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https://lesliesholly.wordpress.com/2015/03/22/more-than-a-feeling/  #love

Like most people, I routinely share pictures I consider to be cute or profound on my Facebook wall.  Sometimes I’m surprised by the lack of attention paid to something I found particularly noteworthy; other times one picture gets more likes than I expected.  And who knows how much any of this has to do with the value of the pictures themselves versus those mysterious and ever-changing Facebook algorithms?

Still, the picture above resonated with more people than the usual random post.  I shared it almost off-handedly–I can’t even remember whose wall I found it on–and it had been shared so many times before it got to me that I can’t find an original creator to credit it to.

I related to this picture because it conveys a powerful message about what love IS and what it ISN’T.  Love is ACTION, not FEELING.

Those romantic and mushy feelings we all enjoy at the beginning of a relationship are wonderful.  And I promise you that after 25 years I still have those feelings for my husband.  But not all the time.

The strength of your love for someone shows in how you care for them when you are not feeling mushy or romantic AT ALL.  When I’m feeling angry and resentful towards my husband and yet I still get his medicines together for him in the morning (and don’t add arsenic), that’s love.  When I wash the clothes he needs in the morning which he put in the hamper at bedtime, that’s love.  When I go outside in the rain to roll up the windows of his car, even though we just had a fight, that’s love.

If you have been married any length of time, you know these things.  If you haven’t gotten married yet, you had better learn them now.  Romance can only take you so far.  Flowers and candlelight are great and I still like them, but having the capacity and the will to ACT loving when you just aren’t feeling it is what will enable a relationship to endure.

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Because today is Tuesday (Five Favorites day) AND it’s our 25th wedding anniversary, it seems like the thing to do is to post five marriage tips.  Because 25 years qualifies me as an EXPERT, y’all.

five favorites

1.  Never ask “whether,” only ask “how.”

This one comes straight from the homily at our wedding, and it’s the one thing that John and I both remember.  To expand, Father Spitzer said that once you are married, you should never question whether you should have gotten married, but only ask how you could STAY married.  That advice has helped us stay committed through some difficult times.  Whether is a pointless question if you want your marriage to last forever.

2.  Grow together, not apart.

So how do you do that?  Most important, make time to be together.  Don’t tell me it’s impossible.  We had three kids in four years, and we got a babysitter and arranged to go out regularly.  When I had a nursing baby, we just brought him or her along.  Our life as a couple did not end when we became parents.  We’ve made it a point to celebrate not just our wedding anniversary but also the anniversary of our becoming a couple.  We hold on to little rituals and traditions.  But at the same time we don’t just cling to the past.  We make it a point to be involved in each other’s lives, so that even as we have separate friends and pursuits, we each know about and are interested in each other’s passions.

john and leslie

3.  If you are really mad at your husband and you need to vent, call his mother.

Maybe you are laughing as you read that, but I’m serious.  Complaining about your husband to your friends and family can be very destructive to your marriage, and to the relationship you want your husband to have with the important people in your lives.  But your mother-in-law is going to love your husband no matter what he does.  And if you have a really good mother-in-law like I do, she’ll fuss at him on your behalf.

4.  Communicate

Well, duh, right?  What do I mean?  Talk about everything, good and bad.  And if you are having trouble with this, don’t be ashamed or afraid to seek professional help with your communication skills.  Problems don’t just go away if you don’t discuss them.

5.  Endure

It’s hard, hard work to live day in and day out with another person, someone who is not your blood relative and who you are bound to by choice.  There are bound to be times when you don’t get along at all.   But check this out:  “on average unhappily married adults who divorced were no happier five years after the divorce than were equally unhappily married adults who stayed married when rated on any of 12 separate measures of psychological well-being. Moreover, two-thirds of unhappily married people who remained married reported that their marriages were happy five years later. Even among couples who had rated their marriages as very unhappy, 80 percent said they were happily married five years later.”  So hang in there!  Chances are, things will get better, especially if you are using tips 1-4.

Those are my top five–at least today!  For more favorites, visit the linkup at Mama Knows, Honeychild!

5 TIPS for a mariage that lasts a lifetime

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Twenty-five years ago today, which would have been a Thursday night, John and friends were having a bachelor party (and the less said about that the better!) while my friends and I celebrated more sedately at the family home of one of my bridesmaids.  We were married two days later, on August 12, 1989, which means that we are marking our silver anniversary this week.

