As of tomorrow, my wife, originally known as Dedra Shawn McDonald, and I have been married exactly 19 years and 365 days. Way back on June 27, 1998, we promised to love, honor, and obey each other in a small Lutheran church in Texas. New Sweden, Texas, to be exact. Yes, I know that Texas and small do not go well together, but in this case, it’s true. Small, though, does not mean without might.
And, yes, I know that I, a Roman Catholic, married in the Lutheran Church. I did have the permission of the local Roman Catholic bishop. As far as I know, our marriage has been a mighty fortress, indeed. Again, remember that bishop’s approval! And, yes, I know that the promise to love, honor, and obey went well beyond the confines of that Lutheran parish.
Martin Luther, though, has never really been absent from our lives. Even when I asked Dedra Shawn McDonald to marry me, around 11:35pm, under a full February Montana moon on the steps of St. Helena’s Cathedral, I had posted 95 reasons why she should marry me on the cathedral doors. She said yes after reading the first four or so. 95 might have been overdoing it. That is, in our case. (No Lutherans need be triggered by this.)
And, here we are, 20 years later. Older, but definitely not necessarily wiser. At least in my case. Dedra, I think, was born wise. It’s in the calm, the restraint, and the beauty of every thing she does. I noticed this on the second day I knew Dedra. It was those unbelievably deep and steady green eyes of hers. I’ve been blessedly lost in those eyes for well over two decades.
I can’t say our marriage has been perfect, but it has always reached toward perfection. Amazingly enough, we’ve hardly ever fought, and most of our fights (I can count the number of fights on only two hands over the two decades; one every two years or so) last just a bit. Our fights almost alway begins with me being moody, realizing, a few hours later, I’m being an idiot. She never has to tell me I’m an idiot. She just wisely accepts and forgets.
I’ve seen her give birth to seven children. In each, she seems to pass on a bit of her grace, and, yet, her own grace only grows, never diminishes. I even saw her give birth to a child that had died in her womb after a perfectly healthy nine months, only to get wrapped in her own umbilical cord two days after her due date. Paradoxically or not, that day of horror and that delivery were my wife’s finest moment. Her strength sustained us both. It’s this kind of strength that builds not just marriages, but entire civilizations.
After two decades of marriage, permit me to offer a few tidbits of advice, though I have learned these things through experience and trust and my wife’s steady fortitude.
First, God wants you to marry the right person. You should never doubt this. If, while dating someone, that someone makes you hesitant, or uncomfortable, or insecure, run like mad. That someone is not for you.
Second, sometimes you actually know you’re meant to be together for life in just the first twenty-fours of knowing one another.
Third, once you know no. 2, don’t wait. Getting the finances in order or wanting to age a bit before marriage or gain some experience in life, etc.—these are ridiculous excuses. People in love don’t give a flirk about any of these things. Those in love just want to experience the world together for as long as they possibly can.
Fourth, even if you and your intended are of different religions, don’t worry—God is Love, and Love makes the stars stay in their orbits. If Love can do that to the stars, you should never doubt what it can do for your marriage. (The same is also true whatever your parents may think or tell you).
Fifth, don’t hesitate to have kids, immediately and often. Sure, kids can be frustrating. I was a kid once, and I’m sure I frustrated many an adult. (Even as an adult, I probably frustrate many another adult, although kids seem to like me!) Kids can be expensive, too. The joy of each one—made in some way from you and so well beyond you—is, however, incomprehensible and endlessly glorious. Remember, above, where I noted that the grace my wife imparted to each one made her (and them) greater, not lesser? It’s quite true. Besides, on a practical level, I always have my own little party and posse, wherever I go.
So, here’s to 20 years with Dedra Shawn McDonald Birzer. Thank you, my love. And, thank you, God, for making Dedra. And, thank you, Dedra, for reminding me in every look, every smile, and every wise reflection that God is Glorious and that God is Love.