Tent and towels flap in the warm, steady, ocean breeze. Waves crash ashore and seagulls hover.
I mindlessly drag my feet through the sand in front of my chair, making valleys and hills and then flattening them out as I watch our son skim-boarding in the shallow water of low tide.
I taste the salt on my lips, and breathe in the warm air, relaxed.
I could sit here all day.
As my husband leaves the ocean, crossing the sand back to the tent, sweat beads on his face. He exhales and sits down next to me silently, looking straight ahead.
“Are you done?” I gently ask, curious if we’ve crossed his threshold.
“I’m done-done,” he responds, with an authenticity that I now appreciate.
He cannot sit here all day.
A day at the beach is not how my husband would choose to spend his time. He prefers to wake up on his vacation to a cool morning breeze and the sight of majestic mountains and lush valleys. Or to the sounds of a European city awakening – on this we both could agree.
It didn’t take long to learn this about him, but in our early days as a couple, I secretly hoped he would begin to enjoy the beach as much as I did. I grew up going to the South Carolina coast with my family, slathering Coppertone lotion all over my arms and legs, and swimming all day in the ocean or pool with my sister. I wanted that experience with my husband and our children.
Particularly when our children were little, it annoyed me that he didn’t want to go out and play with us, or to stay very long when he did.
So that he came out to sit on the sand and play in the water on this most recent beach day – or to agree to the trip in the first place – was a gift to me, even if he didn’t package it as such. And my unspoken gift in return was that I recognized it as a gift, instead of feeling irritated when he was done-done.
Finding that ease with each other and seeing those moments as gifts in our relationship took time, prayer, and introspection on my part.
We became one flesh when God united us as husband and wife 22 years ago, but we didn’t automatically or completely lose our individuality, our ego, our selfishness, or anything else that makes us human.
Two becoming one feels a little more complicated than Scripture makes it out to be.
He prefers vanilla ice cream; I prefer chocolate. He likes spontaneity; I’m a planner. He’s an extrovert; I’m an introvert. He loves reruns of Law and Order; I’ve considered selling the TV. We have different parenting styles and faith backgrounds, different skills and different strengths. And even after all this time, we still are learning by the grace of God to use those differences and similarities for good, in partnership with each other, day by day, moment by moment.
We are different, and that’s just as God intended.
Marriage is a process, a bringing together of two individuals.
It’s the eventual, real-life realization that my relationship with my husband is my most important earthly connection. It’s important enough to ask as many babysitters as it takes in order to find one so that we can go on a date. It’s important enough to check with him before committing to an activity with family or friends. It’s important enough to consider his desires at least equally as important as my own.
It’s the knowledge that I cannot always be right and that when I am, I cannot hold onto that win like it’s a trophy. When I don’t get my own way, I cannot simultaneously act like a martyr and pour into our relationship.
It’s the daily battle to sacrifice the self for the whole.
It’s the daily reaffirmation of our commitment, whether spoken or unspoken.
And sometimes, simply, it’s the recognition that it’s time to pack up the beach chairs, because each shared moment, dream, and hope is a gift – even if it doesn’t last all day.
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