On a placid, cloudless July afternoon in 1988, I stood on the altar at the First Baptist Church in Batesville to marry Chris Lawson in front of almost everyone on planet Earth I held dear.
When it was my turn, I solemnly repeated my vows — the very most significant, spectacularly life-altering words I would ever speak from that day forward. And I meant them with every fiber of my being.
I really wish I could remember what I said.
In fairness, our vows were hardly notable. We picked them out of a well-worn little leather-bound book lined with notes from the many nuptials my dad had officiated before ours. It was full of Scripture and a variety of
Over time, life teaches us what’s essential to
say to each other
boilerplate vows appropriate for a Proper Southern Baptist Wedding. Chris and I thumbed through that book together and chose whichever ones sounded the least archaic and Fiddler-On-The-Roof.
If it had occurred to us to write our own, I’d probably have said something like, “For my whole life I will love you with the white-hot intensity of a thousand suns. And I’ll never, ever change my mind. What more do you really need to know?”
This is what often comes of love-struck larvae deciding to marry. How could we possibly imagine what marriage would require of us and which promises really matter?
I think I get why couples would renew their vows after they’ve been together awhile. Over time, life teaches us what’s essential to say to each other. But knowing what I know now, I just wish I could have another run at our wedding day.
Nothing I repeated in those one-size-fits-most vows was revelatory to Chris. If I’d had the benefit of an oracle or a crystal ball or an eerily-accurate fortune cookie, my vows to him would have been more specific, honest, important, instructive. Possibly something along these lines:
“Chris, I promise I’ll never get tired of looking at your face, listening to your voice or holding your hand. I’ll always believe in you, and be proud of what you’re made of. No matter where we are or what we’re doing, I will always think you’re the smartest and most amazing person in the room. As well as I know you this minute, I’ll always be trying to know you better, even when we’re old.
“I’ll honor the fact that you need alone time and will do whatever I can to protect it. But I’ll also go with you anywhere to see Yes in concert or to watch the Red Sox play ball, as many times as you want. Also, know that I will never, ever leave you to assemble Barbie houses, trampolines or Little Tykes kitchens by yourself.
“On a related note, I will always vote for letting the guy at Toys“R”Us put together anything that moves.
“For richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, I promise there’ll always be a jar of Nutella and a bag of Milanos in the pantry. Even though I call myself independent, I vow to always vote for the Democrat. When you get your wisdom teeth pulled, I will spoon-feed you chocolate shakes and never tell anyone the hilarious things you say before the anesthesia wears off. You have my word.
“Also, I promise that I’ll sometimes make promises I won’t keep and might even forget about entirely.
“I vow to cook for you. When I feel like it. In little spurts sometimes several years apart. I will most definitely gain weight over time, and I’ll be deeply embarrassed about it. But not embarrassed enough to quit drinking gallons of Coke every day.
“I’ll always tell you exactly what I’m thinking, especially when you don’t ask. Unless you hurt my feelings very badly — knowingly or unknowingly — in which case you’ll need to ask me over and over and over and over again if anything is wrong. I promise I’ll say ‘no’ every single time, until you finally believe me and quit asking. Then when you finally believe me and quit asking, I promise to scream like a howler monkey and stomp and cry and unpack every single superficial thing I can think of that’s ever been wrong since the beginning of time. And I promise to blame you for all of it. Whether or not you had anything to do with it will be immaterial to me.
“Also, I promise I'll talk you into doing all manner of things you really don’t want to do: buy furniture we don’t need and can’t afford; move to neighborhoods you don’t like; adopt pets of questionable origin; send our kids to private school. And I will be relentless in the face of your common sense and sound judgement. When these choices prove to be problematic, as you knew all along they would, I promise to blame you for not standing up to me.
“I promise to always apologize.
“I’ll never figure out which spiders are poisonous and which are not, mostly because I don’t care. So you can count on me to DEMAND that you DROP WHATEVER YOU’RE DOING AND COME RUNNING AT THE SPEED OF LIGHT FROM WHEREVER YOU ARE TO KILL THEM. INDISCRIMINATELY! DON’T ASK QUESTIONS! And I’ll always be grateful to you for not using my insane, irrational and inexplicable arachnophobia against me.
“Sometimes I won’t know you as well as you think I do. Most of the time I’ll know you better. Over the years, this phenomenon could make you crazier than an outhouse mouse. Consider yourself warned.
“I will, most assuredly, run out of energy, patience and good humor at the very most inopportune moments. I’ll always make you late, everywhere we go. I’ll back the car into closed garage doors, and drive up on curbs with alarming regularity. Sometimes I’ll make you uncomfortable. Camp out on your last nerve. Scare you. Forget to say ‘thank you.’ Assume, based on zero evidence, that you can read my mind.
“But I will also, most assuredly, always give you the grape Blow Pops.
“I’ll fight to be ruled by the Holy Spirit, but usually I’ll be ruled by my hormones. I’ll work to make our home a safe place to land, but I won’t always succeed. I’ll grieve deeply when I hurt you or let you down, but often I’ll have no idea how to make things right again.
“I promise to get angry, but to never stay angry.
“I will always thank God for you. Ask Him to guide you. Protect you. Let you see yourself the way He sees you. I’ll push you to be honest and authentic and fearless. To be the man I know God created you to be.
“I’ll happily dream, parent and figure out hard things with you. I’ll honor you, and teach our girls to do the same. I’ll wait for you. By grace I’ll bear the scars of our wounds — whether they were dealt us or self-inflicted — and I’ll let sleeping dogs lie.
“Into this marriage we’ll bring heavy baggage we don’t understand, and we’ll suffer mightily because of it. Sometimes life will be great. Sometimes it’ll suck. There’s sure to be more uncertainty than certainty. Money, at times, will be frightfully scarce. There’ll always be options that look better and easier. Every day, we’ll get to choose what to do and how to respond.
“Whatever happens, I won’t give up. I choose you. I choose to stay put.
“And I’ll never, ever change my mind.”
Wish I could have said all that 29 years ago. Because it's the stuff he really needs to know.