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.

TheHighCalling.org 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.

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  1. Beautiful! And, by the way, it has many similarities to our story. We relate. We understand. We appreciate. Thanks again Diana.

  2. Yes! We’re at year #20. I feel like you’ve left me a road map for the next 20 years (if we both live that long). I feel the earth shifting, but last week, on our trip, we rocked together.

  3. This is a beautiful, sensitive piece, Diana. Full of love.

    Somewhere in the middle years of marriage and life we fell into “it-will-always-be-this-way” thinking. If I could have one wish, it would be to realize then what I learned later: no it won’t. Life seems to be forever changing.

    After 52 years of marriage I can look back and see many times when I missed appreciating the true joys of marriage and family. They were there. I just took them for granted. I’m thankful I’m still around to make up for some of the missed opportunities! God is good!

  4. Jim, I know we share many similarities in our journey! As always, I appreciate your encouragement.

    Megan, YAY – you had a great time – you rocked! I am so glad. Those times with just the two of you are important when you’re raising kids – so glad you got one.’

    And Carol, yes, ma’am, there’s always bits of regret when looking back. Missed opportunities, laziness,harsh words we wish we could suck right back. But that’s where grace enters, isn’t it? I, too, am grateful for more years to enjoy the gifts of marriage and family.

  5. I love this Diana. We have been married for 45 years too. So much of your story is ours. All the pain, the joy, the growing, the surviving retirement! I love this season of life. To be sure, there are difficulties as our parents age and our bodies do the same – but even so it is a lovely time.

  6. Oh Diana. … I love this peek into your marriage. And my reading experience is enriched by the fact that I’ve had the pleasure of meeting you fine folks.

    I love the writing here. Love how you’ve started your story with the fire, then returned to it. The fire represents the act of love, and the kindling, and the rekindling that it takes in a marriage.

    A rich, rich post here. Beautiful, my friend. Very, very glad you linked up with the “I Do” project.

  7. I am just crying, overwhelmed at your story, your love. And it makes me just cry out to God, “yes! this is where I want to be too years down the road.” I love that your husband recognizes that it’s the little things and that you appreciate them so.

  8. I love to hear these great stories from those who’ve weathered the winds of marriage and found that it has filled their sails! Great post, Diana!

  9. What a great picture of real life love and marriage. It isn’t easy, and you acknowledge that, but the two of you realized it was worth hanging onto and making it work and making it better.
    I’m coming up on 11years in my own marriage and I hope that one day farther on down the road I will have the same kind of story to tell others! Thanks for sharing!

  10. What a beautiful post, Diana! So real and genuine. Year 22 and doing the ups and downs, but we have a good thing going and working on making it better. Love the encouragement!

  11. Thanks for dropping by this week, friends. This one was fairly personal to write and felt a little risky, too. So I’m grateful for the affirmations and kindness.

  12. He tends the fire – you notice and appreciate it. Sacrifice and thanksgiving – so much of what real love is.