Monday night I was heading home after a full day working in Chicago and I called Kim when I got on the road to let her know that I was leaving. She was heading to bed and snuggling in with our daughter to watch Notting Hill starring Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant. I mentioned to Kim that she and I had seen the movie several years ago, but that I’m sure she would enjoy watching it again. When I got home the movie was just finishing up. Kim looked at me and said, “I’ve never seen this movie before in my life. You must have watched it with your first wife.” Now I promise you that I know without a shadow of a doubt that she and I have watched Notting Hill before. In fact, I am quite certain that we have watched it together at least twice before. However, I’m not surprised that Kim doesn’t remember it. Remembering movies or TV shows are not her strong suit. Whereas I can remember certain shows and movies in great detail even though I’ve only seen them once before.
It was the comment that she made about watching it with my first wife that prompted this post. Kim and I have only been married to each other and we are looking ahead to celebrating twenty years together this August. Yet there is a point where she is correct in her statement. She and I actually had a short, but good conversation about it last week. See, Monday was not the first time that Kim has used the joke, “that must have been your first wife.” In fact it is said quite often. Last week she said it and it prompted a conversation between us where Kim pointed out that in many ways I’ve had two wives. My first wife and I held hands by interlacing our fingers together when we walked. My second wife clasps my hand since her fingers hurt too much to wrap around mine. Our nightstand used to only have a lamp and a water bottle not painkillers and sleeping pills. The bottom shelf of our lazy Susan used to hold canned goods not medications. The first wife kept an immaculately clean house, worked non-stop, never sat down to rest until it was time for bed, gardened like crazy, exercised daily, and gave of herself to everyone. My second wife is hardly lazy, but she’s learned that it’s ok if the house isn’t spotless, that lots of rest is necessary and required, exercise is too painful and exhausting right now, that just because we have a large garden space doesn’t mean that it all needs to be planted, and that giving herself is only necessary to those who are closest to her. My first wife was vibrant, would tackle anything, and would never let “no” stop her from doing something she believed in doing. My second wife is still vibrant, has learned to tackle only the things that are important, and is learning that the only thing she’s not willing to hear “no” from is RAD, and on occasion me.
There are definite changes. In both of us. Twenty years will do that. I used to have more hair and it was a different color. I’ve learned to become less demanding, less opinionated about the unimportant things, more caring, and willing to do any sort of household cleaning necessary. I’ve also noticed that in certain situations that I become more easily frustrated and have a tendency to get mad about little things. I also have become more moody as the stresses of life wear on my mind. I’m working on all of these. Kim has changed too. Auto-immune diseases do that to a person. The inability to exercise and some of the drugs she is on have caused her to gain weight she doesn’t want (she’s more concerned about this than me). Fibromyalgia and RAD both have something called fibro or RAD fog. It simply means that frequently she struggles with saying the right words, remembering people’s names, or other simple cognitive things. Some of her other symptoms and the side effects of her meds are far more personal and have taken much work for both of us to learn to live with. So in many ways she is a completely different person than the woman who walked down the aisle towards me nineteen plus years ago.
But isn’t this what marriage is all about? Isn’t this why we said the words, “for better or worse, in sickness and in health”? We were naive enough to believe when we were young kids mouthing promises that sickness only meant the flu or the common cold. That other people might experience real disease, but somehow we would be immune to it. Now we’ve matured and God has blessed us by showing us how real sickness changes us. I’ve learned to become more compassionate towards Kim. She’s learned to set aside her pride and independence. Neither of those is a bad thing. Singer Sara Groves has a song where she writes, “Loving a person just the way they are is no small thing. It takes some time to see things through . . . Let’s find out the beauty of seeing things through.” Commitment and love have different faces at different times. I’m convinced of this. Love is easy when life is easy. But the love that comes through the hard times far outshines easy love. Sickness and suffering tear down emotional walls and strip us bare. Honesty becomes crucial and we find love in being honest. Another song of Sara Groves is called “Different Kinds of Happy” and in the bridge she sings this, “Better than our promises is the day we got to keep them. I wish those two could see us now they never would believe how there are different kinds of happy.” She’s right. I can remember the happiness of our wedding day and couldn’t in that moment have imagined ever being happier. Yet, here. Now. With my “second” wife is a comfort and love and intimacy that produces a far richer happiness that can only be cultivated through seasons of marital drought and hardship. Illness and hard times and hurts we’ve intentionally inflicted on each other have pulled the veneer off of images we’ve portrayed in marriage to reveal who we really are. That love is loving the real you and as God pulls away how we’ve tried to portray ourselves we see each other with new eyes. Happiness can be born out of joy and out of pain. There are no promises of it being easy. In fact I promise that it will be difficult and excruciatingly painful. Yet, it every step is worth it in the end.
I’ve had two “wives”. That’s OK. My wife has had multiple “husbands”. We’ve said goodbye to those lovers in our past in order to embrace who we are now and who we will become tomorrow. So take the hard step. Do what’s difficult. You won’t regret it in the end and you will find that happiness has many different images. That beauty can be found in ashes if we commit to seeing it through until the end.