Three years ago, I took my firstborn daughter for a walk when it was ten degrees. I bundled her up in an Eskimo snowsuit and wrapped one of my scarves around the lower half of her face, so that you could only see her snub nose and squinty brown eyes, blinking out at me from the material’s cotton folds. I put her in a stroller and covered her legs with a blanket. I must’ve walked three miles that day, past the Harvestore silos and red dairy barns. In the distance, the sky was separated into pale lavender bands, made even more brilliant against the Wisconsin snow.
I remember this day so keenly because, on this walk, I was struck with the concept for my fifth book. I am not superstitious by any means, but I do not often like to discuss an upcoming novel until the story has metamorphosed from an abstract concept to a nearly flesh and blood reality. Therefore, I will not tell you a play-by-play, but I will tell you that this novel is the story of a marriage.
For whatever reason, each of my novels delves into a challenge I am facing myself, and I believe God has orchestrated the timing so that this novel of a marriage forces me to take a good look at my own.
This week, in Gary Thomas’s book, Sacred Marriage, I read this quote:
“Mark Twain tells the sobering tale about deeply exploring the Mississippi River he loved very much. After virtually memorizing the river’s bends, twists, and turns and navigating its waters with rapt admiration, he was chagrined to wake up one day and realize that the river had lost much of its poetry. The mystery of that mighty waterway had been replaced with a boring predictability. He had literally loved his love out of that river.”
Gary Thomas is, of course, comparing Mark Twain’s river to marriage. Early courtship is filled with tingling spines and blushing cheeks; as the years pass, however, husbands and wives find that they know each bend and twist of their spouse’s intellectual and physical makeup, often causing boredom—or even dissatisfaction—to set in.
After I read that passage, I felt compelled to remember how my husband and I began. That first summer, when we were hiking in the woods, the sun filtered down through the trees and ignited his eyes, turning the hazel flecks to molten green. Or that time we were sitting in a field near Land Between the Lakes, and the sun caught in his beard, revealing the red stubble amid those wren-brown hues (I clearly have a thing for sunlight). Or that time we were hiking at Dog Slaughter Falls near my college, and in the middle of the hike, he stripped off his shirt and jumped off a rock into the water, an impulsive move which he later regretted, since his jeans chafed him the whole hike back.
Those moments were pure magic, and it slightly saddened me to realize that, for a long time, I haven’t looked at my husband like I did back then. Most of this is because I am often too busy looking at our children—trying to keep them from inflicting pain on themselves or each other—or I’m cooking supper, folding laundry, wiping bottoms, giving baths, or brushing hair.
How, I thought, could a marriage not only survive during these exquisite and yet (let’s face it) often monotonous parenting years, but THRIVE? And, if a marriage falters and implodes as it does in my novel, how do the weary lovers find their way back?
Last night, on a date (babysitting provided by my sister-in-law and brother-in-law), I let myself really look at my husband like I did ten years ago. A cup of lemon tea warming my hands, I looked at him and allowed myself to be his wife instead of just the bedraggled partner helping raise our children.
We laughed, we talked, we held hands as we walked into the restaurant and then later into Sam’s (the toddler needed diapers); on the way home, my husband said, “Is my to-go box down on the floor?”
I looked down at the floor and only saw my own to-go box, not his. He’d left a good chunk of his steak at the restaurant, and we were already over halfway home.
He gave me an ironic smile. “It’s amazing how sad that is.”
And my stomach did it, that little flip (and it wasn’t just the baby, making herself known). All those moments, I experienced all those years ago, coalesced into that ironic smile, and I understood that those moments are taking place all the time, if I will just stop folding laundry, scrubbing dishes, or brushing hair long enough to look up at him, my partner in life, not just in parenting.