I remember on our wedding day, it was raining, but all the world was right.
Our best friends sang some song with lyrics I hardly noticed about having a household of faith. Our bulletin said something about God blessing us with this love. And I remember thinking we were different. We were together solely because God ordained us to be and together we were going to be a shining example of his love. And I really thought we could. Because we loved each other enough in that moment. We had dreams and we took risks, but they were our dreams. In synch, we were on the same page.
I thought my new husband was just the greatest to wake up in the middle of the night to run and get me some medicine for my migraine, and I just knew I had married the best when he offered to hand chop a giant fallen tree at the bed and breakfast we stayed at on our honeymoon to pay for an extra night so we could stay longer than the three nights we had planned.
It was easy to love him when he made me breakfast. When he brought me flowers and we spent weekends together and there was nothing to complicate our time and devotion to one another.
But what I didn’t know was that while I understood the concept of what it takes to love, I hadn’t yet had a chance to put it into practice.
(Although I thought getting him into the tux store was a pretty good test run.)
That was before I knew that passion can be easily overtaken by busyness and cutting words can last longer than just in the moment.
That was before the honeymoon ended and we came home to a house that hardly had running water, and a roof that did leak water. That was before Matt got banned from Craigslist (and before we racked up seven washer and dryers and five refrigerators in less than four years). Before the pipes froze, a farm business deal went bad, and we could barely afford the debt we had ourselves in on our meager salaries.
Before two babies in 3.5 years of marriage and now suppers where there’s sometimes never a break in conversation but we don’t say a word to each other. Before cancelled date nights, loneliness even in the presence of one another, and crushed expectations. Before we knew that when it wasn’t easy to feel in love, we certainly didn’t want to put ours on display like we did when we said ‘I Do.’
Exhaustion and our own priorities and differences conspired to make us wonder not just how marriage lasts, but how it grows. How seeds and saplings ever grow in to trees that dwarf a yard. How they grow tall and straight and keep from rotting inside.
We’ve cried, and we’ve laughed. We’ve dreamed together, and we’ve had our own dreams. We’ve wondered “How we can each love the other, when deep down, we’re both purely selfish?”
How can we laugh when there are bills to pay, always things to do and kids that demand the attention we used to give to one another?
That question resonates around our dreams. Around our biggest dream: our farm. Our lifestyle. All the lessons about work and worth we want to gift our kids.
Where I grew up, there are lots of small farms and red barns. Here, there are lots of new metal shops, but you don’t see many old barns any more. And I understand why: wood attracts moisture and bugs, it needs painted and it wears down. My parents paint one of their barns every summer, by hand for most of my life.
The barn we have here is 150 years old. How many years did the forest have to grow before it could be cut to make beams that big that would hold the weight of three stories for the last century?
Who walked by the base of those trees trunks? Indians, Pioneers, settlers?
I see that old barn a little differently now. It needs some siding, a roof, some love. But it’s strong. It’s majestic. It’s lasted. Through the changing inhabitants of the land and the homestead. Through the decades, during the periods it’s been full and when it’s empty, too.
Five years later, I don’t always see my husband as the greatest. I don’t think we can ‘just will’ our love to be superior. We both let time, kids, our jobs and what we each want for ourselves get in the way of loving each other.
But I do see him as the selfless man who spent his birthday money on wood to build a swing set for two certain little girls who adore him. As the one who brought me wildflowers in a Mountain Dew can when we were broke, my favorite lilies when we were fighting, and sometimes the ‘Kroger special’ flowers just because. The steady man who provides for us, day in and day out, and then comes home and gets down and plays with our kids and makes sure to listen to my day. The one who is usually first to apologize, even when I’m the most wrong.
Our life isn’t as glamorous as I thought it would be. Sometimes it looks like shoveling manure together, or teaming up and each taking a crying kid in the early mornings. Sometimes it’s not all the romantic words and feelings that dominated our dating days, but just a squeeze of the other’s hand in the midst of the chaos.
These days, I still admire the shiny red barns and farmsteads. But I know that it isn’t the paint that makes them beautiful. It’s the strong beams that took a hundred or more years to fortify something that lasts a lifetime. And, with some care and a lot of grace, the lifetimes of children and grandchildren.
Love looks like the food prepared over a hot skillet that warms the body and makes it grow. Love looks like choosing the other one first when it makes no worldy sense to do so. The work that goes unnoticed, but without it, life unravels.
And encouragement to keep building, keep dreaming. To take our time, and build like our barn. Our dream and our safe haven.