27+ Years of Blessing, Part 1

Twenty seven years ago Libby and I were married in a school’s multi-purpose room with our friends and family looking on. It was a stressful but happy day. The morning was spent moving Libby’s belongings from the room she had been sharing with a friend to what was to be our new home…  someone needed to move into Libby’s old room ASAP. The afternoon was filled with all sorts of last minute errands to prepare for the wedding. We were one of the first couples in our peer group to get married. We didn’t have friends who would tell us the words we now repeat:

Do you know then best thing about the wedding?  When it’s done, you are married!! That’s all that matters. All the things that go wrong during the wedding will become favorite memories that you will laugh about five years from now.

A couple of hours before the wedding Libby returned to the house she had been living in to get cleaned up and get dressed. At the time she lived with 10-12 other women. The house had one good bathroom. Libby was so worried that with everyone getting ready for the wedding she wouldn’t get to take a shower. I assured her that her housemates would make sure she would be prepared in time for the wedding, and that included getting to take a shower. Libby did get to take a shower before the wedding.

That night we were married, and started a grand adventure together. We were married pretty young… Libby was 21 and still working on her undergrad degree. Libby was fond of saying we were married young, maybe too young, but we choose well.

In the first few years of our marriage were hard.  Most marriages to go through a difficult patch in the first few years  as the romantic dreams runs headlong into the realities of life together. There were a number of issues in our personal lives, and in life circumstances that seemed overwhelming. There were times when some of these issues, especially some that Libby brought into our marriage seemed like they might crush us and I became resentful, even bitter. In time, God’s mercy became evident, and healing in both our lives took place. I was once again able to see Libby clearly, to understand how precious she was, and how blessed I was to have her in my life. I was delighted to discover that Libby cherish me more than I could imagine. Sara Groves described coming through such a time in her song A Different Kind of Happy. As time has passed, I have come to cherish Libby all the more.

Five months ago I had to write something for Libby’s memorial program. How do you fit 30+ years of shared life and observations into a couple of paragraphs. How can you possibility figure out what is most important. Maybe someone who is a more gifted writer who thinks more deeply, could distill a life into a few paragraphs, but I sure couldn’t. When my dad passed ten years ago I wrote up a short tribute which I called lessons from dad. I wanted to write something like this for Libby because the memorial service program seemed to fall so short of capturing who Libby was… but I was unable to write anything. Today writing something down is coming a bit easier. This entry is my start to do justice to Libby’s memories. To start to pull together something that truly honors the women Libby was. I am sure there is much more to write.  The following are a few of Libby’s characteristics that I believe deserve to be mentioned with a few observations of how I was blessed by Libby.

This evening a friend wished me “happy anniversary”. These two simple words helped me realize that I had spent the day thinking of Libby… but it wasn’t a weepy sad day, but rather a day where I found myself marveling at how much of a blessing Libby was.  It was a happy anniversary.

Loyal & Sacrificial Love:

During high school I  heard Carole King sing “You’ve Got a Friend“. I thought this was my anthem, though I am not sure I actually lived up to all the lyrics. Libby wasn’t particularly fond of the song, but it described her life well. No one could be a finer friend than Libby. She was deeply devoted to all her friends. No effort, no cost, no sacrifice was too large. She did not give up on people, nor would she be driven away, even if you gave her crap in return for the love.  I can think of a number of people that Libby continued to love, support, confront, comfort, even when they responded very badly. Over time she might become fatigued,  her words could take on an edge, she could become prickly, but she wouldn’t give up. Libby was fond of saying “I am on your team.” This statement often preceded statements which could be taken as an attack, but never were. Rather, Libby was willing to enter conflict, something she HATED, if it would help a friend. She was on your team. She would do anything if it would mean that you would be helped.

I am fond of saying that I married up. No, not in the typical way of marrying someone with more money, education, status, or influence. I mean marrying someone who was better than me, more noble. Libby cherished me. To be honest, this still amazes me, and I am so thankful for her agreeing to marry me. Even when I hurt her deeply, she continue to love me, cherish me. She treated my heart is if it was the most precious object. Careful not to break it, yet willing to be be an attending nurse when painful surgery was required.

My most vivid memory of this was a conversation we had over twenty years ago. I can still remember exactly where were we sitting. I wanted to make some life changes. She told me that she was sure I was about to make a huge mistake, I was running from things I should turn and face… but she would support me, love me, be at my side even if I continued to make stupid choices. As she expressed her commitment to love me, to stick by my side, it became clear to me what a cost she would pay to support me in a bad decision. I don’t know that I have ever felt so loved. Her love gave me the courage to turn and face the things I was running from. In the ultimate irony, her willingness to sacrifice herself, saved her from experiencing that suffering because her love turned my heart.

