The Choices That Make Or Break Marriages

pathsMisty, frosty, tiny flakes of icy snow prickled on our cold cheeks and glittered in the darkness of last night’s inversion.  With a laugh and a flailing hand, I tucked the other hand more tightly into the crook of his waiting arm and held on for dear life while rubber, textured soles fought a losing battle with mischievous black ice.

Although the roads were treacherous,  the hour was late, and we’ve been together for 20 years, somehow, there was still a delightful anticipation toward spending those few minutes alone, together.

We used to take long walks more often than we’ve been able to lately and I missed our technology free chats about life, the end of the world as we know it (TEOTWAWKI – WTSHTF), parenting together, dreams and visions, what bills we need to pay, or the silliness of life.

Yet, last night, under shrouded lights while the black and white faded to a shimmer of grays and silver, we talked about all the friends we have had, in the past few years whose marriages have dissolved.  So many.  Too many.   Some not surprising.  Some gut-wrenchingly, breath-suckingly, heartbreaking.

Like hoar-frost disappears in the morning sun – just gone.  Over.  Done.

What seemed vibrant, living and breathing love has turned into empty promises on shaky foundations.  What had been shaky love, just dissolved.  Leaving empty-eyed children, desperate housewives searching for gainful employment, and heartbroken men eating dinner for one in diners built for families.

It breaks my heart, friends, when your marriages fail.  You tell me, “We are happier than we’ve ever been.” and assure me, endlessly,  “This is better for the kids.”   “It’s for the best.”

But I wonder…  Is it? Are you trying to convince me?  Or you?

Why am I walking down a quiet road, laughing and baring my soul within the deepest friendship I’ve never imagined possible while you, my friend, make dinners for three instead of four, and count yourself among the “lucky ones”?

Sometimes, ok, honestly, a lot of the time, I feel a bit guilty for being so well-loved.

Sure, the things that speak my love language are rarely the things that show up on quizzes from Cosmo or in books from experts. I really dislike roses (seriously), and sometimes the perfect evening my husband can give is the one where he and the boys disappear for a few hours.  But he knows that and I am thankful for the unique gift of a partner who has taken the time to study me.  More importantly? He isn’t afraid to be his own person and pushes me out of the nest when I need it, bars the door when I need that too…

He’s not nervous if I succeed in any arena.  In fact, he is more interested in my becoming the person God has destined me to be than for me to meet some mysterious status quo for women that either the church or society has set out for me.

Yeah, I’ve got it good.  Now.

But, see, here’s the difference between who we used to be and who we are today. Nearly every good choice we make today is thanks to a life lived and loved poorly and it cost us dearly.  Surely, we could do better?

choices2.jpg

We don’t go to bed angry.  Ever.  Oh, we go to bed frustrated or with feelings bruised from a long day of miscommunication and fighting over really, really stupid things.  But we resolve to love one another, even just a bit better, before we sleep.

We make little choices, all day long, to remember the gift of our companionship.  I make the coffee and bring it in before I leave on an early morning.  He makes sure there is gas in the car when he knows I have a busy day ahead.

We defend and prefer each other in front of the children.  They know better than to try to pit us against each other and nothing gets my blood boiling faster than cocky arrogance directed at the man who makes their life possible.  I can’t tell you how many times I have heard those words, “You will not treat my wife that way!”

We apologize often, for we live all flawed and broken, selfish and foolish.  And we forgive wholeheartedly.  Without looking back and without bringing it up later in a dirty fight.

It’s more than just date night that keeps us sane and moving forward.  It’s not just the couple’s retreat or the finished book on how to be awesome in marriage.

It’s these little choices.  I make them even when he doesn’t.  He makes them when I don’t want to.

That’s how we ended up on a dark, cold, foggy street at 9:45 on a Tuesday night laughing and enjoying the comfortable silences of life lived together instead of dinner for one and a bed with only one side slept in.

Maybe you didn’t have a choice.  Maybe you are making the brave choice of life apart from abuse.  Maybe you simply didn’t make little decisions, all day, every day, to love as you would be loved.

I’m sure, today, my friends would say it’s not really that simple.  Maybe…

But, what if you start becoming, today, the kind of person who lives intentionally toward the slice of humanity in your sphere?  It couldn’t hurt.

