Father to Five, Married to One…for 25 Years

Time is a strange phenomenon. We’ve all experienced that sensation in which the days seem long and weeks short; where the whole summer stretches out in front of us for sunlit miles…and then suddenly it’s Christmas. Marriage is like that, too. On a hot summer’s day on the South Dakota plains—August 17, 1996—in a little Spanish-style stucco church named for a German bishop, St. Liborius, two kids got hitched. The tall, slim, cleancut groom in white tails was me: book-smart and big-hearted, a little awkward and a lot emotional, with an insecure streak, a dose of self-righteousness, and a professed agnosticism that bore little resemblence to the faithfulness I was prepared to promise to this girl.

And what a girl! Jodi was, then as now, beautiful: dark wavy hair, eyes that went from brown to hazel to green and back, quick to laugh, solid and peaceful, steadfast in her Catholic faith, and willingly to pour herself out entirely for those she loved. She was a fountain flowing; I, a bottomless bucket.

One of us cried at our wedding—the one who saw too well that he was getting the better end of this deal. How could I ever love her enough?

But I was sure game to try.

Back to the time-warp: I look at our wedding pictures today, and we really seem like two kids! Barely out of our teens, what business did we have promising our lives to each other? What did we know about life, or about our own abilities to love anyone or anything unto death?

Perhaps that’s the best time to commit to marriage and raising babies: When you’re too foolish and self-assured to be scared about the future.

It seems like so long ago, and yet…

We’re grandparents now. Our oldest, Brendan, who was just born yesterday, has a wife and son of his own. Like his father and grandfather before him, he married above his station and will now spend his life trying to do right by the beautiful life-giver beside him, whom he does not deserve and cannot repay.

What an impossible and joyous debt we bear.

Our second son and eldest daughter have left the nest as well. Gabe is in his fourth year of missionary work with NET Ministries: he is prayerful and self-assured, well beyond his years; he cannot be more than a middle-schooler, can he? Emma is in her second year at University of Mary in Bismarck—our original girl-baby, in college!—and her baby brother, Trevor, is a senior this year.

Praise God for giving us Lily, who starts fourth-grade tomorrow. She keeps us young, and makes us feel our age, at the same time.

25 years of marriage. Those two kids at the altar seem so young, and yet wasn’t it just yesterday?

We had great examples, sure: both of our parents are still happily married for 50+ years, but watching a marathon can’t make you a runner. We knew “the rules” and followed them to a point; we stumbled along; we made each other furious, frustrated, sorrowful, and sad. It took us at least 10 years to figure out what God had actually called us to in marriage and begin striving for the true goal instead of the fractured fairytale. We’ve had five healthy children and lost a baby along the way. We’ve celebrated and mourned with family and friends, and in both situations asked, “Why, Lord? Why?”

A quarter-century later, my bride is still an marvelous mystery: as much a part of me as my own beating heart, and as strange and unknown as an undiscovered country on the horizon of the sea. I will happily die exploring all that this woman is, and laugh as I fail entirely. God willing, one day I will see her as He does and truly understand how blessed I’ve been.

One thing, at least, we have agreed upon: The date of our wedding is important, but it is also just a date. On our actual anniversary, I was in Michigan, visiting my parents, sister, and two aunts. Jodi was at home, working and holding the fort. We agreed we would celebrate when we could really take the time, but it wasn’t that week.

I was given a little grief over the fact that I was a 12-hour drive to the east of my bride on our silver anniversary. But God, in His abundance, has provided three opportunities for the two of us to celebrate:

  • Our kids planned a Friday-to-Saturday date night for us at the end of August: A cooking class/dinner (salmon and lentils, mixed green salad with goat cheese croquets, and mixed berry and cream profiteroles), followed by a night in a hotel and a lunch cruise on Lake Minnetonka.
  • In October, we are going to the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe and the Charmont Hotel in LaCrosse, Wisconsin, for a quiet couple days of walking color tours.
  • In late winter, we plan to visit friends in Florida, with a jaunt to the Keys for just the two of us.

The biggest blessing in all of this is that, although we are still incomprehensible (and even vexing) to each other in so many ways, we still want to know one another, still enjoy each other’s company better than anyone’s, still seek to love each other better day-by-day, still choose to be married. Now and forever.

Thank you, Jesus, for the gift of this woman. Make me worthy of her.

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