Twenty years ago today I sealed my fate.
I had met Cecile two years earlier at a temporary job. We should have known one another less than three weeks. She had just been through a bitter divorce and was not crazy about men. To an engaged girl at our table she had said, "Give me five minutes and I'll have you talked out of it." When she found out I was a follower of Jesus, her first question was, "So what's this crap about women submitting to men, anyway?"
But she was searching--deeply, deeply searching--and when she came to Jesus she fell harder than anyone I'd ever known. Her life was transformed virtually overnight. It was the most beautiful thing I'd ever seen. And so I began falling in love with her, despite myself. We struggled, that summer, with an attraction neither one of us wanted to admit to or to act on, and when I left for grad school that year, we had no commitment to one another.
But without me being there as an ulterior motive, she kept going to church. She read the Bible through, in about eight months, even though she had never been much of a reader. We kept in contact by letters and recorded cassettes. She asked me questions about my faith and my views of life; I learned everything I could about her--who she was, what she cared about. And by the time I came back home the following summer, I knew I was going to ask her to marry me.
We went to eat at Mexican Village, then took the Ambassador Bridge over to Windsor, sat in a park watching the sunset over the Detroit skyline, and I asked her to marry me. Disconcertingly, she welled up with tears and didn't answer at first. But she eventually said yes, which led up to that day, twenty years ago today, when we got married.
Not at our own church, sadly. They wouldn't allow divorcees to be married there. And we never knew until later to what extent Bill, our college-and-career pastor, had gone out on a limb to marry us. We found a church near my home and made the preparations. Guys have no clue, until they've been through it, how many preparations even a "small" wedding entail. For the groom, the necessary ingredients are a license, a ring, and a getaway car. Brides have slightly more elaborate ideas. And although all kinds of crazy things went wrong at the rehearsal and the morning of the wedding--a groomsman forgot to show up to the rehearsal, a friend who made our wedding cake got into a car accident and spent the night fixing the cake, Bill locked his suit in his car--the ceremony itself was beautiful.
And so we were married, and when we left the reception I giddily took off down I-696, missed the turnoff down I-275, and drove probably 20 miles westbound on I-96 before realizing that we were headed toward Lansing instead of toward our hotel in Romulus. The following day we left for our honeymoon in Ludington, which was probably about the happiest week of my life.
We have a framed engagement photo in our bedroom, and occasionally I look at that picture, at the couple so full of hope. I miss them. The years that have gone by haven't been what either one of us had expected. But there is no one I would rather have gone on this journey with than Cecile. No one even comes close.
Twenty years ago today, I married the most remarkable woman I know, or can even imagine. She has been the best friend anyone could ever have, the most loyal, the most fun, the most supportive. Although I was instrumental in leading her to faith, she has been the one who has most strongly helped me to continue in faith myself. She has gone with me to the UP, to Pennsylvania, and back to Detroit with scarcely any complaint. She looks for and encourages the best in me, even though she's seen me at my worst. She's kind and loving and far more elegant than she has any idea of. She has given me three wonderful sons. And whatever else is happening in this world, whatever hurtfulness or cruelty or unkindness comes against us in day-to-day life, she has made a home that is always safe to come to, where we can be ourselves. Where it doesn't matter what we have or don't have, what we've achieved or haven't achieved, where the only thing that matters is that we love God and love one another. She is truly the greatest blessing of my life.
What we have together is what I wish every couple had. I wish I could give away our secret, but the truth is, I don't really know what the secret is. If I had to boil it down, I'd say that "us" is more important than "me" to both of us. But really, I think she lives that out better than I do.
So here's to my Cecile. Twenty years ago today, I made the best decision of my life. I can't possibly express the gratitude I have for her. Here's looking forward to the next twenty.
For more on marriage, check out my book, Marriage, Family, and the Image of God .