Today’s my 20th wedding anniversary, so I thought I’d steal a page from my new birthday tradition and enumerate Twenty Things…things I’ve learned through marriage, things I’ve loved, things that I take joy in remembering, things that have helped make me who I am. Hope you enjoy the list. 😉

1. “Too Young” is relative.
David and I got married at 18. Modern society says that’s too young–but you know what? We knew exactly what we were doing. We understand ourselves and each other. We went into it with eyes wide open as to what it would take to make a marriage work. And we also went into it with the shared priority of making our family–the two of us for quite a while and then the three of us, and then the four–the TOP priority. And we have zero regrets about choosing to get married after our freshman year of college.

2. Being “the married couple” was fun.
We were the ONLY married couple on our small campus, and it was pretty funny. Everyone looked at us for a while like we were an oddity, and we were frequently greeted by new acquaintances with “Oh, you’re the married couple!” Not a bad reason to be famous, really, LOL.

3. And it paid us, too.
Our college had need-based financial aid, and because we were independent but made virtually nothing, that meant the state began paying us to go to college. Not a bad deal!

4. Shared friends and the ones with a kitchen.
Most of our friends lived on campus all four years. We had a group of friends–guys and girls–that we were a part of, and we all hung out together. Once in a while the girls would do something girly–watch P&P or go shopping–while the guys did something guy-ish–like play video games together all day. But in general, we gathered in a group, and it was a blast. Being the only ones with an apartment and hence a kitchen, our place was the one where we got together once a month or so for dinner parties. We’d cook extravagent meals together, uncork a bottle of wine that I never acquired a taste for (blech–but it’s so PRETTY!), and talk and laugh long into the night before we drove everyone back to campus.

5. Sharing dreams IS sharing life.
Even before we got married, David and I shared dreams. He knew that I wanted to be a novelist and promised me we’d work together toward that goal. He held me accountable. He encouraged me. We dreamed together and decided which ones to chase. That’s made all the difference in our life.

6. But sharing dreams takes some fine-tuning too…
I’ll never forget this time during the summer before our senior year. I’d just finished a manuscript. And David said, “Awesome! Now we should try to find a publisher for it before you start working on something else. Spend some time researching agents and stuff.” I agreed this was a great idea…until I got another idea. I couldn’t–not–write! For about two days, I would sneak into our office space and madly type out the first few pages, and whenever I heard him coming, I’d tab over to my agent research or whatever. Okay, I don’t think that even lasted two days. I think it was a couple hours before I laughingly confessed. He just laughed too, and rolled his eyes, and made me promise I wouldn’t just neglect the publishing research altogether. But we both learned that day that I wasn’t writing just for the promise of publication. I was writing because the stories came, and it’s part of who I am.

7. During hard times, it’s invaluable to have that shoulder.
During our last year of college, my grandfather died, one of my favorite professors died, and my boss in the admissions office where I worked died. It was a hard year. But I knew I had someone to hold me while I cried–or while I didn’t (tears aren’t always easy for me). I had someone to talk it through with. More…

8. Having someone who knows you helps you grow.
I’m the sort that folds into myself when emotions are high. Instead of crying or yelling, I get quiet. Introspective. And that can turn into too bottled-up. But David, from our first months of dating, has known this about me. And he’s known how to press and pull and invite. He asks me to open up. He listens. He talks. And because I love him and don’t want to alientate him, I unfold. And when I unfold…well, I tend to look at it like a flower. I bloom. I grow. I become who I can be, not just who I am by nature. Oh, there are times when I still don’t want to talk it out or even think about it, and he’ll give me space to be that way…for a while. But he’ll never stop luring me out of my shell.

