"Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us."
Today is our 25th Wedding Anniversary.
Exceedingly abundant are the words running through my mind as I reflect upon our journey thus far. Our journey that seems like just yesterday in some ways. In others, a lifetime ago.
Someone commented to me regarding their invitation to our Silver Anniversary Camo-cake & cookie reception we are having in honor of that milestone... They said, "So, you're throwing yourselves a reception..." I'm sure they meant nothing by it, but I was somewhat taken aback by that statement...as if this were just another anniversary, no biggie. I guess it is just another anniversary, but to me, to us, it is a biggie. We are proud of this achievement. We know what it took to get here, what it will take to get to the Golden one -- and you bet your bloomers we're celebrating. This isn't a participation trophy we're getting for simply being married. This is an achievement award we have earned. The hard way. With much hard work. With few rewards. Except for those rewards that center on the pride of knowing the true meaning of commitment, Never Quit.
According to statistics, 50-70% of all marriages where there is a child, youth, or adult with a disability end in divorce.
"Unfortunately, according to available statistics, the chronic stress it produces is more likely to cause a couple to pull apart than pull together. The divorce rate for marriages with a disabled child is estimated at between 50 and 70 percent. The only heavier stress on a marriage is the death of a child, which destroys 90 percent of marriages. After hearing all the bad news, couples should be forewarned that they must commit to do the hard work of finding a better solution to handle the inevitable stresses that will inevitably come up if your child's special needs are anything other than short-lived."
For many years in knowing those statistics - and in unfortunately seeing those statistics lived out all around us -- on the rare occasion when we could go out to dinner on our Anniversary, we did a little toast to "beating the odds" one more year. Those are some pretty tough odds to beat, too. Considering that studies have shown that the stress involved in caring for a child who has autism is comparable to that experienced by a combat soldier.
They found that a hormone associated with stress was extremely low, consistent with people experiencing chronic stress such as soldiers in combat, the researchers report in one of two studies published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. “This is the physiological residue of daily stress,” says Marsha Mailick Seltzer, a researcher at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who authored the studies. “The mothers of children with high levels of behavior problems have the most pronounced physiological profile of chronic stress, but the long-term effect on their physical health is not yet known.”
Each warrior mom and dad knows all too well the long-term effect on that physical health. I especially do in having a stress fracture in my back. I share those sobering facts because in order for me to fully appreciate what this day represents and why indeed we view it as a celebration, I must first look back at all our marriage has been through.
And its been through some stuff!
I have to laugh typing this how naive we were on our Wedding Day, June 25, 1988. We knew nothing about love as a commitment. Only love as a feeling. We knew nothing about the meaning of the vows we so eagerly recited. We had our dreams of "for better." Which to us meant perfect jobs, perfect kids, perfect house, perfect life. It never, ever would have occurred to me that to truly understand "for better" you must first go through "for worse." And for a mother/wife, there is nothing worse than watching your child suffer through the pain of gastrointestinal disease, the gasping of breath in the choking and convulsing of seizures. For a father/husband, there is nothing worse than having a tool in your garage to help you fix anything, but not one that can help heal your son. Stop his pain. Help him talk.
We are, our marriage is, all the better for having gone through some of the worse of the worse. It's funny that in our "courtship days" we would always end our letters with "One Way" - meaning so many things at the time - none of which had anything to do with the road through hell as some of our autism journeys seemed to be. But there again, the saying "When you're going through hell, just keep going!" - got us through. I guess our "One Way" saying still does apply after all these years!
So very many things about those vows mean so much more now. "To have and to hold..." We figured we'd have children - not autism. Broken windows from baseballs, not broken teeth from seizures. The commitment it takes to hold on when at times it would be easier to just let go - oh my goodness how much that has taught me! I'm not sure about other marriages in life with autism, but in ours, there was no time or money to seek counseling if we felt we needed to, or go to marriage enrichment seminar's. There was no childcare so we could even go if we wanted to. So many people depend on everything else to solve their problems for them, except for themselves. So dependent on quick fix books. Feel good seminars. And then when the fun wears off and things get tough -- there's the drive-thru divorce. It quite frankly makes me mad. We had none of those things and divorce simply was never an option. Our marriage license had no escape clause, disclaimer, or warranty that expired. Our promise was a promise and forever meant forever. We had to work things out on our own in between leaky gut episodes, humming, seizures, humming, autism, humming, meltdowns, humming. There were no regular "date nights" to keep that candle burning. We had to learn to appreciate a good flicker at best at times. What there was, was a whole lot of shift reports in the changing of the guard and "tag" you're it - don't leave a mess and don't let him escape. There was mind-numbing insanity of "lights on" "lights off" - "water on" "water off" - "close door" "close door" "close door" - lather, rinse, repeat. There was a huge figure for someone so underweight who incessantly stood in front of the t.v. right when the game winning field goal in triple overtime was kicked. Shoot, there were even months our candle was a glowing ember at best!
