Yesterday was our 16th wedding anniversary.
We celebrated the event in normal fashion. Dan went to work before I was out of bed, and I stayed home with the kids. Luke wanted to watch the Lego Batman movie (again). The boys did their chores then played their video game time. I noticed their screen names were dingleberry vs. butt nugget (how cute). Elizabeth has been teething and since she’s now on whole milk and moving around everywhere, she is spitting up a lot. I had to smile at Isaiah’s suggestion that we should probably take her to the doctor to have this checked out. Luke is wearing his shirt backwards as always and had to select sweatpants to go with it as there is no clean laundry. He looks like a train wreck with the scab on his forehead from the trampoline park last week, road rash up and down his entire right arm and right cheek from a bike wreck on Tuesday, and puffy black eye from a water slide collision in goggles on Wednesday. We played Monopoly during Lizzy’s nap. Luke brought me a dandelion from the yard as he does every few days. Lizzy practiced the stairs. Eli researched how to solve a Rubix cube on YouTube.
It was such an ordinary, everyday type of day.
We haven’t always celebrated our anniversary in such a glamorous way. Our 7th anniversary was probably the most memorable. I left the boys with my parents and spent our 7th anniversary with Dan in drug and alcohol rehab. He’d been there long enough he earned some time away, and I remember how we went out to dinner at the fanciest restaurant in O’Neal, NE. A dingy little Mexican food restaurant along the Main Street. I remember forking my barely average chicken enchiladas into my mouth as I sat across from my broken husband celebrating our crumbling marriage and thinking, “Well, this is real low point.” I remember envisioning my new life as a single mom to two little boys.
At the time, I was in residency working 60-80 hours per week. Isaiah and Eli were 3 and 1. And I was broken…I was tired…I was lonely…I was hopeless. I had been surviving for so long. I was also pretty full of bitterness and resentment. And I became pretty good at playing the martyr.
Sitting across from him that night at those brown tables on those torn black padded chairs with a bouquet of fake flowers between us I had to admit he looked a little more clear than the last time I had seen him. His fog had lifted. He seemed so much like the man I married. But I was guarded. I’d been here before and all I had to lean on was past experience which told me this wasn’t going to work out.
But it did.
We were separated for six months. Dan lived in a ¾ way house and came to visit us for an hour or two every evening. It was all he was allowed to be away. I had a new job waiting for me three days a week in a very busy practice with a real salary. We were building a home I knew I could afford by myself. And I realized I really would be okay as a single mom to those little boys. Dan came for dinner and helped with bedtime. He helped around the house. He brought me flowers. I felt like we were dating. I remember feeling so cautious and careful. But trembling and shaky, together, we bravely moved forward. Kept taking the next right step. We learned to pray together. And he just kept showing up. He still does!
This man courageously shows up every single day. Working hard, often 12 hours a day or more, to provide for us then shuttling boys to practices and from games. He takes care of the house, the cars, the finances, the dog and on and on and on. Never much time for himself. He is incredibly devoted to us. He is an amazing father. He is my best friend. He is more than I ever hoped for.
When I think back to that day at the restaurant now I can realize how beautiful it was. A new beginning for our marriage. The first day of a spiritual journey for us, both individually and as a married couple. This was the beginning of my letting go. Of opening my tightly clenched fist that had been holding desperately to everyone and everything in my life for so long. The beginning of putting my own plans aside and listening to God’s urging.
What if I never learned to listen to God’s whispers? He kept telling me “This is the way; walk in it.”
Last night, ironically, we took the family out for Mexican food. Another little hole-in-the-wall place. But as I looked around the table I couldn’t help smiling. Delicious food. Brightly painted walls and tables and chairs. Commotion everywhere. And my own sprawling family crammed into a little table in the back. The boys fought over the salsa and tried to talk over one another. Lizzy screamed her ear-piercing screams over and over. We laughed and talked and shared forkfuls of food because “Mom you just have to try this!” It was amazing. So vastly different from 9 years ago when I felt so achingly alone.
Sometimes still when I pray I feel like I’m speaking to a black hole. I worry I’m not getting the words right. I wonder if there is anyone listening. But when I look back over my life, over the last 16 years of marriage, I can see it. I have no doubt God saved my husband’s life. I have no doubt He saved our marriage. He orchestrated every little person added to our family, our life now here in Utah, my career (or lack of it right now). Sometimes the answers take time. It takes time to see the beautiful pattern He is weaving into the tapestry of my life.
This life is not perfect. There are still disagreements and lots of bickering and fighting among everyone. Most of our days are loud and chaotic. We rush from one event to the next. We struggle to get everything done. There are bills to pay and daily decisions to make. I’m sure we’ll have plenty of difficulty and loss still to come over the years. We have one child in middle school and one barely learning to toddle around the house. We still have the teen years, launching to college, and then watching them embark on their own lives. So many experiences yet to enjoy and endure. In life, there will always be pain. But I’m getting better at seeing the beauty in it over time. I’m learning to listen to that constant presence in my life. I never feel alone.
And I’m so incredibly grateful.
Because this life…this chaos, this marriage, these exact people…this particular life…is beyond my wildest dreams!