9. When we need them most…
Freshman year, before we were even married, there was a day I woke up before dawn with the worst migraine of my life. Every single sound was torture. Light was a knife. I was in such pain I couldn’t even get up to get medicine. So I prayed that David would come. He always came to my dorm at a set time to meet me for breakfast. He would knock, I’d unlock the door, or my roommate would (she wasn’t there that night), and then we’d head to the dining hall. But that was just too far away, so I prayed for help. A few minutes later, an hour before his usual time, he knocked on the door…and then opened it. For some reason it wasn’t locked. For some reason, he came an hour early, thinking it was his usual time. I’m still 100% convinced God woke him up and sent him to help me. He got me medicine, he rubbed my neck, he took notes to my teachers letting them know I’d miss class that day. It’s a little thing, but it was one of the things that cemented in my heart that this guy, this guy who loved me so much and who listened to the nudge of the Spirit, was the one I wanted beside me every morning.

10. Babies are terrifying–and awesome.
We knew we wanted to start a family after college, so we rented a townhouse, did what we could to prepare for this new phase of life–ahem–and soon had #1 on the way. We were still living in our college town, 2.5 hours away from our families. And oh my gracious, I’ll never forget the utter TERROR of those first nights at home! How did anyone trust us to keep this little person alive? We had no idea what we were doing! LOL. But of course, we learned. And we loved. And we adapted. Xoe had her days and nights mixed up for the first two months, so we sure didn’t sleep, but then she found her thumb, and glory hallelujah! We still have memories from those first months of “the three of us” that are part of our shared language, like when she was maybe a month old and soooo tired but fighting sleep. She was laying on David’s chest, lifted her little head, face all pinched. Managed one little “Mweh!” and then fell asleep. Love that memory–and we frequently still imitate that adorable little sound she made. (Xoe does not find this nearly as amusing as we do, LOL.)

11. Home is where the family is.
David and I are from the same hometown, and not long after Xoe was born, we had the opportunity to buy my great-grandmother’s house back home, when she had to be moved to a facility. We jumped at the chance to go home, where both our families were. So we (by which I mean David and my dad, ha ha) got to work fixing up the house, and we prepared to move with a 3-month old, in the dead of winter, on a nice icy day. Great fun.

12. The sacrifices.
For years–as in, 18 of them–my husband worked in a job he came to dislike more as the years went by. In part because it was a family business and they needed him. In part because we had to eat. He did this so we’d have food and clothes and a roof while I chased my publishing dream. He did this for everyone but himself for all those years. Many times I’ve thanked him–earnestly and honestly–for all the sacrifices he so willingly made so that everyone else could chase their dreams. Now he gets to chase his, and I’m so proud of all he’s doing!

13. I can only control me.
There was a time when the kids numbered 2 and Rowyn refused to sleep through the night (he never did until age 4, so I couldn’t actually tell you which of those four years this was, LOL). I was exhausted. I was frustrated. I knew why I was the one to get up with him (because I had no job and David did), but it didn’t stop the anger from building. I had a few moments of slamming cabinets and resenting pretty much everything. Then I got down on the floor, sprawled out on my stomach, and started praying. It started with, “Lord, change him! Make him see that I need a break!” and then I felt this whisper in my spirit. The sure voice of the Lord reminding me that it’s not my job to want anyone else to change. It’s my job to change me. I started sobbing–a rarity for me. Because suddenly I saw it. I could not control when anyone else was awake. I could not control how much people helped me or didn’t. I could not control whether toddlers were in a good mood or bad. What I could control was my own reaction. I could decide to find the joy instead of the bitterness. I could decide to focus on what I was giving to my husband–the one sacrificing his own dreams for mine–instead of what I perceived as him not-giving to me. I could look at all I had instead of what I lacked. I could decide to be the best me in each moment. And that…changed…everything. Seriously. EVERYTHING. My outlook took a drastic shift that day, and it’s a lesson I have never forgotten.

14. First reader
I know that not every writer has a spouse who reads their books the moment they’re done, but I’m so grateful I do! David is always my first reader–and my brainstorming partner too. When I’m stuck, we go for walks and talk it out. When I’ve typed the last words, I send it to him so he can read. That has been such a HUGE blessing for me, and it also makes us closer. I also love that I now get to be that “first reader” for him as he works on screen plays and articles. It’s such an amazing blessing to finally be able to flip things around and watch him chase his dreams, brainstorm with him on his projects, and work through his stories together!

