Today Alex and I celebrate our 4th anniversary. I know. Babies. In the marriage sense that is. Four years hardly qualifies me for any sort of marital advice, so you won’t find any of that here. But we have had a full enough four years of marriage and just over five years together that, like anyone who has lived, sinned, parented, loved, fought or forgiven, four years does give me story: one larger story of God at work and a hundred short stories reminding us of that very thing.
My friendship with Alex started in January of 2010. I was just starting my last semester of graduate school in the middle of Pennsylvania, and Alex was in the middle of a year-long deployment to Iraq. So, that sounds like a great recipe for a meet-up, yes? Besides the problems with the physical locale, each one of us had, well, junk in our lives. We wouldn’t know the full extent of one another’s stuff until later, but I’ll spoil the ending just a bit: I was rather hung up on another guy, and Alex was not fully free of a life that involved a bit of women and a lot of alcohol. Still, behind the encouragement of my best friend who had connected us, we emailed and looked endlessly at one another’s pictures on Facebook (whatever, I call it discretion, people; you know you would do the same).
The email communication with Alex was easy from the beginning. He was kind and funny and honest. He emailed when he said he would (a welcome relief for the girl who spent far too many hours waiting by her phone for the text that would never come), and he asked good questions, things I cared about answering. As luck, or God, would have it, my trip to visit my best friend Emily in Spokane, Washington, would overlap with the first two days of his two weeks of leave from Iraq. Our first date was March 9, 2010, with the company of great friends who knew enough about me to know that sending me out on a solo date with a guy I had only ever met in words would be, well, disastrous. Case in point: I went to get dressed for the date and walked out in a black sweater, jeans, and my Nike running shoes. True story. Emily took one look at me and said “No.”
Our first date was great, our second over coffee the next day was even better, and by the time I hopped on an airplane back east 48 short hours after I met Al, I was taken. He was, too. Mutual taken-ness with one another is perhaps the most fun time in a dating relationship. It’s all light and flirty and wonderful when you occupy a space in someone’s heart and mind that makes you feel, well, loved. And loved is no small thing at all.
But every relationship does eventually get real. Ours did in July 2010. Alex had been committed to a new life in Jesus and I had finally found the confidence to cut all ties with the other guy- something I should have known to do many months before. But you know, sin is a hard thing. You’ve heard the metaphor, but if the wound isn’t completely clean, the infection will just come back even if you diligently change the bandaid each day. We both had more cleaning to do.
In July 2010, on his way home from Iraq during a three-day stop over in Germany, Alex found himself deep in the elation and celebration that a war-tour for a few hundred young U.S. Armed Services members was over, and he made a few bad decisions. He called me around 3am that morning, told me through pained tears about the alcohol and the other woman, and listened to me sob on the other end of the phone. Everything we both feared the most was real and right in front of us. For Alex, his fear was his past. For me, my fear was my future. We both thought our sweet romance was over.
I could tell you so much about the next few hours, and someday I will. But there was godly advice from a wise man, there was prayer, there was an ocean, there were a few trusted friends who spoke life and not death, and there was a small spark of hope. That’s all we needed. I'm not sure that we have ever done this as well in our lives since that day, but we went to God on desperate knees, and He answered.
The days and weeks following were painful. There were more tears, a whole lot of insecurity, and discussions that you truly never want to have with someone you love. But right there, in the middle of all of that, there was Jesus. And I can tell you what saved our relationship in those months, and even today, was not our pursuit of each other but our pursuit of the Lord. Only He can heal in the ways we all need him to. Only He can teach us what love and grace are supposed to look like, and only He can make it possible to live them.
Alex and I were married at the park of my childhood, where I grew up pulling tadpoles out of the creek and keeping up with my brothers as we climbed from tree to tree. It was a perfectly warm California August, thirteen months removed from one of the hardest days, but it might as well had been a lifetime, because it truly was the best day. Between that terrible July night and the beautiful August evening, we had mentors and Alex went through a recovery program. We read books about purity and marriage and we told the truth to each other- sometimes that is a hard thing to do. Alex committed to abstaining from alcohol and still does to this day. I’m so proud of him for that, because it’s not easy. He’s felt out of place or just left out more than once—as people pleasers social events are often a lot easier to navigate with a beer in your hand. But Alex has said again and again that his best is sober, and he’s committed to staying that way. Five years strong.
I love so many things about being married to Alex. I love that he makes me laugh hysterically and supports every single one of my dreams. Really, every single one. I love how he acts like everything I cook is the best thing he’s ever tasted. I love how incredibly patient he is with me. I love watching him parent our children, because he loves them so tenderly. I love how he listens when I talk. I love the way he cares for other people. I love that he cried in the Hunger Games when Rue died.
You only have to be married for two hours to know that there are plenty of things you won’t love about your spouse, and yes, we have that list for each other, too. (Have I told you that when Alex tells a story while he’s driving, he might as well be in outer space because the rest of the world is going the speed limit while he cruises along at 40 miles an hour. Multi-tasking, not so much). But what being married to Alex has always done is make me want to be more of the woman he loves. Our marriage most certainly gets tangled with rude comments, shut doors, silent treatments, and irrational anger on my part (see: three babies in three years), but when someone serves as selflessly as my husband does, the only reaction is repentance, and then to try and serve him better. As any married couple knows, the crap comes and your spouse gets the worst of you sometimes. But when you turn to Jesus before anyone or anything else, He loves making the ashes of that mess something beautiful again. Maybe more than anything else, being married to Alex made me believe that.
In four years of imperfect marriage we’ve watched two precious babies come into the world and anxiously await a third. We’ve left jobs, took risks, and lived on a summer landscaping job salary. We bought a home and a minivan. We’ve set goals and made mistakes and had to ask for forgiveness from each other, from our friends, from our children. But here we are, living a story that almost wasn’t. But it is, because Jesus is, y’all.
To my amazing man, I love you more than yesterday, but not as much as tomorrow.
*All of these pictures were taken by my beautiful friend, Laura, who is talented and generous and sweeter than I can say.
**I made Alex take these pictures for our anniversary gift to each other, both to document what is *probably* my last pregnancy and remember this beautiful story we get to tell of God. He's such a good man for saying 'sure.'