Courage:

Libby did not shy away from hard things. She was prepared to face them head on.  She might be scared, feel overwhelmed, but if she thought something needed to be done or faced, she would lean into the discomfort. On the surface she had remarkable courage, but her heart was even more courageous. Libby had a very deep negative streak.  She had a remarkable ability to identify anything that could possibly go wrong and some things that couldn’t but she could imagine them breaking as well. Yet in spite of these terrible, worse case possible outcomes, she would find the courage to take a risk and step out to do what she felt she was called to do.

We would joke about what a good team we made. I am someone who typically assumes everything will work out, so I will sign up to take a risk without counting the cost. I would approach Libby and say “Lets give XYZ a try.” She would wrestle through all her fears and say “Ok.  Let’s do it.”.  I would be fine up until the the hard commitment was requirement, the preverbal “jump off the cliff moment” at which point I found myself saying “Oh my God, what have I gotten us into”. Libby would hold my hand, remind me why it was worth taking the risk and share with me all the issues she had to wrestle through. I would always find my spirit lighted as I laughed at some of the outrageous worse case scenarios she came up with. It was always easier to take a risk when you knew someone who loved you would be at your side.

A Devotion to God:

People operate on multiple levels and sometimes all those levels are synchronized well, sometimes things don’t work quite as your would expect.  On many levels, Libby was more devoted to following the Lord than anyone I knew. She desired to build her life around God, around Jesus. She continuously sought for ways to serve and to proclaim Him. Life was ministry.  She wanted to know the Lord intimately. The last ten years of her life she really benefits from the contemplative traditions she learned through Wellspring. She was devoted to practicing listening prayer. She longed to see the Lord clearly, to follow Him, to dance in His presence. Along side of this, Libby has a life long struggle with depression which often made it hard for her to find the joy in her Lord that she desired. One of the great comforts I had when she passed was that she is now seeing the Lord face to face, freed from the effects of sin, able to joyously worship her maker, to dance in His presence.

Libby’s love for me made me want to cherish her. If I was married to nearly anyone else, they would have become an idol to me. Someone that was more important than anything, including following God. I have seen how that can go so badly wrong in other people’s lives. Thankfully Libby was more devoted to the Lord than to me. When my focus shifted, she pointed me right back to  God. To please her, I needed to please the Lord. Libby was such a perfect provision for me. It was through Libby’s example that I found myself drawn to God. It was through her going to Heaven that I found my heart drawn to God in a new and deeper way.

I deeply miss Libby and find myself sometimes struggling with loneliness. It would be tempting to try and fill this longing with another person… but I am thankful that hasn’t happened. These last few months without Libby has helped me see more clearly God’s love, and provided me with a growing appreciating of how He cherishes me, how He cherishes all of us, and why Libby was so devoted. I am embarrassed to admit, in the past I might have traded closeness with God for a person who would cherish me as Libby did. I couldn’t do that now. The thrill of seeing God work, the comfort He has provided my heart has been so great. I couldn’t give that up. If there was any chance that a human relationship would take that away, I wouldn’t be interested. For a bit I feared this meant I would never again have a relationship that was as intimate as what I had with Libby. But I know this doesn’t have to be the case. I have Libby’s example. With prayer, with grace, with daily seeking the Lord, it’s possible to love someone dearly, to have them love you, and at the same time be deeply in love with our God. There is a lot I don’t know about the future, but one thing I know, that the Lord is slowly growing my heart, drawing me closer, I am growing more devoted to Him. I find that I am a bit more like Libby each day which makes my heart glad.

5 Comments

  1. Just read it again. Tissue please! And don't discount your ability as a writer Mark. I find your writing very insightful, articulate and moving. .. even your book reviews!

  2. The adventure you started with Libby 27 years ago is all about understanding that you are cherished. Marriage and the life with our earthly love reflect His love and His desire for us, The day to day living- the joys, the conflicts, the sharpening of one another- that turns into years mirror and prepare us for the day when we, like Libby, will be dancing before Him. Thanks, Mark- because your life is a reminder of His graciousness and for your willingness to be an open book.

  3. We are cherished. In the last month or so I came to understand how much being cherish, being beloved means to me… I expect all of us. Something I found very encouraging was seeing how in the Bible, the book of Ephesians we are referred to as God's beloved children. "Beloved" is the same word used in the the book of Luke that describes when the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus in bodily form like a dove, and a voice came out of heaven, "You are My beloved Son, in You I am well-pleased." Wow.

  4. You gave me a gift as I read your musings. Your words captured her so well – those memories and descriptions brought smiles to my face.You are indeed becoming "more like Libby every day." It is a privilege to have been and to be in each of your lives.

  5. I could see Libby's face again, just for a minute, as you described how she would talk to people when things got tough…. Looking forward to part 2.

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