So my wife’s side of the family always has a huge honking full-on family Christmas celebration on the second weekend of December. So we travelled down to Long Island this year and had some good food and better conversation with people that we don’t get to see all that often–especially since we made the move to Western New York.

One of the traditions I love is the appearance of Santa Claus with a sack full of toys for the children of the family (or as we call them the great-grandchildren–in reference to my wife’s grandmother who was the big matriarch of the family–Nana Big as the great-grandchildren called her).

Santa this year had delivered all his toys and then he shouted out one last name…Victoria.

Strange request—since Victoria is 26.

As she approached Santa he fumbled with his bag a bit and walked past Vicki. She then turned and found this sight just to her left:

That’s Joe, her boyfriend. And she said yes. So we have an engagement to celebrate. It took a lot of guts for Joe to ask Victoria to be his wife in front of literally her entire family sans a few absentees.

The family needed a bit of good news. There’s been Vicki’s mom, Angela, who overcame breast cancer recently and has become a huge supporter of other survivors. Victoria’s grandfather, Angelo, had been ill and has come back to good heath this past year.

Well, now that I look more deeply at this, I suppose that these things are all good news. After all, every situation has worked out despite the fact that they were met with bad situations initially. Sometimes good news can cause us to look back on the events of the past and find that they are better than we had thought. We stand a bit stronger now despite our struggles. And Joe and Victoria’s marriage will be able to stand on much firmer ground knowing that they can get through much more than they ever thought they could. My wife’s Uncle Andy was looking at pictures of his mother at her wake. His sister, who we call Aunt Roe remarked “Pictures of happy times.”

And Andy quipped back: “Well there were no other times.”

Perhaps that’s the lesson for us all. Even in times of struggle we can find grace and consolation. Most of all we find hope. That sure and certain hope that God lies just on the other side of our deepest fears and is there to meet us and comfort us in our darkest times.

God will always be with us, even when we think all is lost. Even when life deals us a lousy hand or huge tragedies befall us. Somehow God can make a way out of no way.

That’s not a bad thing to consider for those about to enter into married life. For you see, life is going to be difficult at times and things won’t always go the way we’d like or expect. We’ll be overcome by sadness and grief often enough that it just might be tempting to chuck our faith and our commitments to the side. Our spouses will irritate us at times and together married people will deal with all kinds of problems that seem all too difficult to get through.

But our hearts can stretch much farther if we stay open enough with each other to see each other through the darkness. Evil wants us to quit and say that it’s too hard to stay committed and that it’s not worth all the stress. But the truth is that finding God in the mess that our lives often are is where we often find that grace abounds. We find a God who has suffered with us, who shivers in the cold and who humbles himself to share in our humanity when God doesn’t need to.

God cannot bear to keep separate from us. Perhaps the same is an example for us for married love? Can husbands not bear to be without their wives and vice-versa? Isn’t that why we get married in the first place?

For Victoria and Joe, blessings on your engagement. Know that the road ahead will not always be easy, but that together you can overcome any obstacle simply by loving one another a bit more. Loving one another when it’s hard, when it challenges us is what God calls all of us to do.

You’ve already given so much of that love for your family in their times of hardship. Remember that and see God’s grace because of it in your marriage. That’s the secret of staying married.

May that secret bless your marriage forever.