Thirty Years: A Marriage in Pictures

John and I were married thirty years ago today, at 12:30 p.m. to be precise.  To celebrate our anniversary and to reflect on what all those years have meant, I am sharing one picture from each year, with commentary.

August 12, 1989, as we emerged from Immaculate Conception Church in downtown Knoxville, immediately after the ceremony.  Like any newly married couple, we were starting a journey that we couldn’t have imagined or predicted.  We were 23 and 22 when this picture was taken.

April 1990, at the Tidal Basin in Washington, D.C.  John and I met at Georgetown University, and lived in Alexandria, Virginia just outside D.C. for most of our first year of marriage.  John, who graduated in 1988, was already working as a Federal Investigator and I found a job as Secretary of Georgetown’s Department of History.

Fall 1991.  A lot happened in a year and a half!  We learned we were expecting our first baby.  We decided to move to Knoxville to establish residency so John could attend the University of Tennessee College of Law.  We left good jobs in D.C. for no jobs in Knoxville and settled into a two-bedroom apartment,  I found a job as Secretary of the Liberal Arts Advising Center.  John worked in the UT Traffic Office by day and sold shoes at Proffitt’s (a local, now defunct department store) by night.  Emily was born in February 1991, and John started law school later that year.  We have never regretted this decision.

February 16, 1992, dressed to go out to celebrate our 5th dating anniversary.  We still celebrate that day every year.  At this point we were living on a combination of student loans and part-time jobs.  John was making fundraising phone calls for Tennessee Right to Life and I was the Foster Care Promotional Coordinator for Sertoma Learning Center.  Later that year John started working as a law clerk.  Childcare for Emily was cobbled together: my little sister watched her all summer, my grandmother helped once my sister was back in school, I brought her with me when possible, and she spent one day a week in a Parents Day Out downtown.  I hated having to leave her.

July 1993, New Orleans, where we were taking part in Katrice and Rico’s wedding.  Katrice was one of my best friends in high school.  She and Rico are godparents to our oldest son, and we celebrated their son’s college graduation with them earlier this month.  What I remember about this day is that I was hot and miserable and suffering from morning sickness.  John was getting ready to start his third year of law school and I was preparing to return to grad school and my Graduate Assistant position in the College of Liberal Arts.

May 1994, John’s graduation from law school! I love this picture.  We were very popular in law school because students with babies were rare and ours were spoiled by all our friends.  Jake was three months old when John graduated.  And he was four months old when we found out we were expecting another baby, just days before John took the bar exam.  Thankfully he passed and landed a job in Oak Ridge reviewing OSHA regulations shortly afterwards.  I was able to quit my job and have never worked outside the home since.

Easter 1995, a classic picture and one of my favorites of all time.  Teddy arrived when Jake was 12.5 months old.  He had only learned to walk about two weeks earlier.  Two babies at once were a lot to handle and most of that first year is a blur.

Christmas 1996.  We still had two babies in diapers (and two cribs!) but we also had our first house! A year in a dreadful two-and-a-half bedroom apartment after Teddy arrived spurred us onward to home ownership and we loved our sweet 1940s house in South Knoxville.

Halloween 1997.  The kids were two, three, and six.  They spent most of their time outside, and I spent a lot of time outside as well, having discovered a love of gardening.  By now John had his own solo practice, and I did (and still do) very part-time grant writing and editing for my mother’s non-profit organizing work.

February 4, 1998, John’s 32nd and Emily’s 7th birthday celebration.  Looking back now, those years of being overwhelmed by the needs of little kids seem like the golden years.  It was hard, but it was simpler.

February 1999.  The date is a guess, but this was taken at a restaurant at what was probably a birthday celebration and we have four of those at this time every year.  I make a lot of cakes for awhile!

January 2000, dressed for church.  Teddy’s hat came from a New Year’s Eve celebration John and I had attended at Club LeConte.

