After Eighteen

Wedding rings

18 years ago this weekend, I married the most wonderful, caring, hard-working, beautiful woman. But as lovely as my wife is, and as much as I looked forward to our wedding, I had no idea what I was getting into. This became quickly evident to me.

Two weeks after we wed, my father-in-law passed away. We knew this was coming as he had been sick for quite a while. He fought just to make it to the wedding. But suddenly, I am two weeks into marriage and there is this massive family crisis. I had no idea what to do. No clue how to be a good husband, much less a good husband in the midst of pain and suffering.

I was suddenly part of a family dealing with a devastating loss. I was grieving with relatives I barely knew, many of whom I had only met for the first time two weeks before. I was an insider but not really. I was family, sort of. And more than anything I wanted to help my wife, but I was woefully inept.

The night before the memorial service we gathered at the funeral home for a visitation. Many family, friends and church people came to show their respect. I did the only thing I knew to do; I stood by my wife and held her hand. Many people came to us and offered a strange mix of congratulations and condolences. It was surreal.

But then, it went to a whole other level. A young couple came up to speak with us. I didn’t know them, but assumed my wife must (as it turned out she didn’t, to this day we have no idea who they were). They offered their sympathy and then the woman said something I will never forget. She said, “My father passed away almost ten years ago. And I just want you to know that after all this time it still hurts the same. It never gets better.” Then they walked away.

I was horrified. I probably should have felt some tinge of sympathy for the woman but all I could think about was my wife. How could anyone say such a thing? My wife stared straight ahead as the couple eased away. She began to shake and I gripped her hand as tightly as possible. I prepared myself for the devastated mourning about to be unleashed. And then she turned and looked at me, and laughed. Not a polite little giggle, but full on laughter. And I immediately began laughing with her. What else could you do?

We pulled away from the crowd and tried to compose ourselves. There was sadness in my wife’s eyes, but also a strange joy. We talked about how we felt sorry for the young woman, but also discussed how we couldn’t believe anyone could say such a thing at that moment. We laughed some more. We kissed. We laughed. We returned to the crowd, stronger and more truly married.

As I have reflected many times about the events surrounding that time in our lives, I always end up in the same place: the two of us laughing in a funeral home. I think in many ways that moment distills the essence of marriage.

Life is certainly not perfect. You don’t get to pick when tragedy happens. And even now, although I believe I am much better equipped, I still don’t know exactly what to do in the face of real pain. But in that moment I learned something so valuable, so precious, so life-giving that it has propelled me ever since. Marriage is about knowing you have someone you can laugh with in the face of death. It is about being able to be truly you, completely you, no matter if that seems inappropriate or counter to the situation. I may not have known what to do in those difficult days, but I had found someone who I could look in the eye and love and laugh with. No matter the situation. I had found something priceless. Not a good wife or great marriage. No, more valuable than those. I had found a best friend, a soul mate, a partner in crime for all eternity.

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Every Day Valentine’s

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Valentine’s Day is upon us.  Oh the glorious holiday that wreaks havoc on our relationships.  The day when most of us are unsure what is called for.  Do I make it a big deal?  What if I get her a gift and she doesn’t get me one?  Does that make things awkward?  Is a date mandatory?  If so who decides what we are doing?  Should I try to make it romantic?  (what even is romantic?)

Oh the consternation.  So much pressure for one silly day.  And that is the key to regaining some sanity.  IT IS ONE DAY.  We roll all this pressure into one evening to try to have the perfect night.  But what if we took a different view of days like this?

What if on Valentine’s Day you could do absolutely nothing for the love of your life because all the rest of the year you loved them so well?

What if you didn’t have to do something special because every day you try to shower them with kindness and small acts of service?

What if all the roses and jewelry and chocolate meant nothing because they can’t compare to all the washed dishes, mopped floors, and scrubbed toilets you give daily without complaining?

