One of our summer rituals is an annual family vacation to North Myrtle Beach. My parents, two siblings and their families make the long trip from Illinois to join my family and my sister’s family who live in Anderson. A crowd of 22 arrived a couple weeks ago for fun in the sun!
This year our family get-together was highlighted by an evening wedding at the beach. Our parents were married in Decatur, Illinois on October 18, 1963 in a very tiny church ceremony with eight people in attendance and no reception. My father was not one for crowds. Through the years, my mother always held out hope that one day they might renew their vows at the beach with family present and celebrate with a reception. We had the joy of making that dream a reality!
A rainy day at the beach concluded with a beautiful and serene evening for renewing their vows. My sister prepared the beach with several burlap blankets and colored pillows for seating and a hand crafted wedding arch for the ceremony. As the oldest sibling, I had the joy of walking my mom down the aisle. The tears were flowing for both of us. My brother, who is also a pastor, led part of the ceremony and then handed it off to me. As I stood before my parents and led them through the renewal of their vows, I was overwhelmed by many memories and emotions. As I reflected on their journey, one question arose through my crowded thoughts: what was the key to making their marriage last? How did mom and dad do it? Marriages that last 50 years are a dying breed. What was their secret? During the past 52 years I’ve seen them raise four children and weather the storms of life that come to every marriage. Yet, somehow they have managed to live, love, and last.
Without hesitation my mind landed on the beautiful passage of scripture that the apostle Paul penned about marriage in Ephesians 5. If you’ve ever heard a message in church about marriage, there’s a great chance that this was the passage taught. However, my focus was not on the familiar verses (23-33) that teach how a man is to love his wife and a wife is to love her husband. I found myself drawn to verse 22. In it Paul writes, “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” That was it! That was the key to my mom and dad’s marriage. They chose to always submit to one another because of their love for Jesus. Because of His sacrificial love and forgiveness for them, they chose to sacrificially love and forgive one another even when circumstances were difficult, life was hard, and love wasn’t alive. In those moments their commitment to one another remained strong as a result of their commitment to Christ. It was their love for Him and His love for them that held them in those difficult days.
As we shared these special moments together, my heart was warmed by the belief that marriages can last. There is hope for every marriage when both partners surrender themselves to Christ and invite His power into the disappointments and darkness. My parents are living examples of this type of marriage. It’s a marriage worthy to be celebrated, so following the ceremony we gave them the reception they never had. It was an evening our family will never forget!