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To Have and to Hold: A Closer Look at the Wedding Vows

December 29, 2007. On that day, 15 years ago, I made the following vow:

"I Mark Lim, take you, Sue Tan, to be my lawful wedded wife. To have and to hold from this day forward. For better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, till death do us part. According to God's holy ordinances, and here thereto, I pledge you my faithfulness."

When I made my marriage vows 15 years ago, I didn't fully understand every aspect of these words. Well, I definitely believed in everything I said, and I was determined to keep those vows, but I didn't fully appreciate the depth of the promises made. Over the past month, I've been reflecting about what these words mean, and I've taken the time to pen down my thoughts.

Batam, Indonesia, December 2022. Celebrating our 15th year together. There have been so many ups and downs all these years; and we give thanks to God for keeping us close through it all.
To have and to hold.

What exactly does this phrase mean?

According to the Oxford Languages dictionary, "to have" means "to possess" or "to experience", among a string of other definitions. It means that my wife belongs to me, and I belong to her. It means that we experience all of life together; both bitter as well as sweet.

Marriage is not always easy; and there have been many hard times. But there have also been many wonderful moments. The wedding vow is a reminder to me, during the difficult moments, that I have made a promise to stay the course. It is a reminder for me that I need to cling to her even tighter; and for us to weather the storms together.

"To hold" - this means "to support", "to carry", and one interesting definition describes it as "to remain secure, intact, or in position without breaking or giving way".

I am reminded that I need to be a source of security for my wife; to remain intact and in position without giving way. There is also the notion of "holding space", made especially popular during the Covid years, with the idea of being an emotional anchor for someone in need of support.

I know that it's not always easy for me to remain secure; given my personal frailties and weaknesses, and how I can sometimes not be there for her when she truly needs me. Yet it is something I know I can and I want to grow in, with God as my strength.

I am again reminded that without God, it is impossible to keep my vows. I need Him more and more each day.

Frasers' Hill, Malaysia, December 2022. This is an important place for both of us, and we had many precious moments here both separately and together. In life, we need to hold on tight and support each other in order for there to be stability in the marriage.
For better, for worse.

I remember the day I first made this vow. I was then looking at my wife in eager anticipation. I had been waiting for that day for a long time, and I was finally going to be married. Additionally, I had memorised my vows, so I was saying them slowly and carefully.

Yet I would never know what it would mean to promise to love and cherish my wife for better or for worse.

Things have indeed been wonderful for the two of us since we got married. We watched the K-Drama 18 Again, and told each other how glad we were that we were no longer living in our teenage years, with all its inherent awkwardness and confusion about who to like and how to chase the person of our dreams.

Sue and I have had many happy moments travelling the world together, and we have two wonderful children whom we love so dearly. Life is good.

But there have been terrible moments too; like when we struggled with starting a family, and when we engage in intense verbal battles.

We know we have made a promise to each other, before God. And so we choose to love each other regardless of whether times are good or whether they are bad.

It's easy to choose to love when times are good. But it's not so easy when things seem bad. Yet if we made the choice to stay the course from the very beginning, and persevered in our decision, we would then have the courage to keep on going, and to stand firm in our decision.

Life is not a linear experience. If we want a strong marriage, we need to make that decision from the very beginning, come what may. We need to give thanks when times are good; to build a memory bank of such precious experiences. And we need to choose to look to God when times are bad; remembering how He has always provided for us; with the certainty that He will always be there for us.

For better or for worse.

Korea, June 2010. We love to travel the world together. This was taken during a period of sadness as we both dealt with the emotions associated with why we could not have a biological child. A month later, our older son Z was born, and our lives were changed forever,
For richer, for poorer.

Finances are a major stressor in any marriage, and many quarrels are a result of difficulties related to family finances. When we pledge to marry our spouse for richer or poorer, we are saying we choose to love the other person regardless of their financial situation.

Young couples assume they can survive on "love and fresh air" alone, but in reality bills still need to be paid, loans need to be settled, and money needs to be spent to put food on the table. So money is an important aspect of the marriage. However, when money matters become the preoccupation of the couple, this may not be the healthiest

I don't think I will ever be a rich man. Since I quit my full-time job and set up my own company 9 years ago, things have not quite been the same in terms of financial security. And just when things seemed to get back on track, everything came to a standstill - that was of course a result of Covid, and our finances took a nosedive, just like it did for many other people.

I am thankful that my wife has stood by me through it all. Yes, we have had our disagreements, but I know that at the end of the day we will stand together. After all, it's not about how rich you are - rich couples are just as equally prone to divorce as poor couples. In actuality, it's about our disposition towards money. If we perceive money to be the most important aspect of our life, we will live with that in focus. However, if money is seen to be just one component of our lives, then we will live with that perspective in mind. For at the end of the day, it is not money that is the root of all evil; it is the love of money that leads us to that outcome.

I may not be rich in terms of finances. But I know that I am extremely wealthy in the love of my family. I love my wife and children, and they love me. All of us love God; we love the people who are in need. We love our friends; they love us. There is really nothing I need more. For I am rich beyond the material, and I know I am blessed beyond measure.

