“The Friendship You Share is Priceless”

It’s our 36th anniversary today. 36 years of marriage to a person I will never fully understand, but who fits in my life like he is the missing puzzle piece.

Yesterday I had coffee with my friend Ava, the first coffee I’ve had with a friend since February. It was amazing to sit inside a cafe, talking together and enjoying the coffee and the company.

I mentioned to her that my anniversary was today – 36 years to the same man. Ava is much younger than I am and has been through more in her young life then I will ever understand. But she looked at me and said beautiful and encouraging words over our marriage.

The friendship you share is priceless.

She went on to talk a bit about what she has observed in our marriage. It was deeply encouraging. Ava is part of our pandemic pod and we have seen her more than we have seen anybody else in these past months. She has seen us in our good and our bad, has observed us through the stress of sadness and death and the unknown of a virus that has changed the world.

Sometimes you need an outsider to help you discern and understand the beauty of something you take for granted. Outside eyes see ingredients that you may have placed on a back shelf and bring them forward, helping you to marvel about all you can make and do with this gift. All the ingredients that western cultures say you need for marriage perhaps account for only a fraction of the lasting value of friendship.

“The friendship you share is priceless….” for what truly makes for the ingredients of a lasting friendship and a brave marriage? I don’t know for others, but for us I’ll give it a try.

Mix one cup of detail with one cup of spontaneity, add a few teaspoons of bitter with a full cup of sweet, a pinch of disaster with a few tablespoons of crisis. Pour in 18 homes and four countries. Mix with four international moves and three job losses. Add in a swiss watch and a sun dial. Mix with faith and a strong cup of the Jesus Prayer. Add 36 years of adventure, a whole lot of 6-second kisses, and some sleepless nights.

Bake at whatever temperature you want. Frost with five children and two (so far) grandchildren. Serve with a fusion of Pakistani, Middle-Eastern, Kurdish, and Southern food. Eat with friends and family from around the world.

And there you have it. Happy Anniversary to my Love. We are brave friends in a brave marriage, and that by God’s wonderful grace and love.

On 35 Years of Marriage

We get to the Athens Central station early but already it is filled with travelers. We look around at crowds of Greeks on their way to Thessaloniki or other stations along the way to celebrate Nativity.

A train security man, zealous for our safety, periodically walks the yellow line along the platform, presumably shouting at all of us in Greek to not, under any circumstances, walk into that yellow line. We dutifully comply.

We stand and I look at my husband as he leans against a pole, our train tickets in hand. I smile, overwhelmed with a sense of great love for this joy-filled, fun, adventurer that I have married. He grins back and I capture the picture.


It is this picture and event that I remember as I wake up to our 35th wedding anniversary. Though it is six months after the train ride, it captures what this year and our married life has been. This is us – the grin, the train tickets, the sparkle of adventure that we see in each other’s eyes, the luggage, the chaos, the jostling, the unknown.

35 years ago we said “I do” to all of this and so much more. Would any of us say the words “I do” if we knew what was ahead? Perhaps that is the beauty and mystery of marriage – that despite all the mistakes, all the failed marriages, all the hurt that can happen, there still emerges this splendid hope that two people can combine intimacy with individuality and make it.

My faith tells me this is more than a man-made institution, that there is a spiritual mystery beyond understanding that undergirds these fragile vows made in the beauty and unwrinkled days of youth.

Though promised in innocence, they have matured in the fire of life and emerged from that fire scarred but worthy. Worthy of celebrating, worthy of announcing, and worthy of remembering and looking ahead.

It was a year ago that we made the seemingly radical decision to upend our life in Cambridge and step into the unknown. Many of you have followed us on that journey and its unexpected ending. The year has been a paradox with some of the most difficult situations accompanying some of the best. The year mirrors marriage – the good, the hard, the sad, the lonely, the loss, the bargaining, and the acceptance. Unexpected joy and unanticipated grief met together, and we are still reeling in the aftermath.

But today, we forgot all that in a near perfect celebration.

We spent the day with our oldest daughter, an example of the grace that comes with adult children. She is here with her young family and we spent the day in sunshine and the relaxation that only a perfect summer day in Rockport can bring. The wonder and excitement of a three-year-old and the miracle of a seven-month-old punctuating our time with appropriate exclamation marks of joy.

We completed it with a balcony dinner of clams and linguini made by our daughter, accompanied by a perfect white wine.

As the sun set over the Atlantic Ocean, God’s stamp of approval came with the sunset and a sky painted in blues, greens, purples, pinks, and oranges.

This indeed, is us.

“Mawage is Wot Bwings us Togeder” Thoughts on 34 Years of Mawage

 

“Mawage. Mawage is wot bwings us togeder tooday. Mawage, that bwessed awangment, that dweam wifin a dweam… And wuv, tru wuv, will fowow you foweva… So tweasure your wuv.”

