The myth of happily ever after

Three years ago today, I married the love of my life. I celebrated by taking both children to a WIC appointment by myself, then to the doctor so my 2-year-old could be diagnosed with ringworm, then to two grocery stores, where said 2-year-old threw a fit by throwing groceries out of the cart, all in 90-degree heat. And that was all before noon. Now, both kids are in bed, presumably asleep, and I’m dripping sweat onto the computer as I consider how to spend the rest of the evening. I’m tempted to just go to bed. I could use the sleep. But the house my husband so lovingly cleaned for us before we returned home is a tornadic disaster, and we’ve only been back one full day. Ah, life with children.

Aforementioned 2-year-old is showing a wild, independent streak. Tonight, she put her own supper away. (Miraculously, none of it ended up on the floor.) And she insisted on feeding her brother, not yet 6 months old, by herself. Needless to say, we were all a sticky mess after that was over.

Does anyone think this is what their life will be like when they get married? Toys strewn across the floor. Stepping over said toys on the floor. Stubbing toes on toys you forgot were on the floor. (This happened more than once tonight.) Wolfing down dinner because everyone, including the baby, is hungry at the same time. An hour or more to run errands that by yourself would take 15 minutes. Craving adult companionship while your husband is surrounded by friends, colleagues and brothers and sisters in Christ.

I promise, I’m not depressed. I can’t imagine not having my kids around, even if I sometimes can imagine what life would be like without them. I’m occasionally jealous of married couples who get to take a weekend to celebrate their anniversary. Since we’ve been married, I think our biggest celebration has been dinner and a movie. It’s OK. It’s life. It’s where we’re at. I know someday we’ll be able to do something special, and the time between now and then won’t seem long at all.

Three years isn’t a lot of time to gain wisdom about marriage and relationships, but I gave up the “Happily Ever After” myth a long time ago. People talk about the honeymoon phase. In some ways, I’m not sure we ever had that. But I certainly don’t view weddings the same as I did before I was married. I used to cry because I so badly wanted to be married. Now, I sit in the pew and think, do they have any idea how much work this is? I’m sure I’ll be real popular in any premarital counseling Phil and I do together.

But it’s true: Marriage is hard work. And I don’t think that ever stops. I know some marriages don’t last five years, and I wonder if some of those people were deceived about how much work goes into making a marriage … work. As I told a bride-to-be recently, some of the best pre-wedding wisdom I ever received was that marriage is not a 50-50 partnership; it’s 100-100. We don’t give half of what we are and the other person gives half of what they are. We both give everything we have to each other and to the relationship. I guess for some people that’s too much.

Enough rambling. I think my brain was melted by the heat today. All I really wanted to say was that I love my husband more today than three years ago, and different than I did then, and if we had to get married again, and I knew what I know now, I’d do it again in a heartbeat. God picked the perfect man for me, although he, and I, both are far from perfect.

Maybe happily ever after isn’t so much a myth but a distortion because I’m certainly happy in my marriage, but it’s not a no-problems-everything’s-perfect kind of happy.

It’s a satisfying, real-life, kind of happy. No castles, no fairy godmothers, just two people, madly in love, working out that love day after day.


There’s no place like home

Aren’t they cute? OK, so I’m biased. But I thank God for these two squirmy, can’t-sit-still-for-a-second, bundles of energy, every day. Especially today. They’re total troopers. After two days of traveling, riding in a car, strapped in their seats, with not much entertainment except a DVD player for the 2-year-old and a few toys and a taggie blanket for the baby, they’re both sound asleep in their own beds, in their own room. I’m soon to follow, if the caffeine I ingested all afternoon works its way out of my system.

Even with our stuff still a little out of place, it’s good to be home. Our own beds. Our own schedules. Our own comforts. Our own quirks, like the living room lamp that suddenly switches itself on and off every few minutes. And the shower that runs REALLY hot for a few seconds then turns ice cold for 10 minutes then warms up to a tolerable temperature, if you make it that long in the shower.

I missed these things, and others, while we were visiting family. And now that I’m here, I miss things about there. Constant companionship. Emotional support. A stocked fridge. (Grocery shopping here is scheduled for tomorrow.) I even miss the dumb dog a little bit.

Maybe I should feel blessed to have two places that I love so much. Actually, this is the third place we’ve lived as a couple. Although we didn’t stay long in the last town we lived in, we made lifelong friends and our daughter was born there, so it, too, holds a special place in our hearts. I knew going into this journey toward pastoral ministry that settling in wasn’t necessarily part of the deal. Some pastors stay in one place for a long, long time. Others, not so much. I think we’re in the latter category. Not that we’re short-timers by any means, but I don’t think we’ll spend 25 years at one church. God could change that, but that’s how I see it now. So, this leaving pieces of ourselves all over the country is just getting started. Our son was born here, and we are making lifelong friends again. This, too, will be one of many “homes” we have along the way.

