The magical kingdom of Mickey Mouse has long been a special place for my wife Wendy and me. We both grew up watching the Mouseketeers on television and soaking up plenty of Disney cartoons and movies. In college together at the University of Oregon our official school mascot was none other than Donald Duck, licensed to the school by Walt Disney himself many years ago. And early in our marriage we traveled to Disneyland and discovered what a special place it was to spend quality time together.
At Disneyland, any cares of this world would vanish the moment we entered the gates and began strolling down Main Street. Here we could embrace the innocence of being kids again, let our imaginations run free, escape into the exciting world of Indiana Jones or the dark thrill of Space Mountain, marvel at the work of the imagineers in Pirates of the Caribbean, munch on churros, bask in Southern California sunshine, ooh and aah at the spectacular fireworks set to classic Disney music.
After a dozen or so trips to Disneyland over the course of our 29 married years we’ve now made Disney World in Orlando our new couple’s retreat since moving to Florida last year. At 48 years young we still feel like kids again when we stroll hand in hand through these four parks that comprise Disneyworld – the pure joy of riding Big Thunder Mountain Railroad in the Magic Kingdom, exploring the food and festivities of different countries at Epcot, taking in the animal life and thrill rides at Animal Kingdom, or blasting off to the music of Aerosmith on Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster at Hollywood Studios. Our childlike wonder with Disney is still going strong.
Looking to celebrate our anniversary this past weekend during the middle of a multi-month trans-continental separation necessitated by our jobs, we naturally chose to rendezvous at Disney World, and it proved to be just the ticket. The past five nights in a beautiful Disney hotel along the Boardwalk, with excellent conversation, great food, loads of pool time, and fun forays into the parks, served our reconnection time extremely well. It was difficult to depart the land of fun yesterday and even more painful to once again say goodbye to each other until we meet up again next month.
Now there was a time when I naively expected marriage to be a bit like the Disney experience – carefree, non-stop fun, full of inspiration and romance, no earthly cares, a magical experience every day, with no work involved. Some years later reality had made it clear just how ill-informed my early expectations were. I would love to hide behind the phrase ‘life happened’, but I need to be more transparent than that. The truth is, *I* happened. My brokenness entered the picture, not mere circumstances. A boy who was likely not mature enough yet for marriage at age 19 became, well, a man who was still not mature enough. Oh how I regret the selfishness and stupidity of those earlier years, all of the ways I hurt the woman I was supposed to be loving with every fiber of my being. Now if Wendy were reading over my shoulder she would insist that she too is broken and part of the equation that adds up to marriage sometimes being more difficult and discouraging than we dreamed it would be.
If the reality is that marriage involves two imperfect people who are going to sin against each other, where is the hope for that dreamy wonderful marriage we assumed in our youth we would have? I think the answer is articulated well by the late Ruth Bell Graham:
“A happy marriage is the union of two good forgivers”
Ah yes, the grace of forgiveness. Without it, my marriage would not exist. Wendy and I did not ‘accomplish’ 29 years and counting of marriage by our own efforts, but rather through the grace of forgiveness that first pours forth from God to us, and then transforms us slowly but surely into willing forgivers of each other. It’s not by our strength that we have persevered, but rather by the powerful grace of our God that we have been preserved.
That’s the beauty of our human frailty and brokenness: in all of our marital weaknesses, God supplies his strength to keep us and grow us, and in doing that his great glory gets magnified.