24 Years and Counting

Today we celebrate 24 years of marriage.

We met at 17, started dating at 20, got engaged at 22, and married at 23.

We have now been married more than half our lives.

In that time, we have lived in seven homes in three counties in one state. We have worked at nine jobs, including four churches, three of which we both served professionally. We have raised two incredible sons.

I can’t begin to quantify how many sermons he’s preached or articles I’ve written. How many camps, retreats, or mission trips we’ve organized. How many Bible lessons we’ve taught, or cups of coffee we’ve shared with people we love. Nor how many weddings he’s officiated.

For obvious reasons, the weddings are on my mind today. Some would say we got lucky, that marrying so young could have gone badly. We know some for whom that was the case. Thankfully, not us, and thankfully, we’ve learned a few things about marriage in this half of life.

JOY is contagious.
Jesus, Others, You. It may be cliché, but it is also the Great Commandment: Love the Lord your God, and love others as yourself. From before our beginning as a couple, we committed to love God first and foremost. We recognized our love for one another as His gift, to nurture with an outpouring of His love for us as individuals and as a couple. We put church and activities that would help us grow in love with God and each other first on our calendar, careful not to let other activities compete (at least not regularly) for space in our lives that belonged to God.

Remember why you fell in love.
Romance is sappy, staring-deeply-into-eyes fun. But romance ebbs and flows. Sometimes you need to go back to the beginning and actively remember those qualities about your spouse that weakened your knees: his sense of humor or the way his hug wrapped you up and made you feel safe or the laughs you shared playing board games.

Invest time.
Regularly. Ideally, daily, weekly, monthly, and seasonally. Shared time is the investment you make often in order to have something to draw on when you need it most. Daily could be as little as a fifteen-minute check-in chat after work. Weekly might be a walk around the block, a date night, a Sunday lunch. Monthly or seasonally, depending on your life stage and/or budget, might be a splurge date or an overnight get-away.

Grow.
Everything that has life grows. Or it dies. So you might as well be clear up front: I’m not going to get in a rut. Each of you will grow, learn, and change, and your relationship will need to flex in order to accommodate your individual growth. It’s a good thing, and it will make you more interesting. Just be sure to grow in complimentary directions.

Experiences over stuff.
Make memories, not collections. We’re all drowning in stuff and spend way too many hours of our lives managing all the stuff: cleaning, dusting, moving it from one place to another, reorganizing, decluttering, (re)gifting. Instead, we need more shared time together, more laughter and play and memory-making that in the long run will require no more work than sharing stories with family and friends for generations.

Talk. A lot.
Be honest. No topic too sacred, nothing off-limits. Communication is the basic building block you stack over and over and over in order to build a shared life. You have to talk in order to avoid and resolve conflict, which will do its best to topple all the hard-placed blocks. Learn to speak graciously, to honor each other with your words by building each other up, lavishing encouragement, being his/her #1 fan. Keep criticism to a minimum.

Play.
Marriage can be a lot of work if you don’t balance it with some just-because fun. What did you do on dates pre-marriage? Do more of that. See movies. Eat meals out, or cook meals in. Go to museums, take classes, and develop new hobbies. Enjoy the big beautiful world on a hike. Take a trip—even a day trip—to somewhere new, or visit your old stomping grounds. Enjoy each other’s company.

Play for the same team.
Think of your marriage as a team: What does winning look like? What position(s) do you play? How can you work together rather than against each other? Stop trying to keep individual score (I took the trash out last week… Yah, but I emptied the dishwasher this morning) and figure out how to complement each other’s strengths and shore up each other’s weaknesses.

Forgive.
Most of us misunderstand forgiveness. We think it means claiming that whatever the offense, it didn’t matter. To the contrary, forgiveness means the offense absolutely mattered, but I will choose to live with the consequences so we can both move on. Forgiveness involves addressing the conflict honestly and then agreeing to new boundaries to prevent further hurt, including agreeing not to bring it up again. It is hard, necessary work for any substantial relationship.

Keep it simple.
Don’t put off date night until you have the sitter and the reservation at the fancy-schmancy A-list restaurant. Put the kids to bed early, order pizza, and put in a DVD if you have to. Don’t put unrealistic expectations on yourself, your spouse, your kids, your kids’ schools or teachers or coaches, your neighbors… Don’t make life harder than it will be already. Keep your priorities straight, and keep it simple.

Your spouse won’t meet all your needs.
No one person will satisfy all your needs. Adulting requires that you meet more than a few of your own needs, and sometimes that involves sucking it up when you feel dissatisfied. Also, cultivate friends you can talk to and play with when your spouse isn’t available. Just remember: they don’t come first in your heart’s priorities.

Serve one another in love.
Every time Guy officiates at a wedding I hear him say: “Marriage is not 50-50. Marriage is 100-100. Marriage is both partners all in for the sake of the relationship. I give everything I am, and she gives everything she is, and together we make one whole.”

I admit, service is not my strong suit. Sometimes I notice myself feeling more than a little annoyed at all the mundane tasks I do that seem to go unnoticed. At those times I remind myself that our marriage is built on mutual service. Some days it takes a lot of service on my part; other days, he will pick up all the slack. It’s a give-and-take, both of us intending to give more than we take.

