Two years before my husband and I were married, I left to serve with a ministry for a year in South Africa. Young in our relationship, we hadn’t yet celebrated our birthdays together and planned a snowshoeing trip beneath the stars at Mount Seymour in lieu. In the weeks leading to this special faux birthday I listened carefully for his favourites.
On the crisp January night of our birthday date, we stood together bundled in our snow gear at the foot of the hike. I had a large pack filled with goodies, and was so excited to surprise him when we reached the peak. We climbed through the snow and it was magical—the moon lit the snow and the quiet was so peaceful. We laughed together. This was the best date I’d ever been on.
When we reached the peak we looked out over the twinkling lights of the city. We were the only two atop the mountain. He walked over to capture the beauty with photos and I quickly slipped into my pack to unveil a delicious brownie from our favourite coffee shop topped with a candle. I lit the candle, then neatly stacked the many thoughtful gifts which I had carefully wrapped.
He turned back from the photo op to see my many gifts for him and was overjoyed. He delighted in the gifts, and I delighted in him opening the gifts—a new CD by his favourite artist, a vintage graphic tee that I ordered online, a new board game for us to play with friends, and a keepsake for him to remember me while I was away for the year. I was so pleased.
Ryan then presented me with a small gift that I anxiously opened—a travel adaptor and voltage converter for my time in Africa. He had also made me a CD of his favourite songs that made him think of me, but I couldn’t move away from the two very practical gifts I received. I cried. I didn’t mean to, but I did. I was very disappointed, and his gifts felt thoughtless and cold. Ryan was frustrated and hurt by my reaction, and our hike down the mountain was sombre.
My husband and I were born to two very different cultures—he, Filipino and I, Canadian. We experience and enjoy our world very differently and have learned the importance not only of stating our expectations but defining them. I was raised with lavish expressions of love and celebration, through thoughtful and fun gifts—because, I was told, birthdays are not for things you need but special things you want. As a person who very responsibly spends money, not often treating myself to unnecessary things, I LOVE my birthday for the before said. My husband was not raised this way; he and his two siblings receive the same gifts for each occasion in different sizes: socks, underwear, and pajama pants. They are a dutiful family, who care for each other’s needs humbly.
Though we had stated our expectations—that we would celebrate our birthday together that night, possibly offering each other a gift—we did not define the words of those expectations: celebrate and gift. Both of us had loved each other that night in the ways we both knew best. In our marriage we have wrestled through the miscommunications of our cultures and have learned to appreciate each other’s language and definition. Though I most naturally show love in the ways I was taught, I am no longer devastated when he shows love in the ways he was taught—and this year on our first newlywed Christmas together I understood how special it was that I too received socks and underwear from his parents. I belonged to the family and was loved.
About the author:
Alicia is a ministry assistant at Tenth Church and was married last October. She and her husband love being outside and sharing meals with new friends in their very small but cozy home.
photo credit: lanier67, NotoriousJEN