Photo by Jonathan James Photography

I wrote this for the wedding ceremony of two of my dear friends, Alicia Lanser and Ryan Betts. It loses something, I think, in being read rather than heard. So, in order to foster an authentic interaction with the tenor of this piece, please imagine my voice in your head as you read, and make my imaginary voice start to cry about halfway through. If you do so, you’ll have a moderately accurate and genuine experience, missing only the multitude of hairspray and double-sided tape.

“If we commit ourselves to one person for life this is not, as many people think, a rejection of freedom; rather it demands the courage to move into all the risks of freedom, and the risk of love which is permanent; into that love which is not possession, but participation…” – Madeleine L’Engle

Marriage is supposed to be “true love,” right? At least sort of theoretically. Genuine love. Authentic love. Sincere love. Constant and faithful love.

But, hold on, everybody, because actually what is that?

To some degree, I think one has to experience true love to know what it is.

For all the years of people telling you that “the first year of marriage has its ups and downs,” you can believe in that sentiment without it really meaning anything—until you’re crying in the car while your husband drives you to play practice and you eat the Whole-30 compatible potatoes that he cooked for you while you were yelling at him.

To a larger degree, though, I think one has to wilfully define one’s own definition of love in its truest form. And, as I’ve mentioned before, I don’t think one has to be married to experience it.

Sick parents who ignore their own exhaustion to lie beside their sick children and stroke their hair at two in the morning—that seems like true love to me. Coworkers who give up their afternoon to teach you how to replace the broken drive shaft on your car—it’s hard to imagine love more sincere. Staff members who reassure their supervisor that it’s going to be okay that she’s late to the bachelorette party, and who cheer her up by making tiny wedding favors out of sticks and super glue—that’s weird, specific, genuine love.

And that specificity matters, I think. We all want to be loved specifically, not just generally, because, I think again, that’s how God loves us. He doesn’t just love you because you’re his child, although that it is part of it. He loves you because the weirdest things make you laugh, and because you love to drink pickle juice, and He made that too, so he’s glad somebody is going to enjoy it.

He loves us all, but he loves us each too.

So marriage is a terrifying handshake that agrees to a love that is specific, true, and also two ways. You agree to choose the same person every day to favor with the purposeful acts of loving: for who they are, what they are, what they need. You have to love them as good parents love their kids, and good coworkers love their colleagues, and good staff members love their supervisors—specifically, and without expectation of return. But, in marriage, you can’t pick and choose opportune moments. Sometimes your love has to be very, very, very inopportune.

And each person has to be on board for that. Alicia has to be on board for that, with or without Ryan. And Ryan has to be on board for that, with or without Alicia. But the beautiful part of this day, the part that makes us all cry, is that we all know you’re both separately on board together.

And that’s the participation Ms. L’Engle is talking about—the “all-in” kind. I know I spent too much time in the first year of my own marriage trying to prove to my kind husband “You Don’t Own Me.”

I sometimes lost sight of the fact that You Don’t Own Me, and I Don’t Own You, but that We Own Us. And that’s part of the risk of choosing permanent love. Permanence is big.

It has always seemed weird to me that everyone is so cautionary about the permanence of tattoos and so encouraging about the permanence of marriage. Like, I get it: I don’t want a sagging Chinese character on my eighty-year-old backside either, but I’d rather have that than a nagging, lifelong resentment in my eighty-year-old soul. So I think it’s important to participate every day. You can’t expect love to be permanent unless you’re a part of it. Just keep showing up, and loving as Jesus loved, with his help, because heaven knows he’s more familiar with inconvenient love than the rest of us combined.

Congrats, Alicia and Ryan, on the first day of officially co-owning “Us.”

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