November 15, 2021

Marriage: More Poetry than Planned

Marriage: More Poetry than Planned
My wife Char and I celebrating our anniversary at Pardo's in Mandeville.

Yesterday my wife Char and I celebrated our 23rd wedding anniversary. Or, to be more accurate, yesterday was our anniversary, but we’ve been celebrating for several days.

It started on Thursday evening when we attended a dinner with friends. The dinner had nothing to do with our anniversary. We just happened to be invited, and felt happy to be with friends. And, unbeknownst to them, that dinner kicked off the anniversary celebrations for us.

Friday night we got to steal away for a dinner date, just the two of us, at Pardo’s in Mandeville, LA. We enjoyed a fabulous dinner. Our waiter Sam was top-notch... attentive, yet unobtrusive. No detail escaped him. And he allowed us to linger at the table. I think we were there about 2.5 hours. Courses came at just the right intervals, and each one was better than the previous. We ordered Oyster Rockefeller Soup and the Carpaccio as appetizers, and we split the Iceberg Wedge Salad. Char ordered the Pan Seared Gulf Fish for her entree, and I ordered the Double Cut Pork Chop. You can see some photos below. Incidentally, we both highly recommend Pardo's. Our dinner ended with a surprise dessert [Thank you, Sam and Pardo's!]... and fireworks!

Saturday we spent the day at the Three Rivers Art Festival in Covington, LA, which is one of our favorite events each year. It was just me, Char and Zelie. And we had so much fun! Again, see pics below... especially Zelie who wore her dinosaur hat from about 8:00 AM to about 6:00 PM and brought so much joy to everyone she met!

Zelie doing what Zelie does... bringing joy to everyone!

Sunday, our actual anniversary, was yet another adventure. We drove to St. Francisville to join the good folks of St. Sharbel Maronite Mission of Louisiana for a hike, lunch, some talks on the history of faith in the Felicianas (by Fr. Brad Doyle) and the history of the Maronite Catholic Church (by Fr. Alex Harb), followed by a Maronite liturgy. Beautiful. A wonderful way to spend our anniversary. Special thanks to Fr. Brad and Our Lady of Mount Carmel Catholic Church for hosting us.

Twenty-three years is nothing to sneeze at. During these twenty-three years, we've seen friends divorce. We've seen friends diagnosed with major life-changing health issues. We have lost friends in death. And we are still here. And we are very grateful to still be here, and to be together. But these twenty-three years have not been easy.

This year I have found myself to be a bit more reflective than usual. Maybe it's the impact of the pandemic, and the fact that the world we all knew so well has shifted so much in such a short period of time. Maybe it's the fragility of it all, having lost close friends and family this past year. The remembrance of death can be such a good thing... Memento Mori and all. It helps us to keep focused on the things that really matter.

I've been thinking about where we are –Char and I– and where we've been these last twenty-three years. Char and I routinely have conversations about growth and change and God and how where we are today is never what we envisioned. For years now – going back probably to the very beginning when I was still teaching high school and doing youth ministry – I've joked that entering into marriage is being matriculated into the School of Love. A joke, yes, but it is also the truth. That's the endgame. Love. God's work in us is to love us and to make us capable of love. And real, true, love is not easy. It looks like the crucifixion. Like Mother Teresa tending to the dying in the streets of Kolkata. Like Char staying up all night watching every breath of one of our children sick with a respiratory illness. It looks like me, when I surrender to God's grace, and actually allow just a little bit more of my selfishness to be put to death. It's not fun. But love is more than fun. It makes us like God, like Jesus.

I have a million thoughts going through my head. So much that I want to share with you... about beauty and faith and poetry and how all of our plans are really nothing, and how there are layers behind layers behind layers in my life and in yours... and God knows every one of them. But all of that will have to wait. For now, I need to honor my wife who asked me to share this with you. The other night I had a hard time falling asleep, which is very unusual. I laid in bed for about an hour before finally falling asleep. While I laid there, I prayed, and I thought about our anniversary. It occurred to me that there was a connection between 23 years and Psalm 23. The Lord has been with us, but we haven't always seen it. Many times we have refused to see it. But he doesn't give up. And as we consent to die to ourselves, something... beautiful happens. In the end, our lives with God are more poetry than the too-small plans we make.

And that was the inspiration for this poem that I wrote for Char. And she has asked me to share it with you. Enjoy.


The Lord is our Shepherd
and we have not wanted…
though we have been convinced otherwise,
–many times–
seeing our years of want,
our years of struggle and tears,
our years of being
with each other, but not
seeing each other.
How could we, exiled as we were
from our own hearts?

Green pastures and still waters
He provided. But we
could not see it.
Blind were we,
or at least I was.

Moment by moment
He laid out for us
the finest banquet,
the finest wheat,
atop the marble altar,
within the present moment.
And mercies he made
come alive for us
anew every morning.
But I was blind,
I was blind.
Were you?

Yet with the Lord there is mercy
and fullness of redemption.
So grateful am I
for His rod and His staff,
His comfort and correction,
His sweetness that tasted so often
like bitter metal,
the crucible of suffering,
the slow dripping death of self
that must come
for each of us,
welcomed or not.

It has been this death, this dying,
this bone deep knowledge of
my own nothingness that
has peeled back the scales
so that I may see.
It is the sweetness
of this dying that
has broken the yolk
of falsehoods in me,
gently bringing me back
to myself, to Him, to you.

Surely his goodness and mercy
have followed us,
have led us these 23 years.
And surely we shall dwell
in the House of the Lord
for 23 more,
for 23 more.

Our Lady of Mount Carmel, pray for us!