Remember those days when you learned something new about each other every time you talked? No one tells you this when you’re dating or at the reception after the wedding, but that ends – or it slows down as the years together accumulate. You may go months or even years without any new revelations about her, but then the routine changes and parts of her you never knew existed get exposed to the light. Most of the time it’s something good – a new job, a new city, a new child. Sometimes it’s not – an old wound, a failure, a disappointment, an illness.
Today I’ve been married to Becky for twelve years. I thought I knew everything about her until this month got started. Now there’s even more to love.
Two days into this darkness I had to substitute preach at church. It was too late to hand off to someone else, I thought. I got through that Sunday, but just barely. It took all my concentration just to keep it together and follow my outline. It sapped more strength than I’d expected. When we got home that afternoon I went upstairs to my office, locked the door, laid my head in Becky’s lap and cried. It was the first time since it all began that I’d let her see me fall apart.
She didn’t try to talk me out of it. She didn’t smile and offer easy answers. She just held me and every time embarrassment and shame moved me to mumble a snotty “I’m sorry” into her leg she just said, “It’s OK.”
Days later she had a party to attend. She called my brother-in-law Brian and asked him to bring his kids over and keep an eye on me until she got back. She gave me homework that night: verses I was supposed to look up. I spent most of that evening writing them out in pencil and reading them to myself over and over again. Psalm 42. 2 Corinthians 4:7-12. Philippians 4:6-9. And a few others. Verses about God’s comfort – I tried to believe them. Prayers by men who’d felt abandoned and grived – I prayed them. Truth to replace the lies in my head.
I kept those verses folded up in my back pocket and pulled them out any time I had to be alone in the quiet. Those were the scariest times for me. I read them out loud in the bathroom over and over again. I read them first thing in the morning and last thing at night. And when things got so bad that I’d given up on God and stopped reading them entirely, she insisted I start again.
Becky was my faith and my brain when both were broken.
She decided what I would eat, where I would go, what I would do. She planned my days, made me get out of bed, get dressed and go through the motions. She made me keep living. I sliced potatoes, read books to the kids, pulled weeds from the garden, and stayed up to hear her plans for the next day. Every day.
And she even saved my life.
I’ve long considered suicide the most selfish act a person could commit. For days I reassured doctors, friends and family that I had no interest in ending my life. Not me. I’d never.
Then, one afternoon, alone in my office for only a minute, I was shocked to think She’d be better off without you. You’ll always be this way and she deserves better. It wasn’t something I was being asked by my thoughts to consider. It was something my thoughts had already decided.
Just then Becky walked in and I told her what I was thinking. She made me look her in the eyes, and very firmly, almost angrily, she said, “That’s a lie.” And she started filling my head up again with the truth. “I’d rather have you like this than not have you at all.”
Unfortunately, there are some parts of a person you can’t have the joy of discovering until you’ve lost your joy. This month Becky has been God with skin on, literally keeping me alive and patiently lovingly – sometimes forcefully – piecing my faith and mind back together one long day at a time.
“Happy Anniversary” doesn’t seem like enough.