23 years ago yesterday I answered, “I do” to a question that seemed basic enough.
But, oh my word… how little did I know then all of what those two simple words would eventually call me to. Marriage is wonderful and covenantal and intimate and protective and chock full of some big blessings… but, it’s also extremely complicated and messy and exposing and exhausting. It’s sometimes all those things at once.
And marriage, like life, is lived out on a continuum. The beginning really looks nothing like the end. And, while I pray my marriage is nowhere near its end, I’m very grateful it looks nothing like it did in the beginning. Or even the middle, for that matter.
And, to be honest, nothing in my life has shaped me more than my marriage. Not really even motherhood. For me, learning to love a separate human (not from my own womb) has been the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. In fact, some days I just want to quit doing something that hard altogether. Many days I nearly have.
Because – and I pray you don’t hear this as some cliché – there would certainly be no marriage in my life, if there was no God in my life.
You see, God showed me Himself when He showed me who to marry. And He kept showing up in my marriage and keeps showing me more of Himself and more of who I truly am and who He’s making me to be through my marriage. And, I’ll say this forever… God only knows where I’d be now without Him showing up for me over and over and over again, both in this marriage and in this life.
So, I passionately celebrate each year that passes because we’re not who we once were and because we don’t look like we once did and because these two things are only true because of the God I worship. I celebrate each year, every year, because I celebrate Jesus, Who, all at once upon The Cross, and continually still – year upon year – reconciles, remakes, renews, redeems, and restores the dead places in me and in this marriage.
And, I’m not sure why, but this year I’d like to celebrate the whole of it, by throwing it way, way back to the beginning where this whole thing started. Let’s call it:
The Meet Up
It’s a chilly February evening in Tallahassee, FL. My college town, if you don’t already now. It’s 1996 and I’m 22 and have been graduated for over a year, but have stuck around… well, basically because I loved the place and have no idea my next move. And, just to cut to the chase, I’m pretty much a wild, angry, and out of control mess. I was honestly only good at one thing… being my own worst enemy. My life felt like it’d been reduced to one damaging choice after another and I couldn’t reconcile what I was slowly becoming with what I always thought I should be and felt hopeless to change a thing of it. Each inclination I had was all about me, yet I never felt satisfied and settled. I was spiraling into a true danger zone of depression and no answer, activity, or experience seemed to soothe my heart’s cry and fill the large void that had taken up residence inside my sad soul.
So, what does a 22 year old angry, messy, hopeless girl – who tried real hard to cover it all up with a grin – do when her world is falling apart?
She puts on that grin and goes dancing with her friends, of course. Well… until she needs a beer and a cigarette.
But, that’s when she spots him.
Picture this: With beer and cig in hand, I’m just off the dance floor, chatting up a friend, when my eyes happen to land on a guy who’s sauntering into the club. (Yes, sauntering.) He’s head and shoulders above the crowd and smack in the center of his own crowd and, I don’t know… maybe it was the beer? Or, his height? Or, his tattered, faded out ball cap, because, honestly… Who wears that to a club?? Or, his high top basketball shoes, which I had the
unfortunate opportunity to witness as he got closer? Because, again, who wears those to a club?! Or, maybe it was the fact he basically looked like some Greek god even with those two strange apparel choices?
Who can really ever explain these things completely? Bottom line was, the guy stuck out. And, I couldn’t take my eyes off him, even as he walked straight passed me towards that dance floor. And, Y’all, whatever he was wearing the moment he hit that dance floor ceased to matter again (until now), because this Greek god could also dance! And, then time simply stood still. Like the climax of movie when everything hits sloth speed and we’re all barely breathing in anticipation of what’s to come, kinda still.
I remember pointing him out to my girlfriend and her saying something about him not being her type, to which I replied, “Well, he’s not really mine either, but…” as my voice trailed off and my legs began walking fast in the direction of Mister Not-My-Type. Within seconds, I was also on that dance floor employing some pretty awesome moves of my own. And, by awesome, I mean backing up towards him while “accidentally” bumping into him. (Hey, it was the best I could come up with in that state of mind.) And, when he finally turned around and apologized, I knew I had him. But before I could even blink, he’d turned back around to keep dancing.
Okay, accidentally do it again, I think! And, I did.
And, he apologized and turned around again.
Huh?!? One more time, says me! And, I bump him again.
