152 Paper Hearts, 7 Kids and 45 Emails (so far): A Valentine’s Day Story

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I remember the very first Valentine’s Day gift I gave to my husband. When I’m putting our laundry away, I can still see it tucked in his drawer beneath his socks. Inside a small box covered in red construction paper, there are 152 red and white notes cut in the shape of hearts, one for each day leading from that first Valentine’s Day until our wedding day in July. Numbered like an advent calendar, each note expressed my love for him, a funny memory or my excitement about soon being Mrs. Jonathan Mather. I took the box out this afternoon and those notes made me smile. I still think that man looks cute in camouflage. And, it’s just as nice as I imagined it would be to hear him breathe at night and to be tucked in close.

Seventeen years have passed since I sat in my college apartment, love and excitement bursting out of me as I wrote those 152 notes. A lot has happened since we exchanged our Valentine’s Day gifts in the parking lot of his dorm. This summer our junior bridesmaid and smallest flower girl are both getting married themselves. We’ll be in the crowd, some of the ‘old married people’ with years of experience that have both sobered us and made us truly excited for the journey these sweet couples are just beginning.

There is nothing in this world like marriage. Nothing. And, just like when God brought Adam and Eve together, I would affirm that marriage is part of what is ‘very good’ in this world. I would also say that there are times when marriage is very hard.

A while ago, Jon and I were talking about a couple we knew that were breaking up. Thinking of the rejection and pain my friend was experiencing I said to him, “Thank you for never hurting me.” He turned from what he was doing and looked at me. “I’ve hurt you many times.”

And, it’s true. He’s hurt me. Many times. And, I’ve hurt him. There have been hurts that I never would have believed during those red and white heart writing days.

Tonight, Jon walked in the door after working all day. I said hello and showed him what I’d left on the stove for dinner before I kissed him on my way out the door. I ran through the blustery February air to my car where our oldest daughter waited to be driven to a friend’s house. But the car didn’t start. So, he came out to the garage and to my rescue and jumped the dead battery. Saying goodbye again, I drove off in one direction not long before he drove off in another for a fire department meeting.

After dropping my daughter off, I drove slowly over narrow roads that plow trucks had been working hard to keep clear. Banks of snow on either side rose chest high. I thought of my brother-in-law, in Maine, who’d just gotten home after eighteen hours of driving a plow truck in their most recent storm. He gets to rest for now but this fight to keep the roads clear of snow doesn’t end until mud season. More snow will come and if it isn’t cleared away traffic will stop. The goal can’t be to remove the problem of snow in general but to keep dealing with it as it comes.

And, I thought, isn’t this like marriage?

When I first met my husband we started making paths back and forth between our hearts. It started with small conversations and getting to know each other. Spending more time together and making more discoveries caused that path to be well-trodden. Soon, it was the one most walked. He became the person I wanted to run to first with both the joys and troubles of life. In the most gentle way possible, we awakened to the truth that a road was growing between our hearts. There was a connection, a bond, a knowing. And we wanted to keep traveling towards each other. By the time he placed a ring on my finger, traveling that road to connection was the most natural thing in the world. It was easy to say ‘yes’ to him. It was so easy to imagine growing closer and older, together. But, just like the roads of New England, it takes work to maintain routes to that kind of closeness.

We have not always done well at this work of maintenance. When we had a houseful of babies and toddlers I would hear people talk about ‘date nights’ with their spouse and to amuse myself I’d try to figure out how many years it had been since our last date. Usually I’d get caught up on whether or not spending time alone at the hospital (before a baby is born) counts and then just give up. Getting out of the house together just wasn’t happening. Missing out on dates wasn’t a problem by itself. Certainly watching my husband become a father made that road between our hearts a highway, paved over, with multiple lanes. We have watched each other work very hard, whether as parents or in the other goals we’ve had as a family. I’ve seen my husband grow professionally, pouring himself into his work, as a student the first year we were married and continuing through the ups and downs toward a job he loves and success as an engineer. I’ve seen him create a farm, digging post holes, planting fields, and building barns. And, when we left the farm, we took on the challenges of living off the electric grid, deep in the woods where he literally keeps our home working as well as our forest managed. This man works hard. And, he’s seen me labor as well.

But, in all that laboring, it is so easy to forget to maintain our relationship. Lately, I’ve thought about what advice I might give to this year’s June brides. But truthfully, I think it might be more important for me to learn from them. Something my marriage needs after all these years is something that comes so easily to these young women; I need to truly see and appreciate and delight in the man I get to do life with.

Jon probably won’t be getting a box of paper hearts for Valentine’s Day this year. But the last day in December he asked me what my New Year’s resolution was going to be. And, he probably didn’t expect my answer. The last year had been a hard one for us. It was full of storms that blocked roadways and both of us sometimes felt like we were shoveling alone and in vain, unable to get anywhere.

But, my new years resolution was a renewed commitment to express my appreciation for my husband. Instead of a paper heart in a box, these days Jon gets a note in his email inbox. Daily, I’m writing down something I see in him that makes me thankful. This is a simple little thing, but it’s been significant. Writing down 152 things you’re excited about 152 days before the wedding is easy. After years of marriage there can sadly be seasons and days when it is hard to think of one thing to be grateful for; those roads between our hearts can feel impassable. But daily, I’m remembering that this is one road that is worth the work to maintain. In order to be thankful, we need to slow down and see. I’ve had to pause in my day to think about my husband and all that he is and does. Just in that act of seeing and thinking, of knowing him, my love is renewed.

I am so thankful for my Valentine of seventeen years. He is still the funny, smart, hard-working, faithful and servant-hearted man that girl fell in love with so long ago. But, he’s also the man that has grown up with me, living out our marriage vows. Even when marriage is hard work, I love him more each day, and deeper. There is no doubt that God brought us together, with more good purposes in that than we ever could have dreamed.

Happy Valentine’s Day, Jonathan. I’m so thankful to be shoveling snow and walking these roads to and with you.

God has been so kind to us~

Lara