In the beloved classic Princess Bride, there is a wedding scene where the villain, Prince Humperdinck, is attempting to rush his marriage to Princess Buttercup. Like the rest of the film, the scene is funny with a questionable priest talking about “Mawage and twu wuv”, a coerced princess, and an egotistical prince. It’s all part of what makes a fabulous fairy tale satire.

Mawage brought my husband and I together 34 years ago. It was a glorious sunny day in Chicago, neither too hot nor too cold – just perfect. And unlike the fictitious Buttercup, I wanted to be there. My farm boy’s name was Cliff, and he wasn’t the quiet “as you wish” type.

We celebrated with people from Cyprus, Lebanon, Greece, Pakistan, Turkey, Palestine, Israel, Saudi Arabia, China,Taiwan, and the United States. At one point we looked out on the crowd and saw people from three different countries in conflict sitting next to each other – they were smiling and in that snapshot, we suddenly knew the ceremony was far bigger than we were. The top of our wedding cake was an edible globe of the world – a sweet reminder that we wanted our celebration to reflect God’s world and his sacrificial love for the world.

While the Princess Bride ceremony was satire, our ceremony was serious. We knew the vows we took were bigger than we were and represented a mystery and sacrament that we did not fully understand.

Fast forward 34 years and marriage is still a mystery, still something we stand by as hard and good and brave. Much has changed – five children, significant others, and arguably the cutest grandson on ever earth. We no longer have the bone tired joy of parenting toddlers, we have the wakeful nights of loving, and sometimes not understanding, adult children.

We still don’t completely understand the vows we took. We will never fully get the mystery of marriage this side of eternity. But what we do know makes us tremble in its impossibility and stand in awe of its delight and difficulty.

We will be the first to say that if it was about us, we would have failed many times over. This journey, which began in an impossibly sweet and unconventional ceremony, took us on roads and trails, into airports and houses, entering countries and territories with a lot of laughter, a fair share of anger, and heartbreak that only God could repair.

In one of my favorite books, Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry, Hannah talks about looking back on marriage:

“When you are old you can look back and see yourself when you are young. It is almost like looking down from heaven. And you see yourself as a young woman, just a big girl really, half awake to the world. You see yourself happy, holding in your arms a good, decent, gentle, beloved young man with the blood keen in his veins…..”

She goes on to talk about how this man and this love are going to disappear into a “storm of hate and flying metal and fire. And you just don’t know it.” While she is writing about war, many of us could write about how this love and this man are sometimes going to disappear – disappear into a storm of ill spoken words and unthoughtout actions, a storm of misunderstanding and just plain meanness – and you just don’t know it. But you keep on living and you keep on loving, because some day it will get better. And in the better that comes you rest easy and joyful, you laugh and talk as though the world can never stop your words or your love.

And that’s us on this day. We’ve both spoken words we regret. We’ve had sadness and meanness. We’ve struggled to make it. But we just kept on living, and praying, and then a new day came and we began to love again. This is life and marriage in its circle of hope and defiance of its critics.

So we stand today declaring the value of a brave marriage and ready to face the next chapter.

And with humility and excitement we announce that our next chapter will take us to Northern Iraq where we will be working at the University of Raparin in the city of Rania. It is unexpected and yet so welcome. For the past five years we have wanted to spend more time in the Middle East. Whenever we come back from short trips we enter back into the U.S. with a longing to return as soon as possible to the Middle East. The prospect of being able to come alongside this university in our professional roles of nursing and grants administration feels like a tremendous gift.

So this anniversary comes with gratitude and expectation for the next chapter of our brave marriage. We hope you’ll continue to follow along!

The story is not over; the journey continues….Some days, it feels as though it is still just beginning.*

*from Worlds Apart: A Third Culture Kid’s Journey

An Old Love

mom and dad

Every night before they went to sleep, my dad would kiss my mom. Even during his final month of life, when he was feeling weaker by the day, the last thing my dad did before he fell asleep was kiss my mom goodnight. They would pray and then he would kiss her. He knew that time was running out and so he got his kisses in before death came and separated them.

My dad was 91 when he died, my mom 89. “I’m so glad we had nothing between us. There were no regrets.” My mom has a far off look in her eyes as she tells me this. They were one in body and spirit, a tremendous heritage to give those who come after you.

Their love was an old love, but it hadn’t always been that way. Old photographs showed their young love, crinkled with time. A faded wedding picture, honeymoon pictures of a young couple by a lake and that same couple climbing a mountain are all evidence that they were young once.

But the years came, and with them five children, then daughters and son-in-law, grandchildren, and finally great grandchildren. Before they could catch their breath, they had an old love.

