I was 18 when I met him—the man who would become my forever after. It was, of all places a sporting goods store, ironic because I was the last person you’d expect to find in a retail outlet that had to do with athletic endeavors. While Randy was at home among the gear of competitive games, it might as well have been a galaxy far, far away for this petite teenage girl. My world was one of books and an occasional craft, not of fields and stadiums and painted courts.

My venture behind the counter at Big Five Sporting Goods was a summer job to fill a few months before college. As I stood at the checkout counter that first night, replaying in my mind the instructions I’d received about how the cash register worked, a handsome guy walked up and started a conversation with me about a rain-check and a sleeping bag on sale.

Who would have ever thought that conversation would be the first of a lifetime of sharing wants and needs?

Ours was never supposed to go beyond a casual work relationship between a young cashier and a somewhat “older” salesman (wink, wink) who was hoping to one day open his own sporting goods shop. But I admit now, that every time he approached me with a question or brought up a customer ready to check out, my heart raced a little, and I felt a nervous excitement that indicated there was definitely chemistry between us.

Soon I was looking eagerly for his name on the work schedule. Would it coincide with mine?

And then there was our first date. Nothing impressive like the picture perfect dramatic romantic dates posted on social media these days. No. It was a walk across the parking lot to Jack in the Box for a coke, which we shared at a tiny table out front.

And so began a series of dates and a relationship that could be so sweet at times and so terribly difficult at others.

We managed to navigate our romance through my college years with only one breakup, and we married the summer I graduated. It was a beautiful church wedding, although neither of us had any ties to God or faith, followed by a country club reception and a short honeymoon in San Diego—a stone’s throw from our southern California home. No expensive cruise or flight to an exotic tropical paradise. Just a week of nearby beaches and zoo and a handful of dinners out.

And then the marathon of marriage began.

We loved, we struggled, we fought, we made up, we split and then reunited, and we pressed on together. Through health issues, financial difficulties, and very different perceptions of life, we kept on keeping on. We made it through the trial of infertility and soon found ourselves parents to two little ones less than 18 months apart in age. And we loved and fought our way through parenting, each with our own set of ideas about what that meant.

Early in that journey, we both came to know Christ. And so we learned to incorporate Him into the struggles as we moved into each new tomorrow.

None of it was easy. But I discovered three important things as the years unfolded.

1.     I came to understand that we were building a history together. A history that only the two of us shared and treasured. A history that we could appreciate in ways no one else could. Like the first step of our first born. When Randy’s eyes locked with mine, I knew no one else would ever catalog that moment in time the way the two of us would. And when our son surprised us by snapping his fingers and winking at age 2, we both smiled and laughed in an unexpected joy and amusement that belonged just to us. Watching both daughter and son grow through the teen years and into adulthood was an intimate journey that tied our two hearts closer together step by step. And that journey continues as we now experience the treasures of being grandparents together.

2.     I also learned there were distinct seasons to our love. Seasons that were like the tides of the sea. They ebbed and flowed in a predictable pattern. Forty years of marriage does not equal forty years of bliss. It equals forty years of weathering the times when you wake up beside your spouse and wonder how you got there, only to find a few months later that you can’t imagine life without him by your side. Passion is a peculiar creature. It hides in the closet for seasons when you think the love has gone for good. Then it leaps out to surprise you with more intense feelings than you ever had before. I came to realize that sadly, many do not hang in there long enough during the closet retreats to discover that each new high tide of love is deeper and more fulfilling than the last. Maybe this phenomenon of deepening love relates to number 1 above. It’s the history—the knowing of that other person more and more intimately, and the sharing of all that makes you a couple—that gives new shades and depths to the passion when it resurfaces after a lull.

3.     And I discovered that we can, indeed, do all things through Christ, who strengthens us. Including loving by choice even when the feelings are impossible to find. And sticking together even when we’d like to run in opposite directions and never look back. The truth is that as we draw nearer and nearer to the river of life flowing from the love of God, we depend less and less on each other to fulfill our needs, and so we free each other to be human, to fail, and at times to be frail. Because ultimately, only God can make us whole.

So, as I look back over the past forty years, here is my formula for marital longevity: Build your history together, and resist living parallel lives. When the tide of passion is out to sea, drop anchor and do not give up. And most importantly, lean hard into Christ. Let Him be the ultimate provider of all you need.