Twenty-two years and 5 kids later, Valentine’s Day is coming, and romance looks a little different for us than it did back when we were dating.

I met Steve in college. Our first encounter was almost immediately. I missed the bus from church back to campus and was panicking about arriving late for my newly appointed job in the cafeteria. Steve was coming out of the church with his guitar when my cousin, recognizing Steve as one of those mature students with a vehicle, begged a ride on my behalf. I remember sitting in his truck for the 5 minute drive back to Dordt College, staring straight ahead and barely giving one-word answers to his polite conversation. Here I was sitting next to this good-looking sophomore, who was five years older than me, owned a truck while all I owned was a 10 speed, and who traveled with his guitar, leading me to believe he must have been some kind of giant in the faith, maybe on track to be a pastor or something.

I jumped from the truck with a mumbled thank you and never looked back. 

Fast forward a year and a half.

Jumping in with both feet

I was invited to dinner by one of Steve’s roommates and found myself sitting around the table with Steve, his friend Dave (VanBelle) and four other guys.

Things changed from that moment on.

He certainly didn’t woo me with the massive pot of mashed carrots and potatoes they plunked onto the table, but I remember Steve and Dave yukking it up with their non-stop jokes, outrageously exaggerated stories and positive outlook on life. He was nothing like what I’d imagined long ago, and I was hooked.

Steve began showing up at my dorm room during visiting hours and soon we were spending countless hours in each other’s company. Finally he worked up the courage to ask me out on a date and even stole a kiss by the end of the night. I’m pretty sure he wanted to seal the deal as two days later I was heading to Winnipeg for the summer while he elected to stay in Iowa and work. His decision to live in Iowa was to be in closer proximity to me, an 8-hour drive versus 24. Steve always did jump into things with both feet.

That summer, he made mixed tapes of love songs and wrote sentimental little love notes which he mailed to my house. His intention to convey the deep feelings in his heart and to reassure me of his unwaning affection had the opposite effect. While Steve’s motto was “absence makes the heart grow fonder”; mine was more like “out of sight, out of mind.” The poor guy endured a summer of intense heat and humidity, tornado warnings, loneliness and endless hours toiling on a pig farm only to hear the words when he drove up to visit, “I’m just not sure how I feel.

Brutal! I’m mortified to think of it now, but I was young and foolish, what else can I say.

A couple hours back in the company of that funny, positive, albeit sappy, BC boy and I was completely hooked all over again. One and a half years later and there was a ring on my finger and a promise of a life together.  

Love struck bride

Romance was not something I gave much thought to back when we were newly in love. It just sort of happened. We both had the blessing of parents who had modeled love and commitment so stepping into marriage seemed natural and relatively uncomplicated.

We discovered early on that living with someone required adjustments, but it was easy to devote time and attention to one another when we only had ourselves to think about. Steve would milk at the farm next door and, like the love struck young bride that I was, I put on my boots and “assisted” him with his chores. (Minus the 4 am milkings; my love had its limits)

A few years later when Caleb arrived, we poured love on him but found there was still plenty of time and affection left for one another. But those early, simple years began to get complicated. Infertility reared its ugly head, having a devastating affect on our hearts. As God redirected our thinking and brought four more beautiful blessings into our lives, our simple, easy, uncomplicated lives began to fill.

While it filled with the good, it also filled with busyness, stress, responsibilities, health issues, school activities, money concerns, and much more. And the man I devoted myself to, the man I loved and couldn’t wait to spend time with became the guy I gave a quick kiss to on his way out the door and got the leftovers of my time, whatever I could scrape together at the end of a busy day.

Empty tanks

Steve starts his day at 5 am and goes steady till the “tank” is empty. When he sits still for more than few minutes, doesn’t matter if it’s devotions at the dinner table, on a hard church pew, watching a hockey game, or spending quality time with his beloved wife, his head is bobbing and weaving, giving his boys ample time to find a phone to record another episode of Dad’s unique heading banging moves.

We became like ships passing in the night. 

It should have come as no surprise to us that marriage was no longer living up to our expectations.  Somewhere along the way it became hard work. You put two inherently selfish people and throw countless situations at them which are often beyond their control, leave them rare moments to reconnect and you’ve got a recipe for miscommunication, hurt feelings, disillusionment and loneliness.  Not part of the romantic proposition I thought I received all those years ago. 

Hard work and a home cooked meal

I’ve had people, when they hear that we are 22 years married, comment on how lucky we are. I understand the sentiment but on some level it offends me because it diminishes the hard work involved. We’ve worked harder than I ever could have imagined. We’ve failed miserably at times. If I could have had the wisdom I’ve gained over the last 20 years handed to me as a young bride, oh the pitfalls I could have avoided. Oh, the hurts I wouldn’t have inflicted on the one I love most.

But wisdom is best gained through my own experiences. Our marriage has been exactly that, a series of life experiences that have taught us and shaped us through joys and sorrows and only through God’s grace have we persevered.

And so here we are 22 years and 5 boys later.

Dates can be sporadic and romance might not include chocolates and roses, but commitment is strong and love is a choice that we make each day. I don’t follow him around the farm, holding his hand while he does his chicken chores and oohing and aahing over the way his muscles ripple under his shirt.

But I do know how much he likes to come home to a home cooked meal and a tidy, inviting kitchen, so I do my best to make this a place where he feels loved and relaxed. I don’t receive mixed tapes of love songs or sentimental notes in the mail, but Steve faithfully makes me a cup of tea each morning and hands it to me as I head to school with the boys. 

We’re still learning as we go. Only recently did he put the pieces together that making me a cup of tea is nice but sitting and drinking a cup of tea with me…now that makes my heart aflutter!