Ross thought of everything. She even had a mint and a piece of Trident gum on each pillow.
On Saturday, we awoke early, put on our running attire and headed out to do what every married couple does on their 17th anniversary: run seventeen miles. We didn't plan to run 17 on our 17th. That's just what our training schedule had us do on this particular Saturday. You see, we have been training together for the past three months because we are running the Columbus Marathon together on October 16th. Well, I don't know if you could really call it 'together' since I'll beat the pants off of him (ok, that was a big fat lie, but it felt good to say and make whoever is reading this believe it for a mere moment). But the truth is, Gladiator has been beating the tar out of me. Yep, been doing it all summer. I'm getting used to running behind him, his sweat flying off and hitting me right in the face. I'm getting used to him talking smack to me, doing his little 'speed walking' beside me like I am running standing still...anyway, I'm not bitter. I know my day will come and he'll be eating all of his little comments. Um-Umm. One day. One day I'll leave him standing still in my dust...(buddy, don't even add 'in your dreams' to that last sentence. Don't even...)
Anyway, back to the story. Both Eric and I have trained for marathons. But this is the first time we've ever trained for one together. And, well, it hasn't been easy. It has been a sacrifice on both sides. He has had to sacrifice running faster. I have had to sacrifice running slower. Often, I've had to follow as he leads us on a route I've never ran. He's had to wait while I take a pit stop in Panera Bread. I've had to trust him to not add extra mileage 'just in case' we haven't ran far enough. It seems that every run has been a test of our marriage. Quite often, it has brought out the worst in both of us. As we have sweated through the heat, our tempers have flared. As we have had to bear down through the pain, our mouths have flapped when they needn't. Not long ago, Eric was running along and going straight at a street at which I wanted to bare right. He was far ahead of me. When I yelled at him three times, he didn't hear me due to the music blaring in his ears. Of course that made me mad. So I defiantly said in my head, 'Fine, forget you,' and turned and went my own way. As my rebellious self was running along, I heard God's quiet voice:
'that's exactly your reaction too often in your marriage, you know. You vehemently turn and choose not to follow.'
Knife to the heart, I had no comeback. Because I knew it was true.
Oh, how God has shown me my shortcomings through these training sessions. He has shown me that my tart reactions while we run is often similar to how I respond in everyday circumstances within our marriage. Far too often, when I don't feel like 'submitting' or 'following' Eric's lead, I make a snappy comment. I choose my own way, elevating myself over my husband. One of our pastors at our church is fond of saying, 'Marriage is a slow death.' That statement is so true. Marriage is a slow death of selfishness, self centeredness and every other word derived from SELF.
Maybe right about now you single people are thinking, 'wow, what a morbid picture of marriage you paint...a slow death you say? Why on earth would I want to subject myself to that?'
Well, at first glance maybe it does seem less than desireable.
And, at first glance, the cruxificion--too--appears desolate, dead and downright ugly.
Yet, read between the lines, look intensely upon the cross and it begins to turn into something quite the contrary. And death and ugly transform into life and beauty. How? How can such a desolate scene become one full of so much hope?
It's simple, yet complex...
It's a man choosing to lay down his life for mankind's blatant, defiant sin. For your sin. For my sin. For the lie you told last night...for the short tone I had with my kid's today...for our entitlements and our self consumption.
And the success or defeat of my marriage hinges upon this very thing--sacrifice. Every time I choose sacrifice over self in regards to my sweet husband, I am choosing to know my Savior more intimately. Every time I turn my gaze up--up towards my sweet Jesus--my vision becomes clearer, more focused...and I choose to lay myself down for my spouse's benefit. And round and round it goes...this circle of life hinging upon the sacrifice, in the giving, not the taking. That is, if I choose.
With every sacrificial step, God does something truly miraculous, transcendental to the hilt. He creates a love in my heart, hand spun...turning superficial into supernatural. He makes what was skin deep, rock solid.
And my petty, worldly attempts at love turn into the real deal. That is, if I choose.
Because it's in the choosing. It's in the obedience. And if I don't choose the 'seemingly' harder thing, I won't experience the sacrificial depths of real, true love.
Which brings me back to 17 on 17. The picture I am so thankful God gave me on this anniversary day. The running of seventeen on our seventeenth that I am certain was no coincidence. Serving as a memorial marker, lest we forget...
A memorial marker because: our run was set up from the beginning to be a dismal failure. August 6, 2011 was about as humid as they come in Cleveland. Inadequate fuel on a long run in the thickness of heat is not a good idea. This run should have been a bust.
Should have. But it wasn't. Sweat drop after sweat drop, step after step we pushed on...together. I wanted to quit at fourteen. I felt weak, depleted. Eric encouraged me to keep on: 'You'll be so glad that you did.'
He's right. I'll be so glad that I did.
17 on 17. I couldn't get the phrase out of my head. It became my mantra. My victory cry. And mile after mile we ran. Grabbing onto his shirt at times through dizzying spells of heat, I let him lead me through the rough terrain.
It was tortuous. It was about as unfun as you can get. Yet in that last step we were flooded with the satisfaction of victory. In the difficult, we had chosen not to quit. We had done it. We had conquered. We had overcome.
Marital ties of the upmost strength are woven through the difficult.
17 on 17. A marriage memorial for the long haul. Not for the faint of hear because marriage is not a little stroll or jog in the park. It is full of sweat, grit and determination. But trudging through all that effort is worth every sacrificial step that turns into a binding allegiance.
To choose the sacrifice
is to find greatness in the journey...
love that endures.