One warm December evening, a confident, beautiful career-woman in her late twenties was drinking tea in a Starbucks next to her office when a shy, nervous man rushed in. As their eyes locked, she thought to herself, “There is something different about him and that is a really ugly sweater. I wonder who dressed him”. The only open chair was next to her. She had been through a series of abusive relationships, broken engagements, and even two divorces at her young age. She had been snakebitten by love and was quite apprehensive she would ever truly find it.
His sweater was louder than all of the conversations in the cafe combined, so she was compelled to ask him about it. He replied that his dad had suggested that he wear it so he would stand out. Mission accomplished. Their banter flowed more easily than the coffee. Before they knew it they were being ushered out because Starbucks had closed. She invited him to sit awhile and talk some more. He said she reminded him of his little sister, but she only saw her more vulnerable, inexperienced, and naive self in him. She liked that he had not been jaded and managed to protect his tender heart from the big world we live in. She generally did not trust anyone, but she trusted him instantly.
Before the two departed, he asked her out on a date. She programmed her number in his flip phone. It ended up being one of the world’s most awkward dates. He was convinced he had blown it and would never see her again. He talked to his sisters and they told him to ask her to dinner instead of a noisy concert cramped with surly people. They proceeded to go on a series of dates and three short months later, on Valentine’s Day, he came home early from a business trip just to be with her. He proposed. Without hesitation, she said yes. Then, the wedding craziness began because now that he had found his bride, he could not wait another minute. She wanted to wait another year, but he wouldn’t have it. He was too excited to start their new life together.
What no one knew is less than two months after they had married, she would fall and break her back. If they had waited, she may not have been able to walk unassisted down the aisle or even stand or kneel at the altar. Although previously married, she never had a wedding and that was not her ideal picture of being a bride. She wanted her groom to recall the beautiful, feisty, young red-head with natural curls that kept him on his toes and restyled his wardrobe. She was admitted to the hospital thirty times during their first two years of marriage which included six back surgeries, in-home nursing, and palliative care. They joked that they honeymooned in the hospital. Their Wedding Photographer even delivered their pictures to them at Richardson Methodist in Room #320.
She was not supposed to make it. It was touch and go for a few years. When she felt like there was nothing else left to fight for, she remembered her dear husband. She could not stand the thought of leaving him alone. She had made it through extremely difficult things in her life, but this even tested her strength to her very core. It was mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually exhausting. Her friends didn’t know how to help, so they stopped calling and coming over. The reality is that they were facing their own mortality when looking at their childhood friend stuck in a wheelchair and on oxygen.
The more she needed her husband, the less she wanted to need him. She didn’t marry a Caregiver. He married an equal. She thought about leaving, so he could find someone else and be happy. She prayed about it and decided to speak with him. She just ripped the band-aid off one night and said, “I am willing to give you a divorce with no hard feelings. I know you didn’t sign up for this. Then, you can find the wife you deserve. I will figure it out.” He protested until he explained that where she was weak, he was strong and where he was weak, she was strong. They never were weak in the same area at the same time and were always able to care for and lift one another up again.
This is what she wrote to him on their fifteenth wedding anniversary:
Fifteen years ago today, I did one of the smartest things that I have ever done in my entire life. I said, "I will" instead of "I do" with intention. You do something once; however, will is defined as something that you are going to continue to do, are expected to do, and is done with desire.
I said I will love you for a lifetime. I said I will always be your best friend. I said I will be your soulmate. I said I will be your partner in crime. I said I will lift you up when you are down. I said I will to a lifetime of Star Trek. I said I will to the person I can't wait to share my days and nights with. I said I will laugh at your jokes. I said I will support your endeavors and celebrate your successes. I said I will be there when you fall. I said I will learn to eat spicy food. I said I will always be proud of you. I said I will (usually) let you be right about everything. I said I will be your guiding light in the darkness. I said I will to becoming a family.
I said I will for yesterday, today, tomorrow, and every day my darling husband.... I said I will to making you my forever. You mean more to me than any metaphor my words can ever express. You are my love, my husband, sent from Heaven above on Earth. I will always love you.
We always say that we love one another more today than the day before and it is true. I used to be so irritated by the people that said, “when you know you know”, but now I know as well. I am privy to one of life’s little secrets. Here we are sixteen years later, I am walking again. Things are far from perfect, but they are better than they have been. We have had to make a lot of adjustments. We have had bad days, but there are far more good ones.
People ask me all of the time what the secret is, if we ever fight, and how we are so happy. We place God first, then ourselves, our marriage third, and everything else after that. We defend one another even when we know the person is wrong. We are best friends. Every night when we go to bed is like a slumber party because we talk for hours. We don’t use the car radio often for the same reason. We are rarely angry. We don’t allow toxic, unsupportive people in our lives that don’t support our marriage. They can get on our train or be run over by it. Everyone at our wedding was asked to take vows in support of our marriage as well.
We also know that marriage is work. Hard work. Sometimes it is exhausting and muddy, but it is worth it. Forget the romance novels and Hallmark movies! That is all fiction. The best marriage advice I gave was at fourteen when I was in a wedding. The groom, who was twenty years my senior, came up to me and said something about how it is always 50/50. I told him he was wrong. While he brushed the surprise off of his face, I explained that it is truly 100/100 because you never know when your spouse is not going to be able to show up 100%, so you need to give it everything every day. With a “Hmph”, he walked away. Love doesn’t just happen. It isn’t an accident. Lust does, but it fades. Love is a decision that you mindfully make each and every day. Love is a commitment.
In case, you haven’t figured it out, I was that young woman. I am a little older and wiser now. I have a few wisdom highlights, but Todd’s love goggles are so effective that he still sees me just like I looked on our wedding day. Valentine’s Day will be the sixteenth anniversary of his proposal.
Do you have a question? I would love to hear it. Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.