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Five Tools That Build a Lasting Love

My husband, Randy, loves road trips.  I prefer getting to a destination as quickly as possible and search online for flights.  Most often, his choice of travel prevails and once again we load the car with luggage, plenty of snacks, and good reading material.

A few months ago, we packed the car for a three-day trip across the country.  I wondered what I could bring to help pass the endless hours.  I remembered the packet of love letters we wrote during our courtship–letters we hadn’t read for years.  Rummaging through my cedar chest, I found the bulging notebook of correspondence sent during the months we attended different universities.  Giddy with excitement at the thought of revisiting our past together, I placed them in the car by my feet.

The miles flew by as I read each letter.  A lengthy conversation ensued as we recalled precious memories, smiled at our passionate longings, and laughed at our lofty, youthful dreams.  We talked about how our love has deepened and matured over the forty-four years we’ve been married.  And to think we thought we were in love then!

This experience caused me to reflect on the elements that make a love grow and last.  Eternal love evolves over time from the exhilarating first attraction to the all-encompassing emotion that permeates the soul.  Becoming one doesn’t happen overnight.  It takes patience, trust, forgiveness, and a lot of hard work.  Both partners must be equally invested in the project.  Here are five tools that help construct a love that stands the test of time.

1.  Lay a Firm Foundation

Just as a sturdy building begins with a good foundation, so must a lasting relationship.  Both individuals should share similar beliefs in the things that really matter.  We all come from different backgrounds, yet even couples from diverse cultures can build a strong foundation if they share core values.  We need to be on the same path traveling to the same destination.  Life is bumpy enough without trying to stay together while going in opposite directions.  When deciding on a companion for life, it is a lot easier to build on a foundation of mutual goals.

Religion, education, and raising a family are some of the cornerstones that should be discussed before making a commitment to begin construction.  When we married, Randy had two years of college left, with the goal of applying to dental school.  I had graduated with a degree in Elementary Education and knew from the beginning I would be called upon to be the main source of income until he finished his schooling.  It would have been a rocky six years if I hadn’t  been willing to cheer him on in his goal to further his education.

While dating, Randy and I both believed it was important to have children.  We had to compromise, however, when it came to the number of children we wanted.  I remember the shock on his face when I announced I wanted twelve.  (What was I thinking!)  Growing up as an only child, I dreamed of mothering a large family.  I was surprised that he thought four was a good number.  We were blessed with six beautiful children, and I was satisfied and fulfilled with the task of being a mother to half a flock.  Give and take are necessary elements, as long as neither are sacrificing what is most important to them.

2.  Let Go of What Doesn’t Matter

Framing the building consists of various unique and individual designs.  No two rooms are alike just as each individual comes with his own experiences and opinions.  This can either strengthen the building or cause it to tumble.

In many ways, Randy and I are opposites.  He is very calculating, precise, and organized.  I remember opening his sock drawer after doing our wash for the first time.  I saw immediately I was in trouble.  All of his socks were arranged by color and smiling at me, the folds neatly placed in the same direction.  I throw my hastily folded socks in a drawer.  Since I will never have the patience to measure up to his level of proficiency in folding clothes, I leave that task to him, for which he happily complies.

I am a driven person, very aware of filling each measure of time with purpose.  I eat quickly, I multi-task, and I hate being late.  Randy can’t dress and talk at the same time.  If I want to be on time to a function, I leave the room so he can concentrate on the task of getting ready, while I pace the floor.

Randy has the talent to fully enjoy the moment.  I envy his ability to slow down and notice the world while I am focused on moving on to the next project on my checklist.

These differences could drive each other crazy, but instead of shoving a wedge between us, we have learned to embrace each other’s unique personalities.  I have found that these little things don’t matter in the broad scheme of life.  With a dose of tolerance and unconditional love, small annoyances can actually become endearing.

3.  Keep the Flame Alive

Adding fuel to that initial flame is vital.  It is easy for it to dwindle or become extinguished when the daily challenges of life come along. This takes conscious effort, work, and creativity.