Don’t hear me wrong, it is great to be romantic, thoughtful and creative for special days.  But that should be an outgrowth of our daily love routine, not a massive break from it.  It takes way more thought and creativity to find little ways to love each day.  It takes serious creativity to maneuver an act of love between picking up kids from practice, getting dinner on the table and making sure someone changes the cat litter.  It really is romantic to unexpectedly vacuum and wash the car, or just get the kids out of the house so mom can take an uninterrupted bath.  Finding ways to love each day, that is the heart of any true romance.

Yesterday I was sick.  24 hour stomach bug thing.  In a house with seven kids, having one parent down (even if it is me) drastically effects the day.  My wife woke up and immediately had to make massive adjustments.  She was a little frantic.  She left the house with many kids in tow and I had no idea when she would return.  Next thing I know, I am lying in bed and my wife is entering the room with a drink in her hand.  A Sprite she picked up at Sonic.  When my stomach is upset, the only drink I want is Sprite.  I didn’t ask for it.  She didn’t make it a big deal.  She didn’t complain about the effort it took to get it with all the other things she had to cover for me.  But it’s more than just a drink.  It is love in a cup.  A relationship distilled down to a moment of kindness.  And for me, it is better than anything she might get me tomorrow. (unless she has convinced Led Zeppelin to reunite and do a private concert in our backyard, then that is better, way better, but short of that)

 

Best Gift Ever!

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Valentine’s Day is a week away. (Warning-Warning, Alert-Alert, Gentlemen Reread That First Sentence!) Ladies, there is a chance he will get you the perfect gift.  The exact piece of jewelry you would buy for yourself, a big bouquet of roses if you are a flower person, a sentimental homemade craft (sure).  But there is also a pretty good chance he will botch it.  A waffle iron, a giant box of those antacid chalk hearts with phrases on them, a mix tape that would be wonderfully romantic if you owned anything that could play a tape.

So when he comes through or crashes and burns remember this; he may already have given you a tremendous gift, only you haven’t noticed.  This gift doesn’t come in a box or wrapped up in fancy ribbon.  In fact, this gift can never be purchased.  The gift: his view of you.

Over time I have talked with so many husbands who tell me the same thing, “my wife is amazing!”  They talk about how dedicated a mother she is, how hard she works, how well she does all things domestic, how beautiful she is.  One thing I try to always ask when these superlatives start rolling out is “do you tell her?”  Most guys say yes they tell their wife, but…and here is the kicker…”she doesn’t really believe me.”

We can all be really hard on ourselves.  It is difficult to look beyond our faults and failings.  We can be so aware of our struggles that we cannot hear someone’s compliment.

Sometimes it is helpful to look at ourselves through the eyes of someone who loves us.  To see what they see.  So ladies, this Valentine’s Day, why don’t you open up a Husband’s-Eye View of you.  If you did, it might look something like this:

1.  You are the hardest-working, most efficient wife in the world.  You see the specks and crumbs that you missed when wiping the table.  You notice the laundry which is dry but not folded, that rug you meant to vacuum last week, the clean room masking the disastrous closet.  What he sees is a woman who does more to keep a home going than he thought was possible.  A relentless, energetic wife who out of love does more than her fair share of the work.  He has no idea how you get things so clean so quickly!  Before he married you he never would have believed he could be so impressed with someone’s ability to fit dishes into a dishwasher.

2.  You are beautiful.  What you see is gym workouts skipped, too many cinnamon rolls, not enough time to do your makeup or hair like you want.  You notice the lines by your eyes that weren’t there a few years ago.  What he sees is a goddess.  A woman much more beautiful than he ever thought he would nab.  A wife who looks great in a fancy dress or a set of sweats.  You worry about your makeup, he prefers you without!  When you ask if your clothes still fit, and he says you look great, he means it.

3. You are an incredible mother.  What you see is the mismatched outfits and uncombed hair.  You notice that your six-year-old is not writing her e’s correctly and you keep meaning to work on that but where does the time go.  You feel you spend too much time correcting or doing and wish you played more.  Your mantra is “they grow up so fast”.  What he sees is a mother who nurtures and loves his children in ways he can only dream about doing.  A mom so dedicated to her kids that she will sacrifice much of who she is so a child can feel safe and loved.  He sees a woman who says she would do anything for her children, and often does.

