Perspective

Twenty years today!

Today Andrew and I are celebrating our twentieth anniversary. Our plan: taking our youngest and her friend to see the live-action version of the movie Aladdin. While that doesn’t sound too romantic, it is a bit sweet since watching the cartoon version was one of our first real dates twenty-six years ago. Not only have I been married a really long time now, I’ve recently begun to realize that at forty-seven years old, I am smack dab in the middle of mid-life. If I live as long as my grandparents, I’ve got anywhere from thirty-two to fifty-four more years left. I am at the unique point of having enough time behind me to have a little perspective but enough time ahead to implement some of that perspective and see how it plays out.

The Past Perspective

I grew up in a conservative Christian church. I went to a Christian college. When I graduated, I moved to Ukraine to be a missionary/teacher. As I got to know Ukrainians, I began to hear their perspectives on things like how American politics affected their country. I learned that many people there did not like Ronald Reagan, who was a hero in the part of the US I came from and in my own family. I had hardly met anyone who did not like Reagan at that point in my life, but when I moved to Ukraine, I learned that many of people there blamed his policies for the collapse of the Soviet Union and the political chaos and extreme inflation that hit Ukraine as a result. I learned that the public sentiment toward Mikhael Gorbachev was also negative for the same reason, although people here in the US had favorable attitudes toward him.

Living in a different culture did not just lead me to question what I believed about my country, though. I attended church every week in aUkrainian church similar to my own in America, but as time went by, I noticed some differences. They took communion from one cup, which they passed from one person to the next. I often tried to sit near the front during a service when communion was served in an effort to get the cup when it was still fresh! Not only that, but they used wine in that cup, so I had my first taste of alcohol in church. This differed greatly from my church at home, which taught abstinence from alcohol so thoroughly that they used grape juice in communion. Many of the Ukrainian churches we worked with believed that women should cover their heads in worship, taking that cue from I Corinthians 11. (Look it up and ask yourself why we don’t practice this.)

Luba, my Ukrainian roommate and me. This photo was taken in 2011, so, no, I did not have that much gray hair in my 20’s…although I had quite a bit. And, of course, Luba never changes.

Change of Perspective

Experiences like these pushed me to question things I had always blindly accepted, both politically and spiritually. If these beautiful Christian people I loved believed it was acceptable to drink wine in church and expected women to cover their heads in worship, were they right? What exactly did the Bible teach about these things? More importantly, what was necessary for me to hold fast, and which of my beliefs could I loosen up on? What was cultural and what was essential? My beliefs had not been tested much until that point since I had surrounded myself with people who thought a lot like I did.

When I returned to the US, the same process happened in reverse. Suddenly, I was bombarded by teachings and opinions that seemed mired in American culture. I saw my own people slavishly following cultural norms instead of true Christian principles. To this day, I continue to hear vitriol disguised as piety, and I live perpetually amazed at how this can happen in Christian circles. I see politics mixed so intricately with faith that it becomes almost impossible to tell them apart. I hear independence and freedom preached to the extent that we forget the value of community and interdependence.

Essential Perspective

I have spent much of my adult life trying to discern what is cultural and what is Christian, whether in my own country or another. I have struggled to apply what I do think is essential. Most of all, I have struggled a great deal to love people who do not question their beliefs, people who do not see that their culturally-defined religion often is used to bludgeon those who differ.

What is essential? The very core of my answer I take from the mouth of Jesus himself, when an expert in the Jewish law asked him, “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:35-40).

I fear even typing this because I know there are some who will chalk me up as one of those mamby-pamby Christians who preaches all love and no truth. However, love is not mamby-pamby. It’s not weak. Love is not a cop-out. Love is fierce. Ask a mother who spends every day, all day sitting at the bedside of a chronically ill baby. Ask a dad whose girl is late for her curfew. Ask a husband whose wife struggles with debilitating depression or a wife whose husband dies unexpectedly. Love is strong; it fights; it holds on forever. Most importantly, it wants the very best for its beloved. That’s the love we need to have for Jesus and for others. That love drives the gospel. That love empowered Jesus to sacrifice everything, and that love can push us to examine our dearly held beliefs.

So on our twentieth anniversary, Andrew and I will take our thirteen-year-old “baby” to a movie and sit in comfy theater seats eating too-buttery popcorn. We will remember two much younger versions of ourselves who had much less defined perspectives on life and faith and the world and realize how we’ve grown since then and how far we still have to go. Maybe we will remember to let other people mature as well, to let them experience the love of God, the space to grow, the freedom to question, and the power that comes from the knowledge that they are loved.

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15 Ways Marriage is Better After 15 Years

Aw! We look sweet together after all these years.

Aw! Don’t we look sweet together after all these years?

Last week Andrew and I celebrated our fifteenth anniversary. Actually, we celebrated all week. Our kids went home with my parents after our vacation and visited friends in what became a whirlwind tour of the Rockies and the Midwest. We had a week to ourselves, a luxury we don’t get all that often.

