20 years ago today I married Robyn L. Shields. We've slept next to each other most of those 7,330 or so nights. I was 21, she was 20. I know it's real, but at times the whole thing seems too good to be true. Before her, I was never much of a catch for girls. I was their friend who was a guy who was there for them to talk to about their boyfriend. But when Robyn came along, it was like deep calling out to deep. Sure, we started as friends and hung out at the beach and laughed a lot. We had this great blend of light-hearted humor and profound conversation, sort of a weaving between the two. I remember one summer night in 1992 in Laguna beach walking on PCH. We had spent the late afternoon at the Sawdust Festival, then a romantic dinner at Splashes in the Surf 'N Sand, in the lower section outside with the spray of the ocean misting over the plexiglass while we sipped on ice waters and Pepsis. And then it was the live art at the small outdoor ampatheater, Pageant of the Masters, which, on the scale of romantic dates, is pretty hard to top. So the night was over, almost, except for the drive up PCH back home to our parents' houses. We were walking slow on the sidewalk in Laguna to my truck. And somehow we began talking about the power of a knot tied with three strands, as opposed to two. And that there's this part of Scripture in Ecclesiastes that talks exactly about that, and we wanted to be like that. Because without God in our relationship, we'd be like a two-stranded knot, and everyone knows that two stranded knots don't last as long, and God designed it better and stronger by inviting himself into our mix, and that he probably wanted to be more than an occasional string and more like a permanent part of the knot. And so Robyn and I linked our fingers and swayed down the concrete sidewalk, watching shop owners turn off the lights and close up for the evening. We always drove home slow, because we wanted the night to go on, and we lived an hour away from each other, so we didn't see each other except for two or three times a week, a magnificent sacrifice for a 20 and 19 year old falling in love.
It was 1992, a few years before cell phones and internet, and so we talked on cordless landlines and wrote love letters, literally. It was the sweetest part of sweetness. We shared secrets, we unlocked each other's doors, we held each other's bodies, salty and warm, in the afternoon sand at the river mouth in Newport Beach. Our courtship was about restraint and anticipation, about being apart and being together. From our first date on May 10, '92, to the afternoon of my proposal a few months later at Hammonds Beach in Santa Barbara on Dec. 12, to our wedding day a few months later on Aug. 7, 1993, it was a walk in the clouds. And this isn't a glossed over rendition. Sure, we had some fights, some clashing. I was a surfer/beach guy, she was an inlander. I was working construction in downtown Long Beach, she was a server at wedding banquets in Glendora and volunteering as a counselor at Forest Home outside of Redlands. She was a faithful Missouri Synod Lutheran, I was a Calvary Chapelain. She was a student at Cal Poly Pomona, I was finishing at Long Beach City and transferring to Westmont College in Santa Barbara. But we were just ordinary kids who found each other rather quickly and wanted to hang on to this thing that was growing and shaping and calling us further.
And Robyn was beautiful. From the inside out and the outside in.
I wish there were stronger words than "grateful" and "appreciative" because these don't satisfy the feeling in my heart when I think about her or this marriage of 20 years, this knot of three strands that's still tied and strong. We've had times of absolute depletion. We've been in fights that have lasted weeks. We've been disillusioned through family loss and exhaustion from physical work and generating income and making financial mistakes. And yet.
There's a current of love and commitment that runs deeper than the things on the outside, the circumstances, the hard things. There have been times I've wondered at the speed or flow of the current. But it's always been there, no doubt. In fact, it's the thing that swallows my doubts and takes my fears. It's the current that feeds the relationship. It's pretty important that it's there. I'm grateful. I know for certain the blessing in my life.
From day one we've wanted our marriage to be a light of sorts. We've wanted it to have a purpose, something beyond just living together and getting along and making a living. It's like giving back because you've been given so much. The beginning of our love, the making of our relationship on the Southern California coast in the early '90's, the depth and beauty of it-- we've always seen it as a gift from God who fashions beauty from ashes and makes weak things strong, all for a purpose to be lived. Our marriage, our friendship, our lives, are so far from perfect. There are glaring things in each of us that many people would recognize. But there's quite a lot of good. We've been given so much, and the gratitude I carry in my heart exceeds the fatigue and pressures of this life. I want the current to stay flowing, and whatever light there may be between the two of us to keep shining strong and well.
Today's my anniversary. Robyn's at the salon getting a massage and her nails done. I could spend this day writing 10,000 pages of memories and gratitudes, simply dwelling on the blessing of the last 20 years. With every thought come 10 more. But we're going to meet up in a little while. And so I'll be content to leave on this note, another Scripture portraying the object this morning's musings: my marriage, my Robyn...
"Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is of a good reputation, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things."