November 27, 2004. Nine years ago, Will and I were married. I wish I could look back on that day and describe it as the most beautiful day of our lives and in some ways I can, but not in the ways that most people would probably describe their wedding day. The beautiful part was that we were surrounded by family and friends and when the day was over, we were married. But, on that day almost everything that could have gone wrong did, but there were certain things that really marked that day for us. One was that I was incredibly sick. I had lost my voice and my vows came out in a whispery growl. I was only able to stand because of the adrenaline coursing through my veins. I felt miserable. The weather that day was terrible. It had been storming heavily which created very unsafe driving conditions. This lead to the very tragic and untimely death of a beautiful young girl in my home church where we were married — the pastor’s daughter, a dear friend of my brother’s and many others. I knew that day that she had been in an accident, but was not told of the severity of it. I could tell it was bad. I saw the faces of those around me. I saw their tears and those they fought to hold back as they tried to be present with us. That day was marked with sickness and death, and with a union and commitment of love. In the midst of terrible, tragic circumstances, Will and I were married. We were in love and we were ready for whatever our future held. We knew from day one that what we were up against in this world would have its share of difficulty, but we were in it together. We were committed to love, even as little as we knew what that word really meant at the time. Each year seemed to bring different trials and each year our love grew deeper and our desire to love increased.
November 27, 2012. One year ago, the day of Will’s surgery. The night before, Will and I celebrated our anniversary in the hospital. Will had asked friends to bring us dinner and dessert from my favorite restaurant. However, Will was too sick to enjoy it and I was too worried. He laid in bed, sleeping on and off between the pain and doses of pain meds. I sat in a hospital chair beside him, both of us terrified for the next day. Would he make it through surgery? Would the margins come back clean? Would we get to celebrate another anniversary?
I can’t make sense of death and marriage on the same day. I can’t make sense of Will dying just days before the birth of our dear friends’ baby, who he loved but didn’t get to meet. Nothing makes sense. But, I want love to make sense. I want it to somehow make sense of things that don’t. But, the truth is some things will never make sense and I don’t even know if I really know what love means. It meant something different to me nine years ago than it does today. Love’s definition changed as difficulty increased, as the realities of hardship crept into the crevices of our lives. And, honestly, my love for Will gets stronger with each day. It is strong. It is real. It is loyal. And, it is painful.
Will devoted his life to loving others, and especially this past year. I gave up my life to love him as best as I possibly could. My mom lived with us for almost 6 months, helping us with everything we needed. Multiple friends and family members gave up weeks or months of their lives to come and help us. Friends, family, our communities, churches across the county, people around the world poured out love into every detail of our lives…from great to small we were covered in love. But, all of this love did not conquer sickness. It ended with death.
How am I to view love and continue to love when love doesn’t seem to have the power I thought it did or at least hoped it did? I hoped love would have results. I hoped that all of the love working and praying together would save Will’s life.
I recently went to a conference where people told incredible stories of the power of love. Stories of rescue, of life giving help to people all over the world. It was inspiring to hear what people are doing. But, when I looked around the room, I wondered are we all just excited to “go out and love” hoping for positive results but not thinking about what that might actually look like. It’s most likely not going to end with balloons and give-aways. It might be a long, hard, dark journey that ends in death. There might not be a story of rescue to share. How do you then get up the next day and still love? I wanted to hear just one person say… “I didn’t want to wake up this morning. But, I did. I woke up with breath in my lungs, so I’m going to try to love those around me. But, if tomorrow comes, I will most likely wish that it hadn’t .” That’s how I feel. I think it’s a lot easier to view life’s pains and sufferings as an outsider looking in, having the choice of entering in with someone else’s pain and having the choice not to. What if you’re that one that can’t choose? What if you don’t have the choice to enter into the pain and the suffering…you live it. Every day you wake up in the pain, you wake up in the grief, you wake up wishing that you hadn’t. How do you love others then? I don’t know…but I want to. The hope of figuring out this question is pretty much the only thing that keeps me breathing each day. The idea of loving used to come with excitement, with happy thoughts of doing something good that could make something or someone better. That love, for me, was selfish in some ways. It was for me to feel better about the world I live in or maybe it was to change the world I live in so it could be a happier place. I wasn’t thinking of it as joining in the pain of other’s, it was to fix it. Love’s definition has changed. It’s become a reality and a painful one at that.
If I could go back in time, I would still tell William that I liked him as we sat on that bench at Union University. I would still tell him that I loved him as we looked across the table at each other in the midst of candle light and chocolate. I would still say yes the day he asked me to marry him. I would still walk down the aisle and commit to loving him in sickness and in health, for better or for worse. I would still give up everything I had to love him and care for him. I would still do all the things he needed me to do that now torment my mind. I would still hold his hand until his final breath. I wouldn’t change any decision that I made that was out of love. I would change every decision I ever made out of fear or selfishness. I wish I would have known that true love, the kind that doesn’t protect yourself, will probably mean that more times than not you end up in dark places to show it…and that maybe that’s where we really need to be loved and show love. So I wrestle with this question of how to love. To love without expectation or some type of result…to see love, the act of loving and being loved and knowing that someone else knows they are loved because of you…to see love as an end in and of itself
I am thankful that Will and I loved each other the best we knew how each year that we were given. I’m thankful that in the midst of horrific circumstances this past year, we were able to pour out all of our love on each other. I’m thankful that we knew love and that we knew we were loved.
Happy anniversary, my love. I long for the day when I see you again.