“All the Days of My Life” – a guest post by my husband, Chris

“All the Days of My Life” – a guest post by my husband, Chris

Today – May 23, 2018 – my husband Chris and I celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary. About a month ago, I asked my beloved if he’d like to write something about marriage for my blog to mark this occasion, and I was delighted when he said yes. The final product is a gift that exceeded all of my hopes and expectations, and I am both humbled and overjoyed to be sharing it with you.

 

All the days of my life

In our first week of dating, attending an inaugural ball for President Clinton’s second inauguration. January 1997.

The first 7,304

It never occurred to me that marrying Gretchen was a choice.  Truly, it was no more a decision than it was whether to draw another breath.  I suppose I could have put it off, but then I’d eventually pass out and start again.  Breathing that is.  But you get the point.

We were engaged ten months after our first date and wed six months later. It didn’t seem fast because marrying her was the most natural thing I have ever done.  I had also been brought up to believe that’s how it should be. Blessed to be born into a family overrun with happy marriages, my mother used say that “you just know it when you know it.”  It was a uniquely unsatisfying, irretrievably irrational and absolutely accurate piece of wisdom, and I never doubted.

I gave little real thought to how “just knowing it” would feel.  But when I fell in love with Gretchen, I remember having a sense of peace that I hadn’t known before.  It was the kind of serenity that comes when you flow effortlessly in the stream of life.  I recall thinking calmly to myself,

“So this is her. The love of my life.  I knew she’d be smart.  Glad she’s pretty. Figured she’d be blonde.”

And I exhaled, as if I had been holding a small measure of my breath for the better part of 24 years.

Of course we did have some difficulties which were also learning experiences.  To this day, our biggest fight came as newlyweds setting up our first apartment.  The Great Spice Rack Dispute will live on in family lore for decades to come.  Well it should as a tale rife with lessons about life.

The facts of the matter, as stipulated by the parties, are these: Gretchen wanted the spice rack concealed in a cabinet so the kitchen wouldn’t look messy.  I preferred the spices visible and within arm’s reach.  Needless to say, it’s a miracle our marriage survived.

I recollect nothing of what was said but I remember it being explosive, at least by our standards.  I think I even left the condo that night, coming back a little later.  After all, my magnificent dog, Crash, was still there.

When the dust settled, we spoke about what had happened.  It turns out that Gretchen was actually not arguing about the spice rack’s precise location. Instead, I learned that she had a lifetime of plans and ideas about how to create a home; that these notions were an extension of her identity; that our disagreement seemingly threatened our very being as well as endangering all manner of critically important, authentically valid, truly emotional and deeply-held thoughts about herself, me and our new life together.

And for my part, I was arguing about where to put the spice rack.

May 23, 1998.

An important lesson to this day, I understand that the real cause of most conflicts usually has little to do with the ostensible terms of the debate.  That is, it’s easy to confuse the symptom with the illness and growth in our marriage has usually come from focusing on underlying issues.

That said, we have developed a few everyday strategies to avoid unnecessary flare-ups.  These include:

  1. No discussing anything after 10pm. Not the kids, not tomorrow’s schedule, not rainbows, not unicorns.  No matter how seemingly innocuous, a late day conversation is about 500 times more likely to end poorly and/or stupidly.
  2. No mind reading. And no demands for telepathy.  We try not to conjure up each other’s thoughts and if we want something, we need to say it.
  3. Always assume the best intentions. We want the best for each other.  Our frustrations are usually borne of a lack of understanding rather than an absence of love.
  4. No quinoa. Ever.  I’ve forgiven Gretchen for knowingly eating Grape Nuts, but there’s a limit.  Quinoa is bad for a marriage, your soul and for America.

Most importantly, over the years we’ve found that approximately 99.3% of our issues are not between us as a couple, but within us as individuals.  Gretchen brings out my better qualities, but she doesn’t rid me of my flaws.  I still bring me into every situation.

