10 years since that first little “yes” 

February 13th, 2007. He asked me to be his girlfriend that day. He was 20 and I was 22. 

I’ve spent 10 years of my life intimately and intricately linked with someone now not by the fate of family but by one sweeping hope-sprung choice. All of our feverish, tumultuous twenties in step with each other. Life could have been a path forged any which way but we turned to each other instead.

I can’t imagine what my college roommates thought at the onset of our relationship: two fools rushing in (and rush we did—engaged after two months). I was no more equipped to be a girlfriend —or a wife all the more— than properly skin a deer.  But here I sit in a home we’ve made, three kids’ beds in a room painted blue. It’s all so real, so good, so normal, and yet still a surprise when I remember I was young and tumbled into something that required moment after moment, year after year of—- building, trying, listening, working, serving, forging, forgiving, folding towels, stacking plates, and putting on love once again. 

He was a safe harbor first. Fireworks later. 

 

Marriage is a goodness dressed up in ordinary clothes. Hidden in coffee cups and tucked in sheets. The work of two opposites drawing nearer is of endless fascination to me. A wave crashing rapturously on the solid shore, each unapologetically forces their own. 

In these ten years, I’ve gained so much. Little things not too little when I think how they could have been things that never were. Not to gossip. How to welcome people in. Saying plainly what I mean. How to fight in a way where nothing and no one walks away broken. 

The greatest lesson I’ve learned in our 1st 10 years together is that very little (if anything) is impossible where kindness comes first. I am not in competition with him. I am in communion with him.  He does not take from me unless I surrender something by measures of falsehoods.

Kindness means shaking off fear and rebuking manipulation. Kindness means grace. Kindness means generosity, abundance. Kindness means pausing, listening, being comfortable with moments of discomfort. Saying, showing, that is is all okay.

Oh, I’ve gotten this wrong so many times. Thousands of times. But I always come back to this one answer for how to live and lead. Kindness.

For me, I’ve picked up how to be direct and gentle because this is how he is with me. To go to him simply and to say what I need without faltering. Then to go about my day focused on the task in front of me (wiping sticky hands, explaining pronouns, and sweeping up crumbs), trusting he will do his best to meet my needs the best he can and we will keep moving forward. Mostly, remembering that marriage is a radical act of showing up more for the other person than caring how they are showing up for you. In the end, it is our own body we answer for. It is our words, our service, our respect—not our ability to maintain control or strike fear into someone as a means of self-preservation.  

Loving someone for 10 years—yet they be simply steady, solid, good—means nothing less than brave vulnerability however much family portraits and daily rituals make us comfortable or, worse, sleepy.  It takes one match to start a forest fire, one malformed branch to bring down a tree. Which one of us can reach out our hands without touching someone who has hurt or is hurting from divorce, the affair, abandonment, the insincerity of someone else’s yes? 

I speak of these things because I want to stay awake—-fully, happily, brightly awake. To keep in perspective that I am unfairly blessed in that I am still here reaping the fruit of a marriage to a man who is good. I reject the luke warm waters of familiarity, of busy-bodying through our thirties. Instead, I want to keep risking myself to the man who risked it all. I fix my gaze steady, to look at him lingeringly, with a smile tucked up in my eyes.  This love, this work, is still the most important thing I will ever do with my life, but it is by my nature and empowerment as a woman that it is not without excitement, warmth, color, complexity, and life. 

I look at Paul and I remember him 20. I remember times when I was too harsh, when I didn’t listen, when he took care of me, when he held our babies on their first day, all the times he used self-control as if a faucet pouring out love. I try sometimes to remember to look at him with his mother’s eyes—a boy who played with the stereo system and did what he was told when his parents needed him, a boy who once learned how to kick out his feet to swing. 

And when looking at him I know painfully that 20 or even 40 years may not be enough for me to uncover all there is in that man. I may never have enough to time to get the words right or the timing perfect, to let him know adequately what he has meant to me or that, even simpler, that I can see him just as he is. 

