This is my favorite time of year in central Arkansas—with the warm days and cool nights, the low humidity, and the changing leaves.  As I write these words the trees are bursting in color—more than normal, I think. One tree, in particular, is a favorite for me and my wife, Merry.  It’s a maple tree across the street, and we mark autumn each year by the arrival of its brilliant reddish-orange leaves.  I took this picture last week when some green still remained in the tree; by the time you read these words it will be fully transformed.

I told Merry that I was going to write about the tree, and she launched into a fanciful speculation on how I would compare it to marriage:  “Couples think marriage is going to be beautiful and colorful … and then it begins to fall off the branch … and it’s swept away in the wind …”

I was impressed by her flight of metaphorical imagination, but I was thinking of something more positive … and simple. This tree is something we enjoy together.  We enjoy talking about it.  We enjoy the way it greets us with a blaze of color when we open our front door.

Ecclesiastes 9:9 tells me to “Enjoy life with the woman whom you love all the days of your fleeting life which He has given you under the sun; for this is your reward in life and in your toil in which you have labored under the sun.”  When I think of enjoying life with Merry, I think of the small, simple things we share together—things like that tree.

I think of the little jokes and remarks that we resurrect on a regular basis—the things that aren’t funny to anyone but us.  When we’re on a long drive, for example, I’ll make a big show out of turning on the car’s cruise control—and she knows I’m referring to discussions from 20 years ago about our old cars which didn’t have that feature.  I will point to bales of hay in a field and grunt, and she knows I’m reviving that dumb old joke she told me early in our marriage:  “Do you know why bales of hay should be square and not round?  So that cows can get a square meal.”

Merry and I were talking the other day about the adjustments that newly-married couples face when they return from the honeymoon and begin learning how to live with each other—day after day, week after week.  Inevitably you find things you don’t like about each other—irritating little habits and personality quirks.  But if you can get past that, these irritations are replaced by the unexpected little pleasures of sharing life together.

It’s eating together at a favorite restaurant, or having breakfast at dinnertime.  It’s lying on the couch together at night, watching favorite television shows or romantic movies or old British mysteries.  It’s walking together at Maumelle Park, or across the pedestrian footbridge that spans the Arkansas River.

It’s coming across a photo of our daughter Bethany as a baby and showing it to Merry with the question, “Remember this little Inky Dink?”  (My mother gave Bethany that nickname because she was so small during her first few months.)

It’s looking forward to seeing our other daughter, Missy, when she comes home from college … and sharing tears when she leaves again … and then settling back into a nice empty-nest rhythm that we have found surprisingly satisfying.

It’s the favorite old ornaments on the Christmas tree, and the favorite cookies that we bake during the holidays.  It’s the photos I display on our computer’s screensaver of past vacations and special events.  It’s laughing with our daughters about the time I accidentally sprayed mustard all over my face.

These are the little things that build a relationship—the little things that remind me how much I enjoy life with the woman whom God has given me.

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