That’s one of the many reasons spiritual growth has become part of our life together.  We don’t always approach it in the same way, nor do we have to.  For instance, Gretchen is a Catholic convert.  Her kind can be found singing during Mass and probably sitting upfront being all attentive and holy.  On the other hand, I was raised Philadelphia Irish Catholic, so my brand of religion involves telling jokes during funerals.

Such superficialities aside, we both care deeply about growing personally and growing as a couple.  Early on, especially when we were finding our own way, we stepped on each other a few times.   But we have accepted that our spiritual paths run alongside each other, each meandering at its own pace, sometimes crossing, sometimes in parallel, always moving the same direction. And that works for us.

When reflecting on marriage, it’s easy to dwell on the bumps in the road.  I think doing so misses the joy in it all. After all, perfection is a fine thought, but it means that there is no further growth, no greater joy, nothing more to be revealed. I’m in no hurry.

The fact is that our problems are really just challenges, and our challenges are really just worries. The worries, trifles.  Job stress, busy schedules, not enough time for all the people we care about.  Each and every one just a reflection of some wonderful blessing in our lives.

I often need to remind myself of that great truth and to bask in profound gratitude for having been given such a beautiful, intelligent, loving woman with whom I can greet life.  Gretchen is my greatest blessing.

When we married, I promised to love and honor Gretchen all the days of my life. Great days do adorn our past, but the best lay yet ahead.  And as each has passed over the last twenty years, I remain forever overwhelmed.

The Cardinal Sign

The Cardinal Sign

Today I feel wistful. And thankful.

Thankful for what I took to be a ‘sort’ of sign.

Now please understand – I’m not a person who looks for signs.

I lean on the One who tells me to trust in Him, not in the ways of this earth. And so I’m not searching around for material things, wondering if they hold some cosmic meaning for me.

But every once in awhile, life seems to line up in way that speaks to me of comfort and peace beyond my understanding, and the only correct response can be, “Thank you. Thank you for this moment of grace.”

Today would have been my paternal grandparents’ 76th wedding anniversary.

If you’ve been a reader of my blog for some time, you’ll remember that my family celebrated their 75th anniversary with them last year (in 2017). My grandparents were in good health and in great, great spirits. However, they both passed into eternal life within weeks of the magnificent event, and the rest of us are left to contemplate how blessed we were to have this amazing couple with us for as long as we did.

All grieving families go through a mourning process that includes shock and sadness. It’s been an up and down year for each of us, but overall, it has brought us closer together. And joy has been a part of these long months, too, as we welcomed our family’s newest member – my sister’s first child, my beautiful nephew.

My heart held fast to these memories as I clasped Grandma’s gold cross around my neck for the first time this morning. My aunt just gave it to me on Saturday during our first visit together since some sad days last February.

As I held onto the necklace I was thinking about God’s words, “And behold, I am with you always,” (Matthew 28:20).

I stepped over to the mirror to take a look and just then a cardinal appeared to my right in the bush outside my window.

The brightest, fattest, reddest, cardinal.

It has been said these birds are the spirit sign of a loved one you’ve lost.

And so I wondered…

I was transfixed, rooted to the spot, as it sat there swaying on the branch, its wings, head, and breast glinting in the sunlight.

It stayed long enough for me to hear my mind compete: “I will not move until it does.”

And then…finally…it cocked its head and took flight.

I firmly believe there is an unseen reality and One God who is with us always.

He lives to show us He loves us. He lives to show us His love.

What Makes a Couple Truly Beautiful?

What Makes a Couple Truly Beautiful?
My grandparents, Allen and Hazel, who celebrated their 75th wedding anniversary January 18, 2017. He passed into eternity on January 28, and she followed on March 2.

It seemed like a dream as I pressed the receiver to my ear and heard my dad’s voice.

“Grandma is no longer with us. She’s with Grandpa now.”

She passed late Thursday night. Her decline had been swift. Just 11 days earlier I was in Seattle for my grandfather’s memorial service and she had seemed frail but steady.