I still believe, 10 years after that quick yes, in the abandonment of what I know for the knows-no-bounds call of my vocation. That falling into something so much larger than the small of me ( no matter how big I feel I am ) is a work worthy of the whole of my life. 

 

 

Our NYE NYC trip!

I'm pressing pause here to write a bit about our trip to NYC before our ordinary days pull me too far downstream.  And that happens pretty quickly. In fact, I find that actual happenings in my life almost never get blogged. I write about thoughts mostly. Things I've learned. Things I'm mulling over. But those actual real life details are tough to make happen AND then also make happen on the blog. So here goes...

NEW YORK CITY!!!

Paul surprised me on Christmas with an already set-up (I didn't have to worry about care for the kids or flights or hotel rooms) trip to NYC for New Year's Eve plus a few days which ended on my birthday (which he and my mother-in-law pre-planned as a day for Paul and I to enjoy at home alone). There is only 1 type of surprise I like and that's adventure surprises. I was so shocked and excited & I still am actually. Paul really went big this time.

I absolutely love how magical the new year feels.  NYE is my very favorite. I just love the promise of a new year. I love thinking back on all the things that happened in the year that's closing and all the things ahead that will happen-- some because I'll be hustling and working hard for them, and others because life surprises us in sprinkles and splashes.

And that timing of NYC + brand new year was the greatest aspect of this trip.

For a dreamer and a planner like me, being in NYC at the very beginning of a new year was so extraordinarily special. Paul and I had time to reconnect and make memories together and enjoy each other before tackling another full year.  I spent time on the plane looking out at white puffs of clouds thinking about all things 2015--house improvements, hemophilia scares, homeschooling, and me leaning into my 30's...among many, many other things.  I spent time early in the morning at our hotel writing in my journal and listening to the city outside our window and thinking about 2016. In some ways, for my bigger yes. In others, in quiet awe of the things I just can't know about yet.

When we landed and got in a cab, the city was just starting to close streets for the NYE party down on Time Square (where our hotel was). So we climbed out of the cab right into thousands of people walking all over streets. Literally on the streets because there were several streets only open to foot traffic at that point. Pulling our luggage through the throngs of people from all over the world---that will always be one of my favorite travel memories ever. The energy was visceral. It was pulsing. And even though that was NYE and so it was amped up a bit, that's how NYC felt to me the whole time. Big. Exciting. Energetic. Electric.

I love traveling.

I love going away and coming back, new. Changed.

No one else can see it, but you know it like a tiny golden secret. Forever with a bit of your heart tattooed in the shape of a far away city. New York City surprised me. It didn't feel rude or pushy or overwhelming or snobby--not sure why that's what I expected. It felt like an open door. A happy place. A space for everyone. This was my favorite thing about the city. It's so special because of the nature of things, the history, the physical layout. It's welcoming more than anything else I can put to words. And once you're in, you feel absolutely alive!

Walking through Central Park. <swoon> How a park (in the dead of winter mind you) can be so wonderful, I just don't understand. Parks, the outdoors, places with trees...that's my thing. But I've never ever been to a space like Central Park. There is something truly special about it. I love how the skyscrapers line up like guardians on all sides of the park. I love how much people connect there. Runners. Bikers. Walkers. Tourists. Residents. Casual walkers. Loud talkers. Thinkers. Photo-takers. Coffee drinkers. Health nuts. Conversations over here and there and behind you and whizzing past you. Everywhere you look, there's more to see and take in. If you twisted my arm and asked me for the #1 thing you can't miss in NYC, I would say it's Central Park. I really hope we will get to take our kids there someday so I can share it with them too!

Something Paul and I have really loved when we've traveled is visiting with people we love who live nearby.

It's such a great way to tie together the roots of our ordinary lives with the excitement of a new city. And once again, we were able to do that. Our friend, Amanda, (whose husband, Preston, works with Paul) was celebrating her 30th & they invited us to join for a big family style dinner with her long time friends (and no surprise she has lots--Amanda is the sweetest) and spouses / sig. others. That was such a fun night! It was our last night in the city and we partied accordingly. Paul said we got back to the hotel at 2:30 in the morning, so translated to mommy of three small children...that's like 8 in the morning.

