Welcome to the month of all things love.
If you've been with me a time or two you know that I love love.
All the way down to the cement conversation hearts that eventually all taste the same and still say, "Fax me."
Recently my youngest, who is surely preparing to be the next Woman Engineer in space, brought me an adorable teddy bear with a sweet bow around his neck.
What I did not know was that this bow was hiding her very exciting secret.
She began to fall all over her words telling me how she was so tickled to give this to me and as she came closer she began to turn- a mite too hard I thought- on this bear's neck.
She turned it SO hard in fact that it screwed right off to show me that she had hollowed-out the inside of this bear to bury a small mason jar complete with top hot-glued to the underside of his neck.
She gave it to me to "hide" candy from Dad, who in reality eats three Whoppers a year and gives the rest to everyone else.
He isn't really a threat to candy in the house.
But it WAS ingenious.
That is until you probe a bit and ask her just how she got the head to come off.
It's a bit PG13 and involves scissor-like actions in the dark of the school room.
I didn't know whether to be more delighted that she figured something like this out or bothered that she looked at this bear and studied how to decapitate him.
Either way they now house my Conversation hearts and for the life of me I cannot get his head on straight so he frequently looks smilingly over his left shoulder.
And being the month of all things love, I decided to look over my left shoulder back to two Summers ago.
Two Summers ago now we took our first ever extended family vacation.
Friends invited us to see them in Washington state and we took them up on the idea.
We would spend a few days with them, enjoy their ministry and then head with them a few states away to a Family Camp they attend each year.
We hem and hawed through Wisconsin and then Minnesota, stopping to get crazy flavors of Spam and then marched through Montana just before the state of all things cherries.
This road trip will live on in Infamy as the one where Abby and Isaac laughed themselves into oblivion over Little Debbie brownies making budget cuts and no longer adding lines between brownies, where us girls decided to go sleeveless and two year's later still have burn lines and where Dad got the epic migraine reminding us to look for Mexicans in the shrubbery.
Time won't permit me to elaborate on all of that heap of living but I will zero-in on one momentous occasion at Family Camp.
Too many viewings of "The Paren't Trap" made me a bit wary of Family Camp. I pictured whistles and green clipboards filled with Family "fun" and I was just glad our van made it all the way across the country and that we didn't leave some of our "family" on the side of the road after the gas station burrito left us all needing fresh air.
We filed into our cabin and my heart and bladder sank when I noticed how far away the bathrooms were from my bed.
I decided right then and there not to even put my glasses on each morning until I had trudged through the wet grass and reached the bath house, convincing myself that if I couldn't see anyone surely they couldn't see me either.
Joel and I decided to sleep together in one bunk because we were frightfully ignorant on how our "One flesh" marriage had grown over the years.
I think I still have numbness in some parts from being two peas in a pod (a very tight pod) for a week.
Truly the week was a gem of a time and my kids and their parents made lifetime connections, as well as thoroughly enjoyed catching up with dear college friends. The messages were spot on and helpful and being with heaps of larger families was fun too. It wasn't "all about the brisket," as the camp shirts remind us to this day, but it WAS just a little bit about it!
The kids sang just about all day when they weren't playing some sort of game and I could knit and laugh and even nap at my leisure.
It was a wonderful first Family Camp experience.
Until that fateful afternoon when my sweetheart asked me to go canoeing with him while the kids played yet another round of volleyball.
The back of the camp sat right up next to beautiful, shining Cocolalla Lake and the surrounding hillsides were breathtaking.
It was like a Hallmark movie, He offering to do all the paddling grabbing a sturdy paddle and with his hand leading me into the back of the canoe.
He assured me we didn't need life vests on our romantic jaunt and I just let him smooth talk my Irritable bowl feeling right off into the billowing clouds.
We wobbled a bit but out we went with nothing but glassy lake for all of it's 800 acres and a small little kayak with a tween boy off in the distance.
It was absolutely stunning.
Not a sound but the occasional swishing of the paddle and us, sitting across from each other smiling.
I asked Joel for his phone to try and capture some of the beauty around us even though you never really can match the beauty of being right there yourself.
Neither of us had a care in the world and neither of us were prepared for what happened next.
Some sort of weight shifting caused a severely unbalanced canoe and before you can say, "Thanks for nothing Cocolalla," yours truly was hunting for fish.
Though early July, the shock of the water that was much colder than I expected took my breath away and I FREAKED OUT.
