Thanks to fairy tales and dreams of happiness and stability in relationships, the dream of happily ever after is the hope of every bride (and groom, as well, one hopes).
I think, however, we too often fail to see the “after” part and its importance.
A Personal Perspective on Ever After
Our happily ever after began on June 7, 1980, in a little Baptist church on the southern edge of the burgeoning city of Arlington, Texas. After a simple ceremony and a typical Baptist alcohol-free reception, we drove off into our future together in a Cadillac Seville.
From a Cadillac to a battery truck
We headed for West Fort Worth and the honeymoon suite at the Tom Penny Inn. After a few days of revelry at the Water Gardens, the Botanical Gardens, and the world-famous Cattleman’s Steakhouse, it was back to Arlington to return the Cadillac to my Dad and collect Old Yeller, a 1974 Chevrolet Silverado with an augmented bed and dualies, a truck my father had customized to haul 1,000 junk batteries at a time to the smelter in Dallas. Dad was a battery man.
We didn’t own a car.
We called a one-bedroom apartment on Randol Mill Road in Arlington home.
Chasing a Dream to Missouri
In 1982, we loaded our belongings into 1/2 of a Ryder truck (our best friends would load their things into the other half) and moved away to Springfield, Missouri, where I was to study ministry at Baptist Bible College.
In Springfield, I carried 18 credit hours per semester at Baptist Bible College and worked 40 hours per week for a dime above minimum wage at Vermilion Walnut Company. We lived in the “married dorms” on the BBC campus. We had a toddler and were soon expecting another child.
Disaster and Determination
Our second daughter was born September 3, 1983, at Cox Memorial Hospital in Springfield, Missouri. She was born with Spina Bifida, Diastematomyelia, Sacral Agenesis, one kidney, fused ribs on one side, and a tethered spinal cord. Doctors all over Missouri agreed she was destined to be paraplegic. I was still in college, still working 40 hours, and Donya was still mother to a toddler. We were driving a 1969 Plymouth Satellite that ran like a scalded dog, walked the road like it was on Meth, and slung oil all over southern Missouri. Add to these complications the challenge of learning to parent a disabled child and to gather the strength to defy doctors’ dire prognoses and you had our lives in a nutshell.
I would be obliged to leave BBC without a degree to place our daughter in the care of a pediatric surgeon in Dallas, who would perform a delicate surgery to remove a bony spur from her spine and give our girl a chance at walking. (She would later do just that. She would walk and play and live her best life, still disabled but mobile with the aid of forearm crutches.)
That was just how our ever after began. It is not everything we have overcome, not even close. In 43 years of marriage, we have stared down financial ruin, professional setbacks, family disasters, personal failures, and the kinds of challenges you would not expect any marriage to survive.
I feel your pain
I do not write for your sympathy. I do not write to tell you I wish for a do-over or that I pine for an easier path. I write to tell you the truth about happily ever after. Namely this: it is backwards.
The truth is that “after” precedes ever. After you have faced down the challenges, after you have been through the meatgrinder of life, after you have fought off Satan and fought through your self-inflicted miseries and failures, after you have been bloodied and broken, after you have wept rivers of tears, after you have lain exhausted, uncertain you could go on, after you have thrown in the towel a hundred times, only to retrieve it, stick it in your pocket, and rise from your corner at the bell to fight another round…
That is where you find “happily” waiting patiently to escort you to “ever.” Happiness is not the absence of trials. It is the will to endure them together, to cling to what you value most.
This is why I wrote the poem that follows.
Ever Comes After
Happily ever after
Is not a thing
You’ll ever do
Turn the thing around
Can make it
You thought were
When you’re still
To do it
Then and only then
Then and only then
After the after
By the years
And the tears
Here’s to you
And her (or him)
And the road
And the things
Here’s to you…