracing my head is quite grey now, too. Also a reason to think of Mom. She got grey very early on in life. In fact, as the baby of the family, the youngest of six kids, I have no memory of my Mom with anything but grey hair. My siblings like to say it was because of the youngest child that she went grey so young. Sorry, Mom.

When I hear someone make a joke about their “quasi-Alzheimer’s” I think of my Mom. I have said before that she lost her battle with Alzheimer’s disease but I really don’t like that phrase anymore. She had as much chance of “battling” that disease as the young Somalian pirates had of taking on the U.S. Navy at the end of the “Captain Phillips” movie. It was not a fair fight and the end was inevitable. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t worried about ending my days in the fading confusion that comes with that horrible disease. It was difficult not to feel cheated by not having your Mom fully there for the last few years of her life. Yet even in the throes of Alzheimer’s, there were aspects of who she uniquely was that could not be extinguished. She still loved to laugh. She still brightened up when little children came around. She still remained deeply concerned about caring for people, being hospitable, having enough food for everyone.

My Mom was a compassionate and gracious person. She came from a quiet, kind-hearted family, humble to a fault. I have very few memories of Mom talking much about herself. She would elaborate on some things if you asked her but seemed genuinely uninterested in being the center of any conversation. Only very late in her life did I discover she had dreams of being a nurse when she was young. Her parents discouraged this notion, especially when it became clear she had the opportunity to marry a charismatic young man who was destined to become a pastor. To them this was by far the highest status she could achieve, being wife to someone of prominence and position. I never sensed that my Mom resented this or resented the role she played as wife and mother.

She never did much striving for significance. It didn’t seem to be in her DNA. But a funny thing happened: By not striving for significance but instead being faithful and committed to her life as it unfolded before her, she achieved a significance so far beyond the reach of so many who have given all for success, money, fame. By being the gentle person she was, by living out her values and beliefs in simple, day-by-day ways, she created a legacy that has had long lasting ripple effects.

When her kids all get together these days we laugh and sing so loudly that the mother responsible for all of that noise must’ve done something right. Sure, most of the noise comes from our Dad’s genes but the spirit of it all, the sheer joy of being joyful, comes directly from our Mom. Laughter, so strong it makes you cry – that’s my Mom. But more than that, by being who she truly was and living that out for us to see and emulate, she set our lives on a course of compassion and grace. Each of her children embrace a very practical and very human way of being like Jesus. This is no accident.

I realize now that the earthy spirituality I hold so dear – an internal value so important to me that it can’t be excised from my soul – I owe to my Mom. She lived that way absolutely unselfconsciously. She didn’t attend a seminar, read a book, hear a message and then decide to strive for being real, being joyful, being compassionate, being gracious, being loving – She simply lived the way God led her to live. And in the wake of that life there are children, grand-children and great-grand-children who also strive to live the same way. She unleashed on the world a small army of little Jesus’s cast in her mold. Was this her master plan all along? Unlikely. Mom was just being Mom and letting God work out his master plan.

All this has been very important for me to consider on this Mother’s Day. I have spent too much time fretting over my own significance. We all want our lives to matter, to leave something behind, to have a legacy. We strive and we strive for things that ultimately will make us look good, will make us come out as special, unique, gifted, significant. My Mom left behind a legacy that the world would deem insignificant. She didn’t write any books, make tons of cash, find a cure for some dreadful disease, star in movies, hit lots of home runs, grace the cover of magazines or serve in some political office. History will not remember my Mom’s name. But the effect of that one quiet life will resonate on and on beyond anything that the so-called Significant People could ever muster.

So in honor of my Mom, I want to renounce a striving for significance in favor of a goal to live the life God has given me, fully and abundantly, until he calls me home. I don’t expect to be remembered to history, either. But it is my prayer that I can continue the ripple effect of grace and compassion for many more generations to come.