Making it happen, for 28 years and counting

Yesterday, when a friend heard that today was our twenty-eighth wedding anniversary, she said, “Sometime we’ll have to talk about how you made that happen…”

Yeah, so, that’s not exactly how I would characterize the last three decades.

I didn’t make anything happen.  I’ve made numerous mistakes, swift judgments, and poor choices.  I started off strong — making the assumption that I knew how to be the best wife and mother there ever was, and so I’ve spent the last twenty-eight years learning humility. I’m not an expert at communicating, loving, being patient, or putting someone else first.  The fact that we’re celebrating twenty-eight years of marriage today is not a reflection of our success, but a testimony to the grace and steadfastness of God.

We got married in our mid-twenties both of us having been touched by divorce. We had little in our savings, and I was still paying off student debt.  During the first year, we lived at three different addresses  — moving once when my job location changed and again when our son moved across the state.  We changed jobs, too!  My husband left teaching to be a full-time graduate student, and I switched from being a classroom teacher to a resource room teacher to a teacher in a residential school all before our first anniversary!

The stress of that first year alone might have done us in, but we were starry-eyed and convinced that we had won the lottery, and we were going to have the best life ever, even if we did have moments where insecurities led to worry that lead to yelling or tears or silence.

Because we did (and do) have those.

I remember one time, it had to be in the first month (or even week) of our marriage. Who even knew what started the squabble, but there we were in the kitchen, standing like two giant X’s, arms and legs splayed, chests out, voices raised, fingers pointing, spouting the kind of words we had never said toward one another before. It was terrifying — ours was to be the perfect marriage — how could this happen? Doors were slammed; we fell to silence.  And then we began to learn how to repair.

Undaunted, on the heels of that first year, before John had even finished his counseling internship and secured a salaried position, we decided that we’d like to start our family.  Before our second anniversary, we’d moved again, he’d begun an internship, and we were expecting a baby!

Shortly after our third anniversary, he was settled into a position on a church staff, we had purchased our first home, and we were expecting another baby!

By our fifth anniversary, our youngest was on the way!

It was the season of babies. We were elbow deep in diapers, blankies, and sippy cups. My husband, on a church staff, worked long hours while I navigated days of feeding, reading, playing, and rocking. It was such a rich time what with all the cooing and snuggling, but the pure physicality of it all was exhausting.  I was daily relieved when John joined me in the second-shift — the bathing, rough-housing, and putting to bed. We had established a partnership — he picked up where I left off and vice versa, but it wasn’t all hearts and flowers. Sometimes, utterly exhausted, I glared at him for arriving home five minutes late or for forgetting to pick up milk on the way home. Often, when he saw me hanging on by a frazzled thread, he pushed me out the door to catch a breath, take a break, or sit in silence. He’s always been quick to care for me — to see my needs often before I know I have them.

Throughout the years, we’ve shifted roles many times as we navigated five more moves, two more graduate degrees, various stages of parenting, and numerous professional positions. Recently, we’ve found the most cherished roles of our lives as Oma and Opa to our two precious granddaughters!

We’ve walked many roads together.  We’ve attended weddings; we’ve been eye-witnesses to divorce.  We’ve visited hospitals to welcome new born babies; we’ve been in the room for the last breath of life.  We’ve been in conference rooms and court rooms.  We’ve been in churches and synagogues.  We’ve been to Austin, Boston, Chicago, and Detroit. We’ve even been to Canada, Africa, Israel, and Haiti! We’ve heard the best news and the worst news — all of this,  together.

After twenty-eight years we’re still happy to sit across the table with one another and talk for hours or to share the couch as we watch a whole Netflix series in a weekend.  We can power clean our little house together in a just over an hour or spend an entire day cleaning out one storage closet. We are comfortable talking and laughing while surrounded by friends and coworkers or simply drinking tea on our patio in the quiet of the morning, each reading our own book and saying absolutely nothing.

How did we make that happen?  How did we live through more than 10,000 days of groceries and schedules and arguments and chaos and laundry and car repairs and taxes and track meets and homework and work functions and insurance claims and health challenges and road trips and still want to spend the next twenty-eight years together?

We didn’t make that happen.  None of our choices made that happen. Except one, maybe.  We decided, way back in 1989, that if we got married, we would stay married.  We would make our marriage vows to God, and He, we trusted, would make it happen.  Though we were young and ill-equipped, we knew already that if we were going to have a life-long marriage, God would have to carry us in the palm of His hand.

And He has.

Isaiah 46:4

Even to your old age and gray hairs I am He,

I am He who will sustain you.

I have made you and I will carry you;

I will sustain you and I will rescue you.