March 2001.  And then there were four!  The arrival of William was exciting but rough, as I had postpartum hypertension and had to remain in bed for about a month after he was born, with ten-year-old Emily taking care of her brothers when John was at work.  We were beginning to be very cramped in our 1400 square foot house and our Mercury Sable.  Both were replaced later in the year.

Christmas 2002.  When the big kids were little, every December meant a trip to the portrait studio for Christmas pictures to insert in our Christmas cards.  By this time I was taking a roll of film with my own camera and then sending triple prints.  The closest family members got the worst pictures!  Here the kids are standing in front of the house where we had lived for just over a year, a 3000 square foot Queen Anne Victorian built in 1889, in a non-gentrified but walkable neighborhood just a couple of miles from John’s office downtown.

August 2003, the big kids’ first day of school.  It was the last year they would all attend St. Joseph School together.  Jake was in third grade, Teddy in second, and Emily in sixth, but Jake and Teddy were both homeschooled for their fourth grade year.

November 2004, Lorelei’s first trip to church.  We didn’t know it then, but she would be our last baby and the last family member to get to wear John’s heirloom baby dress.

Christmas 2005 marked the end of a hard year that included periods of unemployment, financial difficulties, and John’s hospitalization.  Looking back now I can see that it was the only beginning of the most difficult period in our family’s life so far.

September 2006, celebrating my mother’s birthday.  This photo includes Ella and Zachary, my sister Anne’s children.  Ella is 17 months younger than William and Zachy is 17 months older, and they grew up playing together.

Spring 2007.  William is wearing his St. Joseph School uniform.  Kindergarten was his only year in Catholic school.  He spent the next year at the public school down the street, then was homeschooled for several years while I struggled to figure out why he wasn’t as easy to teach as Jake and Teddy had been.  We called the back stairs in our kitchen the “snack steps” because that’s where I would sit the little kids to eat something while I was cooking.  You can see evidence in this picture that our old house was starting to crumble a bit.

May 2008, Jake’s graduation from 8th grade, taken next to Holy Ghost Church.  We were all smiles, and very proud of Jake who graduated with straight A’s and won some academic awards, but I was putting on a brave face.  The day before this I was in the hospital undergoing outpatient surgery after having miscarried our last baby.

November 2009.  I’m not sure who snapped this picture of John and me the afternoon of our move into a new home.  It wasn’t a happy move, springing from financial necessity of being upside-down on the mortgage of our disintegrating but much-loved Victorian home.  But I love that the picture shows us supporting each other.

May 2010, Jake’s first prom.  I love this picture for the personality it shows, but also because it was a bright spot in an otherwise difficult stretch where John and Jake (who have a great relationship now) did not get along well at all.  Something else noteworthy about 2010 is that it is when I became John’s legal assistant, working from home to run his office.

September 6, 2011.  Our rental house had just burned down and we lost almost every material possession.  Thanks to the overwhelming kindness of our family and community, we were able to move into the home in which we still live three weeks later.

Fall 2012, Senior Night.  John and I are not athletic, and our kids showed no interest in sports until Teddy wanted to play football in 8th grade.  It was all new and exciting to us and we thoroughly enjoyed those few years as football parents.

May 2013, Emily’s college graduation.  Emily attended Spring Hill College in Mobile, Alabama, graduating with a degree in Creative Writing.  We thoroughly enjoyed our many visits to Mobile, where my mother’s family has roots, especially the seafood!  Just a couple of months later, we sent another kid off to college as Teddy began his freshman year at the University of Notre Dame.

August 12, 2014, a 25th anniversary selfie.  This was taken at Club LeConte, a fancy restaurant on the 27th floor of Knoxville’s tallest building.

July 2015, in a Chicago skyscraper more deserving of the name.  We were in town to attend a wedding and to visit Teddy, who was doing a summer internship there.

March 2016, a Spring Break trip to Chattanooga.  Traveling was starting to get easier.  On our last family trip with all five kids, we had to take two cars and book three motel rooms.

