twelve years strong

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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.

 

remembering

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Brandon and I slipped away for our anniversary weekend (May 12th) to celebrate 11 years.  Friday began with his parents arriving to our home (so thankful to them for their willingness to drive to us and watch the kiddos for the weekend!) and us transferring all the needed info to them, and then we left just before noon.  We decided to stop for lunch in Black Mountain on our way to our cabin in Banner Elk, NC.  We shared a pizza (with gluten in it!  So strange!) which immediately made Brandon’s day.  I had asked if we could stop at my favorite yarn store while there because I had a gift card to spend there.  We went in and Brandon surprised me: he had called ahead and had a gift waiting for me there, and also told me I could buy some yarn.  A “reasonable amount” of yarn, he said.  EEE!  So I bought a couple skeins of speckly hand-dyed yarn, which I’ve been dying to try for awhile now, and I’m planning on knitting a shawl with it.  Brandon also picked out a skein of brilliant blue/purple Wollmeise yarn for a hat for himself.  I am super stoked to try the yarn he picked!  It feels heavenly.  It’s really neat to see him take an interest in yarn with me, even though he’ll probably never knit.  He appreciates the artistry of it, I think, and he had fun picking out something for me to make for him.

From there we drove further up into the mountains, not wanting to arrive at our cabin too late.  I had been to this cabin before on a little solo retreat last fall, but I wanted to share it with B, knowing how much he would enjoy it.  We made a stop to the grocery store before heading up to the cabin.  We brought most of our own food, simple meals without much fuss or prep needed.  It was strange to not have to think about things being “gluten-free” or worry about cross-contamination in a different kitchen.  Our lives have changed so much with Phoebe’s diagnosis almost two years ago.  We have grown accustomed to it and we don’t mind the change at all, but we forget how much easier it is to shop/eat without concern about gluten.  It was a nice mental break for both of us.

There are some really beautiful spots in these North Carolina mountains.  We have seen magnificent mountains when we lived in Colorado so we sometimes dismiss these quiet hills, and then the beauty surprises.  Our little cabin was nestled with a couple of other cabins at the top of a mountain, a quiet haven with the scripture from Matthew 11:28 posted:

 “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”

The rain was beginning to fall heavily, we got into our cabin and Brandon unloaded the car.  The cabin smells just like my aunt and uncle’s cottage in  Muskoka, Ontario–a wooden cozy cabin smell.  We lit the candles that were waiting, cracked the windows to hear the rain, turned on the little gas heater, unpacked our few things.  The rain grew into a thunderstorm, and we just sat in the stillness, knitting, reading.

I’m not quite sure why we had the best time, but we did.  Maybe it was just a sweet gift from the Lord, knowing we need refreshing.  Maybe its because we both built some surprises for each other into our weekend.  Maybe it was all the quiet.  B and I both are introverts and I didn’t realize how much we both crave some uninterrupted quiet.  Space to think.  I used to be afraid of being an old couple with nothing more to say to each other, but this anniversary showed me there is a place of comfortable silence.  A silence not because you are weary of each other, but because you rest in other’s presence without always needing to fill it with conversation.  There is a security there.  We know each other.  We love each other.  There is less striving than there used to be.

We also talked a lot about our marriage, where we are now.  We tried to remember every anniversary and which ones were our favorites, which ones were disappointments.  We reminisced about last year and how much we enjoyed our anniversary backpacking trip, but how exhausting it was.  He gave me a card with constellations on it and I laughed because I almost bought the same one for him.  It was our “thing” when we fell in love while working for a backpacking organization.  While we were apart often leading various trips, we would look up at the big dipper at night and know that both of us were looking up at the same cluster of stars in the same sky, and it sort of became “our” constellation.

Our lives have become so much about our children, as they must, but we needed to have some extended time just the two of us to remember each other.  To re-member, as Ann Voskamp would say.  Our remembering our love for each other, our commitment to each other before and beyond having children together–it re-members us, puts us back again, all the broken bits held together again.  We needed to remember that when all else fades into the background and its just the two of us, we still really like each other.