These aren’t just ways to a good marriage, they are the lynchpin for parenting, for friendship, for fellowship. 

 

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.”

19 Years Isn’t Long Enough

We’d been married almost 9 years before I really, truly, passionately, breath-takingly, fell in love with him.  

Two little ones, more moves than I care to remember, more arguments than should be acceptable…

My heart, though young in age, was old in life experience, disappointment, and bitterness when we met and married.

I wanted to believe he was serious and continued to be dedicated.  As the years uncovered my weaknesses (I’m a terrible housekeeper, among other shortcomings), could he still see the woman he proposed to under thundering fireworks on the banks of  a river in Oregon.

Could he hold us together while I thrashed around and fell apart? 

Hands

He couldn’t.  No one is that strong.  

So, we crashed and burned and the stony silence was broken only by carefully adjusted facades at church and with our boys.

Thankfully, we serve a God who is expert at taking ashes and making beauty.  

He blew away the old and breathed new life into our shattered reality.   He didn’t revive what we had, He gave us something new.  Something so rich, vibrant, and satisfying that the old arguments vanished like wispy clouds under the summer sun.

Today we celebrate 19 years.

Nineteen messy, glorious, very human, very flawed, but spectacularly reconstructed years.

And it’s not nearly been long enough to fully realize how much I love him or to unwrap the love he quietly saves just for me.

Happy Anniversary, my love. 

Story Line –> On Coming Home

love.pngI will never forget the first time I met my husband…

At the time he was a stranger on our missions base and my friend was in charge of hospitality.

I remember as we walked up the paved path through a February evening fog lit by dim lights talking, as young girls are prone to, of the mystery of The One.

Tossing her curly strawberry blonde hair over her shoulder she described a man with strong character and rich conviction.  Handsome, of course, and a “perfect” match.  We giggled and swore we’d recognize HIM, when he showed.  I would recognize her future husband since I would, most definitely, receive some sort of divine inspiration.

Ahh… The innocent arrogance of youth.

The floor boards creaked in that second story dormitory entrance while Jennifer gave directions to a barber in such a way that I popped my head around the corner to help and there he was: dark hair, handsome, tan, lean, and suffering from what must have been the world’s worst cold.

Sitting next to a huge box of oranges, he was asking about getting a haircut.  His companion, a swarthy, curly haired man, with a thick German accent, laid on the upper bunk and listened intently to a conversation he couldn’t possibly have been interested in having.

That Friday was a day of running into each other constantly across campus and one singularly embarrassing moment at lunch where I placed my finger in a book and loudly declared that “whichever name I have my finger on will be the name of my  husband” in a huge joke to my laughing friends… The name I then announced?  Was his.  It wasn’t until I turned that I saw he sat right behind me talking with Adrianna.

I almost died.

That evening, as we sat shoulder to shoulder watching some Rocky movie, no idea which one, I was elated by the attention.

Early the next morning,  he left.

*Poof*

A happy memory of one exciting day, the excitement of one enchanted evening left me smiling for a few days and wondering about this man from California.  Would I ever see him again?  Could I ever see him again?

One week later, I’m covered in flour from a food fight in the kitchen as we made apple pies for a few dozen people when a mischievous face came into the kitchen office.  “Heidi, there are two GORGEOUS guys here and they are asking for YOU!”  She giggled as she watched my face drain of color and a panic stricken look settled across my features.  Serious fight or flight going on here, folks.

Within minutes they were there.  Tobi and Brian.  Tall and broad shouldered and seriously in my space.  I directed them to a room and RAN down to my house to make some attempt at regaining my composure and appearance before rejoining them in the common room.

“Wanna grab something to eat?” Brian asked.  I looked at my friend, Laurel, feeling a bit panicked.  What would I do in a restaurant booth with both of these men?  Men I didn’t know!!! I was 19.  Completely void of sophistication.

So, insisting that Laurel join us and eternally grateful for her easy laugh and friendly nature so I could take the back seat, we headed off to pot pie and chit chat. Tobi stayed home.  Now we were an awkward trio.

Two hours later and a quick goodbye as Laurel headed up the road to her house I stood face to face with him.  It was just us settling into an old sagging couch.  Without pretense, we started talking about life.  Hopes.  Dreams.  Plans. Callings.