But when you lost your spouse of 75 years just weeks ago, and you’ve held out for one final trip down memory lane in the company of family and friends, perhaps you just decide once and for all that enough is enough.

At a certain point, the body won’t hold a soul that wants to go where a body simply can’t.

She was one half of the most beautiful couple I have ever known.

I said on their 70th wedding anniversary that it was my right to put them on a pedestal, and I still believe that it is. Their relationship exuded a quality I seldom see – a quality they would never have thought described them, but then, most people who have this deny it out of sheer humility.

That quality is holiness.

Too often, holiness is associated with religiosity, and this, my grandparents were emphatically, not.

Holiness is something so much more sublime. Divine. An intention of the heart.

As I wrote on their 75th wedding anniversary, which we celebrated together in January:

It has been said that the purpose of marriage is not to make us happy, but instead, to make us HOLY.

I’ve been considering this statement for the last several years. And even if a person does not submit to the idea that our universe – and all that lies within it – is here for a divine purpose, namely, so that we can learn how to live like the Creator – a force of Love with a capital “L” that gives so freely He even wants to live through each one of us….Yes, even if someone does not agree with this heartfelt belief of mine, there is value in considering holiness as a purpose for marriage. And here’s why.

The process of becoming holy is the refinement of a person. It is a gradual sloughing off of all that is flawed in order to move toward perfection in goodness and righteousness – like placing rocks in a crucible and burning away impurities to reveal hidden gold or silver.

When I think about the ideal marriage, this is exactly what happens for the 2 individuals involved.

When it works well, marriage does several things to us and for us. It brings us joy. It brings us love. It brings us companionship for life’s adventures.

Most importantly though, it helps us to understand the long-term benefits of practicing a myriad of virtues such as acceptance, compassion, consideration, flexibility, generosity, humility, kindness, and forgiveness….

A good spouse encourages us, and calls us back toward the best version of ourselves. Over the long haul, there is benefit to both people in choosing:

patience over edginess,

service over self-centeredness,

understanding over egoism,

honesty over deceit,

and unity over division.

Was the path my grandparents took an easy one? Almost certainly not. I’m sure they faced tests and struggles that the rest of our family never knew about. But they passed through those fires and came out stronger and purer because of them.

My grandparents taught me by example what the path of holiness looks like. In their quiet way, they kept faith in God and lived as servants to one another. This, more than any other, is their enduring legacy to me.

Yes, they have left me beautiful memories, family I love deeply, and a few precious mementos, but it’s the love and honor they gave each other that I value the most.

Perhaps that’s why I can’t think of one without the other, and why Grandma couldn’t stay with us any longer than she did.

“Come live with me, and be my love,
And we will some new pleasures prove
Of golden sands, and crystal brooks,
With silken lines, and silver hooks.”
John Donne

 

How to Know When Following Your Heart is Right

How to Know When Following Your Heart is Right

I lost my grandpa this week. The pain is new and deep, and I know that I will miss him for the rest of my life.

Memories comfort me, yes, but so does something else. The knowledge that I told him on so many, many occasions that I loved him. I did not let key opportunities slip by.

Just a week before my grandpa passed, my family and I had gathered in his retirement home in Seattle, WA, to celebrate his and my grandma’s 75th wedding anniversary. They were married in January 1942, just a month after the attack on Pearl Harbor, when Grandpa realized he’d be entering the Army Air Corps and knew he couldn’t go without his love. Allen and Hazel were high school sweethearts who truly grew up into adulthood together. As Grandpa said just a few days ago, “We met in May 1939, and I knew she was the one for me.”

Over the years, our family gathered from across the U.S. to celebrate 4 of their major milestone anniversaries: 60, 65, 70, and 75. At the 60th, I hardly said a word about the love and pride I was feeling. But something changed by the 65th, and today I suddenly realized why.

