The Big Red Elephant in the Room

“It’s not gonna turn out good for you,” Phil tells the young man and his lovely wife sitting close together on our couch.

Their lives are about to tumble like clothes in a dryer. Packing and goodbyes fill each remaining day.

But Phil’s prediction had nothing to do with the anticipated step into missions, nor did jet-lag fog, language humiliation, or cultural sink holes lying in wait.

Phil didn’t imply that missions would be the absolute most difficult thing their marriage had ever faced and that their biggest fights would likely be around the corner.

“I’ve had some winners but a lot of losers,” Phil continued, “and in 42 years of marriage, I still don’t understand why it’s a big deal to her, but it is. I’m telling you, if we meet next week and you missed Valentine’s Day, the elephant in the room will be big and red.”

They are so in love it sort of drips off their eyes and lips while they talk to us yet look straight at each other, into one another’s souls.

“She says,” the young husband’s words match the sincerity of his blue eyes which never leave her face, “‘don’t bother getting me anything, anyway, we’re leaving soon.’”

Phil glances my way. I glance his. “Has she said not to get anything in the past?”

“Yes,” they laugh.

“How has that worked for you?”

Wavy hair falls across her porcelain perfection. She shakes it back, laughs and reaches for his hand.

“Not good.”

I join in. “I tell myself every year I need to grow up and it doesn’t matter, but it does. By the end of Valentine’s Day, it matters.”

Sharing about marriage, the past, the now, and the what is to come with people in ministry is always a good thing for our own union. It helps us not to become complacent in our marriage, pushes us to keep it alive and growing. Stirring missions into the ever-after clause is like mixing cement, and how it sets often reveals big cracks. Serving, pouring, take a toll. Storms of life buffet. Foundations shift and leak, and prevention is easier than restoration.

“February 15 is not a good day,” Phil adds. “more often than I care to remember.” He turns to the young man whose smile is impossible to not reciprocate. “What are we going to do about it?”

A couple days later my doorbell rings. I tip toe to the door and position my eye to the peep hole, a creepy thing to do. No eye looks back at me, so I move to the window. A brown UPS van is at the curb and an appropriately brown suited carrier climbs into it and drives away. From my silent watch spot I see the edge of a long box.

I remember the conversation in our living room. Undoubtedly Phil had sealed his deal with the young couple which called for a bouquet of flowers. I open the door and draw in the box.

“He could have saved money and picked some up at the grocery store.” I chide myself for such a stingy reaction, and set the box on the counter.

It needs a bit of savoring and anticipation.

I text Phil.

“Thank you for the box of flowers. Sweet.”

“Oh good, I thought you would get it today.”

An envelope is attached. I rip it open and read.

“Hmmm, he waxed flowery,” I grin. It isn’t his usual style, but exemplary. And then I get to the bottom.

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I love you. Chris.

“CHRIS?”

“Who in the world is Chris?”

As soon as my brain snaps that thought another comes, someone else will get Phil’s note for me. And the thoughts chain together like popcorn.

“Oh, somebody is not going to be happy.”

I take a picture of the card and text it to Phil.

LOLOLOL, I text.

I wonder which guy wrote the better card? Phil questions.

Maybe I’ll get two and some poor guy will be left trying to tell his wife he DID send flowers, I answer.

As the day goes on, I get a little worried about what Phil might have written.

Hoping it wasn’t too personal I ask as soon as he gets home, “What did you write on your card?”

“I don’t even know.” Phil shook his head regretfully. “I wrote a really nice thought-through, card. It was good. Then I lost it. It disappeared.”

“Oh no, what did you do?”

“I didn’t have time to do it all over so I wrote something really fast and sent it off.”

We picture the disappointment of a happy lady somewhere opening her box and reading a sub-par note signed Phil.

“She’s gonna be disappointed, I feel kinda bad.”

Possible scenarios fly like jets through our heads.

Will the other guy be suspicious?

Will he be mad?

Will she be upset?

Will they fight?

Will he believe her?

Will she forgive him?

February 15 could be a lot worse for them than it ever was for us. It could be a really REALLY big red elephant in their room.

We look down at the card together, arms circle waists, and it’s quiet.

I read the card out loud.

“Chris did good.”

“Yes, he did.”