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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Remember, Forget, Imagine, Hope

As we approach the end of the year and the end of this guest post series, I feel reflective and overwhelmed at the talented people who surround my life. Sarah is one of those people (as you’re about to see if you don’t already know her). We are co-workers and friends; she leads me in worship regularly, and she inspires me in so many ways. Today’s post is vulnerable and lovely and reminds me to create wherever, whenever, and from whatever situation lies before me.

Create Challenge #38: Sarah D. Williams

Sometimes I create to remember. Sometimes I create to forget. Sometimes I create to imagine what could be—creating from a place of hope, as if offering a prayer to the Creator through my written words or painted canvas, potted plant or redesigned room, chord progressions or dance steps.

In 2013, high atop Machu Picchu, gazing out over the valley of wondrous Incan ruins, I created to imagine what could be. What could be just a little bit better. More. Not that there was anything saliently wrong. But that’s the beauty of creating: Sometimes we don’t even know what we long for until it is unearthed through the creative process. And sometimes it takes a breath-catching backdrop to poke deeply enough, to prod our souls, to till and dig and do the unearthing.

I broke my foot 3 days before I was scheduled to fly to Peru and lead a team of 13 adults and students heading high up in the Andes Mountains to spend a week working at a children’s home in Andahuaylas.

I broke my foot while packing and organizing the 50-lb donation bags we would carry 2-per from SFO to LIM, LIM to ANS. My doctor put me on her own no-fly list, but (thankfully, and with much begging) she greenlighted me to fly 8 days later. So my husband and I set off to join our team, me booted up and him carrying all 200 pounds of our donations plus our carry-ons. (He made a lovely Sherpa.) We arrived just in time to head to Machu Picchu, all while creating our own version of Plains, Trains, and Automobiles.swilliams-mp

If the cobblestones of the streets of Cusco don’t kill you, the steep drop-to-your-death cliffs of Machu Picchu, sans guardrails, will. Therefore, after deciding perhaps touring MP was a bit too dangerous to do in a boot-as-cast that left me balance-challenged, the group headed into the park without me.

At the top of MP—after taking the van and train and bus it takes to get there from Cusco—you find one snack bar. There, at this overpriced and un-vegan-friendly (as one would expect) eatery, as I sipped hot tea (served in an extra-large, wax-coated soda cup that melted as quickly as it brewed), I opened my journal. And I began to create.swilliams-journal

My husband and I have taken the road less traveled in our marriage. After being friends for 9 years, we transitioned to dating and then married quickly (6 months later). And 4 very challenging years in, we separated (again for 6 months). He moved back to Kansas (We are both native Jayhawks), and I stayed in our little home in Pleasant Hill. We had no plans to reconcile once the move was made; we were divorcing and getting our legal and financial ducks in a row (as they say in Indiana—our home before moving to the Bay Area, one year into marriage).

I won’t delve into the details here, though I am happy to do so over tea or wine. The point is, marriage for us has been a challenge. And that may be putting it mildly. Our current union, and past reconciliation, is a story of grace and redemption, forgiveness and re-creating. I often say that the old relationship had to first die (a painful death) before we could try again, start rebuilding, from the ground up. An example of creating in hope—a reimagining of what it could be.

We have always been good at outward-facing intimacy: intimacy built when facing away from one another, focused together on a common goal or project. We have not been so good at inward-facing intimacy: when it’s just the 2 of us, looking at each other, focused only on one another. We lead worship together, and we have since high school; this intimate act we can do easily, even when married life is hard and messy. This is outward-facing intimacy. We song write together, and we have in fits and spurts since high school as well; this intimate act we do with much kicking and screaming (mostly screaming), especially when married life is hard and messy. We have actually spent time in couple’s therapy (which we both highly recommend) working on our co-writing process, as it mirrors our intimacy struggles in other areas as well.

But let’s head back to Machu Picchu, shall we? To me, with journal open, drinking waxy tea, reflecting and praying and creating. My jumping off point for the song below was (a slight derivation of) the last line of a Pablo Neruda poem (Every Day You Play), though I was not cognizant of that at the moment. (At some point, it seems, that line had deeply embedded itself in my soul).

From here, I created to imagine what could be: what could be for us in our most intimate expression of inward-facing intimacy. How we could be free and playful while embracing the messy and the unknown. How we could dare to explore the dance of sexual intimacy with effort and energy that we may feel drawn to spend elsewhere. How we could, with authenticity and respect, communicate needs and desires and then seek to meet those needs and desires in ways that perhaps challenged each of us to be more vulnerable, more present, more…creative.

I want to do with you what spring does to the cherry tree
Gently sway and blanket you in life and blossom wild
I want the juice to run down my chin get on my hands
I want, I want you

I want to do with you what frost does to the windowpane
Close enough to etch myself right into your skin
I want to trace the lines left by my love for you
I want, I want you

I want to do with you what bunnies do, what bunnies do
Without a care, a cost, a thought—let nature have its way
I want the fur to fly, then rest up on the bed we made
I want, I want you
I want, I want you

We create to remember. We create to forget. We create—in hope, and with trembling sometimes—to imagine what could be.

