Just Married

Heather and I had been married for less than 24 hours. Like so many newlyweds we were close to broke but grateful for the generosity of others who helped cushion the cost of our honeymoon. My cousin had gifted us with two weeks at her family’s vacation condo in Hilton Head, and for our first night as a married couple our family had chipped in and surprised us with a hotel room at the Hyatt in Savannah. Our wedding package at the Hyatt included a bottle of champagne, a box of chocolates, and complimentary breakfast. We never opened the champagne, and the hotel had not replenished their depleted stock of chocolates. But, in the morning we went to the restaurant and asked for a table.

I think like most newlyweds our thoughts were full of the immediate — the romance, the fun, and reveling in the ideals of marriage afforded by less than 24 hours of perfect marital bliss. With our Hilton Head honeymoon to follow our breakfast we were nothing but happy. The hostess asked us to follow her and she weaved through the tables and lead us to a table that overlooked the river. It was a great place to be seated, but my stomach was in my throat and I was trying to reconcile my newlywed idealism with the reality sitting at the table beside us. The two things didn’t mesh easily.

An older black couple were beside us. The wife was slender with graying hair, well dressed, sitting with a very dignified and erect posture. Seated beside her was her husband — well dressed, too, graying, but slouched in a way that, even if it weren’t for the wheelchair, conveyed he was incapacitated. She was feeding him with a spoon. (Even now the memory of it brings me to tears.) The picture they created was simultaneously beautiful and horrifying. The beauty was in the service born out of love and commitment — “in sickness and in health” — our pastor’s words echoed in my mind. The horror was in the stark reality of there being no promises and no guarantees that Heather and I wouldn’t find ourselves in a similar situation some day. We anticipated growing old and gray together, but now I saw the possibility that one of us could become incapacitated. Then we’d die. Probably one of us before the other.

I have so many memories from our honeymoon. There’s the obvious stuff, and the frivolous stuff. We made piña coladas every day and bagel sandwiches with cream cheese. We went horseback riding at the beach. We found that if we went to the lower pool area it blocked the cold March wind coming off the water making it warm enough to lay out comfortably. I remember the alcoholic who was at the pool every time we went and told us about how someone called security on him for laying out by the pool naked. I remember we listened to Alison Krauss’s “Forget About It” on a nearly endless rotation. We went to the mall and bought a leather jacket for me with our credit card (the first of many credit card purchases we couldn’t afford). And every now and then my mind would be haunted by the couple we’d seen only days before.

Our first year of marriage was full of major changes that made things rough. Not only were we dealing with the growing pains of learning to live with each other, but we also moved from Cape Cod, MA to Mobile, AL (culture shock to say the least), Heather started medical school, we were always close to broke, and I was struggling to be happy in a particularly depressing job. Heather cried often and we fought often. I wasn’t meeting Heather’s emotional needs in the way she wanted and her needs put me on the defensive and made me angry. And every now and then that couple would come to mind.

We were fortunate that we became friends with two other newlywed couples who were also experiencing our stress. But we were blessed because an older married couple, who shared our faith, took us three couples under their wings and mentored us and loved us and prayed for us. Over the years we grew in our faith and began to trust more in God. I went from viewing marriage as something you can do with just anyone to truly believing God had given me Heather and that understanding deepened my love and appreciation for her. The more vulnerable I was with Heather the more I loved her. The more I messed up and experienced Heather’s forgiveness the more I trusted her and felt my love for her deepen. And every now and then that couple would come to mind.

Heather and I were married 7 years when we had our first baby. Watching Heather make the transition from wife to mother of my daughter was wondrous. No matter how difficult the challenge Heather pressed on until she’d conquered it. Breast feeding, for instance, proved incredibly difficult. Tremendous pain aside, our first baby had issues with latching, yet Heather tried and tried at all hours of the night, through pain and tears, motivated by fear of not being able to provide food for our baby. She finally got help from lactation consultants and things began to turn around. That single baby disrupted our well-formed life together in ways we could not have imagined. But our investment in her well being, and our investment in each other caused us to feel anything but regret. We desired to have more children and in the span of 4 years and 5 months we managed to welcome 3 more precious lives into our home. Heather’s devotion to our family and resolve to care for those tiny babies still amazes me. And every now and then that couple comes to mind.

Today our children are five, four, two and a half, and one years old. Our house is a crazy mix of kindergarten homework, preschool art projects, play dough, crayons, and diapers. We can reason with two of our children and the other two have the reasoning ability of little cave men. The word “treat” comes out of my mouth at least a three dozen times a day and I’m constantly on the lookout for any other motivators. When the flu hit us last month it brought our efficient routine to a screeching halt. Normal sleep hours transitioned into care and clean-up. Exhaustion became the norm, and we were often furious with the virus that lingered with us for close to a month. Heather and I would sometimes alternate between sleeping and cleaning up vomit, and sometimes we’d tackle the mess together. It was good to have someone to commiserate with. But, frankly, I was so tired that couple never really came to mind.

But today I’m thinking about that couple. It is exactly 13 years after we had our first breakfast as a married couple, and 13 years after seeing that woman caring for her husband. I no longer feel the least bit troubled about what I saw. I now see that couple as beautiful and tender and full of love. I’m grateful God has been merciful to us. I’m grateful God has allowed us to be healthy, and to have healthy children. I’m grateful God helped me to appreciate Heather in ways I didn’t know I could. I’m grateful God saw us through the fights, and the ignorance, and the arrogance, and the indifference, and led us to a place of humility and appreciation for what we have in each other. I often think Heather got the bad end of the deal, but she loves me despite me and, I suppose, because of me.

I don’t think Heather and I were lucky to find each other. I believe the Lord brought us together to help us grow together in His grace. It’s no coincidence, I think, the Lord put that couple in our path at the very dawn of our marriage, giving us a reflection of His love — a Groom who loved and served and died for His bride mirrored by a wife feeding her deteriorated husband. Unlike God, we don’t always see the inherent worth in others. For us, it often takes getting to know someone, and coming to love them and then being astounded by them to realize how incredible they are. I do not think, on this side of eternity, I will fully understand God’s love, but I do have a better understanding of it because of Heather and who God created her to be. And the beauty and wonder I see now that I didn’t see 13 years ago does help me better understand and appreciate His creation — people made in His image, uniquely gifted by Him, for His glory.

God willing, Heather and I will have many more years together. I pray the years are filled with health and happiness. But if our health fails and the frivolous things that contribute to our happiness elude us, I pray our love remains.

4 Responses to “Just Married”

  1. Ozzy March 22, 2013 at 10:32 pm #

    You and Heather are an inspiration to me in so many ways, now and over the years that I have known you both. I may not share your specific faith, but I can appreciate the example you set and it gives me strength…much in the same way that old couple does for you. thank you for sharing.

    • DailyEverest March 23, 2013 at 12:12 pm #

      Thanks for that, Ozzy. It means a lot.

  2. Tim McKay May 7, 2013 at 4:22 pm #

    Glad to see the site being put to use. Good entry sir. Thanks for sharing.

    • DailyEverest May 7, 2013 at 4:47 pm #

      Thanks, most gifted designer!

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