Archive for July, 2011

365 days have passed since “the phone call” that changed everything and brought me back to my wife.  We now have just two final stops on the restoration tour.  Dreams do come true, and all things truly are possible to those who not only believe, but are willing to fight for what they believe in.

This year of restoration was all about healing and rebuilding.  It was a year of both of us saying up front, “I choose to forgive, and with God’s help, to forget.”  Either way, it was a choice that each of us made – to love unconditionally, even when it hurt – and with no guarantees of what the future would hold.  Love is always a choice, and if it really is love, it will stand through every test.

I can’t really imagine anything more appropriate than the fact that tomorrow, my wife and I will leave for Big Cedar Lodge for a second honeymoon.  We will be there during the exact period of time that I was moving back in and we were trying to figure out where we stood and what we were supposed to do last Summer.  At that time, both of us were wounded, fearful, and broken, but willing to take the chance that love really could not only save the day, but the rest of our lives.

That week, we tiptoed around and worried about all the unknowns, before ultimately talking everything through and beginning what has become known as the restoration tour.  This year, we will spend the week celebrating our reclaimed love, the healing of our hearts and minds, and everything that has become new and better in our marriage.  Yes, we are taking the honeymoon before the wedding, so to speak, but since we are already married, I don’t see a problem with that arrangement.

Big Cedar Lodge is a world-class resort near Branson, Missouri, where my wife used to work.  While in culinary school, she was hired to cook at one of their restaurants.  Eventually, she transferred to the bakery to pursue her real love, pastries.  She worked insane hours then, sometimes having to leave for work at 1:30AM and never really knowing when her shift might end.

In the winter, because of the remote location and the terrain, the employees sometimes got snowed in and had to stay overnight in one of the rooms.  During the terrible ice storm that we experienced while she was working there, there was a night when I thought perhaps I had lost her, even though this was long before she actually did leave me.

We had been without electricity for weeks and times were extremely difficult.  One night, my wife never called or came home.  Because of the road conditions, there was no way for me to go looking for her, and the highway patrol had no information, so I had to assume that she was ok, but not calling for whatever reason.  I figured that she was tired of living the way we had been and maybe some wealthy person at the resort had offered her an escape from it all.

I wouldn’t have blamed her had that been the case.  I wasn’t treating her right at the time, but she has far too much character to have done something like that.  The truth was, she had worked long past quitting time and then been sent to a room that was already occupied by other women who were also being made to stay.  There was no cell service and the room’s phone was unavailable, and she fell asleep without having the opportunity to call.

We went to Big Cedar as guests on two occasions once she was no longer employed there.  Both times, they were supposed to be really great, but didn’t quite turn out the way I hoped.  The first was over Mother’s Day and my wife’s birthday, and we got a two bedroom suite so that the kids could come.  We had fun, but there was also an edginess that betrayed the truth about where our relationship stood.

The second time, it was just the two of us, and it was supposed to be a very romantic getaway.  We brought lots of old musicals to watch and we actually got snowed in while we were there.  The rooms have kitchens and we cooked some great meals and watched the dvd’s while the snow piled up outside, but there was something missing between us.  We just didn’t have the closeness that two people who love each other should.

This time, it will be different.  This time, our dreams are all coming true, and when we return, we will say our new vows and rejoice with family and friends as the restoration tour arrives at its final destination.

Today I am simply in awe, and marveling at what God has done in our marriage.  To use a worn out cliché, “What a difference a year makes!”  Even as I sit here typing, with my wife curled up on the couch across the room, I understand what a miracle this is.  There are things I haven’t shared in this blog, either because they are outside the scope of what I am trying to do here, or too private and personal to put on the web for all to read, but I know in the deepest part of my heart that this is a gift I will never take for granted.

Today we ran some errands to try to find some last-minute things for our ceremony, which is now only a week away.  Next Saturday, we will renew our vows in a way that will probably only make sense to us, but this is our marriage, and we are the only ones who will ever really know what it means.  To paraphrase Alice in the new Disney version of Alice in Wonderland, “This is our path, and we will decide where it goes.”

The path that we often take while running or cycling is called the South Creek Trail, and it passes through a place called Nathaniel Greene Park.  It’s a very beautiful park and it has become quite meaningful to us, since fitness was one of the only things that we shared during our separation. It has continued to be a place we often find ourselves, and it is the site we chose for our renewal ceremony.

On the back side of the man-made lake, there are a series of playgrounds/picnic areas, and one of them has a cement table and chairs that are painted to look like colorful mushrooms.  We were playing there one day (yes, after our runs/rides, we sometimes play on the playgrounds) and the inspiration hit us.  It was as if we were sitting in wonderland.  My wife had already bought a huge, sparkly, orange dress to wear just for the fun of it, and there the idea of using the Mad Hatter’s tea party as the theme for our ceremony was birthed.

