24 Years and Counting

Today we celebrate 24 years of marriage.

We met at 17, started dating at 20, got engaged at 22, and married at 23.

We have now been married more than half our lives.

In that time, we have lived in seven homes in three counties in one state. We have worked at nine jobs, including four churches, three of which we both served professionally. We have raised two incredible sons.

I can’t begin to quantify how many sermons he’s preached or articles I’ve written. How many camps, retreats, or mission trips we’ve organized. How many Bible lessons we’ve taught, or cups of coffee we’ve shared with people we love. Nor how many weddings he’s officiated.

For obvious reasons, the weddings are on my mind today. Some would say we got lucky, that marrying so young could have gone badly. We know some for whom that was the case. Thankfully, not us, and thankfully, we’ve learned a few things about marriage in this half of life.

JOY is contagious.
Jesus, Others, You. It may be cliché, but it is also the Great Commandment: Love the Lord your God, and love others as yourself. From before our beginning as a couple, we committed to love God first and foremost. We recognized our love for one another as His gift, to nurture with an outpouring of His love for us as individuals and as a couple. We put church and activities that would help us grow in love with God and each other first on our calendar, careful not to let other activities compete (at least not regularly) for space in our lives that belonged to God.

Remember why you fell in love.
Romance is sappy, staring-deeply-into-eyes fun. But romance ebbs and flows. Sometimes you need to go back to the beginning and actively remember those qualities about your spouse that weakened your knees: his sense of humor or the way his hug wrapped you up and made you feel safe or the laughs you shared playing board games.

Invest time.
Regularly. Ideally, daily, weekly, monthly, and seasonally. Shared time is the investment you make often in order to have something to draw on when you need it most. Daily could be as little as a fifteen-minute check-in chat after work. Weekly might be a walk around the block, a date night, a Sunday lunch. Monthly or seasonally, depending on your life stage and/or budget, might be a splurge date or an overnight get-away.

Grow.
Everything that has life grows. Or it dies. So you might as well be clear up front: I’m not going to get in a rut. Each of you will grow, learn, and change, and your relationship will need to flex in order to accommodate your individual growth. It’s a good thing, and it will make you more interesting. Just be sure to grow in complimentary directions.

Experiences over stuff.
Make memories, not collections. We’re all drowning in stuff and spend way too many hours of our lives managing all the stuff: cleaning, dusting, moving it from one place to another, reorganizing, decluttering, (re)gifting. Instead, we need more shared time together, more laughter and play and memory-making that in the long run will require no more work than sharing stories with family and friends for generations.

Talk. A lot.
Be honest. No topic too sacred, nothing off-limits. Communication is the basic building block you stack over and over and over in order to build a shared life. You have to talk in order to avoid and resolve conflict, which will do its best to topple all the hard-placed blocks. Learn to speak graciously, to honor each other with your words by building each other up, lavishing encouragement, being his/her #1 fan. Keep criticism to a minimum.

Play.
Marriage can be a lot of work if you don’t balance it with some just-because fun. What did you do on dates pre-marriage? Do more of that. See movies. Eat meals out, or cook meals in. Go to museums, take classes, and develop new hobbies. Enjoy the big beautiful world on a hike. Take a trip—even a day trip—to somewhere new, or visit your old stomping grounds. Enjoy each other’s company.

Play for the same team.
Think of your marriage as a team: What does winning look like? What position(s) do you play? How can you work together rather than against each other? Stop trying to keep individual score (I took the trash out last week… Yah, but I emptied the dishwasher this morning) and figure out how to complement each other’s strengths and shore up each other’s weaknesses.

Forgive.
Most of us misunderstand forgiveness. We think it means claiming that whatever the offense, it didn’t matter. To the contrary, forgiveness means the offense absolutely mattered, but I will choose to live with the consequences so we can both move on. Forgiveness involves addressing the conflict honestly and then agreeing to new boundaries to prevent further hurt, including agreeing not to bring it up again. It is hard, necessary work for any substantial relationship.

Keep it simple.
Don’t put off date night until you have the sitter and the reservation at the fancy-schmancy A-list restaurant. Put the kids to bed early, order pizza, and put in a DVD if you have to. Don’t put unrealistic expectations on yourself, your spouse, your kids, your kids’ schools or teachers or coaches, your neighbors… Don’t make life harder than it will be already. Keep your priorities straight, and keep it simple.

