My baby brother is engaged.
The week before he left on his trip to Patagonia with his future bride, Sara, he called me. Talking ninety to nothing and giggling like a school girl, he told me about the ring and the plan and fretted about how in the world he was going to claim the diamond on the plane without her knowledge.
Then he caught me by surprise. He quietly said, “Well. Any advice for me?”
Clearing my throat, I replied, “About the proposal? Or marriage?”
Laughing, he said, “Both.”
My stomach tightened and tears sprung into my eyes before I could stop them. Uhm, please don’t make me answer that question.
I told him I didn’t feel very adequate to give such advice considering the outcome of my own marriage. My own newfound belief, that I fight tooth and nail, that forever is actually a grey place, and doesn’t have the defined outline of a circle after all.
I tried to play it off. Kept talking about everything but that. He asked me twice more.
I played it off still.
And as he talked, it hit me what I would tell him. I can’t speak for how to make any marriage last forever. I can’t speak from perfection. From the marriages of June Cleaver and my parents and the Pleasantville folk. But I could speak from experience. Sometimes, real clarity only comes in completion.
I teared up again (Lord help me), and said, “Buddy. Be gentle with her. Rescue her and be gentle. If you do that and make her feel like there is nothing she could ever do to make you love her any less…if you truly unconditionally love her, she’ll do anything for you.”
He laughed and made a joke, but God my insides were on fire. I understand so much more about what real love looks like now. And I’m not talking about flowers and stupid candy and dates and even parenting together.
Unconditional love just is. It acts, yes. But it is deep down in the bones, in the marrow. It can’t be shaken out. It doesn’t seep away, and it is never self-seeking. A God thing. All the way. That goes for all of our relationships, women (and the few of you men reading this). All of them.
I can’t speak from perfection. I made many mistakes. In loving. Not just in my marriage. Slowly, painfully, though, I am learning. And I will speak for those of us who aren’t so picture pretty. Who’s lives look messy and wrecked. For the ones who start over at the mid-way mark.
And I’ll find so much joy in watching my brother live out his love. Can’t wait, actually. I asked them this weekend if I could share the news with you guys, expecting a resounding no from him. To my surprise, they both smiled, kissed each other, and said “go for it.”
Go for it, little brother.