When we were in Napa this summer celebrating our 15th anniversary, I got an email from the pastor of our new church. A few weeks prior, we had Pastor Debbie and her family over for dinner. While serving a traditional southern dinner of fried chicken and sweet tea–fried chicken that I had slightly overcooked but sweet tea that was just right–Derek happened to mention that I was a writer (or at least something that used to resembled one.) I quickly tried to downplay the compliment, dismissing the accolades my husband was attempting to share with our new guests.
And then a few weeks later I opened the email that I mentioned. Pastor Debbie told me about a new series at our church called Framily that would be starting in the coming weeks and wondered if I could help write some renewal vows. One of the sermons in the series would be about marriage and she wanted to include them in the bulletin, sort of a take-a-way for couples to share with one another at their leisure. Something that would be fitting for couples married either one year or sixty. Something for couples who were married and couples not married but in long-term commitments. Something for couples of every shape and size.
I quickly replied that I would love to write the vows. Prior to hitting send, I put no thought into the difficulties that might come with such an assignment. I had blinders on. My pastor had asked for my help, my help with something that I feel God has gifted me with, and I wasn’t about to say no.
But then I sat down to actually write them. I researched a little online, but everything was so specific, as personally written vows tend to be. I worked for several hours, fretting over each word, and finally came up with a draft that I was pleased with. I quickly sent them to Pastor Debbie for her to review, to request changes, etc. She replied that she liked the vows, but they were too…sweet. Too sugary. Too nice. They weren’t edgy enough. Could I possibly add more humor and a little edge to the vows and take out some of the sweetness?
Oh boy, could I. She might not have realized it, but she was asking me to be more…myself. Writing something sweet had been a struggle for me, but writing something humorous and edgy? I could get all over that.
And with full permission, here is what I wrote:
With my whole heart, I take you again as my wife/husband/partner. I take you as you are, faults and all, continuing to love you even when it is hard or messy or uncomfortable. I promise to love you through the good and the bad: when we have money to burn or when we are struggling to make ends meet, when my favorite team wins or when they lose, when you gain weight or when you lose it, when you remember our anniversary or when you forget (as long as you buy me _____________ to make up for it.)
From this day forward, I will do my best not hold our relationship to unrealistic expectations like those found in sappy movies or chick lit novels. I know that our life together has been/will be far from a fairy tale, but I believe our relationship is worth the extra time, energy, and effort. I might forget to ____________ or struggle to ____________, but I promise to work at being a better wife/husband/partner than I was yesterday. Neither of us is perfect and never will be. That thing I do that drives you crazy will probably never change, but that’s okay because you do things that drive me crazy too.
I promise to love you as much as I love [favorite hobby, sports team, TV show, etc.] I promise to let you choose the radio station when you are the one driving, and let you have control of the television remote as long as [favorite show, sport, movie] isn’t on. I understand that you can’t read my mind and therefore promise to always communicate to the best of my ability. I will try to compliment you more and criticize you less, and will listen to you with compassion and understanding even when I don’t agree with a word you are saying.
The only thing that matters is this: I love you. Not only do I love you, but I like you. I like who you are and who we are together. I choose you again today and I will choose you again tomorrow. I will keep choosing you every day for the rest of our lives. You are my person, my love, today and always.
Pastor Debbie’s reply was exactly what every writer wants to read. She said she loved the new vows and was laughing out loud while reading them. They were perfect and exactly what she had wanted. I had hit a home run and there would be no need for a third draft. The vows were printed on a handout and put inside the bulletins that Sunday.
Did anyone actually take them home and recite the words I had written for them? Who knows. In my heart I like to imagine couples giggling as they insert their own words into the blanks, reaching over the table to hold hands as they promise to continue to love each other through the crazy, through the struggles, through that thing the other one does that drives them to drink.