15. I love our language.
I’m sure you have this too–your own language with those you know and love best. David and I don’t just speak English, we speak Quotation, LOL. Riddled throughout our every conversation are quotes from TV shows, movies, books we’ve both read, our college classes, our Greek translating days, and things our kids used to say. I love this so much. I love that we can say, “and sewer rats might taste like pumpkin pie…” or give a good Rick Grimes “What?” or chime in with “pasty and frail never fail” and just laugh together over it and keep on talking. We wiggle around like our first puppy used to, we say “Ee-she!” for “here I am!” like Xoe did as a toddler. We toss out random Greek phrases or the funny translations of them. It’s part of us. A part that this word-smith appreciates so much.

16. Togetherness
Ever since we moved home when Xoe was 3 months old, we’ve both worked from home. And we decided to homeschool our kids. Which mean all four of us are home pretty much all the time. And we love it. We love that we know each other best of all. We love that we don’t have to fight for “family time.” But there are also times when because we’re always here, it’s easy to forget that we still need dedicated time to each other. So we try to be deliberate about that too.

17. You know you’re still in love when…
I remember driving home from work one afternoon during college–we’d been married maybe 2 years–and realizing that David was home already. I got this excited little pitter-patter in my chest at seeing him when I didn’t know I would yet. And I still get that. As I’m typing this up, he and Xoe are driving back from a business trip to Georgia, and my heart’s going pitter-patter in anticipation of seeing him again after five days apart. Same thing happens every time I get home from a writing retreat or conference. And whenever I feel that anticipation, I smile. Because it reminds me that as comfortable as our love is, as much as it’s about decisions and choosing joy, that solid love helps feed the “in” version too.

18. The bad times.
Even wedding vows include “in good times and in bad.” We all know the bad times will come. We’ve certainly been through some. Years where everything seemed to fall apart, where businesses failed and security went out the window and it seemed like no one cared. We knew we’d have those times when we first got married, and when they came, we knew we had to hold onto each other and God. I think sometimes we want so much for each other to be happy, feel it so deeply when the other isn’t, that it can in fact magnify the “bad.” But then the hope gets magnified too. And that’s the beauty. Sometimes life sucks. But we’re stronger together. Better together. More together than we can be on our own. And that means everything.

19. Who God needs us to be to do His work.
Last September, as our son was being life-flighted to Pittsburgh P-ICU with the sudden onset of diabetes, David and I were racing home to pack a bag so we could make the nearly 3-hour drive to join him. And my amazing husband, holding my hand tight as we came around a turn on our road, said, “This is just part of God’s story for us. Part of what will shape us into who He needs us to be to do His work. Our callings haven’t changed–which means this is part of it.” I don’t need to explain why this made me love him more than ever, right??

20. And now…
I remember when we were still in college, still in our first years of marriage, still getting dubious looks from people all the time, I thought, “Man, I can’t wait until we’ve been married 20 years, so I can finally say to them all, ‘See! We knew what we were doing!'” And here we are. 😉 See? We really did know what we were doing, LOL. There have obviously been bumps. Good times and bad. Ups and downs. But they’e mostly been ups. Mostly been good. Because we knew it wasn’t about whether we’re happy every moment of every day–it’s about becoming together. It’s about growing closer to each other and God. It’s about how we can #BeBetter every day. It’s about looking back over the last 20 years and knowing they were training for the next 20. Because marriage, life, faith…they’re all journeys. And God’s still making us into who we need to be to do His work. I don’t know where all these journeys will take us. But I can’t wait to find out.

Thank you, Lord, for the husband you’ve given me. The daughter. The son. Thank you for all the laughter and all the tears. Thank you for twenty years behind us. Only you know how many are ahead, but I pray it’s many, many more. Because we’re striving toward you…and I sure love doing it with my hand tucked into his.

Happy anniversary, Hunny! (Yes, we spell it like Winnie the Pooh. Because that, too, is part of our story, LOL.)

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