I'm downstairs by the wood stove, my boys beside me, and Legos and toy cars strewn across the floor. It's minus 25 degrees outside. "You better put some more wood on the fire," Aiden says, pointing at the coals.
I nod to my son and say, "Yes, we better keep Daddy's fire going."
"You see that?" Aiden says to his brother Kasher, while they've got their legs tucked, sitting on the rug—a dance of flames on a cold winter's day. "It keeps us nice and warm."
He doesn't just mean the fire. He means the way his dad chops wood every day after school, fills up the old cracking blue tubs and hauls them in, me sweeping up the wood chips behind him, how I stoke it hour after hour while Trent's at school, how we keep the cast iron pot full of water on top so the air doesn't get too dry.
And I'm giving to the coals begging them to spark—sometimes I add some newspaper or cardboard, because every marriage needs this. Every marriage needs some romance, to keep the love breathing, pulsing, to keep the house warm.
Divorce is a cold draft through the cracks of every home's front door and we're not just stoking a fire. We're creating a safe place for the family, a place to hold them.
But it's war, friends.
And the shells, they're scattered on the ground around our bed, and we're wounded, but we rise because the one shield that protects us all . . . is grace.
There is nothing stronger than grace.
It's the thing that finds you sitting on the kitchen tile in your pajamas crying because you've just had a fight, the kind with wringing hands and rising voices and you're jet-lagged and emotional, having been around the world in nine days and him at home with the boys.
It finds you sitting there and it smiles, gently, and extends its hands—this grace in the form of a farm boy who read every single blog post while you were gone, who shared your videos with his class, who rose six times in one night to comfort your youngest son, who downloaded all of your favorite shows while you were away so you'd have something to watch when you got back.
This man who wrestles with your sons on the floor and reads them Winnie the Pooh and makes you cheesy nachos because you are too hungry to do anything but grab a plate.
There is no brighter light than a strong and vibrant marriage—and this doesn't mean it isn't messy or hard or that sometimes the feelings just aren't there.
And it doesn't mean you won't ever be attracted to someone else.
But you refuse to follow those feelings. Instead, you lean into the promise.
Marriage is a promise—one that you keep even when you don't feel it—one that you believe in with your body and soul, one that you trust God to bless and strengthen and overflow you with love when 50 years seems like a very, very long time to be exclusive with someone.
But if you think about it—that person is being exclusive with you too. And what a gift: to know that he is sharing his body and his heart, only with you, forever. Is there a greater analogy to the commitment God has to his creation? The dying to self so that someone else can know they are accepted and loved?
I ponder all of this as I work on a manuscript and the boys continue to play with their cars by the woodstove. Soon Trent is walking in from a long day at school, and we're all drawn to the hearth. To the smell of woodsmoke and the sound of love.
Marriage is the fire that family gathers around.
The key is to never let it go out.
This article originally appeared on EmilyWierenga.com, and is used with permission from Emily T. Wierenga.
Emily T. Wierenga is an award-winning journalist, commissioned artist and columnist, as well as the author of four books including A Promise in Pieces, releasing April 15 with Abingdon Press, and Atlas Girl: Finding Home in the Last Place I Thought to Look (Baker Books, July 2014). She lives in Alberta, Canada with her husband and two sons. For more info, please visit www.EmilyWierenga.com. Find her on Twitter or Facebook.