Two of my favorite seminary professors were married to each other. She was a theologian, and he was the Pastoral Care and Theology professor. Shortly after I graduated, they ended up working at different institutions, cross-country from each other. When I returned to campus the next year to attend a seminar, I asked the spouse who had remained, how they were managing a cross-country marriage. He replied, in his calm professorial manner: “It isn’t really a problem, we are both well-differentiated.” This totally cracked me up at the time. It seemed so dispassionate, as well as framed in specialized “family systems language.” The formality of his reply still makes me smile.
A few years later, Mike and I decided to get married. When we announced the news to our District Superintendent, the first words out of his mouth were, “Well, this is inconvenient for the cabinet.” His response was not exactly the one we were hoping for, but we understood what he meant. In a conference of large geography and sparse population, the odds of finding churches near each other was going to be slim. And such was the case. For eight years of our married life, our appointments were far enough apart to require us to live in different communities. Some appointments we got to see each other every week, other appointments not quite so often. At one point, Mike took a leave of absence until he could be appointed closer. He did get an appointment that was somewhat closer, but we still were far enough away to require separate households.
It wasn’t always easy, but we managed. We worked at being “self-differentiated,” and were, for the most part, successful. We noticed, though, that there was always a period of adjustment when we came together. Separately, we developed habits and patterns that worked for us individually, but felt disruptive or even invasive when we were together. After many an overnight visit, I would tease him by turning to him and saying, “Oh, are you still here?” Humor helped a lot.
I also reminded myself that there are many people in the world who live in similar circumstances—separated by military service, illness, incarceration, or overseas employment. It seemed rather petty to fuss. We adjusted.
When Mike retired, we were able to live together full-time. Now THAT was an adjustment: Being in each other’s space; Getting used to a different set of priorities on our time and energy; Needing to consult with another person, when you are used to going it solo. Yikes. That first year was challenging! We also had to downsize from being two households to one—a project that is still in process.
This week has reminded me of how much our lives, and our marriage, have changed. Mike has been out of town, visiting family. I always am aware of his absence when we are apart. But this time is different. The house just has a different feel. It could have something to do with the fact that I am definitely missing having my husband make my coffee every morning, or the times he gets up to let the dogs out so I can sleep a bit longer. But it is more than that—I think it is because we have found home here, in this place, and with each other. It is a rare thing for us, and I am grateful. Through all the bumps, difficulties, challenges of our life together, we have reached this moment of homecoming.
I’ve been standing, sitting and walking around my computer for the last hour and a half trying to figure out an “end” to this reflection. I intended to tell you a bit about our new sermon series I am calling “Acts Out.” Or maybe some of the things that are coming in the weeks ahead. But as I read over the above paragraphs, I realize, that what I really want to say is—Thank you. Thank you to Mike (our 17thanniversary is Saturday) for being there in all the ups and downs and finding ways to assure me that I am loved. And to all of you (we are nearing our 1stanniversary) for walking with us in this year of transition, messiness, and new relationship.
Blessings and peace, my friends. See you Sunday. Pastor Nancy