Most importantly, we create.

swilliamsSarah lives in the East Bay with her partner Michael and 2 dogs, Bristow and Jed Bartlet (and formerly Bob Dylan, RIP). Creating is her jam, both for work and for leisure–from music and stories and scripts to succulent arrangements and visual art and interior design (and blog posts). She spends most of her time outside (Yea for California weather!) and can usually be found in her adorable (read: tiny) backyard with her dogs and a laptop, blogging, doing prep work for an upcoming Bad Rap event event, designing vocal parts for Sunday services at MVPC, or emailing a sales lead for Retzlaff Vineyards & Winery. She imperfectly strives to live an authentic, Christ-centered life and desires for all people to be given a voice and treated with dignity and respect…and love, because ALWAYS love wins. One day she hopes to try her hand at stand-up comedy: Have you heard the one about the vegan who used to live in Kansas?

Jumbled

My kids don’t do transitions well. I know this, and sometimes it still surprises me.

During a still-early fall hallway conversation with Tween’s then-2nd grade teacher, she commented that Tween didn’t seem to be taking school seriously. Without missing a beat I responded, “Give him until Thanksgiving and he’ll be great!” She looked at me cross-eyed, as if I had given the most ridiculous answer. Maybe I had, but time proved me right.

What should surprise me is how little I recognize that I don’t do transitions well. Summer is more than half flown, we’re only weeks from the start of a new school year, and I haven’t yet settled into the rhythm of this season. And it’s about to change, another transition.

I can’t help comparing this summer to last. Apples to oranges but, as I want to continue to learn the lessons packed into our two-month Costa Rica sabbatical, I keep checking our blog to see what we were experiencing and learning last year.

The Costa Rica sun rises around 6am and sets around 6pm and I have never felt so physically in tune with the Earth’s rotation. Not an easy morning person, the sun beckoned me to new adventures each day, at least after a cup of coffee enjoyed facing this view:view

Leisurely mornings, adventure-filled days, and extended togetherness… Costa Rica sunset meant Family Time to eat, talk, play games or watch movies or read aloud. Of course Teen prefers friend-time to family-time, I get it. But a year ago we were making the beach safe for sea turtles and swimming in secluded waterfalls and mugging for the camera with toucans on our shoulders, making memories.

Guy and I took two weeks off for a camping vacation. And then every itinerary we discussed had some strike against it. We researched, Google-mapped, discussed, contacted friends, prayed, and persisted for hours over weeks before coming up for air with the same befuddling conclusion: we need to stay home this summer.

First world problems, I know. But I’m still disappointed.

So instead of adventuring out, we have ventured in to the crazy jumble of our garage to create a hang-out space for our kids and their friends.

We have vision, and still I’m overwhelmed. Cleaning the garage means face-planting in All The Projects I never got around to. I shafted some straight into the trash, donated others, and shuffled some back into the house. Projects covered every surface, and a few miraculously got done. And the panic-stricken late-night realization that the cleaners were coming in the morning meant that a whole bunch of projects went, yup, back into the garage. Oy!

Thank God Guy is an Energizer Bunny! Day 1 we began sorting and donating. Day 2 he pulled Too Much Stuff into the driveway and added storage areas to the rafters, then moved our extensive collection of camping gear up and out of sight. (Inside I’m screaming: “Don’t put it away, I want to use it!” Ugh.)garage

Day 3 we went to work, because that’s what happens when you work at a church and don’t leave town. To be honest, I’ve worked every day of what was supposed to be our vacation, because we are not on vacation, and I mostly work from home anyway. Sigh.

The garage is jumbled but better. I am jumbled, and a discipline of gratitude will make me better.

I’ve just finished reading The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work. The surprise ending? A laser-beam focus on gratitude in two steps:

Step 1. For one week try to be aware of your tendency to criticize, to see what is missing, to focus on what is not there and comment on it. Try instead to focus on what is right. Notice what you have and others contribute. Search for things to praise. Begin with simple things. Praise the world. Appreciate your own breathing, the sunrise, the beauty of a rainstorm, the wonder in your child’s eyes. Utter some silent words of thanksgiving for these small wonders in your day. This will begin to change your focus on the negative.

Step 2. Give at least one genuine, heartfelt praise to your spouse [or child, neighbor, whoever] each day for an entire week… extend the exercise one more day. Then add another day…. When you meet someone new, look for what is special about this person. Appreciate these qualities. Remember, this all has to be genuine and heartfelt. Don’t be phony… Tell people what you notice and genuinely appreciate about them.

So I will refuse to criticize this summer, to see what is missing. I will be grateful for the progress we’ve made, the project we’ve undertaken. I will search for bright moments (Teen offered to help me do his laundry – progress!) and offer generous praise.

And eventually the garage will be clean, and I will be grateful.

Checking In

Do you know what it is to feel the light of love inside you?
And all the darkness falls away
If you feel the way I feel then I believe we have the answer
I’ve been searching for tonight
–Dave Matthews, “Shake Me Like a Monkey”

Mendo

He took me to the coast, this Guy who knows and loves me well.