May 2017, Teddy’s graduation from Notre Dame.

March 24, 2018, our first wedding.  Jake and Jessica were married at Frozen Head State Park.  Six months later, they moved to Nashville.

July 2019, our first cruise.  We sailed on Royal Caribbean’s Grandeur of the Seas to Bermuda, in honor of our upcoming anniversary.  I haven’t blogged about the cruise but I plan to.  It was wonderful and we deserved it.

“[Love] is the unity that binds us all together, that makes this earth a family, and all men brothers and the sons of God.”  ~ Thomas Wolfe

Grieving Together: Review and Giveaway

Grieving Together: Catholic miscarriage book for couples

Ten years ago, I lost our sixth and last baby in an early miscarriage, a baby who was planned, wanted, loved.  I’ve never written about it here.  In a very dark period of my life during which I lost first the baby, then my dream home, and finally almost every possession to fire, it was and remains by far the most painful of the losses I suffered.  I don’t like to talk about it and I’ve never wanted to write about it.

But I decided to share just a little today in the hopes of helping ease the burden of others who have lost babies.  There are so many of us, which is something I hadn’t realized until I miscarried and women started whispering words of commiseration: “It happened to me too.  It is hard but it will get better.”

Grieving Together: Catholic miscarriage book for couples

When I was deep in grief–a longer period of time than I would have expected–when all I could do was lie in bed and sob while clutching a board book, the only thing I had bought for the baby, I felt very alone.  I looked online for resources, as one does these days, and found very little.  Eventually my husband and I conducted our own private little ceremony of praying together and naming the baby.  This did bring closure and healing to him, but my grieving process was very different.

Grieving Together: Catholic miscarriage book for couples

I wish that I’d had a copy of Grieving Together: A Couple’s Journey through Miscarriage.  This is the book you never want to need, but are so glad exists if you do.

Reading it even now, I felt affirmed, comforted, accompanied.

Laura and Franco Fanucci have authored a much-needed treasure, a companion and guide to grieving together as a couple.  Having experienced infertility, miscarriage, and infant loss in their own marriage, they know intimately the grief of their readers.  That experience informs the book and their empathy is tangible.  Reading a book from people who have been in your situation is uniquely comforting.

I was impressed by the book’s breadth–it starts with the more practical aspects of miscarriage: what it is, what the experience might be like, considerations of medical treatment and funeral arrangements.  But this section is anything but clinical–it is still animated by Laura and Franco’s love and concern for their readers.  The next section covers grief, including the ways the grieving process may be different for each partner. This is followed by a section of practical suggestions of support from friends, family, the community, and the Church, making this a book that’s valuable to more than those who have suffered loss themselves.  Finally, the last section discusses life after miscarriage, whether your path includes adoption, another pregnancy, or no more babies.

Grieving Together: Catholic miscarriage book for couples

This is a Catholic book, published by Our Sunday Visitor, with Catholic prayers and rites, concrete ways parishes can help, saints to pray to for comfort and guidance, and more.  Other than our pastor’s sincere sympathy, my parish offered no support to us when we lost our baby, and I suspect that is pretty standard.  So this book would make a great gift for your pastor, along with a suggestion for a ministry to serve couples who have suffered miscarriage.  The Catholic Church is well known for concern over unborn babies threatened by abortion, and sponsors ministries for post-abortive women; her concern for babies lost involuntarily and their parents should be a natural outgrowth of these pro-life convictions.

Grieving Together: Catholic miscarriage book for couples

Grieving Together is available now on Amazon. (If you purchase it through links on the blog I will receive a small commission.)  I received the book free in exchange for my honest review.

Or you could enter the giveaway below and win a copy for yourself, a friend, or your parish.

