In the night, when I return to bed after a bathroom trip (thank you, menopause) my husband will often turn and touch my hair before we both go back to sleep. And if he returns from a trip, he adjusts my bed covers. I smile.

There are two pieces of my life I usually don’t talk about. The first is my childhood, devoid of any goodness. There was no kindness, no beauty, no relief. When I first began to explore this season, as an adult, I shared that life with close friends. I became familiar with their shift in body language, the pulling back, and with their facial expressions, distant and confused. There are very few people I share these things with now.

The second part of my life I hesitate to speak about is my marriage. Not because it is horrible—just the opposite. In this relationship I am safe, and loved, and nurtured, and I’m well aware that very few of my friends share this situation. Maybe because I looked at my childhood friends’ lives with deep shame and envy, I resist the possibility of causing this pain in the hearts of my friends.

It is no surprise that, as a young woman, I chose a man who was less than kind. I gravitated toward what I had always known. He cared little for me, very much for himself. This felt to me very, very right. For any sadness I had, any discontent, I blamed myself.

But then God. I don’t know how else to say it. Things got bad, impossibly bad, and there was no denial. I was, as always, eager to blame myself, as was he. And this marriage died. But by then, we had two little boys, and a desperate desire to love them well. So we began to work. And God began dropping big and little mercies into our lives, into our hearts, into our marriage.

I could say the change was miraculous, but the miracle came through thousands of tears, hundreds of hours of counseling, many hard conversations, unreasonable hope, and unexpected words that altered our hearts and minds.

Many times I felt I was lying on an operating table, wide awake and cut wide open, giving the Surgeon permission to slice a little more, wherever He chose. I would do it again in a heartbeat. Thank God I don’t have to.

There was a year I stood in front of a greeting card display looking for an anniversary card, tears streaming down my face because none of them had words that fit my marriage.

We just celebrated our 37thanniversary. Someone asked me, “How many wonderful years?” and I replied, “30.” Or so.

In three weeks, my husband will retire from his job, and we will start a new adventure. The time has been so long, yet sometimes it seems so short. I am leery, and I don’t like change. But I trust. This is a man who prays every night for my heart to be healed, who prays for our new purpose, who prays to be my shield. This is the man who knows my pain better than anyone in the world, and holds it, loving me.

Here’s the thing: I don’t know why God has done this for me. I don’t know why He picked me up out of the mess I lived and turned it into a lovely thing. It is unreasonable. It is gratuitous.

We have a picture on our bedroom dresser, a “selfie” we took as newlyweds when the only way to take a selfie was to use a real camera with a timer and send the film to be developed. We are lovely, unwrinkled and young in that picture. Yet because of the quality of the photos of that era, it fades more every year. We are becoming young ghosts, just pretend people. The pain we held, invisible in that photo, is likely visible in our old, wrinkled, tired selves now. I like us so much better now that we have become real.

Jealousy and pride are the offspring of comparison. I tell my story now with a light touch, with sensitivity toward the listener. My pain and my blessings are my story, and I am amazed that the God of the Universe chooses a different one for each of us. I have learned to love mine, every bit of it, and lean toward the purpose to which it calls me.

Marcia Thomas lives in a suburb of Chicago. She is a wife, mother of four sons and grandmother of eight. She adores her daughters-in-law. She is a lover of baby laughs, kindness, truth, and Jesus.