I’m not sure why, but I think we also recovered some kindness.  In all the mounting stress of these little years, the sleepless nights, the endless giving and dealing with interruptions, the financial strain of living on one income, the care-taking of a child whose health goes up and down–we have grown careless with each other.  We have lost some of our common courtesy, some of our simple gentle handling even in the way we talk to each other in response to hurts and offenses.

Have you heard Sara Groves album Fireflies and Songs?  I feel like the whole thing is about marriage in one way or another.  I think of her lyric “Run for your lives, all tenderness is gone in the blink of an eye.”  Isn’t it shocking in marriage how this happens, how the rub of life and the comfortableness with each other can creep in and cause us to loose our tenderness toward one another, the common kindness that we extend to strangers but now can’t muster up for the one we love the most?  We have grown careless with each other, and yet something jarred us awake to the reality that simple kindness and gentleness with one another is worth fighting for.  Better to have it than to fight to be right.

In the morning, we slept in as late as we could.  We enjoyed steaming mugs in a drizzly rain.  We lingered long over books and bibles.  He geared up to go fly fishing–the first time for him in many months.  We spent most of the day on the river nearby, eating a picnic lunch there and staying until we needed to head back to the cabin to make dinner.  The next morning before we drove back home, we went to a different spot on the river and he fished again while I knitted.  It was mother’s day and it felt odd not to be home with my babies, but we enjoyed every minute away together without a hint of guilt.

I remember hearing someone share that the secret to their lasting marriage was falling in love over and over again, and I didn’t quite understand it at the time, but I think I do now.  I think it was the first time in our 11 years together that I felt like I was falling in love again, seeing Brandon with renewed eyes.  Yet it’s not the superficial, young and untried love of a newlywed.  It is love reignited, love that has withstood some hard tests and storms and still remains, steady and strong.

It wasn’t a fancy trip, we didn’t travel far.  We didn’t spend much and we didn’t do much. But somehow in the mystery of the simplicity, God blessed us with renewed love for one another.  With hope for a bright future.  With the comfort of His presence and the comfort of each other, all we have walked together.  All the intimacy between us, the secrets only we know: the darkest valleys, the sweetest victories.  All these miles traveled together, whether good or bad.  Hand in hand, with eyes fixed on our Prize, helping each other make it to the end, saying to one another as we go: I still see you.  I still love you.

Really we don’t need much
Just strength to believe
There’s honey in the rock,
There’s more than we see
In these patches of joy
These stretches of sorrow
There’s enough for today
There will be enough tomorrow.
Sara Groves, Enough

hiking the blacks

We shoulder packs in the rain, resisting those first sensations of getting wet, eventually surrendering to the inevitability.  We are getting our feet under us again.  We find a campsite near the road, just a quarter mile from the car, an old familiar spot from our college backpacking days.  We begin to set up our tent — always strange, this need to find shelter and make home wherever we are, especially in the wild lonely of the wilderness in the rain and growing dark.  No one else is here, the fog settles heavy over the parkway, the last lingering cars making their way home to the city below the clouds.  Good, let them go.

We are in good spirits because we know an adventure is ahead, whatever may happen, and we are in need of a little adventure.  A little unpredictable.  We soon find we cannot get a fire going, can’t even get a light for our stove.  The prospect of a cold meal on top of being now near-hypothermic and wet is dampening.  Our pride is a bit wounded — such things used to be second-nature, and now we find ourselves fumbling and making amateur mistakes.

But the wilderness is no place for the proud.

