They are the unwelcome words at a wedding. Those five words, “until death do us part.” On a day of beginnings, when death and separation are furthest from our minds, those words barge in. Like in a fairytale, when a vengeful fairy crashes the royal wedding with a curse of doom. Entirely unwelcome.
Yet, entirely true; the truest part of the vows we make. In our lives together we may never be at our worst or poor or sick and our passion may never diminish. But, sadly, we will be separated by death.
On July 29, 1989, John and I made those vows. The most serious vows a person can ever make. So have many of you.
“To have and to hold from this day forward, for better or for worse; for richer, for poorer; in sickness and in health; to love and to cherish; until death do us part.”
In my white gown gazing at my handsome prince, all I could hear was: “better…richer…healthy…loved…cherished”. Weddings are days for the glass to be full and running over with excitement and promise and joy. Don’t we all rush right on past those other foreboding words?
John always said that marriage vows aren’t for the good times. Who needs to make a vow for the days of health, wealth, and wedded bliss?
Vows are for the days of married life when life is tough…
when the worst days have come;
when we’re poorer than we want to be;
when sickness strikes and stretches us thin and caring is hard;
when we’re not loving or loved, much less cherishing or cherished.
Those vows make marriage a robust place where you can be real and vulnerable, without fear that it could all disappear. They keep love anchored and keep love flickering when storms and winds blow. Reminding us: “There was a time when I believed the dream of us…” We lean hard into the promise we made. Some days are just about the will to love, and the humility to know we need His help to do it. And we had some of those days, sometimes seasons.
But, a day will come when those five words come true. Death parts us. We no longer get to keep our vows, no matter how much we want to keep loving. Instead, it is time to escort our love all the way to the edge of the hardest place.
And, the Lord walked with me every step of the way.
In those days following John’s death, I was incredibly aware that time was of the essence. In those few days when grief is acute, people are eager to gather together and remember and speak their hearts. It is a window of time that quickly fades. Never again would there be a large gathering to recognize John’s life.
Yet, there was so much to do in so little time. Most of it I had never even thought about. In the midst of my shock and grief, the Lord gave me focus and strength that still amazes me.
My heart simply wanted to love and honor John to the end, to finish this part of our story well. The Lord guided me through the maze: choosing a cemetery; making hard, painful decisions and plans; writing- an obituary, a program, remembrances; and finding the funeral service John had written the year before. And He kept bringing the right people forward to make it all happen. The helpers just kept on coming.
And together we celebrated the gift of John’s life,
and it was hard, but it was beautiful.
God gave me grace to keep walking with John to the edge of the hardest place. Love made me brave, and God helped me breathe. And, then it was over. It was time to leave that place, but I didn’t leave with empty hands or heart. I took our riches with me: years filled with love and joy, four children whom love made real, and a God who has been there since the beginning of us.
And He is still here. Over and over again in the Bible He reassures us that He will never leave us. He says it often because we just can’t hear it often enough and because one day it will be the most important thing to remember. No one else can make us that promise. And no one else can keep it.
May you be blessed with deepening love no matter where your vows take you. I am praying for your love to flourish.