Dear Kelly,

I received word the other day that you are getting married. Your young man is getting a good catch. You are so young. So smart and beautiful. Your sister was married last year and I’m beginning to wonder if, like the swine flu, the “marriage bug” will not stop until it has infected all our family’s single members.

Kelly, I have come to believe that God has a sense of humor. He invented this LOVE thing! It’s only later that you begin to wonder if you were duped.

The same man you thought hung the moon before marriage can’t even hang up his clothes after marriage. The same woman who was the light in his eyes before marriage becomes the pain in his ASSETS after marriage.

Folks will tell you to chose wisely. They will tell you to marry someone who makes enough money. Someone who goes to church. Get someone who doesn’t drink or use drugs. All that is good advice, but I would like to suggest to you what I think you really need to know about building a marriage.

To me, marriage is like building and moving into a new house.

You need to know what things you consider most important before you build. Make sure those things are included in the plans or you will never be satisfied. Don’t just be concerned with how the outside looks. You gotta live every day with what is on the inside. A house can look ever so good on the outside, but are you able to live comfortably inside?

Make sure you both have similar ideas about the home you will build together. Does he like brick and you wood? What if you are set on contemporary and he is sold on antiques. All the love in the world will not overcome such major differences if you both are determined to have your way. Unless you can both compromise, you may build the house but you won’t ever be content living in it.

When you first move into your new house, you will be so happy and amazed by what you have accomplished together. But all too soon your new house will begin to show wear and will need numerous and repeated repairs. You will need to plaster over cracks and faults. You will need to replace parts that aren’t working. And just when you think you have the problem fixed in one place, another will spring up somewhere else.

You will need to paint over a lot of dirt. You will need to wash out a lot of stains. You will also learn to live with some stains that are never quite gone. Your house will never be like the ones in the decorator magazine, not because there is something wrong with it, but because yours is real. Yours is being lived in every day.

Sooner or later the fire will go out in your fireplace and leave you feeling cold. Don’t destroy the house because you feel a slight chill. Reach back into your closet and pull out some fuel to reignite the flames and determine to make it warm again. Seal up the cracks. Wrap up and stay close together until the warmth returns.

Don’t vandalize your home. If you throw stones inside your home you’ll break your own windows. Respect your home. If you break it, fix it. Know when to open doors and know when it’s time to close them. If your home is damaged and you don’t know how to fix it, it doesn’t mean its time to get rid of it. It means you need to call in an expert who can help you repair the damage. Make sure the expert you trust doesn’t himself live in a shack.

Don’t obsess about the small things. Don’t complain about the cobwebs in the corner or the dust balls under the bed. It’s ok to sweep small stuff under the carpet. If one burner goes out on your stove, you can still cook a good meal.

No matter how much you love your house, you will need to take a vacation every now and then. A short time away gives you the perspective you need to be thankful for the home you live in. It lets you see what other peoples homes look like. You get ideas about how to make your home more pleasant.You return home renewed and grateful for the life you are building.

As you decide to build your dream together, I encourage you to build it on a strong foundation. Fill it with special things unique to the two of you. It will one day be a legacy that you will leave as an inheritance to your children and your children’s children. It will be a place of refuge and shelter. You will come to know the deepest meaning of the words, “there’s no place like home.”

All my love and best wishes,

Aunt Barbara

D. Barbara McWhite grew up in York County, S.C., and now lives in Orange Park, Fla.

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