a wedding, two macaws, & a three-legged dog – Lauren and Mike’s Costa Rica Wedding

All through the week, I sang “Baby Mine” (remember Disney’s Dumbo?) quietly to myself. We spend a lifetime pulling our children in, protecting, loving, and then, letting them go. It was a beautiful fantasy setting in Costa Rica on a black sand beach where she said her vows. She has spent the better part of her life showing me she how much she loves. Details count to Lauren. It’s the little things she does that make everything special. She doesn’t just sign a Mother’s Day card. She makes it from scratch. She doesn’t just love when it’s convenient. She pours herself out like a drink offering.

This past week, I watched her love her new stepson with a grace that made an indelible print on me. I watched as she became wife and mother in one clean sweep. She asked us both to “give her away.” It was a gift to me to stand beside her at such a moment. As the ceremony started, a three-legged dog hobbled through the gathering. I thought how poignant it was to have a reminder of our imperfections, our incompleteness as we joined two imperfect lives, but two people in love who seek that wholeness. I thought about my job as a mother and prayed I could let go. I thought about the ups and downs that marriage inevitably brings. I thought about their joy this day, and I prayed it would be doubled with each year that passes. As the ceremony ended, two macaws flew over and landed in a nearby tree, as if on cue. The same thing happened at Lindsay’s wedding. At the end of the ceremony, two egrets flew over. Both times the witnesses gasped. Surely God is in this place. And this mom watched and knew God was helping me release them into His more than capable Hands. Blessed life together, Lauren, Mike and Liam. I love you more than words can convey.

together again

Good morning. The armchair psychologist with you today, and since I have had several chats with new blog friends on the good and bad of being empty nesters, I thought I might share a few reasons why I think it works.

I remember panicking the year my youngest was a senior in high school, realizing my only defining job was “mom.” I jumped into classes at the junior college and was embarking on an ambitious career as a psychologist when I realized about halfway through the semester there wasn’t anything I couldn’t do in that department with the degree that I wasn’t doing already. I also realized I would have to work about ten years with the hours I wanted just to pay for the degree. Over the years, I have counseled many women (never being short on opinion) and worked with battered women as an abuse counselor with nothing but reading a lot of professional material on the subject and on-the-job training. Downright scary, isn’t it! Except that I believe that God gave me a ministry to women so He equips me for every good work. It takes different forms at times, but my favorite part is connecting with women and in so doing, pointing to God as Light and Wisdom. So, that said, here’s my little bit of advice for living happily together as empty nesters.

Mike and I have spent the better part of our twenty-seven years raising children—almost twenty-six of those years have been either anticipating or in the throes of full childhood bedlam. Mike is an excellent dad and so he went through almost the same identity crisis as I did when they all moved out. We both were a little lost as to what was next. What we’ve learned after four years of having grown children is this:

  1. Your kids still need you, only in different ways.
  2. A good night’s sleep is an actual possibility again. This goes back to the theory “Out of sight. Out of mind.” You don’t know what time they got in, so you don’t worry (as much.)
  3. Your husband becomes someone you enjoy spending time with again, instead of just someone to help share the load. This is the best part and one we still don’t take full advantage of.
  4. There are plenty of good things that define each day and give it meaning besides the chaos of carpools, calendars, cars, colleges, and crazy moods of teenagers.
  5. To grow, the marriage needs redefining and refining at certain life stage changes, whether it is having a baby, a move, a child leaving home, or retirement.

Back to point # 3, though. Mike and I were just discussing how we had defined most of our lives around what all we did with the kids, including most of our friendships and time spent together having fun. The worst thing that can happen is you both drift apart, and loneliness sets in, not having shared experience. Michael Rierra, in his book, Uncommon Sense for Parents with Teenagers, speaks of shared experiences as the number one risk for teenagers acting out. Rierra states,

“ To understand why certain risky behaviors are worthwhile for adolescents takes a little digging on the part of parents. The main consequence of saying ‘no’ to negative peer pressure is not just withstanding the ‘heat of the moment’ as most adults think. Rather, it is coping with a sense of exclusion as others engage in the behavior and leave the adolescent increasingly alone. It is the loss of shared experience. Further, the sense of exclusion remains whenever the group later recounts what happened. This loneliness then becomes pervasive…”

Though Rierra is talking about risky behavior in teens, I think it applies to marriages. The value of shared experience should not be underestimated. We need time together having fun. It rarely happens automatically. Mike and I have decided to do two new things together this year—small steps, but ones, we hope, with big payoff. We are going to learn how to play bridge with another couple that we don’t know very well yet, and we are going to go to a Bible study together. Just two little things, but with our busy and ever-increasingly distant lives, we need to orchestrate some “together” time, and enjoy a little shared experience again.

