Hard to believe that it was just over ten years ago that I attended the first ward event of the 2002-2003 school year for my Heritage Halls ward at Brigham Young University. I felt a pang of disappointment as I surveyed this year’s buffet of men. No, I didn’t believe I had any future with a Mormon man, but it was always fun to look, and this yearly crop wasn’t giving me much to look at. Finally my eyes rested on a stand-out in the crowd. He was tall and thin with pale blue eyes, a handsome face, and short, curly black hair. And he… Oh my gosh, is he looking at me?! Our eyes met. I quickly looked the other way and tried to pretend I hadn’t been checking him out. Well, at least there’s one guy in this ward who isn’t short and ugly, I thought.
Fourteen months later (hey, this was Utah) and we were saying “I do” at a small Pentecostal church in Provo. Nine years later and we’re still here.
Interfaith marriage is hard. I didn’t do an anniversary post last year, in part because we’d had a large religion-related fight in October that had put a chill on our relationship, and every time I sat down to try and write about our marriage, I got a knot in my throat and had to stop. It happens sometimes. There are times when I mourn the choice that I made and long to be united with someone who can really connect with me spiritually.
Parenting is hard. Parenting a disabled child is harder. My daughter goes to physical therapy tomorrow. On Monday she goes to Chicago to be evaluated for ADD/ADHD/Aspergers/Autism. In the next 6-8 weeks, she’ll have a fourth surgery, the second surgery on her cleft palate. So obsessed with producing perfect babies is our culture, it hurts so much when there is something “wrong” with your child. It hurts to be the only parent who has to accompany her daughter to Girl Scouts or other children’s programs because the leaders cannot handle her on her own, because she’s a “one-on-one.” It hurts when the parents of healthy children try to be empathetic, and you just want them to shut up because they really don’t get it.
Sometimes I look at my daughter and I ask myself, “Would you have avoided having her had you known there was going to be something wrong with her?” I don’t mean amniocentesis & abortion. I mean, if I could have been prescient before I ever conceived her, and chosen to avoid having her because of her health problems, would I have chosen not to have her? The answer is always, Not a chance. It doesn’t matter that there’s something wrong with her. It doesn’t matter that she isn’t perfect. She is wild-hearted and playful and she brings me love and happiness and joy, and what I have with her is worth the pain.
I feel the same way about my marriage. Yes, it’s irreparably flawed. Yes, it was a bad idea. But what we have together is worth the pain. In some ways, it’s fitting that we have the daughter we do. She is the perfect reflection of our most imperfect union. And in some ways, it reminds me of God, who must have known that there was going to be something deeply wrong with humankind, and yet chose to create us just the same.
The separation and near-divorce that I went through over eight years ago taught me a lot about my marriage. Idly do couples talk about how they need one another, how they cannot live without the other. Before Paul left me, I would have said the same. But after he left me, I learned something. I can live without him. I don’t need him. I know how to get out of this if I ever want to, and I know I’ll survive it. I stay with him because I choose to stay with him, because I want him in my life. To me, that is a greater compliment to him than feeling as though I have no choice in the matter, because I am a slave to my passion for him.
Back in August, in his attempts to trace the causes of my anxiety, my doctor asked me how my marriage was going. I didn’t have to think very hard about how to answer that question. “My marriage is like wine,” I said. “It just gets better with age.” And I meant it.
Happy anniversary, Paul. There’s no one else that I would rather be journeying through the rest of my life with.