We swallow it, leave our campsite in tact and head the quarter mile back to the car, warming up there and cooking on the ground outside our car door.  The rain beats relentless, we peel off soaked layers and lament that we didn’t bring a few more backup layers, while we wait for our first sacred meal.  It’s amazing the hunger that comes over you in the wilderness.  The unexpected exertion, the cold, the yawning expanse, it stirs up something in us.  We laugh and talk about how happy we are, despite all that’s already gone wrong.  This is still fun.  If we’ve learned anything in ten years of marriage, we’ve learned that things will go wrong, and that you can either ride it out with some measure of joy in tact, or you can let it sink you.  The windows are fully steamed over now.  A wet night backpacking together somehow still feels like a vacation to parents of three children ages five and under.  Any time you retreat into the wilderness and come back alive, no matter what the circumstances or foolhardy mistakes made, is still a success of some kind, we say.

Back to our dark little wet tent we go, hurrying inside, listening now to the sounds of the dripping forest.  Just the pattering of rain now, no wind.  I am anxious — I am unpracticed at being out here in this environment again, and it takes time to give way to sleep.  I’m listening for bears, or some footfall, I suppose.

At first light we get up and get moving.  We left our food in the car, not wanting to deal with hanging a bear bag in the raining dark, knowing we would be driving to the next stop anyway.  We pack up quickly, and see some promising first rays of sun.  We expect the mist to burn off and hope to dry out our layers soon.

We debate now about whether or not we should head out to our next campsite, 4 1/2 miles away, or just keep car camping for the weekend.  It feels more uncertain now, and a lot more effort than it may be worth.  We brew coffee and oatmeal again by the car in the spitting rain and wind as we discuss and try to check the radio for the weather.  Brandon is resolute, I am questioning.  We decide to go for it, register our car at the top of Mt. Mitchell, streamline our packs and reorganize from our helter-skelter night, and head out.  It takes us four hours to hike those miles.  We forgot how strenuous this ridge line hike is.  We last hiked this range when we co-led a 21-day wilderness trip in our early years of marriage, and when thinking about how we wanted to celebrate our tenth anniversary this year, we thought of hiking the Blacks.  Six of the ten highest peaks in the eastern US are found on the Black Mountain range, four of which we would hike up and down during this trip.  Down from Mt. Mitchell, up to Mt. Craig, then onto Big Tom, Balsam Cone, Cattail Peak, Potato Hill, and finally a steep descent downhill to Deep Gap.  Our packs are heavier than necessary, we decided to forego lightweight in favor of having a few choice luxuries: a tent, coffee, books and journals, some knitting, fancier meals.  Brandon ended up carrying most of the weight, being my pack was smaller.

We make it into camp around 2 pm, fighting spits of rain and wind off and on all day.  We never seemed to break out of the clouds for very long, but had gorgeous views at different points on the hike this day.  I had wanted to go onto Winter Star Mountain originally and make camp there, but we are completely spent and Brandon tells me in no uncertain terms that this is the farthest we will go today.  We feel at home in this little spot on Deep Gap, and something in us relaxes and quiets and unwinds in a way that only the wilderness seems to do in us.  We chatter on here and there, but now we get busy with the work of shelter, fire, finding water, scouting around.  We nestle our tent under the three great spruces that line the campsite, their windward sides all blown naked.  We are very desperate and hopeful for a fire tonight, and labor for a good few hours getting it started and going in the increasing wind with all the wood soaked.  Still, it is not raining now, and we finally get camp settled.  I am reading, Brandon is nursing the fire.  It is silent out here.  It is vast.  It feels terribly good to only have to care for ourselves and tend to our essential needs, when most of our hours are spent caring for and watching over three little ones and their constant needs.  It feels like a necessary fast, a spiritual act of ceasing from the work of care taking.  Out here we don’t have to think about who needs a diaper change or a snack, who needs a book read or hurt feelings consoled.  (A special thanks, by the way, to Brandon’s parents for affording us this peace of mind while keeping our little ones happy and well-engaged!)

