In celebration of today’s Valentine’s Day release of The Heart of Marriage, I want to share an unpublished story I originally wrote for the final section in the book, Writing Our Love Story. When another author became available for this section at the last minute I removed this to make room for it.
I didn’t mean to fall for you that May.
A few short months from leaving for an Ivy League school 1800 miles from my Arkansas home, falling in love was the last thing I wanted. I intended to set the world on fire and honestly, you didn’t fit into my plans. Maybe deciding when to fall in love is like deciding when to have a baby: there’s never a good time.
Two of my girlfriends and I knocked on your parents’ door that Friday night. We went to rival high schools, but your brother Allan was one of my best friends. (We lost him too soon.) He wasn’t home, but you received your high school yearbook that day and were eager to show it off. I sat on the couch with you and your parents and flipped pages for at least 45 minutes while Jackie and Danielle looked at their watches and wondered why we didn’t leave. Maybe I wondered too. Now I don’t.
Allan and I set up blind date for prom between one of his best friends and one of mine. When he and his friend returned home from freshman year of college, we planned opportunities for the prom couple to get to know each other in advance. You and I still needed to study—it was the final month of our junior and senior years of high school (I fell for a younger man!)—and we often sat at your dining room table with our books while the others laughed and talked in another room. Somewhere along the way our need to study transitioned into a need to get to know each other better.
Before we met, your brother Allan and I used to talk about setting you up with my sister. It sounded like a good idea at the time, matchmaking a younger brother with a younger sister. Until the day when it didn’t sound like such a good idea anymore. One day I told my girlfriends, “Allan says his brother has a crush on me.” We’d spent a lot of time studying together in your dining room and clearly your brother thought you were smitten.
“Who’s got a crush on who?” they laughed, comprehending the state of my heart before I did.
I learned the meaning of lovesick when I left for New Hampshire in late summer. We agreed to date other people—and we both tried—but it was no good. We were too far gone. I thought my future was tied up in a neat little bow; you tugged it loose and tethered my heart to yours with the slack of the string.
After spending Christmas break at home it was hard to return to school, and so I withdrew from college and came back to you again in January. My parents must have wondered what happened to their focused, goal-oriented daughter. Maybe I did too. Or maybe my focus realigned.
You asked me to marry you in March and we returned to New Hampshire again in August. We married on a cool October day in the school chapel on a Friday morning when classes were cancelled so students could travel to Cambridge for the Dartmouth Harvard football game. I remember how our photographer paused, waiting to capture a more serious look on my face, but I couldn’t wipe away the smile. We drove away in your little blue Celica, which just became ours, Just Married painted on the back window and cans dangling from the bumper.
Afterward we drove into the White Mountains; passed the Old Man of the Mountain, a stone face carved by God himself; and honeymooned at a resort that apparently just lost power. We didn’t understand why they asked if we wanted a candle. Later the power returned and I even made you watch a Sherlock Holmes movie at one point; movies have always been part of our story. I’m glad we chose October, a perfect month to celebrate anniversaries.
Family took us back to Arkansas and school brought us to Georgia, where we grew roots. We’ve lived here longer than anywhere else. I remember when we only owned one car and you took me to school in the morning and I picked you up from work in the evening, after midnight, with a sleeping toddler in his carseat. We were so broke we ate instant pancakes most nights and saved all the milk for Jacob, our oldest and only child at the time. We struggled as strangers in a strange land barely seeing each other, schedules arranged so that one of us would always be available to take care of our son, but with little time together.
We’ve lived some lean, hard times interspersed with grace notes of abundance, but our years have been fruitful and God has blessed us with eight children to show for them. Our faith has been tested, sometimes hope hard to hold, and we can testify that parenthood is certainly not for cowards. Oh, my word, no.
Your constant faith gives wings to my dreams. No matter how crazy I sound, I always know you’ve got my back. You’re my support and enabler (in the best possible way). I’ve done things I never would have attempted simply because you believe I can do anything.
I thought I knew what I was doing and where I was going all those years ago with an Ivy League acceptance letter in hand and a head full of dreams. I revised those dreams—willingly—for you, but it took time to realize you are their fulfillment. I didn’t stumble upon you like a lucky penny: you are a gift divine. You were always a gift.
It’s true I never meant to fall for you, back when you were barely more than a boy and I was barely more than a girl. You caught my eye and then you caught me. I’m glad we’ve grown up (sort of) and will grow old (eventually) together. I still choose you.
How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of being and ideal grace.
Elizabeth Barrett Browning, “How Do I Love Thee?” (Sonnet 43)
Sign up here to download the Heart of Marriage poster and the soon-to-be-released book study guide!