And the entire scene nearly repeated itself for a third time, until it dawns on me midway through his turn around that he might actually be with one of the other girls there dancing, so I asked him, “Are you with someone?”
“No,” he answered simply and began to turn back around.
And, it was at this point I did what any other sad, messy, hopeless, 22 year old
named Kacy Rae would’ve done in that same circumstance. With equal parts flirt and sarcasm I blurted out, “Do you want to be!?”
And, Y’all, I finally had his attention.
And honestly, I had mine, too, because… Where in the world did that crazy line come from?!? I’d never been that bold in my life, yet continued to play every bit the confident, pick-up-artist I’d implied I was, as he looked at me very intensely, as if for the first time, and through the sweetest smile replied, “Yeah.”
And, with just those two bold questions and his two simple answers, the night that would define the rest of my life truly began. One glance led to a journey of love, if you will. Which might *almost* seem like the makings of the perfect fairy tale, but let’s not jump ahead…
Instead, let’s get back to dancing and chatting the night away with a complete stranger. A stranger who was like no one I’d ever been interested in before. His choice of club attire alone would’ve ordinarily been enough to scare me off. We seemed as different as night and day, but he gave me his number and of course I called it and I’m sure I don’t need to explain to y’all how dating works.
Yet, as the weeks rolled on, our differences only became even more glaring, so much of the time we basically got along as well as two toddlers trying to share the same toy.
You see, he was into things like the marching band, studying, saving money (ball caps and basketball shoes, anyone??), collecting stamps and comic books (bless him!), low-riders, rap, bass, basketball, working out, and building computers. He was also a military kid from everywhere, but sounded like he was from the Bahamas because all his best friends at the time were. (True story. I needed a translator when we talked.)
And, me… well, I loved being lazy and boys and clothes and babysitting and dancing and spending money and live music and cigarettes and had only lived in two places in the same state, Tallahassee being one. (I know, I know. I was quite the catch.)
But, I also loved to laugh. And, this guy certainly kept me cracking up. And, I’d secretly always been about the more nerdy types. And, this one was studying computer science and math, plus was a musician on top of it all. So, there was just something super compelling about him. Unfortunately my heart and head were still the same broken as the night I’d first laid eyes on him, so getting past all the silly differences was tough for me. And for him, too, it seemed. So after dating for two months, I knew we were likely headed towards another one of my tragic endings…
Until that bright, cool April morning when I finally woke up to a startling reality and began adding up days and weeks and calculating months and figuring something was late. Six weeks late, in fact. I’ll spare you the details, but suffice to say, six pregnancy tests later, I was sitting in a chair in his apartment telling him he could have as much or as little to do with the little bundle that was now in my belly. He was still in school after all, but I had a job and knew I’d have plenty of support from my family. Yet, as I was explaining all this to him, he walked right over to me and dropped to one knee to gently face my scared, yet determined face, and said the next four words that would change everything,
“Let’s get married, then.”
(**sigh** Oh yes, he did. And it was just that tender and honest and I will never forget those words and will love him always for saying them.)
And that night after work, I sat in my upstairs bedroom and stared out the window and smoked a cigarette and stared some more – because news like that really puts you in shock – and I thought of God for what was truly the first time in my life. Out loud, I asked Him, “Is this YOU?”
But, just as quickly as my smoke filled question swirled and disappeared into the air, the moment passed away, and I set about trying to make sense of my new reality.
And then many more moments began to pass by at warp speed. His life filled up with class on top of class, as he was now faced with an earlier than planned graduation deadline. Mine filled with work and days that ended at 5pm because I couldn’t hold my eyes open for another second and horrible hormones and hard conversations with family and friends and soul gripping fears. And, both our lives filled with navigating our new reality together and separately. One night of dancing led to dancing around others and their opinions and each other’s opinions. I threw a plate towards (one may say “at”) him after one of those less than pleasant opinions hit me a little extra hard one evening and it was a good thing those basketball shoes were also his dancing shoes, because he was able to swerve out of the way before the ceramic missile hit the wall, shattering into pieces. I wasn’t nearly as relieved as I should’ve been when it missed him. And he wondered, very much out loud, what in the world he was doing with such a mess.
