When my husband and I went away for the weekend to mark our second anniversary, we were looking for a place that fit in our budget and could squeeze into the boxes on the already-full calendar. What we hadn't anticipated was that we'd meet a house with a story—a house that served as a poignant metaphor of marriage.
We'd found information and photos of the bed-and-breakfast online, and since it fit all our parameters, we booked it. Once we arrived in person, though, we were delighted to discover it had charms that couldn't be captured on any screen. The quilt on the four-poster bed had been handmade by the owner's sister, the hardwood floors had been polished until they gleamed, and although the home had all the comforts and amenities of this century, its character remained true to the 1858 farmhouse it had once been. Best of all, there was a huge wraparound porch where we could soak in lazy summer afternoons. The house had enough to endear it to us all on its own. But then we heard its story and we fell in love.
Some 20 years ago, Ed and Sandy had a nice, comfortable home on the right side of the railroad tracks. They were on a walk one day when they spotted it—a rundown house with gaping holes in the roof, peeling siding, and rampant weeds. As they got closer, they realized that the interior was even worse off: The windows had been bashed in, and the walls were spattered with gang graffiti. But they saw something in this gem in the rough—a whisper of what once had been and a vision of what could be one day. Before they'd even left the property, Sandy, the artist, was already dreaming up floor plans on the canvas of her mind. Ed, who enjoyed a good handyman challenge, was imagining what they'd do with the place if it were featured on This Old House.
It wasn't long before their dreams turned into schemes. What if they bought the place and gave it a complete makeover? Before they had a chance to talk themselves out of it, Ed and Sandy sold their house and moved into the project of a lifetime. Their friends all told them that they were crazy, that they'd bitten off more than two people without their own TV show could chew. And to be fair, the naysayers had a point. When it rained, water came in through the roof and poured down three stories into tarps in the basement, and every night bats and scads of insects came in through the broken windows. For months they essentially camped out in their new home, with their mattress as the only real furniture.
But still they clung to their vision. They dubbed the house "Amazing Grace," acknowledging the miracle that the house had survived at all before they discovered it. And they rolled up their sleeves, installing new plumbing, repairing structural damage, putting up drywall, hauling trash to the dump, fitting new windows, putting up siding, building a porch, planting trees. And one December, two and a half years after they started, they looked around and saw that their dream had become a reality. The place had been transformed from an eyesore to a thing of beauty, from a nearly condemned wreck to a lovely home. It was, indeed, a tangible work of grace.
Over a breakfast of homemade frosted cinnamon rolls, savory quiche, fresh strawberries, and coffee with real cream, Ed and Sandy asked us how long we'd been married. "Two years," I said, thinking that it was less time than it had taken them to renovate the house. Ed and Sandy, on the other hand, were getting ready to celebrate their 50th anniversary. They'd met at summer camp in high school, almost sixty years ago.
"Oh, tell the kids about the time we lived in China when we were first married," Sandy said to Ed.
It took me a moment to realize that we were "the kids," but soon we were regaled with stories about their stints in various countries while Ed was in the Air Force during the Vietnam War, the cross-country moves they'd made, the three children they'd raised together, their disappointment when Ed was denied a commercial pilot's license because he was half an inch too short. Over the span of a breakfast, we got a snapshot of the highs and lows of half a century of building a marriage.
And it struck me in that moment, as I savored another cup of coffee, that building a marriage is a lot like building a house. It is grace—amazing grace—but it doesn't happen magically overnight. It requires us to roll up our sleeves and let our sweat and blood soak into the floorboards and the plaster. There are times when the task of renovating feels utterly daunting and everyone else says that it's crazy, that it would be better to just give up now.
It's then when we have to cling to the vision we were given one morning when the sun was shining just so and our families stood by and we vowed to love till death do us part. In that moment the impossible seemed possible somehow, as God whispered in our hearts that this idea of a forever-covenant really was within reach.
Wherever you are on your marriage journey right now—whether you're at the demolition stage, tearing down unhealthy patterns, or whether there's one particular room of your relationship that needs a makeover, or whether you're simply doing some light redecorating, I hope you are able to experience the principle of the Amazing Grace house in your relationship: that the new creation God is building will require work on your part, but that it's ultimately a work of his grace. In the words of F. Burton Howard, "If you want something to last forever, you treat it differently. You shield it and protect it. You never abuse it. You don't expose it to the elements. You don't make it common or ordinary. If it ever becomes tarnished, you lovingly polish it until it gleams like new. It becomes special because you have made it so, and it grows more beautiful and precious as time goes by."
I'm still just a kid at this, but I want to cling to this metaphor of marriage as an ongoing home makeover project when things are hard. Marriage takes work, and we might not see the results of that hard work right away. But ultimately God is the architect and designer and builder at the source of it all. And the tools he uses are the tools of grace. Amazing grace.
Stephanie Rische is a senior editor of nonfiction books at Tyndale House Publishers, as well as a freelance writer for publications such as Today's Christian Woman, Christian Marriage Today, and Significant Living magazine. She and her husband, Daniel, live in the Chicago area, where they enjoy riding their bikes, making homemade ice cream, and swapping bad puns. You can follow Stephanie's blog, "Stubbing My Toe on Grace," at StephanieRische.wordpress.com.