We forgot about those letters we penned to each other on a marriage retreat.
A whole year ago.
But here they were, two envelopes in our mailbox, our own scrawl written on the front.
Our brains did not compute. What were these? (we are getting a little older, mind you)
“Oh my goodness.” I chuckled to my husband, remembering vaguely what they might be. “These are the love letters we drafted at the end of that great weekend together.”
Both of us just stared at the white rectangles, postmarks scrawled at the top and bottom.
Normally, I would have ripped mine open. But this time, not so much.
Instead, my heart skipped a beat and my nerves came out to play.
Same with my usually very calm-cool-and-collected husband.
What had we written to each other when the new life stage in front of us was brimming with possibility and hope, a year later, our lives on a seemingly never-ending hold?
What promises had we made to each other that we did not keep? What goals had we set that we hadn’t even taken a step toward? What vows to change did we share that might have been broken?
What words were inside, threatening to mock us?
Making some kind of off-hand excuses to each other, I took those two holders of secret messages and tucked them into my “inbox,” out of the way of our curious minds. We were not ready.
We set aside a special time when we would open them together with quick promises not to judge the other.
A few days later, having donned our emotional armor, we apprehensively pulled out the small sheets with words scribbled all over them.
Silence. A long one. Knowing smiles. A kiss. Tears (mine). “I love you(s).” A long, long embrace.
Relief washed over us.
We hadn’t made empty promises. We hadn’t barked a bunch of goals.
We hadn’t asked for the other to change in “no uncertain terms.”
What we HAD done was gently remind each other all the reasons we loved each other. STILL.
We HAD called out the beauty we saw in the other. STILL.
We HAD thanked each other for our so-far marriage adventure. STILL.
We HAD stated the simple words, “I love you.” STILL.
We HAD written that we were so excited to venture ahead into the unknown future together. STILL.
The words were pure grace. Just what we needed.
Given openly. Given freely. Given lovingly.
Today, I am officiating a wedding over Zoom, standing by our fireplace, with this man I love right by my side. We are all gussied up for the first time in forever.
Another couple is just starting their very own marriage adventure.
Promises will be made. Kisses will be given. Words of love will be exchanged.
They don’t know what lies before them. JUST LIKE US. They see beauty in each other. JUST LIKE US. They are heading into an unknown future. JUST LIKE US. They are grateful for the other. JUST LIKE US. They are excited too. JUST LIKE US.
They are doing it together. JUST LIKE US.
I’ve asked this cute couple to write a letter to each other that I will send them a year from now.
Maybe we will write another one today that we will “send” to our future selves.
Maybe won’t be nervous wrecks when they appear in the big green box at the end of our driveway.
Maybe we will rip them open right away, devouring the grace we will need once again.
It can feel like HATE is winning. Fear creeps into our skin and buries deep within us, tearing our souls in shreds. Despair tangles her knots around our spirits, attempting to blow out the tiny flickers of hope we carry inside.
Hate is NOT winning. It will never win.
LOVE is winning. LOVE will always win.
LOVE WINS WHEN A…
…mommy and daddy hold their newborn and shout, “We are so in love!” on social media and then take 1,345,428 pictures for the next year.
…married couple look deep into each other’s hurting eyes and say, “We will fight for each other. Let’s go to a counselor.”
…toddler giggles at the sight of their aunt coming in the door, arms filled with gifts that only she can get away with giving.
…friend texts in the middle of the day and says, “I’m here. Call me day or night.”
…teacher pulls her “spicy” student aside, and says, “I believe in you.”
…top executive makes his way to an inner city soup kitchen on a Friday night in the pouring rain.
…garbage collector rings your doorbell to remind you it’s Tuesday because your trash cans are still in your garage and then waits until you go running downing the driveway in your jammies with said cans flailing behind (#personalstory)
…gangly middle-schooler takes a risk to befriend the new kid who moved into the neighborhood.
…hospice worker cares tirelessly, going many extra miles, for the victim of a dreaded disease.
…person on the “other side” shares these words, “I hear you. I see your point of view.”