A hug speaks volumes.  I came from a family that rarely demonstrated or spoke their feelings.  I married into a family passionate about hugging, and I happily adjusted.  A hug can mend a misunderstanding, speak forgiveness, and show you care.  Words are necessary too.  I don’t let a day go by without telling Randy that I love him.  Every phone conversation ends with the words, “I love you!”  Our actions show love, but those three little words need to be heard often.

Be creative.  Once I secretly reserved a cabin in the mountains for the weekend and took Randy on a treasure hunt to get there.  His workload had been heavy and I could see he needed time away.  On another occasion, I secured a local hotel room for the evening of Valentine’s Day.  I checked in early and decorated the room with streamers, hearts, and balloons.  One anniversary he woke up to a banner that weaved through the dining room.  Each flag represented a year of our marriage stating significant milestones or memories from that year.

Randy has his individual way of adding spark to my life.  I will come home to a beautiful arrangement of flowers or a love poem written from his heart.  Once I told him I wanted a certain charm for a bracelet and he filled the bracelet with charms.  People often comment on how he still opens the car door for me and holds my hand as we walk.

It doesn’t require money to let your partner know you are thinking of them.  It does require planning and time.  Time well spent.

4.  Embrace Life’s Trials

Inevitably, storms come along to challenge the carefully structured building.  Trials are a threat that can send love spiraling downward or soaring upward.

When Randy retired from his job as an Air Force Dentist, we moved our family to Arizona.  At times, work was scarce as he endeavored to establish his own practice.  This was a trying time for our family of eight who had always had a steady, secure income and free medical care.

While trying to build his practice, Randy recruited me to be his dental assistant during the evening hours.  This was a field I knew nothing about.  Once, while assisting him during a wisdom tooth removal, he remarked, “Claudia, you can’t suction blood, if you don’t look.”  My eyes were focused on the floor to ease my queasy stomach–my reaction to needles and blood.  Despite my resistance to our new circumstances, I strived to be a good sport and it wasn’t long until he had his own thriving business.  I was never more happy to return to my duties at home.

A few years down the road, Randy had his turn to offer support and assistance when I was diagnosed with breast cancer.  He dug deep to learn how to fix meals, do the laundry, and take care of the things I usually handle.  More importantly, he was there to hold my hand during the difficult days of surgery and chemotherapy.

From the windy days to the hurricanes, it is much easier to walk through the storm hand in hand.  As I look back, it is during the times we leaned on each other for support that our love blossomed far beyond what we ever thought possible.

5.  Live for the Other’s Happiness

One of the biggest problems in a relationship is selfishness.  If I begin to think Randy isn’t fulfilling my needs or is oblivious to my feelings, I change my focus.  “What can I do to make him happy?”

I’m not sure how it works, but as I endeavor to remove the emphasis from myself and concentrate on the needs of my husband, I find fulfillment, joy, and peace.

Camping is not one of my favorite pastimes, but because I love my husband I found myself on a one-week backpacking trip in the Wind River Mountains of Wyoming one summer.  Raised a city girl, I attempted to cheerfully hike miles each day carrying everything I needed on my back.  We ate what we caught in the streams, supplemented with MRE’s (Meals Ready to Eat).  Upon reaching the mountaintop, we discovered the only way to continue was to walk across a glacier.  As we gingerly inched our way across the icy slope, I wondered if our children were going to end up being orphans.  We each walked away from this experience with different levels of enthusiasm, but being by my husband’s side enjoying nature is something I’ll always remember.

There are evenings I long to stay home and read a book instead of attending a sporting event with Randy.  Knowing how important a baseball game is to him, I go along.  He loves sharing the excitement of a good game, and in return, he is always willing to attend the theater, concert, or a ballet with me.

We live in a world where the tendency is to feel entitled to happiness.  If we aren’t happy, then it’s someone else’s fault.  It doesn’t work that way.  Joy in life comes from forgetting ourselves and thinking of others.  This is the highest kind of love.

