Thirteen Years

By

Around fifteen years ago, when I was a junior at Taylor Unitversity (the Upland campus), I walked with a pretty blonde beside the lake and I was pulling out all the stops. The sun was setting. Autumn was underway. And I was full of all sorts of profound reflections about the handiwork of God in the changing of the seasons.

We were holding hands. And that was cool.

And about time too.

Having said all I could think to say about the colors in the setting sun, I moved on to my observations about trees.

Yes, trees.

See how it stands there so green and lush and strong? Could you ever imagine it might ever look any other way? But then autumn sets in because God knows what the tree needs. It needs a winter.

Sometimes God gives us winter. Sometimes we go through seasons where by all appearances we look dull and maybe even a little lifeless. But it’s because God knows what we needs. And by His grace He has ordained that before the winter fully sets on in the life of that tree, it would burst into a blaze of glorious color, as if to say, “This is not the last you will see of me! I am strong. I am alive. I have purpose!”

I was on a roll. I was clicking with myself. She was lucky to be there. Lucky.

I paused to let the full weight of my remarks wash over us both. She really seemed to be thinking hard about what I said. I couldn’t wait to hear what she’d say. I thought to myself, “Wait for it. Wait for it.”

After a pause, she finally turned to me and spoke. And what she said made me want to break up with her and marry her at the same time.

“Why can’t it just be a tree?”

What?! Who does this girl think she is? Didn’t she understand that the reason it can’t just be a tree is because that would be, uh, obtuse?

Then it hit me. Maybe she was still absorbing what I’d just taught her. Maybe I was just way ahead of her. So I circled back around to explain it all over again.

Turns out she got it the first time. But she still wanted to know why it couldn’t just be a tree. I had no answer.

I didn’t break up with her. I married her.

What’s so ironic about that little walk we took was that she was being far more profound than I was. In asking why the tree couldn’t just be a tree, she was really asking why I had to dig under every rock? Why did I have to make an analogy out of every simple, tangible, natural event?

Was I hiding behind these super-spiritual sounding poetic flourishes from the world in front of me? Would I use this little trick to hide from her? If so, she had just fired a shot across my bow to let me know she was on to me, mister.

I was mad at her for it. And I loved her for it.

The Puritans used to say you got married in order to fall in love. One of my seminary professors told me on the occasion of his 25th wedding anniversary that the things he loved most about his wife he didn’t really even know were a part of her when they first got married.

I believe both of those statements are true in my life. Lisa and I are thirteen years in and she has been God’s gift to me in countless ways– one of which being how she has rescued my heart from retreating deep into a world of spiritual sounding but meaningless abstractions.

She has given me four beautiful kids who desperately need me to accept that most of the time a tree is just a tree. They need me to be impressed with their pine cone collections. And she has taught me how to do that.

And you know something? This life is richer and better than I could have ever dreamed back then.

Here in the Rabbit Room we look under the rocks of our culture for meaning. And I’m glad for it. I still love the secrets of trees in winter. I still love abstraction.

But I’m learning to simply love the tree. But that took another person’s help. She is not an abstraction. And I love her.

Russ Ramsey and his wife and four children make their home in Nashville, Tennessee. He is a pastor at Christ Presbyterian Church and the author of Struck: One Christian's Reflections on Encountering Death (IVP, 2017), Behold the Lamb of God: An Advent Narrative (Rabbit Room Press, 2011) and Behold the King of Glory: A Narrative of the Life, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ (Crossway, 2015). He is a graduate of Taylor University (1991) and Covenant Theological Seminary (MDiv – 2000, ThM – 2003). Follow Russ on Facebook / Twitter / Instagram.


16 Comments

  1. Tom Bubb

    Thank you for posting a bit of your story Russ- it was something I needed to hear. 🙂 Congratulations on 13 years together!

  2. Dieta

    Russ, Thanks so much for the beautiful story. My husband and I are 19 years in, and were just talking about how we could not have forseen in the beginning how richly it would grow and deepen between us. He’s a musician and is on the road this summer and we both agree that this has been our hardest time apart because we are so richly blessed. You would think absences would get easier, but as our love and commitment deepen, time apart is the last thing we want. I just hope our journey is an axample to our kids. Thanks again-your story blessed my day!

