On Learning What Love Looks Like: A Letter to My Husband

Originally published Friday, 12 June 2015.

(This post originally appeared on carajoyner.com)

Seven years ago today. It was hot. Literally, record breaking hot. With a heat index close to 110, the air was heavy and sticky and all the things we expect from Virginia summers. There were no quiet guests reading the program and waiting for the ceremony. Not at this party. Instead, a gentle roar filled the sanctuary of that Baptist church - my grandparents' church - packed wall to wall with more than 600 of our people.

Our village, 600 strong, filled wooden pews to stand with us at the altar. We made vows, promises to stay and sacrifice and work.

We were babies. BABIES standing up there, pretty sure we had it figured out, completely unaware of our own not-knowingness. Yes, we aren't that much older now. Seven years really isn't a long time. Maybe the biggest change today is that we see that we are but babes in a world of much wiser adults, finding our way with all the grace of a toddler learning to walk. We're clumsy and a little foolish, but at least we know it now. Our kids have a way of unveiling just how not-cool and not-together we actually are.

So here we are. Seven years, four babies, two college degrees, five homes, ten jobs and still hardly any money later. I love you even more today.

Recently, some artwork circulated the Internet. This is what real love looks like, it said. It was sweet and well intentioned and onto something important. Love looks a lot less like the sexy grandiose from Hollywood and a lot more like everyday moments. I looked at the pictures babe, and while I understood what they were trying to say, it didn't look like the love you've taught me in the last seven years.

We have different ways of communicating, you and I (hello understatement of the decade). You process internally and then, maybe, speak it out loud. I process as the words come out of my mouth and are picked up by my ears. Where I have ten words, you have two. You receive information based on what you see and hear. I receive information by listening to the gaps. In those differences, words can sometimes fall short, so you've shown love in action.

Your quiet faithfulness has taught me what love looks like. The quaint dinner and the card games and the holding hands contently, those are beautiful pictures of our first two years together and when those moments slip in today, they are lovely. But the part of love I couldn't find in those sketches, is the staying part. The planting our feet right where they are because we promised we would and doing the hard work of ordinary life part.

You taught me that love looks like saying the words you don't want to say, because you want this to work and you care more about us being healthy than us being superficially comfortable.

You taught me that love looks like lying side by side in the dark, still simmering from what we said before, choosing to breathe in peace and breathe out forgiveness.

It looks like crawling on our hands and knees with a bottle of bleach and some plastic gloves, cleaning up after the kid that got sick in the middle of the night.

It looks like taking turns...over and over taking turns. I'll stay home so you can go out. You'll get up with the boys so I can sleep a bit more.

It looks like showing up when we want to shut down. Lowering our voice when we want to raise it.

It looks like a determination to bring peace into conflict, a decision to speak gently over brashly.

It looks like taking out the trash in the rain and bringing me water during the night. It looks like sinks of dirty dishes and your incredible patience standing over them.

It looks like three births and 55 hours of labor. It looks like you holding me up when my knees quite literally gave way.

It looks like dreaming together and grieving together, regrouping and pushing forward.

It looks like knowing when to let it go and get over it. It looks like a willingness to stop and work it out when it matters.

You've shown me that love looks a lot like sacrifice - everyday, ordinary, not-so-sexy (but actually incredibly sexy) sacrifice. Thank you for your relentless love babe, for our family and for me. Our boys adore you because you are kind and intentional and present. I'm changed my your consistency, your steadfast pace and remarkable humility. Thank you for staying when it's hard, when it's boring, when it's heavy. Thank you for risking so much to speak truthfully. We're still just kids in many ways. Here's to the years ahead and continuing to grow up together. All my love.