Russ and I have a very special anniversary coming up in a couple of weeks. On January 5, 2022, we will have been married for 20 years. This is a lot longer than most people probably gave us. During the first year, it’s a lot longer than I definitely gave us. Marriage, even when you love someone as much as I’ve always loved Russ, is difficult at times. We married when we were 30 years old, a first marriage for each of us. 

I remember at the wedding rehearsal, my Papaw Little kept saying to me, “It’s not too late to change your mind, you know.” Exasperated, I finally looked at him and asked, “I thought you liked Russ?”

His answer still resonates with me to this day. “Oh, I like Russ just fine. The question is, though, do you love Russ?

I thought it was an easy answer. Of course, I loved Russ. I’d agreed – happily – to marry him. What I didn’t realize at the time, though, was that my grandfather had walked two of his daughters down the aisle – my Mom twice, and wasn’t invited to the third wedding – and had witnessed more in his married life than I could even imagine. He had married my Mamaw, who was not an easy woman to live with, in 1948. He knew that love was more than I could conceive of it being in that moment. And I would learn that. Through so many ups and downs, especially in those early years, I recall thinking that neither of us had known what we were getting into. We faced things I swore I’d never put myself through. And that was the thing – on my own, I would have walked away from our marriage, probably a hundred times. Thankfully, I never saw it as something that I was in on my own. We might always have issues, I remember thinking at one point, but I guessed I was in it for life. 

Before my Papaw Little passed away in 2014, I had a long heart-to-heart with him. I asked him point-blank how in the world he had managed to stay married to my grandmother for nearly 65 years. He answered me simply. Honestly. “Chrissle, I made a promise.” A friend pointed out to me, he didn’t say it was because of an undying love for her, but simply stated, because he had made a promise. And I believe that promise was stronger than the sentimentality that we often associate with love.

I realized, then, that I had made a promise, too. To Russ, to God, to myself. And it was time to stop thinking just about myself most of the time. I was responsible to more than my own emotions and questions. I was committed to a decision that I made on a snowy day in early January 2002, before God, our families, and a good number of our friends. That promise was about more than doing what my heart felt. It was about doing what was right. In my heart, my mind, and dedicating myself more fully to seeing it through successfully. 

I loved my Papaw. He was my best friend. And losing him was difficult, to say the least. He was not perfect. He was not a saint. And I adored those things about him. But he patient, kind, and committed. He did his best to give my Mamaw the kind of life she never had with her own family. He worked hard to provide stability and a good home, sometimes three jobs at a time, because he knew that Mamaw would sabotage their living situations and want to go home to her parents’ in Tazewell, despite a lifetime of abuse and cruelty from her father, my Granddaddy Vance. Papaw worked as diligently as possible when he could convince her to leave them again and go back to Michigan every few months, because he knew inevitably that they would land in Tazewell again. I think maybe that was part of his promise. They went back and forth like that for years; Mom never spent a whole school year in one school until she was in high school. 

For the generations of my family who had missed it somehow, I craved stability. But early on, my ideas of what made up stability were pretty lofty and far-fetched. Despite that, Russ stuck with me, and has made my life more stable than 13-year-old-Chrissie could have ever imagined her life would ever become. Together, we have stuck it out, learned and grown together – and in ourselves – which was not always easy. But here we are, on the edge of twenty years later, still together. Loving each other. Truly joyful in each other’s company. Happy all the time? No, not always. But joy comes from a deeper, less fleeting place than happiness, and joy abides. 

We have big plans for our 20th anniversary. We are going back to Williamsburg, where we went on our honeymoon, and we are staying in a room in one of the Taverns in the historical district, on Duke of Gloucester Street. I will admit to you that I am completely geeking out about how awesome this is going to be. I fell in love with Williamsburg before I fell in love with Russ; thankfully, he fell in love with it, too. 

I ordered a top-tier replica of our wedding cake last week. When I stopped in the shop, Unique Cakes, in Bristol, I found myself crying as I said the words “twentieth anniversary,” and I was a little startled by the flood of emotion I felt in that moment. And I realized that it’s because thirty-year-old-Chrissie probably wasn’t really sure that this marriage would last. That it’s because we both had a lot of growing up to do in the past twenty years together. That I’m more blessed with Russell Peters than thirty-year-old-Chrissie could ever have foreseen or predicted. That we’re more blessed with each other than probably either of us ever imagined on the day we said, “I do.” 

Next month, I’ll talk about the anniversary itself, the Williamsburg trip, the cake to remind us of that cold January day so long ago. But this month, I just wanted to lay the groundwork by putting it all out there – life is more than emotions; love is more than stability; a promise made is most times worth working together to build and keep. Thank you to everyone who has encouraged us or prayed for us anywhere along this long and winding path. Russ and I are truly, truly #Blessed. Amen.