Seven by Cara Stolen


Seven years ago today, on the hottest day of the summer, we stood on the saddle house porch at 4:00 pm surrounded by our immediate family and eight of our closest friends. As sweat poured down our backs we answered “I do” to our friend Perry’s questions of “will you?” and promised to love each other, take care of each other, and stand beside each other in good times and bad. Like most people who get married in their early twenties, we couldn’t possibly know what any of those vows entailed, but we said them like we meant it and sealed them with a kiss.

It feels like yesterday, and like a lifetime ago. Time is funny like that. 

I told someone the other day that, based on our “dating” relationship, Levi and I never should have gotten married. It was tongue-in-cheek, but also: I meant it. We were, put mildly, a mess. Young, dumb, and stubborn; fresh out of long-term relationships to boot.

And yet, here we are. Seven years, six houses, five pickups, and two kids later. 

Yesterday morning I walked across that same saddle house porch with Maggie on my hip. I watched Levi slip a headstall over General Lee’s head and hand Royce the reins. Then he shortened the stirrups of my saddle, slipped a bit into Dinero’s mouth, and took Mags from me. By the time I swung my leg over Dinero’s back he was on his own horse; Maggie snug in front of him. 

I grinned at him, and we were off. 

Riding behind him, I watched his back and thought about how glad I am I said those “I do’s” on that dusty, hot porch all those years ago. While our life together has been much harder than I ever could have imagined, it’s much, much better than I imagined, too. And I can say with utmost certainty that we’re happier now than we were in the beginning. 

I remember once, early in our marriage, taking a walk after we had a fight. I was fuming mad, and kept thinking I’d made the biggest mistake of my life marrying him. Somehow, those vows had not transformed him into a perfect, selfless man like I’d expected them to and he was still, well, him. 

In those early months (and years) I spent a lot of time focusing on the ways in which our marriage and Levi disappointed me. I looked at all the couples around us and thought they were happier, more stable, and more content than we were. I envied them, and convinced myself that my friends had perfect marriages and perfect husbands. But, as we grew up, I realized I was wrong—nobody’s marriage is perfect. Nobody’s husband is perfect. And not even everyone’s marriage is happy. 

I read once that “what you look for, you find.” I think that phrase is true of a lot of things, but I know it’s true in marriage, because those six little words made all the difference in ours. If you want to see all the ways your spouse is falling short and all they ways they fail you … you will. But if you decide to focus instead on the ways they love you well? The ways they serve you? Support you? Cheer you on? You’ll find those, too. 

This morning, as Levi leaned off his horse to get the gate for Royce and I in a fluid, confident motion, I thought about how glad I am that I learned to stop comparing our relationship to everyone else’s. Instead, at some point, I decided to love the marriage I have and the man I married for what/who they are. I stopped focusing on what isn’t and learned to see only what is: a strong, steady marriage to a man who loves me better with each passing year and a stable, caring partner in life who serves our family in all the ways we need him to. 

Our marriage is undoubtedly different than every other marriage in the world. But that’s okay, because it works for us, which is all that really matters. 

Cheers to seven years, sweets. It really does get better every year. 


Wedding photography by Hailey Haberman Photography.