My husband has been married to at least five different women—and they’re all versions of me.
His first wife was the 21-year-old version of me, who was a fit and focused college athlete. She was a driven, perfectionist dream-chaser. She was ready to push and sacrifice to chase the dream. No challenge was too hard—but then again, the hardest thing in her life was her organic chemistry final. She had the eternal optimism that comes with naivety and innocence. She loved him with eagerness and couldn’t wait to build a life with him. He often still daydreams of this first wife.
Somewhere between graduate school and parenthood, that lively, spry, innocent dreamer left him.
His second wife was a new mother.
She was striving to live the American Dream. Great job. Cute house. Adorable little family. She was adjusting to what it meant to give every ounce of her being to tiny humans who couldn’t survive without her. In addition to the monumental demands of parenthood, she was taking on new responsibilities of a professional career, a mortgage, and student loan payments. She was really just getting her feet under her as she took on the things that come with adulthood. She was hopeful and driven, but she was also wrestling in a new way with the tensions between dreams and responsibilities. There was a lot to take on, but together they were setting themselves up to live a lifetime of all their dreams come true.
That wife left abruptly on the day her second child died.
His third wife was a very heartbroken woman. She struggled to do the daily tasks of living. She didn’t feel like much of a parent, hardly able to care for her own needs, let alone those of a toddler. She no longer cared much about dreams like great jobs, a beautiful home, or athletic pursuits. The world no longer made sense to her. The God she thought she knew had betrayed her. She didn’t want to live in a world that was dominated by grief that bore to the depths of her soul. Her heart was guarded and she was afraid to live and love, because she knew how much that could hurt. Yet, in all her pain, she was also a companion for his grieving heart too, for no one else knew and loved that little boy like they did. They held onto each other, surviving each day—one day at a time.
This third wife walked away slowly. So slowly it was almost imperceptible, and it was hard to tell she had gone until she had been gone for quite some time.
Someone new had shown up . . . a woman who was learning that love was worth the risk.
His fourth wife was the mom of a houseful of young children. She was sleep deprived, there was spit-up and snot on every outfit she wore, applesauce and peanut butter smears on the furniture. She felt like no matter how hard she tried, she never had it all together. After caring for small children all day, she longed for conversation with another adult, but when he came home from work she would eagerly hand the children to him and escape to a different room. The desire to not be needed or touched for a few minutes trumped the need for conversation. They rarely left the house and every activity revolved around nap time. There was a lot of love and joy in being surrounded by the innocence of little kids, but also a new level of letting go of expectations and a desire for perfection. She loved watching him be the daddy to her children. He was exactly the kind of daddy she wanted her babies to have. It was hard, but there was so much to be grateful for amidst the dirty diapers and sticky jelly. They made a good team.
It seems she, too, has recently walked away.
Here I am now, as his fifth wife, a 40-year-old mother of big kids. We rarely come home. The laundry smells like teenage boys. We schedule our lives less around naps and more around sports schedules. I wrestle with a body that is starting to age, not behaving as it once did, and I can’t quite get comfortable with it. I’m a wife who has more boundaries and less willingness to do things that don’t work well for me or my family. I care less about what other people think, and more about what God thinks. While I tend to take on too much, the sense of striving is no longer there. I constantly wonder how I can adequately prepare our children for adulthood, wrestling with where I need to do more for them and where I need to do less. As debts are paid and the kids’ independence grows quickly, the beginnings of new opportunities are presenting themselves.
I dream about how I can make a difference to the people around me. I wonder where I need to turn inward to focus on the needs of the family and how to balance that with the privilege and opportunity to serve the people around me. He stays as a steady foundation, supporting the whole household in the constant stream of activity. He has worked so hard and sacrificed so much to get them to this point, this wife hopes he can start to dream his own dreams.
This wife dreams of being able to reconnect in a deeper way with the man who has given his life to every season of hers.
I don’t know how long this fifth wife will stay, but I see a pattern here and suspect she won’t stay forever. I also suspect he’ll continue to do his best to love this fifth wife while she’s here, then go on to love whichever version of his wife shows up next. He’s a man who lives by grace, with a deeply loyal heart made to serve. He is a man of his word so when he said, “Until death do us part,” he meant it.