I remember clearly the first time he said “I love you.” We were picnicking on the lawn at my school, and I had just told him my decision to remain here in America instead of returning to Asia. He knew it was not an easy decision for me, and that it was for the sake of our relationship. Our half-eaten sandwiches lay in their wrappers on the grass. He grabbed my hand and told me, “I love you. I don’t entirely know what that means, but I love you.”
I took a deep breath as I savored those words. My eyes were teary. I knew I loved him. I didn’t know if it was romantic, but I knew I loved him the way my mother once defined “love”—that is, a conscious decision to do what is best for others even if you don’t want to. I had made the decision earlier that morning after much prayers and tears. I had never wanted to stay in America, and it was only possible by supplications to God for strength to do what was right for this brother-in-Christ I was dating.
Looking down at our hands, I whispered almost too softly for him to hear, “I love you too. By the grace of God, I love you.”
Day by day, we would realize that love is not an easy lesson. “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud” (1 Corinthians 13:4). Paul did not say “love feels kind.” No, love is to remain kind even when infatuation fades and I happen to have a terrible day and he has a miserable cold and one of us says words we didn’t mean and dinner is burnt to a crisp in the oven and absolutely nothing goes right. Lord, give me strength to hold my bitter tongue! Love is kind.
We once had a particularly blunt mentor who challenged us, “Why get married at all? Two broken people living together for the rest of their lives, what good can come of it?”
The question tormented us for days. We talked and talked and talked (a habit which would go far in building our marriage). Finally, it came down to this: neither of us would ever be good enough for marriage. We had too much growing to do. I lacked the discipline even to do daily devotions! On my own, I was incapable of loving my husband the way I was called to.
But we found this comfort: God is strong, and though I cannot meet my husband’s needs, God can, and God will.
We realized that marriage would be a daily practice in reliance on God. On our wedding day, we would stand before God and the church, and make this commitment to love and to cherish each other, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness, and in health, as long as we both shall live. It was a promise neither one of us had the strength to keep by ourselves, but we knew God would hold us to our vows, and we trusted Him to use even us for good beyond our imaginations.
It has been four months since the wedding, and God has indeed used us. Some days are beautiful, other days are difficult. But each day, God gives me the forgiveness I do not deserve and the grace I need, and by Him, I am able to love my husband, and to fall ever more in love with him.
“I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”—Philippians 4:13