I hadn’t touched that box in quite awhile. It had been sitting under our bed, gathering dust while life continued all around it. It’s been years since I opened it up and pulled out the hundreds of cards, letters, emails, notes scribbled on scraps of paper and left on countertops. But, today I spent just a few minutes going back, through our own words, to the days when Chad and I were falling in love, to the years of money struggles, to all the ways we worked so hard to learn how to be married, how to really love another person as you love yourself.
I saw lots of apologies. Lots of promises. Lots of plans and dreams and gratefulness. I saw pages and pages of reassurances, of a million different ways to say I love you, I’m here for you, I’m yours, I’m yours, I’m yours.
In some ways what I saw on those pages surprised me. It’s hard to remember everything about life, how you felt during certain seasons, how real your love was even during tough times. It’s hard to hold all of those things in your heart, even when you’re sure you’ll never forget them.
Chad was so passionate about everything in those days. He was quirky and hilarious and felt everything so deeply. And, as I read and remembered that version of him, twenty-five year old Chad, it dawned on me that he really hasn’t changed all that much. And, the truth is that all of the things about him that made me adore him back then still make me adore him now, even though he is now so much more mature, so much more proven, so much more everything. Still, those core qualities that made me fall in love with him are there, today, in the man who has proven over and over again that he loves me, he’s here for me, he’s mine. Those weren’t just words on a page. They were promises made, and they have been promises kept.
This summer I decided it was finally time to introduce Adelade to Gone with the Wind, one of my favorite movies of all time. In one scene, Scarlett warns Ashley not to look back. “It drags at your heart until you can’t do anything but look back,” she tells him, through her tears. I used to feel that way about our old love notes. Looking back made me wish for those times, those feelings, it made me long for the intensity of infatuation and the constant declarations of love, of everything’s okay, of we’re going to make it. The truth is that looking back dragged at my heart and made me discontent.
I don’t feel that way now. Searching through our words today made me remember how much harder things used to be. It made me realize that there is so much great value in growing older, in settling into a lifelong pattern of reassurance, of a love that is no less intense but much less dramatic. Of living our life together with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. All elements that were often missing in our interactions when we were younger, more self-centered and less Christ-centered.
But, our letters did something else for me today, too. They reminded me how long and how deeply that we have loved each other. Everything about this twenty year love affair has been real and pure and of God. That’s not to say that we have been perfect. We’ve done plenty of ungodly things through the years, sinners that we are. I’m not sure why God gifted us with this miracle, this marriage, this lifelong love. But, I believe in looking back so that we can trace His faithfulness through all the glory and all the mess.
He is the God of the very best love stories.
When it was time to pick up the kids from school, I put the letters back into the box and kicked it back under our bed. Who knows when I’ll take the time to read them again? Maybe someday when we’re gone our kids will dig through the letters and will be surprised by the words written with our own hands. Maybe they will wonder what to do with piles of notes and cards and years worth of I love yous. But, one thing I know: they won’t doubt that their parents were gifted a sacred love born of God’s heart.
The love notes aren’t so frequent now. We don’t sit down and write pages of compliments these days. We’re much more likely to bare our hearts on a car ride in the minivan while the kids sing along to The Sound of Music in the backseat. But, after years of devotion, of passion, of giving ourselves up for each other, of holding each other up, bearing each other’s burdens, I’ve never felt more loved. God writes His own love letter here, on our marriage, in His own hand. I can see it clearly today, and I’m grateful.