Ok, ok, calm down! I’m obviously not suggesting that deception as we typically think of it is ever good for any relationship, but today I’m going to share with you a true story of “deception” that will melt your heart.
First of all, I need to give you some back story about my amazing and creative husband. This is a guy who once managed to buy me flowers while we were shopping together at the grocery store, and then surprised me with them when we got back to the car. I’m still trying to figure out how he managed this. He must have gone to “look at the deli counter” or something. Honestly, he’s either smooth, really, reaaaaally smooth, or I’m incredibly oblivious… most likely it’s a little bit of both! 😉
He’s managed to build a bit of a reputation for himself for pulling off extravagant and thoughtful surprises. When he proposed he chose a location where we had carved our initials when we were first dating, memorized my favorite Shakespearean sonnet (trust me, this guy does NOT read any Shakespeare let alone memorize it!), created his own song by splicing together bits of about 20 different songs to form a coherent message (this was in the days before iTunes, so this was quite a feat!), and threaded the ring with fishing line through the stem of a rose that he hid up his coat sleeve. It was pretty elaborate!
As elaborate as the proposal was, it was nothing compared to our first 10 wedding anniversaries. Each year he planned a surprise trip, and each year he told me where we were going in a different way. For our first anniversary he created a scavenger hunt around our town, hiding clues inside orange balloons. I had to drive all over, following the clues to find the balloons, and collecting all of the clues to figure out our destination. Another year he sent me flowers at work and the card was simply all of the letters of the location scrambled (it was a long and unusual name, so it took awhile to figure it out!). Another year, I had to play the alphabet game with license plates as we drove toward our destination several states away. The whole way, I was asking, “Is there a G? How about an M?”
The icing on the cake was our 10th anniversary. He actually convinced me that he hadn’t planned anything, and I was soooo upset I was in tears! He jokes that he got himself into trouble on that one! Darn, deception! In actuality he hadn’t planned a trip, but he had put together a slide show of the first 9 anniversaries as well as their hints and locations, and much to my surprise, all of these “random” places he decided to go weren’t so random after all! The first letter of either the place or main activity from each anniversary was used to spell D O N T F O R G E T, with the “T” for the tenth anniversary standing for “The choice is yours” in terms of where we would go for our trip. “Don’t Forget” is a phrase we made up when we were dating to encompass many sentiments including, “I love you”, “Jesus loves you”, “I care”, “I miss you”, and “All I want is you”. I have it engraved on the inside of my wedding band. He even took the Hi8 recording of our wedding to a special AV place to have it transferred to digital format so he could isolate our Best Man singing a song during the ceremony that he had written just for us. He then used this special song as the background music for the slide show! You can imagine I cried a different kind of tears when I realized he had just pulled off a surprise 10 years in the making!!!
We haven’t done anything quite so elaborate since #10. We still try to prioritize our anniversaries as a time for us to get away, even if getting away just means sending the kids away for a night and us taking a day trip and coming home to a quiet house and dinner in the crock pot. I’ve helped plan the last few trips, and they have been pretty low key. Part of me definitely misses looking forward to the surprise each year, but I mean, good grief, the guy needed a break after a decade of planning, and honestly, I can’t expect that he could continue at that level for our entire marriage!
This past year we celebrated our 13th anniversary. About two months before our anniversary, I was driving in the car by myself and I heard this song by Dave Barnes. As I listened to the lyrics I started tearing up thinking about my man, and what a gift he is to me from God. “God gave me you for the ups and downs. God gave me you for the days of doubt. For when I think I’ve lost my way, there are no words here left to say, it’s true, God gave me you” “On my own I’m only half of what I could be; I can’t do without you. We are stitched together, and what love has tethered, I pray we never undo.” As I listened to the song an idea came to me, inspired by interview videos our church has made to tie into sermon series. Wouldn’t it be cool if I made a surprise video for my hubby with this as the theme song, and did interviews with a bunch of our close friends talking about our marriage, and what we’ve meant to them? There would also be footage of me talking about all of things I love about my him, and what his support has meant to me through the years. The real kicker – I wanted him to be a part of the video too, so he could share his thoughts on our marriage. It would be awesome if I could pull it off, but I almost immediately dismissed the idea. It would be WAY too big of an undertaking! First of all, it would require coordinating multiple people, not to mention somehow tricking him into being part of his own surprise. Add to that the fact that I’m a terrible liar, honest to a fault, and extremely tech challenged! I knew it would be a very tech heavy project, incorporating filming, video editing, scanning of hard copy photos, manipulation of digital photos, etc. This is NOT my skill set! I would definitely need to hire someone to help me, which could be expensive, not to mention the giant question of “Who??!” Great idea, Heather, but not exactly feasible. Plus, I only had two months! For the next week or so I couldn’t get the idea out of my head. He’s put so much effort into showing me he loves me, I would love to reciprocate and do something for him!