There’s a song by Andrew Peterson, “Venus,” that really touches my husband and me (one of many of his, really) and while it’s descriptive of Peterson’s call to Christian music ministry, we can identify with it as future full-time pastoral ministers. Part of the lyrics are:

“Well I’ve never seen the spirit wind,
But I have seen the tall grass bend
So I’ll follow it wherever it may bring us
And as long as I’ve got songs to sing
I hope somebody’s listening
‘Cause we can always find a home right here between us”

Looking at those kids above, and thinking of my husband, I know that “home,” for now, will always be where they are. Ruby slippers or not, there really is no place like it.

Worlds Apart

It’s bed time. My daughter is screaming her head off downstairs in the bed that’s been hers for the last four weeks. She insists she’s not tired. I insist she is. I’m not sure who wins when I walk away feeling like a bad mother who is torturing her child while she screams and cries herself to sleep.

Inside, I know how she feels, and part of me wants to throw a fit, too. In two days, we’ll be headed back to Pennsylvania, our present home, after spending a month in Illinois, our past home. And it’s not that I don’t want to go back; it’s just that I feel like I’m being ripped in two again.

We went to a first birthday party tonight for my cousin’s son. Family get-togethers are rare for us. We usually make it home for Christmas; occasionally for my husband’s family reunion. Otherwise, for the last two years, we’ve missed a lot of family functions. I was almost giddy to be able to participate.

In the last month, I was able to celebrate Mother’s Day with my mom, my mother-in-law and my grandma. We had cake and ice cream as a family for my birthday. Dinner with my aunt, uncle and cousin. Lunches with Phil’s parents. Park days with my brother-in-law and sister-in-law. A day in Chicago with my brother. Breakfast and dinner with my parents most days.

Those are just the memories with blood relatives. I have as many with friends and like-family.

As our daughter gets older, and more attached, the leaving gets harder. She’ll ask for Nana and Papa for days. She’ll wonder when we’re going to MeeMaw and PaPaw’s house. She’ll want to go to the park with Uncle Zach and Aunt Charlotte or see the fishies with Uncle Chris. And my heart will tear a little more when I tell her why we can’t do those things.

But we have to leave. We have a house. And jobs. And responsibilities. And church family. And friends. We have a life in Pennsylvania, too. A life God has called us to. A life we can’t turn our backs on because if we did, we’d end up like Jonah — running from a God who always knows where to find us and how to get our attention, who relentlessly pursues us with His love, who knows what is best for us.

Still, sometimes I’m angry. Or confused. And I wonder why God would do this. Why would He take us so far from family to accomplish His purpose in our lives? Why cause so much sorrow when we have to part? Why call us to this path?

When I voice those cries, He simply says, “Trust me.” Like I know that sleep is beneficial for my daughter’s growth and well-being, He knows that this time of our lives is necessary to make us who He wants us to be.

These verses from Luke are the theme of our journey thus far.

“Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: ‘If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple. And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.'” (Luke 14:25-27, NIV)

Hate? That’s such a strong word, but that’s how I think it must look to people when we pick up and leave, taking our parents’ only two grandchildren more than 700 miles away. Fortunately, none of our parents would say that of us. In some way, they must understand why we’re doing what we’re doing. If so, maybe they could help me understand.

I fear that someday I’m going to lose it on a well-meaning congregant. Someone is going to criticize something we’re doing (practically a given) or will want us to change who we are (probable) or expect us to do or be something we aren’t (also likely), and I’m just going to want to scream, “Do you know how much we’ve sacrificed for you?” That’s how it plays out in my head, anyway. I don’t think I’d ever actually say it that way out loud.

Sacrifice isn’t a competition. We all give up something to follow Jesus. I guess I’m just feeling the weight of it more these days.

This whole divided heart issue (wanting to be in Illinois while at the same time wanting to be in Pennsylvania) is a vivid reminder of the daily struggle we, Christians, have between the spirit and the flesh, heaven and earth.

One of my favorite Jars of Clay songs is “Worlds Apart.” It musically illustrates for me the pull between two worlds. Some of the lyrics that touch me the most are:

“I am the only one to blame for this
Somehow it all ends up the same
Soaring on the wings of selfish pride
I flew too high and like Icarus I collide
With a world I try so hard to leave behind
To rid myself of all but love
to give and die

“All said and done I stand alone
Amongst remains of a life I should not own
It takes all I am to believe
In the mercy that covers me

“Did you really have to die for me?
All I am for all you are
Because what I need and what I believe are worlds apart”

Really, I could have quoted the whole song. If my life had a theme song, I think this would be it.