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Life for us has become domesticated where it was once wild.  We’ve forgotten the ways of the wilderness — the immensity that overtakes you and silences all human bravado.  A quiet that is almost deafening after so much noise.  The swallowing reality that you are not in control here — this is not your domain, this world belongs to the wild things, you are merely a visitor here.  You cannot control outcomes, you can only respond to what the natural world presents.  You are limited here, limited by resources, energy, the natural bounds of night and day, by weather, conditions.  Very little is sure.

The tenth anniversary is supposedly the “tin” anniversary, representing both the durability and flexibility of your marriage, and so B and I clinked our tin camping cups over steaming Tikka Masala with chicken.  It is one of the most satisfying backcountry meals I can remember having.  We tell some stories, remember some other wilderness moments when meals ministered to more than just our bodies.

A couple of guys hiked in just before evening, we chat with them around our fire for a bit.  They are two marine friends stationed in another part of NC, and they drove six hours to camp out at this spot, craving the wilderness as we were.  The wind is howling now and we finish off our hot chocolates, then pack up the last of our food into bear bags, head off to our bear hang, just two beams of light bouncing in the dark.  Back in our tent, we zip our bags together and whisper thanks for the warmth and our few dry clothes.  We hope for a sunny, lazy morning with another campfire and coffee.

I sleep at peace this night, happy in the wilderness, though the winds now whip the tent mercilessly and the rain assaults the west-facing side of the tent in regular surges, like an ocean wave hitting again and again.  I wake up again and again, as the tent sides bowl over with the wind, praying for our marine neighbors who were sleeping in hammocks in a grove of trees nearby.  Somehow it doesn’t seem awkward now to invite them into our tent if they are out there in the elements freezing.  The wilderness will do that to you, break down the usual barriers and make you pull together when necessary.

We wake in the morning expecting for the calm that usually comes with the sunrise, but it is as wild as ever.  There will be no fire and no sunshine and lollygagging today.  We cook quickly in our vestibule, pack up, and head for home.  Our bodies are sore and blistered and the road ahead seems longer than our strength.  But we begin, as we must.

I am watching this husband of mine and I can’t help thinking how much this trip is like marriage.  You make these plans and you have all these dreams, you imagine all the sunshine and the sprawling in a hammock by a gurgling stream.  But here you are taking one laborious step after another under a load far heavier than you could have expected.  Here you are keeping pace with another while fog closes you in on all sides, erasing the trail ahead of and behind you, obscuring all sense of perspective.  Here you are, helping each other as you rise and to fall in the muck and mire over crest and trough while the rain pelts and the wind howls.  You didn’t think it would be like this, you didn’t think it would be this hard, this much of a fight.  Is everything against us?  And all the while you are lamenting this rain and fog, you cannot see that you are hidden in the cloud He has spread over you.  You forget that sometimes He makes the clouds His chariots and walks on the wings of the wind.  You forget that many waters cannot quench love, and that He comes to you like the rain.  In all this raining and all this wet, I remember again His words to me at the crown of the year, and my soul smiles.  Yes, He reigns supreme over the rising waters.

I am watching this husband of mine carrying an incredible load, carrying all his own gear plus the tent, cooking gear, bear rope, water pump, med kit, etc.  He bears the brunt of the burden.  He does this for me.  He cares for me, he is protective for me in a way I don’t often notice at home in our usual life.  Even after all these years, all these careless and hurtful words between us in our uglier moments, he hasn’t grown callous with me.  He is still tender toward me.  He asks if I’m doing okay, he asks about my bum knee, he reaches out a hand on the steeper sections, he lends me his dry clothes.  He will give me anything he can to keep me safe.  He offers to do most of the work so I can relax and read.  At the end of it all, he rubs my back in the dark.  This man is neither saint nor villain, though I often try to pin him as one or the other.  He is both, as we all are; imperfect, a mixture of grand failure and peculiar glory.  I spent so much time in our early years “looking for the music in the music box, tearing it to pieces, trying to find a song” instead of opening my hands to receive this mystery of a man, giving thanks for what is and isn’t there as unto a good God who knows best.  Finally I’m seeing that that’s where the fireflies are.

