We sat rocking on the porch, a constant cool breeze tinkling the tines of the wind chime hanging nearby and it sounds like a hymn. A pair of mourning doves cooing over and over in the branches right beside us, near enough to touch, flying back and forth together to their nest. Over and over, the cooing song. We drank steaming mugs in the warm sunlight. And I almost missed it, the significance. It didn’t settle over my soul until today, the symbolism of the dove. A symbol of peace. Peace, my word for the year. Peace, the word God has been speaking to me repeatedly in scripture at the outset of 2018. I came across these words today:
“Mourning doves represent peace of the deepest kind, soothing and quieting our worried or troubled thoughts, enabling us to find renewal in the silence of the mind.”
Did you know mourning doves mate for life, raising their brood together with devotion? Did you know mourning doves typically symbolize the presence of the Holy Spirit, hope and peace?
What a kindness from God, to remind us that in this season of marriage and parenting which is so busy, strained, loud and tired, that He offers us peace. There is peace to be had in Him even in the midst of these busy, blessed years. That He is with us and desires to be more with us. He has brought us through some very great difficulties in the last 3 years specifically, some things we couldn’t have anticipated walking through. It’s taken a toll on us in some ways, but in others it has drawn us closer together. We’ve had a lot of rich discussions about what it means to be a Christian, and we’ve leaned into that conversation in ways that make us both uncomfortable at times. We’ve had to extend way more grace to one another than we knew we would need, and we’ve seen our own sin and ugliness more clearly. But, I always recall the words of Eugene Peterson: Our sin is never meant to be the main event, but God’s work on our sin, His work which covers our sin, is the main event. All of our brokenness has given us a deeper understanding of His love and unfathomable grace. I feel held by Him and seen by Him.
Brandon and I went away for the weekend, our 12th anniversary weekend, to a cabin in the mountains a couple hours away from home. We went there last year as well and had such a sweet time we wanted to return. Our lives are a lot noisier than we could have imagined not that long ago. Neither of us realized how much quiet we had in our lives before, and how much we need regular doses of it to be able to think clearly and calm. Brandon even remarked that his job is constant noise, working in remodeling with tools all day long. We so love this season of raising a family together, but both being introverts does make it very taxing at times, to have so little retreat and rest. When we’ve gone away to this cabin or make any measure of space for alone time together, we always feel like we’re taking a deep breath after holding it for so long. It’s necessary, essential somehow to our makeup. And we remember each other, how much we enjoy being together.
These cabins that we escape to are meant for spiritual retreat. I’ve gone away to this place before alone for a solo retreat, which was so incredibly healing. Still, it doesn’t feel wrong to use this place as an anniversary retreat. It’s something holy, this being married, and we need to remember that. We need to remember one another, and we need to re-member: to be put back together again after so many of life’s trials and difficulties and distractions pull at us all year long. We need to do this work before God, in a sacred place, and it is so beautiful and sweet to do so. These little cabins feel like sacred ground, and every time I have gone I’m afraid God won’t meet me/us there again like He did last time. But He does. In that holy hush, He speaks. There is nothing more that we need to restore and reconnect with one another than first reconnecting to God as individuals, and then seeing each other again with fresh eyes. We find our way back to God and to one another in the particular and peculiar quiet of creation, drinking deeply of its abundance, and in words and reflection.
It felt like it was a huge process getting to the cabins, with a lot of traffic and stops along the way, but when we made it, we got right out into the woods for a few miles of hiking to a gorgeous waterfall. It made the shift into a quiet weekend more immediate, getting out into the dusky quiet woods, seeing deer, many birds, a ring snake, and the usual squirrels and such. We lose our sense of being bound to time without children and their schedules and demands, and we just did what we felt like doing rather than keeping an eye on the clock. When we got back to the cabin from our hike it was dark and we were starving. In the morning we took our time, lingering long over coffee and books and quiet, then went to the Wataugua River for some fly-fishing.
