In November 1993, Jon and I decorated our first Christmas tree together. With less than two months marriage experience under our belts, we set out to bring the warmth of the holiday season into our newlywed home.
An older-wiser relative, with a great sense for decorating (and more like 20 years marriage experience under her belt) advised, “Don’t do one of those cookie-cutter-perfect trees with ornaments from Target that all look alike—Don’t you HATE those? Do something unique to your family. Use handmade ornaments and decorations that are meaningful to you.”
Awww….sweet. Yes, that is exactly how I want our Christmas tree to look. Who wants cookie-cutter-perfect, right? I hate those, too! I want to fill our holiday home with meaningful ornaments, handmade and special.
Except we didn’t have any meaningful ornaments…yet. After only two month of marriage, we barely had furniture and flatware, let alone meaningful Christmas ornaments. Newlywed Sandy wanted to know where to get those. Was there a “Meaningful Ornament” aisle at Target? Were Jon and I supposed to swing by the craft store on our way home from work and pick up a bag of Styrofoam balls and sequins and have arts and craft time at our tiny kitchen table while we watched Seinfeld?
So, much to my Newlywed dismay, we headed to Target and picked out boxes of cookie-cutter-perfect ornaments, lights and tinsel. Pretty enough, but not meaningful or special. And then, we set out to decorate our first cookie-cutter-perfect tree.
Only, thanks to my well-meaning-older-wiser-better-than-me-house-decorator-relative, it felt so imperfect. Of course, it was the best we could do. It was ours. Yet it still felt—I don’t know—wrong and incomplete.
I have a few friends in the very early stages of marriage. And sometimes they express to me a longing for an intimacy or connection they don’t have with their new spouse. On the one hand, they are enjoying the emotional surge and excitement of the new relationship. But on the other hand, they get frustrated because their marriage lacks the depth and familiarity of other marriages—of the marriage they envisioned. They sometimes feel like they are doing something wrong—something imperfect. Why do they still struggle to communicate? Why don’t they yet understand each other? Why is there still a disconnect on foundational issues?
Why is their marriage still “bad” when other people’s marriages are so “good.”?
More times than not, it isn’t a matter of “bad marriage issues” but “new marriage issues.”
Sure, they could choose their words more wisely. Maybe they could think of themselves less. Perhaps they could compromise where they’d rather take a stand. But that doesn’t make their marriage bad or imperfect. It simply makes it new.
Despite the emotional thrill we feel in a brand new relationship, true intimacy is not something we get in an instant. It may feel like intimacy, but it is not.
True marital intimacy is something that grows over time, as we experience life together with our spouses. It’s something that grows more deeply as we hunker down during a torrential life-storm. Something that emerges naturally as we surpass milestones together. Something we wrestle for—with great intention—day after day, year after year.
Today, as I consider the marriage Jon and I are building, one of the most pleasant surprises to me is how much I cherish our history together–all of it. The intimacy we enjoy today has very little to do with the initial attraction or even the things we had in common back then. The intimacy we enjoy is a direct result of thousands of days (over 7,000!)—some good, some forgetful and some dreadful—strung, end-to-end, one after another. And another and another. Building, slowly. One at a time.
Yesterday, Jon and I decorated our 20th Christmas tree together. And, just like our marriage, one of the most pleasant surprises was looking over the tree and discovering it was far from cookie-cutter-perfect, yet wonderfully unique. We have 20 years of accumulated ornaments. Almost all of those original ornaments from Target have been replaced by other ornaments with more intimate significance.
Every ornament sparked a memory.
Every ornament held our history.
And yes, meaning.
Even the few remaining Target ornaments from our very first tree.
I feel badly that I so harshly judged our first tree for it’s lack of depth and purpose. It simply could not be what I wanted it to be 20 years ago. It needed more time.