Thirty-two years ago tonight – I’m writing this on the eve of anniversary No. 32 (6/5/14) – my groomsmen, a bunch of on-fire-for-Jesus evangelicals, were probably somewhere eating pizza or studying their Bibles. I would have been right there with them except for a powerful need to be by myself. I was parked at the Belle City Park, facing the lake that had positive, powerful connections to my young life. I stared out at the darkness, strangely calm although aware that an “I do” in about 14 hours would chart a course that I was not ready to begin.
Kelly had been 19 for six weeks. I would be 19 in nine weeks. We were just kids who were in love, drawn together six years earlier – barely teenagers – at about the same time both of our homes and lives were gut-punched by the divorce of our parents.
We weren’t “ready” to be married. Yet when I say, “Kids, don’t get married when you’re 19,” we’d do it all over again. Every day is at once new and predictable, laced with a solid measure of security yet seasoned with adventure and discovery. Kelly and I are as different as night and day yet also as similar as lifelong best friends and companions should be.
But imagine changing the way it began? Any delay, any detour might have meant missing the miracles of Feb. 26, 1985, and March 13, 1987 – the births of Kishia and Natasha. Imagine …
The night before our wedding, as I stared out over the pitch-blackness of the city park lake, I asked God for a sign, some indication of whether I should be getting hitched in a few hours. It already seemed that there had not been a time when I didn’t know Kelly – we started “going together” in the eighth grade, Nov. 22, 1976 – yet the thought that overwhelmed me at that moment was to imagine like without Kelly.
There was a lot I didn’t know at the age of nine-weeks-before-19. But what I saw at that moment was life-altering and confirming. The answer was right there in my gaze toward that dark lake: Nothing. Empty. Alone.
I didn’t see what the future held, but I saw what it wouldn’t hold if I opted out of “I do.” I’m not sure if Kelly had a similar epiphany. And if she did see even the most unfocused, however brief glimpse of our future together, the very fact that she didn’t flee and get as far from me as possible is a remarkable demonstration of grace.
I’m a mess. As a writer, I filter each word, sentence and paragraph I write through perspectives that range from, “That’s really pretty good” to “That’s the worst piece of drivel ever penned by a human being.” The wiring is basically the same when it comes to husband-hood. Just when I start thinking, “Hey, I’m finally getting the hang of this,” that other voice suggests, “Dude, you don’t even have a clue.”
I love to watch Kelly. Sounds kinda creepy, maybe, but I love just watching her: talking on the phone, reading, being Grammy to our Princess Kianna, in deep thought – sleeping. Her facial expressions, her unique-to-Kelly mannerisms and speech patterns, the look on her face when she’s sweetly and intently listening to a random stranger who approached her to just spill their guts about life’s trials and troubles. (That happens more often than I can count).
There’s still so much I don’t know. I still don’t know how it’s possible to be so comfortable, so close and so connected to someone. And just when it seems that I’ve given my bride a lifetime of reasons to pull away and withdraw, she pulls even closer and loves even more.
Thank you, God, for Kelly, for these 32 years, our lives together, and the rest of our lives being amazed by the mystery of it all.