It’s so interesting to me how having children around changes us. I don’t notice it when they’re here, but within a day of them leaving, I saw a difference in the way we related to one another. The stress level in the house decreased almost the minute they left. I didn’t boss anyone around because the ones who needed bossing had migrated to other parts of the country for the week. We went out to dinner a lot since eating out costs much less for two than it does for five, and we enjoyed picking out restaurants we wanted to try instead of going somewhere that offers Kids Eat Free or Happy Meals.

Not only did we ruin our diets for a week, but we also went to a movie. And then another one. That’s right, folks! We saw two movies in a row! They even had stuff like bad words and scary scenes, and we didn’t even have to worry that we were corrupting the youth or ensuring a week’s worth of nightmares. Not only did we see two non-cartoon movies, but we stayed up late to see them and did not get home until after 1:00 am. This is something that has not happened in our lives since the advent of children.

keep-calm-and-enjoy-fifteenSo all that nice time alone with just my husband right around our fifteenth anniversary got me thinking about what’s better about marriage after fifteen years. Here’s my list of Fifteen Ways Marriage is Better After Fifteen Years:

1.  We already know what each other likes. If we’re going to a movie, we can predict with accuracy which one the other one is going to like. I can tell you that if we’re going out to dinner, Andrew is going to like to go to a Chinese buffet, especially if he’s had time to plan and didn’t have lunch in order to get good and hungry.

2.  We already know what each other doesn’t like. This comes in handy when we’re mad  and we really want to get under the other person’s skin. Not that I do that or anyone ever should. No, never do that.

3.  We can wear whatever and the other one doesn’t care. In fact, after fifteen years, I could probably wear the same set of pajamas all day and all night for three weeks, and he would either not notice or just not inquire about it. This is, in my opinion, a good thing. The pressure’s off. We’re both accepted into our little club of two.

wedding pic4.  We’ve got a whole bunch of shared memories. Of course, in our case, one or the other of us doesn’t really remember all of them. Which leads to number five.

5.  We’ve got another person around who reminds us of things we might have forgotten. If he can’t remember what our third baby looked like when she was born, I know where the baby album is. It works out.

6.  We don’t stress out about buying some fancy schmancy gift for events like anniversaries. Giving gifts gets somewhat tricky when you share a bank account. Am I buying him a gift with his own money? This year on our anniversary, Andrew and I were driving to work and he said, “What do you want for our anniversary? I thought maybe you’d like to go shopping at Goodwill for a new outfit.” We both laughed because shopping at Goodwill for a special treat sounds pathetic. But there was a pause and I said, “Actually, that does sound pretty good!” And he said, “I knew you would!”

7. Our lives are solidly intertwined. Is that piano in the living room mine or his? Neither. It’s both of ours. We don’t have much that we can point to and say it belongs just to one of us. When he gets a new job and moves to a new place, so do I. Yesterday I read an article about what happens when two married people both have careers that require them to move around a lot. How do they decide whose career gets priority? I read that and realized this has never been too much of a problem for us. We decided the career priority question satisfactorily a long time ago.

Watch out! There's been a fight...or 500 fights.

Watch out! There’s been a fight…or 500 fights.

8.  Things we argued about in the beginning are still issues between us. We can’t change our personalities and the fundamentals of who we are, and in a lot of cases those are at the root of many arguments. However, we have figured out some ways to cope with those issues. And how horrible would it be if we were bombarded with new and mysterious issues each time we solved one set? That would be terrifying! At least when there’s some disagreement between us we know what we’re up against.

9.  We’ve persevered through some stuff, and a lot of it has been rough. That’s something we can feel proud of. Sometimes the only reason we stayed together was that we promised God that we would. Looking back, we have enough experiences to know that sometimes just staying and changing one little thing in our relationship or in our responses to each other is enough to make a big difference. When the rough times end, we are glad we didn’t give up.

Us, black and white

Faux artistic, black-and-white photo

10.  We probably have many years ahead of us. We’re not just starting out with stars in our eyes and a whole life ahead of us, but we probably do have a lot of years left together. We’re young enough to travel and try new things and old enough not to waste our time on things we don’t enjoy.

11. We’ve got a routine for most of what we do. We’re not reinventing the wheel every time one kid has a dentist appointment or someone gets sick. We know who does what, and things run a little more smoothly because of that.

12.  We survived our children’s baby, toddler, and preschool years. This was a feat, and, although I don’t remember quite a bit of it due to severe sleep deprivation, I’m proud to say we made it through, and we’re all still alive.

This was Emma's third birthday, the time when things started getting easier on the kid front.

This was our youngest’s third birthday, the time when things started getting easier on the kid front.

13.  We haven’t yet reached our children’s adolescent years. I am not saying more because why worry over the insanity that hasn’t yet happened?

14.  We have someone to come home to. When Andrew goes on a work trip, he knows we are waiting for him.

15. We are a family now. Not just a couple of people starting life together but a real group with a group identity and a collection of shared experiences. We’re the people in our lives who will know each other for the rest of our lives. Friends come and go, but family is forever…and our kids can’t escape that fact, even if they run off to visit far away friends in another state for a week!

family photo