Irish Legacy

imageToday I send my kids to school with their green accessories, much the same way my mother sent me.

I believe it was fourth grade, and we were living in Jacksonville, Florida. Mom stopped my sister and me at the front door. She seemed more excited than usual. In her hands were two little buttons which she proceeded to pin on our chests. They said “Erin Go Bragh” and had green ribbons hanging from the back. We were confused.

“Erin Go Bragh?” What did it mean?

“Long live Ireland,” we were told.

‘Whatever,’ I thought. Ireland was like a mythical place that our great grandparents had come from. I had no idea that my sister and I bore the hope of generations.

I also had no idea that I would grow up to marry a man who carried more Irish blood than me. Someone with ancestors who “got off the boat” in Philadelphia and stayed, making livings as servants to some of the city’s wealthiest families. The combination of our DNA meant I would have children who are technically more Irish than me.

But now, I carry hopes for them – just like their great, great grandparents who labored under visions of a better life. And the more I learn about the struggles, troubles, and hardship of the Irish people, the more I am grateful for this land of plenty into which my children were born.

Today we celebrate by wearing green and eating shepherd’s pie. Some see it all as frivolous fun. I see it as a day’s rest after hundreds of years of toil. It is a blessed moment in which we acknowledge the perseverance of many, and the joyful hope that springs eternal from hearts filled with love.

May the Strength of God pilot us.
May the Power of God preserve us.
May the Wisdom of God instruct us.
May the Hand of God protect us.
May the Way of God direct us.
May the Shield of God defend us.
May the Host of God guard us.
Against the snares of the evil ones.
Against temptations of the world

May Christ be with us!
May Christ be before us!
May Christ be in us,
Christ be over all!
May Thy Salvation, Lord,
Always be ours,
This day, O Lord, and evermore. Amen.

-Prayer of St. Patrick 

Flying Over Rapid City

The pilot just announced that we’re at 39,000 feet and flying over Rapid City, South Dakota. The man to my right across the aisle is playing an online crossword puzzle. These might be irrelevant details to some. But to me and my aching heart, they are clues that I’m not alone in my thoughts.

During this flight home to the East Coast, no other cities have been mentioned to us passengers. Just this one. And Rapid City just so happens to be one of the few places my grandparents lived in their 74-year marriage. Yes – the same couple I left a few hours ago in Seattle, WA, where the three of us celebrated Grandpa’s 94th birthday yesterday. And where Grandma has taken a liking to online crosswords as a replacement for the paper ones she’s done for decades.

Rapid City, South Dakota.

In the 1950s, my grandfather was a service and marketing engineer with Boeing – the mammoth aviation company. His piloting experience during WWII paired well with his University of Washington degree, and one of his long-term assignments was Rapid City. There, my grandmother was also busy – raising young children, my dad and my aunt.

In Seattle, they had left their brand new home to renters. “And while we were away,” Grandma tells me, “our church tore down its original building and put a new one up in the same place.”

This spring, that ‘new’ church building will be demolished as the congregation christens yet another one on Easter. My grandparents’ ‘new’ home, now 63 years old, has also been sold, and will disappear into the earth as a developer moves in to make use of the prime real estate.

Time marches on. Decisions are made. We collect the mementos we want to save and move forward. But the process rips at our hearts.

Do you ever wonder what might have been – had you made a different choice? 

Wondered about the ways that life moves – with or without you? 

And how His hand is at work in it all? 

Sitting in my dorm room at Dickinson College senior year, in the spring of 1994, I was contemplating life after graduation when I had a thought. A thought I have never forgotten in the 22 years since.

‘What if I moved to Seattle?’ 

I pictured myself trying to fit in to that city – a place where I had never lived, only visited – since my dad became a military officer and we were assigned elsewhere.

‘I could apply for graduate school at the University of Washington. I could get a Master’s in English. Or go to law school. Or maybe get a job. I could see more of Grandma and Grandpa.’ 

