This summer we celebrated 40 years of marriage. Our anniversary is actually August 23, but this year we declared the whole summer a celebration. In the past, John and I have never been into gifts or big anniversary celebrations, be we decided that this year is different. One reason is that we are acutely aware of the many Christian marriages that are crumbling. Many have just worn out. Some old ones seem to be dying of neglect, others due to genuine crises. We understand the challenges. Marriage takes steady work. It’s a lifelong covenant and we’ll never get it down perfectly. After all we are two self-centered people trying to build a union.

We realized how important it is to celebrate what we do have—however imperfect it is. And so we decided to surprise our children and at our family reunion in June we formally recommitted ourselves to our marriage vows. Our kids had gathered with all the grandchildren in the front yard of the farm for the annual family photo which a friend was taking. An hour earlier my husband had told our son, JY, who is a pastor, what was up and had asked him to lead us through our vows.

John and I dressed while the kids gathered, unaware of the drama about to unfold. I wore my wedding dress which had also been my mother’s. Never mind that I couldn’t zip it all the way up my back. I just pinned it at the top and was very stylish in a partially backless wedding dress. (No one ever warned me that our ribs would expand with age!) But I was after sentiment, not a fashion statement. John appropriately put on his cowboy hat, jeans and cowboy shirt with his tux jacket. And we both wore cowboy boots. We pushed the hidden tape recorder on which we had pre-recorded the majestic “Trumpet Voluntary” and it roared out over the valley as we glided out the front door in our wedding garb to the utter shock of our kids.Yates renew their vows

There were indeed some tears in the crowd as our son, with his 2-year-old in one arm and the Anglican Prayer Book in the other, took us through our vows again. And for the two of us it was a time of intense gratitude for the goodness of God in giving us these years.

Several weeks later the two of us were out to dinner alone. Over dinner we reflected on how special that recommitment was and how we wanted to continue to appreciate one another and what we have. What we realize is that in marriage it is easier to focus on the negatives, the lacks or the disappointments in our mate instead of taking time to focus on what we love and are thankful for in the other person.

While we ate our dinner, we decided to take turns telling each other things we love about one another until over the next few weeks we came up with 40 each. Some were silly and some serious. I love the way John sometimes winks at me. He mentioned that he loves the way I jump on the riding mower and mow without being asked!

We haven’t hit 40 things yet but that’s good. We want to continue to celebrate, not finish!

And why quit with 40?