unsung heroes

So what’s a girl to do? Twenty-seven years with the same man. How can you be creative and give a nice anniversary present and still have some significance to it? If I reverse it, it is plenty for me to go out to eat and have some meaningful conversation and remember the good times. I like simplicity. But my sweet husband always likes to add all the bells and whistles. That is his love language, so I have to think like he would. I think I’ll write a little note to him—sorry you can’t see that one, but I will finish this blog post with a tribute to my hero, my knight in shining armor.
*****
Often the brunt of the joke on TV now, men have become the “I Love Lucy” doofuses that can’t seem to figure out what is going on in the household to save their tiny pea brains. The savvy wife winks and smiles into the camera and tells him, “Honey, you’ve had your head in a cubicle all day, so let me tell you how life really works.” I am tired of this humor at the expense of men and their dignity. I am tired of men not being men or our perception of them being portrayed in this negative light. Being from Texas, there’s a stereotype of men here, too, that isn’t all that flattering about macho guys who wouldn’t shed a tear if they lost their best horse on roundup day. Neither of these images begin to convey the importance of men in families or give them any credit for all they do.
Yesterday, a friend and I spent a lot of time in the Sprint store trying to get a plan for a zillion minutes and negotiate the best deal with a family plan that serves five cell phones and two broadbands. Don’t ask. They love me. However, that is not where I was headed with this. Israel, our patient assistant, spent literally a couple of hours with us, I later realized, after the store was closed. They were supposed to close at seven, and that is about the time I got there. He never complained. However, his phone rang about three times while we were there, and I was pretty sure it was his wife wondering what day he might return to their abode. He just smiled, and said no problem. I couldn’t help but remember the times I had been upset with Mike when he couldn’t manage to get his tail in the door before 7 or 8 when quitting time was 5:30. And you can be sure, I let him know I wasn’t a happy mama. I don’t think I had any idea how his day had gone that would have caused him to be so late. I wished I could take those times back now, but I’ll let this post serve as a heads up to anyone who reads this and can relate.
My man gets up at the crack of dawn, drives in the Houston gridlock two hours, and tries to solve multi-million dollar problems for a company each day. He deals with all kinds of people and few are out for anything other than themselves. Work is after all, work. He’s the one who, when we were first married and weren’t making it financially each month, took a Saturday job just to pay the bills. He’s the one who took the risks, bore the worry, and stepped up to the responsibility and provided for this family. My girls are going to have a hard time finding husbands because he set the bar so high. One of the things I tried to keep in mind when I was feeling selfish and frankly, lonely, as he worked so hard over the years, was reminding myself what a good father and husband he was. No matter how tired he was, he had time for us. No matter if he felt like doing a project for the kids, or winning Science Fair single-handedly, he was there. I grew up with a teacher mom who taught me to tell the kids “School is your job. Taking care of you is my job.” So I rarely offered extra help with those crazy school projects. But not Mike. He made plaster of paris statues, completely functioning, authentic replicas of volcanoes, and followed the scientific method on neon poster board to the nth degree. He made lunches for the kids when I couldn’t look at bologna at 6 a.m., and he was the one that made the 11 o’clock runs to Walgreen’s to get a folder cover for the reports. He has always been the one to count on, the one who, when mom said no, that you could probably convince otherwise. He’s the back scratcher, the rub-your-back when you feel bad go-to guy, the good-looking Marlborough guy in the commercial in his boots rounding up the cattle in his “spare” time. He’s a dad. The best kind. And he’s a husband. The best I know.
Men are not appreciated enough today. Don’t think they don’t notice. At some point, some say why bother? Others keep at it despite the lack of gratitude. Maybe this post is only for me to remember and appreciate, but in case I’ve struck a nerve, make a point today to tell the man in your life whether it’s your dad, your brother, your son, your boyfriend, or your husband, that you notice what he does and he makes a difference in your life. I’ve got to go pick out something for our anniversary, but it’s my guess that the letter with words of affirmation will be his favorite gift, but I’m probably not thinking like a man.

monday’s marriage musings

In a couple of days, Mike and I will celebrate 27 years of marriage. He’s my best friend and I am privileged to call him mine. Two years ago, a friend asked me to write a letter to a bride-to-be for a book she was giving her guest of honor (great shower idea, by the way.) Below is that letter, with some of my musings of a great marriage. Not perfect by any means, but we’re here and we’re still trying, so that qualifies me to write a little about what I think might have made it work so far…Happy, happy Anniversary, Mike. I love you forever.

