This year on Valentine's Day, Mike and I celebrate 31 years of being married. Eleven wonderful kids later, we have a lot to be thankful for! We've also learned a great deal about ourselves and each other in this crazy adventure called Life, and we've been tested beyond the limits of what we thought we could handle multiple times.
We got married on Valentine's Day in 1987. I wasn't aiming for a Valentine's Day wedding, it just happened that way. My father was dying from cancer, and his doctor said that if I wanted my dad to be at the wedding, we should get married as soon as possible. This was about the most heartbreaking thing I could have heard, as I was very close to my dad. The first available Saturday was one month later, on Valentine's Day, so we booked it.
Squishing wedding planning into a one month time frame was no easy task, but somehow we pulled it off. One thing that I will never forget is our marriage preparation retreat. There were about 50 couples there, and we were all asked to introduce ourselves and state our favorite thing about our future spouses. Mike and I both immediately thought about things like integrity, loyalty, etc., as did about half of the other couples there. The other half all said that the best thing about their partner was, "He/she puts up with me!" The divorce rate at the time was 50%, and my first thought was, "Well, there's the 50% right there...." Life has an enormous number of challenges and difficulties, so hopefully your forever-partner in the journey will bring more to the table than just being able to put up with you!
Our Valentine's wedding
I think young people often have this illusion that getting married is like riding off into the sunset, and then all your problems will be solved. I don't know if this comes from watching too many Disney movies or what, but our first few years were full of both wedded bliss and challenges, as we had to pay off debt from student loans and a car payment, and neither of us had great paying jobs (he was a carpenter and I was a piano teacher).
We lived very simply in a tiny place owned by a slumlord, and two years later, Michael was born. Our first thought was, "Oh, no! We can't raise a baby here!", so we scraped together some money, found a very cheap, run-down house, did a complete remodel, and moved in three months after Michael's birth. Although that house wasn't huge, it was so much bigger and nicer than our first place that it might as well have been a palace! This was the first time I really felt the truth behind the saying that "God will provide".
Me with baby Mikey
The next time I felt God's guiding hand was when our second child, Christina, came along eighteen months after Michael. Although Mike had gotten a different job with a large commercial builder by this time, he was still toward the bottom of the pay scale, and he was really worried about how we could afford a second child. Amazingly, a perfect opportunity arose for Mike to go out on his own, with the potential to make more money than his salaried job would ever pay. Of course, there was always the possibility of completely failing and losing everything, but we just ignored that and plunged in headfirst. He worked 16 hours a day, 7 days a week for the first year, and he was thrilled to be fulfilling his lifelong dream of owning his own company.
About a year later, however, there was a downturn in the construction market, and it got so bad that we had to let our employees go. I remember paying the last one with our credit card, as we were completely out of money. I had no idea how we were going to keep things together with no money, no work, and two young kids, but sure enough, a nice opportunity came along right as our credit cards were getting tapped out, and everything turned around.
God continued to provide when Katherine was born, as another opportunity opened up for Mike that moved him up yet another level in his business. Meanwhile, I still had my piano studio in the afternoons, and the rest of my time was spent with our three precious little ones. We lived near a beautiful rose garden, and I have many fond memories of putting Michael and Christina in the double stroller and Katherine in the front pack and taking some really beautiful walks through the rose garden every morning, with little stops at the duck pond and the playset.
Before we knew it, our fourth child Lisa was on the way, and we had outgrown our house. It was a three bedroom house, but Mike needed one of the bedrooms to be an office, and the other one was too small for four kids. Plus there was no real yard, so it wasn't ideal for a growing family. God provided yet again when we found an absolutely gorgeous one acre lot in the foothills outside of Sacramento. Mike had landed a few really nice projects, which made it possible to build our first house from the ground up. Wow! It was so amazingly fun designing that house together and picking all the finishes. Mike worked day and night on it until it was done, and we moved in about four months before Lisa was born.
That house served us well for about seven years, but after we had added Amy, Alex, and Lauren to the family, we had outgrown it, too. So we designed and built another beautiful house that we moved into right after Dani was born, and while we were there, Christian, Nick and Joey were born. Now we had eleven kids ages 0-16 living under one roof and being homeschooled. Wow! Those were some crazy times. I like to think of it as controlled chaos, but it was probably more chaotic than controlled!
In addition to the eleven children that I birthed, there were five others who didn't make it. Each miscarriage was devastating. Miscarriage isn't talked about much, but it's actually far more common than you would think. It's a death in the family, and there is a grieving process to work through every time.
In the economic crash of 2008, we lost half of our life savings, but worse than that, the entire construction market dried up in our town and decimated our business. All those years of hard work just disintegrated. We had to sell both our office building and our house at a loss, and we had no idea what we were going to do. With eleven young mouths to feed and now a mountain of debt and very little money coming in, it felt like our world had crashed down around us, and it was almost impossible to see a way out. As it turned out, God had something else in mind for us.
Mike and I, figuring out our next move
Our oldest five daughters had started a band in 2007, and in 2010 they landed a record deal with the iconic Universal label Island Records UK (at which point our sixth daughter, nine year old Dani, joined them), right at the same time that we were selling our house. We had to take several trips to Los Angeles for the girls' recording sessions, and while we were there, we noticed that business was booming down there compared to where we lived in Northern California. It was a strain on the family to keep driving down there, so one day Mike and I looked at each other, and we realized that we had both been thinking the same thing; we needed to move to LA and start over.
We found a place to rent in Malibu that was truly a godsend; it was affordable (which was a miracle as virtually nothing is affordable there), it was big enough for all of us (even though it was half the size of our previous house, we all fit!), and it overlooked the ocean! We couldn't believe our good fortune in the midst of having lost just about everything.
From our Malibu days
Mike started a new company in LA, and within a few years, he had turned things around and built a name for himself there. I was managing the girls' band, which was very challenging for me as I had no idea how to do that, but Mike helped me with all the contracts and negotiations, and I figured out how to help the girls get work in music, TV and film projects, help them grow their YouTube channel to over 1 billion views, and put together tours for them (which Mike and I joined them on, along with our oldest son Mike Jr, who ran sound for their shows) all over the US, Europe, South America, and even a visit to the Philippines.
Our daughters performing in Argentina
Here are my daughters singing a Valentine's Day song they wrote
After five years in LA, we were ready for a change, and we decided to move our little adventure to Nashville, Tennessee, which is where we are today. It's a great place to raise a family, and the kids all love it. Mike still has his business in California, as well as a new branch in Nashville.
That's our 31 years together in a nutshell. It's been a crazy rollercoaster ride full of fun, laughter, challenges, adventure, struggle, love, joy, hard work, and at times intense heartbreak. It beat the selfishness out of us as we learned what it means to really sacrifice, both for each other and for our children, but I don't think either one of us would change a thing. The hard times showed us what we were really made of and taught us that we could handle much more than we ever thought we could.
We have truly lived our vows: for better and for worse, in sickness and in health, for richer and for poorer, til death do we part. Love is not just a warm fuzzy feeling, and it's far more than just putting up with each other. It's rooted in trust, loyalty, fidelity, being a cheerleader for each other, and just having each other's backs no matter what. Love is a verb, and it's expressed in our actions every day. When we got married, we were just two young kids with big dreams. Now we have eleven wonderful kids of our own and an amazing journey together.
Happy Valentine's anniversary, sweetie, and here's to the next 31 years together!!
Us last year, celebrating our 30th in California's wine country