|This is us at the beginning: Sunday, July 27, 1997, Morris Chapel, Niles, Michigan|
Today Babs and I celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary. It doesn't feel "unbelievable". It doesn't feel like a long time, or a short time. It just feels like life as we were meant to live it. Our shared journey feels timeless, like a classic song that never feels out of date.
|This is us at 10 years: July 28, 2007, Waikiki Beach, Oahu, Hawaii|
The past ten years have had a different tenor than the first ten. It's hard to explain; obviously a lot changed since the last "big milestone" in our marriage. It's no longer "just the two of us", we have a family now, two young boys we made together and who we now struggle together to raise right. Our life is less "big" now, the days of travel to exotic places, going and doing as we pleased (or at least as our budget allowed) have ended. But it is a life fuller and richer than it was in the first decade.
But that's the funny thing about wealth; the more you gain, the more you stand to lose. Within the last decade we've experienced the first of the close losses that inevitably will mount as the years ago by. I've developed more of a sense of the fragility of "normal life", the reality of pain, and the remarkable beauty that can be found in sharing the struggle and the joy with a life partner.
I can tell you that 20 years in, I still feel incredibly lucky. I hear all the time that marriage is a miserable struggle sapped of joy, sex, and appreciation and yet I can't relate to any of that. We've had our share of difficulties--there are underlying "issues" that we both have had since the say we said "I do" that still aren't resolved. And yet, there is this bedrock of mutual respect, appreciation, attraction, and friendship that holds steady and grows deeper as the years go by.
Twenty years ago I married the most beautiful girl in the world and my best friend. To me, she is still those things.
Herewith a recap:
Years 1-10 can be found here in this 2007 entry commemorating our first ten years.
Year 11: The Babymoon
The first year of our second decade was our last without children. That year was the year of the babymoon. The first half dedicated to trying to make one; the second half devoted to getting ready for our child soon to come. Looking back we should have probably been going out to dinner three times a week, relishing sleeping through the night and sleeping in, soaking in the pleasure of peace and quiet, knowing that the only demands made on us would be the mild ones of childless marriage. But, we worked, lived our lives oblivious to extent of the tremendous change bearing down on us. We did make an effort at a last hurrah in the summer of 2008. For the first time in nine years we stayed in Saipan for the summer, as Babs was too pregnant to fly. We took beach trips to Managaha, went to the Mandi (even stayed overnight at the Marianas Resort), took a dinner cruise. It was a beautiful time, just the two of us, a time that by God's grace we will never return to. We had been a couple for 11 years. Now we were about to be come a family.
|Our 11th Anniversary, Sunday, July 27, 2008, Saipan, Northern Marianas Islands. The last anniversary dinner we had for which a sitter was not required.|
Year 12: Parenthood
A month and four days into our twelfth year, our oldest son Elijah came into our world. This was a year of massive change for us. Between one anniversary and the next our family went from two to three, we moved to the other side of the world, and began a new chapter in our lives. Most of the struggles of being new parents have receded into memory now. It was hard, I know but the difficulty is mostly forgotten. All except those first three weeks after Elijah was born. That time I still remember vividly. I don't think I've ever felt so much worry and love as I did as we felt the tremendous weight of keeping this little child of ours alive. He had trouble breastfeeding at first and those weeks were a blur of sleeplessness, tears on all our parts, jury rigged feeding, anxious phone calls to lactation experts. The unexpected blessing was the deep sense of connection I felt with my wife during that time. We were in this together. And it's still true. The types of parenting struggles may have changed. We are still often short on sleep, there are still tears on all our part,s jury rigged parenting strategies made up on the fly, anxious google searches on what to do about the latest preposterous thing our children have perpetrated. But, we're still in this together.
|This is us on July 26, 2009, San Francisco, California. I had just completed the San Francisco Marathon. I spent the next day, our 12th anniversary taking the Praxis exam towards getting my Ohio teaching certification.|
Year 13: Here in America
We settled into ordinary life in suburban Ohio. For the first seven months of our new life, we lived with Barbara's parents in Dayton and I commuted daily to Columbus to work. Despite the three hour round-trip drive, this is one of my favorite times in our life. When you live that far from where you work, when you leave work, you really leave. The Leens house felt like a cocoon, a comfortable oasis. I loved driving into the garage and seeing Babs and Elijah waiting at the screen door to welcome me. This was the one time in our lives as parents when we were able to have a weekly date night. Every Saturday night we'd go to the movies. We'd go to the cheap theater and literally watch whatever was showing. We analyzed the good ones and laughed about the bad ones. It wasn't about the movie, it was about being together.