My daughter’s asleep now, I think. No more crying and screaming, anyway. She gave in to what she needed.

So, too, shall I.

The rest of the story

Sorry to leave you hanging. As you can imagine, it’s been a busy couple of days. My husband, indeed, returned to us on Sunday night, and we’ve been visiting family and friends ever since. We’re currently in a hotel in Mattoon, one day of visiting here down, one to go. My whole family is sleeping, finally. Isabelle didn’t nap today and her overtired self resisted any attempts at sleep. Corban put himself to sleep while all of that was going on, and my husband succumbed to sleep at some point, too. He deserves it. He didn’t sleep much in the days leading up to his return.

Me, I’m not even tired. OK, that’s probably not true. I’m probably overtired, too. But snuggled in a hotel bed with a toddler and a gigantic five-month-old is not conducive to sleep for me. After too much time staring at the blinking smoke alarm light on the ceiling, I find myself here, unsure what to say, but needing to say something. And hoping that my body will shut itself down soon and I’ll be able to get a few hours of sleep.

I wanted to tell you about how separation from my husband helps me understand my relationship with Jesus better. When Phil was in Iraq, almost five years ago now, we had to learn how to develop a relationship while not in each other’s physical presence. I think it’s easy to take relationships for granted when you see the person a lot or are with them much of the time. When he came home from Iraq, even though I knew he was on his way, it wasn’t really real until I could hug him and see him.

This is what my relationship with Christ is like. I know He’s there. We have lines of communication open. I know He loves me. But until I see Him face to face, until I can touch Him, my faith will be just faith, not reality.

Living by faith is hard. Loving people is hard. Life in general is hard. But in the blink of an eye, it all changes. When I saw my husband again after three weeks, I didn’t feel like we’d been apart at all.

May it be so when I finally see my Jesus.

Sweet home, Chicago

Day 21. We spent the day in Chicago with my brother and his girlfriend. I forget how much I love Chicago until I’m there again. We had lunch at a place my brother frequents, Broadway Cellars, and then went to Shedd Aquarium so Isabelle could see the “fishies.” She’s been talking about that for weeks now.

No matter how far away we live, no matter what other cities are nearby and what attractions they offer, Chicago will always feel like home. The sights are recognizable. I have memories from childhood to adulthood of visiting museums, shopping, hanging out with friends, eating, and riding the Metra and the “L.” All that was missing today was my husband. He loves Chicago, too, and half or more of those memories were made with him.

He rejoins our family tomorrow. He missed Chicago by a day. But in the spirit of good Cubs fans, which we are, there’s always next time.

How do I spell relief? H-U-S-B-A-N-D

Day 20. Maybe that title dates me. If you remember the old Rolaids commercial, you’re probably getting old, too.

Both kids were especially needy today, and even though we had a lot of time with family, there still didn’t seem to be enough of me to go around. I kept thinking of something my husband said just after Corban was born and we were learning how to parent two children. He said he appreciated the fact that having two kids meant we had to work together more for their care.

We’re like a tag team, sometimes. Especially at bed time. If I’ve had Corban all day, he’ll take him while I get Isabelle ready for bed. Or, if Corban’s particularly needy and I’m feeding him, Phil will take the Isabelle bed time routine. It works the same with diaper duty, meals and the occasional potty training. I’m so blessed to have a husband who helps.

Right now, though, I feel like I’m in the ring, trying to fend off two wrestlers by myself because my partner is MIA.

No matter how tired either of us is, there’s always a small sense of relief when we can split up the kid duties.

I hope he’s ready to tag in.


Day 19. These last few days seem the hardest. Even though the kids and I have kept busy with outings and visits, with still more planned between now and Sunday, I’m just plain old worn out. If this were a marathon (and by the way, I am not, nor do I ever see myself being, a runner), I’d be nearing the finish line, wondering if I could make it to the end. Sometimes I think I don’t have the mental toughness for such endurance.

When my husband (then my fiance) was in Iraq, I thought of our relationship in terms of a huge rubber band. Each of us was standing on one side of it, and the farther apart we were geographically, the more our relationship was stretched. Sometimes it seemed like it was so tight it was going to snap. But we held on and eventually, we came back together, stretched but tighter somehow.

I’m feeling stretched again. I’m glad I don’t have to go on this way indefinitely. I’m desperately hanging on for Sunday, hoping I won’t be too exhausted to enjoy being together.

Hoping, too, that once again, our relationship will be stronger because we were stretched.