In our family, we always celebrate Christmas with a birthday cake. Sometimes, birthday pie.
No, it isn’t in honor of Jesus. We don’t sing “happy birthday to Jesus,” appropriate as that may be. We sing to our own birthday boy. My husband. Born on Christmas Day … well, not too many years ago.
Three days after Christmas and birthday we celebrate fifteen years of marriage.
Once upon a time, we raided a Christmas tree lot the day after Christmas, collecting free decorations for our reception space. Once upon a time, we filled clear glass Christmas ornaments with birdseed. Once upon a time we ordered a few simple arrangements from the florist, grateful the church was already full of poinsettias. A Christmas wedding.
Fifteen years later, I know that marriage is no fairy tale. I know that it’s harder than we imagined it could be. I know that the children we count as blessings also make it very difficult for us to talk to each other at our own dinner table. Last night, with the kids distracted by a movie in the upstairs playroom, we actually sat down to eat without bothering to let them know that food was on the table. They figured it out eventually, but, in the meantime, oh joy! ten minutes of quiet conversation. Ten minutes to remember who we once were and who we will be again someday.
Perhaps, marriage is no fairy tale. Perhaps, there is no happily ever after. And yet … I don’t speak this truth out of disappointment but out of gratitude. Fifteen years ago it was romance. Today, it’s love.
It’s a husband who says he’s sorry. It’s a wife who cooks dinner even when she has a chest cold (though not, necessarily, with a good attitude). It’s a husband who wakes up every single night to soothe a baby who has long outgrown babyhood but still can’t quite manage a full night’s sleep.
It is love in the gritty details. Love that still puts twinkly lights on a Christmas tree and is grateful to accept a free poinsettia after the holiday concert. Love that dreams dreams about the future at a table sticky with maple-syrup fingerprints.
Love in the flesh.
God with us.