Happily Ever After is Now

Too often we compare our relationships to the romantic stories we read or see on the screen.  “Happily Ever After” is not an ending, but a beginning.  We must GIVE all we have to make it continue.  GIVING UP is not an option.  Randy and I have had our disagreements and heartaches, yet we have kept the promises we made forty-four years ago.  We have turned each challenge into a learning experience and have grown together until our thoughts have become one.

We have added a few pounds, wrinkles, and some gray hairs over the years yet our love has grown past the outside layers.  Lifting each other, we’ve reached heights far beyond our ability to realize alone.  Within the walls of our home we find harmony, laughter, respect, and joy, all carefully created, one brick at a time.  And the result?  A love that will last forever.

And a Child Shall Lead

I have driven this same route multiple times for the last three years.  It is the road to my mom’s and I make frequent trips to visit and help her with the challenges of aging.  The only thing different about today was that I had a few special passengers tagging along.  My daughter-in-law and her three little ones were visiting from out of town and they wanted to see great grandma.

The way involves freeway driving and upon arriving at my exit, I chose the middle lane on the ramp, allowing me to still make a left turn and be in the correct lane that led to my mom’s home.  At least that was the reasoning I used.  Truthfully, I wanted to avoid contact with him.

It was a rare day he was not there.  Holding up his cardboard sign, stating his plight in less than five words, he stood hoping.  Hoping for a little thoughtfulness, maybe even a smile or a wave to acknowledge his troubled existence.

Throughout the years, I have given to the needy I’ve seen on street corners, outside a gas station or store.  I’ve taken my children to deliver blankets, necessities, water, and food to the destitute in our town.  But, I always decide who gets my attention, and who I pass by.

This one looks like he could really use some help.  That one probably wants money for drugs or looks young enough to get out there and work. 

I had already profiled this man on the corner, and as such, he received nothing from me.

He was scruffy but in his prime.  From my estimate, he was young and healthy enough to seek employment instead of standing day after day, begging from others.  His rough demeanor solidified my opinion and so I avoided him.  This day was no different.

As words in my mind once again justified the choice to avoid eye contact with the stranger, a soft voice sliced into my rationale from the back seat.

“I wish we had something to give that homeless man.”

It was the voice of my seven-year-old granddaughter, free of judgment, full of charity.

Shame filled my entire being as I was snatched from my selfish, proud thoughts and reminded by a child the admonition to “Love thy neighbor as thyself,” and “Judge not, that ye be not judged.”  When was it that I forgot?

Not knowing what to say, I said nothing.  Instead, I shoved the scene into the furthest corner of my mind, hesitant to see myself as I really was.

Another Chance

A few days later I was a passenger in a car with the same occupants, but this time my daughter-in-law was driving.  As we exited a different freeway to get gas, my granddaughter sighted another poor soul standing on the corner.

“Mom, do we have a water bottle we can give that man?”

Her mom answered we did, but it would be up to me to hand it to him since he was standing on my side.  Anxious to show I had grown from the previous experience, I readily agreed, and pushed the button that rolled down my window.  Grasping the water, I handed it to the old man.

“I hope this helps a little,” spilled the words I really meant.  As the water bottle slid from my hand to his, I looked into his eyes and for a brief moment, I was permitted to see a noble, valued, son of God.  I saw him as God sees him.

My granddaughter’s light rekindled mine that day.  Children humbly look to adults for models but how often do we stop and listen to the wisdom of a child?  Thank you, Afton, for your example of unconditional love.  Without love, we are nothing.

Choosing Joy

A Chance Meeting

I will never forget turning the corner and seeing her for the first time.  She radiated a smile that seized my heart and my eyes would not let go.  Who was this young girl, and what was the source of her light?

Not wanting to leave her presence, I changed my direction and walked alongside her.  She was like a ray of sunshine on a winter day and I desired to bask as long as possible in the warmth she emanated.

