Today is not our anniversary. It is not your birthday, or mine, or anyone else’s. There’s no holiday to observe, nothing in particular to celebrate. It is just Wednesday, and I want to tell you something.
To say things have been busy lately–and by lately I mean the last 2-3 years–is an understatement. There may have been a weekend a few months ago in which there was a single day when there were no obligations on our calendar, but I really don’t remember. Tournaments, dental and eye appointments, awards ceremonies, student-led conferences, soccer tryouts, receptions, dinners, parties, weddings, reunions, meetings, family obligations–there has been something every day of every weekend, and several days during the week, for as many weeks as my brain can process. Most recently we spent a total of 18 hours in the car with our kids over a period of five days. You drove all 18 of them, and even though it might have been because you would have been a nervous wreck with me behind the wheel on I-95, it was a relief to give you the helm, literally and otherwise.
I have lamented more than once lately about being the “cruise director” of the family, about how I just want someone else (you) to steer for a while, but at the end of the day, I still have a firm grip on the wheel. It may be habit, and it may be some kind of default setting, and likely it’s a combination of the two, but I am the schedule keeper, the event planner, the organizer, the school form completer. I get the emails from the teachers and the notes about diaper and wipe outages and the reminders about field day and the request for party items and coin donations and Box Tops for Education. I am Girl Most Likely when it comes to stressing over unfolded laundry, animal hair on every surface of our house, lunches and coffee not prepped before bedtime, and the height of our grass. If someone is going to freak out over fitting one more blessed thing into our schedule, it’s me, not you.
Not you. You do not freak out. You just do the one more thing. Every single time. While I am spinning in circles like that little blue Windows orb because I cannot take in any additional information and my processor is about to freeze, you are just doing All The Things. You probably cannot tell me when EOGs start, or each kid’s last day of school, or when we are supposed to send in a trike for “bike day” at the preschool, but in the moments that matter–the moments when the things are actually happening–you are fully engaged, making the coffee, folding the laundry, helping with homework, scrubbing the pasta pot I let boil over (again), no questions asked, with a smile on your face. What is this sorcery? Are you completely content to be sitting here on this uncomfortable wooden bleacher for 45 minutes just to see our daughter stand in front of her peers for 24 seconds to receive a stack of certificates we will fish out of her bookbag later? Yes, you say. Do you mean to tell me you do not mind going to the grocery store every Sunday afternoon while I stay at home and obsess over the cleanliness of our floors? That is correct, you assure me. And do you really not mind wrestling this toddler into clothes every morning, and folding the laundry I abandoned, and picking up cat vomit, and pre-making the coffee at night, and cleaning up after dinner every single evening so I can explain bedtime to our children again and again? I am the happiest I’ve ever been, you say earnestly to me.
I don’t know why this continues to astound me, but it does. I am astounded. It isn’t that I am not happy, because I am. I am overcome with contentment and gratitude, so much so that sometimes I look at photos of you and our kids, or at our actual children playing together in the room with us, and my eyes spontaneously fill with tears. This thing we have is better than I ever imagined family life could be. It far exceeds any expectation of parenting and marriage that I ever had. But sometimes my long-ago-conditioned expectations surface, low and pathetic and teeming with dysfunction, and I see something like disappointment on your face, because you know. You know I am falling prey to some scene I replay in my mind over and over, where there is nothing but anger and resentment and yelling and crying, scenes from an old movie I should have tossed in the garbage years ago. You know there’s a voice in my head telling me if I can just keep our house clean and our kids calm and our conversation light, if I can just stop buying things we don’t need, if I can make sure you have the down time you crave, the extra hour at work for that new thing you’re doing, the right amount of sleep every night–if I can just be good, if I can just chill out, if I can just worry less and say only what needs to be said–then that movie won’t become our movie. You allow me to play this fuzzy tape, and then you gently remind me that none of that matters, that it will never be our movie, that those will never be our roles, that we are shooting our own beautiful story every single day. I remain astounded, but mostly in the best possible way.