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I Don't Want Your Freedom

Read the title.  Can you hear George Michael (RIP) singing?  Is the song stuck in your head now?  Because it’s been stuck in mine for the past couple of days as I contemplated this month’s theme!
I’m not sure what George Michael intended to convey in the song, but it got me thinking.  When my husband and I were married, someone thought it was hilarious to bring a ball and chain to the reception and attach it to his ankle.  I was not amused.  Which, however, leads me to another song, this one by Paul Overstreet and aptly entitled Ball and Chain.  The relevant lyrics are: Love don’t feel like a ball and chain to me; when I’m close to you my heart feels wild and free.
Read the rest at Everyday Ediths!

When God’s Generosity Meets the Demands of Conscience and Science

I’m a cradle Catholic, born in 1967. And I recall hearing a lot about the birth control pill growing up. I doubt I had any idea how it worked, but I had the general impression from the books I read, the media I consumed, and the people I knew that taking it was just what people did.
I knew that Catholics weren’t supposed to use contraception, and I personally knew many families who appeared to take that teaching to heart. In my Catholic school at that time there were still many big Catholic families with seven kids or more. However, in twelve years of Catholic education I don’t recall EVER hearing this teaching explained. The Church, as I experienced it, taught it was wrong but not WHY. I definitely had the impression that this was some old-fashioned idea that was safe to ignore.
Read the rest at A Drop in the Ocean, where I am guest posting today.

Drained

It’ no news to me that my stats for this thing are way, way down.  And it’s no wonder, given the irregularity and infrequency of posts here lately.
Now I knew I wouldn’t be able to post much during the craziness that was most of April and all of May.   But I kind of expected that once summer got here I would settle into a once daily schedule again.  What a wealth of things I would have to tell y’all about!
I got off to a nice start when John and I went to his Reunion, but then we came home.  I started a post to wind up the story and have yet to finish it!
So what’s my problem?  It just came to me.
I’m an introvert, and I am still exhausted from all that socializing.  I want and need to crawl into a hole and be alone for a few weeks.  But I still have six other people living in this house. (Will any of them ever leave?)  It is summer–Lorelei and William are home ALL DAY.  The big kids are in and out.  Day in and day out they want and need things from me, and one of those things that some of them require more than others is emotional energy.  Energy that I can never get enough alone time to fully replenish.
And to complicate matters, I am an introvert married to an extrovert.  An extreme extrovert who wants to be AROUND PEOPLE ALL THE TIME.  When I could just SCREAM AT THE THOUGHT OF HAVING TO TALK TO ONE MORE PERSON.
To John, April and May were heaven on earth.  All the commotion!  All the parties!  All the people! (I am getting tireder just thinking about it.)  Now that it’s all over, he’s depressed. (Guess who supplies the emotional energy to help him recover from depression?  Hello!)
And today I realized that although I am alone (I hope) when I write my blog, it’s still a social activity of sorts.  I have an audience whom I hope to engage with my writing.  So it does require some of the same kind of energy that I use for socializing, the kind of energy that I don’t have nearly enough of. (And if you will recall, I also work at home.  So there’s that.)
And now I am off to finish getting ready for the Father’s Day cookout.  It’s a small affair–only 14 of us.

Lifelong Marriage: Not for the Faint of Heart

LOVE
The other day I was talking to my Aunt Joan and she mentioned that she and Uncle Jack will be married 60 years in December.  “I think we’re going to last,” she said.  She was only 16 when they married and conventional wisdom wouldn’t have given them much of a chance.  Her Aunt Bert gave her sheets for a wedding gift, saying, “If you don’t last I want these back!”  But they did last, with two happily married sons and five grandkids, a family business (Aunt Joan still answers the phone), and a “family compound” on their land “out in the country” as we used to refer to their property in Strawberry Plains.  And anyone who observes the two of them together can see how much they love each other.

