This is intensely long. I apologize in advance. These are the things I don't want to forget.
I've been thinking about this post for days. School started back up for me again this month, however, and as it's a new school and a new routine I've had a learning curve to climb. Then three papers in 48 hours to turn in. So this post was stuck in my head for a while.
My divorce was devastating to me. I wrestled with it for quite a while. I was afraid that if I went through with the divorce, John would never have a chance to see that I really had made the changes I needed to make and diligently worked on the issues that had contributed to our problems. I didn't want to give up the title "wife." I didn't want him to have the freedom to marry someone else, to potentially bring a step parent into our kids' lives. I was afraid that by signing away our marriage I was signing away any likelihood of him returning to me.
But then one day, a very wise friend of mine said something to me that has stuck with me every day since. "Things are so far gone that you know God is the only one that can fix this. Do you really think he's not big enough to overcome divorce papers if that's His will?"
And it hit me. I was limiting God by trying to control the situation. I was trying to hold on to the title "husband" when all fighting the divorce was doing was driving the actual person further away.
So I stopped, I pulled it together, and I realized that I didn't want to be married on a technicality alone. I took one step further in the healing process. I eventually became sure, not of the fact that I would be okay until he came back, but that I would be okay even if he never came back at all. I put my trust where it should have been all along; in God, and in His plan for me. I wanted to be acting within His will, not fighting against it, and I finally realized that fighting my divorce was my own way of fighting for my own way instead of seeking His will for me.
This is all to say that unlike some of my close friends who have been through this, I did not hold out hope for reconciliation through everything. I wish I could say I had; it would add a lovely fairytale element to it all. But God never told me that John was coming back. If God told me anything, it was to get it together and fix my issues so that if I ever married again, I would be able to enter that marriage without baggage and as a healthy individual ready for a lifetime commitment.
I moved on, and by that I don't mean that I hit the dating scene; I mean that I stopped feeling sorry for myself. I stopped telling sob stories. I did my best to change my outlook from the wronged woman to someone who realizes that these things happen and makes the best of them. I actually started to like myself again, which is something, because I hated myself when I was begging and pleading and crying all the time. I stopped fighting the fact that it was in our best interest to move to Indiana. And finally, I started to heal and to forgive John and myself for the mistakes we'd made.
On the day I got in my van and started driving to Indiana, I was reasonably sure I was going to hate my life there. I was the petulant child who knew what was best but wasn't going to be happy about it. I cried through several states and actually thought about turning around more than once.
But our move was transforming for us. It offered us rest and healing and peace. Though John spoke to the kids often, he and I did not speak. In passing on the phone of course, we were civil and sometimes even cordial, but it never went beyond "Hey! Let me get them on the phone for you! Have a great day!" Even so, as the summer wore on, I began to hear a change in his voice when talking to the children that was good to hear.
I was shocked on the day he called and wanted to speak to me. I realized pretty early on that John was open to reconciling, but I had to really examine my heart and decide if I was also open to it after everything I'd worked so hard to get past. As scary as it was, it felt like it could be worth it, and things moved quickly after that. Now nearly six months have gone by. I thank God every day that John came home, but I also thank God that John stayed away until he was ready and that He kept my heart from hardening towards John. That God engineered both of our growth and healing separately, so that when we did reconcile it was healthy and sustainable. It's still shocking to me just how well things have gone for us, although I really shouldn't be so shocked. Things done within God's will almost always go more smoothly than things done outside of it. But I'm very thankful.
On Valentine's Day I woke up to my two oldest boys holding roses out to me. That was one of the toughest things about being single...there being no other parent in the house to facilitate the kids doing cute things on holidays, as silly as it sounds. So waking up to the boys with their flowers was pretty amazing. To walk into the kitchen and find Ava and John waiting to surprise me with the rest of the bouquet of flowers and candy was extra special. As I dropped John off at work, I thanked him for a great Valentine's Day.
"There's a sitter coming over after work so we can go to dinner, so be ready." He told me.
I was pretty surprised but excited. We don't get a baby sitter often. After he got home we rushed around getting ready and putting dinner on the table for the kids and the next thing I knew we were in the car without any kids and my hair was actually washed.
Pretty good day, right there.
