August 7, 2018

Biography of a Marriage

Yesterday was my wedding anniversary. And a very significant one at that.

I normally don't talk numbers. The fact is, I don't like to acknowledge my age because I don't want to seem "old." And if I mention how long I've been married, that dates me, enabling "people" to closely estimate my age. Maybe folks already know, more or less. But there's something in my psyche that prefers not making it obvious.

However, yesterday was a milestone and so I decided to swallow my order to express appropriate pride in a major accomplishment: a 30-year (!) wedding anniversary. I know that's a big deal, particularly in this day and age of serial monogamy. I also know several people who'd dearly love to celebrate a 30th anniversary with their one-and-only, but can't because a spouse was lost to an accident or sickness far too soon. So having 30 years together with - to paraphrase Scripture - the husband of my youth is truly cause for celebration.

Our celebration yesterday was actually rather quiet and subdued because of our current season of life. You see, unlike most others who can mark 30 years of marriage, we aren't yet empty-nesters; our kids are still home so we couldn't schedule a "big trip" for just the two of us. And our day-to-day lives are quite busy - sometimes too busy! - so we didn't think ahead enough to organize a party or a vow renewal ceremony. But, as I told my husband, I'm okay with that. Just as faithfully walking the road of marriage together counts more than the hullabaloo of a wedding day, so, too, acknowledging a milestone in simple ways in the midst of real life is more important to me than disrupting everything else for the sake of an "event." In a few years - maybe at 35 - we anticipate having the opportunity to make some sort of splash to celebrate, and that will be a blast when the time is right.

As to the biography of a 30-year marriage, it would be impossible to share every significant event and story without writing a book. Here, though, is a quick list of some memorable highlights:

  • We met when I was 17 and he was 20, right before I started my freshman year of college. He noticed me right away; I was too nervous about "college life" to notice anyone at all. His roommates wisely counseled him against asking me out because I was a professing atheist - and then they faithfully prayed for me for months;
  • Those prayers orchestrated one thing after another over the next several months - that's a miraculous topic for another post! - until I finally accepted Christ as my Lord and Savior in the middle of my freshman year. Jeff's circle of friends became my circle and I finally noticed him in a "new" way just before summer break. We officially began dating the next fall on my nineteenth birthday;
  • Jeff graduated college in 1987 and proposed a few months later, right after landing his first job as a graphic artist at Graphic Composition;
  • Just about a year later, we celebrated with family and friends at the church we'd attended together since I'd gotten saved, following it up with an afternoon reception and an early-evening round of bowling with the wedding party. We drove to Williamsburg, Virginia, on our honeymoon;
  • We spent our first year in a quintessentially newlywed apartment - a studio with a murphy bed! Jeff worked second-shift at Graphic Composition, and I spent that year finishing my degree;
  • Right before our first anniversary, we moved into a one-bedroom apartment that turned out not to be an upgrade after all. So after another year, we moved again - into the upper of a cute duplex, where we stayed for four years;
  • I worked for a year and a half as our church's secretary right after college, then felt called to return to school in pursuit of a license to teach English as a Second Language. A year and a half later, I took my first teaching job at a local middle school and then, after five years there, I spent four years at the neighboring high school. Most of my students were from Southeast Asia and Mexico;
  • After a couple of years with his first company, Jeff took a job at ShopKo's corporate office, still in graphic design;
  • In 1994, we bought our home - the same place in which we still live;
  • While I was working on my initial teaching license, we changed churches and started taking short term missions trips - to Mexico, El Salvador, and France - thinking we were called to serve as full-time overseas missionaries. This was a hard time for us because Jeff felt more and more convinced we should go full-time as I felt more and more certain that I couldn't do it;
  • During this time, Jeff left ShopKo and took a job working for a ministry called Shelter Now, which focused on building homes for those affected by war and natural disasters. Through Shelter Now, he took trips to Honduras and Sri Lanka. Around this time, he also took his first trip to Trinidad with one of our pastors;
  • We finally decided to start trying for a baby in early 1998 and got pregnant around the time of our tenth anniversary. But we suffered what has been the most devastating loss in my life in early November when we learned that our baby - our Anna Vivian - had passed away in-utero near the beginning of our second trimester;
  • We'd been having some struggles with our second church so we left after the miscarriage and found our way to our current church a few months later. Though still grieving the loss of my baby, I was able to join the worship team, where I've served ever since;
  • In August 2000, our pastor asked Jeff if he'd like to become the church's youth pastor. A few weeks later, we found out we were pregnant again so making the switch to a church job seemed like a wise move;
  • I was petrified of losing another baby despite my doctor telling me everything was so normal I was "boring." He was right, though, and Rachel Jean graced our lives with her presence in May 2001. I knew I wouldn't return to work after the baby was born and officially resigned to become an at-home mom at the end of June;
  • Just a couple of months later - around Labor Day - I was feeling especially moody and grumpy and Jeff suggested I might be pregnant again. I thought he was insane but a test soon revealed he was right, and our precious Abigail Kay joined us in May 2002, just eleven and a half months after her sister;
  • Though Jeff enjoyed some elements of his youth pastor job - in particular, his interaction with the homeschooled students, which convinced him of the benefits of homeschooling - it wasn't an overall good fit. He left in May 2003 and went back Graphic Composition. However, the job didn't pay well so he also worked part-time at our local Christian bookstore, and I started Teachers' Tots Child Care - advertising to provide daycare to children of local teachers - in order to be sure we could keep paying our bills;
  • As Jeff left the youth pastor job, our senior pastor encouraged him to make his missions endeavors official and he led the way for our church to financially support what has become MissionGuides, Jeff's missions-mobilizing ministry. We quickly realized that MissionGuides (MGI) is what God was leading Jeff to years earlier when He made it clear that I wasn't called to missions even though Jeff was. And MGI has been going strong ever since;
  • In November 2003, Jeff started a graphics job at Schreiber Foods, a multi-national corporation headquartered less than two miles from our home. In November 2004, I closed Teachers' Tots, thinking I was done with in-home childcare, but felt led to re-open in September 2006;
  • In August 2006, we took our first annual vacation to Lake Lundgren Bible Camp, where Jeff began serving as missionary speaker for one week each summer. We went every year as a family through 2014, and the girls started attending as "regular campers" in 2015. Our relationship with camp continues to this day;
  • Though I understand that all of life involves learning (meaning that I've been technically home-educating my kids from the day each was born) and had joined our local homeschool association when the girls were just toddlers, we became "official" homeschoolers in Fall 2007, when I filed our first state-mandated annual notification form. The plan has always been to home-educate all the way through so the girls will graduate together from Berean Academy, our homeschool, in Spring 2020;
  • To celebrate our twentieth wedding anniversary, we took the girls - then six and seven - on the "Laura Ingalls Tour," a road trip that led us up to Pepin, Wisconsin; down to Burr Oak, Iowa; and all the way through Minnesota to De Smet, South Dakota;
  • I launched The Homeschool Resource Roadmap in 2013, a project which God gave me clear out of the blue and which has increased my visibility in the broad homeschool community;
  • As a somewhat belated twenty-fifth anniversary celebration, we took the girls on another extended road trip in March 2014, traveling to see The Creation Museum, Colonial Williamsburg, Mount Vernon, and Gettysburg;
  • In June 2014, I closed Teachers' Tots for good (as far as I can tell) in order to focus on the girls and my work with The Roadmap and other homeschool advocacy endeavors;
  • Jeff started a new position at Schreiber in November 2016, moving from graphics to corporate training, where he is finally able to fully utilize his gifts and skills as a teacher;
  • As far as Jeff and I are concerned, our girls are growing up way too quickly! Of course, we're excited to see what the Lord has in store for them as they launch into adulthood just a couple of short years from now - and they each have some very exciting plans in the works! We just wish in some ways that they could stay little. Nevertheless, we're encouraging them to grow up well and responsibly and are very proud that both now have part-time jobs and are on the cusp of getting their driver's licenses;
  • And last but not least, I'd be remiss in not mentioning that we've been owned by 13 cats over the years - sometimes by as many as seven at once! - so far. In addition to our vow to stay together until death do us part, we've committed (at Jeff's instigation) to having at least one cat at all times.
As we marked the occasion of our anniversary on Facebook yesterday - because, of course, nothing is real these days unless it appears on social media! - our news feeds were filled with dozens and dozens of well-wishes from friends and colleagues who've known us over the past 30+ years, as well as family members who knew us before Jeff and I ever met each other. The sweet prevailing sentiment was a wish that we'll have 30 more years - or maybe even more. To which I can only say, "Let it be so, Lord. Let it be so."


bubbebobbie said...

Thank you for sharing your family adventure with us... We do love you as if you are our neighbor or if we were sharing the same pew at church. This brought depth to what Jeff does , every time he "leaves" you :) As for your age... You are the same age as my Son-in-law...and you do not get to feel old, because I am not ! <3

Tina Hollenbeck said...

Aw, you're so sweet, Bobbie; thank you. <3 And you're right: You're not old so I can't possibly be!

Unknown said...

I remember being one of those guys praying for you. While it was sad to lose Jeff from our Bachelors Till the Rapture (BTR) group gaining you you as a sister and a friend during college was worth it. My your next thirty years together be more blessed than your first.

Tina Hollenbeck said...

Yes, the first significant spiritual event in my life was something I didn't even know about till much later and was orchestrated by a group of bachelor-wannabes! :) But prayer clearly works! I think Steve remained single but it worked out better for you and Putz. :) I'm so glad we've reconnected recently; hope that includes a real-life get-together soon.

Ann Marie Lahti said...

Happy anniversary! What a beautiful story of true commitment. Here's to the next 30!

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