Originally published July 21, 2014, at “In a Mirror Dimly.” Republished with the permission of the author.

In the presence of God and this community,
I, Piper, take you, Keith, to be my husband;
to have and to hold from this day forward,
in joy and in sorrow, in plenty and in want,
in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish,
as long as we both shall live. This is my solemn vow.

Twenty-five years ago, we wrote our own vows based upon these traditional ones, a copy of which was typed out on my Sears Selectric 2 typewriter (with correcto-tape!) What we said that day, holding hands and laughing, exists somewhere in a box with other memories, like the now empty heart-shaped box of chocolates in which I had hidden her engagement ring when I proposed a week before Valentine’s Day in 1988. Our knick-knacks of a life together have survived more moves than I can count thanks primarily to our U.S. Navy time, with a few more moves in the ledger for seminary, internship and now the parish. Twenty-five years. It is amazing how time has flown by and all that it has contained.

In the same week that we celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary last month, I walked into a psychiatrist’s office, as a present of sorts that cost a mere $20 co-pay and a willingness to admit that I had had enough. That I deserved better than a life than one in which I could count the number of times I had laughed this year on one hand. And that my wife certainly deserved more than a husband so often burdened with sadness, withdrawn and unenthused about doing much of anything.

As a pastor I have done my share of weddings, but truth be told, it is the vow renewal service that we hold each year during our main worship service that leaves me in tears. I believe those tears will be safe even from the anti-depressants now at work trying to even out my ups and downs. Whether they have been married one year or sixty-five (our current record for the renewal service), these couples have lived into those vows. They have gone through health issues, the death of children, the loss of houses and jobs, and in some cases, dreams. Many, I believe, had no idea when they first spoke those words what they were getting themselves into. We didn’t. We were young and deeply in love and ready for the adventure as long as we could share it together.

That love accepted the rough edges, and trust me, I was so rigid about some things (“We can’t walk over there for the gorgeous view – the sign says no trespassing!”) that I can really appreciate how our life together has changed me. “When marriage works well,” I often tell engaged couples, “You can become more of the people God hopes and intends for you to be. You do not go into a marriage to change one another; trust, commitment, and selfless love shared in partnership does that. And chances are you will only notice it in hindsight. When you catch your breath and look back and see how far the road you have traveled stretches into the distance.”

That love gave my wife the strength to reach down deep when I first fell into the dark and claustrophobic rabbit hole of depression following the 2004 hurricane season. It was then that the pressure of trying to juggle my role as pastor and council president amid the damaged roof, a broken septic system and a church cash flow badly wounded from two canceled services left our next paycheck in jeopardy.

Piper all but handed me the phone to call the confidential rostered leader emergency help line that exists in our synod. That led to my first entrance into therapy through a local counseling center run by a Methodist pastor. Piper stood by me as I made appointments for various doctors, who ran their tests and suggested medication for the discovered hiatal hernia that the stress was aggravating and provided assurances (your heart is great). She supported my decision to take charge of my vocation by resigning as council president and looking to the future by commencing my doctor of ministry studies.

And five years later she would have to do nearly all of it again.

Stand by me as I went back into counseling. Stand by me as I lined up doctor’s appointments (bad gallbladder, great heart, pesky hiatal hernia that hates stress as much as I did). I joined a gym. Ran a half marathon with her. If I only could have bottled that lightning! But it only proved a reprieve. Bought me a couple of more years. Brought me to last year and that seemingly wide as a barn door gaping rabbit hole. Please note: I have nothing against rabbits personally and we currently foster Butterscotch, the bunny, as I type this. Adoptive inquires welcome.

Twenty five years. And she still crawls down the hole to help me find my way back.

In sickness and in health, to love and to cherish,
as long as we both shall live.

So happy anniversary, Sweetie! And thank you.

I hope this is a gift that we can both enjoy at some point.

We’ll look back and we’ll have a good laugh.

We’ll take in all those gorgeous views and “No Trespassing” signs be damned.

I promise.

Keith Spencer
Keith Spencer is the pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, an ELCA congregation in Pembroke Pines, Fla.

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