  3. jeremy

    my wife and i are ten years in and counting…i love the myriad ways in which she is beautiful to me.
    jb

  4. Kory

    I hope I can take this insight to heart as I embark on the journey of marriage. There are times I have felt as you describe…”I was mad at her for it. And I loved her for it.” When she spends all day in an environment where there is no deeply spiritual or poetic conversation, I kind of have this high expectation that she’ll want to go on an adventure with me exploring all the “profound” ideas I probably spent all day thinking/reading/writing/talking about already. In reality, however, she usually just wants to wind down, and I usually miss the message (quite bitterly)… I probably did enough thinking for the both of us, and now maybe we should just stop and be.

    I also wonder if this hits at the heart of how Jesus wants our relationships to work, or at least to begin. As in, in the process of figuring out who a person really is, deep down, and whether their values and convictions are really as important or as well thought-out as we think our own are, etc., are we really missing the opportunity to love them outright? Why can’t a [insert adjective] person just be a person, for once? It’s “the kingdom of God is among you” meets “first seek the kingdom of God-” a marriage of simplicity that’s too easily overlooked.

    And here I go turning over rocks. 🙂

  5. Stephen Lamb

    @stephen-lamb

    Russ, I love this. Thanks for writing it.

    Have you seen the movie Dogville, starring Nicole Kidman and Paul Bettany? There’s a great scene where they are sitting on a bench, watching the sunset, and Nicole Kidman’s character says something about loving him. He responds by philosophizing about what love is, so he doesn’t have to actually respond in a personal manner. It’s a wonderfully awkward scene.

  6. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Russ,

    This July will be our 20 year anniversary. In our life it’s much the same as you describe. She’s practical; outdoors she feels and smells the air, loves the horses, and is more interested in the tangible all around us. I tend toward living in my mind a lot. She’s taught me that sometimes I need to go outside and just BE outside – to feel the wind, hear the rain. And I’ve taught her to think about spiritual parallels and realities.

    We are, as Screwtape put it, “a revolting hybrid.” “He’s vulgar, Wormwood. He has a bourgeois mind. He has filled His world full of pleasures. There are things for humans to do all day long without His minding in the least – sleeping, washing, eating, drinking, making love, playing, praying, working.”

    We’re part animal, part spirit. Both those parts need their proper food, and the proper food of each part interrelates with the other part.

    Being outside, just for the sheer sensory pleasure of it, is so vital. So is smelling my daughter’s hair. Kissing my son’s forehead. Fighting with wooden swords. Jumping on the trampoline. These things not only feed the body – they feed the spirit.

    Thanks for a great post, Russ. I’ll be jumping on the trampoline with my kids after my work’s done because of it.

  7. Peter B

    We turn 11 in October, and I’m just starting to be the sort of person who can learn the things about her that I will love by the time we’re 25.

    Oh, man. I needed this today. I feel like lately, I’ve come to a deeper appreciation of just who my wife and children are — and should be — to me, while at the same time being someone who is less and less gentle and joyful in the way I relate to them. I’m hoping that this is just the great ugliness that I always seem to uncover when praying for some kind of growth.

  8. Chris Hubbs

    Ron said in his comment: “Being outside, just for the sheer sensory pleasure of it, is so vital. ”

    Amen. As a computer nerd who too often prefers the book or computer indoors to actually going outside, I need this reminder. Often. Having two little girls who love to go outside is helping pull me that direction.

    Oh, and as long as we’re keeping track, it’s 10 years for my wife and I, today.

  9. david

    i just hit 1 year 3 days ago, so i don’t have the perspective that you guys seem to have…

    but the encouragement is welcome and certainly needed. thanks for the post, Russ.