…boss reminds a new and confused worker that failure is part of eventual success.
…grandpa plays “peek-a-boo” for the 48th time in the last 10 minutes.
…customer in the grocery store line steps aside and says, “Go ahead of me.”
…Savior sends a gorgeous rainbow to remind us of his promise never to leave us or forsake us.
…mechanic takes the time to help a stranger in need in the middle of Kansas on a cross-country trek (#anotherpersonalstory CLICK HERE)
…victim chooses forgiveness over revenge
…knowing smile that says, “me too,” sneaks to the lips of a stranger across the room.
…doctor takes the extra minute in the room and says, “I’m here to help. You will not fight this alone.”
…roommate utters the precious words, “I’ll do the dishes tonight.”
Overwhelming peace quiets our desperate souls. Hope is lit brightly again far down in our fledgling spirits.
It is our great and sacred privilege to come along side you, engaged and newly-wed couples, to share on the journey of your marriages. These past fifteen years, sitting at our dining room table, on our deck, at Paneras, diners, church lobbies, and even in online video conference rooms, has blessed our lives and our own marriage in ways we never thought possible. Friday night, our culmination final barbecue of the very first young-marrieds support group called our hearts to life and joy and beauty and blessing once again. This morning, we meet with another couple on the verge of marriage to go over plans to perform our very first wedding. It just doesn’t get any better than this for us.
When we were engaged, God gave us a short verse from the Psalms that has guided us and held us in ways we did not understand at the time and that would be a great blessing to us (plus we use it as some of our passwords for things – SSSHHH – don’t tell).
Today, we want to bestow a blessing on each one of you (and your precious partnership). Some of you have been married over 10 years at this point and others of you are just beginning your adventure. We love each and every one of you and even those we haven’t met yet. Our hearts are WITH you and FOR you!
Our Blessing For You Young Marrieds (#oldmarriedstoo)
May you be strong and courageous. May you not afraid or discouraged, knowing that the Lord your God will go with you wherever you go.
May your love abound more and more, with all knowledge and discernment so that you approve what is excellent.
May the Lord surround you with favor as with a shield. May He be your stronghold in times of trouble.
May your talk with each other be wholesome, only what is helpful for building each other up.
May love and faithfulness never leave you. May they be written on the tablet of your hearts.
May the favor of God rest on you and may He establish the work of your hands.
May you be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, as you remember how God, in Christ, forgave you.
May you walk with humility and gentleness with each other, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit.
May God give you the desires of your hearts and make all your plans succeed.
May you walk in integrity.
May the Lord instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; may God counsel you and watch over you.
May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other.
May the Lord keep you from all harm and watch over your life.
May there be peace within your walls.
May God be gracious to you and bless you and make His face shine upon you.
May you have the power together to know how high and wide and long and deep God’s love is for you.
May the Lord preserve your going out and your coming in now and forever.
Lastly, we share our own marriage verse with you, praying that this would be the cry of your hearts and the gentle guide for your life together.
Oh magnify the Lord with me, Let us exalt His name together! (Psalm 34:3)
“Cuddle with me so I can put my freezing cold feet on you and probably use you as a pillow and steal all the covers. K. Thanks.” (Pinterest)
On our wedding day 28 years ago, my husband’s father and our best man, implored us in his toast that the THREE MOST IMPORTANT words in our marriage to come would be these: Pirates. Penguins. Steelers.
I can’t say he was entirely wrong. Having been raised in the Steel City, my husband IS all about these black and gold teams that grace the small city of Pittsburgh. Little did I realize the sacrifice he was making on our honeymoon when his precious Penguins were in the Stanley Cup final (that’s the Super Bowl of hockey) and I was completely oblivious (and possibly admonishing) to Allen’s frantic search for a newspaper some mornings to find the score of the game the night before (this was during those olden days without internet or cell phones)! Happy to say they won their VERY FIRST CHAMPIONSHIP that year and don their team name on the trophy!
