The unthinkable occurred 34 years ago. On February 26, 1983, Elizabeth Ann Solomon became Elizabeth Ann Denison. The most beautiful, godly, amazing woman in the universe became my wife. In the ultimate example of “opposites attract,” Beth said “I do” when she could have easily said “Are you kidding me?” To the disbelief of those who knew me best, she married me.
Looking back over these past 34 years, it is clear that this was ordained by God. Beth has demonstrated the character and love of God like no one I’ve ever met. I am a better man because of her, and the world is a better place. These 34 wonderful years of marriage have taught me five lessons.
1. Laughter is a good thing.
The Bible says a godly woman “laughs without fear” (Proverbs 31:25). Solomon said “there is a time to laugh” (Ecclesiastes 3:3). For Beth, that time is a daily occurrence. Through times that were bad and times that are good, we have learned to laugh in our marriage – a lot. We laugh at life’s circumstances, each other, and many of you! Charlie Chaplin said, “A day without laughter is a day wasted.” By that standard, of our 12,418 days of marriage, very few of them have been wasted.
2. Grace is real.
One of the great lessons I’ve taught Beth is the value of grace and forgiveness. By that, I mean I have given her thousands of on-the-job opportunities to practice grace on the highest level. And rarely has she disappointed. Jesus said to forgive 490 times (Matthew 18:2 ). That worked well for us. And then we entered our second year of marriage. Ruth Graham Bell said it best – “Marriage is the union of two good forgivers.” Grace is real.
3. Marry your best friend.
Nineteenth-century German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche said, “It is not a lack of love, but a lack of friendship that makes unhappy marriages.” Beth and I are together – a lot. And we never get tired of each other. We seldom need “a break.” We have fun together and share so much in common. We love the outdoors. We love the beach. We collect shells together – a state requirement for anyone over the age of 50 living in Florida. We even bought a two-person kayak recently – the ultimate test of our friendship.
4. Marriage is a journey, not a destination.
I used to think the marriage altar would be the consummation of a dream. I’d be married. Check it off the list. Take a victory lap. Take the ring, cut the cake, and accept the congratulations. But marriage is not a destination; it is a journey. God said he’d guide our journey with his light (Psalm 32:8). But I have learned God uses a tiny flashlight, not a giant spotlight. For 34 years, marriage has been about the next step, not the next mile. And that’s a good thing. It is the unpredictability of marriage that keeps it fresh. After 34 years, we are having more fun than ever.
5. It only works with God.
Solomon spoke of marriage as a cord of three strands (Ecclesiastes 4:12-13). You can have a good marriage apart from God. You just have to decide if “good” is good enough. It is through God that success becomes celebration. “Except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain who build it” (Psalm 127:1). Beth and I have learned that marriage only reaches its highest mountain and deepest meaning inside the boundaries and personhood of God in Jesus Christ. Max Lucado writes, “God created marriage. No government subcommittee envisioned it. No social organization developed it. Marriage was conceived and born in the mind of God.”
Today, we are celebrating our 34th wedding anniversary at Disney World. We are riding roller coasters. If properly drugged, I may even ride the “Tower of Terror.” But when we leave at the end of the day, our greatest ride will continue. We’ve been on this ride called marriage for 34 years now. And with all the twists and turns and ups and downs, the ride is as fun as it is unpredictable. And it keeps getting better every day.