It was January 2007. I was midway through the 8-month process of learning and discernment that is required of people who wish to enter the Catholic Church – smack dab in the middle of the longest stretch of time I had ever spent considering God’s Word and thinking about His role in my life. And since we often can see with clarity in hindsight those things which seem muddled in the moment, now I know that God was working in my heart and gently coaxing me on to joy in the pursuit of His purposes.

Not everyone is comfortable expressing love in words, and the truth is, it wasn’t always that way for me. On the flight out to the West Coast in 2007, I wrote a letter to my grandparents that I planned to read at the anniversary dinner. I was full of adrenaline as my pen shot across the pages, charged with emotion as I lay down memory after memory, puffed with happiness at the thought that I would be able to share them with Grandma and Grandpa. And when the time came to read, I was shaking all over. It wasn’t seamless, but I got through it, word by word, my voice faltering and cracking.

My family praised me, but what meant the most was the knowledge that my words were a gift my grandparents truly treasured. Grandma called me over with a gentle wave, held my hands in both of hers and said, “Gretchen, dear, have you ever thought about being a writer?” She knew I wrote nonfiction educational materials, but she was talking about something more. She was urging me forward. “Yes, Grandma. It’s actually what I think I want to do.” “You should do it.” She nodded slightly to indicate her seriousness and squeezed my hands. “You should do it.”

Me reading to Grandma and Grandpa at their 75th Wedding Anniversary Celebration, nearly two weeks ago.

I had reservations and told her so – that I didn’t think I had any worthy material, had no idea what to write about. She listened lovingly and nodded understandingly, but my grandma encourages regardless of fear. She is a quiet repose of strength and confidence.

I would go on to write another letter for their 70th, and deliver it with less anxiety than I had on the 65th. And when last weekend came, I was filled with calm and a deep conviction that I was doing the right thing, regardless of whether the thoughts I expressed were the same thoughts as those of others in the room. It turns out I was right – Grandpa was just a couple days from meeting his Creator, and this was my last chance to pour out my heart to him.

How can we know when we’re on the right path? How we can know we are saying or doing what we should? For me, there are a few indicators:

1) I ask who I’m serving. Who am I doing this for? If my actions are born of love, a desire to be in community and relationship with others, and above all, if I’m aiming to please God with all my mind, heart, soul, and strength, I’m probably headed in the right direction.

2) I consider the voices I’m hearing. Encouragement and gentleness come from Love (with a capital “L”). He does not chastise or tell me I’m an unworthy, useless, untalented wanna-be. If negative voices are dominating my thoughts, I must call them out to fight with the blinding light of Truth. God is Love. He is Light. There is no hate and no darkness in Him. And He alone can give me the strength and confidence I need to move forward, if I surrender to His good will and love for me.

3) I remember in faith that I am not an accident. The desires of my heart to do good work in my life were planted there by the One who loves me more than I can comprehend, and wants me to enjoy life to the fullest. My desires are part His divine plan.

In His Word, God tells us how to live joyfully, and He promises us that we are all given gifts. Don’t we believe that He’ll help us to use those gifts? Don’t we know without having seen that Love is real, and therefore we can step out with our talents, trusting in that Love to see us through? We move in faith, believing that He has blessings in store for us if we work with Him, if we don’t give in to the lies that plague us.

“Today if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.” – Hebrews 3:15

The Darn Near Perfect Man I Married

The Darn Near Perfect Man I Married

The only photo I have of our first date is the one in my mind.

I heard his knock at the door of my Northern Virginia apartment, and when I answered it, I saw something amazing. This guy, who I knew was from Philadelphia (where I spent my high school years, came of age, and developed a sense of humor) was wearing jeans, a shirt I liked, and…cowboy boots.

My dad wore cowboy boots.

And I really love my dad.

And somewhere in the depths of my mind, I think I already knew that this guy was darn near perfect – for me.

We were married 17 months later, but as I’ve told countless people, “If he’d asked me to marry him three weeks into our relationship, I would have said yes. It might have seemed crazy, but I wouldn’t have been wrong.” We’re coming up on 18 married years together, and he still amazes me.