Today we have followed our own advice. After shuffling the kids out the door and off to school, we began our day in a yoga class together, a new-to-us practice that grounds us in health and wellness and community with our friends and neighbors. We each did our individual work, then ran errands together for the sake of our family. We both participated in chores and dinner prep. The kids have homework, so we made a simple dinner: a big Greek salad, whole wheat pita bread and hummus, corn on the cob, with cherries for dessert. We opened a nicer-than-usual bottle of wine—a Frog’s Leap Sauvignon Blanc—from a winery we have visited for special occasions with loved ones. We sip from glasses that belonged to Guy’s grandparents, engraved with the initial and name I adopted 24 years ago today.

Here’s to 24 years, and many, many more!

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Transitions

Eleven years ago today this Beautiful Boy was born:

1 week old

1 week old

His brother wasn’t yet three years old when we began praying/hoping/trying for Baby #2, and it took twice as long for this one’s arrival on Planet Earth (+prayers, tears, too-many doctor visits, pain, and money). His brother was 5 1/2 years old when Lil’ Guy surprised us with his five-weeks-early arrival; his brother said, “Oh, yay! I needed someone to play with today!”

5-9 Q and Dene-OMy dad held our New One for the first time at Four Days Old. Lil’ Guy had jaundice; so did Dad. They kind of match, if you look closely. Dad was diagnosed with Pancreatic Cancer not long after I discovered I was at-last pregnant. He lived for fifteen+ months with a cancer that kills too many in about three months.

[Just so we’re clear, this post is harder to write than most…]

I worked hard to capture this pout!

I worked hard to capture this pout!

Lil’ Guy is all Lovebug, snuggles and sweetness, joy and smiles, laughter and exuberance. Honestly, I’m cracking up just looking at that attempt at a grumpy face, especially because I know only a moment later he cracked up with sillies and tickles and pounce-on-Mommy goobers.

Today he is 11 years old. This morning he left for school-sponsored Science Camp, a sleep-away camp for the next four nights. Yup, he will sleep away from home on his birthday for the first time at 11 years old. I slept away from home on my birthday for the first time at 18 years old and, even then, I thought it something of an injustice. What, the whole world doesn’t stop for my birthday? You’ve got to be kidding me, I have a mid-term exam On My Birthday? Egads!

As parents, we tried to bill this week as: “The Biggest and Best Birthday Party EVER!”

Tween is smart, creative, talented (you should hear him play trumpet!), devoted, funny, loving, sweet, sensitive, peacemaking, willful, and a little bit sassy: of late, as he steps into this new stage, I call him my “sassy sapling.”

This year has been odd: Teen growing into the independence of mid-adolescence, increasing amounts of friend-time and driving; and Tween rounding the corner towards Middle School. I have been aware since August that my Baby is almost done with what we call “Childhood.” I’ve ached with it all year, almost like the groans of pregnancy.

Q social

Tween + friends, discussing “Life.”

Ten years ago today Dad slipped into Eternity. Ten years ago last night my siblings and I slept over at my parents’ house, our childhood home. Actually we’d had a several-nights’-sleepover; Night 1 of which involved sipping wine and telling stories late into the wee hours. Did we expect Dad to go in our midst? Maybe. I wish someone had turned on a video camera, as we told stories and extended grace to one another like I’ve never experienced before or since, our individual and complimentary gifts magnified by the light of life and death. In the middle of the night Dad made it clear he wanted a sip, too, so we brought him a glass of wine and a straw, and held it to his mouth. Always a pleasure-seeker, I hope he enjoyed it.

So Yes, Tween’s birthday is also the anniversary of my Dad’s death, which makes today stranger than strange.

I have the coffee mug from Dad’s local coffee shop, which I had made for him, emblazoned with his name. After a too-long hiatus from his own visits to the shop, obviously due to health issues they didn’t know, I picked up his mug for him and he was thrilled to have it back for a time. For nine years I sipped morning coffee from his mug on May 4th (Tween’s birthday/Dad’s passing) and October 15th (Dad’s birthday).

Ten years makes a difference.

Today, I did not completely fall to pieces.
Today, I chose not to sip from Dad’s coffee mug; I can drink from Dad’s mug on his birthday, or other days, but maybe not during the celebration of Tween’s birthday. I did, however, drink a margarita in Dad’s honor.
Today, I saw Tween off to camp, had a second cup of coffee, and treated myself to a seat in my stylist’s chair.
Today, I honored my dad for his strengths and weaknesses.
Today, I waved “Hello!” from this new stage of life – a whole new era of life and parenting, this ‘new’ church and town and house and community… How my dad would have loved where we are now, who we have become in this place/decade of life!

My dad didn’t get to meet his most recent three grandchildren; he met but didn’t get to know the two before that. All of these children are delightful and amazing and full-of-life. Dad would have loved them and (probably) grumped at them at least a little, as was his way.

Q rock toss

Hey, Dad, these kids are Day-Glow, glow-in-the-daylight-and-dark fluorescent-brilliant. And you paved their way. They’ve heard stories – you riding horseback between San Diego’s mountains and beaches; you flying planes the world-over. They love your city, they get where you came from even if they see it only in glimpses. They skip rocks as I’m sure you did in your day.

Today, I appreciate that Dad waves back at us more often than we know. Cheers, Dad! The future looks bright.