It’s Valentine’s Day, and my husband generously took the kids to his dad’s for the weekend to give me a little space. For nearly four months, my husband has been persevering through 60-hour work weeks. But despite his own exhaustion, he packed up the kids and gave me a weekend because he knows me and he loves me and if there’s one thing I’ve learned in my eight years of being a mom, it’s this: sometimes you just need to miss your kids.
So as I prepare for them to return and I’m feeling refreshed and productive and drinking a cup of coffee that is still hot, I’ve got some miscellaneous thoughts about marriage and this man of mine.
I browse the Valentine’s Day aisle, hoping that a card will jump out at me from a distance, since the crowd of carts and shoppers block any attempts to get close. I squeeze in to pick up a few, but they all fall short. I hate cards. I hate canned messages that are beautiful and poetic but impersonal and distant. How do I find a card with the words to sum up my love, our five years of Valentine’s Days: the pain, the chaos, the frustration, the joy? Wearied from the crowding and the little hands grabbing anything within reach of the cart, I call it quits. Empty handed, I head to the checkout. As I load my items onto the counter, a card catches my eye: the cover pictures two trees side by side, their roots intermingled, and an inside that reads, “I love how we grow together.” Five years of marriage summed up in a greeting card. I forsake my disdain for Hallmark and toss the card into my pile of purchases.
I’ve been thinking about tree roots ever since. Thinking about how, five years in, we still just look like little saplings, wondering how we’ll make it through the next wind storm. We wish we had more to show for our growth–better communication, fewer arguments, more understanding and laughter and fun. But some days we don’t laugh. We hurt each other and we mess up and we wish we could take it back.
I look at pictures from our wedding day and think of how little we knew. Bright eyed and wrinkle-free, we had barely sprouted and yet we felt like mighty oaks, our branches sprawled toward the sky, ready to take on the world.
I didn’t know myself when I married my husband. I thought I did–I was vocal, independent, and strong, but my new relationship with Jesus made me question if that was really okay. Maybe I was actually supposed to be quiet, submissive, deferring?
For five years, instead of figuring each other out, I have tried to figure myself out. I have tried to protect myself, to prove myself, to assert myself. But in the end of all of that, I have felt only lost. I long for connection, for intimacy, for that sense of knowing and being known, and yet I cannot seem to know myself, and my demands for connection remain unquenched.
I’ve been trying to find my life, only to remember that it must first be lost. Not lost in the man who shares my life; lost in the Man who gave His up for me. The life of Christ in me offers the grace to lean into the mystery of oneness that is marriage, to let go of the fear and the self-preservation and allow myself to be enveloped by this man who sometimes feels like a stranger. And as I do, I find a self that is different than I expected yet more fully alive.
These five years have been marked by trials. One after another, we have struggled to catch our breath. We look at our marriage and wonder, have we really gotten anywhere? But the roots. They give me so much hope. Our thin little branches hold on for dear life, but beneath the surface are roots spreading deep: anchoring, steadying. We don’t have the strength to reach to the sky but instead we’ve dug into the earth. It’s why we can “consider it joy whenever we face trials of various kinds”–because we have the promise of ever-deepening roots, of a God who is faithful to see that no moment is wasted; that His people, though weary and war-torn, are being shaped and molded and fashioned into the very image of His Son.
You learn a lot about a man by watching how he treats his mom. I’d heard that before, but never really understood until I watched my husband care for his dying mother. Watched him lean in and listen to her soft voice. Watched him tenderly lift her failing body–the one that carried and nourished his life. Watched him sing to her while her eyes lay closed, tears streaming. Watched him stand by her side while she took her last breath. Watched him lead his family in the Lord’s prayer at her graveside.
Respect grows in those unexpected moments, where you watch your husband just be who he is and you wonder how you ever got so lucky.
Deepening roots: unseen, unknown, whispered growth that takes a lifetime.