But I was fearful, and lacked the resolve to throw caution to the wind and move where I had no solid prospects. Or friends. Instead, I accepted a job as a legal assistant in New York City, and headed off on another adventure that ultimately took me to Washington, D.C. and into the arms of my future husband – a wonderful man with whom I’ve forged a life I desperately, desperately love.

But what if? 

Sitting with my grandparents this weekend, during yet another visit that is too short and too infrequent, I listen with my whole being. It is beautiful, sacred, joyful time. I want to recapture years. I want to fill in gaps.

I study the details of their faces, try to imprint their voices on my mind, and take copious notes on these people I love beyond words. I try to nail down the essentials and some of the family flavor, but I know the essence of it all is slipping by.

Ultimately, everything I feel comes down to an ache of gratitude and a longing for more. I want to say, ‘Thank you. Thank you,’ every single second, and ‘Please, don’t let it end.’

I hold up fairly well, keeping relatively dry eyes until I’m alone at the airport and suddenly everything spills over like waterworks. The missing them. The missing my husband and kids. The knawing knowlege that you can’t savor any morsel of this world’s goodness forever, eats away at my insides.

What would God say to me now?

And the ransomed of the Lord shall return and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.

-Isaiah 51:11

The promise of life without heartache is a balm to my spirit. If only I could grasp that perfect state here, for longer than a few precious moments at a time.

image

No Punching

“NO!” I yelled, a bit too forcefully. “That is NOT funny.”

I turned to face my little boy, whose eyes grew large with trepidation.

“We DON’T say things like that. We DON’T do that. EVER. Do you understand?”

“Yes, Mommy. I’m sorry, Mommy.”

Admittedly, I was only half-listening moments earlier when he was telling me about a kid in his class who had been annoying him that day. He was reenacting the schoolroom scene with typical little kid smiles and giggles, and fantasizing about how he could respond, when suddenly he said, “And then I’d punch him in the face.”

photo-1447616061459-f7d9b9329bd6

I try not to overreact to my kids being kids. But when a line is crossed, I want them to know they’ve crossed it, and violence is NOT funny. Left unchecked, childish dreams of handling situations with fists can slowly and subtly become acceptable possibilities. And until I can have rational discussions with them about self-defense and what might constitute a “just” war, they need to know that hitting someone is not OK. They need to learn self-control.

That said, I probably overreacted because I’m feeling a bit raw.

I don’t want to wade too far into political talk, here. I am not versed in government theory and feel rather inadequate amidst political discussions. But I do vote and therefore believe it is my responsibility to stay reasonably informed about issues affecting my community, state, and nation, and I have to say that this year I am more disheartened than ever before.

It all came to a head last night when I saw a clip of Donald Trump at a Nevada rally saying he would like to punch a protester. ‘I can’t believe this,’ I thought. ‘I just dealt with this here in my kitchen 4 days ago!!!’

Some would say Trump was just speaking off the cuff and didn’t really mean it, but I’m teaching my kids to mean what they say and – call me idealistic or overly-sensitive – I expect the same from a presidential candidate. This man’s behavior is decidedly un-presidential. It is childish.

Don’t think for a second I’m letting the other candidates off the hook. I’m falling back on my values of hard work, honesty, fairness, generosity, freedom, and goodwill to all people – regardless of age, race, gender, religion, income, or status – and I’m not finding anyone who should get my vote without me significantly compromising on the ideas I’m trying to instill in the 3 members of the future generation who live in my home. Instead, I see candidates who are appealing to an angry nation. And this is an even bigger problem.

People are angry. And under that anger, lies fear. Fear of the future. Of new laws. Of old laws being revised. Of new people. Of protected people becoming unprotected. The list goes on and on. As a nation, we are fearful of change – change in any direction.

Where do fear and anger reside? In the heart.

And what is the remedy? Divine intervention.

Scripture resonates with one message more than any other, and it is this: BE NOT AFRAID.

Fear not, I am with you; be not dismayed; I am your God.

I will strengthen you, and help you, and uphold you with my right hand of justice.  