I don't even remember everything I tried to say amidst gasps of air but feeling my jean skirt begin to soak in half the lake didn't help my state of panic.
Joel began to try and help me but I would NOT be helped.
My disposition wasn't AS odd as his afore mentioned migraine instructions of "Mexicans in the bushes," but it WAS a CLOSE second.
I was so scared and mad that I just hung for dear life yelling through chattering teeth at the dear one who wanted to just treat me to a lovely canoe ride.
And seeing him stifle laughter at this drowned rat of a wife made me even more indignant.
As the seconds wore on the thought of a fish even grazing my leg would make me shudder and jump a bit looking around me and claw even tighter to the metal side. I wasn't sure how deep this lake was, but it was dark and cold and it.was.scary.
At one point I thought that I would try, against Joel's pleading to listen to him, and get in the canoe myself.
"Pull myself up by own bootstraps" and all.
But my two-ton jean skirt wasn't having any of it.
I couldn't even fathom the thought of losing the skirt and half of the lake water it was holding but I WAS tempted.
If Eve could do something with some leaves then by golly why couldn't I?
I really have no idea when I stopped talking and yelling and threatening to throw him in the first chance I had, but eventually I was too cold and too scared to do anything but listen.
Every ounce of instruction came with two million doubts that he cared enough to get me out of that lake and COULD get me out.
He summoned that tween-ager kayaking and we realized that this was going to be a One man and a tween rescue mission.
This fella was smart. He didn't say A BLESSED WORD.
I may have ruined all of his desire to ever get married for that matter.
Joel told him that we needed him to join forces with us and allow me to balance on his kayak to get myself into the canoe without tipping Joel into the water.
I also have chosen to block out just how I used my 40 year old legs to do some sort of "Cirque du Solei" move into that canoe, but I DO remember telling that sweet kid to "LOOK OVER THERE!" as far as his little eyes could stare away from the mess that was about to take place.
He nodded and everyone sighed a huge sigh of relief when these legs were squarely where they were supposed to be covered in my own jean skirt weighted blanket.
He QUICKLY rowed away, most likely wondering if there was some reward in heaven for what he just had a hand in, and I was now safe and freezing and not quite ready to trust this canoe captain to get us back to land.
At one point he pursed his lips like I have never seen and two green eyeballs about wanted to throw me back overboard.
I seriously turned into Rachel Lynde in no time flat.
I told him this was all his fault and that when I got to land I was going to kill him.
He rowed and I shivered and he helped me out of the canoe like the gentleman that he was.
And this very dry gentleman wrapped this Rachel Lynde into his big, dry arms and I sobbed.
Because apparently we needed a bit more water in this story.
I wept like a baby, for the shock, for the frustration of being wrong, for the fear of fishes, for the now loss of a phone, and for the whole entire world at that moment.
I don't ever remember sobbing like that into his shoulder.
All malice was gone, all fears comforted, all that was left was a 20 year love that had weathered one.more.thing.
We stood there for a long time, and I know that boy saw us.
He saw the beginning, the freaked out middle and the end of the whole mess.
We had nothing to do but walk the few yards, past the volleyball net back to our room to change.
One of my kids remembers looking at us dripping as we went and thinking, "I didn't know they were going for a swim....." and neither did we.
And yes, it's funny now.
And yes, we now know what to do in a situation like that, beginning with life vests and ending with life vests.
This is the thing.
Marriage isn't Hallmark.
It's a whole lot of "Cocolalla love."
It's frustrations, and "who are you to tell me?" and "you got us into this mess," and "you were right and I was wrong," and tears and fears and failings on both parts.
Sometimes you will listen and sometimes you think you have a better idea to save the day.
Sometimes you wonder if you will drown and sometimes you need someone to come and hold the weight of what's going on in and around you to help get you back to land.
But here's the other thing.
In "Royalty-ese" we say, "The thing of it is, is," (Sorry, inside joke there.)
At the end of it all, there is enough love to cover.it.all.
There always is.
You may not know if it will be enough, or if it can erase it, or if it is strong enough, but it is.
Because it's not your own.
It's God-given, amazing grace-filled love that is super natural.
It exceeds the mountains and plumbs the depths of the deepest seas.
And if you let it, it wraps you up, dries you off and sends you on your way again to be two failing individuals with a God who holds you together.
Happy February friends.