Even after all these years, when we strip away the noise, and the busy, and all the responsibility, we find that there is still love left here.  It’s beautiful, the way we move back into this space of being just us two.  It is a whisper to us of seasons that are to come, where our rhythms and our busy will change, but for now we stretch thin and strain hard.  For now we share weary smiles and winks over early morning coffee and children with tousled hair clambering all over us.  We cannot believe the goodness of the life we have been given in these past ten years.  We look ahead with confidence because of the faithfulness of our God.  When we pass through the waters, He will be with us.

uncommon grace

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Sometimes we grow restless and we chaff and squirm against what has grown common to us.  Sometimes we rebel against our boundaries and we ache for other borders.  We beg for a change of scenery, for fresh springs.  This wasn’t the land of our choosing, or so we thought.  Sometimes in our leaving and ultimately in our returning we find again why we loved these mountains in the first place.  Maybe one of our greatest sins is that we grow accustomed to glory and call it common.

And then we find our way back, our way home again and we remember: these mountains hold all our stories.

Look, over there!  That was the place where we first met.  There was the river where we had that boating trip.    Over there is where you proposed to me.  That valley is where we fell in love.  We hiked that ridge on our first 21-day course together.  I grew up picnicking over that hill.

These mountains hold our stories, memories, like markers.  Reminding us, rooting us back in the greater story, God’s story, the over-arching story of His kindness to us, His faithfulness to us, His sovereignty over us.  These mountains that we buck against like enemies are strong friends rising up all around proclaiming, “He is good!  He is loving!  He was enough!  He will be enough again.”

We can go on striving and tearing up the soil looking for something to grow, or we can surrender to what the Lord has done and is doing, looking instead for what is here, finding what is praiseworthy, finding all the gifts already around us.  We can go on striving, or we can be satisfied now because He is with us in this land that sometimes feel small and cramped.

The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup;
    you hold my lot.
The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
    indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.

Psalm 16:5-6

 

(Planning to have a longer post up tomorrow with more about last weekend’s backpacking trip!  Stay tuned!)

preparations

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This blog post was supposed to go up last Friday, but we were so busy with preparations that it didn’t make it.  For the last number of weeks, Brandon and I have been planning a weekend backpacking trip alone together without kids to celebrate our tenth anniversary earlier this month.  We originally met working together in a backpacking program leading trips, and we have led many trips together, but never, even after all these years, have we gone backpacking alone together just for fun without some sort of programming involved.

Our life has grown so domesticated in these child-rearing years.  Most of my life is spent within the walls of our sweet home, and I love it immensely!  But it can feel terribly tame sometimes, and I can be lulled into complacency by the false perception of control that a domestic life engenders.  I can stay up late knitting by the light of a lamp or reading well into the early morning hours of the night.  I can turn on a tap for water, and throw dirty clothes in a machine.  I can have access to all the information I need or want at the drop of a hat via my phone, which is usually within a few feet of me at all times, or via the computer.  I can check the week’s weather forecast and the local grocery stores current sales and plan meals accordingly.  It enables me to run a tight ship when I want to and to feel on top of what I perceive needs to be done.

My days didn’t used to be so tidy.  The wilderness was so much a part of the structure of my days (being an Outdoor Education major in college) pretty much since high school, and it felt like second nature in my college days to read maps, know how to pack a light pack with bare minimums, to know the necessary knots, how to read the weather via the sky, etc.  I lived a life more dependent on the circumstances and conditions of nature that I cannot control.

