Today marks 18 years of marriage to the amazing Shawn Kemp. Since I was only 18 when I married, this is my milestone anniversary of now being married for as long as I was single. Last night we went out to eat to celebrate. I asked Shawn what he thought the secret to our marriage might be. His immediate answer, "stubbornness." Then he tried to back-track to tell me that I am persistent. But there is great truth in his answer. There have been many times that the primary reason that I am married is because I have been to mule headed to give up. This made me start to think about how we have successfully maintained a healthy marriage, when many others have ended in failure. I decided that surely I could come up with 18 reasons why my marriage is successful. Here is my list - may you find something that speaks hope into your marriage.
1. God Alone. God's love and faithfulness far exceed my own. It is through his power and grace that I have been able to withstand tough times in our marriage. It is in realizing that it is God's job to complete me - not Shawn's - that helps our marriage to be healthy. For too many years, I expected Shawn to fulfill me. The emptiness that is within me is far too great for a human to fill. It was designed to be filled up by God and God alone. In learning to pursue my relationship with God, I have learned to set Shawn free to do the same.
2. Prayer. I can't even explain how many hours I have spent in prayer for my husband and our marriage. I pray with thanksgiving during the good times, and I pray with desperation during the dark times. It is through prayer that I am able to tap into God's power and find the perseverance to continue.
3. Stubbornness. I think Shawn is right - many times in our marriage, the fact that I am just plain mule headed kept me from leaving. I refuse to give up, and I refuse to settle for "just okay." I keep trying, and I keep expecting things to improve.
4. Respect and kindness. I treat Shawn with the respect that I feel human beings deserve as valuable creations. I do not blast him, nag him, or belittle him. When I am angry, I do my best to express my concern over the issue at hand without raising my voice or changing my tone. This is not easy, and it does not provide the immediate satisfaction that yelling might - however, when the issue has been calmly resolved, I am left with very few regrets about unfair things that I might have said during the heat of battle that could never be taken back. I would say that for the most part Shawn tries to treat me in the same way.
5. Remember better days. When times get tough, it helps me to review the past. There are many good memories that I can review to remind myself that this season will pass and the good will return. Having many years in our past helps us to wait out the storms that might be in the present.
6. Honor. Shawn consistently treats me with honor. He attempts to guard his eyes from looking at other women with lust. He wants to guard his heart and eyes so that I am the only person who captivates his heart. I do not have to be afraid that he will embarrass me in public by comparing me to other women and discussing my flaws. EVER. He is never rude about the weight that I have gained, the wrinkles that have found my eyes, or the gray hair I now color. He affirms my beauty and never makes me feel lacking in the presence of others.
7. Time. We try hard to date at least once a month. I will confess that this year we have been more lax in this habit, and to be honest, it has shown. This has been probably one of our toughest years ever of marriage - in large part due to busyness, lack of communication, and teen drama. Dating can be redefined so that it is inexpensive and doesn't always require a sitter - we often "date" in our kitchen late at night. We'll prepare a special dessert, a good cup of coffee, and dance in the candlelight.
8. Communication. We attempt to sit down at the kitchen table a couple of times a month to sync our calendars and make sure we are on the same page with our schedule. Again, this year we have been too busy and have let this slide and arguments have arisen over schedule conflicts and poor communication. We also try to communicate using "I" messages. For example, "I feel special when you..... or I feel neglected because......" I know, it seems cheesy at first, but it helps with the defensiveness that crops up in discussions.
9. Physical touch. I make it a point to sit next to my husband at events if possible. When we walk down the street, I still hold his hand. I want to communicate to him - especially in public - that he is still the man who captured my heart.
10. Great sex. There are many times in a marriage that magic in the bedroom will cover a lot of flaws. There have been times over the last 18 years that I have stayed because contemplating giving up the amazing magic we are fortunate to share made me realize that I could put up with a lot to avoid being single and having to practice celibacy.
11. Good friends. I need friends who can support me with godly advice and prayers. I need friends who can be trusted confidants. These are not easy to find as a pastor's wife. I must be cautious because while I may need a friend to pray with me about a problem in my marriage, I don't need a friend who will gossip and damage my husband's reputation and ministry.
12. Laughter. Learning to laugh at life and to just simply enjoy life together is a huge plus in a marriage. I love when we have the opportunity to laugh long and hard. Having fun together is a must!
13. Mind over matter. This is one of Shawn's favorite sayings. "If you don't mind, it don't matter." In other words, don't sweat the small stuff. We are both human. We both make mistakes. Lots of them. Forgive and move on. Don't get hung up on stuff that is really insignificant in the long run.
14. Our kids. Enjoying our kids together draws us together in our marriage. Attending their events, parenting together, and watching them experience life helps us have common interests. We are fortunate that we are generally on the same page with discipline and parenting philosophy.
15. Common interests. Finding things that we enjoy together strengthens our marriage. We recently built a deck, something we both enjoyed doing together. We cook together. Shawn cooks, and I sit on a stool and watch.
16. Don't take yourself too seriously. Being able to admit my faults and to realize that I am often wrong and to laugh at my mistakes helps our marriage stay healthy. For example, I am easily one of the clumsiest people I know. What's awesome is that Shawn thinks it's adorable when I drop my money in my coffee cup, spill the coffee on myself EVERY morning, trip down the stairs, or get my shirt stuck around my head and fall down trying to get dressed. Being able to laugh about this keeps me from having hurt feelings or feeling self conscious.
17. Work together. Shawn helps me with the housework. This is key to our marriage's success. We both work long hard hours at our jobs. The fact that I know he is going to handle the grocery shopping and the cooking is a huge relief for me. He is great at doing laundry, vacuuming, and his favorite - dusting. I know that if I am cleaning, he will be helping.
18. Forgiveness. There are times in marriage when big offenses are committed. This is because we are human. We can hold onto grudges, anger, and bitterness - or we can forgive. I choose forgiveness. Life is too short to be miserable with anger and filled with contempt and hatred. I can not begin to count the number of times that I have been completely stupid in the last 18 years - I needed forgiveness, not condemnation. I am fortunate to be married to a man who forgives and moves on. For my part, I genuinely struggle with memory loss, so I simply forgive and forget.
This is not an exhaustive list by any means, but simply 18 things that came to my mind as I sat in front of my computer screen. I am sure there are many other things that are equally as important that I simply didn't remember right this minute. But bottom line - I treat Shawn with respect, he treats me with adoring honor, and we passionately pursue God. I think these three things are really the keys to our success. Marriage is not easy. Disney fairy tales are not reality shows. Marriage is about learning to love an imperfect person - after all, God does not demand perfection before he loves us.