We averted disaster today.
As we sat at the kitchen table, still in our pajamas and me not even halfway through my first cup of coffee, the kids noticed fog rolling off the barn roof.
Or was it steam?
Wait, No. No, my son said. I think that’s smoke Mom.
And he stepped out on the porch to smell the air and then went running one way while I went running the other to throw on a pair of pants quicker than I ever have in all my life while at the same time dialing the number I’ve answered hundreds of times.
911, where is your emergency?
As I calmly told her my address, phone number, and directions to my house, I pushed my feet into boots and ran out the door, barking clipped directions to the kids still in my eyesight.
My big boy has his Daddy’s cool smarts and he’d hit the breaker to the barn before I had even hit the driveway, and he walked straight into the smoke to find the source and had the melting and burning tote that’d served as a home for a wee chick drug out to the middle of the driveway where it went up in flames and continued to melt blue plastic ooze onto the gravel while my hands started to tremble and my voice cracked on the line.
It seems that the chick we’d had bedded down in the cozy warm tote had jumped out during the night to visit with the rest of the party animals (hens and turkeys and pullets oh my) who were all enjoying the soft farmy smells of the hay barn for the past two nights while we finish getting their winter pen ready.
When wee chick (after today he carries the name of Fireball) jumped out of bed, he must’ve knocked the heat lamp loose and down into his tote, which melted plastic and scorched hay in the process.
My barn is full of a winter’s worth of hay, and as I hung up with Dispatch and listened to the approaching sirens, it took me less than two seconds to imagine how quickly that structure could go from the rolling smoke we’d found to being fully engulfed. How quickly that would put my surrounding woods at risk. Our precious neighborhood. Our cherished livestock.
So today I’m thankful for many things.
For my boy’s quick mind and quick actions. For our firefighters who were here within five minutes and even though the danger had passed, they came anyway and they made sure my barn and our neighborhood was safe. For being late starters. Had we been engrossed in school instead of milling into the morning, we would have missed the smoke altogether, which means we would’ve missed the flames.
Most of all though, I’m thankful for the lesson we learned today. We will never …ever…EVVVVER…put a heat lamp in the hay barn again. E.v.e.r.
It was clamped up high enough but it got knocked down by a weird accident and it could’ve quickly caused tragedy. So we learned.
And tonight, on the eve of my twenty-second wedding anniversary, I realize that I’ve learned some lessons about marriage too. Some little lessons, some MAJOR lessons. I’ve learned what works, what doesn’t, and how to make things flow, just like I’ve learned how to do things here on the farm.
Some have been scary lessons, and there have been near-losses, and some have been not quite so dramatic. All of them though, have been important.
Twenty-Two Things I’ve Learned in Twenty-Two Years of Marriage
- Be stubborn. There have been times in our marriage when the only thing that has kept us together is our scrappy stubbornness to not let go. Marriage is worth fighting for and sometimes you have to muster up every once of stubborn you have to save your marriage and make it grow. After becoming a Christian, I learned that the big word for this is perseverance, but round here we just call it being stubborn. In a good way. Be stubborn. Don’t give up.
- Forgive. Lavishly. My husband is so much better at this than I am, but I’ve learned from him. Love means you will get your feelz hurt sometimes. Talk it out, be direct, work it through, forgive. You were forgiven much. Forgive much.
- Give grace. When I set aside my ego and my demands and extend the grace to my spouse that was poured out on me, he is better able to see our love unclouded and pure and be the man God made him to be. And the same goes for me. It really does go back to treating others how we’d want to be treated. Don’t ever tolerate abuse, but extend grace whenever you can.
- Make a home. Wherever you are, make a home for the two of you. Make him want to be home with your soft and curvy self and just like the Don Williams song, make him feel like a king and not a regular Joe. Clutter bugs or neat freaks, make that place YOURS. Together yours. It’s your haven and without a haven the world will be cold. Make your home and even if it’s a little crazy, keep that craziness warm and cozy and his and yours and help keep him comfortable and happy to come home.
- But don’t strive for a perfect home. . Perfect is a falsehood and striving for it will exhaust you and strain your marriage. Make your imperfectness perfect for you and save the real perfect for when we get to Heaven.