  10. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Peter,

    Sometimes harshness comes from fear. God recently freed up my soul from fears – fears that my children weren’t going to turn out alright, which caused me to be too heavy handed many times. Since God showed me the cause, and the cure (faith in His Word – “all your children shall be taught of Yahweh, and great shall be the peace of your children”), things are more peaceful, peaceful first in myself, and then as a result in my home. I’m watching my kids respond lately to this Dad who is more fun and less serious than he used to be. I’m also a lot more matter of fact these days with my wife – rather than dealing in anger, I’m often more flat out matter-of-fact. “No, I can’t drive the kids to the birthday party. I’ve got to get some work done downstairs” (working at home has it’s own pros and cons…). Your own “ugliness,” as you put it, may have a different cause technically, but it always has to do with some form of unbelief, some place deep within ourselves where we are not trusting God and instead trusting our own ways and means of coping. God Himself is the Father within you; Christ is the True Husband within you. The more we put our faith in that inner Person who lives in us, the more we will see Him act through us. Not to seem all mystical on you, but it turns out to be wonderfully practical.

  11. Tony Heringer

    Russ, as so many have echoed, great post. We are 18 years in and loving it more and more each year. I’d say Cherie has done for me what Lisa has done for you. Ultimately, I think we’ve been able to come across many more profound things together that separately we (or at least I) would have missed totally had we not been on this journey together. And we also are able to just be where we are and not worry about the complexity of things — trees are just trees and they are glorious to just stare at — no words, just awe or ahhhhhh!

    David – year 1 is usually tough for most folks, then you have children and there is another adjustment that I think is even harder. As one guy told me, I forgot I had a temper until I had kids — oatmeal in the VCR will do that to a guy.

    I found that first year to be what Pete B. was getting at an opportunity to grow. Oh how I wish I could grow laying on my couch watching Sponge Bob, but it usually takes the push and pull of relationship to bring it out of me.

    Hang in there David and fix your eyes on Jesus and His love for you and your wife. He will show you that those things that can upset you about your spouse are not really that big of a deal when you consider His love and what He has done for you.

  12. Stacy Grubb

    Russ,

    Being a pretty new patron of the Rabbit Room, I think this may be my first time reading one of your posts and I have thoroughly enjoyed it. I chuckled out loud a couple times and to myself a few times.

    My husband and I will be celebrating year number 10 in July. We were both very young when we got married (I was 17, he was 20), so naturally, we’ve learned a whole lot about each other that even we didn’t know about ourselves when we walked down the aisle. Getting married that young isn’t something I’d go around recommending for other people, but for whatever reason, it worked for us.

    Before our preacher would do our ceremony, we had to go through a counseling session and then we each had to write down on paper 10 reasons why we have to marry each other and 10 reasons why we have to marry each other right now. I remember one of my reasons was because he was so many things that I was and just about everything that I wasn’t. He balanced me out. He completed me before it was a catch phrase. And now, more than 10 years since I made that list, I’ve learned that I pretty much complete him, too. I know what he lacks and how I can fill in the blanks. I know when he needs me to step in and be the rational adult for him. And he continues to make me be irrational at times. I would never take a risk without his gung-ho attitude kind of pushing me over the ledge before I have time to start thinking it through. I can think of a lot times in our life together when, without taking the risk, we would’ve never gone anywhere worth going.

    Like with any couple, sometimes our differences clash. He’s a pig and I’m a neat freak and that will always be a source of petty arguments for us. And even those differences that make us such a good team often lead to some knock-down, drag outs.

    I imagine my husband and I walking along that lake you walked along with your wife-to-be so many years ago. Our conversation would’ve likely entailed me waxing lyrical about the beauty of trees and I would probably dive into some childhood memory of my favorite tree and how I’d have my tea parties there, veiled by a curtain of willow limbs. I’d tell him how I was a princess behind nature’s curtain there and I’d dance and sing all day long, twirling my dress and feeling the grass under my bare toes. To which he’d likely reply, “Hey, there’s deer poop!”

    Stacy

  13. Chris P

    Thanks for the great post. I’m just embarking on my lakeside walk, and it’s easily the best and most terrifying thing to have ever happened to me. I can relate to the situation you describe pretty easily, and it definitely made me smile.

  14. Dr. John Forbes

    I remember that year at Taylor. Love has brought us a long way, eh. Brenda and I are eight years in…with two amazing boys.

    I’m sitting hear looking at the Japanese Maples in my backyard and contemplating how something can look delicate and strong at the same time.

    I also like looking at the orange tree in my yard – simply because I grew up in Illinois/Indiana and think having an orange tree in my yard is the greatest thing ever.

    Thanks for the great post!

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