Your spouse won’t meet all your needs.
No one person will satisfy all your needs. Adulting requires that you meet more than a few of your own needs, and sometimes that involves sucking it up when you feel dissatisfied. Also, cultivate friends you can talk to and play with when your spouse isn’t available. Just remember: they don’t come first in your heart’s priorities.

Serve one another in love.
Every time Guy officiates at a wedding I hear him say: “Marriage is not 50-50. Marriage is 100-100. Marriage is both partners all in for the sake of the relationship. I give everything I am, and she gives everything she is, and together we make one whole.”

I admit, service is not my strong suit. Sometimes I notice myself feeling more than a little annoyed at all the mundane tasks I do that seem to go unnoticed. At those times I remind myself that our marriage is built on mutual service. Some days it takes a lot of service on my part; other days, he will pick up all the slack. It’s a give-and-take, both of us intending to give more than we take.

Today we have followed our own advice. After shuffling the kids out the door and off to school, we began our day in a yoga class together, a new-to-us practice that grounds us in health and wellness and community with our friends and neighbors. We each did our individual work, then ran errands together for the sake of our family. We both participated in chores and dinner prep. The kids have homework, so we made a simple dinner: a big Greek salad, whole wheat pita bread and hummus, corn on the cob, with cherries for dessert. We opened a nicer-than-usual bottle of wine—a Frog’s Leap Sauvignon Blanc—from a winery we have visited for special occasions with loved ones. We sip from glasses that belonged to Guy’s grandparents, engraved with the initial and name I adopted 24 years ago today.

Here’s to 24 years, and many, many more!

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Thankful Thursday – Spring Break Through

A friend emailed: “Are you ok? Your ‘miracles’ are sounding like you need a lot of hugs.”

Hmmm… Good feedback, since I hadn’t intended to sound like a downer. I am okay, generally. This has been a month of long work hours unbalanced by enough fun or activity as I’ve recuperated this ankle sprain. Every day has presented new adventures in parenting, especially as Teen moves through his last few weeks of high school. “Unbalanced” might be just the right word–my head, heart, and body have been out of sync, a mishmash of misplaced forms, overlooked details, new questions, full emotions, and injury.

But “unbalanced” is temporary. My ankle feels significantly better after last week’s visit to the chiropractor. I’m not running yet, but last night I did yoga without pain–hooray! Work projects are winding down and the school year is winding down. Summer is within sight.

Spring has arrived, and my roses have exploded.

I’m not much of a gardener but I do enjoy time spent dead-heading roses, inhaling the sweet fragrance of these blooms. Our front entrance has never smelled more delightful, and I get such a kick out of my white roses flaunting their rebellious pink streaks.

Since January I’ve been carting around my gratitude journal, attempting to record at least three unique points of gratitude each day in addition to Bible verses, quotes, etc. Truthfully, I’m not very good at it–I’ve skipped too many days–but I know gratitude is a helpful discipline so I keep plugging along.

I tucked here and there between the pages little cards, some with quotes to encounter and reflect on throughout the year, others with a word/phrase for the month. They cause me to pause, to say thanks, to ponder the holy ground on which I stand.

The word for May is “Break…” to which I added, “Through,” and–like “unbalanced”–that, too, feels right: at the end of the school year, May has the tendency to knock me off my feet; this year, I am choosing to break through.

So what am I grateful for today? 

A friend who asks if I’m really okay.
Healing.
Movement.
Roses.
Another friend who visited from out-of-town and slotted time for me on her full itinerary.
Coffee in the morning, tea before bed.
A neighbor who gave away her zucchini plant “volunteers”–and three new plants for our veggie garden.
New library books.
Easy something-out-of-nothing still-healthy meals from the pantry (I really do need to go grocery shopping…)
Significant life-processing conversations with Teen.
Tween’s new brace face, and the miracles of orthodontia.
Squirrels who make me laugh as they zoom along tree branches, and the quail who visit our bird feeder.

How about you? What are you grateful for, and how are you breaking through?

And by the way, I’ll take those hugs anytime!

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Thankful Thursday – Love Thyself (Body, Too)

Arguably the only good thing about injury and illness is their capacity to increase one’s gratitude for health and wellness.

Almost four weeks ago I went for a run (over a year later, that I run–ever!–still gives rise to my surprised giggles). A few miles later, having run and walked in turn, feeling better than ever and enjoying each step, I limped toward home.