- Keep the Balance. You might have to say no to some things. Heck you might have to say no to a LOT of things to keep the balance. You are the yang to his ying and he’s the leather to your lace and as my kids tell me, my husband is the calm to my crazy or the whoah to my go. Keeping the balance is a constant pursuit and sometimes a true act in assertiveness and patience. I’ve lost time with friends, we’ve said no to great opportunities, we are constantly learning how to better calendar and communicate, and sometimes it’s an out and out battle to maintain it all in a non-crazy way. Schedules, school, time with kids, time as a family, housework, finances, friends, church service, health issues, work issues, chores, rest…it can seriously be a job trying to keep it balanced. Be diligent. The train runs best when the tracks are balanced. This changes with each season so stay aware. Find your balance and keep it.
- Year ten: Finally feels like you might be getting the hang of marriage.
- Year fifteen: Feels like you’re off to a good start at doing a good job at marriage.
- Year twenty: Feels like you just finished a 100-mile warm-up marathon and you’re sweaty and smiling and standing at the starting line excited to run the next leg of the race.
- Love is a choice not a feeling. Being married means there will be days when you might look at your spouse and wonder what you were thinking all those years ago. Listen, if you have a faithful spouse who has loved you for years and hasn’t given up on you, you have a gift and you have a treasure and a you have a choice to make. Don’t you dare fall into the way of thinking that our world teaches, this fickleness in marriage, this feeling of wanting to flee when the butterflies migrate. Love is a choice. Make the decision and the feelings will follow. Choose faithfulness. Choose dedication. Choose to love your spouse.
- Get a room. Yep. Something happens you leave your home with your spouse, especially when said home is full of kids. A couple’s weekend away clears the head and refreshes the heart. Try to take one at least once a year. We honor our anniversary this way. I know it’s hard. Do what you can to make it happen. But don’t make your expectations too lofty. A tent in the back of his pick up truck. Trade babysitting with another mama. Enlist Grandma. Your bff. A camper out in the driveway. A local motel. However you can do this, make it a habit, set any arguments aside, and protect this time with flexibility but the ferocity of a mama bear.
- Get a room for two nights, not one. I know it sounds outrageous. But the first 24 hours is a working-it-out, calming-the-mind, exhale time. One day isn’t even enough relax to let you unpack your makeup bag. Especially if you have an 11 a.m. check-out. Save your coupon money, get a good babysitter from church, work on this all year…take TWO nights off. Trust me.
- Squeeze in dates when you can. I know this isn’t always an option. But when my third baby turned ten-months old, I realized that I hadn’t had any quiet conversation with my husband since our two-day hospital stay when she was born! We hired a sweet teen from church and we budgeted a date every single week. After a year we realized we could probably drop back to every other week. Then it went to once a month. Then every couple of months. Now that we have teens, we’re back up to every week because it’s a little bit like toddlers in the house but opposite. We need time away from all the big, busy ears.Do what works. What is good for one couple may be burdensome for another. But do make sure to set some time apart regularly to focus on being alone and don’t you dare let ANYONE make you feel guilty for it. My husband said it best when I once hinted at the cost of one of our dates, It’s an investment in our marriage.
- Listen. Really listen to your spouse. You may truly be the only one who does. If you find that your mind is too busy to listen to your spouse, it’s time to clear some space. Your marriage is your ministry. Run your ministry well.
- Do what your spouse loves. This one is so, so easy, and so, so hard. Just do what they love. In the kitchen, in the bedroom, in the car, in their love language…find out what they love and do that.
- Your spouse should be your best friend on earth. I’ve lived marriage otherwise, and trust me, not being best friends with my husband was living a different marriage than what God had for us. It took us a long time and a long road for us to be best friends, but once we walked to it, gasping and panting, we found our stride. Don’t give up if it isn’t the case for you. If there are two of you willing to do marriage like God planned, you’ll find your stride. Make your spouse your best earthly friend.
- But your husband isn’t your girlfriend. I only have a small circle of girlfriends so for most things I lean on my husband. One thing is clear though. He ain’t a girlfren, girlfren and it’d be unfair of me to put that expectation on him. If I want him to act like a man, I treat him like a man not like one of my women friends.Let him dry your tears and strongly hug you tight and pray with you when you’re vulnerable or tired and manly pat your behind and expertly fix your car when things are falling apart, but don’t be upset when he isn’t excited to stay up late crying with you over Beaches and Haagen Daas on a PMS night. Cut him loose from that wish list sister. It isn’t fair to expect him to be like you, he’s NOT like you. And he’s not like your girlfriends either. I know for me, in my marriage, one of the 22 things I’ve learned…is let.him.be.a.man. I expected for TOO LONG that he fulfill ALL my friendship needs.