He drove to Red Lobster, which just so happens to be the place we had our very first date about a decade ago. I can still remember that date as clear as a bell. "Do you know why I wanted to eat here? Do you remember that we came to this very spot on our first date?" He asked, and I told him of course I did. But I was distracted because I could see the line of people spilling out of the restaurant, and when we got inside it was even worse. The foyer was packed with people. When John talked to the hostess she told him that it would be at least an hour wait.
I had not eaten all day. I was ready to pass out, and I wasn't the most entertaining company as we stood waiting. In fact I'm pretty sure I begged to go to Burger King instead. After about ten minutes which felt a whole lot longer, John's buzzer suddenly went off. I gave him a strange look. "Did you tell the hostess I get mean when I'm hungry?" I asked him. He laughed. "Oh yeah." He was texting nonstop, which is pretty unlike him, but I tried to give him a pass since it was Valentine's Day.
We sat down and John asked if I remembered the table we sat at on our first date. We located it and laughed. We put in an order for Artichoke Dip, which is a dish we order at every restaurant we go to. The mood was lively and a manager came by and checked in on us.
The same manager brought out our artichoke dip, and I remember thinking they must have been short staffed if the manager was running food. We put in our dinner order, and started fighting over the pieces of lobster in the dip, and I mentioned that I didn't like the red colored chips on the plate. After a few minutes I tried to stop eating because I didn't want to feel too full to eat my salad and dinner. I was distracted because I wanted a cheddar bay biscuit and they hadn't been brought to the table yet.
In retrospect, John was fidgety. Finally, he turned the plate around to face me. "I like the red chips." He said, and I looked down and saw something written in red on the platter.
"What is this? What did you do?" I asked as I tried to unsuccessfully slide the remaining chips around on the plate to read the message. When I looked up, John was on one knee in front of me and my eyes immediately filled with tears.
I can't remember exactly what he said; I was crying, there were lots of people around us also crying, and so it's all a bit of a blur. But they were lovely words, all of them, and at the end he said "I screwed up. But I want to do it all over again, and do it right. I love you. Will you marry me...again?"
Of course I said yes, and John put the ring on my finger and kissed me and the manager swooped in shouting "I thought she was never going to eat those dang chips!" He grabbed the platter off our table and knocked the chips off it as all the people around us began to clap and cheer. It read "Ellyn, I love you! Will You Marry Me? John."
People started getting up to congratulate us, and it was so sweet. I had no idea anyone would do that! Then John said "Oh, look at that!" And I looked up, and there was part of my family, walking up to our table. Apparently they had been having a tail gate party in the parking lot the whole time, waiting for him to pop the question. The texts John had been sending had been to them, giving them updates.
It was so exciting. After we talked for a few minutes, we sat back down to have dinner and John was so excited he was bouncing up and down. "I'm so glad you said yes!" He exclaimed. I think seeing how genuinely excited he was about getting married trumped the actual proposal for me, although it was all so awesome. It's difficult to surprise me because I am a huge sneak, and he really did it. It was amazing.
It turned out that everyone at Red Lobster had been in on it as well as my family. As we prepared to leave, one of the waitresses came up to us and said "Thanks for doing this here. It was really special, and it's been so fun for all of us. Today, we didn't just come into work, you know?"
We forgot to take a picture of just the two of us, but later on at home, I insisted on chronicling the event, albeit with a cell phone because we were both too lazy to get the real camera.
I can't...I have no words. Which I know is ironic because I just wrote a book. But I had to get it all out here, just as I recorded the hard times. Because this would not be a triumph without what came before. Every bit of our life now is thanks to and because of what happened before, and without even the terrible things we would not be the people we are today. I would never want to relive the past few years, but I thank God for them all the same. I am a better person, and so is John, as crazy as it sounds.
So we're getting married. We're redeeming our old marriage date and we will be tying the knot on July 7th, nearly three years to the day after we initially separated.
We're having a wedding. Our first wedding was an elopement with three people there, and to us, this is an event worthy of celebration. For the first time I get to plan and be the bride instead of the bridesmaid. Jace says he wants to be the "ringmaster" (I think he means ringbearer), and I think that's probably pretty accurate as it will definitely be a circus.
Thanks to all of you for being there for me throughout the past few years. As I've said before, it means more than I could ever put into words. On many bad nights, the comments and friends from this little spot on the internet kept me going. Thank you. Thank you, thank you, thank you.