November 18 marks my 25th wedding anniversary. Wedding anniversaries are by nature a thing two people share. I know I should say our anniversary, but for the life of me I can’t. I have been married to the same man for 25 years, but I have not been married to the same man for 25 years. Anyone who has been married that long knows that none of us are really married to the same person we married however many years ago. We change. Life takes its toll and we change. I am not the same person I was 25 years ago. I would wager that I have changed almost as drastically as Strokeman has in the past four and a half years.
Part of surviving for me has been to detach myself a bit from my relationship with my husband. But however painful it is to grieve the loss of what was I don’t want to forget it. I want to remember who it was I fell in love with, so that I can continue to care for this man I am still married to with compassion and tenderness. I have to work at this every day – this balance between keeping enough distance to make it possible for me to exist in the role of caregiver to a man whose brain just doesn’t have the capacity to really see me, and staying engaged enough in who he was to remember why I am doing this. And so. For my benefit more than yours, I am going to remember those first days.
I was 28 and single. I was working as a medical social worker in Rowlett, Texas. I lived in Dallas, but had begun attending a church in south Fort Worth for reasons that started with a Sunday school class on Romans back in 1982. I know it isn’t fashionable these days, but all I really wanted was to be married and have kids.
There was this man at my church. I had heard about him for a few months on the prayer list – a divorce, custody issues, etc. Then I began to notice him sitting there on Sunday mornings with his daughter and son. What I noticed was how gentle he was as he spoke to his children. He seemed so tenderhearted with them especially his daughter. It won my heart. I mentioned him to my best friend, Jann, then dismissed it out of hand – he probably didn’t know I exist, and what would possess me to want to deal with an ex-wife and stepchildren? But secretly I dreamed of being the one to bring healing to broken hearts.
One Sunday he came to church holding hands with a pretty little blond woman attended by two sons. I heard through the grapevine that they were engaged. “So much for that,” I thought. I went back to working my career and pining away for the life I wanted. “I would be happy for the rest of my life if I could just get married and have children!”
A few months later I received a letter in the mail from Lillian, Texas. I thought it might be an informal wedding invitation. Instead, it was a letter from this man. “I have observed your ministry in the church among the children and the young people and have been greatly blessed by your singing…” Thus began an old fashioned correspondence between us. (Apparently things hadn’t worked out with the pretty blonde.) During this time we saw very little of each other at church. We each had obligations that kept us away.
Finally, after several letters had been exchanged, Strokeman wrote, “Would you like to have dinner with me?” My response was a snarky, “Don’t you think we ought to actually talk to each other on the phone or something?” That phone call! It was my first introduction to the fact that Strokeman doesn’t communicate well over the phone. We have laughed over the years about how we might never have made it to the altar if we had started with that phone call.
We continued to write, but added a weekly dinner date. Very soon, Strokeman began to make noises about marriage. I tried to be the voice of reason. We hardly knew each other! We needed to take our time. I managed to hold him off 9 days short of 8 months from the first letter. 6 months from the first date.
It didn’t take long to learn that getting married and having kids was not going to be the thing to keep me happy forever. It was a hard first year. I was selfish and set in my ways. He was wounded and insecure. But we made it. We made it, and we grew to love and appreciate each other. We built a beautiful, traditional marriage. He went to work and I stayed home and raised our children. We didn’t have a perfect marriage, but we did have a good one. I can remember more than one day thinking to myself what a blessing it was to be married to THIS man. I was thankful for all the good in him and in the way we worked through the problems and became best friends. He taught me to be loving and kind. I taught him how to appreciate a good pun (well, tolerate anyway) and how to come up with a song for any subject. He taught me to appreciate creation science, I taught him to enjoy layers of texture in food. He gave me his love for trees. I gave him my love for a good cup of tea with milk and sugar.
So here we are, 25 years later, and I still love him as much as I ever did. It hurts more now, but I still love him. His anniversary gift will come in the mail today. “The Midnight Special” – 11 DVD’s of music from the ‘70’s. It’s one of many things he sees advertised on TV that he thinks he must buy.
My little brother sang “I Will Be Here” by Steven Curtis Chapman at our wedding. I didn’t realize at the time how this would all play out in our lives, but now, when Strokeman accuses me of never loving him and having been unhappy our entire married life, I just say to him, “Tommorrow morning when you wake up, I will be here.”