It was in this church where I walked down the aisle with so much hope and love on the day I married James. We vowed before God and our family and friends to love each other for the rest of our lives. The ceremony went by quickly, the trumpet played, we sealed our love with a kiss, and left the church that night ready to greet our friends and family as the new Mr. and Mrs. James Gibbons.

A couple of years ago and about 9 years into our marriage, we found ourselves like many young couples, raising a family, juggling schedules, managing finances and just trying to survive from one day to the next. We found ourselves losing focus on each other. We were not happy with one another, not able to connect; ultimately, we were growing apart. Life seemed hard and messy and our marriage was struggling. I began questioning if it was even worth fixing. All I could focus on were the things that made me unhappy in my marriage and how much James needed to change.

It was about this time, that I confided in a friend who suggested I read the Power of a Praying Wife. I figured I’d give it shot—down deep I really wanted to be married to James, but I also wanted him to change his ways. But you have to understand, I really wasn’t the “praying” type, and I didn’t even know what it meant to pray. The idea was foreign to me even though I had attended church regularly and was an active Sunday school teacher for ten years.

We eventually decided to reach out for help and began seeing a marriage counselor. Through that process we hit some of the lowest points of our lives becoming vulnerable and owning our mistakes. I continued to pray daily for my husband and to pray for our marriage. I found myself spending time in conversation with God asking Him to help me to fight for this; I asked him to soften our hearts for one another and to please not leave us alone in this wilderness. His voice became audible to me; he worked through me, and I realized that His purpose for marriage is for us to model His love for us.

I slowly began to see that transformation was in fact taking place. As I prayed for my husband, God was changing my heart. I started to visualize the good things in our marriage. And as I transformed, I realized that James was not the only one who needed to change and make things right. I began to see that I too had imperfections, and through it all James loved me anyway. Despite the hard times we had gone through, James had never left me and neither had God.

You see, when we got married on April 29, 2006, we left the sanctuary in such a hurry to start our family and get on with our perfectly planned life that we didn’t realize that we had left God right there in the church. We had not invited Him to be a part of our marriage and so it was no wonder that we were broken. But here is the good news: God was ready to be invited in precisely when we were ready to let Him in, and we learned that by doing this, He would not allow us to be in the wilderness.

Through this process, James and I have grown stronger and have fallen deeper in love than either of us could have ever predicted. Praying, seeking outside help, and prioritizing our marriage has not only become a gift that we’ve given ourselves and to each other, but also is a gift that we’ve given to our boys, Andrew and Thomas. We have the opportunity to show them what love looks like every day in our home. God teaches us that marriage is about loving our spouse as God loves each of us— without conditions. We don’t have to earn His love and we don’t have to fight for it; it is given freely.

On our wedding night James and I made a deal that every ten years we would get married again. How quickly ten years rolled by–and for a time, I didn’t think we would see 10 years, but we did. On April 29, 2016, we got married again, in a private ceremony on the beach. We wrote our own vows this time and promised to continue to grow deeper in love with one another and renewed our commitment to one another.

Every day when I wake, I choose to love my husband and James does the same for me. We had to learn to love each other more than we love ourselves and to work daily to understand this type of sacrificial love. These are the questions that I ask myself to help me stay focused on this God giving love: Do I love my husband well? Do I adore the man that God has given to me? Am I admiring him as a child of God? Am I appreciating him for who he is today instead of what he could be if he lived up to my expectations? Am I giving my heart freely or do I make him feel like he has to earn my love?

God gave us the gift of marriage to show us the perfect example of His love for us. We are not perfect people but we have found that God created beauty through our imperfections. When we struggle, God is here to help us.