-Isaiah 41:10

To find peace – freedom from fear and anger – it is up to each one of us to recognize that we are not in control. That we don’t even dictate the beating of our own hearts. That there is Something greater.

In recognizing this, we become aware. We develop an appropriate perspective. We become “right sized” in relation to this Greater Power, and we see the same relationship between other people and this Power as well.

The experience is humbling. It is also enriching. Because no longer do we look to other people as our saviors. Or our servants.

The uneasy truth of this life is that people – ALL people we will ever know – will let us down. Only the Something Greater – Someone Greater – could not.

Only a perfect God could promise that He would strengthen us, provide for us, and protect us. And the only way to really know Him, is to allow Him in.

“Behold I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, [then] I will enter his house and dine with him, and he with me.”

-Revelation 3:20

How do we know that we’ve really allowed God into our hearts? No amount of adherence to earthly laws can confirm it. The evidence is found in the yield of our lives.

Now the works of the flesh are obvious: immorality, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, hatreds, rivalry, jealousy, outbursts of fury, acts of selfishness, dissensions, factions, occasions of envy….[T]he fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. Now those who belong to Christ have crucified their flesh with its passions and desires. If we live in the Spirit, let us also follow the Spirit. Let us not be conceited, provoking one another, envious of one another.

-Galatians 5:19-26

If we reap what we sow, we get what we deserve. And the roster of candidates represents our fruit.

Shame on us.

It is time to once again open wide the doors of our hearts. To humble ourselves and connect with Perfection. And to ask that He will forgive our failings and renew us – each of us – as individuals – once again.

 

For another article on Christian responsibility to critically view candidates positions, consider this:

Before Donald Trump, the sad history of when Christians anointed another political bully

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 29 – Impossible!?!

Sunday night my husband and I were visiting with old friends. Our conversation covered a wide range of topics, as it always does with this particular group. The topic of college football came up for a very short time, and I had a fleeting thought…

‘A part of me wishes I’d gone to a bigger school – one big enough to have teams with televised games – so that as an alum, I could be a fan.’

It’s a thought I’ve had before. Not something I dwell on. I truly loved my college and my educational experience. Those were some of the very best, most formative years of my life. But still…

I almost said this thought aloud, but at the last second, I felt held back.

“No,” said the whisper, so quickly I barely perceived it.

‘But there aren’t many of us around,’ said my internal voice.

Again, quick as a flash, “It’s your story.”

I’ve heard this whispered refrain before – a reminder that there is nothing wrong with where I’ve come from, and that my choices and the lessons I have learned from them make me who I am today.

But still, don’t we all have these silly, niggling, petty wishes that mean nothing in the grand scheme of our lives? Or even on the small scale? I’m not even a sports fan, for crying out loud! I know almost nothing about football or basketball; I’m drawn to the camaraderie. I’d just like to wear a sweatshirt for a place people have heard of – a name I don’t have to explain.

All of this brings me to today, and the play date I’d arranged for my youngest son and one of his kindergarten classmates, a boy I’ll call Jack. We’d seen Jack and his parents at Mass for years. Years. And the boys had sized one another up from the time they were toddlers. It was nice to see they had become friends in school.

I got to talking with Jack’s parents when I dropped my son off at their house. Our prior exchanges had been very pleasant. They seemed like a peaceful family.

We had already established that the two ‘dads’ had both grown up in Philadelphia. Jack’s dad’s cousin had been in my husband’s high school class. Pretty nifty. We quickly discovered the two dads knew some other people in common because of work in DC. Also cool. And we knew Jack’s parents had met in college. So, today, at a natural point in playing “getting to know you,” I asked,

“Where did you guys go to school?”

“Dickinson College??”

“I went there!!”

He had answered like a question, of course, assuming I wouldn’t know the place. And I had responded in a tone like, ‘What?!?? Impossible!?!! That’s MY school,’ as if no one else in the universe had gone there. Because truly, that’s how it feels sometimes when your college has only 2,000 students.

image

We all stared at one another in bewildered amazement. We got right to the details. We’d graduated two years apart, and I was in France when they were freshmen. Our time on campus only overlapped one year. And – they were athletes. I was not. In a tiny school, we had missed one another. But still. Incredible.