Okay. Let me just throw out some other stuff we did really really quick because I'm losing you at this point...

+  9/11 Memorial -- Very moving. Must see. They've done a beautiful job.  It's very intimate and respectful and something that just needs to be visited. Also, the new Freedom Tower is so freakishly tall. I could not look up at it without getting dizzy. Do I sound like I'm from a small town or what?

Comedy Cellar -- Easily, easily most I've ever laughed in my life. Awesome well-known comedians. We got seated right in the front. This was something I wanted to do so badly, and I'm so glad I made sure we went.

Les Halles -- I wouldn't say I was blown away by the food in NYC like I was in Charleston, SC (the food there---life!), but I had a meal at Les Halles that was the most balanced, beautiful dish I think I've ever had. It was some sort of fish on a bed of ratatouille with lobster sauce.

Uber driver chats -- Thank goodness for Uber! Cheap, efficient way to get around the city. And I loved the conversations we had with the drivers... except the sexist Russian. That was awkward. (Paul kept me away from the subway, so I never got to see that pizza rat that went viral or undercover famous musicians dressed up like hobos that I'm just sure were down there waiting for me to spot them. I also didn't get interviewed by HONY, so you can really see how my NYC trip was far less than perfect. ;)

MOMA -- [Museum of Modern Art] -- I love a good art museum and this really had me feeling all the feels--and on the 1st day of the new year no less. Except for the super contemporary stuff. That had me feeling like a really confused 5th grader who wasn't paying attention in class and just got called on. There were a few pieces that Paul and I were just like "mmm, no" to. Paul loved the Picasso stuff. I loved all the stuff, even the stuff I scratched my head at. We both loved Pollock. I took a ton of photos for what reason I do not know. I think I got called a beach (alternate pronunciation) because I took too long staring at Starry Night which was much different than what I thought it would be.

Chelsea Market  -- Foodie heaven! Lots and lots of shops that satisfy the appetite. I've never actually wished I would have overeaten except for when we left Chelsea Market...because there were just so many awesome things to try. We didn't overeat though at all. We ate a taco and a danish. First time I can say I felt like Scarlett O'Hara at the picnic undereating so as not to look like a pig. What a loss.

The High Line -- Elevated railway turned park. Pretty cool. Not a must see. Or, maybe a must see if you were there on a warmer day and/or you were also going to see the Whitney...which we would have totally done (yes, even though we had already spent two and a half hours at MOMA) if we would have had more time.

The NYE ball  -- We didn't actually do the real deal down in Time Square squished in tight with people who keep bumping into me and I've been standing here for six hours but can't get to a bathroom so I just peed myself party, but it didn't matter much. We did hang out on the streets for a while. The ball was in sight from our hotel and it's really pretty in person (even though it looks really far away and just white in the photos) but then we mostly just had a blast partying out at the hotel bar and talking to people and feeling sorry for the suckers out on the streets. I passed out thirty minutes before the ball drop in true mom fashion of which Paul caught on camera and will never let me live down... as he shouldn't. Still so much fun!

Walking through the city --  It's the in between sometimes that sticks out in my mind most about travel.  When Paul and I walked through residential streets in Santa Barbara. When we walked an entire square around Charleston--whoops. And this time, when we walked in the cold and windy streets of NYC at night because I thought it would be a fun way to kill time before the comedy club and Paul and I had walked so much already we had to stop at a CVS and get him shoe inserts... it's that unexpected normal stuff that I love so much. It's not on the itinerary. It's just what happens and it's awesome. Especially when it's just walking through a city and feeling wonderfully out of place together.

