when love is built in parking lots

Wedding photo

Dear Carl,

July marked our 30th year of marriage. We knew it was a big deal yet something about the weight of this number has felt more solid than the past milestone years.

After all this time, you know me and it won’t surprise you that this letter will weave stories to illustrate my point.

I do have a point, I promise.

It’s been a few weeks since we said goodbye to our wonderful Chocolate Aussie Hazel. Recently I recalled that we brought her home on our 14th anniversary. We had waited an unbearably long week because we were traveling. At the time, it was just the four of us, thinking that Hazel would be our last baby. We were enjoying our vacation but now and then one of us would look at the other and express how anxious we were to get back to Portland and scoop up Hazel.

A few years later, Caleb came into the world and he became the object of Hazel’s herding tendencies. Now that there were five of the people variety and a forever-shedding pup, we felt complete.

None of us will ever forget her last morning with us. When you spend a life together, there are sacred moments, horrible ones and everything in between. It was a Sunday, it was sudden and it was a collection of sacred and horrible. All of us navigated our way into the vet hospital parking lot at different times and crazily in 4 different cars. Our time was full of unabashed emotion and words. It’s what happens in the best kind of families, the feelings run deep and there is no way to shield each other from them, nor would you desire.

Carl, I will never forget your strength mingled with emotion.  When none of us could speak, you lavished us with prayer, such a needed balm, bestowing on us peace and comfort.

When there was nothing else to do, you suggested finding a place for breakfast which is always the best solution for five breakfast lovers plus no one wanted to spend much time at the house.

As we were walking to the parking lot, either you or I turned to say something to the other and when we faced forward again, we gazed upon the tenderness of our kids in a tight circle above the raw asphalt. We were close enough to see their lips moving but far enough to not hear their words. We never asked their words, those sentences weren’t ours to know but it was testimony of their overlapping grief.

We shared breakfast and a toast to a good and faithful dog.

The girls took Caleb for the rest of the day and to see Finding Dory.

You and I silently and slowly ascended the stairs at home to complete painting in Caleb’s new bedroom. We might have preferred to curl up on the sofa but we were partaking in a rite of passage, fulfilling a promise, preparing the largest bedroom of our house, where each of his sisters had inhabited, together or solo.

Hazel’s death has shaken us. It has upended routine and rhythm and relationship. We have known plenty of loss over these many year but this one feels central to the core of the family we have built. That pivotal day before the 4th of July when we grieved her caused me to see how our marriage has been built in parking lots.

To be honest, no one really thinks about parking lots until they need a parking place or to find their car. The world would frown at this marriage statement because it’s not sexy or reality show friendly. The world would count our time as worthy only if it contained exotic locations complete with designer bodies and children.

Exotic is defined as very different, strange, unusual, not living or growing naturally in a particular area. It means strikingly, excitingly or mysteriously different or unusual. 

I would say sharing 30 years together is very different, unusual and is not considered a natural occurrence in this world. It truly is mysteriously different.

The course of our marriage has been spent traversing across the varying temperatures of parking lots and not being taxi-ed away on planes. Trips are a short-term landing, sometimes the exotic part of a marriage is lived out day-by-day in the same place, in the same house with the same people creating the most amazing view of the world’s landscape.

The soul of our marriage is you and me.

The heart of our marriage is the extensions we have created in family and friendship.

Marriage is full of parking lots.

I am grateful for the snow-covered airport parking lot when you surprised me to propose.

I will never forget the parking lot you pulled me across when we made our getaway the day we were married.

Do you remember our measured tiptoeing and breath holding from the hospital to the car with each new bundled up baby?

Or how we circled the blocks to find just the right parking place on all those first and last days of school? Or you clasping my hand when I wanted to “take just one more peek” and helped me begin the slow sniffle-filled walk to the car?

All the seemingly endless searches for parking spots for practices, games, concerts, medical appointments, braces on, braces off, entrances exams, graduations and college-drop offs.
Never to be outdone by the most dreaded question asked at bedtime,

“You need what by tomorrow morning?”

Start the engine and proceed to the nearest store.

The frantic dash to any of a number of churches in time to be seated before the first song. After 30 years, it is still a struggle.

We’ve had our favorite work parking spots, some have lasted for years and others came to unexpected endings.

Sadly we have bowed over so many loved ones who have left life’s parking lot for Heaven.

The picture above is actually before we were officially married. I have no idea what you said to me but it made me laugh. I can tell because my cheeks are reaching towards my eyes. You have never ceased to make me laugh even when it seemed impossible.

Thank you for traveling every parking lot with me.

Thank you for trudging through the snow to claim me as your own.

Thank you for shepherding our kids like a champ.

Thank you for believing my wedding day image is the same one you see every day.

For a girl who grew up never locking doors, thank you for keeping us safe.

Thank you for patting the cushion next to you so I will sit closer to you.

