We were seventeen and just-barely-nineteen when he gave me the ring.
We were barely-eighteen and solidly-nineteen when he married me. I thought he was perfect.
He wasn’t. Neither of us was. We were twenty-seven and twenty-eight when we realized that our passion for each other had died, and our marriage had gone numb due to neglect, complacency, and the distractions and stresses that accompanied raising three children — one of whom was born with significant cognitive disabilities.
But as our love was gasping for its final breaths, he roused himself, vowing that he would never lose me, committing his heart to God and to our marriage in ways he had never done before, and fighting to rekindle our cold but-still-breathing connection.
We were twenty-nine and thirty by the time our marriage was healed and our love was flourishing with a fresh heartbeat and renewed passion and commitment.
We were thirty-eight and forty when I watched his heart break for a child four thousand miles away in desperate need of a daddy. He declared this child his son — even though he already had two sons and two daughters. He trusted God to move the mountains that stood between us and this little one, and steadfastly pursued his adoption to bring him home to the family waiting for him.
We were forty-six and forty-eight when it became obvious that he was no longer so crazy about engineering (he could talk quite passionately about the design of HVAC systems), but had, rather, been consumed by a burning desire to save the orphans of the world. I watched him courageously walk away from his career; take a huge cut in pay (even as our family was growing each year), trusting God to provide all that he would need to care for his family; smile with confidence when some told him he was foolish and irresponsible to take such a step; and give up all hope of retirement to pursue his passion for finding families who would step out and make sons and daughters of orphaned children who were broken in body and spirit.
I’ve watched this man, upon hearing of a hurting child he will never meet, become so choked with emotion that he could barely speak.
Through the years, I’ve looked on as he wisely, firmly, lovingly counseled his sons about how to be men of integrity, how to prepare themselves for future wives; and as he looked into his daughters’ eyes, trying to assure them of their beauty and worth. Most nights, not even his teens manage to get off to bed without a hug from him.
I’ve seen him drop everything in order to devote hours at a stretch to talking and listening and teaching as he’s tried to ignite in his children’s hearts his own passion for knowing God and surrendering all of life to Him and His plans so that they could be free to be all that He has created them to be.
This man has loved his children with such intensity that he gave up any desires he might’ve had for his future fun or comfort to sit by their hospital beds year after year, whispering love into their ears as they fought wave after wave of pain like most of us will never know in this lifetime.
He has sung a billion songs to them over the years (Peter, Paul and Mary; Queen; Rich Mullins; Elton John; Beatles; Billy Joel; Chris Rice), made them laugh so hard sometimes that they could hardly catch their breath, and impressed them with his ability to still do headstands and leap over fences almost as easily as he could when he was in his twenties.
I’ve admired and respected him as I’ve seen him shed tears over his many faults and the things he wishes he had done differently. He has apologized to our children countless times through the years for the ways in which he has allowed stress and impatience to get the best of him. And he has served as a great example of how to apologize, repent, brush yourself off, and then get up and try again — learning from the mistakes and persevering in overcoming the weaknesses of character that we are all destined to carry through this life.
I’ve never loved him more than when I’ve seen him lovingly cradle in his arms one of his terrified and dangerously ill daughters, so drenched in her own vomit that it soaked through his clothes to his skin.
He has swept me off my feet by climbing triple bunk beds to play tooth fairy and won my heart forever by pulling muscles in his back while hoisting our precious one-hundred-pound Kathryn over his head so that he could gently toss her into bed — just to hear her laugh and to make her happy.
And he has always believed that he loves his children best by showing them how much he loves their mother. And how he has loved me!
In spite of the insanity that makes up our life, he tells me every day how much he loves me, how I’m the person he wants most to spend time alone with. He moves heaven and earth to protect our weekly dates, rarely lets me walk past him without grabbing me for a hug, and regularly insists that I dance with him while our children and grandchildren look on with giggles and shining eyes.
And every night, I fall asleep to the sound of his voice praying for our marriage, for our children’s futures, and especially for the hearts of our children who aren’t, yet, following this God we love and serve.
Now we are fifty-five and fifty-seven. Happy birthday to this man of mine. I will love you with all my heart until the day God says we’re done here. Thank you for choosing me when you were nineteen, for choosing me again nine years later when I thought we had lost each other, and for choosing me every day.
Thank you for being the kind of man who would do something like this.