Still Crazy (About Her) After 10 Years…

My wife, the best woman I know.

So Rachel and I were sitting on the couch last night – well, I was sitting, she had her feet propped up on my lap for her nightly massage – and suddenly she sits up, looks at me and says: “Tomorrow is our tenth anniversary. I almost forgot.”

I laughed.

Because I had forgotten.

We’ve been hip-deep in VBS this week (and, honestly, that’s normal – in our 10 years of marriage, I think we’ve had VBS or some other church-related event going on for nine of our ten anniversaries) so between 200 kids, some crazy preschoolers, a mouse on the loose, and just general lunacy, we’re lucky we remembered we were even married to each other, let alone what day it actually happened.

And we celebrated in our usual, over-the-top manner: I bought her a smart-aleck card, a bottle of Diet Coke and some Peanut M&Ms. She bought me some cupcakes that her and the kids like. We go huge in the Brooks home, I tell ya.

But it’s been the best 10 years of my life. I could never imagine life with anyone else. Through deaths, surgeries, cancers, and multiple job changes, we managed to always find each other and stay sane. She’s been my rock, and I’ve been her comic relief. She’s taught me to stand up for myself and not take (much) crap from anyone. I’ve taught her that there’s no situation so dark that it can’t be a viciously funny joke. She’s taught me that with faith and sharp financial acumen, we can not only survive on one salary, but thrive. I’ve taught her that I shouldn’t even have a prepaid phone card.

I’ve told the story of our first date before, but I can’t remember if I’ve ever written it down. I’ll have to do that soon, but the short version is this: the date went so astoundingly well that Rachel didn’t speak at all the last 45 minutes. When I pulled up to her parent’s house in my car, she simply opened her door, got out, and walked inside. No “goodbye”, no “you suck”, no nothing.

She got out and all I saw was the slamming of her door. From inside my car. I never had time to even get out.

The next day, in the middle of church, feeling lower than a flounder’s colon, I felt the overwhelming conviction from God (and I say God because I emphatically know that it was Him and Him alone who spoke to me) to call Rachel as soon as church was over. I sat there for 45 uncomfortable minutes writhing in spiritual agony because I was almost certain that as soon as Rachel heard my voice on the phone, she would either slam the phone down so hard that it would send a shockwave through the phone line that would disembowel me, or she would do the verbal equivalent.

She did neither.

I called her, and when she heard my voice, she said one word. Not even a word, really. More like a noise. She made one noise: “Uhmmmmn.”

I apologized for the date. I apologized for being an ass. I apologized for wasting her time by being phony, instead of just being myself. I think I even apologized for Rico Suave, Ishtar, and the first Bush presidency while I was at it.

Finally, I wrapped it up. “I hope that we can at least be friends. And I sincerely mean that. I like you because you’re smart, funny, and interesting, and I’d hate to let my stupidity prevent us from being friends.”

For a few seconds, she said nothing. Those seconds passed slower and more painfully than a golf-ball sized kidney stone.

The she said, “Okay.”

It was the world’s greatest okay. The most benevolent okay I’ve ever heard, even to this day. Ten years later, I can still feel the grace infused into that one “Okay.” What I didn’t know at the time was that God was speaking to her, telling her to “Be Gentle. Be Gentle.” She was, and a love I never really thought possible blossomed and continues to right now.

It’s changed, of course, like all relationships do, but I still mean today what I told her not too terribly long after that horrible date.

I love her unconditionally. Even if she were to wake up tomorrow and decide that she no longer loved me, no longer wanted me in her life, I would go to my grave loving her. And now that we have children, and I know that kind of love runs even deeper and stronger, it’s still the same. She could hate me all she wants, but I could never love her less.

It’s that love, that inhuman capacity to care for another person (a capacity that comes only from God), that told me then and still tells me today that she is the only woman for me.

And 100 years from now, that love will not have changed.

Happy anniversary to you, Rachel. I love you.


From One End To The Other

In my life, I've found myself at both ends of the church: in the pew and on the platform. Both perspectives have taught me a lot.

From time to time you get to reflect on life, usually because your life brings you a moment – an event – that forces you to stop and really consider what’s before you. The calendar holds two annual times for this sort of reflection: the graduation/wedding season (May-June) and the Christmas holidays.

This past weekend, I went attended the wedding of a former student of mine. It was beautiful.

Of course, it’s not just those moments on the calendar that count; there are other, unscheduled moments that offer us the same opportunity. Things like births, or birthday parties, or family reunions, or class reunions.

Or funerals.

I went to a funeral Mass today for the grandfather of my childhood best friend. It was beautiful.

As a minister, I’ve done my fair share of both services – weddings and funerals – and while it is always an honor to be the official, the kind of reflection offered is limited. You have a sacred duty to discharge when you’re a minister, to offer both hope and comfort, to provide constancy and peace. As such, you spend a lot of time thinking about other people, how they relate, how they connect, how they help one another cope with the immensity of these two very different, yet similar occasions. You spend a lot of time, as it were, being a detached observer and caregiver.

But when you’re merely part of the gallery, when you’re there as a friend, it’s a whole different experience.

I stood beside two families over the past three days, two families that are markedly different in their customs and traditions, but remarkably the same in their love and devotion to one another. One family celebrated the joining of a husband and wife til death do them part, while the other grieved a husband and wife being parted. There was music at both – the balm of the human soul must be music, because we sing it in good times and sad – and also much laughter. There were tears at each, as well as knowing looks, emotional hugs, and the sharing of wisdom between friends.

Each ceremony had tables lined with food, and friends and family seated to reminisce and review the common experience we’d just shared. People were dressed their best out of respect for those being honored, and though the final partings were ultimately opposite in both tone and finality, they were no less filled with the longing that we all feel when we watch someone beloved begin a new journey, a new chapter, one that we cannot really comprehend.

I watched the Sosebee family and the Newman families these past few days, and saw the love they had for their respective moms and dads, sons and daughters, grandkids and cousins and assorted friends. I saw my former student kiss his wife and lovingly take her by the hand to lead her to the dance floor. I saw my childhood friend hold his infant daughter in his arms and kiss her tiny little head as he greeted people sorry for his loss.

I got to be a part of the moment instead of being a part of the service, and the perspective that it afforded me was this:

There are some people, no matter how far the miles or the years may take you, who will always be in your heart, good times and bad. You meet them and love them and keep on loving them until, as the saying goes, death separates you. While the circumstances of your relationship will inevitably change, while you may not be as close to them as you once were, you will still do whatever it takes to stand with them in these moments, to be there when they need only just a friendly face to help them gain perspective.

There are some people with whom you are bonded and you will go with them through life, from one end to the other. Such is the power and privilege of being human.