I just watched an old home video with my kids from 2001, from before I was married, when my now husband and his friend, Jerry, and I went backpacking in Yosemite. My pre-teen declared that my husband and I were both much cuter back then. You can thank kids for their raw honesty.
And while I agree, I also think the video shows us being sweet to each other and laughing a lot, largely as those two guys counted, filmed and teased me every time I marched off to the back side of a tree to pee. And seeing all this reminds me of how nervous I was, having never backpacked before, and how I was hoping I could prove I could do it, to myself and to my then boyfriend…
And that video has me thinking, What takes this young love and makes it a great marriage years later?
For us, it seems there are a few bits of wisdom that have moved us along… two truths and a lie… that have made us strong. So I’m offering them up, in hopes that someone else might benefit, too.
Truth Number 1: I married well.
I want to say that I brilliantly chose my husband, but the truth is that at the age of 24 in the Pasadena City Hall courtyard, I had a ‘define the relationship’ talk with a boy I though was cute and fun and adventurous and knew Jesus, and he became my boyfriend. Ta-Da! That was my criteria… cute, fun, adventurous, and knows Jesus. That combo made for great dates.
Yet, it is not what I would need most for a successful marriage and a good life. This sounds so un-romantic, but hard-working, resourceful, patient, flexible, and reliable are what I have needed and appreciated over these years. We share all our money and all our holidays… he’s my permanent roommate and is forever the other person my kids spend the most time with. But none of that was on my mind when we dated. It’s shocking to consider how little I thought about how his cleanliness, eating habits, sleeping routine, family traditions, bank account, shopping rituals and grooming patterns and so on and so on would become my world…
For me, I got lucky and my husband is terrific, but rolling the dice isn’t how I recommend you approach making big life decisions. If I could, I would wish for those in the young love stage to take lots of time in dating, more time then they think they need, to discover if the other is the partner they will need for life’s tough moments and for all the mundane days.
Truth number 2: …Love your neighbor as yourself.
Part of the magic for us is that we try to say ‘yes’ as often as we can to each other. We want to be each other’s cheerleaders as we chase our dreams and fulfill our callings, and that applies for everyone in the family… we are obstacle course racers, and horseback riders, and Lego builders, and photo takers, and Halloween lovers, and champions of celebrations and sleepovers and pizza and accruing airline miles and wearing our pajamas. All of us are not about all of these things but we do our best to say ‘yes’ as much as we can and find a rhythm so that everyone gets a big slice of theirs. We say ‘yes’ to letting the other go do their thing and we say ‘yes’ to helping to make it happen, whatever that means… And then we show up as their biggest fan!
We also say ‘no’ and lower our standards in a host of other ways, hoping to streamline our priorities. Our floors are messy most of the time. Our dinner menus are on repeat. We pass on events that we feel pressured to go to because we ‘should’ and this allows us space to rest and it offers each other grace.
We believe that when Jesus said ‘love your neighbor as yourself,’ part of your neighborhood includes the person in the bed next to you. Of course, we must lift up and support our fellow humans wherever they are, but we can slip into neglecting the needs of our own family, as much as we can ignore our broken world. I can see dark forces using both as a trap to keep us from being all whom God called us to be.
And the lie: Blame Jerry
I’m not sure who started it or when, but years ago we started blaming Jerry. Our dear friend Jerry, who coordinated the night we met, who we backpacked with when we dated, and who now lives in Zimbabwe as a missionary to street youth,.. he takes the brunt of our mistakes. From an ocean away, we curse Jerry. Who ate all the cliff bars? Jerry! Who spilled on the carpet? Jerry! Who lost my keys? Jerry! Who moved the cell phone chargers? Jerry! Who made our car insurance go up? Jerry! Who forgot to get a baby-sitter? Jerry!
From the big deals to the every day glitches, we blame Jerry. Sometimes we don’t know whose fault it is and sometimes we know exactly who should be on the chopping block. It’s human nature to want to find fault, but it doesn’t help to shame the other. We need to move on towards solutions. And so we blame our always well-meaning, living-on-another-continent friend, who clearly is never the problem. This may seem ridiculous, but it works for us. It takes the tension away and gets us to starting new.
If you don’t have a beloved far away, never at fault, friend that you can curse, I give you permission to blame Jerry, as well. It would make him happy to know he’s saving marriages around the globe. And, to Jerry, and his new bride Tatenda, Eric is ready and willing to be the problem in all your missteps too.