Cousin Roy’s Paternal Grandparents, circa 1998

Part of an Instagram Art Show

When I was in high school, my Aunt Connie gave me a stash of black and white negatives to play with in our darkroom at school. Before Instagram, before Flickr, even before digital photography, I took photographs on film. I started taking photos of pigeons on family vacations when I was six because I loved Bert on Sesame Street. Then when I was sixteen, I stepped into my first darkroom. Hank Harmon showed our class how to roll black and white film onto canisters; taught us about f-stop and shutter speed; and showed us the magic of developer, stop bath, fixer, and a finished print. I was hooked. For the next ten years I spent most of my artistic life focused on photography.

This image is of my Uncle Roy’s parents, known as Grandpa Willie and Grandma Dora. I printed it from some of those negatives Aunt Connie gave me, painting photo emulsion onto construction paper, and experimenting in the darkroom. Cousin Roy liked a grouping of nine of the pictures so much, I offered to give it to him. Ever a patron of the arts, he insisted on paying me. It was the first piece of art I ever sold. I was eighteen.

I grew up gazing at innumerable photos like this of my mother’s family. Mid-twentieth century black and white images of my aunts and uncles on their wedding days. Grandma and Grandpacito’s cozy, formal portrait after she had been very sick. A color portrait of my parents as high school sweethearts. Evidence of a host of love stories realized and still unfolding. I always prayed I would have a love story like that.

It is impossible to know what you will endure as a couple when you walk down the aisle on your wedding day. My whirlwind courtship with Joshua (married just over a year after meeting on MySpace) gave way to seven moves (two cross-country) in the first nine months of our marriage, two years of chronic illness, four years of infertility, a seemingly endless cycle of paying off debt and getting into more of it (thanks American healthcare system), purchasing our first home (finally!) and then four more years of waiting on the bank to give us the money to fix it up. How have we made it this far??

The book of Hebrews talks about the great heroes of our faith being aliens and strangers on this earth (Hebrews 11:13-16), and wow, do I relate to that. Groaning for realization of the promises of God, the hopes we foster, the yearnings we bravely entertain. And yet, every day, we are people just trudging through. It seems truly absurd. But we press on. Because, as Sam Gamgee said, we’ve got to believe there’s some good in the world, and that’s worth holding on to.

In a letter to his son Michael, JRR Tolkien explained marriage in one incredible metaphor: companions in shipwreck. I keep coming back to this concept, more than thirteen years after I tried to write about it in college. Then I had very little experience of the shipwreck of life, and almost none of love. But now I can say I do. Lately a low-grade Job version of hardship. And it remains a perfect metaphor.

Our love story began as a friendship and grew and grew. Joshua was such a surprise to me. He didn’t look like I imagined the man I’d end up with should look. We met online, and I was basically terrified of the internet before 2005. I was 25 and had never dated, and I didn’t really want to start (problematic, I know). And here comes this person. Lumberjack-looking, bold, fearless, creative, completely unacquainted with vegetables, and impossible to get bored of talking with. He was so perfect for me.

Two are better than one, writes Solomon, because they have a good return for their labor. They can help one another if one falls down. They can keep warm. They can defend themselves (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12). All of these scenarios pit the two people against some external hardship. Thorns and thistles. Gravity. The elements. War. The two people must be unified for both to benefit. Unity in marriage is the hardest thing. But the benefits always outweigh the costs, especially in the long term. I don’t like shipwreck. But it’s ours. And I’m so, so glad Joshua is my companion.