Our little wren-bird came along and is so sweet. She was a bit fussier than usual, but still very easy to have along with us and mostly quiet. I didn’t get as much knitting time as usual because she was in arms more often, but I did a lot of reading. The cabin had the book by Lauren Winner, Wearing God, that I’ve wanted to read for some time and had forgotten about. It was fascinating and I read a good chunk of it, and now have it on hold at the library so I can finish it. I must say, though, it is really one I want to buy and have on hand.
B and I have taken to gifting each other a traditional anniversary gift (using a list like this one here). Last year was represented by “steel” (and B gave me a steel knitting needle). This year was linen and silk. I struggled a bit for what to give him in that category, but had felt prompted to revisit our vows. Brandon and I wrote our own vows rather than saying traditional vows, which was special. However, I don’t remember this many years later what it is we wanted to commit to specifically. I felt like we need our vows to be visible, a regular reminder of what we have purposed and promised. So I decided to paint our vows on a couple of canvases (linen, sort of?) to hang in our bedroom. They turned out pretty close to what I imagined and I’m really happy with them. Brandon appreciates gifts like this, so I think he was happy with them, too. It took a lot of digging to even find where we had our vows stored away. Reading over them again sent me in a tailspin of memories. Oh, to be a new bride with all the naiveté and infatuation! Yet I can’t help being grateful to be waayy beyond that now, with 12 hard-won years under our belts, and to still love each other a great deal, and a great deal more honestly.
Brandon gifted me with a couple of skeins of yarn (I’m wanting to try a brioche shawl, and am thinking the Marley Shawl by Andrea Mowry), a driftwood Lykke circular needle (I’ve had my eyes on Lykke’s for so long! I can’t wait to cast something on!), and a new pair of lululemon leggings, which I so desperately need and love. He said he forgot to check what year 12 represented on the gift list, but I wasn’t complaining.
We also decided to attempt to invest a bit more intentionally in our marriage this year, and came up with a “12 for 12” list, a bucket list of sorts for this year, with 12 dates or things we want to do together before our next anniversary. We haven’t quite finished the list but we are trying to do some bigger goals and some smaller, more feasible things: run a benefit 5k, go to a concert, mountain bike at Tsali (where I’ve wanted to bike since high school), read a book together (this is actually something we’ve never managed to do!), camp out at a favorite mountain bald, build something for our house together, etc. I’ll share more about this list as we go, I think. I’m hoping we continue to make time for it, for each other, for our marriage and investing in FUN together because life can be bleak and exhausting if we don’t intentionally plan in some fun. If you have any ideas or suggestions for us, let me know and it may make the list! 🙂
It’s true what they say–the older I’ve gotten, the less I feel like I know. But if I’ve learned a few things about marriage, one nugget is this: it really does get better with time. Are you in a hard season, friend? HANG ON. It gets better. Are you in a good season? It gets better! Of course, there are exceptions to that rule, of course there are circumstances that can end or alter a marriage irreparably. But in the usual sense, in an ordinary marriage that has seen and survived hard days, I am astounded time and time again how good it can be! How it can keep getting better, sweeter, richer. How the time invested and the obstacles overcome seem to give us such a depth of intimacy I couldn’t have imagined. We’ve seen so much road together, it’s been so unexpected. No one on earth knows me and my interior like Brandon does. He holds so many of my secrets, and I his. So many people say about their spouse, “If I had to do it over, I’d marry you all over again,” and I’ve honestly felt like I don’t know if I can say that. That sounds horrible, I know, but it’s because I’m such a big chicken and I’d be too dang scared of the hard things we’ve faced together in marriage! I’d selfishly want to protect myself and probably be a hermit somewhere. But, oh, what I would have missed out on! As C. S. Lewis says, “to love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable” (The Four Loves).
Don’t be afraid to commit to love. It is terribly inconvenient and challenging, but there is no greater avenue to experiencing and understanding God than to love another person and give up your life for them, to both receive and extend forgiveness time and time again. To be made into the image of Christ together with another, as one. There’s nothing like it. Many of you know exactly what I mean, right?!
May God root our marriages more deeply in Him. May He make this year sweeter than all the rest. May we not be afraid to give ourselves to love, true love which lays down its life for another. May we find Him in each other and through each other in ways that continually surprise us. May we never grow weary of the good work of love! And may He hold us together when we are falling apart. He is able.