But it was going through those times where we learned how to love and to cherish. We didn't love the hard times, but they sure helped to define how very much we cherished the good times and the few times we've had a respite opportunity for just us.
I think if I were to write our vows today, they would have to include laughter in there somewhere. I think perhaps that has been the key to surviving this crazy, mad, wonderful journey. The humor of how when all else is "non-recoverable" and fails -- you simply just laugh. I would also change them from, "To have and to hold," to instead, "In faith and with much HOPEISM." Reflecting how our early, naive, worldly dreams have been replaced by the meaning and purpose in our motto of Choosing Happy. Living Joyfully. Following Christ. Wearing Camo.
Team Guppy has fought to preserve our marriage with the mentality of NDCQ and Never Quit -- while wearing Camouflage & Combat Boots, of course! We've learned that "for richer or poorer" has nothing to do with money. Richer is the person who knows that happiness isn't about having a big house filled with perfect kids and lots of things. It's not about being successful. It's about choosing happy no matter what the circumstance. It's about living joyfully in the middle of such sorrow at times. It's about not following the Jones' but following Christ. It's not about having a lot of money, but in what you do with the money you have. Poorer is the person who has never given to those who need. Who has never given of themselves to help another who cannot thank or repay them. Our marriage has taught us the lesson of unselfishness. And what we didn't learn about unselfishness from our marriage, we sure learned it from autism and our autism community.
It's nothing short of amazing to me how much more than just the basic stuff our marriage has endured. Not just typical chaos, but over-the-top-you-just-can't-make-this-stuff-up crazy chaos. Marriages need the most attention, however in our "Life with Autism" it has received the least. If at times, for weeks at a time, - any attention at all. I can get really sad in thinking about that. So I'll try not to look back through all those years since autism and stare at what was missed. It's yet another thing that typical marriages could never fathom. How many months upon months we've not had the opportunity for a date night. For carefree walks holding hands. For conversation... And until God chooses to heal our son -- we might never have those opportunities except as rare occasions to cherish thanks to the respite of others.
So yes... Yes we are celebrating this day. Our crazy, mad, wonderful journey that brought us to this crazy, mad, wonderful day. We've fought the good fight for it. We're going to thank God for it, and savor it. Then this Sunday evening we're going to share it with dear friends and family who will be here. We're going to light the unity candle that we first lit in the church during our wedding ceremony so long ago...
Our son and his new wife just celebrated their 1st Anniversary in the "Beginning of their Forever" and here Todd and I are celebrating our 25th Anniversary - our Silver Anniversary - with the "Renewal of our Forever." I can hardly believe that. I can't wait for them to get to this day that perhaps for them at times they thought might never come; then when it does, when they are in that moment as we are -- to look back with such humble pride of accomplishment. Such strength of commitment.
~ ~ ~
Happy Anniversary Todd! Let's continue on our "One Way" journey to our Golden Anniversary, shall we? And in the meantime, do you realize that over the years we've had more date nights in doctors offices, emergency rooms, and hospital day surgery waiting rooms, than at romantic restaurants? Do you realize that we've had more vacations apart - one of us with Matthew and the other home with Brandon -- than all of us together? Here's to the HOPEISM that we truly and for it's-really-going-to-happen real - get to change that!
I am so happy happy happy that God gave me you, and I couldn't agree more with the words Miranda Lambert spoke at the beginning of this song:
We've made it through...the unthinkable...we've made it through everything we could possibly make it through. I know that we have a lot more trials & tribulations to go, but I'm ready to continue with you on our journey...
I love you!
Click here for "God Gave Me You" video