We’ve been married only a third as long, but I don’t doubt we’ll make it to our 60th anniversary, if we’re both still around then.  That doesn’t mean we are perfect and it doesn’t mean staying married is easy.  Both of us frequently tell our kids that “marriage is hard work.”  That’s not romantic, but it’s true.
I’m not here to pass judgment on anyone else’s marriage, and I’m not an expert, but I will share with you some of the principles and practices that I believe have kept us married (in no particular order).

  • We didn’t have any formal marriage preparation (just a 45 minute talk with the priest who married us) but we took to heart something he said it the homily at our wedding:  “Never ask whether [you should stay married]; only ask how.”  Both of us have chanted that like a mantra at various times.

 

  • We were married in church.  One of the songs we chose was “The Wedding Song,” which is a little cheesy, but which I love for the line: ‘The marriage of your spirits here has caused Him to remain, for whenever two or more of you are gathered in His name, there is love.'”  In a sacramental marriage, two are gathered in Christ’s name, and so He is there in the midst of the marriage.  I know people do it, but I cannot imagine how we would have gotten through some of the trials we have faced if God were not present in our marriage.

 

  • Along the same lines, we attend church together, and pray together.  John was not Catholic when we married; he was vehemently Protestant, in fact, and we had a lot to work out before we agreed to marry.  One thing we always agreed on was that attending church together was important, and he graciously agreed that the church could be mine.  When he, of his own accord, came into the Church the Easter after our third child was born, it was the happiest day of my life.

 

  • We spoke our wedding vows to one another.  I mean we memorized them, and spoke them directly to one another without the participation of the celebrant.  This was actually Father Spitzer’s suggestion.  It meant we had to practice the vows before we said them, and reflect upon what we were promising.  We chose to use the traditional vows, which really cover all the bases, if you ask me.  We know exactly what we promised, and I reflect on the vows from time to time to judge whether I am keeping my promises.

 

  • We were and are absolutely committed to staying married.  I sometimes joke with a friend of mine, who is equally determined to stay married, “Murder, maybe; divorce, never.”  And we are only half joking.  Divorce is not an option for us.  We are not going to be able to get out of this, so we have to figure out what to do to make it work.

 

  • We know that marriage is hard work, and we are committed to doing the work.  Just like “Faith without works is dead,” commitment without hard work is hollow.  I guess you might be able to stay married without doing any work, but you couldn’t possibly have a GOOD marriage.  So we have spent years in marriage counseling–not because we were ever in danger of divorce, but because we wanted to communicate better, to prevent problems, to “tune up” our relationship.  We talk about our problems.  We make sure to spend time together.  When we had three little kids, we found a regular babysitter.  We have always gone out for “date nights” frequently.  I am absolutely amazed how few of my married friends make any effort to do this.

 

  • We value traditions and memories.  The honeymoon doesn’t last forever.  But memories do.  We keep the “spark” alive by remembering frequently what brought us together and talking about the “good old days.”  You need those warm and fuzzy feelings to get you through the dark and dreary days that come.

Because they do come.   We have been through some very, very dark times.  the storms of life have buffetted us just as they have everyone else.  We are fortunate that usually we find shelter in each other.   But love isn’t a feeling: it’s a decision.  There are days when I loathe my husband.  I am completely sure there are days when he loathes me.  There are days when I don’t want to get his medicine ready or pour him a bowl of cereal, but I do it anyway.

If you have kids, you know that you love them unconditionally, that you would die for them.  Most of us had parents who loved us like that too.  But that’s biology.  When we keep loving our spouses when they are not being lovable, it’s not about biology; it’s a conscious decision.

I haven’t been very lovable this week.  Just about everything John has done has irritated me, and I haven’t tried to be charitable; I’ve been in a bad humor.   I haven’t felt loving toward him, nor has he toward me.  Just as God keeps us in existence each second by the strength of His will, we choose each day to keep our marriage in existence.  We lie down together each night, even after a bad day.  We each know that the person next to us in the bed has chosen to mirror God’s love for us by offering us unconditional love.  What could be more amazing?

wedding couple 8
john and leslie