Desiring to learn more about this young woman, I asked her a question.  She answered with confidence, offering no apology for her severe speech impediment.  I struggled to pick out words that would help me catch what she was trying to say.  Some words came through, but most of our communication consisted of smiles and nods.  For this reason, I never learned her name.

The Silent Teacher

Reaching her destination, I turned to face my new companion and focus on her angelic face.  Words were not important as our spirits connected, and in a few brief minutes, she conveyed the lesson I hope I never forget.  Joy is not dependent upon circumstances, but choices.

This young woman was confined to a wheelchair.  Her feet and hands were twisted and bent, but her face, oh her face!  Dark, thick hair cascaded past her thin shoulders, framing the most contented, joyful countenance I have ever seen.  There was no hint of self-pity or loathing for her situation.  She had long risen above that.  Sitting before me was an individual who understood her worth and the purpose of her existence.

We are all crippled in one way or another.  Our disabilities may not be physically obvious, but we each struggle with some form of handicap.  It’s easy to let circumstances or weaknesses tarnish our self-worth and get in the way of reaching our potential.  This young woman chose to find joy in her travels through this earthly existence, despite the detours, peeks, and valleys that cluttered her path.  It’s all about choices.

In one small meeting, a wise young girl brightened my life with her smiles and laughter.  I can still feel the warm hug we shared before parting.  Was it a coincidence I came across her that day?  I like to think it was in the stars and she was sent to remind me that I am responsible for my own happiness.  I may never see her again, but her light and example will remain, filling me with the peace and joy that comes from knowing who I am and why I am here.

Hope in a New Year

January 5.  Five days into a new year and I’m still struggling with the culmination of the Christmas season.  I wrestle with this emptiness every year.  The more I put into the planning, the preparation, the surprises, and carrying out the traditions, the more I miss it when it’s over.

This time it has been particularly hard to let go of the past.  It was the year of The Gathering.  One week before Christmas, my six children and their families, totaling thirty-one in all, met for a family reunion.  It was four days of blissful memory making as we baked, decorated, played, and laughed.  The cousins, a year older since our last gathering, were once again best friends.  My adult children shared stories of growing up together.  This is one of my favorite activities as I am constantly learning about their antics and misadventures that I knew nothing about.  Where was I when that happened?

All too soon, the months of planning culminate in our last evening together.  Even though it was December 22, we celebrated it as Christmas Eve with the children acting out the Nativity and a special visit from St. Nicholas who left a surprise in each shoe.  This custom from our German heritage usually occurs on December 6th, but it was delayed this year to accommodate our timetable.

Several of the families traveled to our home to spend the rest of the Christmas holidays together.  Feeding and sleeping fourteen extra loved ones proved to be busy, yet glorious.  I never know when this will happen again, so I treasure each moment, clinging to it like a child holding on to her mother’s leg.  Time is an enemy when it goes by so fast.

So, here I am on January 5th, pulling wrinkled wrapping paper from under the furniture, throwing away leftovers that never got eaten, and wallowing in self-pity.  How I miss the blur of intense activity, loudness, and tight hugs.  I have no control over time moving forward, so I adapt by holding on to what I can.

Instead of putting away the festive decorations, I dust them and set them back in place.  My neighbors have ceased turning on their Christmas lights, but I flip the switch every evening as dusk approaches.  I allow my thoughts to wander and review past conversations, cherished moments with my grandchildren, and the recently shared miracles of the season.  Time marches forward, but cannot erase the light and joy of the past.

Moving onward, I think about a new year, full of promise and countless possibilities.  How can I fill each day of 2018 with meaning?  Just as I planned and prepared for last month’s success, I am responsible to continue creating productive days, making the most of each precious moment.  Instead of compiling a long list of resolutions, I’ve decided to focus on family and joy.  My hope is to find the kind of happiness that fills one’s heart with peace; the peace that comes by serving others.  I will take it one day at a time, grateful to be the author of my new year.

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