Last weekend Steve and I celebrated our 28th wedding anniversary. We enjoyed meals at new-to-us restaurants, visited Fort Worth, museums, Sundance Square, a night in a hotel, church with our youngest and his girlfriend, and reminisced about so many things we have experienced and learned over those years. Steve did some Facebook check-ins and status updates, and I put a few pictures on my Instagram. As we’ve become more and more sensitive to how social media posts can unintentionally cause grief (for example all the new baby pictures meant to share joy yet the news can be excruciating for families dealing with miscarriage or loss of a child, Mother’s and Father’s Days can exasperate grieving felt by those who have poor family relationships or have recently lost a parent), Steve commented that he felt guilty sharing our fun in celebrating knowing that many of our friends and family are dealing with marital conflict, divorce, or death of a partner.

On one hand we know those who love us and have walked through life with us these past twenty-eight years would be happy that we were able to celebrate. There were many years we were not able to due to health, family issues, or scheduling conflicts. Even this year, our plans had to be in flux and revolve around my chronic migraine, nerve, and back pain. On the other hand, we certainly don’t want to cause those we love any added distress. So here’s the weekend wrap-up for those who are interested, either in how we celebrated, the reviews of what we did in Fort Worth, or in a few of our musings and observations on marriage…

As I have been focusing on building my word count for NaNoWriMo2017, drafting Why’s That Dog in Here?, Steve volunteered to make the plans for the weekend. Saturday was our actual anniversary, but we started celebrating when Steve got home from work Friday evening. First up was dinner at The Fajita Ranch in Plano. There was live music on the patio, excellent food and service, and fun decor. We were able to get a table out of the way, which is always helpful with a service dog. We were nervous that Gizmo seemed to be alerting every few minutes during dinner, afraid he sensed something that would derail our plans. Since I felt fine I opted not to take any meds, but just be aware. Halfway through our meal we realized it was the music. The restaurant had hardwood floors, and where we sat, they were in direct line with the outdoor band. Every time the music started Gizmo stood up startled. This may have been the first time he had experienced a live band’s reverberation through the floor boards.

The original plan had been to leave out for Fort Worth, little more than an hour away from our home, about 9:00 a.m. on Saturday. Perhaps Gizmo did know better. Migraine attack woke me at 4:00 a.m. I took my prescription abortive at that time, hoping to get ahead of it. I texted a message to Steve (does anyone leave notes on paper anymore?), turned off the alarm, and went back to sleep. My wonderful husband entertained himself by quietly doing chores around the apartment, allowing me to sleep in. I woke with a migraine hangover, and we decided to take it easy and do what we could. It was 1:00 p.m. before we left on our little adventure.

Steve had already researched some vegan-friendly restaurants in Cow Town. Our first stop was King Tut Restaurant, a family-owned Egyptian diner in the renovated Magnolia area of downtown. We didn’t realize they were about to close for the afternoon when we sat down for a late lunch. It wasn’t until we were served that we saw the sign on the door. We were the last guests, yet were served well and not at all rushed. The food was excellent. We started with a hummus and pita bread appetizer, and then I had the Veggie Shawarma and Steve had the Veggie Macaroni. The big portion sizes could have been shared. If we hadn’t been going to a hotel, we would have asked for a doggie bag.

After that we drove around Magnolia Avenue, commenting on how things had changed in the twenty-three years since we had lived in Tarrant County. We passed the hospital where our sons were born. We were happy to note that even though new buildings had gone up, and neighborhoods had updated, Fort Worth still had the friendly welcoming attitude that we loved.

Next stop was the Amon Carter Museum of Western Art. You know how when you live someplace you somehow neglect to visit the places tourists come from all over the world to see? This museum is one of those places. We always said we wanted to visit, but never got around to it. Now we know what a shame that was. It’s impressive on every point, from the landscaping to the architecture, from the friendly and knowledgeable staff to the breathtaking collection of American Western paintings, photography, and sculpture. And, admission is free (although donations are welcome). We arrived in time to join in on a guided tour of the special exhibit, “Wild Spaces, Open Seasons: Hunting and Fishing in American Art.” Our guide was knowledgeable, entertaining, and engaging for all the various ages represented in our group. After the hour-long tour, we had another hour to wander through the museum on our own. It wasn’t enough time, and we will be going back soon.

