Updated: Mar 20, 2021
Proverbs 5:18 -- "Let your fountain be blessed, and rejoice in the wife of your youth."
Just as surely as God led us to sell everything, leave our family, and spend 4 years in Ecuador, He gave us clear signals that it was time to go back to Alabama. The strongest signal came through the arrival of grandchildren. When we left, we had 1 grandchild. Two were born while we were out of the country, and others were coming at an amazing speed. So, at the end of 2006, 35 1/2 years after we said, "I Do," we started over again -- house, jobs, car, furniture, etc., but this time there were quite a few more of us to think about as we made decisions. Here is "the way we were" in September of 2007, a year after we moved home, when we gathered to celebrate my dad's 80th birthday.
God, in His goodness, provided jobs for Steve and me that gave us an income and that all-important benefit, health insurance! Priceville Elementary "just happened" to be looking for a music teacher, and Anne Knowlton went to bat for me with the Morgan County Board of Education. PetSmart was building a new facility in Decatur with a Banfield Pet Hospital inside. They "just happened" to need a Chief of Staff for that hospital. Steve was hired to work at a hospital in Huntsville until the one in Decatur was completed. Have I mentioned yet that I don't believe in coincidences? Perfect timing and perfect fits for both of us. I taught at Priceville for 4 years until I retired in 2010, and Steve stayed at Banfield until 2012. Now he works a couple of days a week at various clinics in Morgan and Limestone Counties.
We've built 3 houses since we came back. The first one was in Decatur, and we quickly realized it was not going to be big enough to accommodate our growing crew. The second was outside of Athens with a front porch overlooking the Tennessee River. Steve LOVED that view, and I loved my friends at First Baptist Athens, especially my fellow altos and those in the Monday morning Bible study. But Hartselle kept drawing us back. It is, after all, the place our children view as their "hometown." All 3 homes have been beautiful, but we are promising each other that the one we're now in will be "it." "From here to Peck Funeral Home" is the phrase we use. But, as we've learned repeatedly over 50 years, God might have a different plan.
As I've mentioned before, we may have gone slightly overboard giving our children "wings." They are tremendously independent and self-sufficient and presently live in 3 different states. However, we knew that our children had been very close, and we wanted something similar for the grandchildren. That clearly was not going to happen with just a few hours together on Christmas Day. We were going to have to be much more deliberate in our efforts to help the grands know each other and enjoy being together. That was the reason COUSINS CAMP was born. I have written about it extensively over the years. It has become the highlight on our annual calendar, and this coming June we will host our 14th Cousins Camp. The idea is that if you are at least 4 years old and potty-trained, you get to spend a week with your cousins and siblings at Grandmomma and Granddaddy's house. This year, and for the past 4 years, we will have 11 grands who meet that criteria and are able to attend. We believe Cousins Camp may be the single most important thing we've done in this stage of our lives. As a result, Laura and David's kids, Matt and Katie's kids, Julie and Brian's kids absolutely love each other and can't wait to see each other whenever we gather. Cousins Camp brings a year of excited anticipation to a crescendo. When you have time, you can look back over past blog posts to get a sense of how we roll during that week, but here are a few photos from last summer.
The back row is known as "the Seniors," the middle row calls itself "the Juniors," and the front row prefers the name "Skittles" rather than "Littles." Can you blame them?
Here are the campers we had in 2017 --
And here's a photo of our happy group from 2018.
So, yes, having FIFTEEN grandchildren gives us plenty of reasons to be close enough to be a factor in their lives. Just recently, for instance, Steve went out to the farm where 9 of them live to doctor one of their cows, and I get to teach piano to 5 of the grands. I would happily teach all of them, but the commute for the three in Tennessee and two in Georgia might be a bit much. They are incredible blessings -- bright, funny, healthy, unique. They enrich our lives immeasurably.
Here is our whole motley crew in May of 2020, and believe it or not, Grandchild #15 didn't arrive until 6 months later.
To all of the parents of young children out there, to the parents of teenagers, and to the parents of college-age kids, may I point out to you that if God grants good health to you and your spouse, and if you remain faithful and committed to each other, you will likely have more years WITHOUT kids in the house than WITH them. The point is that you need to remember to make a priority of your spouse and your marriage.
If someone were to ask us, "What advice would you give for couples desiring a long, successful marriage?" here are some things we'd share:
Keep dating. Keep making memories. Keep gazing into each other's eyes. Keep listening. Keep studying each other and discovering ways to please him/her and to help the other person be all God intends for them to be. As a wise marriage counselor has suggested, be a lifelong learner when it comes to your spouse. You've probably heard of the 5 Love Languages. Steve's love language is words of affirmation, mine is gifts. Even after all these years, we are still learning how best to speak each other's language.
