We walk into the party, my husband and I, and maybe we should have seen it coming, but ready or not, we were treated as creatures as rare as a couple of unicorns. When you mention you are pregnant with your fifth child and add a number like twenty-one in reference to years of marriage, heads turn. We are immersed in a culture of people who have heard the message preached loud and clear to “be true to yourself,” to “live for today,” to embrace “what feels good,” and certainly, at all costs, do not subject yourself to suffering for the sake of anyone or anything else, because “you deserve better.” This message has been widely accepted and especially with regard to the level of commitment and obligation required in the vocation of marriage and family.
I sit and talk to the musician-designer who admits it is far easier to design an interior space or to compose a song than it is to work with the individual needs and dark nuances of another human being. I talk to a friend who would rather go home alone than attempt to navigate the uncharted territory of a romantic relationship with someone who values the age of her body but not of her soul.
They marvel and are attracted to the reality of the abundant numbers – five kids, twenty-one years of marriage. I pray they see joy across my countenance, a joy that has taken residence right in my pulsing heart over these two decades, but I resist the temptation to be the rockstar who smiles and says, “Oh, I just woke up this way,” and it’s all a matter of “good luck.” Because nothing could be further from the truth. What I struggle to find the words to say is this: I was a huge risk for my husband and he for me when seen through the eyes of cultural norms for self-preservation and personal advancement. We came with baggage and we certainly did not come with guarantees. As it turns out, nor did any of our children. And sure, I had fought during at least a decade of those twenty-one years to further my own agendas. I had wanted my commitment and love to make Robb into a perfect person and for my children to follow suit in story-book fashion. I have wrestled hard, and have mercifully been led to the high points of flailing surrender.
Only out of the pure grace of Jesus have I been led to the call to follow him in this risky business of authentic love. What had smelled like death – risking self, certainty, success, individual rights, and heartbreak turns out to be a mysterious miracle – the opportunity to open my heart and become like Jesus. In him, Christ in me, I become a lover like he is! I am changed through this path of great risk because it is here that I continually lose my life and find Christ. Herein I am being crowned with joy. In this pursuit of sacrificial love, I taste of God’s original intention – the crowning dignity of the call to sacramental love set in motion in the beauty of the original Eden – to trust the risky way of sacrificial love above certainty and self.