Old loves are free from the false expectations of youth.  Old love passes by newsstands featuring glossy magazines with covers that guarantee sleek, well-chiseled bodies, amazing sex, and “real love”.  While the images suck others in like dust in a vacuum, old love is oblivious. The world’s obsession with “young lust” and “young love” does not faze them. They travel as beloved ones in their own world, a world that knows better.

I will remember these love gifts forever.  The look my mom would give my dad, a look that whispers so confidently of care and shared understanding that even strangers would know this was born of a lifetime of loving. Or my dad, his formerly strong body broken, still looking out for my mom’s safety.

Theirs was a love that had died a million small deaths to self and false expectations. It was a love that saw others as better than self, and gave people bouquets of forgiveness, something far more costly than roses. It was a love that understood the hard process of aging, and the losses that come with it.

My eyes mist over as I remember their old love; wordless stories of a lifetime of sacrifice and trial; hurt and healing; misunderstanding and forgiveness. Their old love may have limped at the end, but it shouted of strength.

There are many times when my dad wistfully talked about an inheritance and how he wished that he could leave his kids and grandkids more money.  But he left us so much more. He left us a lifetime of loving my mom and that is enough.


 

I Like Family – Family is my Favorite

In a faded, old photo album I read the words “Family makes you feel whole and strong – vibrant and needed.” The words are typed on an ancient typewriter, long gone in our travels and moves from house to house and country to country. The pictures that surround the words have lost their color and appear true vintage with no filter.

I typed those words when we were living in Islamabad, Pakistan – miles from blood relatives. I wanted to create something special for my husband, a photo album of our family at the time. We were young and had a boy and a girl. We were all quite perfect in those days. Pretty and fresh-faced, without the weathering that life brings with its hard fights and its days of no return.

The truth is that in this age where family often loses its meaning, I like family. Family is my favorite. I more than like family – I love family.


We have just returned to Cambridge from a family wedding. My niece, Allison, married Paul. Paul comes from a large Italian family and I instantly loved his mom, Patty, and his Aunt Joan. They are women I would go to war with – or at least gossip with at a family wedding.

The wedding took place outside in a rustic setting, on the shoreline of Irondequoit Bay.  Chairs were set up outside beside a small dock, while the dinner was set to be served at the waterfront lodge, with stunning views of the Bay. A sudden, and violent summer storm had all of us scrambling and rearranging the ceremony venue to take place in the lodge. It was a picture of a family willing to go with whatever happened, determined that marriage would win over weather every time. A more brilliant metaphor for marriage is not possible and I know in my gut that these two will make it.

My niece was dressed in classic vintage – lace, a netted veil, and stunningly beautiful. She walked down the unexpected indoor aisle, and the ceremony began.

Who gives this woman? 

‘Solemn vows that none of us can possibly keep without the grace and mercy of God.

Readings from the Songs of Solomon and Wendell Berry.

Rings exchanged.

In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

The sacramental pronouncement of a union authored by God, ordained by God, kept only by God’s goodness. 

You may kiss the bride. 

And then wild cheers and the song “Will the Circle, be unbroken, by and by Lord, by and by?”

A celebration followed where there wasn’t enough time to talk to everyone that we wanted to; where we enjoyed great food and amazing company; where family gathered, at one with each other and the spirit of the day. Even a nest of bright, blue robin’s eggs joined in the celebration. Not a sacrament, but a symbol of our God’s love of beauty and life.

In a world that is fearful and cynical, a world where marriage is discarded for something far easier and less permanent, a world where the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have little to do with daily life, I once again bear witness to a family willing to live counter-culture. I once again witness the proclamation of the truth of marriage, once again hear vows that are humanly impossible being promised. 

For better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness, in health, to love and to cherish, until death parts us and we are ushered into something even better then the best marriage possible.

I fell into bed that night in happy exhaustion.

Because I love weddings and the families that go with them. Because family does make me feel whole and strong, vibrant and needed.

So, Yes – I like family. Family is my favorite. 

A Marriage and a Mirror


This past Friday, my husband and I celebrated our 32nd anniversary.

Along with our anniversary, we celebrated a milestone – we met our first grandchild. There was something deeply moving about holding this small bundle of baby, knowing that he has no idea how beloved he already is. He is born to  parents that wanted him, planned for him, and love him deeply. He has come into the world to an extended family of uncles and aunts; grandparents and great grandparents; cousins and friends. With him comes a new identity for us – we will be Pop Pop and GiGi for the next generation.

Our wedding was in Chicago, and our grandson was born in Chicago. So along with the joy of meeting him, we went back to the campus of North Park college, the site of our celebration so many years ago. The gazebo that framed our wedding party is gone, vandalized by students who obviously didn’t know the significance of its pristine white frame to so many couples. But the earth below it has not moved and the grass is as green as it was on the day of our wedding. We searched for the statue of a woman that my husband remembered and found her, guardian of many secrets and the only campus witness to our wedding vows.