Dear (Bride to be),
Thank you for allowing me to reflect on some of my observations through twenty-five years of a great marriage. I am here to tell you that if you knew all that we had been through, you would not describe our marriage as great. But it is great because Mike and I made it through it all so far, and I am confident we will continue to do so. We have a forever kind of pact, a covenant, with each other and God, that even when the going gets tough, we can rest in knowing we will work it out. Thank the Lord, when one of us was unhappy, the other one stepped in and carried the load, or finally let the other one have it to snap out of it. Whichever, it was fine with me because it restored us to a commitment that brought authentic joy. I have a few words of advice to offer as you make this big step before God in just a few days.
I would never stand here before you telling you I have figured it all out. In fact, I am here to tell you that we have attended the “school of hard knocks,” as my mother used to say, and have come out a bit battered and worn for the wear. However, we have come to a wonderful place of peace and trust in our marriage that makes life sweeter and more valuable as part of a whole–one that no human can destroy, for “what therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.”(KJV-Mat. 19:6) One of the things I want you to hear from the bottom of my heart: what I have learned about marriage, I have learned almost exclusively through failures. We just get up and dust ourselves off, and we try again. I believe one of the greatest pieces of wisdom someone once shared with me is that we all move through life one day at a time—our only choice is whether we are going to choose to do it willingly and cheerfully, or if we choose to be miserable. Once you make up your mind that you’re in marriage for the long haul, your only choice is whether you are going to be happy or not. And you are the instrument of change that can make it happen with God’s help. He is on your side and wants to win one for marriage and for you especially, if you will let Him be your guide, and your strength, and your hope.
Marriage is a process of learning more and more the gives and takes of what true relationship requires. It is about loving when you don’t feel like loving, laughing when you feel like crying, and hanging in there when you feel like throwing in the towel. So, who would sign up for this voluntarily? I would, for one–all over again and I would marry the same guy. The greatest joys I have ever known, aside from living a surrendered life to God, are a direct result of Mike’s and my union before Christ. I can honestly tell you that he is my best friend. I am not saying I don’t want to bop him on the head some days, but he is the one who is there for me, who doesn’t always like me, but who has never given up on me. And I am most grateful.
We also have learned a lot about selflessly giving and graciously receiving each step of the way through twenty-five years of relationship. (As I write this, we are only a few days away from celebrating our 25th anniversary of our wedding day.) Amazing what you learn about yourself when you have to share your life with another. If there was no other reason to be married, learning how to have and make relationship is unquestionably one of the most valuable lessons we can learn on this earth. Life was meant to be shared. Learning how to go outside yourself and deal with others on an intimate level, to connect unselfishly, to love, to share, to give, is more about experiencing the fullness of life than any other concept. It is life at its extremes—from the fullness of grace in a honeymoon’s bright future to the bitter disappointment of loss and lost dreams. Marriage is an exciting ride and there are great hills and valleys along the way. Nothing is the same dullness—at least for long. Right when you think you’ve figured one thing out, something else will no doubt come along. Even though there will be difficult times, they don’t have to last. A friend of mine’s favorite verses in the Bible is “And it came to pass…”(mentioned 497 times in KJV) She liked it most that it doesn’t say, “And it came to stay…” Everything has a season. It really is up to you how long God will allow that season to last.
One more point that is a little off the wall, but important for me to share: Marriage has a strange way of revealing intimate details about who you are, and who you have become because of various trials. Those things we think we have dealt with, those things that should be long over, can have a tendency to keep raising their ugly heads until we draw from them what we are meant to learn. Marriage has a way of revealing those little tedious details. Could it be God’s way of growing us? Here is a little secret: Conflict in marriage has redemptive power, but only for those who allow this to be so. It is when you know there is great purpose in conflict that you can accept it better and try to learn from it what you were meant to know.
One final note, perhaps the most important I have learned over the years: It is rarely a conscious move (and often it is one of necessity for the moment,) but sooner or later, we find ourselves continually putting our marriage last on the list, and it takes an enormous toll. Today’s culture teaches us such self-absorbed methods to find ourselves, to find happiness, and to be all we can be, most often at the expense of everyone else. We seek self gratification, self knowledge, self improvement; self indulgence while our families, our relationships, and virtually all that has and gives us true meaning in life suffers. I know this is an old song by now, but it is at the very core of the battle we are facing in finding true joy and satisfaction in our relationships.
Ironically, it is in going outside ourselves that we find our true selves. It is when we stop thinking about our own gain and concentrate on some greater good, some higher cause when we are enabled to find who God meant us to be from the beginning of time. That we could aspire to such heights, to see with clarity that which God has ordained for us and then fulfill it with His holy hand guiding every step, that is authentic understanding of finding ourselves. Did you catch all of that? This is almost bigger than I can give words to. By standing on our tiptoes to try to see as God sees our purpose and plan, then letting Him be the One that enables us to accomplish what He would have us do gives shape and authentic purpose to our existence. In this, we find meaning for our lives, joy of living, and peace. Can you imagine a life where we know the plan (though often only one step of that plan), and our only goal is to do what He would have us do that day? And it would not be too much. We would not be stressed beyond our limits. We would not be too busy. And we would not be self absorbed, but focused on others. We would, as Martha’s sister, Mary, found at Jesus’ feet, be choosing the better part for our lives, for our relationships and for our very souls. (Luke 10:42-43)
(Bride), may it be so with you and (your groom), that you run the whole race, and look back in fifty years, and say, “By God’s grace, we made it with such joy and purpose, with such fruit as children and grandchildren walking in His footsteps, and with each other by your sides. May God continue to anoint you with His fullness of Grace and Mercy, Joy, Health, and the Peace that passes all understanding.

With my prayers for your bright future,
annie

P.S. I placed my address, email, and phone # at the top of this letter for you to know I will be there for you if you need anything to make your marriage better. I am standing with you in prayer and faith for this union before God to be everything He designed. God bless you richly.

And to you, my blogger friend: If you are reading this and need prayers for your marriage, you may leave a comment and I will email you back and will pray for and with you.