My husband and me on our third date – one week into our relationship. We were headed to an inaugural ball for President Clinton’s second inauguration. I thought he looked quite spiffy.

Today is his birthday. We celebrate him. And here are just four of the many reasons why I love him.

His faithfulness. If you are his friend, you know this to be true. He will be there for you when you need him. There’s no way to tally the number of late-night calls he’s taken, listening to a friend.

And when there’s a family event, he makes every possible effort to attend or, at the very least, to call or send a gift. He knows that actions count, and so he takes action to make sure that those who are important to him know where his heart lies.

His thoughtfulness. For my first birthday after we were married, he gave me a 1920 Pathe Freres Victrola, along with antique records of foxtrots and waltzes. I cried with joy. Its sound was almost deafening in our WWII-era apartment, with its ultra-thin carpets and hardwood floors, but oh how I loved it. It’s still my favorite gift, and there have been many over the years. He has a knack for giving, because he thoughtfully considers the enjoyment of the receipient. Again – his heart is in the effort, and it shows.

His humility. Sometime in those early years before we had kids, we had a conversation about education. He said he was grateful for his Catholic schools, and thought it would be good to give back. “Maybe some day we could send a kid to school,” he said, “someone who couldn’t afford it otherwise.” I looked at him with wonder and felt gooshy inside. “Yes,” I said, “Sometimes you hear about people doing that.” He looked right into my eyes and said, “Well, no one would know. It would have to be anonymous.”

I was gobsmacked. Giving so generously without seeking credit was something that had never occurred to me. I was in awe of him – in awe of the way he was emphatic about this. There would be no changing his mind. With three kids in Catholic schools now, and college on the horizon, we are still a ways off from being able to make a gift of this size. But if we ever do, you will never know.

His desire to grow. My husband has a way of speaking that conveys an air of authority. At first, this unnerved me. So much so that when we were dating, I suggested he start prefacing statements with, “I think,” so as to sound a bit less declarative. And to my shock, he immediately thought that was a very good idea. He continues to look for ways to develop his mind, body, and spirit, and this habit still impresses me.

There is so much more to every person than meets the eye. And no one has taught me this more than the man I married.

Over the years, we have grown together in countless ways. But he is still the most generous and least stubborn of the two of us. He is the better friend. And he is so humble and willing to do what’s right that he is pretty much always the first to apologize when we’ve had a disagreement.

And his apologies? They are never of the throwaway, ‘Yes, Dear,’ sort. He means it. He does not hold grudges. He wants to reset our relationship. He wants us to start again – as a team.

If God wants us to see an image of Himself in other people, He gave me a beautiful one in my ‘darn near perfect’ husband. And oh, how grateful I am.

A Good Time to Thank a Husband

image
DC Metro (fisheye) by ChrisDag https://www.flickr.com/photos/chrisdag/

The 10 a.m. Metro train had just pulled out of New Carrollton station and my friend Marcia* and I – stay-at-home moms – were standing in the aisle, holding on tight to our kids – 7 total between the two of us. On this temperate July day in 2010, we had decided to take them into DC to the Hirshhorn Museum. My husband was already at work in the district, and hers was in Eastern Europe on business.

Initially, I didn’t give it much thought when Marcia’s phone rang. But I could soon tell from the lilt and excitement in her voice that her husband was calling, and I remembered it had been several days since they had been able to talk. I was amazed by what happened next.

Handing the phone to her kids, she said, “Daddy’s calling! And he can’t talk long, but tell him thank you for working so hard and for making it possible for us to enjoy this special day.”

In turn, each one of her four kids greeted their dad with enthusiasm, thanks, and a happy, brief recounting of what was going on in their lives.

The entire conversation lasted about 5 minutes. And as we slid into the underground tunnel, I was gobsmacked by the deep conviction I felt.

When was the last time I had thanked my husband for his hard work and for making our lives at home so comfortable?