And now our young sons are friends. They brought us together. Ha! More smiles.

Most people look at this situation and think, “Oh, what a nice coincidence.” But I don’t believe in coincidences any more. I used to, until I started to view my life with less cynicism, and more wonder. I opened myself up to the possibility that I was not the One in control. The possibility that there is more – more than I can see – going on behind the scenes of my every day. And when I leave myself open, when I view life through the eyes of faith, dazzling days are just handpicked, or rather – Hand-made, and handed right to me.

imageDickinson College. Indeed, it is part of my story. A thread, a small school, in the fabric of my life. And He who creates, sees, hears, and notices EVERYTHING, even the petty thoughts of my mind, decided to make my day by showing me that He can weave together even the tiniest of threads, the ones long gone from my daily activities, to make something new.

 

Photo from www.flickriver.com

 

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. 

 

Chicken Salad

I was making chicken salad for school lunches at 10:15 p.m. when Grandpa called to tell me something that, as he told it, struck both of us as funny. These days, his voice often chokes with emotion as he speaks to people he loves, and I cherish this. As a result, our conversations have a depth that goes far, far beyond the words spoken.

Ever since I was two, I’ve always lived at least three time zones away from him, but time and distance don’t stop love. His unconditional concern and care has been a steadfast light shining from afar. He’s a pillar of strength, solidity, and resilience in a family that has spread out through geography, marriage, and experience. And in that way, he bears likeness to another Father who is always present.

I can look back now and see that all the twists and turns of my life, some of them known to my family, some of them just aches within my soul, have been overseen by the guiding and ever-loving presence of God. He has been right there alongside me, however far the distance between us might have seemed.

I heard this song today and it prompted me to write. There must be some connection.

Claudia’s Day

image“Mom – Why is God’s plan so hard to understand?”

It is the penultimate question. Asked on a big day. But my daughter had no way of knowing that. I haven’t told her that today marks one year since my stepsister Claudia entered heaven. That Claudia is on my mind. In my heart. And always will be.

“I don’t know.” I answered honestly. “But God is much smarter than we are, and we have to trust him. He wants the best for us – to keep us with Him forever. And while bad things may happen in our lives, He just wants us to lean closer to Him when they do, because if we do, He promises to protect us always in the end. Because while our bodies hurt, our souls are protected. Forever. When we choose Him.”

I was preaching to myself as much to her.

September 13, 2014, my family lost Claudia to complications following childbirth. Over the course of 3 1/2 weeks as Claudia fought for her life in the ICU, my family and I spent hours on our knees, and I posted prayers for her on Facebook. And when she passed, I was emotionally exhausted for weeks.

What many find strange is that I didn’t know Claudia all that well. My father and my stepmom had been married at that point for 12 years, and had 7 grown children between them when they met. My stepmom is from Chile, and over the last decade or so, most of her 5 children had remained there. So, I only met Claudia in person about 3 times. Nevertheless, we were family, and when family is in crisis, family comes together. 

It’s nearly impossible to describe the power of the Holy Spirit when He  intervenes. And it was completely His work in using me to pray for Claudia. I felt a love for her like I would for my blood sister, whom I’d known for 39 years. I was ready to pray for Claudia day and night. I wanted to know every detail about her health status, the care of her baby, the welfare of all those closest to her. There was a holy fire lit in me that I still can’t explain. I just loved her. And I knew that Jesus had called me to this privilege. And the next thing I knew, I began to write down my prayers on Facebook.

I had never before done something like that. Never before had I put my faith before a public audience. And I was completely unafraid. I felt the boldness and confidence of the Lord in my heart and it brought me joy and peace to appeal to Him daily on behalf of Claudia.

Within a couple weeks, I felt another nudge from the Holy Spirit to begin this blog, and I know without a doubt that if I hadn’t been primed for the experience by writing prayers, I either would have ignored this nudge, or backed down from it out of fear.