And I give thanks through it all.

Sue and I conduct many workshops together, This was a panel discussion on fostering and adoption at the College of Alice and Peter Tan in October 2022, where we shared with the students about what it means to care for the children who come from vulnerable families.
In sickness and in health.

When I think of the phrase "in sickness and in health", I will always remember Sue's grandaunt, Tan Lian Neo, our Ee Poh, known affectionately by many as "Aunty Lian". She was a grand old dame who lived past the age of 100, and she was an inspiration to many around her.

I first got to know Ee Poh at the age of around 90. I remembered her determination to love others by praying for them. She was truly a woman of faith, who spent much of her life in prayer and in worship of God. As Sue shared during the eulogy, "Ee Poh went out to the highways and byways to minister God’s healing to people for as long as was able; and even when she could not venture out as much, she ministered to them through her faithful prayers."

Yet her life was not always easy. Ee Poh shared with us that she had to care for her sick husband for many years, personally attending to most of his needs, and dutifully caring for him even during the times when he was disagreeable. Yet she did all this with a quiet devotion. And she never complained. That's because she was a woman who loved God deeply, and she strongly believed that the wedding vows of loving her spouse "in sickness and in health" meant to care for him even when his health was wanting, and when this was not the easiest thing for her to do.

Ee Poh was a woman who was faithful to God to the end; and I believe her desire to love her husband come what may, was an extension of the deep love that she had for God. It was hard, but she stuck to her wedding vows, and she kept the faith.

What does it mean for me to love my wife "in sickness and in health"? The first thing that comes to my mind was the time before we had children. It was an awful time, and we spent many moments in tears because we knew that we could not give birth in a natural manner. But we were able to hold on tight to each other, and to support one another during that difficult time. Today we have two lovely children, and we give thanks to God for providing them to us. Each of them is an answered prayer and a miracle of life. Indeed we would have it no other way.

Our family is currently living in a sweet spot. But what does the future hold for us? We really have no idea. I know I will choose to love my wife regardless of what happens. But conversely, I too need to take care of my health so that I will not be a burden to her. This has been an area of challenge for me, and I know I am not the most physically fit person. So this is definitely one thing that I want to grow in.

At the end of the day it's about being faithful to the promises that we made on that special day 15 years ago. And we know we can't do it through our own strength, but only through the grace of God.

Jeju, Korea, 2013. We love Korea and miss our travels there. Cherishing the time together now when we can still travel together.
Till death do us part.

This is the part of the wedding vow that makes me the most sad. It speaks of a day, hopefully not too soon, when I will part with my dear wife. Looking at our 15 years of marriage, I cannot imagine anything as awful as this, when the end of this life comes for either one of us.

We have talked about it, and even said that if anything was to happen, for the other spouse to grieve, but after that to move on and to seek their own happiness. Yes, death is a certainty for everyone. As long as we live, we will die. That is an eventuality. But we cannot imagine such a day happening, because we love each other so much, and a life apart from the other is completely unthinkable.

Yet the certainty of death brings solace to us when we make our wedding vow. For we know that we have promised to be with each other for the rest of our earthly life. It is a promise that was not made lightly; and we will give thanks for each day we are alive and together.

As believers in Christ, there is an additional avenue of hope. Death in this life is only one part of our journey. Life continues even after we experience death in our physical bodies, and this brings us the comfort that we will see each other again after our life on earth is ended. Indeed I give thanks that both of us love God so much, and that we have an eternal hope in our Creator and Saviour.

And this life will be forever.

Busan, Korea, 2013. One of our favourite family photoshoots, taken during the heart of winter. We know that we are truly blessed!

God's Holy Ordinances.

"I Mark Lim, take you, Sue Tan, to be my lawful wedded wife. To have and to hold from this day forward. For better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, till death do us part. According to God's holy ordinances, and here thereto, I pledge you my faithfulness."

The Merriam Webster defines "ordinance" as an "authoritative decree or direction". Sue and I love God very much; and we believe that He is the primary authority in our lives. As such, the wedding vow was a pledge that we made to each other according to God's sacred authoritative decree. This means that the vows, once made, are binding in the eyes of God.

There is another aspect to this part of the wedding vow. When we pledge to be faithful to our spouse, it is a direct command from God. This brings us comfort; especially as it means that the entire act of committing ourselves to marriage is sanctioned by God.

In the army, when an officer issues a direct order to his or her soldiers, they proceed under the authority and protection of the officer. This means that if the soldiers run into any problems, that the officer is there to protect them and to keep them safe. The soldiers do the bidding of the commanding officer despite having no power in and of themselves.

In a similar vein, God is our Commanding Officer. If He issues a holy and authoritative command, He will be there to protect us and to help see us through. We will be relying on the power and authority that we do not have in and of ourselves.

Marriage is like this. In and of ourselves, we will be unable to keep our vows. Statistics alone will tell us that. It's only because we have the power of God to see us through our marriage; that's why we are able to keep all our promises and remain faithful to each other.

We love because He first loved us; we love because we can rest secure on His power and authority.

The day we became husband and wife, 29 December 2007. I will always remember that day so clearly in my memory. 


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