I didn’t fall. I don’t remember a bad step or an “OUCH!” moment, just a gradual then growing discomfort above my right ankle.

It didn’t hurt as bad, nor swell as much, as last summer’s sprained ankle. I thought I’d heal quickly. Since gentle walking helped last time, I’ve tried to carefully and regularly walk around the block.

I have to think about how I move and work hard not to limp; I wouldn’t dare run yet. My whole body has felt out of whack as it compensates. To boot, the severe drop-off in physical exertion has caused indigestion and nasty heartburn; I get hungry but I can’t eat much. My shoulders have inched up to my ears and I’ve stopped sleeping deeply. When one part of the body hurts, the whole body hurts. Bleh!

Mind-body connection, of course, and I’ve been feeling (literally) lame and a wee bit depressed, knowing that I’m missing out on fun fitness and time with friends. The irony of finally discovering joy in movement and developing injuries from said movement has made me flat-out mad at my stupid body.

That’s not helpful, I know. Accepting limitations and working through them, that’s the way.

Today a friend met me for a chair yoga class. She’d never done yoga and felt nervous. So did I my first time. But if I can do chair yoga–a gentle introduction to stretching and yoga poses–while out of shape and in an ankle brace, anyone can do it.

As I had hoped, she loved it.

At the beginning of class, we set an intention. Mine was simple: Love. I was at yoga to love my friend into a safe and loving practice. And I was there to love this body I haven’t even liked much of late (historically: ever).

We stretched and breathed deeply. I felt my body realigning and muscles releasing their tension.

Later, I visited the chiropractor where, for the first time, he didn’t work on my shoulders. Instead he focused his healing ministrations on my ankle. Because my shoulders have been such a chronic pain, I had No Idea he could offer such quick relief to my stupid injury. I almost felt as though I could run out of the office.

I know it will still be a while before my ankle has healed. So meanwhile, I’ve decided to stop disparaging this lug of flesh that is me and instead be grateful. Life is good. Health is better, and I’ll get there.

I found this quote today while cleaning my desk. It doesn’t, and yet does, apply directly:

I want to beg you to be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms…

Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to love them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.
–Rainer Rilke, from Letters to a Young Poet

I have to be patient with my body while it heals, and patient with my heart as it struggles with the body’s less-than-wholeness. For now, I choose to live everything: injury and frustration and healing. Who knows what other good gifts life has in store through this process?

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Thankful Thursday – Friendship

Slowly, gently, she grew into my life like a beautiful, flowering vine: mom of Tween’s friend, friend of a friend, eventually, my friend.

And way too soon, she moved a world away.

Of course she would. She came from across the world. She and her sweet family were always on loan to us. I just didn’t recognize the temporariness of our time.

Isn’t that too often the way?
“But, wait, if I’d known…”
“I wish I’d said… I wish we’d done…”
“If only we’d had more time…”

Before she moved, our friend-group invested concerted effort to create memories together. In addition to our regular Friday Fun Days in the park, we added walks, coffees, weekends away, wine tasting, parties that often led to late-night dancing in the kitchen, you name it. We shared time with her, and also with each other.

After she moved, I felt like a sinkhole had opened up in our small town. Though she is a lovely skinny twig of a woman, her absence felt almost like its own ominous presence. Funny (not funny): not too long after a literal sinkhole opened up downtown…

We lost her in our daily lives and special occasions. Social media softens the blow, and we’re ever so grateful for her husband’s airline job that makes possible spontaneous return visits, like the one we enjoyed this week.

But as we gathered round, talking about the things we’ve always talked about–kids, school, friendship, cultural do’s and don’ts in our different cultures, language, work, friendship–I remembered how it felt to know the time would be short. And as I gazed around at the beautiful faces of my friends and listened to the laughter of our children playing in the other room, I wondered why we give in to life’s frenetic pace at the cost of sharing time together.

We have lost our regular rhythms. Seasons change and kids grow and the stuff of life gets in the way. It’s normal, but that doesn’t mean we can’t challenge it.

Family first, sure. But most of us have more time than we recognize, at least a little time to spare. How we spend our time signals our priorities. For my part, I want less Facebook and more face time. I want to keep making memories with the people in my community now. I don’t want to wake up one day to discover another friendship lost, even temporarily, to a sinkhole.

