"Do you love me?" I asked my husband recently. He was in the kitchen at the sink, washing his hands. He was a mess because he'd been working in the yard all morning.
His look was one of surprise. "Of course I do," he said.
While I had been searching for a more flowery pronouncement of his love, Stephen had indeed shown me he cared. After all, the yard was beautiful.
Had I missed other demonstrations of his love, things I'd taken for granted during our 16 years of marriage?
I decided to list the everyday duties Stephen often did, simple tasks that said, "I love you."
He changes the tires on my car. While that isn't exactly a romantic gesture, it does show he is concerned for my safety. Too often, men (and women, too) perform chores out of obligation, and everyone involved forgets that love is the foundation for these actions.
I made a mental note to appreciate Stephen changing the tires of my car and checking the brakes and oil. His actions remind me he cares for me and for our family.
He cleans the fish. Often what seems like a minor task to a husband may well seem like a major task to a wife. For me, cleaning fish is a smelly, messy, grotesque chore.
Fortunately, this task has never bothered Stephen, and he often smiles as he happily scrapes away, while I sit at the other end of the campsite—until he's finished.
Believe me, I appreciate that. He also jokes that he's the one to clean the fish, while I am usually the one to catch them, which is often true. To me, that's loving behavior.
He mows the lawn. Not much romance about this weekly obligation. But because Stephen dutifully mows the lawn each week, without anyone's insistence, he shows he has pride in our house and cares for his family.
Sometimes husbands just plod ahead, faithfully performing their obligations, but frequently feeling misunderstood, unappreciated, and taken for granted. A wife can let her husband know how much she cherishes the daily chores he performs.
Too often we get caught up in the negative. In a workshop I attended for teachers, we were encouraged to take note of positive behaviors, even if that meant noticing a few obvious facts.
When I tried this in a third grade class with one particularly stubborn student, I was amazed at the results. After noting that Jonathan was sitting in his seat, had a pencil in his hand, I dutifully ignored that he hadn't yet started on his classwork. After all, the workshop leader had suggested that we make only positive observations.
After a few moments, I returned to Jonathan's desk, expecting the worst. Instead, Jonathan was engrossed in his schoolwork.
In my marriage, I'm still tempted to point out the negative to my husband instead of appreciating the positive things he does.
"You never send me roses," I used to gripe. I hadn't paid attention to the things he had done. It wasn't my husband's behavior that was at fault—it was my rotten perspective.
He doesn't complain when the laundry threatens to overtake the house. Sometimes when I'm caught up in a project, it's necessary to let the laundry go. Instead of griping about the huge pile of dirty clothes, Stephen just pops a load into the washer.
The laundry isn't mine or his, it's a task that needs to be done, and we both feel responsible for it.
He brings in the bulk of the bacon. He earns the larger paycheck, and I'm thankful for that. I know it's not easy rising early to head off for work, but he doesn't demand that I earn more money. Instead he's supportive that I work at home and substitute teach occasionally.
He is my biggest fan. When I recently received a modest check for my writing, Stephen practically twirled me around the kitchen. "That's wonderful," he exclaimed, while I glanced at him sheepishly.
"But, it's such a small check," I said.
"You're realizing your dream," he insisted. "If I had earned the same amount for a golfing tournament, you'd be proud of me."
In the past, I might have brushed off his words as insignificant. Instead, I decided to accept his support.
He brings me tea and toast in bed on Saturdays. When Stephen brings me a cup of tea on the weekend, I feel cherished and loved. It's a small way he shows me he cares, and I love feeling special and pampered.
He warms my heart—and my feet. Stephen doesn't complain that my feet are usually ice cold when I snuggle up next to him in bed. He just cuddles me and warms my feet with his own, which are always warm.
He makes dinner when I'm caught up in a project. Occasionally when I'm working on a deadline and have lost track of time, Stephen quietly will come into my office, ask what I'd like for dinner, then slips out as I continue typing.
By the time I'm finished, dinner's ready and we enjoy the delicious meal he's made. Then we both do the dishes so we can have the evening together.
He chops firewood. After I made my list, instead of asking Stephen if he loved me, I decided to tell him one of the ways he'd shown his love for me that day. He'd been out chopping wood most of the morning, and he'd come into the kitchen for a short break.
I poured him a cup of coffee, then sat across from him at the table. "You must love me very much," I told him.
"Why, yes," he said. "I do."
"You know how much I love a cozy fire on a cold, rainy night," I added. "You've worked all morning, chopping and stacking firewood. You must really love me a lot," I said.
The look on his face startled me as I noticed tears in his eyes. It was as if I'd told him something he'd know long ago, but in the busyness of daily chores, he'd forgotten.
"Sometimes I work too hard," he told me, "but the reason is because I do love you. I'd have preferred to spend the morning with you, but I wanted to make sure there was firewood for the winter."
Later that afternoon, we went out for an early supper, and as we held hands across the small table for two, I felt a beautiful peace, knowing how much my husband cares for me.
Sometimes he does more romantic things, gestures that most women would appreciate. He brings me flowers or candy; but since I've made my list, I've come to cherish the small tasks that Stephen does on a daily basis.
I guess in some ways, it seems as if Stephen has changed, but I know, ire reality, that I have, because I'm able to see his love for me more and more each day.
Cleaning fish, chopping firewood, or changing the tires on the car may not be romantic gestures to some women, but I've come to appreciate them for what they represent: my husband's love and devotion for me.