To pile things on, as most girls do, I’d dreamed of my own version of the fairy tale wedding, including the high-low gown I’d wear so my groom could whisk me away on a motorcycle because I was just that cool and so was he (think November Rain video). But, my dreams were dying a slow death, right there beside my size nothing wardrobe. Somehow the idea of marriage when you’ve already skipped way ahead felt too weird, and sadly, it was all coinciding with my own parent’s divorce. So, instead, we pushed forward with graduation plans and finding a job and a place to actually bring a baby home to, and left all wedding plans on the back burner for months.
Until the day my doctor threatened to perform a ceremony in a hospital room after an illness brought on my labor six weeks before our due date. My doc was very traditional and assumed my mom would be disappointed if he had to tie an umbilical cord before we ever tied the knot. So, after a stern doctor’s order to, “Get married!” and a few phone calls, I was discharged from the hospital and standing on our rental home’s brown marble carpet, in my nicest denim pregnancy romper dress, with my Just-Home-From-Work Groom beside me. Before us stood a forever friend who also happened to be a registered notary, plus the caterer and florist for the evening. Beside us was my sis and bro-in-law, bearing their very own wedding rings for us to exchange because we couldn’t afford our own. Behind us stood another of my dearest and best, there for both support and her photography skills.
And as we looked at each other and each answered, “I do,” to those two questions required, the journey of love continued…
And our baby boy came into this world five weeks later and we were overjoyed. And, more than a little overwhelmed. We bought our first house right down the road from my sister and settled into living our first year of life both as a married couple and as parents. It was equal parts beautiful and frightening and every bit as hard as it sounds. But, we worked equally as hard to make our house a home and our life make some kind of sense.
Side by side we tried hard to do what was right by each other and our family, but way too often we screamed and cussed and lied and tore each other apart. We each loved our baby, but had moments when liking each other was not even an option. I expected Curtis to be all I’d dreamed in my head a husband should be and I wasn’t shy letting him know how he often missed the mark. I threw every insecurity I ever had at him (no plates, though) and he, pretty understandably, lived up to my fears, accusations, and characterizations.
And, between the two of us, we did nearly all we could do to destroy our marriage. Yet, somehow, through it all, we managed to still laugh. And, more surprisingly, began to enjoy each other and the life we were making.
And, Y’all… right here is where I’d love to end this and write that our marriage finally did become the fairy tale after that long, hard year. The truth is, though, there’s no such thing. And so, for much of the following thirteen-ish years, our marriage limped along pretty lifelessly. It sputtered way more than it sparkled and it tore down much more than it built up. We’d fight, then faint, then gasp for air, then knock each other out, then live in peace only to fight another day. Because we were living way more for the glory of ourselves than each other…
Let alone, for Another.
And, you knew I’d finally get back to Another, right? You see, about the time our baby turned a year old, I’d begun to feel like this whole thing really was God’s doing. Like, The Meet Up was actually about way more than a girl and boy and dancing. Because, I’d also begun to feel God looking straight at me during that hard year. And, I’d eventually hear Him ask me two questions of His own:
Do you see Jesus on The Cross?
Do you believe He died in your place… His perfect life for your broken, messy, sin-filled life??
And, just like that night in the club, I simply couldn’t look away, so I looked back and gave the two answers that truly would change everything. Forever.
And a living hope – finally – came to flood my weary, broken down soul.
But the thing was, my marriage stayed looking an awful lot like my old, messy self. And it took me what seemed like forever to realize that it was all because I kept looking at my husband and my marriage, instead of at Another. I thought I needed to keep asking questions and getting answers and trying to fix what was still so broken in our marriage. And, in him. Acting like it was up to me to make us each what we were supposed to be.
Until there came a reckoning. Well, a few reckonings actually. [Spoiler alert: A reckoning always comes!] And, I had no choice but to finally put my eyes on Jesus. For good. For the sake of our marriage. Because, He was The One that first looked at us. And, He’s The One that met us where we were. And He’s still The One that keeps looking and meeting us right where we are… mess and all.
We must choose the way of Another in order to choose each other.
And, so we must look back. We must answer His questions honestly. And we must make the choice to do this daily. We must choose the way of Another in order to choose each other. Because, you can’t bring new life into a broken, yet trying hard to repair its own self, kind of love. You must look instead to Another, because He broke completely apart to repair us with the truest kind of love of all… God’s love.
Because if we hadn’t chosen Another, we certainly would’ve met the tragic end we seemed destined for in the beginning. So what I want to say here today, after all these 23 years and likely way too many words, is…
We could still meet that same, tragic ending.