Ed. Note: This is part of a larger project I’m currently working on that chronicles my journey through grief from March 2013, when Kristen died, to June 2016, when I married Lauren. The past three years have been the hardest of my life, but through it all, my faith in Jesus Christ has grown in ways I never could have imagined. If the right opportunity presents itself, I hope to publish a book that will encourage others to never give up on GOD. He is good, especially during the storms, when it can feel like He’s far away.
It’s evening. The kids are playing, I’m resting on the couch, and Lauren is cooking dinner. She doesn’t like to cook, but she does it anyway because she knows how much I appreciate it. For three years I dreaded dinnertime. I would often forget to plan ahead, and by the time we were all hungry it was too late to go to the store, navigate the grocery aisles, wait in line, check out, drive back home, and make something we would all eat. Five o’clock meant scrambling to the pantry to find something for everyone to eat (usually cereal or macaroni and cheese). Dinnertime was an unpleasant reminder of what I had lost, so I used to hate it.
We sit down at the table in our spotlessly clean dining room. The room has never been this clean. Ever. I guess I had gotten used to the piles of clothes, partially-opened storage boxes, and scattered mail. But Lauren doesn’t like clutter; it’s too chaotic for her. Everything has to be stored in its place, and if we don’t need it, we don’t keep it. We either give it to someone else or throw it away. I used to hang on to too many things, like a hoarder in training. All that stuff either anchored me to the past or promised to be useful in the future. But if I wouldn’t be using it in the present, then in most cases it was time to share it with someone who would. I like stuff, but I like my wife more, so I do my best to keep everything neat and tidy. I want to make Lauren happy.
As we prepare to eat, we always say the blessing. We would have nothing and we would be nothing without Almighty God, so we pause to give thanks and take each other’s hands. Sometimes Ian doesn’t want to, but we make him anyway. It’s important to come together as a family and stand united as we give praise. No matter what happens, we will always love and support one another. Life’s just too short to take each other for granted. I should know. So as we hold hands, I thank God for giving us this time to be together and share a meal. I thank Him for all that He has done and all that He is going to do. I pray He will use us to reach those who don’t know about Jesus and to give us wisdom as we journey through life. Before I say “Amen,” I give Lauren’s hand a little squeeze. Nothing in the world compares to praying with my wife.
It’s warm in the dining room. The heat from the kitchen radiates in, but it’s not uncomfortable. The food tastes great (it always does), a fact I remind Lauren of every day. She just smiles and responds in her cutesy way, “You’re precious!” Lauren finishes eating first—she is such a teacher, trained to eat an entire meal in less than 5 minutes—but the rest of us follow close behind. Ian can be a little stubborn at his age, more interested in playing with his food than eating it, but we keep him on track. He is only 3, after all. Elizabeth is getting better at eating all of the food we give her. She used to be so worried about eating too much and then feeling sick afterward. She has dealt with a lot of difficult emotions these past three years. It’s been hard to see her struggle, knowing that I can’t always be with her to carry her through those difficult times. Her wounds run deep, but her empty plate tells me those scars are slowly healing, and that brings me such joy. I know having Lauren in our lives has helped tremendously. She has brought a renewed sense of hope, and I am grateful for that.
As Elizabeth and Ian run off to play, Lauren and I clean the table and load the dishwasher. Then we talk about our day. I never tire of hearing my wife share all the things she has done, the people she has talked to, or the work she has accomplished. She has a way of making everything seem fun and exciting. Her optimism and zeal are obvious and infectious, and there’s no one I’d rather be with. Then I share the details of my far more boring life, of the research I’ve conducted and the writing I’ve completed. My face lights up as I relay some new discovery I’ve made in the archives, of something no one has ever realized or considered before. I sound rather geeky, but Lauren doesn’t care. She’s not bored at all and listens patiently, even asking me follow-up questions. I love it when she asks questions I can answer brilliantly. It thrills my soul.
