The sermon that morning was about unity and how people can strive to be more unified in Christ and in their families. Chandler felt bad for the way he’d treated his wife in recent days, weeks, months, maybe years. Not that she wasn’t partially at fault for many of their arguments, but it took two to argue and he could choose not to take the bait.
Chandler tried to think back in their marriage and figure out what happened. He couldn’t pinpoint any one thing that had come between them. There had never been any infidelity. Neither of them was a drinker or spent time at bars or away from the home. Neither of them worked extensive hours or put their jobs ahead of their family. Neither of them was abusive in any way. Where had they gone wrong?
Somewhere in the busyness of raising their children they had become more like roommates who happened to sleep in the same bed every night. Chandler couldn’t remember the last time they’d kissed passionately for no reason. Sure, they kissed hello and goodbye and when they were intimate, but there was never a time when they just stood there and kissed, or better yet, snuggled on the couch and kissed. They used to love kissing back when they were dating. Back when they couldn’t go any further than kissing. He was insistent about that.
When Chandler had given his heart over to Christ as a young man, he’d also made a commitment to keep his body and mind clean and pure.
Janette had reluctantly agreed to his strict rules. She’d never had quite as strong a conviction toward staying chaste prior to marriage, but she’d never had as strong a conversion in her walk with Christ.
If he’d been willing to compromise either of their virtue, she would have been willing to do just about anything he wanted. Maybe that’s why she wrote silly romance novels. Maybe she was craving romance and he was failing her as a husband.
Chandler wrapped his arm around the back of the pew above Janette’s shoulders, not quite touching her. He absentmindedly looped one of her long curls around his finger and she moved an inch closer to him. Yeah, she craved more than just romance. She craved her husband.
Right there sitting in a church they’d never attended in a city they’d never visited, they connected spiritually. Chandler made a silent commitment to do a better job reaching out to his wife. He boldly dropped his arm to rest it on her shoulders and pulled her just a little closer. With no more prodding than that, she rested her head on his shoulder for several long, heavenly minutes.
At the conclusion of the church service, their son Asher told them he was going home to change out of his suit, and they gave him a key to their hotel so they didn’t have to come to the front desk when he arrived. He could just come up to their room when he was ready.
On the drive from church to their hotel, Chandler reached over and lifted Janette’s hand in his. Without a word of acknowledging his gesture, she gave his hand a little squeeze and they held hands for the remainder of the drive.
They were silent on the way up the elevator and down the hall and while Chandler used the electronic key to open the door to their hotel room. There was almost anticipation hanging in the air between them as if Janette was wondering what Chandler was thinking but was too nervous to ask. That was probably partially his fault. She was gun-shy to ask for even the slightest bit of affection for fear he’d get angry again. The ball was in his court.
Chandler took the initiative to lead Janette into their hotel room and gently pulled her purse strap off her shoulder, sliding it down her arm and set it on the table. He made a show of lifting the television remote control off the bed and setting it on the desk right on top of her closed laptop. He hoped she would understand the symbolism of that one gesture.
As if soft music was playing, Chandler pulled Janette into his arms and swayed back and forth in a slow dance that deserved a formal ballroom. She rested her face against his lapel right over his heart.
If only she knew how much he loved her. He felt ill equipped to share with words all that was in his mind. This soft embrace would have to suffice for now. For some reason he got the impression that she inherently understood.
As they danced to silence, Chandler rubbed his hand up and down his wife’s back, loving the silky feel of her church dress. Even at forty-nine years old, her ample body filled out her clothing in all the right places. This body held his children for nine months each, nursed his babies for almost a full year each, stretched and shrunk and stretched again so many times he couldn’t keep track of all her crazy diets. This body loved his body, passionately. She gave her whole self to him. This body was his body. They were one in body and mind and heart.
Chandler pulled back slightly and gazed down into her face. With a catch in this throat, he choked out, “I love you more than you can possibly imagine.”
“Why am I sensing a ‘but’ at the end of your declaration?” she asked.
“There’s no ‘but’,” he said. “There’s an ‘and’.”
“And… I’m sorry that we’ve had some disagreements lately.”
“I’m sorry too,” she squeaked out.
“I want us to do better.” Chandler didn’t have to explain what he meant by better. He knew she understood.
“Me too,” she whispered.
“I want to do something with you that’s kind of different…” He hesitated, suddenly nervous that she’d think he was being silly.
“Okay…” She waited for him to continue.
“I want to kiss you.”
“You want… to kiss me?” Janette raised her eyebrows. “How is that different?”
“Do you remember the last time we kissed for no reason?”
“Define ‘no reason’,” Janette said.
“Not to say ‘hello’ or ‘goodbye’ or ‘goodnight’ or during sex.”
“Oh, come on.” She smacked him playfully on the chest. “Those are my favorite kind of kisses.”
“But when was the last time we kissed for no reason?” Chandler asked again. “Do you remember?”
“No,” she admitted. “Do you?”
He shook his head. “I can’t remember a single time in years.”
“What does that say about our marriage, Chandler?” Janette was teasing anymore. There was a hint of emotion tugging at her usually stern demeanor.
“This may sound counterintuitive,” Chandler said. “But I actually think it says something positive about our marriage.”
“Who do I come home to every night?” he asked.
“Me,” she whispered.
“And who do you sleep next to every night?” They both already knew the answer to these rhetorical questions, but Chandler felt the questions were important anyway.
“You.” She lifted her chin with a little more confidence.
“That has not changed in twenty-four years of marriage,” Chandler said. “Even though we’ve had some ups and downs.”
“I don’t think we’ve really had many ups and downs,” Janette said. “What we’re experiencing is more of a plateau.”
“Good point.” He nodded thoughtfully. “And how do you feel living on that plateau?”
“Comfortable,” she said with sadness in her voice.
“How do you want to feel?” He asked, his voice lowering.
“Exhilarated.” There was a fire behind her eyes that was unmistakable.
“So, there’s our challenge,” Chandler said. “We need to find a way to take our relationship from comfortable to exhilarated. Are you willing to step outside your comfort zone and find some exhilaration?”
“I’m willing if you’re willing,” Janette said. “What’s our first step?”
“I want to kiss you… for as long as we possibly can without taking any clothes off.”
“No!” She leaned her head back in mock horror. “That’s not even fair!”
“Come on.” Chandler pulled his wife closer to the bed in their hotel room. “Humor me.”
“Exactly how long are we talking here?” She allowed him to pull her close and he fell back onto the bed, yanking her with him. He rolled her over so that he was half on top of her.
“A long, long, time.” He lowered his head and met her halfway, deepening what quickly became a very passionate kiss. Every time his hands started roaming, he forced himself to stop, purposely letting that kiss be the only nonverbal communication.
Even as Janette was yanking his white dress shirt up and reaching to undo buttons, Chandler forced himself to restraint, almost crying from the pain of wanting his wife with every last bit of willpower inside him.
And that’s when their son, Asher, walked into their hotel room.