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Adding up twenty-five years

On Tuesday of this week, my husband and I celebrated twenty-five years of marriage.  I have spent more than half of my life with this man!  Twenty-five years!  When I was only twenty-four, I had no idea how things would add up over the years

Eleven addresses — that’s right, we’ve lived in Ferndale, Auburn Hills, Coldwater, Jackson, and Ann Arbor, Michigan and in St. Louis, Missouri.  In two of those places we’ve had more than one address! We’ve lived in spaces from 800 square feet to over 2000 square feet.  We have moved eleven times, folks — and we’re still married!

Five kids — ok, I got one with the marriage, but we’ve added three by birth and one by marriage in the last twenty-five years.  Best of all, we’ve added a granddaughter! (We refuse to count all the diapers that these children required or all of the hours spent tending to sick ones!)

Two pets — our dearly departed Mikey, and our current cuddler, Chester.

Three graduate degrees — one for me, two for him!  We won’t mention all the dollars we have spent on education, we’ll let you imagine that on your own!

So many vehicles — from the tiny little Ford Festiva that we dubbed the ‘wind-up car’ to the GMC Safari that could carry all of us and all of our stuff to our current cute little Suze Cruze.

Thousands and thousands of miles we have driven from Michigan to New Jersey to New York to Niagara to Georgia to Colorado to Minnesota to Missouri to Tennessee to Texas and back to Michigan again.

One mission trip to Haiti and one mission in St. Louis.

Five home congregations, but so many more that we’ve visited!

So many friends!

So many positions — teaching, and preaching, and counseling, and tutoring, and that one summer when I did the Census! (Oh, and let’s not forget all the times we have been summoned for jury duty!)

Too many speeding tickets (mostly me) and too many parking citations (also me).

We’ve run hundreds of miles together, and now we’re walking even more. We’ve eaten tons of food together, and drank our share of beer, wine, coffee, and tea. We’ve had So. Much. Popcorn. But, wait, that’s all me.

We’ve disagreed.  We’ve argued.  We’ve irritated one another.  We’ve hurt one another and forgiven one another.

We’ve had rough days, rough weeks, and even a few rough years.  Most couples do.

But we’ve also had great days, great weeks, and even a few excellent years. Some couples do.

We’ve worked too hard, moved too fast, and forgotten to cherish the little things, but, in our older age, we are learning to work smarter, move slower, and notice the stuff that matters the most.

Just this year, we have started a tradition that we call ‘walkabout’.  We take the bus downtown with no intended agenda, no time constraints, and no responsibility.  We walk about for hours checking out people, places, and things.  We drink excellent coffee or tea, we eat snacks and and sometimes a meal, we usually have a glass of wine, then we take the bus home.  It’s not glamorous, but it’s fabulous.  It’s time together celebrating the fact that we still like to spend time together, still like to explore together, and still have fun together. That, my friends, can’t be measured or counted.  It can only be treasured.

We ain’t perfect. That’s sure.  But we have been incredibly blessed.  Here’s to twenty-five more.

Praise God from whom all blessings flow,

Praise Him all creatures here below

Praise Him above, ye heavenly host,

Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

Just a Dot

Once upon a time, way back in the 1970s, I was in confirmation class.  The pastor drew a long line down the length of the chalkboard (Kids, a chalkboard is a pre-historic white board). Then he took his chalk (marker) and placed one dot on that very long line.  He said, “Imagine that the long line is all of eternity and that the dot is your life.”  He wanted us to understand that in the grand scheme of all creation we were but blips. Actually, I think the point was the immensity of God, not the brevity of man, but as an adolescent, my focus was all on me — the little dot.

David must have realized he was just a dot when he said in Psalm 39, “You have made my days a mere handbreadth; the span of my years is as nothing before you.  Each man’s life is but a breath.”

Little old ladies echo this sentiment when they approach young mothers who are weary from the endless hours of parenting and say, “Honey, treasure these moments, the years will be gone before you know it.” When I was a young mother, toting three children aged three and under, I could barely control myself in the presence of these senior ladies.  I so wanted to reply, “The years may fly by, but the minutes are killing me!”

Yesterday my father-in-law turned eighty.  Today we are meeting with all of my husband’s siblings to take him out for dinner. He was born in 1935 — before television, computers, cell phones, and the Internet.  I wonder if his years have flown by.

I wonder if when his mother died before his second birthday the year flew by.

I wonder if when his step-mother was abusive toward him the years flew by.

I wonder if when he left home at thirteen the year flew by.

I wonder if his years of service in the Army flew by.

I wonder if his years of working the third shift in an automotive factory flew by.

I wonder if his years of parenting four children, who were born within the space of five years, flew by.

Perhaps I will ask him tonight, because he has never told me.

Here is what he has shown me in the twenty-five years I have known him:

He loves life.  He had his first heart attack in his forties and never expected to make it to sixty, let alone eighty.  He gets out of bed each morning, does whatever exercises he is able to do, showers, dresses, and tackles whatever tasks are on the agenda for the day.

He loves people.  The man spends his days interacting with others.  In his younger days he worked all night and spent his days advocating for other union members and even running for public office.  He still, at 80, spends many days at retiree luncheons, city council meetings, church functions, and family get-togethers.