The sun is setting, but light still trickles in through the living room blinds. I turn on the ceiling fan to circulate some air. There’s just something about a breeze that calms my spirit. We let the kids play a bit longer but then it’s time for baths. Lauren is very diligent that they bathe at least every other day. I can’t honestly say that I ever met that standard before she came into my life. Bath time was always a challenge for me. It usually entailed lots of whining and tears, as neither kid wanted water in their face (but how else am I supposed to wash their hair and clean their faces?) If I could have left them alone in the tub and gone off to do something else around the house, then that would have been great, but I knew better than to try that. It never takes them long to make a mess. One of them would pour water onto the floor, while the other would get out of the tub to go use the bathroom, leaving watery footprints everywhere. Every mess was mine to clean up. And when they had finished, I’d have to dry them off and dress them quickly, brush their teeth and hair, and read them each a story. Bath time to bed time was the longest 30 minutes of every day. I used to dread it. But Lauren patiently bathes each of our children and gets them ready for bed. Frankly, I’m in awe of how easily she does it. She makes it look easy.
It’s so nice to be part of a team. We work together and support one another because we want to. There’s no sense of obligation, no contract to fulfill or duty to serve. We simply choose to show our love by making each other’s lives better. It’s a wonderful thing, an incredible blessing. It’s like nothing I’ve ever experienced before. Maybe it’s because of the tragedies we went through before we met. Maybe it’s because we’re a little older and a little wiser now. Who knows. But one thing I do know is that God brought us together, and that changes everything about our relationship. Lauren is my gift from the LORD. The best way I know to thank Him for sending her into my life is to treat her with the utmost love and respect. She is my partner, and I cherish her with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength.
We turn off the TV and begin to calm down. It’s important to lower the commotion so that everyone can relax before bed. Sometimes I read a story to Ian while Lauren reads one to Elizabeth, and then each of us prays for one of the kids before tucking them in. Elizabeth and Ian are used to their bedtime routines, so after stories and bedtime prayers, they know it’s lights out. But neither one of them will go to sleep before kissing Mommy goodnight. It’s really sweet. They love Lauren deeply. To Ian, she’s the only mother he’s ever known. To Elizabeth, she’s the mother she needs. To me, she’s the answer to my prayers. I tried to be father and mother to my kids, but I couldn’t do it. I never could figure out how to be both loving and exacting, kind and stern, gentle and tough, nurturing and authoritative. Even when I occasionally succeeded, it felt more like a fluke than a habit. There were cracks in the parenting my kids received, and I wasn’t equipped to change that. I needed a wife who could step into our lives, fill in those gaps, and improve the overall foundation. Lauren has done that and more, and my love for her continues to expand.
The sun is gone. The stars begin to twinkle in the night sky. Lauren’s dog, Harley, barks because that’s what she does at night (much to my chagrin). And the kids are finally tucked in bed. Lauren and I use the time alone to watch TV—anything except cartoons or Disney—and enjoy our quality time together. Whether we’re sitting on the couch or just lying in bed, I can’t help but smile when I look at her. Lauren is everything I ever dreamed of. The tall blonde who is just as beautiful on the inside as she is on the outside. An independent and capable woman who knows how to get things done and refuses to settle for mediocrity (seriously, Lauren is so competitive that she excels at everything she pursues. Everything!) But more importantly than any personal attribute, Lauren is a devout and devoted follower of Jesus Christ. Her faith challenges me to grow spiritually, and I am honored and blessed to be her husband. We pray together, serve together, and worship together. It’s wonderful. Absolutely wonderful. And I couldn’t have asked for a better person to be my wife.
It’s evening. Lauren and I turn out the lights and turn on the fans; the monotony of their soft hum is relaxing. We kiss each other goodnight and say “I love you.” I know she means it, and she knows I do, too. I sleep easy knowing that I’ll soon see her in my dreams. And when I wake up in the morning, I’ll be lying next to the woman I love, the mother of our children, and the answer to my prayers. I know it’s going to be a good day.