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Thankful Thursday – Every Breath I Take

The last few weeks have cycled through deep soul excavation, self-reflection, confession and forgiveness, and difficult, honest conversations. These weeks have been hard, tearful, and also so good, resulting in helpful new insights. Growth can be hard work.

One of the healthier ways I’ve managed all the feelings has been to get active. Moving my body has helped shut down my ruminating mind. But movement comes with its own risks. I went for a two-hour seaside walk in the wrong shoes and developed a blister on the ball of each foot the size of a 50-cent piece–ouch! And last weekend I took a wrong step during a run that strained something in my ankle and has had me limping since.

Last week I patted myself on the back–six out of six days I either practiced yoga or ran. This week not so much. This week I’m a lame stress ball, one that should bounce but instead lands with a thud.

My yogi friend suggested her chair class, which enables deeper stretches since you don’t also have to support your own weight. I rearranged activities to make it at noon today, grateful to have an opportunity to move safely without pain.

Little did I know how grateful I would be…

Confirmation #1: Written on the studio whiteboard: “Today’s Intention: Gratitude”
Confirmation #2: Yogi-friend said, “Everything happens for a purpose. If you weren’t injured, you might not be here right now…”
Confirmation #3: The only other class participant? Also a pastor’s wife, also dealing with an injury.

At that point, I just started laughing. Clearly, God put me where I needed to be!

Honestly, I would have preferred to move hard, to sweat, to get my blood pumping. I’m not good at stretching and, left to myself, I don’t take nearly enough time to do it properly. Still, it’s good, helpful, necessary.

For this near-private lesson, our yogi had created a routine and playlist just for us. She asked different questions, not “What is your foundation?” but “WHO is your foundation?” The music also took us beyond our bodies and focused our minds. Two gimpy pastors’ wives and our yogi-sister shared an hour of stretching, breathing, and praying. We shared yoga worship.

I breathe, but I need reminders to breathe deeply.
I move, but I benefit from reminders to move intentionally.
I pray, but I stretched differently into this hour of focused, physically-expressive prayer.

I entered the studio slump-shouldered. I exited with shoulders back, a smile on my face. I received this shared yoga experience as a gift, and I am indeed grateful!

Doesn’t yoga frog make you want to smile?

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Thankful Thursday – Maundy Thursday 2017

I did not grow up with a tradition of observing Lent but, as an adult, I have grown in appreciation for spiritual discipline in general and this season of church life specifically. God does great things when we give Him great access to our lives through disciplines that help to tune our eyes and ears to His work.

Before this Lent began I asked God: “What discipline would you have me observe to see you more clearly?” Funny (and I truly believe God IS funny this way, at least sometimes), He didn’t answer clearly. I could take on a discipline of reading the news; in these times, we all ought to read the news more broadly and more carefully. And I put on a ring my mother-in-law gifted to me; as my ‘not typical’ right-hand ring, its presence on my finger has reminded me of Jesus’ presence with me.

And then Lent took a quick left-hand turn into discipline. Situations arose that required prayer; people needed me; I needed Jesus. God knew I didn’t need more disciplined practices than the discipline He was already planning to send my way. (And oh, wowza, did I ever need that ring as a reminder of His presence…!)

Today is Maundy Thursday, which means Lent is almost over. The dark before the dawn, tonight we commemorate Jesus’ last supper with His disciples before He was betrayed. Tomorrow He was crucified. Sunday, at last!, Jesus rose from the grave.

We want to fast-forward the bad stuff to get to the good. We want to skip the pain in favor of pleasure. We don’t want bitter but sweet. In this Holy Week, God calls us to see His glory in the worst-ever scenario, trusting Him to redeem and transform it into more than all we could ask or imagine.

So what am I thankful for on this Maundy Thursday?

I am, as always, thankful for Jesus, who sacrificed Himself in love for me, for all of us, so that our lives not only exist, but matter.

I am thankful for a year, and that the situation that occupied my heart last year is no longer my concern. And I’m thankful for the hope that the situation that occupies my heart now won’t next year.

I am thankful for time, as in, time heals all wounds. The wounds of last year, but also more recent cuts and jabs that, with time, prayer, and careful tending, have already begun to heal.

I am thankful for kind and gentle human beings who willingly give of themselves to help the rest of us make peace–with ourselves, with God, with one another.

I am thankful for the continual bubbling over of last week’s Mexico trip, and the ways I see God has grown and shaped my Teen through this experience.