In February 2010 we moved into our apartment in New Albany, where we've lived since, and Barbara started working part-time at Stepping Stones pre-school, still spending most of each day with our young son. We made a few trips in our thirteenth year of marriage, to Oregon for Thanksgiving 2009, to Florida in the summer of 2010. The biggest trip of all was a return trip to Saipan in the spring of 2010. The trips were great, but the best part was that we took them together.
|This is us after the Mat Kearney concert. Saturday, July 10, 2010, St. Alban's West Virginia|
Year 14, 15: The Quiet Years
These two years aren't particularly memorable and what a blessing! As I've gotten older, I've come to understand the wisdom of the old curse "May you live in interesting times." The most compelling stories, the ones that we find most interesting often come with a heavy dose of pain. These times were blissfully uninteresting. We finally brought our dog, Kimo, home from Saipan. We left Elijah overnight for the first time in 2011, when I took Barbara to her first U2 concert in Chicago. We stayed the night at the Fairmont, the same hotel that we'd spent the first two nights of our honeymoon in 14 years earlier. We traveled to Oregon several more times, the last trip, in the summer of 2012. By that time Barbara was pregnant with our second son. Our lives were about to shift again, our hearts to enlarge again.
|This is us at the Fairmont in downtown Chicago a few weeks before our 14th wedding anniversary. This was the same hotel we spent the first two nights of our honeymoon. July 5, 2011, Chicago, Illinois|
|At a baby shower thrown by my mom and sister. July 11, 2012, Apopka, Florida.|
Year 16: Family Focus
At the start of our 16th year of marriage, we made a big decision. Babs decided she wanted to further reduce her half-time work schedule so that she could spend the majority of her time with our boys. So in August 2012, she quit her job at Stepping Stones, brought Elijah home from daily daycare, and focused on being a full-time mom (save a day and half a week teaching art). I gladly shouldered extra jobs at Kroger, tutoring, and running a morning latchkey program. In November, our second son Ezra joined our family and we once again embarked on the adventure of parenting an infant (this time with a four year old in tow!). This year our focus was all on the family . Babs focused on being with our kids, and I focused on providing for them. It wasn't always easy, but I never regretted it for a moment. Every time, I was working a shift at Kroger or grading papers at school, and Babs would text me a photo of some fun thing she and the boys were doing, it brought me such joy. Those photos made all the extra work more than worth it.
|This is us in July a week or two before our 17th anniversary, July 2013. Anna Maria Island, Florida.|
Year 17: Precious Moments
In hindsight our seventeenth year was filled with precious moments, times we didn't realize were passing for the final time. Babs was able to spend a lot of time with her parents, partly because I traveled a lot that year. We took one epic trip together as a family, a return trip to Saipan where I was the week of prayer speaker, but beyond that I had several long trips. There was my annual three or four day teachers retreat in August 2013 but also a class trip to Hawaii in 2014 and a week long trip to California for a conference in June 2014. During these trips, Babs would take the boys and go stay with her parents. I missed her a lot on those trips, wished she could have been with me, but in hindsight I'm glad that my absence gave her more time to spend with her dad. The summer of 2014 was a truly precious moment of father-daughter time for them, and giving her that time (even it was by my absence) is a gift I'm so glad I could give.
|This is us July 27, 2014, our 17th anniversary. We celebrated with a simple dinner and a movie I think near Universal Studios? Or was it Disney? Orlando, Florida.|
Year 18: Loss
Our 18th year together was marked by loss. On November 5th 2014, my grandmother died and I rushed to Florida to mourn with my family. Exactly three weeks later, the day before Thanksgiving, we got the phone call no one ever wants to get. Barbara's father had died unexpectedly. And so began a new and painful journey as my wife entered into the Great Sadness, the deepest loss of her life. In the weeks and month after Dad passed, I felt so separate from her. In days around his funeral, I was literally in another car as we went from funeral home to church to house to cemetery. Babs rode with her sister and her mother and her sister's husband in one car while I followed in our car with the boys. But it was fine. She needed to be with her first family then, and I was honored to step up with the boys, do what I could to give her space to grieve. It's one of the things they don't tell you about marriage: that sometimes being there for your spouse means letting her be away for a bit.
In time, our connection reappeared and in the first half of 2015 we contemplated together what our shared world would like now that Dad was no longer in it.
|This is us celebrating our 18th anniversary, July 27, 2015. We enjoyed wandering around old Winter Garden and had a nice dinner. Winter Garden, Florida.|
Year 19: Double Income
In our 19th year, losing Dad continued to shape our life together in new ways. We realized that the time had come for us to gain a stronger financial footing. We felt keenly the need to be able to provide for our remaining parents should the need arise. After years of letting the folks help us out when an emergency struck, it was time to position ourselves to be the helpers instead. So as Elijah began first grade, Ezra started pre-school, and Barbara went back to full-time teaching. In short order we doubled our income, but seemingly halved our time. Both of us were now full-time workers and full time parents. It's been no easy task. But like everything else in our lives, it's been nice to do it together.
|This is us about a week before our 19th anniversary. July, 2016. Ocoee, Florida|
Year 20: This is Us
And so here we are. Twenty years in. This is us: Shaped by grief and gratitude. Worn in (and often worn out) by parenting. Our marriage isn't perfect, but let me tell you, it's still pretty darn amazing that I get to wake up with this beautiful woman, this gorgeous soul, this dearest of friends, every morning and go to sleep next to her every night. I love sharing life with her, even with all it' heartache and frustration and worry. She makes the good times better and the tough times easier to bear. These days I tend not to look forward so much as I simply try to be present more, to try to enjoy each moment with the love of my life.
Happy Anniversary, love. I love you!