Two of my third graders are getting married. It's so weird when I say it that way, since they're hardly third graders any more. In fact, one of them teaches her own class of third graders now. (Insert powerful statement about time flying, passing the torch, feeling old.) In my memory, they are still learning cursive and dominating in a game of multiplication flashcards.
I was invited to speak at the bridal shower last weekend, to impart some words of wisdom to the bride and her many friends as they enter a new life stage and a marriage is born.
And since I share quite a bit of everything with you, here you have it:
The Five Things to Say Every Day of Your Marriage
(When I told Peter my title for the talk, he put down his toothbrush and said, "Um, Trish, can you go ahead and tell me what those five things are?")
"Good morning." Start every day intentionally. Start strong. Start well. Hellos and goodbyes matter, and when you commit to a strong start, you have taken a small step to align your day on a path of goodness. This greeting applies at the end of the day too, when you both come home from your separate days of wherever you've been. Stop what you're doing. Pause the TV. Come down off the ladder. Go find each other. The first two minutes together determines the rest of the evening. So do yourself a favor and say hello to the person you love.
"I love you." Say it with words, yes. But say it with your decisions, your priorities, your menu choices, your tone of voice, with the refueled gas tank and the folded laundry. Say it every way you can, every time you can, every time you think about it.
"Thank you." I've told you this story before, but it's the best one I know about the importance of choosing these words. When Robb and I had been married for 6-7 years, when we were past the newlywed stage and well into the diaper-changing stage, when he was traveling a lot with business and I … wasn't, a subtle ungratefulness crept in. And it looked like criticism. It started with sentences like, "I wish he had…" and "Why didn't he… ?" This habit was creeping into my thoughts, into my heart, and into the lines on my face. It wasn't pretty. I had read that the only real way to break a habit is to replace that behavior with a new one, and I knew myself well enough to know I am best motivated with pens and a new book. So I bought a blank journal (and I'm sure a few new pens for good measure), and I began writing down one thing each day that I was thankful for. Just one thing. And the crazy thing is that when you look for one thing, you're bound to notice two. I wrote them down. On our tenth wedding anniversary, I gave Robb the journal of two years worth of gratitudes. He sat down in a chair in our hotel suite, and he read it, cover to cover. Six months later, he died. Had I not given it to him, he never would have known. And had I not written it down, I wouldn't have had a logged list of things I loved about him to remember long after he was gone. There is always, always, always, always something to be thankful for. Be the one to say thank you.
"I'm sorry." Just as there's always something to be thankful for, there's almost always something to apologize for. When you don't keep a long list of things you've done wrong, then you won't have a long list of things about which to say you're sorry. Say it every day.
(This one comes with a second part, so technically there are six things to say every day, but I wanted them to fit neatly on one hand. So consider this to be 4b. It fits neatly between the ring finger and pinky.)
"I forgive you." I told the young bride, whom I've known since she was nine, "Listen, I know this is hard for you to imagine, but there may come a time, maybe, not necessarily but just perhaps, that you may find it hard to forgive your husband. Sometimes, not very often but just occasionally, some men - not all of them, just a few - do things that are hard to understand and harder to forgive. If that's the case, if you ever find yourself in that unlikely predicament, I want you to take a moment to remember him the way he was when you and I both met him. He was a happy nine-year-old boy who rode his bike after school and played foursquare at recess and told knock-knock jokes and wanted to be loved. Men can be hard to forgive, but little boys are easy to love. And if there comes a time when you find it hard to forgive the man you married, remember there's a little boy tucked inside him who still really wants to be loved.
"Good night." One thing that's true about every day, for better or for worse: it ends. Finish strong. Finish well. Don't let the sun go down without a kind word to end the day. New mercies come with new mornings, and when you finish the night well, you're hours closer to a brighter start the next day.
Five things. You can even hold them all in one hand.
"Men can be hard to forgive, but little boys are easy to love." These just might be my favorite words of wisdom ever! I have told both of my daughters to treat their husbands with as much grace as they do their sons. Even in my older age, I can see that inside the gnarly old man that sleeps beside me is a little boy who still very much wants to be loved.