There is an acceptable and shameful practice in our society today of badmouthing men. It’s often subtle. You know how it goes. “My husband just doesn’t know how to _________,” or “Men just don’t get it” – whatever the ‘it’ of that moment is. These conversations are always tinged with an air of female superiority, and you don’t have to know much about the nature of God to know He wouldn’t approve.

God created man in his image, in the divine image he created him; male and female he created them.

– Genesis 1:27

I’m as guilty as any woman of this. I’ve made sexist comments about men that I wholeheartedly regret. Especially now that I have two sons who are among the greatest treasures of my life, and I rely on my husband night and day to help me understand the way these boys think!

But the larger issue here is that the insidiousness of ingratitude threatens to tear apart the foundation of marriages. This works both ways of course, but a woman’s affirmations to and thanksgiving for her husband can go a long way toward bridging a gap that might be gradually growing between them.

And saying, “thank you,” when we don’t feel like it, or when we also want to be acknowledged for our contributions is hard, yes. But divine help is offered to us.

In her book, The Power of a Praying Wife, Stormie Omartian says, “You have to know that whatever has crept into your relationship so silently and stealthily as to not even be perceived as a threat until it is clearly present–such as making idols of your career, your dreams, your kids, or your selfish desires–can be removed. You have to trust that God is big enough to accomplish all this and more.” (p. 19-20)

So what are my idols? Comfort? Free time? Fear and worry? A desire for recognition or accomplishment? Books, TV, Facebook, etc. – entertainment of any sort?

An idol is anything that I prioritize ahead of honoring God. And I know from experience that if I’m not putting my relationship with God first, then my marriage – which is a blessing from God – will suffer.

I see most clearly when I regain the right perspective: God is the Maker, Sustainer, and Giver of all good things. And when I listen to Him and give Him thanks, my heart is transformed from stone to flesh, and I can be the loving wife I want to be.

*Not her real name.

Holy Moments – Day 8 – Wedding Prayer

whiteflowerdew

We are attending an outdoor wedding on the banks of the Chesapeake Bay this evening. The forecast looks perfect.

Vows taken before God are always holy moments. I distinctly remember the feeling of God’s presence as my husband and I faced one another and took our vows 17 years ago. But in the time since then, when the weather changed, I know I forgot about the Lord sometimes. But He never forgot about us.

That this couple would keep Him in mind, and gain strength and patience from the knowledge of His constant presence and everlasting love, is my most basic prayer for them as well.

But today – I’d like to share a blessing from the Irish poet John O’Donohue, taken from his book – To Bless the Space Between Us. 

For Marriage

As spring unfolds the dream of the earth,
May you bring each other’s hearts to birth. 
As the ocean finds calm in view of the land, 
May you love the gaze of each other’s mind.
As the wind arises free and wild,
May nothing negative control your lives. 
As kindly as moonlight might search the dark,
So gentle may you be when light grows scarce.
As surprised as the silence that music opens,
May your words for each other be touched with
     reverence.
As warmly as the air draws in the light,
May you welcome each other’s every gift. 
As elegant as dream absorbing the night,
May sleep find you clear of anger and hurt. 
As twilight harvests all the day’s color,
May love bring you home to each other. 

 

Holy Moments – Day 1 – We Are No Longer Two

Holy Moments. My theme for this month. I have a bunch of ideas. So many things I want to write about. Yet, I began the month by biting off a bit more than I could chew. Back on September 26, I decided on a new theme for my blog, made the big switch to a new host, and lost my old posts and content in cyber space for a few days (not before I had backed it all up on my computer, thank goodness), but still. Being on tenterhooks, frustrated by technology, was not the way I had wanted to begin 31 days of contemplating ‘holy moments’ in my life.