Mass celebrated by Cardinal Dolan at St. Patrick's -- I didn't actually let tears fall from my face because I looked around and everyone else seemed to be playing it cool, but guys... it is just so beautiful there. The grandeur is just intense. I will always treasure that. I've always had these emotional pricks in the communion line shuffling up in humility and awe to Christ. Whether it be in the church I was raised in when I was younger or the church we go to now, toddler on hip and nudging Thomas forward, and all those we've been to in between. In those moments I'm thinking about how we are all welcome to walk forward and receive Christ. Sinners. Hopers. Those lost. Those hurt. Those happy. Those looking and longing. Those in need of daily bread. As I walk forward I have this massive (albeit temporary) ripping open in my heart thinking of people from all around the world walking forward, bringing what they have and what they need to that altar, to that reception. But to feel that communion in St. Patrick's. It just hit me so hard and I will never, ever so long as I live forget it. Also, I heart Cardinal Dolan.

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We are so grateful that our parents (both sets) have been generous and gracious with us, that they've watched our kids so that we could take trips away.

We are excited to take lots of trips with the boys more and more as they get older. But this season the past couple years, post twins... I'll keep this discreet, but suffice it to say it is much needed and even more appreciated that our parents have helped us make special trips away happen so we can reconnect and feel grounded and make special memories together just the two of us.  It's a radical act to cut into life as a whole family and run off with your spouse, but I think it takes some radical acts sometimes to do what's right for your family and every family is so unique in what that looks like. This trip away blessed and reinvigorated our relationship so much. I'm deeply grateful.  I'm also glad to be back home amidst our ordinary days and doing all that normal work at home loving on these guys, making small things special right here  moment by moment and day by day.

Not My Thing

There I was, standing in the kitchen, sobbing while my shoulders moved up and down methodically when I said it. "You don't understand. This [insert dramatic motion of arms signifying what was in front of me] is not my thing!" That, and then I went back to more tears.

My husband smiled.  He and I thought of those words I had just said and a montage of gifting disasters played out in our minds: the Christmas ties, the Springfield Boathouse incident, the money clip, the Bones Exhibit-lessness. This day would go down in the history of our marriage as yet another day that I missed the mark for making a special day special. As soon as he unwrapped that KitchenAid toaster oven, I knew I should have flicked the frugality angel off my shoulder the day I searched the aisles for that elusive, perfect gift. Because that elusive, perfect gift sure as heck wasn't a toaster oven.  The hesitant look on Paul's face said it all. Bless his soul.  He has had to work on perfecting that look for over four years now.

Next week Paul and I are going to, I hope, dine somewhere special and clink to four years of marriage, four years of delving deeper and deeper into understanding selflessness is not our thing!




Paul never had to say what he was thinking as a response to my bold proclamation of "This is not my thing!", but there was no need.  I can read my husband's mind from time to time. It's one of those super hero powers no one told me I would inherit after loving someone for five years. We both knew my proclamation was total rubbish.

Setting up surprises and picking out the perfect gift is not my strength.  And while I would usually say that life is a lot about playing up your strengths and not worrying too much about the rest, that's not how marriage works. Marriage weans us away from our selfishness. Sometimes it's sweet and gradual like water wearing down rock. Other times it feels like we've been in a head-on collision, paralyzed, wondering in our beds what's next.


Paul doesn't care to open the perfect gift, but he is just like each and every one of us.  We desire to see our worth affirmed:

       * Daughter, you are worth so much that I'm willing to welcome your anger if it means I'm able to get this message across to you.
      * Son, you are worthy of my time. I'm exhausted from work today [and you don't know that], but I'm going to teach you how to play Chess tonight since you've been nagging me to do so for weeks now.
      * Co-worker, you are worth so much to me that I refuse to gossip about you.
      * Friend, you are worthy. I don't know how to help you like I feel I should, but I'm here to sit and listen and not leave until I hear you laugh.
      * Neighbor, you are worth so much to me that I will do my best to remember all these elaborate dog stories you keep telling me each time I visit. And that's a lot of dog stories. Like, seriously, there is no end to these dog stories.
      * Student, you are worth more than you know.  I will teach you wholeheartedly every day, every minute, even when you've made it clear to me you don't care.

