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Tell me what events you attended last week, and there is a good chance I can tell you what season of life you are in.  For example, my twenties were a decade of weddings and baby showers.  My thirties were filled with play dates, recitals, VBS, and youth sports events.  As kids grew up, my forties offered a slew of high school and then college graduations.  So far, the early fifties are shaping up to once again be a cycle of weddings—only now I am sniffling (or sobbing) all the feels alongside my friends who are parents of the bride or groom. As a matter of fact, Iwas myself the teary-eyed mother TWICE last year

As these wonderful young people are beginning married life, this has also been a season of celebrating the 20th, 25th, and even 30th wedding anniversaries of my friends.  While the promise of new marriages never fails to bring me to happy tears, it’s the quiet, victorious legacy of the well-worn “velveteen” marriages that leaves me awestruck.

Think about it; in this me-oriented culture it is nothing short of miraculous for two flawed and sinful people to live closely together and navigate life’s happinesses and heartaches, opportunities and challenges, triumphs and tragedies for decades and still maintain their love for one another. Therefore,  as far as I am concerned, every sliver anniversary and beyond is a soul-stirring miracle.

The thing is, I am tragically aware that not every new beginning has a happy ending. In the past few years, in addition to joyous anniversary celebrations, I also have seen far too many long marriages end as soon as the youngest child leaves home. This phenomenon is NOT a church-versus-world dichotomy, either. I served, worshipped, and raised kids alongside many of these now-divorced Christian couples.

As you can imagine, with two newlywed kids of my own and countless others whom I love, I have been thinking often lately about what it is that will enable these starry-eyed young lovers to hang on to their devotion to one another as long as they promised to in their vows. I desperately want to share with these beautiful young couples the secret that will equip them not just to endure but to prosper in marriage.

Marriage is deciding each day, “We are more important than me.”

This March, Mike and I will celebrate twenty-six years of marriage. Not only that, it will be twenty-six years of happy marriage.  I kid you not.  I still get butterflies when he looks at me.  The events and circumstances of our lives have had their share of difficulty and sadness, but by the grace of God and the patience of Michael Odell, we’ve always been happy together—regardless of our circumstances.

We often joke that we never should have made it.  We were a hot mess when we married, and pretty much the only thing we had in common was that we loved each other.  Therefore, as happy as we have been (against all odds), I obviously can’t offer my marriage up as the blueprint for marital success.  (We’re more of a “do not try this at home” situation.)

As I thought about it, however, I remembered when I was in college lamenting to my mom after a break-up, “I just want a marriage like you and Daddy.”  She looked rather stunned that she had birthed such a clueless daughter and remarked, “Mary, it took us twenty-five years to get this marriage.”

Her words, I think, contain the secret I’ve been looking for. Weddings are events and vows are promises, but marriage?  Marriage is real life. Marriage is a verb. Marriage takes time.

On March 20, 1993, Mike Odell and I made vows to one another before God and our loved ones.  It was important.  But while March 20 was our “Big Day,” March 21 was the day we began the actual journey of marriage.  You see, marriage is made up of a long sequence of days, which turn into years, which turn into decades of waking up and choosing that day to encourage and honor one another.  Marriage is choosing daily to deepen our relationship instead of taking it for granted. It is the choice every day to look for what is best in one another and forgive what is flawed.  It is deciding each day, “We are more important than me.”

One truth I have learned in twenty-six years is that it is impossible to love my husband well unless I love Jesus more. Surrender to Christ enables me to live sacrificially with my husband.  When my satisfaction is in Jesus, then instead of depleting me, sacrificial love brings joy.

With Christ as the center, marriage not only makes us happy, it makes us holy.