Two weekends ago at the Smart Marriages Conference, I had the opportunity to hear the incredibly moving story of Catherine and Ron Tijerina. They faced one of the most difficult challenges a couple can face and had to really examine what their vows for better or worse truly meant.
When they were in their mid-20’s, Ron was arrested and tried for a crime he did not commit. They went to court secure in their attorney’s belief that the prosecution had not made their case. To their devastating surprise, Ron was convicted and led away to prison. He never had the chance to say good-bye to his two young sons. He was to be gone for 14-25 years.
Catherine stood by her husband, even though her family distanced themselves and she was shunned by her community. She remained connected to her husband through fifteen minute phone calls and the carefully supervised visits she and her sons dutifully made.
At first, Ron relieved his anxiety by returning to the vows she had made on their wedding day. He would remind her that she had promised to stand by him.
Both Cathy and Ron admitted to being somewhat selfish when they first married. As one of their regular visitations was being brought to an end, Ron really paid attention to what was happening with his family. He watched the woman he loved corral his sons into their usual difficult goodbyes and prepare herself to face the unsupportive world outside.
Shaken and afraid, Ron said the words to Cathy he never thought he’d say. He told her that she was free. He was releasing her from those vows she took so many years before. He wanted her to know that if it would be easier for her and his children to move forward without him then, not only would he understand, but that he would support that decision, despite the emotional cost to him.
Ron had realized that by holding her to her vows under circumstances neither could have forseen, he was not living up to his commitment to love, honor, and cherish her. Cathy thanked him for his selflessness but turned him down.
Ron served fifteen years in prison. His son’s are now grown but he and Cathy are as close as ever. The love that sustained them through their long separation is present in their every look. They honor their long fought for life by not taking their togetherness for granted.
From the day Ron returned home to his family, he has treated every morning like it is Christmas morning and every night as if it’s Valentine’s Day.
What choice would you and your partner make?
Would you choose to stand by your partner despite condemnation from the outside world?
What “worse” would have to happen to make you walk away from your marriage?
What is your level of commitment?
What greater thing is there for two human souls than to feel that they are joined for life–to strengthen each other in all labor, to rest on each other in all sorrow, to minister to each other in all pain, to be one with each other in silent, unspeakable memories at the moment of the last parting? George Eliot