Heeding Allen’s father’s advice, I have embraced these three words (well, two of them fully and one of them only if I can get to a live game because watching baseball on TV is akin to watching golf…not heart-pumping enough for this wiggly, mile-an-hour girl). They have been a tremendous plus to our marriage, and as many of you know, I am now almost a bigger Steelers fan than he is!
Fast forward. Four houses. Four kids. Four jobs.
Unhealed, hidden selves (very hidden on the day we said “I do”) bubble to the surface and bump up against one another. As our marriage clock tick-tocks, the bumps get stronger and louder and more painful.
Words of defeat and shame are uttered (by me). “Are we going to make it?” “What is wrong with me/you/us?” “Is there any hope?”
THREE choice, sacred, life-giving, hope-gathering words are voiced (by my husband). “WE’RE STILL LEARNING.”
I am taken aback, the words bouncing around like a super ball, uncatchable.
“But,” I whisper to myself, “we’ve been at this for a long time.” Defeat and shame creep back over and over, sometimes kept hidden inside, other times shouted in anger and most often, spoken desperately alongside tears of fear.
Again and again, time after time, the three words of life and hope and healing pour from my husband’s mouth. “WE’RE STILL LEARNING.”
These simple THREE words:
allow grace to cascade over us like a waterfall in the middle of a marriage drought
bring mercy to the unhealed selves that keep banging into each other
remind shame (in no uncertain terms) to “GET OUT of our house and our lives and our marriage!”
spark forgiveness as we stop demonizing and begin humanizing each other
usher discovery, newness and life into what seems unchanging, decrepit and even dead
grant bravery to our fearful parts, allowing for a life-long journey of change, growth and healing
energize our hearts to experience freedom from the past and anticipation for the future
breathe desperately-needed and longed for HOPE to the deepest parts of these two souls and bodies, uniting them again and again in ways previously unknown
Today, on our anniversary, we headed on a hike through a windy, periodically smooth, sometimes unmarked, gloriously scenic, often rocky, difficult-to-navigate in spots, kind of scary, breath-taking trail in Allamuchy Mountain State Park. Our favorite part of all was two swans (did you know they mate for life?) with their babies!
We talked about our favorite memories of this marriage we’ve shared. Two things we noticed: most of them were hiking of some kind and lots of them were when something didn’t go quite as we planned (like the time we ended up in some woods filled with mosquitoes and we had to sprint from one end to the other, laughing and swatting as we went).
Marriage is like hiking. It’s windy. It’s periodically smooth-sailing. It’s unmarked in places. It’s gloriously scenic. It’s difficult to navigate in spots. It can be scary. It definitely takes our breath away at times. We need hope every single day. We need all that these three simple, yet profound words speak to. Today, this best gift of my husband, “WE’RE STILL LEARNING,” wash over my soul afresh, hope and life breathed anew.
“She was an adventurer at heart. But oh how she loved drinking this tea in this mug in this chair. Oh how she loved to be home.” (Google Images)
When you hurriedly trekked up the sidewalk with your then 10-year-old in a whirlwind house-hunting trip in August of 2002 and opened the door at 23 Cedar Hollow Drive, DID YOU KNOW?
Did you know…
the neighbor boy that walked through the door the day you moved in would become one of your son’s life-long friends and your son would share the weight of pall-bearer at his dad’s funeral eight years later?
music would fill the living room and your baby would fall in love with the guitar and piano and her playing and singing would be a gift to your soul and you miss these moments terribly?
23 Cedar Hollow Drive would be brimming with boatloads of love for and from almost every species of animal, from snakes, to dogs, to cats, to hamsters, to fish(that wouldn’t die), to every assortment of lizard and now there is only one left?
your marriage, faltering at best, would become a place of hope and healing for dozens and dozens of young couples on the verge of their own life-long journey of marriage? (in fact, you are spending time with one of them again this morning)
your nervous decision to construct a pool granted a space for family, friends, teammates, youth groups, classmates, neighbors and even strangers to rejuvenate and be refreshed? (water gun fights and subsequent peals of laughter did just the trick)
first days of school and dance pictures and phone conversations filled with both laughter and tears would mark your front stoop (and who knows, maybe some goodnight kisses by young lovers)?
