Monday, February 06, 2012

I Do: Long-Term Love

He comes in regularly and stirs the fire.
And every single time, 
I am struck with gratitude and wonder
that we chose each other so many years ago.

It's such a simple thing, stirring those logs around,
just a few moments of time.
But I know this - it is an act of love, this fire-tending, 
an act I deeply appreciate.
An act that is emblematic,
representing the story of who we are somehow.
Not all of who we are,
but kind of a meta-picture,
a summary statement.

Because the truth of our story is this:
we grew up together.
We were so young, you see.
When we met, I was seventeen, he was barely twenty.
When we married, I was the 20-year-old,
mid-way through my senior year at UCLA.

That summer, we moved to Zambia for two years,
traveling by freighter over a choppy Atlantic Ocean
for eighteen long days.
The sunsets were glorious;
the storms terrifying.
Not a bad description of the next 25 years or so, actually.

We had so much to learn - beginning with ourselves.
Raised in 'traditional' 1950's Christian homes,
we had a whole lot of firmly held opinions 
about what marriage and family should look like 
and we did our darnedest to live up those.
I put together our wedding liturgy (I loved liturgy, even then),
and I searched for the old wording to be sure and include the word 'obey' in my vows. Those who know me at this end of the last 46 years 
might be surprised by that small piece of trivia.
But they would probably not be terribly surprised to learn that it was my husband who first chafed at the thinking behind it,
that it was he who began to call out my gifts as a teacher and leader.
I was too frightened at the prospect of 'messing up' my marriage 
to go there for a very long time.
Together, we've changed up the dance,
trading places - both literally and figuratively - as time and circumstance demanded.

We've hit a few rough patches along the way, that's for sure.
We went to a counselor for a while at about year 25,
when I was in the midst of seminary and carrying a couple of part time jobs and we both felt confused and angry and badly disconnected.
The best thing that came of that experience? The last twenty years.
Somewhere during that time of counseling,
we looked at each other and said,
"We've got a good thing going here; let's make it better."

And, by God's grace, we have.

We are very different people - different politics, different temperaments, different favorite-times-of-the-day, different tastes in television 
(except for Downton Abbey!).
And guess what?
We are never bored.
Yes, we can get snarly sometimes.
We can get our feelings hurt and our feathers ruffled.
But we make each other laugh louder than anyone else we know.
We have spent so much time together that we seldom have to guess 
what the other is thinking.
We each think the other is the finest person on the planet.
We adore our children and our grandchildren.
We are committed to faith and family above all else.
And most of the time,
we really, really like each other.

We're even learning to do this thing called retirement,
which for a couple with very busy schedules 
for very many years, was a somewhat daunting prospect.
While I was pastoring, my husband was commuting 
for three-day stretches away from me every week while he continued to work in southern CA.
During those mid-week days, I grew to understand the deep dividends of solitude.
For the first time in my life, I was spending time alone -
and I was loving it.
How would we manage being together 24/7?

Well, one way is this:
in the evenings, he watches sports in the family room;
I write in the bedroom.
And during the winter months,
he builds me a lovely fire in our bedroom fireplace.
About every 90 minutes or so, I hear him coming down the hall, 
to peek in and make sure
that fire is performing as a properly built fire should perform.

And that small act tells me what I most deeply need to know:
my husband values who I am and what I do.
In this quieter season of our life together,
it's an echo of sorts,
an echo of what he said to me when it began to look like we'd be moving to Santa Barbara so that I could take a job.
"Honey, for the last 30 years, you've built your life around my career choices. You've supported me through all the twists and turns my professional life has taken. Now, it's my turn to adjust, to let you flourish and grow and become more of who God designed you to be, just like you've always done for me."

He values who I am.
He values what I do.

I value who he is.
I value what he does.

Even now, we want 
to keep learning, keep growing,
keep leaning into Jesus and one another.
We want the fire to burn bright,
so we'll keep tending,
keep stirring,
keep enjoying the light, the warmth, the beauty.
Even when he's in one room,
and I'm in another. Christian Blog Network

This essay was written at the invitation of Jennifer Dukes Lee and The High Calling. I am joining the community writing project at THC by signing on with Jennifer's weekly meme. Ann Voskamp is also encouraging essays about love this  month, so I'll put it there as well. And with all the sisters at Jen Ferguson's place, the soli deo sisterhood. And, at the end of the week, with Bonnie's discussion on Love Unwrapped.