The first time I saw you I knew you were out of my league.
I nudged the guy next to me. “Who…is that?!”
We were sitting in the back row of the room where the speech team held its meetings at Bradley University.
“Dedee Wallace. She transferred in from Southeastern.”
“Forget it, Lhamon. She’s out of your league.”
See, even my friends knew.
Back then, my experience with beautiful women was that they were often so aware of their beauty that they became unapproachable.
But not you. You seemed completely unaware of how attractive you were. Instead, all of your attention was focused on the person to whom you were speaking, oblivious to the guys twisting their necks to catch a glimpse of you.
It made you more desirable to me.
We didn’t date right away, in large measure because I was completely unconvinced someone like you would want to date someone like me. After a bit of prompting from our friend Sheila Schreckenberg (“Greg, ask her out, for Pete’s sake!”) we started dating.
I didn’t kiss you until our third date, in large measure because I was completely unconvinced someone like you would want to kiss someone like me. But I mustered up the gumption and gave it a go. It was the most tentative initiation of a kiss in the history of kisses, but I did it and to my surprise you kissed me back. I’m not sure there’s been even ten days in the past 26 years that we haven’t kissed at least once when we’re together.
On October 31, 1987, I dropped to my knee, pulled out a tiny little box that contained a ring with an even tinier diamond, and asked you to marry me. We celebrated that night with dinner at Alexander Street Steak House, our favorite restaurant in Peoria. And in spite of the fact that I proposed on Halloween of all nights, our relationship has gone the distance.
How can I sum up 26 years of marriage? Like every marriage, we’ve had our share of peaks and valleys. But we remained. We prayed through it. We made it work.
When we arrived at our honeymoon cottage at Pemaquid Point, Maine and discovered that there wasn’t a double bed in the whole place, we pulled the mattresses off the single beds, and put them in front of the fireplace in the living room and realized that it was better that way because the sound of the ocean coming through the windows lulled us to sleep each night.
We made it work.
When we weren’t making enough money to pay the bills those first few months and we maxed out our credit card and didn’t know how we were going to make rent, I interviewed for a job at a small radio station and was offered a job in sales with $1,000/mo salary plus commissions plus bonuses and we were so ecstatic that we celebrated our new-found fortune with an extravagant dinner at Captain D’s.
And we praised God and we made it work.
When you called me that day at the radio station and said, “The test was positive,” I dropped the phone and raced up the office hallway screaming, “We’re going to have a baby!” and then ran back to my office when I realized I’d left you waiting on the phone and you were patient with me and even though we had no idea how we were going to raise a child we praised God and made it work.
Taylor was born but had to go back to the hospital a week later, and while everything turned out fine with our baby girl, we were left with a mountain of medical bills that we didn’t know how we were going to pay but we praised God that our baby was healthy and then celebrated 18 months later when the last bill was paid and we laughed and said “Now they can’t repossess her!”
We made it work.
A few years later we learned that you were pregnant again and realized we needed a bigger place so we borrowed $5,000 from our family to make a down-payment on our very own house and wondered how we could pay the $5,000 back and also make a house payment and we didn’t have money for curtains or a couch so we hung sheets from the curtain rods and bought two large pillows that served as a couch for the next several years until we could afford a real piece of furniture.
But we made it work.
Then Rachel was born and we wondered if we could love another child as much as we loved Taylor and then we realized how silly that thought was because hearts don’t stay the same because God makes them grow bigger as families get bigger and we adored our little girls and made it work.
When you were torn between the strong desire to use your master’s degree in a career but also wanted to stay home while we raised the girls, you sacrificed a deep longing in order to be the kind of mother that your Mom was to you and you cried and I said, “If you need a career, I’ll support you and we’ll make it work” but you decided the kids needed you more than you needed your career, all the while the 55 gallon drum of Amoxicillin that every kid needs in those early years along with the diapers and onesies and formula and hair ribbons and little dresses and pre-school tuition and soccer fees and repairing our Good Car when it caught fire put a strain on our budget but we thanked God that we always seemed to bring in just enough to pay the bills and in spite of the strain we always found time to laugh and smother our girls with affection and we realized that we were making this family thing work.
And when the radio station I was managing was sold and I was out of a job and we wondered “what happens now?” and we stayed up until midnight that night to hear the station go off the air and we cried at 12:01 and we were scared to death and we didn’t praise God but we did pray (oh, how we prayed) and you encouraged me and said “I believe in you” and we both cried and somehow through it all we made it work.
And then that fateful day in June of 2002 when the doctor said “there’s nothing more we can do” and we all said goodbye to your Mom and cried our guts out as she passed away and you wondered how you could go on without your best friend and we both wondered how your Dad was going to make it on his own and how our girls were going to cope without their Nanny but we had so many friends who sat with us and brought meals and prayed for us and even though the hole is deep and real and we feel it even now we thank God knowing that she’s waiting for us and we’ll see her again and even though you still want to pick up the phone and call her just to hear her voice and the pain at times is as fresh as it was 12 years ago we press on and we make it work somehow.
And now our girls are on their own and out of our home but that longing deep in your soul to pursue a calling has found its fulfillment as you founded and lead The Covering House. It is beautiful to see the work you’re doing there. Nothing short of amazing. All of the education you’ve received, every talent you possess, and the wisdom you’ve gained from each pain and joy of your life is being used to help the survivors of the most wretched scourge on earth. These precious girls are finding hope and healing and restoration from sex-trafficking because you have a heart that is open to the broken people in this world.
You astound me!
There’s so much more I could write, of course. We’ve learned to love each other when we’re unlovable. We’ve learned to forgive each other at great personal cost. And we’ve even learned to live with those little irritating things about each other that used to drive us nuts when we were younger but now somehow have become dear to us, even attractive. Isn’t that odd?
And I love the little inside jokes that only you and I are privy to. Like “How do you stop it?” And “Let’s hurry, son.” “Bud.” And “I ain’t got no time for no pleasure.”
I am forever grateful that we never once considered letting go of each other, even when it hurt to stay. The sticking-with-it has produced an intimacy that I didn’t think was possible back in that speech team room at Bradley when I first laid eyes on you.
Thank you for being my wife, my lover, and my best and most compassionate friend.
Happy anniversary, babe. I love you dearly.
If you enjoyed this post, you might also like, Tragedy + Time = Comedy (or The Day Our “Good Car” Nearly Killed Me), a humorous true story that occurred in the early days of our marriage.