Nevertheless, those moments are here. In the midst of our everyday.
My new blog theme doesn’t look like I want it to…yet. It’s just like my life in that way…It only bears a slight resemblance to the vision I have for it in my head. Yet I know…there is good in it. God is here with me in this hot mess. And there are beautiful things He wants me to see. Like this….
WeddingRingPassport
My husband’s passport and wedding ring sitting on my jewelry box today. Signs of to whom he belongs. Me. His nation.
He’s on a short trip, and the tugging in my heart, which I have felt every single time he’s flown since we were engaged 18 years ago reminds me that my short-lived concerns are nothing compared to what’s irreplaceable.
I kiss him goodbye. One holy moment. And then I wait patiently for the next one. A text.
On the ground. Uneventful. 
Four words that ease my heart. And they are not to be taken for granted. My husband and our union is not to be taken for granted. We are joined together by His design. I know that, and am glad to be reminded of it.
And the two shall become one flesh; so they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.” – Mark 10: 8-9

Lead a Life of Love

A week ago, when I was at Sunday Mass and I heard his name read among the recently deceased, something inside me gave way and I started to cry. And then I couldn’t stop.

It was just before the Eucharist, and we were praying for lots of people, but I was stuck, focused on the fact that my neighbor was gone from this earth, reunited in heaven with his lovely wife who passed on almost two years ago. They were older people – had six children who were now grandparents themselves. This is the way life is supposed to play out. And I didn’t know them well. Yet I was so very, very emotional. Why?

Standing there, staring at the church rafters and reciting the Lord’s Prayer, I asked Him, “Why am I so upset? Why can’t I stop crying? I’m happy for them. Why does this hurt?”

From somewhere inside, His answer came:

You love life. He loves life. They love life.

Um…ok?

I knew from experience that walking in faith means living with ambiguity, and that in time, hopefully, what I’d heard would make more sense to me. So I proceeded to do what seemed right.

I’d seen more cars than usual outside Mr. and Mrs. Schab’s home in the previous three days, and now I knew why. After lunch, I wrote a condolence note, collected myself, and walked over.

IMG_2120
Mrs. Schab’s hydrangeas bloomed the week that Mr. Schab entered heaven.

A white-haired woman in her sixties who bore a strikingly beautiful resemblance to her late mother welcomed me warmly at the door. My tears began to return the moment I said,

“I was just at the 11:00 Mass and I heard the news.”

She said, “Yes. He was my dad. He passed a week ago yesterday.”

Oh, I thought. We were away. That’s why I didn’t know.

She added, “The day before his 99th birthday. So, he got to celebrate it in heaven.”

Any idea I had of consoling her went out the window.

I stammered, barely able to see now, “And I miss your mom.”

She smiled slightly and looked down saying, “Oh, we do too.”

The next thing I knew, she was opening the screen door wide to hug me and kiss me on the cheek.

Then she said, “What is your name?”

Oh boy. I guess grief is like that. You forget to say your name.

I told her. “Gretchen.” And we went from there. The ten minutes or so we spent getting to know one another reminded me of what I had loved so much about her parents.

From the moment she laid eyes on me at the door, she appreciated me. Not for what I wanted to give her (or thought I could give her, and others who were there), but because she saw my mere presence as a positive in her life. And I remembered right away that her sister had once greeted me at the door of this very same house with an identical warmth and generosity of spirit when I came to visit Mr. and Mrs. Schab, who of course, had been the genesis of the love these two women showed me. Or were they?

The first time I ever met Mr. and Mrs. Schab was Halloween. I think my oldest son (now 12), was 4. Instead of just handing out candy, they invited trick-or-treaters and their parents in for refreshments and conversation while offering a spread of treats from the dining room table, located just inside the front door. Maybe it was the glow of the antique lamps shining out from the bay window that made the house so welcoming on approach, or perhaps it was Mrs. Schab’s cheery, “Hellooooo!  Please! Come in! Aren’t you adorable?” that made my son and I feel cherished. But from that memorable evening on, their home was, by far, our favorite on the block.

