I get asked often, a lot actually, just exactly how Hubs and I have made it for as long as we have... dare I say, happily? I find myself taken a bit back by this. We've been together for 14 years this year. And honestly... it doesn't feel like its been more than 5- tops.
We didn't have a magical "wedding" per say. We exchanged pre written vows in slacks at my parents church with his parents and our first born as a witness 14 years ago on a Black Friday. The most magical thing about that day was the sale price we got on a TV and the 3 hour nap I got after we got home! And that was that. So maybe that is a big reason why? We didn't start out $50k in the hole and stressed or hungry? Well not stressed is a bit of a reach. 19, newlyweds and new parents is stressed. But at least we weren't in debt and full. Our focus was solely on the relationship and not the wedding.
One day soon, I'd love a vow renewal and a reception to celebrate. But I've requested we wait until babies are done being formed and birthed and nursed. I want a banging dress and photos.
I think the reason this question is often asked of us is primarily due to our young ages (both early 30's), the family size and close ages, and the fact that we were high school sweethearts and had our first babe the year following graduation. We started out with a lot of cards that society here in America would deem unfavorable and would typically push us into a staggering and sad demographic.
Our upbringings were vastly different, but both good. So no crazy trauma that would have driven us to each other far before our time. We just kind of found each other when we weren't looking. It also helped that he was so very, very tall and cute to look at.
We met my sophomore year of high school, his junior, and the rest is history. Truly. Once we decided we were together, we were together. We didn't do the on again off again song and dance you find with more dramatic teens. I think he was a tad bit more committed that I for the first year or two. But by my senior year, I knew, we were meant to be. And that's just how we've been with and for each other. Constant, faithful, steady.
So here we are 14 years, 8 children (6 Earth side and 2 in Heaven), several moves, multiple career re-directions, several personal hurdles and relational hurdles, paradigm shift after paradigm shifts later. Still going strong.
I find I ponder a little deeper why that baffles people. I know that I am blessed beyond all earthly reason to have a partner that loves God more than me, who protects me and my heart so fiercely. Who is a fully given and present father. Who works harder and longer than anyone I know. Who is always willing to grow and adapt and make changes without compromising his integrity or personal convictions. And I know he would say the same of me. But I must admit. We choose each other and to commit to each other daily. We choose to allow our marriage to reflect the love of Jesus at all times and in all situations. And if ever there is a moment it doesn't, we are quick to repent and make it right. We choose to place the Lord above each other, because by year 5 we learned quickly, we wouldn't make it if we didn't.
We don't simply stay all giggly puppy-love status through the years. Even though his kisses still make my heart race and my palms sweat.... that's not what I would describe our love to feel like when he is holding me on the floor; a broken mess and bleeding during a miscarriage. Or raging like a lunatic because anxiety has crept in and I can't rationally make sense of things. Or when he is being a total doo-doo-ball and has filed through every last nerve I have.... No our love and bond is something different. It's becoming more and more the reflection of Christ's love for the church. It is something sacred and holy. It's become a safe space of perspective on what we should see when we look at God.
Protection. Agape, unconditional love. Dying to selfish desire to love better and more deeply the person in front of you. Understanding when you feel overwhelmed and misunderstood. Like Faith Hill's old song.... "like a lighthouse needs the sea, and Oklahoma needs the rain".
Our relationship has taken on many different dynamics, but one thing has remained true of them all. We've vowed to choose each other and "to love and prefer the other to self". That takes work, my friends. So when I'm asked how we've made it as long as we have that has become my answer. We've chosen to work at it. We have determined to love each other in the best way we can, most honorably representing the love of Jesus to the other.
So since we've chosen to choose each other, what are some practical ways we've made each other a priority?
Well, for starters, Jesus first. Always. If we love the way He loves, we love well and unconditionally. And that is a good foundation for a solid marriage in our books.
Also, Mama is always on Daddy's team and Daddy is always on Mama's team. The kids, while they are the air I breathe and the embodiment of my heart outside of my chest, will never be allowed to put me against their father or the other way around. Because see, when we are old and gray, and they are grown and gone, it is just him and I in this house we built. Living in the life we choose for ourselves. I don't want to sit next to a stranger, I wanna rock with my best friend.
We still date each other. And no. That doesn't mean we always leave the house. Many years we've spent too broke to leave the kids and go out to enjoy each other's company. And while early on that felt depressing and like we were hurting ourselves long term, those years we spent on the cusp of destitution, were truly the biggest gift to our marriage. It made us realize that dating doesn't always mean going out. Front porches and a cup of coffee are virtually free, and dreaming doesn't cost a thing! So we have made it a point to most nights, carve out time to sit and chat or dream together. Some days we will feed the kids first and send them to bed, then in the still quiet of the night by candle light we will eat dinner.
And when we need a change of scenery or some spontaneity we will call in the grandparents or a sitter for a few hours to get out of the house and have fun. We keep it simple and laid back. I love these nights away for a bit, but I cherish all my minutes with my man.
We kiss often. Not nearly as much as he would prefer, but often. I try to hold his hand when we sit by each other and we hug throughout our days. Physical intimacy is not just intercourse for us. It's the little moments of making contact that have helped so much. I am not a toucher at all, so it requires a conscious choice on my end to touch. So I have to read body language to know when his love tank needs a bit extra some days more than other. And I am a time and service lover. So all he needs to do is listen to my crazy rants and he knows exactly what I need more of (I think he got the easy end of the deal). But the thing is that we spent time and continue to learn what the other needs as we grow older and mature in different ways.
We help each other find space to be ourselves. We encourage each other to develop individually and pursue dreams and goals that may not always directly include ourselves in that mixture. For example, our move to Birmingham was in support of me wanting to go to Bible College and live somewhere new. The Lord confirmed the move, but hubs definitely supported my desires and dreams knowing full well it was placing a ton of extra weight on him for a few years. I have and will do the same for him. If he wants to do something that requires me to pick up some extra work load around the home, I'm for it. So long as it doesn't fully take the other away from the unit and remove the ability to spend time together with each other, the kids, and the Lord, then we cheer the other on wildly! We aren't afraid to loose the other because at this point, we are just too invested. We don't compete with each other. If he wins, I win... and the same is true of the opposite. So we never desire to see ourselves higher than the other. That is toxic and simply not going to be permitted within the safe space of our relationship. Best better believe I'm charging rent on that property on Park Street though (Cough, cough, I won that family game night fair and square).
We pray together. Hands down, the most intimate thing we do together is pray. Every vulnerable thought or desire or need or moments of repenting, we bring before the Lord together. When we feel friction or disconnect in our relationship, it can always be pin pointed to a miscommunication or a lack of communication with each other, or with the Lord with each other. So if you're struggling with intimacy- go for the root and start praying together.
Family doesn't come between us. In laws on either side have boundaries. We love them, and we love time with them. We literally put a house in their pasture.... BUT, we come before them every time. Same is true of friendships. We determined long ago that if we don't have time for each other, than we are in horrible debt, and that means we can't deposit into other people what we have not for one another within the bounds of our nuclear unit or marriage. Time is a resource; a currency in our home. So if the time spent causes drama or steals peace, we don't engage or permit it within our safe space. Even if it's our own mothers. Want to talk about awkward conversations- totally. But are they necessary and essential to the survival of your marriage- totally.
It also helps to appreciate and genuinely like the other person! And that we very much so do. We've grown into completely different people than when we met after baseball practice so many, many years ago. And for that I am so thankful. To have been witness to our individual and relational evolution has been nothing short of breath taking to watch unfold. When I stop and remember who HE is, and who Hubs is, it makes me fall in love all over again.