Thank you for all the sacrifices you have made, those I know and will never know.

Thanks for  believing in me despite my serious doubts.

Thanks for being my safest place.

For the pocket of parenting days and nights only you, me and God know the depths, thank you for limping through that long, hard season with me.

We are facing a parking lot we wish we could not find a place to park. We don’t ask for Him to take the trials away only that His presence would remain. If there is anything we know after 30 years, God will never abandon us without hope.
He is with us and loving in the midst of every obstacle and triumph of our life together. He is our peace and our guide. He is the Maker and the keeper of our marriage. In Him we can trust and rely. He has been the one who has filled every pot hole and resurfaced every rut. We expect nothing less than Him being God.

You see, I did get to the point.

It required a lot of words to simply say:

I love you and am forever grateful you are my husband,

 

Helen

 

before a work of heart: pt.2

Our lives are like a glorious page turner, in which we are not able to determine the twists and turns.  Had we known which way the details of our lives would align themselves, our lives would be predictable and not the journey that they are designed to be.

There are many times that I feel as if my bookmark has fallen to the ground.  I scramble to pick it up as if by simply holding it in my hand, it will magically replace itself.  I rifle through the pages trying desperately to find my location. 

Where am I?

If I backtrack needlessly, it is fruitless…territory already covered.  Lessons learned and vision restored.  If I jump ahead of my place, I will only be skipping important details that are essential to any good story.  Oh, it is so tempting to sneak a peek, just one juicy tidbit to keep my interest engaged, but that morsel will be all the tastier when it is revealed at the proper time.

(excerpt from A Work of Heart blog post-September 2006)

(I fought the urge to rewrite the above.)

If I am honest, had my life been a book, I wanted to be the author.

I wanted to name all the characters, describe the plot, subplots and

construct the ending.

Although predictable endings are often chided, I considered that possibility

fabulous in my book.

Not having a plan or direction in my life unnerved me.

I placed my qualms in a brightly colored box filled with perfection and performance

enveloped with a sparkly smiling bow.

As college approached and tensions heightened,

the public library offered me tranquility and a comfortable setting

to determine the course of my life.

On Saturdays, I would stride toward the reference section

containing  mammoth volumes about careers

and hoist one upon a table.

From A to Z, I would investigate career options, requirements,

salary ranges and who was best suited for each profession.

From the pages of a heavy tome in a library, I chose physical therapy

as my career choice.

I had laser sharp focus in college.

There were subjects I was drawn towards but

if they weren’t on the map,

I ignored the gravitational pull and I drop kicked those classes.

With the exception of a semester of college physics which proved to be

my undoing, I worked hard enough to earn grades necessary to

apply to physical therapy school.

Carl and I had been engaged for a few months and we had a huge decision

to make regarding physical therapy school at

Northwestern University in Chicago or

The Mayo Clinic in Minnesota.

Graduate school began three weeks after Carl and I had said our vows.

We stuffed our Honda, waved goodbye to family, friends

and wedding gifts and headed to Rochester, Minnesota

and called it a honeymoon.

We were young, in love and anything familiar to us was thousands of miles

away, visible only if we squinted in our rear view mirror.

The P.T. program at Mayo was affectionately or not so affectionately

called mini-Medical school.

It was intense and not the ideal orientation for newlyweds.

Physical therapy school proved to be

the catalyst of stripping away chunks of my identity.

I found myself uncomfortable answering questions on the spot.

I cringed when I demonstrated techniques before my classmates.

In college, I set up camp in a library and studied without time constraints but as

a young married, I had to learn how to balance school and a husband.

After 8 hours of class most students were in the library or anatomy lab for

the rest of the night.

I wanted to study but I also longed to be with Carl.

I wanted to decorate our apartment and cook meals yet

Carl worked late hours, I would return to an empty apartment and find

a pan of Hamburger Helper and a note from Carl.

I was accustomed to working hard enough to ensure good grades,

now I inhabited the lower third of my class.

Every clinical day I put on my white laboratory coat over my “Mayo Way” dress

code and raced to keep up.

I used to have hours to spend with God, now I could only nod my head knowing

He was with me but we felt like strangers.

I felt every bit like the pizza Carl would bring home at 2 am.

We would sit on the floor and catch up.

Slivers of slumber gave way to awakening with the pizza

hangovers we thought were exclusive to college.

There was a silent conversation between our eyes expressing

disbelief of how our newlywed bliss was spent in tiny scattered segments.

My carefully constructed life was a jumbled up mess of partially devoured

wedges without hope of fitting back into a whole concentric circle.

The steadfast words filling those two years were found in textbooks, clinical

evaluations, board exams

and love notes from my husband encouraging me to not give up.

All words written by the hands of others and not my own.

Could my bookmark be retrieved once it floated to the ground?

**********

To be continued…

This post is from a series called  A Work of Heart History.
You can read the first post here.