extended family would gather for holidays and normal days, where sports teams would be cheered for, good food would be eaten, games (and some arguments over those games) would be played, and most significantly, unbreakable bonds would be formed?
your young daughter, struggling with severe OCD and the inability to go away even for a week would receive help through counselors and would now be a flourishing wife, teacher and mom?
an actual wedding ceremony would be performed in your living room because the bride and groom thought the church was located in your town and got their marriage license in the wrong place?
annual Easter Egg hunts (or should I say money hunts) created a place for teens and budding adults to still be kids in all the best ways?
endless art supplies and crafts from your artist would be haphazardly strewn over all available surfaces and one of those works would be still hanging proudly in your family room for your prospective buyers to see and admire?
birthdays would be celebrated in all their simplicity and sometimes complexity, giving room for sharing reasons why the one whose day it was to be honored was loved (and even liked)?
every kind of sport uniform would be thrown in heaps on your kitchen floor and not-so-carefully cleaned in your laundry room, providing a place of community and friendship for your kids? (even as you write this, two of your son’s high school teammates are asleep with your 23-year-old in the basement)
your finished basement would be filled with sleep-overs and left-overs and hang-overs and do-overs and make-overs and probably thousands of humans entered those doors?
your outdoorsy son, content to spread mulch, carefully prune bushes and chop wood with his dad, would be happiest at his job doing the same? (and he would embrace your sports teams to the full)
your family room couch would become the healing place for illnesses too numerous to count, unforeseen and planned surgeries, along with the comforting spot to take a mental health recovery day and that you let your kids skip school for only this reason (oh how far you’ve come)?
small groups filled with lasting and abiding friendships would meet, pouring over books and videos, praying through heartache, celebrating joys, living the ups and downs of life and kids and marriage and…and…and.. (one of them still met last night right in your family room)?
the pony-tailed 10-year-old around the corner and school-bus seat mate would become one of your firstborn’s closest friends, bridesmaid fourteen years later and Auntie Taylor to your grandson?
a baby in your womb would be lost yet your heart would be born anew?
your game-boy playing first-grader would help you to create your new podcast and be a regular and wise guest?
early Christmas mornings would be filled with children (and even now adults) sitting on your bed opening surprises (and not-surprises) through sleepy, yet curious and excited eyes?
a nervous breakdown would seek to destroy you but a life-long journey toward healing and wholeness would begin and continue today and that a writer’s quest would result?
homework would be finished (or not-so-much), college applications would be filled out, but most important, hearts would be taught to love and hope and apologize and respect and give and continue to learn?
your basement would be the place for a barely sprouting church youth group of eight teens and three leaders that is now hundreds strong?
warm fires would be built inside and out, where stories were shared, sleep was encouraged, s’mores were eaten, and life-giving memories were created?
fights would break out, doors would be slammed, harsh words would be spoken, yet subsequent apologies would be made and forgiveness would be granted? Love and trust would be painstakingly built brick by brick?
your two-year old would happen upon a friend in first grade and after endless sleepovers, birthday parties and bring-a-friend vacations, their college hearts would be knit together even though hundreds of miles separate them?
your glass kitchen door would be filled with chore charts and yearly memorabilia, bird-feeder and deck-flower views, and sun-soaked floors for pets to relax and sleep blissfully?
seventeen New Year’s Eves would be celebrated, some quiet with tired bodies barely making it until midnight and others loud with friends singing God Bless America on the stoop after a long-night of Bunco?
a new love would come bearing another new love?
religion would be shed over and over and Jesus would rise in its place to become the healer of your heart and the lover of your soul?
you and Allen would be more in love than you thought was even possible?
Did you know…
Thankful tears would flow because this house is a true haven of healing and that as you leave it, your prayer is the same for the next set of feet that trek up the sidewalk and open your front door and make this their home?
Yes. This you now know. You know ALL of it.
If you’ve made it this far and you like this, I am asking if you could go back out on social media where you came from and “Like” it! Makes a huge difference in how much it gets read and/or shared. Thank you from the bottom of my heart!