For me personally, I am astounded by the routine things my wife does so well.  Like how much my wife can clean up with a single diaper wipe.  I have changed lots of truly horrible diapers.  I use handful after handful of wipes.  At the end I am dirty, the changing table is dirty, and the kid isn’t completely clean!  Yet my wife can clean a similar diaper with one wipe.  How is this possible?  It’s just one more way my wife amazes me.

What if, just for a few moments, you saw yourself through his eyes?  Would your stress level drop?  Would you feel different about what you see in the mirror?  Would you find no need to tackle those baseboards today?  I don’t know.  But rather than taking his compliments as niceties, what if you heard the truth in them?  That he really thinks you are an unselfish, hard-working, self-sacrificing, unbelievably hot, how did I get this lucky, wife.

Enjoy the gift ladies.  You deserve it.

 

Too Much Togetherness?

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So, you get married to the love of your life…what could be better?  You stay up late sharing dreams for your lives and ideas on how to change the world.  You go to movies (including one’s you would never go to otherwise).  You try new foods because she likes them, or you go to baseball games because that’s what he does.  It sounds wonderful.  And it is.  And then things change.

You develop different interests and hobbies.  Work takes time.  Kids take lots of time.  Suddenly, a short conversation feels like a luxury.  And you begin to feel the distance.  You just can’t seem to find the time for your relationship.

So, you try to right the ship.  You read a book about improving your marriage.  Attend a seminar.  Ask others for advice.  But nothing seems to truly bridge the distance between you.

But there is something that might.  Time.  Lots of time.

Now don’t be fooled, time together doesn’t cure everything in a marriage.  It isn’t a fix-all.  But it comes close.  Lack of communication is often a product of just not enough time together.  You can’t see each other for five minutes a day and expect intimate conversations to just burst forth.  That’s not how it works.  Couples who spend lots of time far apart (travelling a lot for work, living in different cities for a time) often complain not just about missing the most intimate of talks, but the most mundane.  Talking about your day or who you had lunch with actually matters.  But it takes time.

“Quality Time” is typically an outrgrowth of “Quantity Time.”  “We never talk”, “we rarely cuddle”, “we seem so distant” typically begin in the same spot: “we don’t have time.”

Maybe it is time (pardon the pun) to give your relationship the soil it needs to grow in…time with each other.

This doesn’t mean you have to go on a date every week, or lay aside a weekend a month.  For many couples that is unrealistic.  Rather, a little creativity and commitment go a long way.  Here are a few ideas.

1.  Do chores together.  The bathroom needs to be cleaned.  How about you scrub the tub while I handle the mirror and sink.  If you do several rooms, you can have a real conversation.

2.  Make your bedroom a “no-fly zone.”  After a certain time (say 9:00) everyone in the house knows that your bedroom is off-limits.  Jut lay on the bed and talk.  Rub each others shoulders.  Let the day go and just enjoy each others presence.

3.  Say no.  No to getting one more chore done tonight.  No to that next birthday party your kid wants to attend.  No to the requirement that before you can spend time on yourself and your spouse everything else must be done.  The dishes can wait.  Your marriage cannot.

Now, this doesn’t mean that time apart is bad.  Hobbies, sports, going hunting, weekend shopping trips with your friends, etc., may all have a place in a healthy relationship.  But if you are going to err, err on the side of time together.  I have yet to hear a couple say, “You know, the problem in our marriage was just too much time together.”  Rather, it is the lack of time with each other that leads to distress, anxiety, and maybe even the dreaded “growing apart.”

Go ahead, take a long drive out in the country.  Spend the evening telling each other what your dream vacation would be.  Grab a coke or a coffee to share and just hold hands.  Remember, this is the love of your life.  For that, you have all the time in the world.