Teen and Tween are at Scout camp this week. Both kids, same camp, all week long – miss them but, woo hoo!

Guy didn’t need to book a Mendocino ocean-front B&B. We could have enjoyed our very own quiet house. We could’ve made happy progress on cleaning out the garage or finally sprucing up the backyard (seriously, we’re stoked on these projects). We could have made dinner together and rented a DVD, or gone out to dinner and a movie sans kid-consideration.

But he knows that the sun-streaked blue-and-tan view of ocean-meets-sand, the salty-musky beach smell, the crash-and-slick of waves, the salt-sticky whip of my hair in sea-breeze and crunch of sand between my toes, they heal my little cracks and fill me up with peace, with joy.

As we dashed out the door I grabbed a new-to-me book: John Gottman’s The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work. Recommended to me by friends, I’ll say this: if you are married, go right now and order this book! I’d read the first four chapters on my own, but each of the seven principles chapters includes exercises to do/discuss. As Guy drove I peppered him with questions – some we answered about each other (“I think the current stressors in your life are…”) and others we answered for ourselves (“I am most proud of xyz accomplishments in my life”). We talked about childhood and adulthood, life before and after marriage and kids, our worries and joys and hopes. We laughed and reminisced and got serious on things that matter. Talk about checking in with each other, whew, this was Marriage Intensive 101 and, thank-God-hallelujah, 20+ years of marriage and we still pass with beautiful flying colors.

About an hour into the almost four-hour drive, we stopped at Russian River Brewing Co, my brother’s favorite and a place we’d never been. The gal seated next to me at the bar instantly struck up conversation and I’m so glad she did! While we sipped and waited for food, this East Coast darling confessed that she and her husband travel to California at least once a year for their favorite beer. The chatter wound leisurely this way and that, surprising in its ease, and we happily exchanged contact info before we departed.

At last we checked in at the Sandpiper House Inn in Elk, California. Our host Craig pointed us to our room and back out to the beach, where we delightedly drenched ourselves in late afternoon sun. As we walked north to beach end, and then south again, stepping over and around the bull kelp curlicuing the beach, we thought we heard music, maybe horns. Until we spotted a trio of young adults, two men and a woman, who had industriously turned the bull kelp into musical instruments, like shofars calling us to our beach-side Sabbath rest. Later we saw them kelp-jump-roping – Sabbath is also laughter and fun.

seaweed

Dinner: we talked with Craig, scanned the local paper, drove through heritage-town Mendo, and finally landed at The Ravens, a vegan restaurant at The Stanford Inn (no kidding, spooky-populated with a conspiracy of ravens as we drove in). If you like veggie/vegan food, this restaurant is for you. If you think you don’t, won’t, never will like veggie/vegan food, this restaurant is a MUST! Oh. My. Word! The ceviche might be the most surprising bite we’ve ever eaten – so tangy-tequila tasty, crafted from cauliflower and mushrooms instead of seafood. And the warm bread served with cauliflower-basil-cilantro “butter” – mouth watering. This will go down in our history as a milestone meal.

I awoke early to glorious light, sun-on-water on the Most Amazing View reflecting on pale-blue-turned-bright-white wallpaper. Guy slept in. He never sleeps in, a testament to restorative sea air, a comfortable bed, and his need to unwind. I soaked in the view. Gradually the fog crawled its way across the water, dampened the light, and I got up.

Early coffee service and, wouldn’t you know it?, the Inn had one of our very own 20+-years-of-marriage china tea cups which I filled chock-to-the-brim with hot, black coffee. We walked down to the cliffs, pausing to pet the twin Tabby rescue cats (one of which was hell-bent on guarding a gopher hole), admiring hummingbirds buzzing amidst garden along the path. Craig made a crazy-good breakfast of French toast with blueberries, accompanied by classic 70’s rock. We chatted with another Bay Area couple as we watched Turkey Vultures soaring over the cliffs. Did you know that, unlike most birds, Turkey Vultures have a keen sense of smell and can smell fresh carrion up to a mile away? Google over breakfast – sometimes a good thing.

As for me, I put away my phone. I didn’t check email or social media for two days; I even resisted the temptation to review iPhone pictures lest I feel “the need” to post immediately. I’ve realized that, half-over, I’m not as relaxed as I’d hoped to be this summer. I’ve cut back my at-work schedule but frittered away too much in-between time on social media and nonsense instead of intention. I want to be Present, capital P on Purpose. Last summer in Costa Rica, new culture + shock, we had little choice but to live purposefully hour-to-hour, day-to-day. This summer, at-home-“usual,” it’s easy to let moments slip, let days slide into nothing-done, nothing-gained.

Sometimes a surprise is the *shock* one needs to reflect, remember, restore.

We hiked along foggy Point Arena, so mist-covered we couldn’t see the newly-named National Monument lighthouse and closest California point to Hawaii. Lanky golden grass shivered in the sea breeze, as did we. We drove north to Fort Bragg and dug deep in a festival of sea glass. We grabbed a quick sandwich lunch and headed home, our only regret that our getaway ended too soon.

seaglassWe could have stayed home. Instead we created memories. Guy made the better choice, and we are better for it. Thank you, my love!