Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Loving Marriage

My last post was about chocolate chip cookies, some of which did go off with my boy on his camping trip. This post is about the reason I was baking those cookies in the first place, which was that my husband was after a freshly baked, warm and melty chocolate chip cookie.

In general, my beloved is pretty low maintenance. He wishes the same thing most husbands do, I suppose: that the house were cleaner; that I'd never discovered the internet; that I earned an income so he could live in the lap of luxury and stay home, eating bon bons and watching soap operas and tossing occasional handfuls of $20 bills in the air at the mall - which is what he pictures me doing all day. And, no, he wouldn't really watch soap operas if he were to be at home.

But, having arrived at our 25th anniversary, I am taking a moment to think out loud about marriage and be thankful.

About ten years ago, our couples group had a discussion about the book The Five Love Languages. We did this exercise where we were each given an index card and asked to wrote down what our top two love languages were - i.e. the way we best receive love. We then turned in the cards and Cathy, who was leading that night, read them off and we were to guess whose they were. Out of the entire group, one wife guessed one of her husband's correctly. That was it. The possibilities were, if I remember correctly, physical touch, surprise gifts, words of affirmation, quality time and acts of service. Acts of service was one of my husband's. After learning that, I stopped throwing him surprise parties (which, it turns out, he hates), and have tried to do things for him - like the afore-mentioned chocolate chip cookies.

The book exercise, which produced good results, was just one of many steps in our life together that taught us about each other. One of those "journey of discovery" things that all the wedding cards talked about. Cards which we ignored in the blur of presents and checks and getting ready to go off for a week on St. Martin.

Because when you meet and fall in love, it's all about those dreams that include a white dress, and a honeymoon, and the ephemeral "happily ever after" wrapped up in silver bows. And no matter how good the pre-marriage counseling is, you live in a dreamy euphoric state of being in love, fed by romance novels and movies and Hallmark cards, which leads you to believe that, because you are soooo in love, you will magically know everything about your beloved, like having some kind of love ESP, and the sailing off into the sunset will be very smooth.

But then you get home from the honeymoon and it turns into something more complex and more rewarding. In our case, we got home and when I went to pick up my brand new husband from his office on our first day back at work, he'd been laid off and was standing there with his box of stuff.

And that was the beginning of working together and building our life. Learning to live through job loss and weight gain, new homes and plumbing disasters, and budgets big on macaroni and cheese. There were days when we'd have to force ourselves to show up and days when we couldn't wait to see each other. We've navigated Parents' Day Out, pre-school, K-12 for one kid and K - 9 for the other so far, and in a week will send our eldest off to college. We've had one bird, three dogs and four fish. And we've suffered the loss of two parents, three grandmas, two great-aunts, one great-uncle, two aunts and several of our friends, and a couple of our children's friends. Looking back, I can see that the times of greatest struggle for us have happened when we lost sight of the fact that those words we said 25 years ago made us one person, not two any longer, and we (or, really I mostly) act alone.

In that haze of being so in love, I was clueless of what was in store. I didn't know how much I needed to grow and change. Didn't know I wasn't saved, didn't know how much or often or badly I'd fail, I was pretty sure I was doing just fine, thanks. But when I was far off, God provided me with a husband who didn't give up and pushed me to be better, with a church where I found out that I am a sinner and was lead to the Savior, and with children who, as they grow up, continue to delight and challenge us.

Really, what did we know? We were 21 when we got engaged over Papa Del's pizza and Lowenbrau beer. And you know, you can't know - you just think you do. My parents probably thought what all parents think when their kids get married fresh out of college - 'they're babies!' And we were. But we've grown up together. And we are more in love now than we were because we know each other better than we did. Embarrassing to our kids, I'm sure, but it's true.

If God is exceedingly good to us, we'll have another 25 years together. And as we're fielding the teasing questions about what presents will we be giving each other, I know that the real answer is that it doesn't matter if we get each other something from the jewelry store or the Apple Store or not, the truth is that we have already been given the gift.

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