Here's what my thing is. Seeing the good in people. Knowing their worth. Affirming it.  I'm not sure if I'll ever miraculously pull off a surprise for Paul without a hitch. But I will fight to affirm his worth [even when it makes me uncomfortable or takes a lot of energy or it feels like I've done so with no happy results one hundred other times] and to allow no excuses to get in my way of figuring it all out.

Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe Paul wasn't thinking about the validity of my statement, "This is not my thing!" On second thought, having been with my husband for four joyful years, I would like to take another guess at what was going through his mind in the moment of silence that followed my statement where he smiled and then wrapped me in his arms.

I bet he was thinking, "Yeah, well toaster ovens aren't my thing either!"

Letters of Love

I woke, no alarm needed, in the stiff twin bed of my brother’s room to the dark morning and reached for the folder of letters.  My back timidly rested on the wooden headboard as I quietly remembered each word addressed to “Dear ?”, reading back through each memory recorded in writing which brought me to this moment poised on the bed, pen in hand.  On that hopeful morning of my wedding day, I wrote one last letter to him, this one with a decidedly chosen “Dear Paul salutation. Happiness filled my heart as I finished out my beautiful gift.

For several years preceding that day, letters to my future husband were my anchor in the ever shifting landscape of singleness from the ages of 16 - 22.  Proclamations of faith, hope, and love were scrawled between faint blue lines.  I wrote to persevere in chastity.  I wrote for a remembrance of the single life. I wrote to plan for details of the future.  Mostly, I wrote as an act of love.  

My husband’s reaction to this grand  romantic gesture left much to be desired.  In fact, in the three and a half years we’ve been married, I’ve received  a grand total of: “they were really great.”   





For the first three years of my marriage, these letters to my future husband, apparently unappreciated by the husband at hand, served as some nagging note of unfinished business.   At moments when that green folder of carefully hand-written letters should have been far from my mind, I’ve seen it as some mental post-it note of disappointment for marrying a man who just didn’t get it.  Why was it that he couldn’t muster up more words of appreciation?

Lately, I’ve truly realized, it’s me who just didn’t get it.  

Getting “it” means loving your spouse for who they are, not who you wish or hope or plan them to be.   In some ways, Paul happens to be that mysterious man I addressed during late nights when my heart was aching for a companion.  Just as I had written in the letters, we do cook together, walk together, and make plans together.  But, luckily, he’s much more than “Mr. ?” ever was.

I could not  have predicted my husband’s drive for success or his appetite for technology, his dashing date coordinating skills or his common sense parenting. In my writing, I didn’t mention someone who would teach me how to problem solve or show me how to listen. I didn’t envision a beard or the large laugh or the oldest child in a family of twelve. I didn’t write to someone about his teasing, his zest for knowledge, or his spirited story-telling.

The vocation of marriage requires much more than some delicately crafted letters.  Marriage is messy and complicated and downright frightening at times. Clinging to a vision of desired perfection can be quite damaging.  Furthermore damaging is cornering our spouses into boxed-up versions of want we think they should be.  

My letters of love are now in the working of my hands as I make the bed, the finishing of a project started, the midday text message to say hello, and in the changing of a dirty diaper sans complaint.  My words of love are now in the cleaning of my car [before being asked], foot massages, savory steak and potato soup, the bottle of wine for two at home just because, and the problem-solving sessions at the dinner table.  My ever-forming letter of love  is in my playfulness, my tenderness, my forgiveness, and my patience.

Letters to my future husband “were really great”. They were sweet, kind, and something of a fierce kind of love. However, they were much more about impressing Paul with proof of my love than they were about actually loving.  And actual loving must be tailored to fit the actual person.  I’m happy to know more of my husband than I did on that morning when I was huddled on the bed, protective over the surrendering of my words, thoughts, hopes, and plans.

Words can be beautiful, but they must be paired with even greater, grander doses of action.