I remember, too, how Brandon and I were when we led trips together.  The rhythm we found ourselves in, the way we worked like a well-oiled machine, the way he gently led and taught, and I supported and followed.  It’s how we fell in love.  Somehow in all the rat-race and the complete depletion that parenting can do to a couple, we’ve lost some of that.  We don’t have much financially to do anything really extravagant for this year’s big anniversary, though we dreamed of all sorts of ways we wish we could spend it.  What we both were craving was just a getaway, our first time away from the kids for a full weekend, and to be able to do it for next to nothing cost-wise.  I suggested backpacking, and the wheels began turning.  We wanted to hike this ridgeline, starting at the highest peak east of the Mississippi, that we hiked during a 21-day backpacking course we led in our early days of marriage.  We called it “the blacks” then, the Black Mountain range, and it is absolutely one of the most stunning areas in our NC mountains.  We had to sort of fly over this ridge during that 21-day course, and I was aching to be back there and camp on it, explore, and linger.

Most of last week was spent making last-minute preparations for the trip.  Brandon’s parents were happily willing to come and watch our three little ones for the weekend, which is a lot to take on!  Three kids ages five and under, two in diapers, and one with special dietary needs is not a joke!  So we were super stoked and grateful.

It was so fun pulling out our old now-ghetto backpacking equipment, checking everything and prepping everything, making lists and meal plans and looking at routes.  We wanted as luxury of a backpacking trip as we could have, while still being able to fit it all on our backs.  The process of planning and anticipating it was so fun, somehow breathing some new life into our marriage.  Having something to talk about other than battling insurance companies, bills and financial strain, tactics for dealing with children’s behaviors, petty arguments over who will take care of what, and so forth was really fun.  Having something to plan and orchestrate together beyond our usual lives, something that was just for us and by us, was relaxing and exciting.  We were hungry for the time and space to reconnect with each other.  We were hungry to experience God.

Friday afternoon, Brandon’s parents arrived and we packed up and headed out.  We arrived at the top of Mt. Mitchell in a full on blustery mist and drizzle, which developed into a full-on downpour.  Somehow, even though it wasn’t quite what we were imagining, we were ready for whatever the wilderness wanted to give us, ready to leave behind for a couple of days our tidy lives for a bit of adventure.  Phone off and camera left in the car, backpacks shouldered with grunts and moans, and we were off.

“He split the rocks in the wilderness,
And gave them drink in abundance like the depths.”
Psalm 78:15

fifteen years

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Fifteen years of undeserved life + breath.  Fifteen years, a gift.  We all know that each day we are alive is truly a gift, each new morning another day He has chosen to give us.  But I remember laying in the freezing dark cold of that snow, wet and shivering, being fully aware that this might be my last day.  We talked about it, my sister and I, as we clung to each other and to any semblance of warmth in that makeshift snowcave.  We knew God would be good even if He chose to end our lives in this way, on this mountain, at the ages of 16 and 20 years old.  He could have, but He didn’t.  In the swirl of emotions following our rescue, the way it felt to see a helicopter with men smiling and waving over us, the way it felt to be helped onto that helicopter, flown to a hospital, exiting to microphones from multiple news agencies in our faces; the way it felt to see our parents for the first time, and our siblings; to be interviewed on the Today Show.  I remember in the wake of all of that publicity returning back to my high school, walking the halls and being FULLY alive.  I could hardly handle the way it pierced me, I wanted to jump up and down and shake people and scream at everyone, “We are ALIVE, you guys!?!  This is insane.  Don’t you get it?  We all have been given ANOTHER DAY.”  We all sort of know that each day is a gift, but I can’t tell you what it felt like to know that God wanted us alive.  He chose to let us have another day, another embrace with our family, another breath.  Here we are, fifteen years later.  My sister and I both graduated high school, college, got married, have had three children each.  Life has gone on, God has granted us more time, and our hearts are mindful of the miracle that this is.  When we forget, our little “snowcave anniversary” comes up, year after year on February 12th, and we remember.

Psalm 34

I will bless the Lord at all times;
    his praise shall continually be in my mouth.
My soul makes its boast in the Lord;
    let the humble hear and be glad.