Yes, we have been married for a quarter of a century.  It sounds even longer when you put it that way, but no matter how you put it, it is an accomplishment, and nowadays it seems like a rare one.  John and I both have definite ideas about the importance of marriage and commitment and what has to be done to maintain that, and luckily those are issues we agree about strongly.  I told John I would probably be writing a “marriage tips” blog post some time this week, and asked him for his input, and I didn’t disagree with anything he said.

Sometimes it seems like it’s been more like half a century, and sometimes it feels like we were married yesterday.  No one going in truly understands what “for better, for worse,” really means.  Like everyone, we’ve had joy and sorrow, bitter arguments and harmonious agreement.  There have been long stretches when we couldn’t stand each other, when love was something we DID, not something we FELT.

You love your kids unconditionally from the moment of their birth.  That’s biology.  Loving the person you are married to is a decision and a commitment that you must renew every day.  You might know that intellectually when you get married, especially if you’ve been lucky enough to undergo some kind of marriage preparation, but you can’t and won’t understand what that’s like until you are in the middle of it.

I vividly remember saying to John, when we had been dating all of six months, that it didn’t seem like enough just to SAY “I love you,” anymore:  I wanted to LIVE it.  That’s what marriage is, and we didn’t know how hard, or how rewarding, it would be.  Those romantic early days were wonderful.  I love remembering them.  And I’m happy to say that we still like romance and spending time together and that spark has never gone out.  But love sustained and nurtured over twenty-five years is  stronger and richer and deeper and profound in ways we could not have understood back then.

John and I were only 22 and 23 when we took this life-altering step, when we yoked ourselves together forever.  We were young and we didn’t know a lot of things but we knew that we believed in marriage and that no matter what happened we would not break the vows we made.

Just see how young we were:

Wedding Couple

And we were surrounded by friends who were just as young, almost all of whom are still important parts of our lives:

wedding group 1

wedding group 3

wedding group 2

The Entire Wedding Party

And of course by family, many of whom are gone now:

wedding group 4

Emily and I were talking yesterday about why Catholic wedding ceremonies are supposed to take place inside a church.  I’ve been to some lovely outdoor weddings but as I sat this morning at Mass I was thinking how grateful I was that I still attend church every Sunday in the building where my parents were married, where I was baptized, were we were married, where four of our kids were baptized and two have been confirmed.  That’s a blessing.

wedding couple 7

wedding bride

wedding couple 6

wedding couple 4

wedding couple 8

We haven’t decided yet exactly how we will celebrate on Tuesday.  There probably won’t be dancing:

wedding couple 5

wedding kids

But there may be cake!

wedding cake

 

 

 

 

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I’m late to the party, but thought I should do my bit to promote NFP Awareness Week.

If you aren’t Catholic (and in a sad commentary on . . . lots of things, maybe even if you are) you may have no idea what NFP even is.  The doctor I went to see right after I was married didn’t.  Of course, that’s been a while back, so maybe the situation has improved.

NFP stands for Natural Family Planning, and it’s not your parents’ Rhythm Method, which didn’t work.  Learned properly and followed exactly, it’s just about as effective as the Pill.  Only it’s permitted by the Church and non-abortifacient, and if you don’t care about that stuff, maybe being able to avoid pregnancy AND possible blood clots and other unsavory consequences of bombarding your body with unnatural hormones for extended periods of time might pique your interest.

I remember my first exposure to NFP.  I was a Senior at Knoxville Catholic High School, in a co-ed class taught by a priest, and he showed us some goofy movie.  We heard the words “cervical mucus,” became disgusted and/or embarrassed, and quickly tuned out.  Now, I give him props for at least trying, but I can think of better ways to introduce the topic.  And because no groundwork had been laid beforehand (at least, not that I remember) to explain exactly WHY artificial contraceptives were wrong, other than “because the Church said so,” none of us understood the importance of what he was trying to teach us.

I was engaged to be married before I heard about NFP again, not in a marriage preparation class, but rather in a Christian Marriage class at Georgetown, which I took voluntarily as one of the classes I needed to get a minor in Theology.  This priest had us read Certain Declarations Concerning Sexual Ethics, Familiaris Consortio, and Humanae Vitae before we read The Art of Natural Family Planning.  These books changed my attitude and shaped my future life (and John’s, which he didn’t much appreciate since he was not a Catholic at the time!).