We had also planned to go to the Kimbell Art Museum for their evening event, but by this point my head was swimming and the vertigo was getting worse. I needed a break. We took that opportunity to drive around downtown Fort Worth and then checked into the Sheraton Hotel. Steve had found a great deal on a room through one of the online discount services. The staff was efficient and friendly and the room was lovely. Not much of a view, but then again we didn’t expect to be looking out the window much. We only had two disappointments: 1) we were in the north tower, and to get to the pool and hot tub, we would have to walk through the lobby –sorry, not walking through an upscale hotel lobby, where people are coming for weddings and parties, soaking wet in a swimsuit and towel, and 2) even in our fourth floor room, we heard traffic and the trains throughout the night.

After settling in, I rested while Steve took Gizmo for a walk. It’s amazing what a power nap can accomplish. We opened the bottle of sparkling wine we had brought with us, and evaluated our plan for the evening. We had considered the theater, Evita was playing at Casa Manana—a great show at a great theater, but with my head already hurting, and my growing problem with volume and lights, we thought that might be asking for trouble. Instead we decided to walk over to Sundance Square. It was such a nice evening, and less than a mile away. We knew if I had trouble and needed a lift back to the hotel we could get on the Molly or call Uber. We wandered past the Water Gardens, visited a number of boutiques, discovered the Sid Richardson Museum (also free admission), had dinner at Jake’s Burgers, took selfies in front of the dancing water fountains, and bought gourmet treats from Schakolad Chocolate Factory (they even have a large offering of sugar-free treats). It was a lovely evening of visiting new places in our old stomping grounds. We then returned to the hotel, and watched a romantic comedy before turning out the lights.

The next morning we leisurely packed up and checked-out, and made it to Arlington in time to meet our younger son and his girlfriend at church. For this momma, it’s a huge thing to know that her adult sons are getting connected in healthy relationships and Bible-teaching churches. It was a lovely service, focused on local missions, and recognizing Tillie Bergen and her work at Mission Arlington. We couldn’t have picked a better day to visit. Before we had children of our own, we taught Sunday School for high school students, and would take them to do outreach projects through Mission Arlington. Years later, Steve did his counseling practicum through Mission Arlington. Such an excellent organization that does such important work. After church, we had lunch with the “kids,” including a long visit, and then some shopping before heading back home. I was excited that my headache had remained manageable and no lights or loud music triggered a full-on attack.

We got home, unpacked, rested a few minutes, and then decided to head to our church where a visiting Southern Gospel group would be leading worship. Although the group was very talented, the sound was off and way too loud for me. Within fifteen minutes, I had to leave. Nausea, vertigo, and skull-splitting pain took over. Steve got me home, settled me in bed with my medicine, saltine crackers, and ginger ale. I was confined to my darkened bedroom the rest of that night, all day Monday and Tuesday, and was finally able to go out of the apartment late Wednesday afternoon. I had a fabulous weekend with my husband in spite of chronic illness, but in the end, I paid for the pleasure.

Talking with my friend Gail, who is also a chronic pain warrior, she noted how glad she was that I had a pain-free weekend, and how nice our pictures were. I confessed how miserable I felt. But here’s another truth to life with chronic illness… If you don’t smile and make the very best of the better moments, you will have nothing to show for those memories. I realized a few years ago that there were almost two years where I wasn’t in a single picture—because I just didn’t feel like smiling. Trying to put together a photo collage for one of my sons, I saw how absent I was, although often I had been present. So now, with the help of my husband and a few supportive friends, I do my best to do what I can do, and smile through the pain.

Which is why I think it’s so important to share our happy celebratory moments with family and friends. If we have learned nothing else over the last twenty-eight years, it’s that everyone is going through something. Whether it is an invisible illness, loss of a loved one, career or financial troubles, marital problems, children with disabilities, miscarriage, the list goes on and on… everyone has something they are struggling through, and some days we need to smile through the pain and some days we need to confess the struggle, but here’s the thing—the struggles make the celebrations that much sweeter. It’s not just that Steve and I are still married after twenty-eight years, but that we survived the job changes, medical crises, raising teenagers with their own struggles, financial reversals, and more.

Not only have we survived, but we did it together and because of each other. When I was weak, Steve was strong, and vice versa. Not only have we survived, but our marriage thrived. It thrived because every challenge caused us to stand side by side, sometimes back to back, and face whatever together. We share our celebration to show not how great we are, but that it can be done, and to share the good times with all the family and friends who encouraged and cheered us on through the hard times. Celebrate the small things as much as the big things. Celebrate the healthier days. Celebrate the good moments at work. Celebrate your kid’s successes. Sharing your joy and love and happiness may cause a momentary twinge of pain for another, but at the end of the day smiles and love and joy and happiness are both healing and contagious. No matter the question or challenge, I choose joy.