I have long been trained to fear the consequences of my actions, and by fear I mean imagine every possible negative result of saying what’s on my mind, or doing what I feel is best, or expressing an adverse opinion, or even having an off day–but you shatter this thought process to bits daily by providing the same outcome regardless of how petty or cranky or downright wrong I might actually be: you love me. Not only that, you forgive me when I screw up, and you try to understand my point of view, and–AND!–you never hold anything against me, ever, even when I remain sulky and irritable for any number of reasons. There have been entire relationships in my past that hinged on my “good behavior,” my willingness to be agreeable and go with the flow and not make waves, but you seem to be perfectly fine with a little surfing now and then. How phones work–the seemingly mysterious way a voice can find its way from one device to another 2000 miles away–is less of a mystery to me than you are (and I cannot stress how baffled I am by the transmission of radio waves my iPhone performs when I make a call). Sometimes when I’m feeling particularly reflective, I wonder if there’s not some part of me testing these waters intentionally, pushing you just a little to see how much you will tolerate. I’m not talking divorce-worthy behavior here, just the kinds of things I’ve been crucified for in past lives: disagreeing with you, for example, or asking you to stop doing something annoying, or going out with friends while you stay at home and care for our kids. Not only do you let me “get away” with these things, but you seem to encourage them. It’s like you think they are some kind of normal behavior! It’s like they aren’t even issues.
Of course they aren’t, you tell me. This is how it’s supposed to be. Still, I am awed by it, by you, by this strange new normal in which I find myself. If there’s anything that really wears on you, it is my perpetual belief that I might screw this up somehow. Do all happily married couples enjoy this level of love and acceptance, or are you just particularly awesome? You are fond of telling me it’s the latter, but I have a sneaking suspicion that this really is how love is supposed to work.
There is a metaphor in the Bible that has always made me a little antsy, in which Jesus is referred to as a “bridegroom” and his church as the “bride.” My observations of marriage lent me this interpretation: God (and by association, Jesus) is quick to get angry when we step out of line, as a church or as individuals; there will be consequences for our actions, and we’d better do everything in our power to prove ourselves if we want back into the Lord’s good graces. In every relationship there is dominance and weakness; dominance prevails, weakness cowers. Is it any wonder I got Baptized as a child out of sheer terror of God’s wrath?
Much later in my life I was taught a different, more Biblically sound story of Jesus and his infinite grace: instead of condemnation and disdain when we stumble like the humans we are, He helps us up and and invites us to try again, to move forward so that we might not keep stumbling over that particular obstacle–and He waits as long as it takes for us to figure it out. Go figure. In giving Himself to us as the ultimate sacrifice, He bound Himself to us forever and became devoted to having a relationship with us. Made a vow, you might say, like the kind couples make on their wedding day. Even though the Bible spells it out pretty clearly, the way Jesus wipes our slate clean and does not punish us for those things we’ve already been forgiven for, and the way He encourages us to become more like Him instead of expecting us to suddenly be exactly like Him, I confess that I never fully bought it. I have spent much of my life worrying over past screw-ups and fretting over bad decisions with more fervor than I have ever celebrated being forgiven.
If I’m being totally honest, I approached you, and our marriage, in much the same way: so many of my thoughts in our first years together–and sometimes even now–were wrapped in fear rather than joy. What will happen when he finds out about all these flaws? What will he think of me? Will he hit the road and not look back? But you did not stop sending the message that your devotion was–is–unwavering. I didn’t know this was possible, and then suddenly I was living it. Me, a serial screw-up, dragging years of issues and bad decisions along behind me, being loved wholly and without condition by my husband. And then it hit me. I had been looking at the metaphor of the bridegroom from the Bible from the wrong side. Maybe the Bible isn’t suggesting that God’s love for us is like marriage (from my previously limited perspective); maybe Jesus is suggesting that our marriages, and even our friendships and relationships with our children, should be like God’s love for His people: overflowing with patience, forgiveness, unconditional love, grace so deep it never ends. Suddenly it made so much more sense to me–thanks to you.
I talk often about how my life will probably always be a series of lessons on waiting, because I can’t seem to grasp the necessity of letting go of my plans in favor of a more suitable, more divine blueprint, and our marriage has been no exception to this curriculum. Yes, obviously we had to wait a long time to find each other, but more significantly, you wait for me every day–to come to my senses, to remember who I am, to remember who you are, to entertain all the horrible possibilities and doomsday scenarios and then come back around to the one thing I know for sure: here with you, in our crazy-busy-messy life, safe in the shelter of the kind of love Jesus meant for us to share, on a perfectly random Wednesday, is right where I am meant to be.