I’m not going to go into the details and the science because if you are truly interested and want to know you can Google the links as well as I can.  I can only share with you the freedom of knowing that you  are 1) following the law of the Church; 2) not polluting your body with chemicals; 3) not interfering with intimacy by the use of unpleasant and inconvenient devices.  Given today’s value for doing things naturally, I’m surprised that more people don’t embrace NFP for purely ecological reasons.

Well, you say, but it doesn’t work.  You have five children and everyone I know who writes about NFP has at least that many if not more.  I don’t want five children.

I didn’t want five children either.  I wanted ten.  See how I don’t have ten?  John didn’t want ten.  That’s called compromise.  I’ve been married for not quite 25 years.  If NFP doesn’t work, why do I only have five children?  Do you think that six-year space between Teddy and William was just luck?

Teddy's Graduation

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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.

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That’s how long ago it’s been, as of today, that John and I have been a couple.  On February 16, 1987, he asked me if I would be interested in going out with him, and I bet if he could have seen the future, he would have run the other way instead.  But I guess if any of us could see the future we’d run the other way, right?

I went to college with the express intention of finding a husband.  I also said he would be a lawyer (because I thought all attorneys were rich!) and that we would have a lot of children (I wanted ten) and I would stay home with them.  I got what I planned for, although it doesn’t always look exactly the way I thought it would!  John went to college to prepare to join the Foreign Service.  He was going to live a wild bachelor existence until he was at least 30, and he wasn’t really interested in having children at all.  He also got what I wanted. 🙂  I think he’s not sorry, most days.

Our early courtship was . . . shall we say . . . complicated, because John had been dating my roommate first.  But we worked through that, and all the things that followed.  We were best friends first, and I know that helped (still does).  We also enjoyed one of those romantic, chemistry-charged beginnings–and we can usually recall those feelings when we need a boost, even if that kind of intensity cannot be sustained non-stop for 25 years.

We’ve always celebrated this date with the same fervor as our wedding anniversary–which is probably why Valentine’s Day has never been a big deal for us.  The first year we were dating, we exchanged cards on the 16th of every month!  John planned to pop the question on August 16, 1988, which would have been our 18 month anniversary, but once he had the ring he just couldn’t wait, so he asked on July 16 instead.

I have an exceptionally clear and detailed memory of my whole life up until I started having children.  Ask anybody.  And I’m glad, because I can conjure up not only the feelings of those early days (not wanting to eat, seeing John’s face floating above the Platonic dialogue I was supposed to be reading, being able to think of nothing but our next meeting . . .) but the actual details (what happened each day leading up to the 16th, where I sat and waited for John to meet me after his class, him playing “Only the Good Die Young” whenever I came over– and no, it did not work!).  This is more important than ever now.

Because normally today I would go to my dresser drawer and pull out a sheaf of love letters and cards from the first year of that courtship, still in their envelopes, many addressed not to “Leslie” but to “Pumpkin” or whatever the pet name of the week was, neatly arranged in chronological order.  It embarrassed John to hear the things he wrote back then, but I treasured them, and realizing they were reduced to ashes was the post-fire moment that brought me closest to tears.

Which brings me to a happier story that I don’t think I’ve shared yet.  When I tell people that our house burned down, the thing they all are most upset by is the loss of all our pictures (we will be the last generation that can lose pictures to fire, thanks to computers).  Now, honestly, I was more upset about a lot of things.  That’s because I made triple prints of every photo and sent one whole set to John’s family in Baltimore, so I knew that most pictures of our kids survived somewhere.  I thought, though, that our pre-kid pictures were gone for good.

One day John went over to the ruins to get our fire proof box, which had all the negatives for our pictures, including our wedding pictures.  Sadly, fireproof does not mean waterproof, and everything in the box was ruined.  But John also came home with a photo album with some salvageable pictures.  I sent him back to look again and he returned with most of our photo albums and the baby books too! Somehow, amidst the utter destruction of the room they were in, the built-in cabinet they were stored in provided some level of protection.  The albums are singed and many pictures are ruined.  But many can be saved.

I can’t do it.  Looking at the destroyed ones upsets me and so does the very strong smell of fire.  But Emily worked on it at Christmas time and will finish the job this summer.  And because of this little miracle, I do have a couple of courtship pictures to illustrate this story.

My 21st Birthday

Diplomatic Ball – Georgetown 1988

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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 annniversary, 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 Teddy 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 had a regular babysitter.  We have always gone out alone 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 conpletely 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

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