Card-Carrying Couple

LoveBirdsI know of a couple, who on every wedding anniversary would stroll into a Hallmark store together. They would take their time and quietly browse through the rows of neatly stacked greeting cards. Every now and then, a smile would break out on their faces or a snicker escape from their lips. Eventually, they would meet up, grinning as if hiding a secret, both with a card in their hands. First, the husband would hand a card to his wife. “Oh, for me?” she would croon teasingly and open and read it and make some sweet remark. Then she would hand him a card, and he would laugh and do likewise. Then they would quietly place the cards back on the shelves and hand-in-hand exit the store. Mission accomplished. $10 saved. Off to Starbucks!

We are not that couple. And even with the advent of all the digital modes of communication, I still like to give and receive the real deal, a piece of light-weight, colorful cardboard with sticky sweet sentiments imprinted inside. One that I can discretely flip over and see the price. I don’t often visit the Family Christian Stores, purveyors of “jesus junk” or “holy hardware,” but when I do, it’s in search of the perfect anniversary card. Such was the case on this day a few years ago.

As I foraged through the cards, I became aware of a song being played in the background on a Christian radio station. Instantly, I recognized it. “I Will Be Here” by Steven Curtis Chapman. “Wow, that’s an oldie,” I thought to myself. Then it dawned on me. God knows what day this is! He arranged for this song to be played right at this moment while I’m in this store. This is His anniversary card to me. Soon I was scrambling through my purse for a Kleenex.

“Tomorrow morning if you wake up,
And the future is unclear
I will be here
As sure as seasons are made for change,
Our lifetimes are made for years
So, I will be here

I will be here and you can cry on my shoulder,
When the mirror tells us we’re older,
I will hold you and
I will be here to watch you grow in beauty
And tell you all the things you are to me
I will be here

I will be true to the promise I have made
To you and to the One who gave you to me

I will be here”

And when it was over, the announcer informed, “This song was played for many weddings over 20 years ago.” Yeah, I was pretty much a mess by this time. I found the card I was looking for and made a beeline for the counter, swiping at my cheeks.

Larry made good on those words to me.

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The Silver One

422_1066137806663_2743_nIt was untimely to say the least. Our silver anniversary, August 6, 2008, collided with the financial crisis of 2007–2009, considered by many economists to have been the worst financial fallout since the Great Depression, and it hit Michigan hard. It hit us hard. Larry lost his job of many years, and I was still in the deep throes of my own medical crisis, which had impeded my ability to work.

Any thoughts of a special celebration were quickly dismissed. We were in survival mode, and that would continue for another five years. Years where we hung on by a thread, where fears loomed large threatening our union and sneering that we were going down. I was broken. My body, as well as my mind, were spent. All my energy was used just keeping my head above water.

But on that day, the silver day, we sat on the steps of 2420 Abbott, the home we were fighting for.  A photo was snapped to commemorate the occasion. Our smiles belied the pain we were in. We managed to go out for dinner, but I don’t remember where or anything about it. And so passed this unceremonious milestone of 25 years. Nothing like I had imagined or expected it would be.

These were the dark days of our union. We clung to God and to each other like never before. And we saw the hand of God work on our behalf in amazing ways, too numerous to count. We stood and stood and then stood some more. Then suddenly, out of the blue, in January 2013, everything changed. But that’s a story for another time.

We always talked about making up for that lost silver anniversary. Perhaps we could go on a Mediterranean cruise or a special vacation, maybe travel back to where it all started in McAllen, Texas. Where a girl from Iowa and a boy from Michigan exchanged glances in a library but promptly dismissed one another as “not my type,” but then took a closer look. We could revisit the botanical gardens where the white lilies bloomed and emitted a fragrance so sweet and heady, it was intoxicating. Where we sat on a little stone bench in the moonlight and talked into the wee hours of the night and danced to music only we heard.

But then again, perhaps we celebrated the 25th in the fashion that was right for the time, as bare-boned and bare-souled warriors.  We were in a perfect storm, where we kept our boat from capsizing, where we bailed water like crazy, where we kept our wits (what remained of them) intact, where we sailed until we came into smooth waters. Yeah, it was the perfect way to celebrate the anniversary with a silver lining.

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So Many Selves

LJ&AIt was a hot and humid August weekend in 1987 at one of the Yohnke family reunions. We had gathered for this happy and momentous occasion from five different states and converged in a tiny town in Iowa for the dedication and baptism of one of my nieces. It was the decade of the ‘80s, and all my brothers and sisters were having babies one after another! Every year someone else was announcing their pregnancy. In fact, most of my parents’ 15 grandchildren were born within the span of a decade.

Aaron was just 10 months old and was on the verge of taking his first steps. In fact, it was just days later, after we returned home to Michigan, that on tottering, chubby legs he stumbled into his daddy’s outreached arms and never looked back!

I’m sharing this photo as part of our wedding anniversary week-long celebration. Now this little tow-headed, plump-cheeked cherub of ours, whom we called Aaron David, is expecting his first child with his wife, Adrienne, this fall. Next year at this time, they will be holding their very own baby boy of about 10 1/2 months!

I love looking at this photo and remembering who we were then. By looking at our youthful faces, I think maybe I can recapture, even just for a moment, what it was like to be just starting out. We were full of hopes and expectations for our family. Every day brought some new discovery for Aaron and for us, as we marveled at our child’s growth. Mostly, we had all the energy and vitality we needed for any given day. Sure, there were fears and what ifs, but those were drowned in a sea of trust and optimism and “everything is going to be just fine.”

Recently, I was reading about a woman whose grandmother told her that getting old was like carrying all these different selves inside you. I thought about my 13-year-old self, all awkward and self-conscious. She’s still in there. My 20-something-year-old self just burgeoning with optimism, self-discovery, and new love. She’s still there when I look for her. My 35-year-old-self engulfed and swallowed up with the little ones I am raising. I remember her. My 50-year-old self, releasing and letting those same children go with a gulp and a sigh, first one and then the other, and wondering, “What I am going to do now?”

This grandmother said you carry them around inside you, collecting them along the way, all these different selves. She likened them to those nesting Russian dolls that are stacked inside one another. You open up one and discover another and then another and yet another, all inside the one.

I believe it’s the same way for a couple united in marriage. We establish our own new identity with our vows. We are no longer two, but one. Then we go about exploring and expanding upon this newly founded entity of Mr. and Mrs. The experiences and memories build up year after year. The good times, the hard times, the impossible times. All meant to forge us into an unbreakable union.

And then there are the anniversaries. Those occasions when you look back and remember who you were when your union was just one year old and then 10 years old, 20, 30, 40, and if you are so blessed, even 50 years. You break out the photo albums and gaze into the faces of who you were and realize you are still all of them. You are the couple so passionately in love with each other you can’t stand to be apart even for an hour. You are the awe-struck couple studying every little detail of your first newborn. You are the couple surrounded by a sea of children and can hardly remember when it was “just the two of us” but wouldn’t trade it for anything. You are the couple so proud and so exhausted with graduation after graduation. You high-five each other and whisper, “We made it!”

Your faces show the signs of aging now with little cracks and crevices. You realize you’ve come too far to ever turn back, to turn away from who you have become. It’s your anniversary, and you say, “Honey, let’s take a picture.”