Last August my wife, Ramona, and I celebrated 20 years of married life—most of them good ones. It's a curious thing, reaching this milestone. When I was a boy, the only ones celebrating 20th anniversaries were old people with ample wrinkles, high foreheads, and starchy clothing—people who were so old they'd reached their forties and had little time left. Most of them seemed happy. Others looked like love was a dream and marriage was the alarm clock.
In my case, 20 years together is nothing short of miraculous, considering that I proposed to Ramona by chain letter. This is what it said:
Dear Ramona Bjorndal,
Do not throw away this letter! It was started by my ancestors just after The Great Flood and it's NEVER BEEN BROKEN! To keep the chain going, all you have to do is marry me. This will include providing decent meals, clean laundry, and lots of love for the next 60 years. In return, you will receive my undying devotion, occasional flowers, chocolate, and access to my car keys until death do us part. If you break the chain, you'll be destined to live a life of misery and boredom, much like the math class I'm sitting in now.
It was pretty clever stuff for a tenth grader, I thought, and four years later, when I summoned the courage to show it to her, she laughed. And agreed to marry me anyway.
In August, we returned to the same hotel where we first shared a pillow two decades ago. I gasped at the price, reminding myself that it cost $39 in 1982 ("Did they even have hotels back then?" my 13-year-old later asked). The staff was so impressed that a couple could stay together this long they couldn't spoil us enough. They wheeled in complimentary chocolates, chocolate-dipped strawberries, and a large bottle of champagne-on-ice. I've always had enough fun sober, so we bypassed the tiny bubbles and went straight for the chocolate, then sat in a hot tub talking of some pretty sweet years together.
I suppose there are a hundred reasons we still share the same phone number and address. Here are my top five:
We left no alternatives. The first three years of our marriage were miserable. Until I got a divorce—a divorce from loving myself and seeking my own way. What a difference it's made. Finding the right person, I've since discovered, is less important than being the right person.
We even golf together. My wife enjoys golf about as much as I enjoy shopping for curtain fabric. Still she comes along sometimes and cheers as I putt. Our fifth anniversary was celebrated on a golf course at her suggestion. Perhaps that's why I find it easier to move furniture when she asks. Or vacuum carpets. Or bathe the dog. One of these days I'll get up the nerve to enter a curtain fabric store.
We sweat the small stuff. Early on, I left mud on the carpet and whiskers in the sink. Worse, I often hurt her with a biting comment, or left my underwear where it landed. Small things can create quite a pile (trust me). So I'm learning to take care of the minor details, before they become major ones. If I'm last out of bed, I make it. If I'm late for supper, I call home. We go to bed at the same time even when I'm not tired and I kiss her lips before I shave each morning. Twice in the last year I lit candles in our bedroom, four times I've said "I was wrong," and just the other day (drum roll please), I even located the laundry hamper.
We travel together. Whenever possible, Ramona goes along with me as I travel across the country speaking. Sure it costs money, and I haven't had a window seat in years, but who cares? Our retirement savings plan may be smaller, but I'd like to grow old with someone with whom I share more than money, I share memories.
We pray together. One of Ramona's first wishes for our marriage was that we'd pray together. And I've honored this. To my knowledge prayer is the only reason the Bible gives married couples for abstaining from lovemaking. First Corinthians 7:5 says, "Do not deprive each other except by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer." Sometimes this has been a very short prayer! But bringing our desires, our dreams, and our concerns before God together has united us as a couple.
Lately we've been thanking God at night for his amazing grace. For taking two selfish kids who hardly knew how to spell love and drawing them close to himself and closer to each other. In the end, I suppose you could chart our marital happiness on a graph that would parallel the depth of our relationship with Jesus. His power dwarfs that of any self-help book or chain letter. For these 20 years, he gets the credit.
On our way to our overpriced hotel, we heard Huey Lewis and the News sing, "I'm happy to be stuck with you," and we both smiled and tapped our toes. But glue or chains don't hold a marriage together. A hundred tiny threads do. Threads like trust, commitment, kindness, humility, gentleness, respect, and flowers on an anniversary.
As we checked in, I told our hostess the significance of this day. Her eyes grew wide. "Wow," she said, "that's a long time with one person!"
"Yes," I replied with a grin, "but it would have been a whole lot longer without her."
Phil Callaway, an MP regular contributor from Alberta, Canada, is a popular speaker and author of 13 books including With God on the Golf Course (Harvest House). You can visit him at www.philcallaway.com.
Copyright © 2002 by the author or Christianity Today/Marriage Partnership magazine. Click here for reprint information on Marriage Partnership.