You think you know so much when you’re twenty years old. When that third decade begins, you’re a little bit full of yourself, impressed with what you’ve learned in school and in life, and convinced that you’ll be able to handle whatever life throws your way.
And, if you were a 20-year-old raised in the 50s and 60s, you also understood the order of things, especially if you were a female. Even more especially if you were a female raised in the conservative wing of the Christian church. Your life was pretty well mapped out for you: childhood, adolescence, a little bit of young adulthood, marriage, motherhood.
Being an eldest child with a strong sense of propriety and extraordinarily overactive responsibility glands, you did exactly what was expected of you. So, in the year you turned 20, you got yourself married. You found a good, Christian man, dated him (carefully!) for a good long time, got engaged and then, of course, you “settled down.”
Well, five out of six ain’t bad, right? The meeting, finding, dating, engaging, marrying thing you did according to plan. It’s the settling down part you’ve struggled with for the last — how many is it now? — FORTY-EIGHT years.
I chalk it up to delayed and extended adolescent rebellion, that’s what. As an eager-to-please, hyper-obedient child and youth, you never truly rebelled against anything or anyone. And that remarkable man you married? He wasn’t exactly a rabble-rouser, either, was he?
Yet somehow, you’ve traveled this wild and wooly, sometimes adventurous, always unique journey-through-life that began with an afternoon of “I do’s” at the end of 1965. Now you’re taking a gander at 2014, as it rises out of the fog and begins to take shape. Holy crap, next year, you’ll hit the big 5-0. Can you believe it? Doesn’t that happen to old people?
I look at the pictures from this most recent anniversary and I still see those kids in there, those good kids who so wanted to do ‘the right thing,’ whatever the heck that was. Yes, the years have added pounds to our frames and lines to our faces and a whole lotta white hair to the head of at least one of us.
But you know what else I see? A couple of undercover rebels, that’s what. We obeyed the rules, we followed the protocol, yet somehow, we never managed to settle down, did we? At least, not in the way our parents envisioned settling.
Yes, we bought houses and fixed them up. Yes, we found churches and did our fair share of serving and leading. Yes, we had those kids — glorious, exhausting, challenging, lovable, fabulous people, all three of them.
But we also broke with convention and re-invented ourselves several times over the course of these years. We began, eight months in, with that freighter, sailing for eighteen interminable days, no sight of land, and one of us sicker than a junkyard dog. Then, as it turned out, California conservative didn’t look a thing like missionary conservative, and our two years of living cross-culturally (times two — Zambian culture + missionary culture) gave us a golden opportunity to experience being on the ‘liberal’ side of the ledger.
We came home with a new baby. I stayed home, had two more babies when having that many raised eyebrows in lots of places. Maybe we came as close to ‘settling down’ as we ever have during those years of small children. Even then, though, we took a giant leap to a new and better job for you, losing our medical insurance when I was pregnant with number three. Yes, we were a little bit scared, but we knew it was the next right thing for us to do.
We just kept doing that, didn’t we? When one of us began to feel uncertain, when we began to question what we’d been taught about how things ‘should’ work in life, in marriage, in church governance — we hashed it out. We read and we talked and we prayed and we wondered.
And we found a new church for our family at year ten, a life-changing decision in so many ways. A church that encouraged both of us to use our gifts for the kingdom of God, a church that opened our eyes to new ideas and a wider view of God’s grace and goodness.
When the kids grew up and grew out, we felt invited to consider a new way to do life together. I went to grad school, experienced a call to ministry, we became grandparents, and then, all of a sudden, we were moving 125 miles away from the city we called home and you were commuting to work every week. So that I could be a pastor, can you believe it?
Now, we are both ‘retired.’ And you are taking care of young children at our littlest grandgirl’s preschool one day a week, and I am offering spiritual direction in our home. Somewhere in there, I owned a floral business and you served on multiple boards for non-profits, offering your financial expertise and leadership gifts. And we have enjoyed seven more grandkids, the eldest of whom is just about to graduate from college.
From this vantage point, I look back at our 20-something selves with more than a little bit of awe at our outrageous self-confidence and chutzpah! Because now I realize we knew nothing then.
Nothing except this: we loved each other and God loved us both.
And you know what? That was all we ever needed.