I rationalized that maybe I could save the idea for another year when I have more time, or when it was a milestone anniversary. But I couldn’t shake the nudge saying, “You have the inspiration now, so you should act now!” Hmmm… yes, he certainly won’t expect a surprise for #13! Ooooh, and it’s been 20 years since we first met, so that’s a cool, and less obvious “anniversary.” Finally, I decided to go ahead and pick up the phone to see if I could even get a commitment from the friends I wanted to participate. I called each one, explained my idea, and they all loved it and were eager to contribute! I had to create a new, secret email account to communicate about interviews and details because my husband and I are very open. Our email accounts are always open on the computer and my phone is always on the counter! It’s commonplace for him to pick up my phone when a text comes through to tell me who it’s from, so all of my usual contact routes were a no go if we were going to keep this a surprise! I hit a bit of a roadblock trying to find someone to help me with the videography until God stepped in, as only He can, and gave me further confirmation that this whole crazy idea was, in fact, a good one!
Racking my brain for anyone who might have the skills and the time to take on my project, I suddenly remembered a friend of mine had posted on Facebook a photo of their family that her college-aged son had taken. I got the impression that he was the creative type, but had no idea whether he had the tech skill set I needed. I rarely see this friend, but figured I’d keep an eye out for her at church in the off-chance that I might run into her. That very same week, I actually saw her, and didn’t have my husband with me! She said she’d ask her son if he thought he could handle the project, and got back to me quickly that he could. He was home for the summer and working part-time at the church. And wouldn’t you know that his studies in college include video/photography production and editing! Perfect! Only God could orchestrate such an ideal scenario exactly at the right time, not to mention bring a guy to mind whom I’ve never met, simply because of a photo that he had taken! I love the way God works!
Operation trick husband into participating was one of the first steps. Since I was inspired by videos our church had made, I figured the easiest thing would be to have this guy send an email to my real email account asking if we would be willing to participate in a video the church was making for an upcoming marriage series. Since this wasn’t a guy we knew, other than that his family attends our church, and since he actually was working for the church, it was pretty convincing. My husband agreed and didn’t suspect a thing. The majority of our friends involved also attend our church, and miraculously were all available to do filming on the same day (seriously, this truly was a miracle!)! I was constantly worried about the surprise being blown by someone in some way. One day I was in the church office to sort out reserving a room in the building for filming the interviews. Our pastor walked by, and a conversation started. It went something like this:
“Hey, I’m just here scheduling a room to make a surprise anniversary video.” I gave him a short explanation of the project and why my hubs is so awesome that I’m inspired to make it, etc, etc.
Pastor laughs and says, “HA! I LOVE it!”
Then I comically, yet trepidatiously admit, “I may have woven the church into my web of deception by telling him that the church is making a video for an upcoming marriage series and that’s why we’re filming. Soooo, if he asks you about it… if you could just, ya know, play along, or play dumb, that would be great.”
“Oh, I will totally lie straight to his face!!!”
And this, my friends, is how you know when deception isn’t of the sinful kind – when even the pastor thinks it’s a great idea! LOL! 😉
The next couple of months were a lot of work! The project pretty much consumed my thoughts and my entire summer! We ran into technical difficulties on multiple occasions, our out-of-state friends ended up having to mail a DVD of their video to my parents’ house, I tore the house apart looking for pictures which we have in different photo albums, file cabinets, and hard drives here, there, and everywhere around the house, and I sorted through approximately 100,000 pictures from the last 20 years (No exaggeration! We apparently need an intervention to get our photo-taking habits under control!). Between managing all of the details, plus all of the sneaking around, special trips up to the church to exchange flash drives of content with the tech master, and worrying my husband would figure it out, it was STRESSFUL! It was also really exciting though, and I could hardly wait until I could actually surprise him with the gift!