Oh, magnify the Lord with me,
    and let us exalt his name together!

I sought the Lord, and he answered me
    and delivered me from all my fears.
Those who look to him are radiant,
    and their faces shall never be ashamed.
This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him
    and saved him out of all his troubles.
The angel of the Lord encamps
    around those who fear him, and delivers them.

Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good!
    Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!
Oh, fear the Lord, you his saints,
    for those who fear him have no lack!
The young lions suffer want and hunger;
    but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing.

Come, O children, listen to me;
    I will teach you the fear of the Lord.
What man is there who desires life
    and loves many days, that he may see good?
Keep your tongue from evil
    and your lips from speaking deceit.
Turn away from evil and do good;
    seek peace and pursue it.

The eyes of the Lord are toward the righteous
    and his ears toward their cry.
The face of the Lord is against those who do evil,
    to cut off the memory of them from the earth.
When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears
    and delivers them out of all their troubles.
The Lord is near to the brokenhearted
    and saves the crushed in spirit.

Many are the afflictions of the righteous,
    but the Lord delivers him out of them all.
He keeps all his bones;
    not one of them is broken.
Affliction will slay the wicked,
    and those who hate the righteous will be condemned.
The Lord redeems the life of his servants;
    none of those who take refuge in him will be condemned.

A little video my sister put together years ago:

I’ve shared more about our story here, here and here.

When you are Held {our marriage story, so far}

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It was the way he looked at me that night, eyes shimmering wild across the gazebo from me, shimmering like the quiet lake backlit behind him with moon and stars.  We had worked together all summer leading backpacking trips and other outdoor adventures.  He had trained me and some other new staff, and our relationship had been strictly professional and platonic.  We had never broached the subject of feelings.  He had a heart deeply wounded from a broken engagement.  I was convinced God was calling me to potentially life-long singleness.  Neither of us had any desire or intention to fall in love.  Privately, we each fought it all summer long.  But the heart has it’s reasons that reason knows not of.

He had been away on a week-long trip and I had been busy with other programming.  It was nearly the end of the summer.  He came in that day from the trip and I saw him biking down the road from his 14-mi trek down Mt. Mitchell.  His grin was a mile wide and he was filthy and handsome.  I was taking some letters to the post office on campus and while I was gone, he must have run to my dorm room and taped a bunch of wild flowers to my door.  He drew the big dipper constellation on my white message board on the door and asked if I we could talk.  When I came back and saw it, my heart started pounding.  Suddenly I was terrified and exhilerated at the same time.  Something in me knew life was about to change forever.  We had gear to clean up and put away, final debriefings and a staff meeting that night to attend to, and this quiet secret between the two of us, still unspoken and hanging in the air, that we would meet up and “talk” after the day’s work was done.  He came to my room and asked if I wanted to walk to the lake with him.  We walked in silence, all nerves and sweaty palms.

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I can’t remember exactly how he started off, only that he said he believed it was time for him to have this conversation with me.  And then he said these words that nearly knocked me off my seat, and certainly left me speechless:

“I want to see about marrying you.”

What kind of guy starts “the talk” like that?  He said it and his eyes were alive and wild and smiling so big.  Like he already knew something I didn’t know.  I hadn’t anticipated this in the slightest so I just sat there and let him talk and talk about how he had come to this conclusion, until finally he said something like, “Well, so, what do you think?  You’re kind of leaving me hanging here.”

I think I just said, “Okay.”  And told him I had feelings for him as well.

It began such a fun and happy courtship.  We had the chance in that kind of work environment to really become good friends and to see one another in all sorts of circumstances.  We were invested in a Christian outdoor program, and so we spent time developing bible study material together and praying together as a staff over every trip and during trips.  We saw each other filthy and stinky and sweaty.  You get through a lot of the superficial quickly working in an environment like that.

