I've taken enough business trips to know that absence does make the heart grow fonder. But after 17 years of marriage, I've also learned the converse: Too much togetherness can generate a creeping lack of appreciation.
I admit it. After 17 years together, I was tempted to think I knew what there was to know about my wife. I knew the restaurants she liked, her favorite music, what colors she looked best in. But amid all the details, I had lost sight of the tremendous person my wife is.
That began to change, however, when my daughter, Jessi, and I started making plans for Jeanette's birthday. My wife was approaching one of those begin-a-new-decade occasions, and she insisted all she wanted was a quiet dinner with a few friends.
Did Jessi and I listen? Nope. We sent out letters to Jeanette's friends, relatives and colleagues, asking them to send in birthday cards—addressed to my office. My daughter and I were planning to spring a surprise "memory book" on Jeanette to prove that birthdays aren't so bad after all.
The cards and letters started rolling in, and that's when my education began. As I looked through the notes, I was reading stories about a woman I knew really well—but not nearly well enough.
For example, I didn't realize that Jeanette is so highly regarded by such a large number of people. (She received more than 160 cards and letters.) Friends she had lost touch with, dating back to high school, sent greetings, snapshots and fond remembrances. Even as a teenager, Jeanette touched many lives and left a lasting impression.
Another lesson: When my wife works with people, she doesn't remain a colleague. She becomes a friend. Nearly one-third of the cards came from former work associates—going back more than 16 years. I wasn't surprised to read that my wife's colleagues valued her professionalism. But I hadn't realized the way they value her as a friend. These folks didn't send perfunctory, form-letter greetings; they wrote heartfelt sentiments.
A third revelation was seeing the many ways my wife has been blessed by others. The notes from her family gave me a glimpse of "Jeanette in the making," which made me appreciate the love and care her parents, grandparents and siblings gave my wife while she was growing up.
As Jessi and I glued the cards and letters into several memory books, I realized I was thankful for people from Jeanette's past whom I've never even met. I heard a story about a childhood friend named Cherie, a middle-school classmate who invited Jeanette to church. Cherie's Sunday school teacher explained the gospel, and Jeanette later committed her life to Christ.
I'm thankful that Cherie took the initiative to reach out to a fellow fifth-grader. I'm thankful for the Sunday school teacher's clear presentation of the gospel. And, of course, I thank God for calling Jeanette to be his child at an early age.
I started out with a plan to surprise my wife with a memory book. It ended up being a surprise, and an education, for me. I had a chance to see how much Jeanette has blessed other people. And I became aware of some of the people who helped her become the godly woman she is today.
By looking at my wife through other people's eyes, I realized how little I knew after 17 years of marriage. It's a good thing I've got a lifetime to catch up.
Copyright © 1997 by Christianity Today/Marriage Partnership Magazine.