Practice Love

butterfly pinDad said to marry for love the first time and money the second so, almost 20 years ago, I took his advice. However, it wasn’t until we were well on the way toward the end of our first decade that we really settled into this thing called marriage.

I love butterflies and have a collection of pins and pendants.  These little creatures symbolize new beginnings and it is beautiful how God is faithful to give us the new even when we don’t believe we deserve it.  And, in this whole love thing?

Boy, do I need new beginnings often!

We used to would plan a date night, pay a babysitter, and then argue about Every.Thing for a couple of hours before coming home to collapse on opposite ends of the couch and watch something dumb before heading off to bed with mumbled apologies and lacerated hearts.

Then there was the season where we just stayed home all the time.

It was better, since we weren’t in the argument phase so often, and the budget required us to live quite simply so the urge to head out and spend more was less tempting.

Fast forward to now.  We live in the era of the Independent Teen.  The boys could be gone 5 nights a week, if we let them, and there we are with plenty of time to spend alone. Sometimes it feels like too much, frankly.

In spite of, or maybe because of the freedom of our lives, at this season, we still schedule date night.

Wednesday nights, while the boys are gone to their church group, we go out to dinner, wander thrift stores, stay home and watch silly movies, we laugh a lot…  Sometimes we sit at a coffee shop for a couple of hours, like we did yesterday, and “sharpen” each other by debating different angles of some philosophical argument.

It is brilliant.

One Wednesday night, not too long ago, as we aimlessly meandered through the Pendleton store looking at blankets in brilliant colors and bold patterns, I tucked my hand in his arm and sighed.   It was finally easy to just hang out.

The kids didn’t need me. My phone wasn’t ringing, ding-ing, chiming, or clanging.  We had no plan and no need for one.  Just laughter, joking, hand holding in the cold, and us.

How did it change?

We practiced loving each other when it wasn’t easy.  We made a choice to stay in the conversation, to keep trying this together thing, even when it wasn’t much fun.

lovepracticeJust because we didn’t see an immediate result didn’t mean we should quit.

Love takes practice.   Like medicine and law.

Basic relationship guidelines of honor, respect, compassion are set in stone, but the rules of engagement change more often than a UN soldier’s allegiances.

We formed a habit of practicing something until our dynamic improved.  The problem wasn’t date night, it was us.  To be honest, more often than not, it was me.

I wasn’t “in the moment”.  There we’d sit.  At a restaurant while I was on my phone, head down and mind preoccupied.  Maybe I was thinking about 12,000 other things that really didn’t matter.   Often, I would interrupt him mid-sentence and, after I completely got it wrong, he would lose his train of thought and we’d argue about how rude I was, I would be defensive, he would be offended…

What a mess.

I wish I could say I stopped doing all these things and I am the world’s most attentive date.  But that would be a big, fat lie! Especially that phone thing.

Yet, here’s the secret:  We didn’t and we don’t stop trying to make it better. We didn’t and we don’t alienate each together when we are ugly.

Bluntly, we didn’t quit.

On that cold winter’s evening, in a puff of frozen breath,  squeezing his arm and putting my head to his shoulder while we scurried from the door to the car, I laughed,

“Hey, we’re finally good at this whole date thing!  I’m glad we kept practicing.”

He pulled me close and said,

“Me too.”