When you were barely two years old, your father started praying for the man who would become your husband. While he prayed, you wiggled in his arms, not understanding how heaven at that moment rejoiced to answer and protect a father’s heart-wish. My own heart had no words; my breath caught at the journey ahead for you.
Someday, when you’d ask me what to pray for, I will tell you what I have observed from your father.
1. Pray for someone who understands that what often drains a relationship is the erosion of days, but still he commits to live the daily, ordinary madness of marriage with you anyway.
Once, your father prayed, “Panginoong Diyos, we don’t have a perfect marriage. But…” and then he semi-laughed, so faint I could discern it only from the way his voice rose and fell in slight singsong, “…we get along.”
A few hours before, while he had been trying to earn brownie points by washing the dishes he should’ve done waaaaaay earlier, he mentioned how many of our laugh-out-loud times are fun only to us and don’t elicit as much amusement from others, when shared. I thought maybe he was referring to those fun times when he was praying, but now I think he was truly, honestly grateful, and perhaps a little surprised, that we get along—in spite of.
Getting along 24/7 is incredibly difficult, even when you love the other. The very things that you used to consider cute in the other could be the very same things that exasperate you no end. It takes enormous strength not to nag a spouse to please put the dirty clothes in the hamper (your father), as well as enormous grace to forgive an erring but unrepentant partner (me) who still doesn’t know how to say sorry. Little things—like not jiggling the flush handle a couple of times to stop the water closet from continuously flushing water (me) or forgetting to water the plants (your father; his classic line: What? We have a plant?)—could start a war. It is unbelievably easy to fan a spark of irritation into an inferno simply by hurling grand generalizations that start with, “You never…” or “You always…” Dangerous ipse dixits that attack the person instead of the fault or omission can escalate, and before you know it, one will end up sleeping on the couch, while the other tosses and turns in bed, pretending she (all right, me) is justified in locking the door. (That’s why you gotta believe them truisms printed onto mugs. For a time I sported a drink holder that read: Marriage is the only war where you sleep with the enemy.)
Getting along takes the right combination of and timing for blindness and deafness, perhaps more so for your father, since I can be quite crabby, PMS or no, and veer annoyingly to the dramatic. I can be very annoying. But your father has learned to just snort at my affectations, even before I learned not to carry over into our home any drama that should remain in my writing.
2. Pray for someone who does not waste the pain.
When God denied me a birth child despite my and your father being physically able, my heart folded into itself. When we’d pass by rundown neighborhoods swarming with merry ragamuffins or when a friend would expect yet another unplanned baby, the hollow places inside me echoed barren, unfruitful, pointless.
The miracle in all this pain is this: I am sufficient for your father. Not for what I could give, but for what I am. Your father and I held hands and hugged harder, leaning into each other through the hills and valleys. We gave more when we were at our most vulnerable. For marriage is as strong as its weakest partner, and God pushed and pulled us wider open to create more room for love. The years of wilderness walk meant we had to look up for manna—given daily and only enough for each day’s cares. We had to be carried through; there was no space for vanity.
3. Pray for someone with eyes that know when to skip over unwashed faces and past flabby thighs, and even the occasional PMS that furrows the forehead.
Some years ago, when we were celebrating the anniversary of the day we had become college sweethearts, your father surprised me with an enormous bouquet of flowers, so many they filled three vases and took me an hour to fix (plus another half-hour to clean up after my mess). Silly me, I couldn’t help asking if they were expensive. (We were, after all, penny-pinching.) His rebuke was so gentle I almost missed it until I thought about it afterwards. He just said, “A bit, but not for twenty years,” and smiled.
Hours later he asked me if it was true that I had been surprised by his present, since he always buys me flowers anyway, special occasion or no, like when he atones for sins imagined or real. And I said yes because I thought we were cost-cutting (D’oh! There I went again). And he harrumphed, properly, like an old gentleman aggrieved by the indignity of money: “Cost-cutting, cost-cutting. What’s cost-cutting to twenty years?” And I just had to hug this man, this one whose masculine eyes and heart could not see that some of the flowers he bought in the huge bunch had probably withered earlier but were artfully hidden by the flower peddler to make a quick buck, the same eyes and heart who tell me day after day, truthfully, wonderingly, that I am more beautiful today than yesterday.
4. Find someone who loves God first because this is the same God who desires that your husband love you enough to die for you.
In one healing conference last year, I saw your father with his eyes closed, his face raised to the night, arms wide open to embrace heaven—one among the sea of arms raised in worship. And I realized that I love him most when he is most in love with his God.
Your father’s sacred romance with God and his with me shape and strengthen each other; they are not mutually exclusive. He’d dance with me and as he would with God. One Sunday your father walked in our room and plugged the iPad to the speakers. He searched on YouTube, found the song he was looking for, and held out his hand. His arms enveloped me in a slow dance. The song was Unending Love by Hill Song, a worship song we had first heard at church that day. His fingers beat the rhythm on my back. We swayed, more intent on the embrace than on the dance. Into my hair he whisper-sang two lines that resonated with him the most: “Jesus, nothing compares to this grace that rescued me. Savior, now and forever Your face is all I seek.”
Your father hummed to the truth written into the melody: “Neither love of myself or of anyone else will do.”
Perhaps it’s a strange choice of music for a slow dance, but this is quintessential of your father: the romantic in this tenderest of warriors is never as strong or as alive as when he is romanced by his God.
Choose well, my daughter.