We think it was a very good thing that we started out our marriage 4 hours away from either of our parents, even though both sets of parents were outstanding people. Instead of running to them (our parents) when times were tough in the early days, we turned to each other. There was no texting to ask for advice, and long-distance calls were very rare because of our non-existent bank accounts. We BECAME Steve and Connie Pearson, no longer identifying primarily as Tom and Mildred's daughter and Elton and Mary Nell's son. We turned into US. It probably goes without saying, but I'll say it anyway. Long before we said "I do," we knew we were in this marriage for the long haul NO MATTER WHAT. Divorce was never, and never will be, an option.
In Part 4, you read about our many differences, but somehow there had to be a meeting of the minds. We learned there was something better than just 1+1=2 (which is a compromise). If we worked hard enough at a solution, 1+1 could equal 3, which would mean something even better than a compromise. In the last 5 years that has come into play as I've been travel writing and blogging. Steve allows me to pursue that as fully as I'd like. He stays at home when it suits him, but he's also able to join me when a trip appeals to him. To acknowledge his preferences, I have learned to enjoy cooking more when we're at home. Win-win.
We have always had a budget. Steve simply can't function without one, that's just the way he's wired. Even before Dave Ramsey became well-known, a man named Larry Burkett was a popular money guy, and Steve implemented many of his suggestions. For the first 25 years of our marriage, I went along with it rather reluctantly, but he was "large and in charge" in that area. Finally, we discovered a new budget category called "Unspecified Surplus Income" (USI). After every line item was covered and accounted for -- always starting with tithing -- whatever was leftover was put in this category, and we divided it equally to use however we chose. I couldn't say anything about the way he spent his half, and he couldn't say anything about how I chose to spend mine. Game changer. There was now an area in this budget business where I had a little control. That helped me to finally "buy-in" and has made a huge difference in my attitude. Another big deal on this subject is that we've never abused credit cards. It's not surprising that money issues appear at the top in lists of reasons why marriages fail. It can be a huge burden or a welcome source of security.
Bring your uniqueness to your marriage. In other words, stay true to who you are. That is, after all, the person your spouse fell in love with. Our children know they should go to Steve if they want wisdom, guidance, solid advice, or sympathy. They come to me for fun, a cheerleader, family news, or to hear me brag on them. I am occasionally known to give some good advice, and he's occasionally known for being "a fun guy," but you get the idea.
This Part 5 stage of our marriage has included sadness, sickness, and pain. We lost my mother in 1986 during Part 2 and his dad in 1997 during Part 3. Both died suddenly and rocked our worlds drastically. But here in Part 5, we lost his mother in 2011 and my dad in 2016. We were so grateful to have some good years with them after returning from Ecuador, but they both had some sad and painful months at the end of their lives.
Steve was diagnosed with prostate cancer the year we got back to the States. As another example of God's providence and protection, we were in a topnotch medical environment when that cancer showed up. Since then, we've counted 9 surgeries and a frightening heart episode between us. We completely understand that we are not promised tomorrow and must approach every day with joy and gratitude.
We also cling to Philippians 1:6 -- "I am sure of this, that He who started a good work in you (in each of us individually, in us as a couple, and in the family that He created through us) will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus." In other words, as long as God keeps us here on earth, we know that means He has an assignment for us that requires us to keep moving forward.
Fifty years ago tomorrow night, we looked like this:
We posed with my parents, brother Andy and sister Lisa.
We also posed with Steve's parents. We think his brother David was already busy decorating our getaway car and didn't make it for the photo.
Now here we are today, March 19, 2021. Tomorrow is our much-anticipated 50th anniversary party that our children have planned. The only hint they've given is that we are to "be ready by 5:30." Everything else will be a surprise. We will love and hug. We will laugh, eat, and smile for photos. We will celebrate and be thankful. I pray to be allowed to write parts 6, 7, and beyond sharing many more wonderful years with Steve. But whatever God has in store for our future, I will cherish the blessing of knowing I was given the most perfect mate, designed to be exactly what my heart desired and needed and that our first 50 years were "exceeding abundantly more than we could ever have asked or imagined." I love you, Steve. And thank You, God.
Ruth 1:16-17: "Entreat me not to leave you, or to turn back from following after you; For wherever you go, I will go; And wherever you lodge, I will lodge; Your people shall be my people, And your God, my God. Where you die, I will die, And there will I be buried. The Lord do so to me, and more also, If anything but death parts you and me."
P.S. I'm fairly certain that next week's post will include lots of photos of our big event. Stay tuned.