You see, this is not going to be a wedding.  This is going to be a celebration.  No one will give away the bride, and no minister will need to sign a marriage license, because we are already married.  We will say vows, which we are writing ourselves, and people will speak, but they will be a few people who were close enough to the situation to know and appreciate what this means.  We have also chosen a few songs that became important and meaningful to us during this year of restoration.

So there will be wedding-like elements, but without the tradition and formality of a wedding.  The people who speak will be people who stood firm with us when all seemed lost.  The songs that are played will be songs whose lyrics touch the heart of who we are and where we’ve been.  And the vows are necessary to replace the ones we have broken.

Mostly it is to be a party to celebrate our love with the people who are closest to us and understand how much this means.  Likewise, it is to be the culminating event of the restoration tour.  The entire past year has been leading to this.  All of the places we’ve been, the things we’ve shared and worked through, the tears we’ve cried, and the joys we’ve discovered will come together, and we will demonstrate, before God and those who gather to witness, that we choose each another again, both now and for always.

So I guess it’s time to take a walk-through of the restoration project.  We’ve reached the point where the “house” is almost finished, and there isn’t much left to do except double-check everything to make sure we haven’t missed anything and that all is complete and in good working order.  Before we put the finishing touches on it and consider it good, let’s see what we have.

We started in the Spring of 2010, where we found a once proud and beautiful home completely run down by years of neglect.  The wife was figuring out how to get out, while the husband was figuring out how to get to work.  We started with the broken wedding ring and began fixing and repairing from there.  The above mentioned husband (yours truly) continued to build love where it had fallen down and build himself up so that he was fit for the task.  That allowed him to begin to build his damaged wife back up, so that they together could eventually rebuild the proverbial house known as their relationship.

Just like there is a lot of ripping out of damaged wood, tearing off of old roofing materials, scraping paint, and sanding floors, so there were a lot of things that had to go from our marriage, and much of it was painful.  The “making new” process involves removing the old, and no matter how difficult or unpleasant, it must be done if the final product is going to actually be better than the old one, as opposed to only looking better.  Covering up the problems would never have saved or restored our marriage.

Just like that wedding ring, our new “house” is much stronger than the old one.  In California, where we recently spent some time, we found out that when older buildings change hands, they have to be retrofitted with building materials and techniques to help them withstand earthquakes.  These aren’t necessarily visible in the final product, nor do they inherently make the structure more aesthetically pleasing, but when destructive forces come against those structures, they have a far greater likelihood of remaining standing.  In some ways, I’m sure our marriage doesn’t look as bright and new as it did in 1996, but now it’s prepared to last for the long haul, no matter what the future may bring.

Exactly one year ago today, the final phase of tearing down and destroying the old was taking place.  As soon as that was done, the day forever known as “the phone call” ushered in the phase of building together.  Instead of me doing the restorative work alone for the purpose of saving the marriage, my wife and I began to restore our marriage together.  About a week into that process, the concept of the restoration tour was conceived and is now nearly complete.

Our lives, both together and as individuals, have been overhauled and now we have a newly restored marriage built on the basis of the original one.  It’s the same foundation, but nearly everything from the ground up has been redone to be better and stronger.  We’ve taken a year to focus, very intentionally, on that single purpose, with this blog serving as a type of documentation of the journey.

Some of the smaller, subtle changes don’t rate an entire blog entry, but are very significant to us nonetheless.  One of the early ones was when my wife began changing her logins on some of her online activity to reflect her new feelings about out marriage.  We also began using new nicknames and endearments for each other.  These just happened naturally, which was much more meaningful than if they had been something forced.

We’ve also become much more protective of each other.  One morning we were riding our bikes and an approaching car got too near my wife.  I yelled at the driver and my wife had never heard that type of fierce tone to my voice before.  She said it was kind of nice to know that I was that determined to protect her.  When we went to my daughter’s graduation, there was a moment where someone approached me while I was upset, and my wife spoke out that I needed a minute and she told the person to back off.  With all we’ve been through, and knowing what it means to have temporarily lost each other, we both have a fierce determination that no one and nothing is going to get too near us if it’s not good for us.

So, it happened… our California trip got too busy and I missed a couple of days of blogging.  I knew it was a possibility, but now we’re home again and about to finish up with the restoration tour.  We have one more major tour stop and that will take place next week.

It seems like the past year has gone by both really quickly and really slowly at the same time.  When I realize that the year of restoration is almost up, I can hardly believe it.  It seems like only yesterday that I was moving back in and we were putting the pieces of our lives back together.  At the same time, it seems like some of this happened so long ago that it just blends in with all the rest of our past that we share.