Six months later he proposed.  He had taken me hiking up the backside of Looking Glass Rock, one of my favorite hikes.  At the top he pulled out bread and grape juice and led communion with me and proposed.  It was so wonderful and so surreal!  And then about five months later, we were married.

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What a whirlwind romance it was, and with that came some hardships we couldn’t have foreseen.  He came into marriage haunted by mistakes in his past and deeply broken by his failures.  I came into marriage proud and with expectations a mile high.  It was a recipe for disaster in so many ways.  But God knew what He was doing, weaving together this story from two broken souls.

I don’t know what most people’s marriage stories are like.  If their early years are relatively easy and smooth and then their middle years are more difficult?  I have no idea what is normal.  But for us, as sweet and fun as that first year was (in hindsight), it was a shock in so many ways.  It is so hard to join two lives together by people who have never done something like that before.  We soon hit some bumps that rocked us deeply and left us bewildered and desperate.  Thankfully, God provided good, solid, biblical counseling for us.  We’ve probably spent more years in counseling in our marriage than out of counseling, but I’m not ashamed in the slightest.  We recognized early on that we needed support and help, and we weren’t afraid that it was a sign of defeat.  We knew that those who care for their marriage will fight for it, and that’s what we were doing.  Plus I kind of love counseling.  It’s always wonderful to have someone be a listening ear and to come alongside and support, challenge, and mentor you.

God has provided just what we needed along the way.  And though I know there will be other seasons to come that will rock us unexpectedly, I am so grateful for those hard years now.  There was a time when I wasn’t sure we would make it through.  But in that time we saw that when we fail to keep our vows, our God does not fail us.  He is faithful.  So unbelievably faithful.  As the scriptures say, “In Him all things are held together” (Col.1:17), and He held us together.  In finding we were not able to keep our own vows to one another, we found that He alone is able to keep us in our vows.  

I don’t know where your marriage finds you today.  But I can promise you this, as someone who has lived through it: there is ALWAYS hope, if you are in Christ.  There is always a possibility for healing the unhealable, for repairing the ruins, for building from ashes something beautiful.  Sometimes it takes a fire that burns it all to the ground for us to see how marvelous His work is instead of trying to construct something on our own.  For us to see it isn’t in us to make something beautiful.  We can’t do that on our own.  And I’m so thankful that we learned that lesson.  Because in so many ways now, the pressure is off of us to “stay married” and to “hold it together.”  We lean all of that on Jesus.  And in every way that we are broken, sinful and selfish, He is STILL strong enough to hold us together.  There is no failure so great that He cannot forgive, that He cannot heal, that He cannot repair.  Sometimes I think He just wants to show off the greatness of His power in our shocking weakness.

So, now I’m hoping a lot of fun years are ahead of us.  They’ve already begun but I’m hoping for so many more.  The ugly-beautiful of marriage is that it’s not all pretty, and if it were, I think I’d be dead bored.  As much as we hate the suffering when it comes, and the seasons when we just don’t like each other much, when we break through to a whole new level of love and companionship, it makes it worthwhile.

If you find yourself in this hopeless place in your own marriage, please know, I understand.  It is the loneliest and deepest heartbreak I have ever experienced.  But hang on.  Just hang on.  Just don’t give up and throw in the towel.  If you can just do that for one more day, then another, then another, submitting yourself to Jesus every day and asking for His enabling, the days will turn into weeks and months, and sometimes it takes God a lot of time to mend a broken marriage.  Find good support, don’t be afraid.  It’s worth the fight.  And wait for your healing to come.  He IS faithful and He will NEVER leave you nor forsake you.

And in the end?  You will love your Redeemer more than you ever thought possible.

“The threshing floors shall be full of wheat,
And the vats shall overflow with new wine and oil.
So I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten,
The crawling locust,
The consuming locust,
And the chewing locust,
My great army which I sent among you.
You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied,
And praise the name of the Lord your God,
Who has dealt wondrously with you;
And My people shall never be put to shame.”
{Joel 2: 24-26}