Thursday, October 20, 2011

Thoughts on Marriage: Go see the Elk.

During our stay in Pennsylvania last week, we got wind that it is a great time of the year to spot Elk.  Just a quick 30 minute drive away from Josh's parents house is a large elk reserve where, if one was so inclined, they could go and observe these majestic creatures in a somewhat natural habitat.

Being the outdoor goddess that I am, (ha), I hardly even remembered this brief portion of the conversation where elk were brought up.  Josh, being the actual outdoorsman, was so. excited. to. see. the. elk.  He kept talking about it throughout the week and finally, on Thursday night said, "Leslie, lets go see the elk tomorrow morning.  Lets wake up at 6:00am (me: eh), drive 30 minutes (ehhh), and go for a hike to see the elk (EHHH). Doesn't that sound fun?"  I decided to just assume that he was asking a rhetorical question and silently prayed for rain on Friday morning.  I felt bad about my lack of enthusiasm, but it just wasn't anything I was even remotely interested in.  When we talked about it later Thursday night, Josh shared with me how much it would mean to him if I went (a lot) and I responded by saying something like, "Aren't they pretty much just big deer?".  Just go ahead and pin the Wife of the Year award on my lapel, why don't you.

Anyway, as we crawled into bed at 1:00am I was very pleased to notice it was raining.  Very, very pleased.  I said a selfish prayer that went something like, "Thank you for the rain, God, keep it up til 6:00!" However, when the alarm went off at the aforementioned hour, it was not raining and for some reason, I was wide awake.  Feeling alert in the morning before 9:00am almost never, ever happens but there I was, thinking clearly and actually blinking instead of holding my eye-lids open.  I laid there in bed thinking, "UGH. I am SO awake. I have to go now.  Maybe he won't want to go.... Maybe he'll fall back asleep!"  Much to my dismay, Josh was also wide awake. He went downstairs, checked outside on the weather and came back to report zero rain and zero fog.  He laid back down with me and said, "Les, I'm going to go, and if you don't want to it's really ok, but I'm going to leave in 10 minutes" and went back downstairs.

This is the important moment of the story.  As I lay there, comfortable, dry, and warm (but oddly alert) I went through both possible scenarios.  I could either:

a.)  Go with Josh. Die to myself and do something he wants to do simply because he wants to do it.  By going, I would be living out three of the *major principles that we have based our marriage on.  First, the "Thousand Strings" principle which says that the more common experiences we have together, however odd they may be, the stronger our bond will be.  Second, the "Avoid Creeping Separateness" principle which says that if we don't take interest in each other's interests, we will eventually both be living separate lives, with common experiences becoming lesser and lesser.  Separateness in marriage isn't something that is always big and drastic, often it just creeps up on you.  Included in this principle is the belief that if the person you love enjoys something... whatever it is... there must be something good about it, and finding the good in it and sharing it with each other is possible.  Third, the Biblical principle of putting the other person ahead of yourself.  In every area of life, putting Josh's needs/wants/desires before my own.  (This = hard and I fail every day at it, by the way)

or my other option

b.) Sleep in.

I wrestled pretty extravagantly with my selfish side for a good 3 minutes (Josh says it was more like 5) and finally did what I knew I would do all along anyway.  Got up.  Put on warm clothes. Walked downstairs.  Got in the car, and drove to see the stupid elk.

Now, on the ride there, I was one grumpy duck.  Sleep still sounded better.  I spilled hot chocolate on my pants.  It was far away and dark and cold and there WAS some fog.  When we finally arrived at our destination, we began the ascent up the hill to the reserve still in the car.  As we made our way along the dirt road, I looked up to my right, and there on the top of a huge hill was the silhouette of a full grown male elk.  He was beautiful.  Suddenly, I was so excited to be there.  "Josh Josh JOSH! I see one!"  We pulled over, opened the windows, and started listening to them.  It just so happened to be their mating season (Autumn Romances aren't just for humans, I guess) and their mating call (or "bugling" as it is appropriately named) sounds simply prehistoric.

We drove the rest of the way up the hill, and began hiking.  Suddenly I wasn't just 'doing something for Josh'.  I was having a great time.  There were SO MANY ELK I couldn't believe it.  Josh was thrilled and honestly, so was I.  It was an adventure and a really fun experience.

The entire time I kept thinking. "I almost missed this for SLEEP?!"  It seemed so ridiculous, so obvious that it was the right thing to do. But in the moment, the important one, I really wrestled with my desires versus Josh's, and I made the right choice.  Now, even if I hadn't enjoyed Elk spotting as much as I did, I still think it was the right choice for our marriage, but I'm happy to say that it was a lot of fun.

We even saw bear tracks!

After an hour of hiking, we started our trek back home.  We stopped at a greasy truck stop diner and had a delicious breakfast and went back to the house to take a nap.  

I learned a lot that morning.  A lot about myself, a lot about what I'm willing to do for our marriage, and a lot about Elk.  I'm glad I got up.  I'm glad that I picked Josh and our marriage and created one more string to strengthen our bond. 

(*Many of the ideas and principles that we have based our marriage on, for example the "Thousand string"' and "Creeping Separateness" ideas mentioned here, were inspired by the book "A Severe Mercy" by Sheldon Vanauken.  We recommend it highly for any married couple who wishes to bravely and passionately attempt to stay in love their entire lives!)


  1. You got some gorgeous pictures too! I love the one of the elk passing on the trail.
    This seems like something Kendall would want me to do and I would struggle with the same thing (especially the sleeping part haha). I have now learned that the things he wants to do are usually fun so I go!

  2. John loves Elk (and anything outdoors - especially when it comes to wild game), so he would have loved this, too! I can see myself going through the same inward struggle as you, though! :) I'm so glad you decided to go! What a blessing to your husband and also to you! :)

  3. Great post. It IS ridiculous how hard choices for our marriage seem sometime when we have everything to gain by them. Love Severe Mercy - need to read it again. Thank you so much for sharing.