Writings by Cole Huffman

Forever's As Far As I'll Go

People say if you know something well you know it like the back of your hand. It seems I do not know the back of my hand that well after all. I wouldn’t be able to draw precisely from memory the vein pattern. I can’t say how many hair follicles are there.

I do know my gold wedding band has worn a smooth circle around the base of my left-hand ring finger. I’ve loved being married to my college girlfriend from Florence. Our silver anniversary is May 22.

The words that follow are attributed to Elisabeth Elliot, and directed at men considering marriage: “You do not marry a ministry partner; you marry a person. You do not marry someone like another man’s wife; you marry your wife. You do not marry someone like you; you marry a unique woman. And you do not marry someone perfect, you marry a sinner.”

That is true even when a marriage is great. In fact, it’s the people we love most who usually bear the brunt of our unvarnished selves, and that’s what you get in marriage—the unvarnished self. That love bears all things (1 Cor. 13:7) does not require denying this: you marry a sinner.

But our brand of sinning isn’t the same. Lynn and I like to tell the story Mary Ann Frazier has often shared. Long ago she went to see Dr. Soltau (pastor of our church from 1942-1968). Her husband was up for deacon. Dr. Soltau asked why she had reservations about the nomination. Because her husband cussed, she said. Dr. Soltau, a proper Englishman who dressed in tails, replied, “Well, it sounds like that’s just not your brand of sinning.”

I now pronounce you, sailor and small Pharisee, husband and wife. Decades later we went right behind them down that aisle, which is why we enjoy that story so much.

The ache of marriage, as the poet Denise Levertov called it, is that we are side-by-side in a kind of ark. We’re sailing on floodwaters into the end of the age. The world is really not that hospitable to the married.

Tolkien, the great English mythmaker, referred to a spouse as a “partner in shipwreck.” It feels jarring to hear it put that way, almost like Tolkien is insulting the sanctity of marriage, or that he must have had a joyless one himself. He didn’t.

What Tolkien was getting at is that a husband and wife will not save each other. No matter how much Lynn and I love and enjoy one another, the saving she and I need we won’t get from each other.

I sometimes use John 2:1-11 as a wedding text. It’s the story of Jesus revealing His glory by saving a party from ruin. He generously replenished the wine supply from water in common washing pots. The marriage covenant that the bride and groom before me are entering is a covenant for a reason. There are times one wants out. There are times it feels like the wine runs out. Even when a couple cultivates their union well the wine will, metaphorically, run out on them. They will over a lifetime together have their share of disappointments with life and in one another.

Even so, for the last quarter-century my wife has been to me, as Drew Holcomb put it in one of his songs, a novel in a sea of magazines. A magazine you move through quickly. It’s glossy and dated. You only read the old ones seated in waiting rooms.

But a novel is for immersion. It’s a story with plot twists and character development. All its pages are bound to its cover. And you can reread the great ones again and again and gain something new every time.

Twenty-five years into marriage, this is the experience I am having with the wife of my youth. There is no one in the world I am more comfortable with. Lynn is my better in many ways.

Superlatives could stretch on for miles. Someone we did business with lately texted me: “I know you already know this, but you have the sweetest wife who has ever walked the face of the Earth.” The late artist Prince, master of pop falsetto, put it fittingly in his song “The Most Beautiful Girl in the World,” which is Lynn’s ringtone on my phone: You’re the reason that God made a girl.

We know our brands of sinning are not the same, and we have to laugh about it now more than fight over it. We’ve experienced in our family the kind of brokenheartedness that makes you either rip into each other or hold on to one another for dear life. For us it is still to have and to hold from this day forward.

We were married in a church that would not allow “secular” music in the ceremony. I understand the rationale, but feel like those end up being places where Jesus would be asked to leave if they catch wind of what He might do to the water. Anyway, the song they disallowed for our wedding was Alabama’s “Forever’s as Far as I’ll Go.” But it plays in our marriage:

I’ve thought about how long I’ll love you

And it’s only fair that you know,

Forever’s as far as I’ll go.

Posted by Cole Huffman at 10:35 AM
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