So much has changed and so much has remained the same.  The changes have been good and so very necessary.  They haven’t been changes for the sake of change, but they have severed the very roots of some deep-seated issues that we have battled, both as individuals and as a married couple, for much of our lives.  What has remained the same is the fact that we are still the same couple who married way back when, we still have the same memories and history from that marriage, and we are still creating the same legacy, although I believe it will now be even stronger than it would have been, had all of this not taken place.

The two days that we spent moving into our new loft were among the most blessed of all the restoration tour.  When my wife moved into the old loft, it began the most gut-wrenching, heart-tearing episode I’ve ever been through.  The restoration of that phase of our marriage meant as much to me as any part could have.  We had dreamed of having a loft apartment for years, but I never thought that we would end up with one the way that we did.

We spent quite a bit of time looking when we decided to move, and we considered numerous options.  When we walked through the one that is now ours, we both felt it, but it was my wife who leaned over and whispered, “I think this is the one.”  That was all I needed to hear and I told the agent we would take it.  Then, of course, there was the agonized waiting to see if we would be approved, but we were and we decided to move in early, since it was ready.

Our home

We reserved the moving truck, recruited people to help, and everything was all set.  The morning before, we went to a downtown breakfast cafe that we really enjoy and had a leisurely breakfast.  Then we went to the utility company to have the power switched over to the new place.  It sounds silly, but I can’t tell you what a joy it was, and how much it meant to my heart when we stood at the same counter where she had set up utilities only in her name less than a year before and I heard her say, “my husband” when the lady asked her if anyone else would be living at the new address.

We picked up the keys together and started taking some things over in the car that afternoon and evening.  We mainly wanted to get in and take some measurements and kind of get an idea of where things would go when we brought the furniture the next day. We also brought some of the very fragile things and items that might not do well in the moving  truck.

The next morning, we got the truck and did the main moving.  It went really quickly and we were pretty much done by lunch time.  My wife is amazing at unpacking and organizing, and she almost had everything put away where it belonged by the time the truck was empty.  She just stayed in the loft, told everyone where to put things as they came in the door, and started opening boxes and putting things up.

After it was all wrapped up and I had taken the truck back, I picked up a bottle of Champagne and some strawberries, the same things we had shared when she moved into the old loft.  This time, there was no hidden heartbreak underneath the smile, and no fear of what the future would look like.  Champagne has always been a celebratory drink, and we had so much to celebrate and be thankful for.

It’s been a very busy time in California, so the blog is coming in late again this evening.  After three days in wine country, we saw a Giants game in San Francisco, then went to Morro Bay to spend a few days with my brother and his family.  We visited San Luis Obispo, a beautiful town that was once reported in a study to have the happiest people in the country, and, of course, we spent time at the beach.

My wife is a very silly person, and we’ve had a lot more fun since getting back together than we ever used to.  Once I learned to stop trying to make her into what I thought she should be and just started accepting her and loving her for who she is, it was amazing how things changed.  During our separation, the first sign that things were really changing was when the laughter started coming back into our relationship.

We hadn’t really laughed together for a long time.  There were times when I wondered if I even remembered how.  In those months when I threw everything into loving her with all my being, the laughter returned.  There were times that we laughed so much, I couldn’t imagine how we had ever gotten so far off track.   I also couldn’t imagine how we could laugh like that and still not be back together, but my wife still had some things she needed to work through and she just wasn’t finished with that process yet.

Today, we spent the day at Yosemite National Park.  It was a place that she really wanted to go, and it meant a lot to experience it together.  It is so vast and breathtaking that we only saw a small part of it in the six hours or so we were there.  We ate a picnic lunch at the top of glacier peak, climbed up to one of the waterfalls amidst the spray, and explored some of what the park has to offer.  On the way back, we ate at a Mexican restaurant, then laughed and acted silly all the way back to Fresno, where my brother lives.

During this whole trip, we’ve spent a lot of time feeling the healing power of love and laughter.  We take silly pictures of each other, like the ones we took today with the huge stuffed bear in the park gift shop.  We joke about anything and everything while riding in the car.  There is a freedom that hasn’t always been there, and it brings us closer together when we play and laugh.

As tired as we’ve been from all the activity and the time change, we haven’t gotten grouchy or snapped at each other.  My body has been totally wiped out during a lot of this trip from all the sun and being on a completely different time schedule than usual, but my spirits have been bright because of all the fun we’ve had.  I still have a hard time letting go sometimes, but I see how much it brings my wife closer to me when I do.  Yes, Yakov Smirnoff, it’s true – where there is love, there is laughter, and where there is laughter, there is love.

Chicago is not only one of our favorite cities, it’s also one of my wife’s favorite musicals.  While I will readily admit that it was not only not one of my favorites, but one that I really disliked for a long time, I have come around to it over the years.  I still don’t like the storyline, but watching my wife dance around the kitchen while she cooks and listens to the soundtrack is one of life’s true pleasures.