My friend, Maria, newly divorced, unpacks this better than I can today with a poem she’s written to herself on her 54th birthday, one where she is vulnerable, raw, truthful and filled with hope (and I am all about all of that)!
This is 54
In all my imperfections
In all my power
In all my insecurities
In every way
Owning every blessing
And every good gift
Owning every wrinkle
My 54 year old self
Could use a lift ☺
Better late than never
Better off now alone
Better to be alone and lonely
Than lonely in my home
I’m not sure what happened
Not sure why
I waited so long
But know my children mattered more to me
more than my own
I move on in power
I know its not too late
To have the love I long for
With the one I can relate
But first I love myself
I walk in all my truth
Owning my need for more
Unrealized in my youth
Time has passed by quickly
Many ways a blessed life
I thought all the answers
Were in being someone’s wife
But fairytales and stories
The things our people make us believe
While they tried their best
see the need
The need to guide in honesty
That love is more than what is seen
Its deeper, it is constant
There is passion
you can believe
The knowledge of your whole heart
Being touched and nurtured
Sweet and raw
The wisdom of its purity
That’s what will last for long
So I give this to myself now
I love myself in all my truth
I love that I am fragile
I love the wisdom without youth
I own my insecurities
How I need to feel valued and be seen
I own my need for time, connection,
Want the dream!
I call it the trifecta
Emotional, Mental, Physical
For now I give it to myself
My love tank
It is full
As “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”
Plays on the radio
My childhood song still resonates
My soul and heart
Know what I desire
Is more than a fairy tale
Know what fuels my fire
I will have it
I wish myself a Happy Birthday
Treasuring every good gift
that’s in my life
My family and friends
Who value me
That’s the love
I can’t deny
My journey’s just beginning
My heart remains so full
So thankful it’s not broken
But open and vulnerable still
I share this in transparency
To encourage others in their way
I want to live authentically
Boldly, wholly, deep.
In every way
Those who know me best
Love me as I am
The good, the bad, the ugly
As only good friends can
I walk into my second half of life
With so much more to give
is my goal now
There’s only one life
here to live
My faith it keeps me grounded
Shows me the way
His Love and mercy
Filling me each day
My thoughts they keep on coming
As my heart
Thankful for love and grace
Thankful that it shows
Is my gift
I give myself today
Until my dying day.
I love this! I love the picture of Maria’s and her daughter’s tattoos on their wrists they got a few years ago! How beautiful the reminder that there is always sunshine on a cloudy day! How beautiful that those words of hope ring true for her and for my own heart today! The sun always shines above the clouds, even when I can’t see it or feel its warmth! When my own life is not going the way I thought it would or think it should, this poem will gently remind my heart that there is ALWAYS GREAT HOPE!! Thank you again Maria! You are a gift!
It’s February 18, 1999 and it’s your 33rd birthday today. You stand on the edge of a year that marks the beginning of the best part of your life!
You have been married just shy of eight years to Allen and you already have three children: Sarah (6), Jared (5) and Joshua (almost “free”). You just found out in the last week that you are expecting your fourth in the fall. WOW! Just WOW! I’m not sure how you are doing it. I am exhausted just at the thought of it all!
Allen works in New York City for Pfizer. He commutes three hours a day on a train from your home in Berkeley Heights, New Jersey. You stay at home, trying to corral all the kiddos and make some money on the side, typing for anyone who needs it. You both fall into bed exhausted at the end of long and blurry days.
You are both highly involved at church. Allen is an elder (yes, he’s only 36 years old…I see the irony here). You are in charge of the church nursery (your main and silly goal to keep it germ-free). Both of you oversee the busy Sunday School as its superintendents. Allen goes to Bible study each Tuesday night and prayer meeting every Saturday morning. You attend Bible study for young moms on Wednesdays. Sundays are spent going to church, give or take a few hours in the afternoon (when many times you have the speaker over for lunch),. The rest of your week is filled with all the other social events that are part of this community of kind souls.