The usual clichés come to mind as I think about it.

Where did the time go?

We were so young when we got married – just babies really.

How could it be that we are old enough to have a grandson? 

How did it get so late, so soon? 

But in truth, while some years zipped by like days of summer, full of grace and light, others were  slow and hard, with winter clouds hanging low. It has only been recently that I wanted to stop time, put it on pause for a while so that I can catch my breath. Moments have become precious; Saturday mornings curled up with coffee and a book are a gift from the heavens. Summer evening dinners on a porch, with warm breezes blowing are treasured times.

Marriage and faith — both are mysteries. Unexplainable, and yet — we try so hard to explain them. They both take work, they both take effort, they both bring unbelievable joy and earth-shattering doubt.  They both begin as babies, but if either are going to survive, they must grow into adulthood.

Two years ago, I wrote a piece about marriage. I looked back at it today, realizing that the words I wrote are as true today as they were when I first wrote them.

*****

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone is the first book of the wildly successful Harry Potter series. Chapter 12 in the book is called “The Mirror of Erised.” The “Mirror of Erised” is an ornate, magnificent mirror hidden away in an unused classroom. It’s as tall as the ceiling and has claw feet. But this is more than a beautiful mirror — the person who looks in the mirror sees the “deepest, most desperate desire of [their] heart.” So when Harry, an orphan cared for by a dreadful aunt and uncle who hate him, looks in the mirror he sees his entire extended family waving at him, loving him, letting him know he belongs. His dead parents smile back at him from the mirror, large as life. And when his friend Ron, just one more boy in a huge family with nothing that stands out about him other than his flaming red hair, looks in the mirror he sees himself as head of the Quidditch team and head of the house.

You see that which you long for most of all.

And for most of us our wedding days are a bit like that. The Mirror or Erised is held in front of each couple and we look inside and we see untainted love that lasts through the ages. We see bodies that will never grow old and a love that will never die. We see joy and hope, we see plenty and laughter. While we may say the vows “for better, for worse, for rich, for poor, for sick, for health….” we don’t see those things in the Mirror of Erised.

The Mirror shows us that which we want more than anything – eternal love and happiness.

And then the guests go home, the cake in the top of the freezer gets freezer burn, the money from the beautiful cards given on that wedding day runs out. We want to stand in front of the mirror again, just to get a glimpse of that beauty, that glory, that hope.

But more stuff happens – kids come along and with them nightmare tantrums and learning disabilities, weight is gained and lost, houses come and go, unemployment rears its ugly head, family and friends die. Love is tested morning and night.  Sometimes there is betrayal or wounds that are so deep you think you’ll never heal; other times it’s just life – and marriage has grown oh so old. All the while we remember that mirror in the unused classroom – but it just sits there.

In the Harry Potter book as Harry goes for the third night to see the mirror, he finds Dumbledore sitting off in the shadows. Dumbledore talks to Harry about the mirror and exposes it for what it is “….this mirror will give us neither knowledge or truth. Men have wasted away before it, entranced by what they have seen, or been driven mad, not knowing if what it shows is real or even possible.”  Harry is sobered as he heads back to his dormitory room.

Last Friday was my 32nd wedding anniversary. 32 years of so much good and so much hard that it defies description. And on our wedding day, we like so many couples before us, looked into the Mirror of Erised. And we loved what we saw. We wanted to stay in front of that mirror forever — a cute, young couple with adventure on our hearts and fire in our souls. It would never end. It couldn’t as long as we had the Mirror with us.

But like all couples, the mirror was wisely hidden away. In its place was a real mirror – a mirror that reflected back a couple that would grow and age, that would sometimes hate what they saw looking back at them, but keep on going anyway, keep on loving, keep on living, never giving up.

“It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live, remember that….” says Dumbledore. Some of our dreams were realized, others were lost, but we have learned to live, really live. While the Mirror of Erised reflected wishful thinking, our real mirror reflects a brave marriage forged on hope, faith, and grace that could only come from One far greater than us. 

And today I proclaim again the truth of a life of commitment. I proclaim the truth that marriage is really very little about love and very much about something bigger. Today I speak against our Hollywood Mirror of Erised notions of magic and romance; I stand against a culture of quick satisfaction and selfish sex. I speak up for an unpopular view that marriage is so much more than two people falling in love.

For in 32 years never have I embarked on anything so costly and so worthwhile as marriage. Never have I faced the awful in myself so closely and so viciously, never have I needed the grace of God more profoundly. We do not have a Mirror of Erised marriage – We have a marriage born on idealism and hope, weathered by storms, challenged by crisis, tempered by love, sealed by God above. 

And so I wish another Happy Anniversary to the man I said “I do” to. I’d do it again this side of the mirror.