Later, I wasn’t surprised to learn that the Schabs were the founders of our church’s marriage preparation program, and over many decades had helped to counsel over 1,000 couples. It was easy to imagine them sharing their experiences, faith, joy, and time with men and women embarking on the road they had been journeying together – one which would culminate in 72 years of devotion. They also served on numerous community committees and stayed active outside of their home right up until the very end of their lives. They were humble, gracious, energetic servants.

But my personal memories of Mr. and Mrs. Schab – time talking in their garden, their gratitude for my cookies, how I loved hearing their stories of how our neighborhood changed over six decades – all of these are grounded in a feeling of us being “present together.” When I was with them, even though I didn’t know them well, time seemed to stand still, because in each moment, they were focused only on what was essential – living the moment. Not the next moment. Or the one after that.

After a week’s reflection, I think I understand what the Lord was trying to tell me as tears streamed down my face last Sunday….

When you really fall in love with Life, so much so that you see the divinity of it in every single person you meet, you can truly stop – right now – to appreciate the wonder and beauty of it all, and share deeply and effortlessly of the Love you are living. And the Love comes through you, to make the people with you feel cherished. You can give those around you a glimpse of eternity. 

When we love the Maker of Life, we are given all we need to live this life in all the fullness He intended for us. 

The key to living life in full, is following the Way of Life, and basking in His Love. 

Therefore Jesus said again, “Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep….

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy;

I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”

– John 10:7, 10

Building a House…For 17 Years

Today, my husband and I celebrate the 17th anniversary of our wedding. As my sister-in-law was taking me to get my hair done on that bright spring morning, she gave me the single best piece of advice: “At a couple points,” she said, “just STOP. Take a look around. Take it all in.” I’m so very, very grateful that she offered me this wisdom, because thanks to her, I have several clear memories of that gorgeous day, when I so easily could have lost them in the shuffle and momentum of the celebration.

Wedding_1998_2 Of the Scriptures that were read, this one stands out for me:

“Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and buffeted the house. But it did not collapse; it had been set solidly on rock.”  (Matthew 7:24-25)

I’m not even going to begin to claim that we’ve done everything right in our 17 years of marriage. And anyone who has been married for any length of time will tell you that rain will fall, floods will come, and winds will blow. Your commitment to one another will be tested, perhaps not to the breaking point, but there will certainly be challenges.

My sister-in-law’s wisdom is still the one and only thing I tell brides-to-be, and I think it applies well to the rest of life too. And I’m sure you’ve heard it before, too – because we all know that life goes by so, so darn quickly. You don’t want to let precious moments with your loved ones or friends slip by unnoticed. But I would argue that stopping to take a look around is also critical for the long-term success of a marriage.

Wedding_1998When my husband looked into my eyes and pledged to be with me until “death do us part,” I could see in his green eyes that he meant every word. We both meant what we said, and still do.

It’s easy to stop at the good moments – to appreciate sweetness…The feel of my hand in my husband’s. The way he always kisses me goodbye before leaving the house – for any reason, big or small. The fact that he is exceptionally good at picking out gifts for me, and at whipping up the most delicious meals. At these times, it’s also easy to remember to thank God for this good man.

But then of course, storms do occasionally blow through. What I’ve learned is, they don’t have to tear us down – because in the midst of them, we can keep building the foundation of our house – brick by brick. It’s grace that taught me this – worked on me, really.

As often as possible, we STOP in the moment and take a look around. We look into one another’s eyes. We examine what’s really going on in the here and now – take an unflinching look so that patterns we know didn’t work for us in the past can’t repeat themselves. We speak honestly and openly about the present, and if there’s something that needs work – we work on it. Nothing gets swept under the rug. And the words we use with one another are words of affirmation – they support, encourage, reaffirm our connection and commitment to one another. They build up the foundation of our marriage – the foundation of “us.”

A house isn’t built overnight, but when the foundation is re-fortified, it can stand for a long, long time. May ours be built stronger, again and again. This is my prayer for us, on this 17th anniversary of ours.