I am thankful for yoga, and my friends and their friends who filled a studio this morning for a laughter- and fun-filled sweaty workout, good for body and soul.

I am thankful for the rain showers earlier today, for the quail running down my fence line, for the twilight breeze rocking the tree branches outside my window. Peaceful beauty.

I have to laugh at what happens when I pull out my running shoes…

…and say “Thank you!” for what I see outside my door…

The first spring rose in my garden, a gift from a friend

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ReBuild: Mexico 2017

One of the best things our church does fills one week with life-changing experience and takes the rest of the year to plan, then debrief, before planning the next trip: our spring break house building trip to Mexico with Amor Ministries. This year, as in most years, about 250 high school students and adults built hope, twelve new homes, and a classroom for a church in the community. In one week.

In addition to thirteen build teams the trip includes a tool team, a camp crew, a medical team, a camp therapist, and a media team. Layered throughout are the Catalyst student leaders, all seniors, who lead the build teams, and the adult coaches who play a supporting role to their Catalysts. It takes a lot of people putting in a lot of work to pull it all together, and that’s not stating it strongly enough.

Each trip has a theme, and this year’s theme was ReBuild. Guy chose the theme at the end of 2016 and, when he told me, I had to laugh: without consulting one another, he chose a “re” theme for this trip into which he invests so much love, energy, and leadership, while I chose a “re” theme (re:create) as my word of the year, the word that has and will motivate me to new investments of love, energy, and leadership.

The group returned last night, and today in worship we celebrated what God has done. In Mexico, through the buildings, the memories that will last a lifetime, and the hope for a new and better future as people have a safe, dry place to nurture their families. In participants, as so many spoke of new or renewed faith commitments, fresh insights into themselves and their place in the world, and deeper relationships across all the ‘usual’ social boundaries–adults and teens, kids in different grades and from different schools.

We also celebrate what God will do. In families, as this year more than ever I was struck by how many families or family groups participated together–siblings, parent-child, married couples, and whole families; and in families where some or most did not go on the trip, they, too, will be affected by the overflow of experience from those who did. In schools and workplaces, in our church and community, as participants continue to live out their experience over weeks and months and years to come, and as God’s love shines brightly, bringing glory to His name.

As story after story was shared, participants built for the listening congregation a vision of God at work through this week in Mexico. I’m no contractor, but clearly God is our foundation. He created us. He knew our names, He had good plans for us, all before we were yet born. This year, for perhaps the first time in the 27 years of this trip, all teams had solid concrete foundations poured by the end of the first build day. I hope they remember: a strong foundation is essential to a strong structure, and God is our firm foundation.

One after another spoke about the strength of relationships developed in such a short time. And as I reflected on the theme, ReBuild, it occurred to me that we have the power to build supporting walls in each other’s lives. Someone said, “As the walls of the houses went up, the walls in our hearts and lives came down.” That’s true: we build metaphorical walls to protect ourselves from judgment, from criticism, from rejection. And it’s also true that when we find safe people, we can dismantle our walls of protection even as we together build stronger walls of community and encouragement.

Life can be hard, and people can be mean. Too often we throw verbal stones or, for whatever reason (sometimes for no reason, at least no good reason), we tear each other down. No surprise we wall off our hearts! But encouragement and community, they rebuild us and make us stronger.

One young man said he had been seeking community for years. Something clicked this week and he found it, evidenced by a friend’s embrace as he returned to his seat. My Teen has been fortunate to know that community. A twice-monthly before-school boys’ Bible study started with a group of motivated 8th grade guys and has continued through their senior year. They were adult-led until they took up their own leadership, and they have carried it forward in ways that pleasantly surprised their parents and other adult leaders.

Teen got to be a Catalyst this year (achieving one more life goal!), as did many of the Bible study boys. Along with their female peers, they have forged a tight-knit group; their community had a “ripple effect” throughout camp, fostering community with each gentle wave. Teen stood up to thank his fellow Catalysts, and to thank his team. He said, “We became a family. By the end of the week our team was a family building a home for another family.”

I watched with awe as my son–surrounded by community–stood, arms raised, singing:

I’ll stand
With arms high and heart abandoned
In awe of the one who gave it all
I’ll stand
My soul Lord to you surrendered
All I am is yours

Safe to say they are returning home having been rebuilt by God and His gift of community.

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