Hearts wide open, without reservation and common sense, time flew and, before we knew it, 3:00AM had come and gone while we talked like long, lost friends.

This, this was different and we both knew it.   He walked me back to my house on that same path Jennifer and I had walked the week before. He took my hand, tucked it under his arm, and asked if he could pray.   The light rain danced on my face and I marveled at the gift of this night, this man, this moment…

Yellow porch lights flickered while we talked a bit longer on that front step before he said goodbye.   A very chaste kiss on my cheek felt branded there as I floated into Meadow House and collapsed on my bed in a rosy glow.

6:30 came early and, yet, even though I had had so little sleep I was there to see them off.

All that time we had spent together the night before, the romance of a moonlit, foggy stroll, and low lights on a front porch, but there was one moment I remember most…

When he hugged me goodbye, my head fit perfectly into his shoulder.  I knew, at that moment,  I had come home.

We married 7 months later and, on February 17th, 2013, we celebrated 19 years since that day we met.

I still fit, just right.

Where he is, I am always home.

Come over to Kathi’s for more Stories in Story Line.  Where we tell our stories and share them with others.

Story Line –> Of Marriage

wedding bandMarriages can either end by mutual consent or one partner outliving the other.

Neither way is gentle.  Neither leaves us unscathed.

I come from a long line of one and only loves.   Both sets of grandparents enjoyed 50+ years of marriage, large families, and long lives before Grandma was left alone.  My parents celebrate 54 years this fall.  She’s still his girlfriend.  He’s still her prince charming.  Both are incomplete when separate.

Despite all of Hollywood’s lies this kind of love isn’t easy.  It can’t always be romantic and delightful.  This love walks through the fire of near fatal accidents leaving one person crippled and the other worn from care.  A love that fuels the determination and internal strength capable of drawing a young mother across 1930’s America on a bus with 3 small children, a bag of oranges, and a nickel to be reunited.

This is love that lingers while life leaves her in a wheelchair, hair scraped tightly against her tissue paper skin, present day forgotten, calling his name to deaf ears.  “Jake! Jake!’

Oh, the stories I’ve heard from men and women who loved long until their very lives were transformed by the intermingling of personality and the conjoined development of unified character and common purpose. Their faces lined with years softening as they thought of the person who had shared so much life with them.

This fall I celebrate 19  years to the best man I’ve ever known.  The seasons ebb and flow with joy and laughter, pain and silence, a time for unity, and another for identity.   The only constant has been our presence as children came and grew, houses changed, circles of friends expanded and retracted, family fluttered around the edges.  Despite his imperfections and my selfish demands we have remained present.

If I could share only one thing about marriage with my sons it would be this simple truth:

Remain present.

You may be married with gritted teeth or wallowing in the beauty of young love.   You could find yourself in situations that test every ounce of dedication and strength you possess.  You might wear a ring for years, married on paper, while the ashes of love drift off in an ignored gale force of misunderstanding, selfish ambition, and personal disappointment.

You may be in a season of goodness, remain vigilant.

What if all the high and lofty ideals crash around in a torrent of disillusionment and heartache and you are left with an empty wallet, a shattered dream, or the temptation of another who might give you all your wife cannot, remember….

You can choose to stay in bitterness or you can choose to stay engaged. You can choose to walk away with half your soul behind you or you can choose to find the “good thing” God says a wife is.

You choose.  Marriage is hard.  Never lose sight that it is work worth doing.

My dear sons,  you have a legacy that goes back as many generations as I know that says you can.   Through an overland trek from the Black Sea to Norway followed by an Atlantic crossing in a cattle boat during Bolshevik Russia,  through homesteading the Dakotas, and finding a new life on the West coast during the clouds of the Great Depression.   Through foreign travel, pastoring small churches,  and the modern day hustle and bustle of life.   Through the lens of a culture that says people are disposable and love is what is found in novels and on screens.  Quickly lit, quickly faded, gone. We have endured.

You can too.

You choose to love.  You can choose to give up.  Both hurt.

One looks like Jesus.

You choose.

Join us over at Story Line with Kathi at Lo*ly*gag!  A great link up where we share life stories we want our kids to know.