The first sign that Chad and I were basically incompatible came in the form of closets. We had been married for a couple of months, and I felt that he was obsessive about his closet. He cleaned it out once a week or so, taking out excess hangers, making sure that all of the clothing was turned in the proper direction and that it was arranged by season and type. His shoes were perfectly lined up on the floor. The top of his closet was practically empty, but what was there was neatly concealed in perfectly stacked boxes. It was as if his closet was one area of his life where he had complete control, and he maintained that control with all precision and care.
My closet, on the other hand, was a haphazard mish-mash of half-hung clothes, empty hangers, shoes thrown carelessly on the floor, the remains of the twelve outfits that I had tried on earlier in the day flung here and there. The top of my closet was a pile of stuff I didn’t know what to do with, and the bottom of it was a confused mess of scarves, belts, shoes, tops, skirts, jeans, and pjs. And nothing about it stressed me out. Nothing about it worried me in the least or made me feel like I was a slob or made me worry about the state of my brain. I had always been a messy, creative person. To me, piles were just temporary things that you worked around while the really good, creative stuff was happening: the writing and the thinking and the singing and the designing.
I learned pretty quickly that we were going to get on each other’s nerves. I felt like he was truly ridiculous for being so strict about his closet. He felt like I was truly disturbed to be okay with a closet that looked like it had been hit by a clothing tsunami. Our competing styles of living spilled into the rest of our house, and most of the time I either felt like my creative endeavors were being squashed by endless housekeeping or he felt like his brilliant mind was being cluttered by unregulated piles. It didn’t make for a super fun living situation. We would sometimes leave the house and go for a walk (because we had no money to do anything more interesting), just so that we could each escape the pressures of sharing a space with a person who had such different ideas of how things should be done.
That was twenty years ago. Through two decades of sharing a house, we have both changed in certain ways. We both saw the need to bend in the direction of the other. I started liking the way it felt when things were organized and in their place. He started to lighten up about everything being perfectly arranged at all times. We learned that the happiest spot is somewhere in between wildly undisciplined and unreasonably staunch. These days we spend most of our time at home working together to try to keep our home neat, not perfect. Livable, not a museum. Comfortable. Welcoming. A nice place to come home to. Most days things are messier than we’d like. Three children tend to do that to a place. Most days we comment about how we should do this or that. But we focus much more on really living together, not just keeping house together, and I think that may have been what was missing all those years ago as we tried to stubbornly stick to our own way of managing life.
Last night as I dug through my bathroom drawer, I couldn’t find the toothpaste. I opened Chad’s drawer and I was struck by how we are both still who we are. Who God made us to be. His drawer is as beautiful as a bathroom drawer can be, and my drawer is a mess that has to be dug through on a nightly basis. It made me laugh, standing there, twenty years into life with this man that I know so well. I laughed because our bathroom drawers are evidence that we have both compromised in order to live at peace with the one we love. We have both given more than we had to and we have both accepted more than we thought we could so that our love can thrive here, not just in our home, but in our life together.
Somehow looking into that oddly perfect bathroom drawer made me love him just a little more, because it reminded me that love is patient. Love is kind. It does not envy. It does not boast. It is not proud. It does not dishonor others. It is not self-seeking. It is not easily angered. It keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. I see all of that and more, in one little bathroom drawer. And I’m grateful.