For a long time in our marriage, I didn’t share my wife’s love of the theater and of musical productions.  I tolerated her buying soundtracks and I listened to her tell me that she wanted to go see productions onstage, but never took it seriously or ever really considered going to plays.  I didn’t see it as something that was worth spending the money on, so I just avoided it and she never pushed.

She has pretty much always been willing to try to let me get to do the things that I like, even when she has no interest in them.  Sometimes she has gone with me and learned to participate in some of my hobbies like golf or fishing, and other times she has just encouraged me to go because she knows they are things that I like to do.  I have been the more selfish person in the earlier years of our marriage, and if I didn’t want to do something, it pretty much wasn’t going to happen.

When we moved downtown, we were very close to the theaters and would always walk by the posters for the upcoming productions.  Around the time that we got back together, our little theater was putting on Cats and my wife really wanted to go.  I wasn’t really interested, but part of our new relationship was trying to be unselfish and giving her what she wanted and needed, so I was willing.

I procrastinated buying the tickets so badly that when we finally went, it was to the very last show and we could only get standing room tickets.  Despite my blowing it with not getting us seats, she still loved the play, and it really affected me to see the way her face lit up and how much she enjoyed the experience.  It was our first time to the theater together, but it wouldn’t be our last.

When December came, we planned to go to the production of Miracle on 34th Street.  Once again, I put it off and put it off until I finally discovered that there were no more shows that had two seats together left for sale.  We weren’t going to go and not sit together, so we ended up missing it altogether.

I knew that they were putting on Chicago in April of 2011 and after these two disappointments with trying to get tickets at the last minute, I knew I couldn’t take the chance with Chicago.  I went to the box office before Christmas and bought the tickets and gave them to my wife for a 12 days gift.  On the one hand, it was somewhat lame in that she got them for Christmas, but the play wasn’t for four months.  On the other hand, it showed her that I realized how important it was to her and that I was making it a priority to make sure that she got to go and there was no worry or stress over tickets or seats.

Not only did she get to see Chicago and loved it, but we have since made it to a number of productions and it has become something that we both enjoy and look forward to. I bought her a Chicago poster that was signed by the entire cast and now hangs on the wall in our loft.  I gave her something you can’t buy, and that is the gift of fulfilling one of her wishes and desires.

I can only take credit for a few of the ideas in this blog.  Most of them, I got from other people.  For Valentine’s Day, I searched through dozens of people’s blogs, read books, and talked to people to find ideas.  What came out of all that was a combination of lots of other people’s ideas with my own interpretations.

After the Saturday evening massage. and after my wife was asleep, I snuck out of bed and set up some things for in the morning.  I had a bunch of confetti that I had cut out of some red, pink, and white paper, and I scattered it throughout our loft. Then I put a piece of paper on the floor to look as though it had been slipped underneath the door.

At the top, in bold print, it said “Official Notice.”  The paragraph under that was written in the language of a court paper.  One of the few benefits of having gone through divorce and child custody fights was knowing how to make the paper seem legitimate.  My goal was to make her think first of all, that it was from the landlord, and then that it was some kind of summons after she started to read.

What it actually was, was a declaration of my love for her.  Each paragraph started with “whereas,” as though it had been prepared by an attorney, but instead of being legalities, it was things that her love meant to me and had done for me.  I knew that when she got out of bed and went down the stairs in the morning, she would find it.  She did, and it worked exactly the way I intended it to.  It still sits up against her mirror where she gets ready every morning.

I took her to the “Beauty And The Beast” play that afternoon, which was wonderful.  Then I bought all the ingredients to make a seafood dinner and we went back to the loft where I cooked for her.  I served it to her in courses with a good white wine and it turned out to be more than we could eat. I also made a dessert called “Cupid’s Pie” that I found a recipe for out of a cheesecake crust, ice cream, cool whip, and cherries.

For a gift, I had a small metal box that said “You and Me” on the sides and also had hearts on it.  It was actually supposed to come with the purchase of a watch at Macy’s, but I talked a lady at the jewelry counter out of one.  In it, I put romantic coupons for the upcoming year.  All of these things were simple, but meaningful.  I didn’t have to spend a lot of money, but I didn’t go cheap either.  I chose things that would make the day special, and sought to create some lasting memories, rather than just another dinner and bouquet of flowers.

I did have the bouquet of flowers delivered to her at work on Monday, the actual Valentine’s Day, but that was mostly because she likes the attention that it brings from the other women who work there.  It was the best Valentine’s Day ever, but not because of an expensive piece of jewelry or an elaborately planned date. Those things wouldn’t have meant near as much as being known and loved by someone who took the time to make it special on her terms did.