So that’s what I want to say today. I want to thank my sister Claudia for opening a new door for me. I have always thought it was the Holy Spirit that prompted me to write this blog, to accept that 31-day writing challenge that started it all. But the other day, I had a passing notion – ‘Hey – What if she was the one who came up with the idea? Maybe whispered it in Jesus’s ear? Hmm? Can these things happen in heaven?’

I don’t know. But this last year of writing and following through on that holy nudge has been her lasting gift to me, and I am really looking forward to meeting her again someday.

For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

– Romans 8:38-39

Jeep daBeep!

“Jeep daBeep, the color’s….Red!”

“Jeep daBeep, the color’s….Silver!”  (Or Blue! Or Black! Etc.!)

In the case of this one (see photo), a small argument ensued:

image

Child 3 (with utmost enthusiasm): “Jeep daBeep, the color’s Light Tan!”

Child 1: “No, it’s not. It’s Brown.”

Child 2: “No, Cream.”

Mom: “Whomever calls it first, calls the color. It’s light tan.”

And I smile. Because this simple game has me smiling all the time. Silly, but true! The kids have been playing it for several weeks now. Every time a child sees a Jeep Wrangler (Cherokees don’t count) he or she shouts this, in an “inside voice.” (Yes, we’ve had that discussion too. I am driving after all.) There is no point to it all, no score keeping whatsoever. And in time, more car games have been folded into this one. They yell out these as well:

“Zingo!” – a lime green car, but taxis don’t count

“Bingo!” – a yellow car, but again taxis and cars with corporate logos don’t count

“Buggy!” – a Volkswagen bug

“Red Booster!” – my littlest guy’s own creation – any red car, but trucks don’t count

And the best of all – “Bingo Buggy!!” – a yellow VW bug.

I’ve noticed that the pace of this game has picked up dramatically in the last two weeks, and a rationalist might say that it was going along at this same rate for awhile and I just never noticed, but I don’t think that’s what’s happened. I actually think my kids’ enthusiasm for spotting particular cars is part of the answer to a little prayer.

A couple weeks ago, in my study time with God’s Word, I just offered up a small request – for a little more joy in my everyday living. I have many ‘serious’ prayer requests every day: for an end to violence against women and girls around the world, but especially those suffering at the hands of ISIS; for persecuted Christians; that families would be healed and brought back together; for friends and family in need….The list goes on. But I also asked for more joy. It was right at the very end, almost like an afterthought. But you know, God sees and hears everything. I sometimes forget that, even when I’m giving him my list of supplications.

Just recently, I was reading in the Gospel of Matthew where Jesus cures a paralytic and later a man who is blind and mute. The crowds are astounded. But in both cases, Jesus is questioned by the Jewish authorities – in the first case, the scribes, and in the second, the Pharisees. Both times, as Jesus speaks with these critics, a verse in Scripture is repeated: “Jesus knew what they were thinking,” (Matthew 9:4) and “But he knew what they were thinking” (Matthew 12:25). Standing there among men, having assumed the human form, the Lord knew what was in their minds and hearts.

This is the marvelous mystery of prayer. In turning to Him, we begin to express what he already knows about us, and we enter deeper into that intimate relationship which He so desperately wants to have with each one of us. And He misses nothing. Not even the half-uttered last sentence before the ‘Amen.’

The past two weeks have been chock-full of fun for me, and I am really looking forward to this summer. In several social events and even small visits with friends, I’ve caught myself laughing – deep, rolling belly laughs – the kind doctors say are good for your health. My life is happy, yes. But it was happy before. This is different. I’m a fairly reserved person – now one who is smiling a little bit more. Because I asked for JOY. And He presented me with many opportunities to feel it and live it. He is the Great Giver. Oh how He loves to give!

And in the past couple days, as I’ve understood that a prayer was answered, I’ve added on to the kids’ game too. Now, when one of them yells, “Jeep daBeep!” I grin and think to myself, “Praise God!”

“Jeep daBeep!”  Praise God! 

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.