God didn’t call our men to be our women friends. I wish we all had perfect women friends. You might, I might, we all might. But if we don’t, don’t try to make your man fill that role. He has a role as your MAN. Let him be that.
- Don’t keep close friends with the opposite sex. I might take flak for this one but I strongly believe keeping close friends of the opposite sex can cast a shadow of doubt on the trust between you and your spouse and impede the integrity of marriage. I’m not talking about casual friendships with co-workers, fellow parents, and church folks. I’m referring to close, confidant-type friendships. I’m talking bff style friendships. I’ve seen the detriment in my marriage, friends’ marriages, and marriage in our society in general. If you do have a close friend of the opposite sex, please make sure your spouse is fully involved and included and knows the dynamics well. Your main squeeze should always be your spouse. Keep your boundaries when it comes to friends of the opposite sex and always make sure that you are sending a strong message of marriage. To your friends and to your spouse.
- Make God your best, best friend. My dear friend Ms. Kreta will tell you that Jesus is the cake, her husband was the frosting. It wasn’t until I started walking with the Lord and doing marriage HIS way that the fight became focused. You may not be there yet, that’s okay. It took me a long time too, and my husband even longer. But once we began to realize how sweet God’s way of marriage is, we became a cord of three that was no longer easily broken. If you’re there already, praise Him. It is the greatest treasure and friend that your marriage -and your soul- will ever possess.
- Don’t flirt. It’s raises doubts and it’s just not fair. One of the most precious things I’ve ever seen and a treasure I hold close is my husband’s refusal to succumb to flirtatious advances from other women over the years. Because he doesn’t flirt, I don’t doubt him. Extrovert or not, flirting plants seeds of doubt. Unless it’s with your spouse, just don’t do it.
- Keep private things private. You may come from a close family. You may be an open book. There are things that are whispered in the dark that belong to the heart of your spouse and should never be repeated to another soul. You are building a life together, a history, a heritage, a TRUST. Don’t repeat what is confided. Even if it’s small. The two of you are literally an island, and unless you have permission, keep the private, intimate, personal stuff between you.
- Make eye contact. This one is hard. You may or may not have this skill down. I hope for you that you do. I don’t. I either stare with a furrowed brow and look angry or I avert in an uncomfortable need to make distance. I have to work at the in-between. Make eye contact when you speak to your spouse and notice how it bumps up the level of intimacy in your conversation. When you say something that you really want to get through, look into your spouse’s eyes. Practice if it’s uncomfortable. Trust me. Your eyes get your point across more than your words ever will. Let your guard down with your spouse and allow yourself to make uninhibited eye contact.
Because I’ve never written a list like this and probably never will again, I’ll throw in two more very important ones.
- Hold hands. It seems small but it’s not. I remember during a particularly difficult time in our marriage, a co-worker saw us at the store. He said later that what he noticed about my husband and I was that we were holding hands. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d held hands with his wife. They were three decades into marriage. I hope he holds his wife’s hand more often now.In twenty-two years, it’s one small thing that I’ve realized makes all the difference. When it’s bumpy, holding hands secures the ride. When it’s time to come before the throne in prayer, holding hands unites. When it’s sad, holding hands comforts. When it’s happy, holding hands celebrates. When it’s quiet, holding hands is connection. When it’s intimate, holding hands confirms. When it’s angry, holding hands is a sign of peace.
I know my husband’s hands better than I know my own. They are comfort and they are joy and they are callused and they are soft and they are strong and they are peace and they are love. Hold your spouse’s hand every chance you get and don’t ever stop.
Lastly but most importantly I believe:
- Pray together. Often. Even if it’s awkward. Do it. There is nothing, no thing, that has brought my husband and I closer than praying together. We prayed together before we even knew who we were praying to, and then once we did, we awkwardly bumbled our way into regular and natural conversation with the one who made us and designed marriage. Find a great couples devotional, get with a prayer group, or just clasp hands and pray. You will soon realize that the answer to most every problem that comes your way is to pray and seek God’s will and guidance in all things and that when you face them together with a bowed heart, you’ll face them stronger than you could ever have imagined.
We’ve seen dark times and we’ve seen bright times and we’ve done half a marriage without the Lord, and half a marriage with Him, and I only hope that we’ll have another twenty-two years and then another twenty-two after that.
So there’s my list for this day and this year and maybe it will bless you as you travel and grow and learn with your beloved.
I’ll have to add to my list next year.
Because I’ll never quit learning.
And I’ll never ever, ever leave the heat lamp in the barn again either.
I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine…Song of Solomon 6:3