You have lots of friends from your church and a neighborhood filled with young families who you enjoy tremendously. Your life is extremely busy and full and looks picture-perfect from the outside. You are the quintessential Christian woman, wife, and mom, or so it seems.
Little do you know what I, your 53-year-old self, know about you. I love you, younger version of me, but I never want to be you again. I say that tenderly, knowing that you are just stuck and don’t know better and are trying your hardest with what you know and believe right now.
Your marriage to Allen is filled with hiding, from each other and even from yourselves. Both of you long to be exemplary Christians and have the ideal “Christ-like” marriage, but you are missing the forest for the trees. You don’t have a lot of conflict (after all, fighting is wrong and ungodly), but you DO NOT have a lot of closeness. Your desire to hang on to this external image prevents the two of you from sharing your mutual brokenness and meeting each other in that place, extending compassion and grace, and ultimately healing. You will eventually find that what scared you greatly, being fully-known, flaws and all, is actually the safest place of all, fully-loved by each other. Twenty years from now, you will spend a weekend away with Allen, reminding each other of how grateful you are to know and love each other more deeply than you could have ever imagined. Your continuously growing, although still bumpy marriage, once filled with pretense is now a source of restoration for others.
You want your kids to behave above all else. You believe that getting them to keep all the rules at school, church and home, is the answer to the giant question of whether or not you are a good mom. You use guilt and fear more often than not, those being two readily available resources in your tool chest. You genuinely do love your kids, the good news being that this love wins out over the long haul. Fear and guilt slowly begin to step aside when your fourth, Rachel, is born later this year. In 20 years time, you will have growing relationships with each of your four, and they all will speak words of kindness and understanding as you discuss all your strengths and struggles in raising them on your new-found podcast, something that doesn’t even exist today. What a gift this will be to you, as you turn 53. One of them will even send you a note on Facebook (something else that doesn’t exist yet) that “you are the greatest of all time” as you head to bed that night. It doesn’t get any better than that. LOVE WINS!
Your desire to be good and look good makes my heart sad. You believe that God’s ultimate goal is to get you to behave (hence your goal for your kids). You set rules for yourself that keep you in check and when they don’t, you fall into the shame and blame cycle with yourself and others. You are trapped in the crazy formulaic thinking that following all the rules makes for a good and happy life, but when it all falls apart a few years from now, thankfully bigger life-changing things like grace and mercy come flooding in from a BIG GOD like a tsunami. He gently picks up the pieces of your broken and confused heart and puts you back together in a way that’s better than if you had never fallen apart. He is a GOOD GOD and worthy to be trusted each and every day, in all the beautiful and messy moments that make up your incredible life’s journey.
I repeat, I love you, younger version of me. It’s all going to be okay. What you see now is but a dim shadow of the beauty that’s to come. I promise you a few things: you don’t do it all right. In fact, you make some mistakes that cost you greatly. You are afraid sometimes, very afraid. Your faith is tested to the shattering point. Your heart is broken into a million pieces. BUT, you do not give up HOPE, even in the middle of your fear. The One who is the source of all HOPE does not give up on you. You do not give up FAITH, even though the waves swirl around you, and it’s hard for you to see the Object of your FAITH. He keeps his eye unwaveringly on you. Though your heart splinters into fragments, you do not give up LOVE. LOVE HIMSELF slowly shows you that you are LOVED beyond measure and this LOVE is freeing and healing. It’s from this LOVE that you will begin to love others. You have a long way to go, and so do I. I wonder what our 73-year-old wiser self will say to us. It’s just good to be on this journey together!
Your mom (and mine) chose this verse when you (and I) were born. It’s true today and it will be for the rest of your life. Take heart, younger Esther Joy. All will be well.
SHAMELESS BEG…PLEASE LIKE THIS (AND COMMENT) ON SOCIAL MEDIA OR HERE SO THAT OTHERS HAVE THE BEST CHANCE TO READ (the social media algorithms have us all a little baffled) …IT WILL BE THE BEST BIRTHDAY PRESENT YOU CAN GIVE THIS GIRL!