My husband and I celebrated our 23rd wedding anniversary last month. I was 23 when we got married, which means I have officially been married to him for half my life!
As we reminisced about some of the experiences we have shared, he looked me in the eyes and asked, “Would you still marry me again? I mean, knowing everything you know about how life with me has turned out, if you could go back to that time 23 years ago, would you still make the same choice? Would you still choose me?”
Without even thinking, I replied, “Of course!”
And I would, absolutely.
But for the sake of deep thinking, I want to stop and travel down that road just a bit. This man has loved me and stood by me for over two decades. He deserves more than a trite answer and a shrug. He deserves to know why I would say yes, why I would choose him all over again. And so I pause…
Because in many ways, while our life together has been beautiful, it has not turned out at all like I expected. When he proposed to me, I had a pretty good idea of what I was getting myself into, and so did he. We were both in full time ministry, working on a church staff together. Ministry was pretty much our life. We even chose to get married right after Christmas because that is a slow time on the church calendar, which would make it an ideal time to celebrate our anniversary each year.
Yes, the future obviously held a long road of ministry life for us.
I wrestled with what that would mean for me. I knew I had to put him first, and that my role as a pastor’s wife was going to have to be more important than my role as a Youth Minister.
My young, prideful heart struggled internally with making that sacrifice, as though giving up a title might mean giving up part of my soul. I had no idea at the time just how many titles and identities I would have to surrender. That first one was simply a trial run, a training ground for things to come.
God is funny that way.
Now, fast-forward to today: it has been over 13 years since we were in full time ministry or since I have been called a pastor’s wife. My former-church-planting pastor husband is now a business man, and I am no longer a Youth Minister or a pastor’s wife. I am just Me, a homeschooling mom who leads a small group and volunteers for various things. We have moved several times and lived in several different states. Instead of depending on the financial generosity of others, we have been blessed enough to be generous ourselves. So no, it is not the life I expected, but it is a good life, a great life even!
However, if I’m honest, it has not always been easy for me to let go of my expectations and embrace our changing path. Ministry life is hard, for sure, but it is also incredibly rewarding. The long hours and scrutiny from others can be frustrating and exhausting, but having a front row seat to watch God work in people’s lives- well, there is nothing else quite like it. Being used by God to draw others to Him? It is humbling and inspiring and all around just awesome!
And truthfully, there is something about being in ministry that feels important, like you are really making a difference in the world. Letting go of that life wasn’t easy for either of us.
It is incredibly difficult to keep one’s identity separate from full-time ministry. Our identity is found in Christ alone, it’s true…
but sometimes, Jesus and the Church can get a little blurry.
So, there was a period of time where neither of us really knew who we were anymore. When something that is such a huge part of you is no longer there, it leaves a gaping hole.
John Piper said, “Occasionally weep deeply over the life you hoped would be. Grieve the losses. Then wash your face. Trust God. And embrace the life you have.”
It took us awhile to figure out how to let Jesus fill that hole, and how the rest of our pieces fit together once the ministry pieces were missing. We asked God some hard questions and had to wait a long time for hard answers. We learned to give one another a lot of grace in the midst of needing a lot of grace ourselves. We had to figure out how to move forward into a future that no longer looked like the one we had always imagined.
Some of you know that feeling even better than we do. Maybe you have lost a child or a spouse or a parent. Perhaps you are shuffling from job to job in an economy that no longer values loyalty and commitment. Whatever the case, the future no longer looks like you always thought it would. It’s like someone turned out the lights and you’re having to feel your way through, step by step.
I call those our Wilderness years.
We both felt a little lost.
But even in the darkness, our faith in one another, and more importantly, our faith in the One who was still in control remained strong. I never questioned whether or not we would make it- I was confident we would. I just had no idea where we would end up. So we simply kept doing the next thing, trusting God to lead us as we walked with Him, and He did.
He still does.
There have been other twists in the road, other struggles along the way. We have lost friendships and gained new ones. We have learned some lessons the hard way. I don’t think either of us ever imagined we would move away and create a life away from our friends and family, but here we are. And if someone had told me all those years ago that I would end up homeschooling four children and loving it, I would have thought they were crazy!
Sometimes I look back over this road we have traveled and wonder how in the world we got here. This place is so far from where I always thought we’d end up!
And yet, it was the right path for us.
We have learned humility, endurance, and obedience. We have found out who we are in Christ, apart from what we do for Him. We have been blessed with a beautiful family and caring friends. We have seen God move in mighty ways, and we have heard His still, small voice whispering in the silence. We have confronted our own weaknesses and learned how to listen better.
This path has taught us what it really means to love.
And 23 years later, I wouldn’t trade those lessons or our journey together for anything in the world.
But, back to his original question:
If 23-year-old-Me knew how differently our life would turn out, would I still choose him? Or would I have hightailed it out of there and hopped on a plane to the mission field, leaving all the “what ifs” in a cloud of dust behind me?
The answer is simple, really.
Given the choice, 23-year-old-Me may not have chosen this particular path, but there was never a doubt that he was the One God had chosen for me. Whatever I imagined for our future back then, I certainly couldn’t have imagined a future without him.
23-year-old-Me would have followed him anywhere…
So I did.
And I would absolutely choose him again.