Finally the time came to give him the completed project. I was so nervous about everything going perfectly. I filled a box with mementos from the 20 years of our relationship – a wooden plaque he’d made for me in wood shop in high school, a drawing of the two of us I made for him on our 3rd dating anniversary, a receipt from the bed and breakfast where we spent our wedding night, an airline ticket stub from our honeymoon, postcards we’d sent each other from trips we had taken separately while dating, a newborn onesie I had specially embroidered for him to tell him we were expecting our first child, notes folded like houses and footballs from high school (back in the day when people still passed skillfully folded notes on lined paper and texting hadn’t even been invented yet!). Each item he carefully removed from the box, taking the time to remember the significance of each item and to read each post card and note, folding them back into their original shapes. He thought this little time capsule was the gift, and honestly it would have been a wonderful gift in and of itself! On the bottom of the box was the wrapped DVD with a tag that said “Watch Me!”.
“Did you make me a slide show?” he asked surprised.
“Just watch it.”
The video starts with the first few notes of “God Gave Me You” and three pictures of us in slide show fashion, then it transitions to the two of us introducing ourselves for the marriage video.
“How did you get this footage?!”
“I have a small confession… the guy who filmed the video is an employee of mine.”
He is puzzled while this sinks in. “Soooo, wait, does that mean there’s no marriage series?”
I smile and slowly shake my head. He playfully grabs a pillow from the couch and swats me with it. Then I can see his wheels turning again as he remembers that a bunch of our friends were there to be interviewed also.
“But what about…”
“Just watch it!!!!”
The video I had initially intended to be about 10 minutes long, ended up being nearly an hour. Five other couples contributed segments, there were two clips from our wedding video, a clip of the proposal song he created, and a slide show of pictures from the last 20 years playing to the entire song of “God Gave Me You”. The video ends with a self-recorded video of me in front of the building where we met, telling him how much he means to me, and of course, “Don’t Forget”! We even included a gag reel of outtakes! As the video ended, I looked over at him and his eyes were full of tears, but he had a huge smile on his face! It was EXACTLY the reaction I was hoping for! He LOVED it!
“That was amazing! You got me good!!!” he exclaimed. All the effort was so totally worth it!
I think the thing that surprised me most about the process is the effect it had on my own heart. Part of me had been bummin’ that he hadn’t done anything really romantic in a few years, and wishing he’d reignite that spark in our relationship and help me feel really in love again. While making the project I spent two months focusing on all of his good qualities and everything we’ve been through, talking to everyone involved about the surprises he’s planned for me in the past, and how he’s been my rock through my battle with ulcerative colitis, and listening over and over to “God Gave Me You” and being so thankful for him, and… WOW, don’t you know I came away so incredibly in love with him! People always say that the best way to start to feel love for someone is to serve them, or to pray for them. I’m here to tell you that it’s true! When your focus is on showing love and appreciation for someone else, you really do grow your love and appreciation toward them! I always felt special and loved after the efforts my husband made for me in the past, but I never felt the love as strongly, or with such a lasting effect, as I did when I made him the recipient.
In the past when we’ve told people the stories of the elaborate surprises my husband has pulled off, guys will inevitably say, “Don’t let my wife hear that story!” So let me just say, I’m not sharing all of this to make you feel discontent in your relationship or to focus on what may be lacking. Frankly, gestures don’t have to be grandiose to be heartfelt and genuine. But I do hope that this will help you think about the blessing that your spouse is to you. Maybe spend some time thinking about all of their strengths and good qualities and what you appreciate about them without giving mental airtime to their weaknesses. Sometimes I think we focus too much on what we want to change or what isn’t going well instead of fixing our eyes on the positive. I’m not saying to ignore issues, but simply to take a break from focusing on them, and instead focus on what you DO have.
Maybe a few of you will even be inspired to actually plan your own surprise for a loved one. If this is you, I understand it’s easy to be overwhelmed, and no, you certainly don’t need be as elaborate as we have been, and surprises don’t need to break the budget! Your time, effort, and thoughtfulness is what will touch their heart. With all the chatter out there about how “you only live once” encouraging us to take foolish risks and make stupid choices, can I just say to you in this context, “You. Only. Live. Once!” Show that person that you love them and that they’re worth the effort! Reignite that fire inside yourself by making sacrifices to serve the one you love instead of placing the responsibility for your feelings on their shoulders. Love extravagantly!
What have you and your significant other done for each other in past to show love for each other? C’mon, don’t be intimidated by my story, we’d all love to hear about even the little things! Leave a comment and join the conversation! We could all use some fresh inspiration to get our romantic wheels turning! 🙂