He loves helping.  He’s served in the Army, worked for the United Way, volunteered for the Red Cross, and serves his local congregation.  He’s done home repairs, provided financial assistance, given advice, and simply shown up for absolutely everything.

He loves family.  He and my mother-in-law have no greater joy than chatting with family — around their kitchen table, over the phone, or wherever they can find them.  Each Monday morning, he writes an email — he calls it ‘the update’ — and sends it to everyone in the extended family — siblings, children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, and cousins.  He shares the news and often an extra-corny joke to help us start our week.

But mostly, this man loves God.  Maybe it’s because he, like David, learned early on that his life was just a dot — just a handbreadth. Each time I’ve eaten breakfast with my father-in-law for the past twenty-five years, he has started with Luther’s morning prayer, the reading of a devotion, and the Lord’s prayer.  Each time I have eaten dinner with him for the past twenty-five years, he has ended with Luther’s evening prayer and the reading of a devotion. He is at church every time the doors open — often standing at the door, greeting those who enter, shaking a hand, telling a joke, or pulling someone aside to share concern over a life event that hasn’t gone unnoticed by him.  His life is a testimony to God’s faithfulness.

Since 1935 my father-in-law has been carried in the palm of the hand of God. And he knows it.  He understands the frailty and brevity of life; I can tell because of the way he squeezes every drop out of every day. I can see because of the way he leans in and listens, the way he looks in my eyes, the way he laughs out loud.

He sees the value in his little dot of a life.  Let’s go and do likewise.

Psalm 90:12

Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.

Love that lasts

During this time of transition, my husband and I are visiting many churches — some of them because he is speaking there, others because we want to get to know the area and find a church home, and still others because we want to learn where those we are serving with are worshiping.  Today was option three.

We worshiped with one of my husband’s coworkers at an area church that is focused on outreach — they are very intentional about connecting with the community in very tangible ways. Pretty cool place.

The message today was centered on how to have love that lasts — sure, marital love, but also love between friends, between parent and child, etc.

I will take a short commercial break to let you know that my husband and I, along with a half-dozen other couples, were asked to stand in the aisles of the church and dance.  It’s not what you think…the pastor had all the married couples stand like they often do at weddings.  Then he asked those who had been married five years or more to remain standing, then those who were married ten years or more, etc.  Finally, all the couples who were married more than twenty-three years were invited into the aisles. Music was played.  The couples danced, and then were invited to sit as the years ticked on.  You know the drill.  The final couple standing had been married forty-three years! What a blessing!

The pastor then suggested three methods for planning for a ‘love that will last’.

  • Worship God
  • Work on yourself
  • Serve your spouse

Three steps.  Should be easy, right?  Read them again.  Not so easy.

However, I have to say that after twenty-four years of marriage I have to agree with his strategy.  Although we are flawed human beings who have not always put God first in our lives, we did marry with the intent of serving God together.  I believe that this foundation is the sole reason that we are still together after all these years.  It hasn’t all been a walk in the park.  There have been some (very) difficult days, weeks, months, and even years.   The grace of God coupled with our commitment from the beginning to hang in there, no matter what, has held us together.

Now, I may have started this marriage thinking that both of us were perfect and that we were perfect for each other, but I have since faced reality.  I will admit that I noticed his flaws before my own.  Shocking, I know.  But I remember quite clearly one day, in a living room with sculpted brown carpeting, when I was very upset with my husband. He had the audacity to suggest that he was not the one who would ever make me happy.  What?  Well, then, why in the world did I marry him?  Amidst my fussing and fuming, he reminded me that the only one who would truly bring me contentment would be God, since He is the only one who is not selfish or flawed.  Well, then.

It may have been about that time that I began to look in the mirror.  Small glances at first.  A lot needed to be addressed; it would take a life time.  I’m still working on it.

As far as the third area that the pastor suggested, I must say that my husband has always been better at serving me than I am him.  In fact, it began on the night that he proposed to me.  He washed my feet, yes, literally washed my feet with a basin and a towel, and then told me that he wanted to serve me for the rest of our lives.  And, so far, he has done that.  Even during the ugly times, he has put me, and the children before himself.  He has gone without to make sure that we wouldn’t have to. He has stayed up late and gotten up early to make sure that we could all sleep as much as we needed.  He has worked his tail off to provide for us.  But most importantly, he has served us by serving God first.  We haven’t all always appreciated that, but it was precisely the right thing to do.

I don’t know if I will ever be as much of a servant to him as he has been to me.  I still get distracted by protecting myself, you know, kicking butts and taking names.  But, it is getting easier all the time to take care of him, especially when I realize how well cared-for I have been.

This morning was a good reminder of how blessed we have been.  I am glad that we have this grace period to pause and take stock. We are rich to have a love that lasts.

Matthew 19:6

…what God has joined together, let no one separate.