How I met her…

Since this week we celebrated the one day a year dedicated to affection, I figured it would be fun to share the story of how my bride and I started dating. The idea was sparked from a conversation I had recently where a friend of mine asked if marriage was hard. Telling my friend our story reminded me how thankful I am to know Andrea. It also gave me an opportunity to relive some of the greatest moments of our lives.

When my bride and I met we were both broken people. Both of us had made decisions in relationships we were not proud of. My wife was trying to step away from a guy who used her. Used is probably a nice way to say it. He, like many men, wanted her for her body, not her soul. He got what he wanted and left her in darkness. He took her surface and left her soul to rot. When I met her, she was dealing with guilt, shame, and remorse.

She found me in confusion. At an early age, I was introduced to sexuality without my consent. I had an older girl attempt to make me a man when I wasn’t ready and didn’t want it. Her advances broke me. It sent me into a spiral that led me to explore pornography as a way to cope. Porn destroyed me. It wrecked my understanding of sexuality and ruined my ability to date. I also tried to cope with my pain by finding solace in the arms of a girl I considered a dear friend. In the end, I hurt her because I never felt the same way she did. I was a coward and let it continue way too long. I used her affection as a way to feel better. For that, I will always carry regret.

By the time I met my bride, I was in a different relationship. I had convinced myself this one would end in marriage. My mind knew this wasn’t true, but my heart valiantly fought off the truth. When it ended, I was a mess. I needed someone to talk to and the only person I could think of was Andrea. So, I reached out to her. She graciously walked me through the breakup. She listened to my incessant blubbering about the lost relationship. She spent time with me and was just there. Later I would find out she was overjoyed that I was finally single because that meant I was available.

We went out a few times as friends. I was obsessive about telling her they weren’t dates. I didn’t want her to get the wrong idea. I was afraid she would think she was just a rebound. I had already hurt one girl I cared about and did not want to risk messing up this relationship. I did have feelings for her, but honestly never thought she would give me the time of day. If you have met my wife, you get what I mean. Andrea could have picked any guy she wanted, I knew this, I was just thankful to have her as a friend.

Then she made a decision that changed my life. I was sitting on a couch in one of the offices on campus. I don’t remember who I was talking to. I don’t remember what I was talking about. But I can still see my beautiful bride walking in the room. As she entered I knew she had something on her mind. She confidently walked up to me, looked me right in the face, and made a statement that is imprinted on my soul forever. She said, “I am free Friday night if you want to go on a real date.” I told her it sounded like a great idea.

The rest of the week I was a basket case. I sincerely wanted to go on a real date with her. However, I was still emotionally in a bad place. I had not fully let go of my previous relationship. This created a huge problem as she got in my truck to drive off to dinner. The drive was 20 minutes to the restaurant. About 5 minutes into the drive I obviously was in shambles. Andrea got really nervous about the situation and told me that if I didn’t want to go we could just head back. In a courageous attempt to sound romantic, I responded with, “No, let’s just get to the restaurant, I will be okay.” I know, really smooth right.

We got to the restaurant and it was wonderful. We talked the whole time. It was so easy to carry a conversation with her. I ordered my food and she claimed she wasn’t that hungry. That was a lie. She ended up eating all my mashed potatoes and most of my steak. I didn’t care. She could have taken it all. I was just happy to be in that booth with her. Somewhere between bites of food, we fell in love. I know it sounds stupid, but we both knew it. Something finally clicked. There was a connection with her that I had never felt with any other girl in my life. I had finally found the person I wanted to do life with. I found the person I wanted to give my soul to. I found my bride.

I was so overwhelmed with emotion that when we got back to school I wanted to seal this momentous occasion with a kiss. I picked a romantic spot under a street light on campus. Its glow gave just enough light to fill my truck. I looked into her face, her hair shining in the light behind her, and I learned in.

The kiss was awful. It was the worst thing I had ever experienced. For a moment I feared that this was not going to work out. I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t know what to do. Quickly I made a statement that has become a joke between us. I looked back at her and said, “I can do better than that, let’s try again.” We did kiss again, and it was wondrous. Since then I have chalked that moment up to nerves. We both were nervous, but I will gladly take the fall for being the one who messed that up. I know a couple’s first kiss is supposed to be something magical. Our first was wretched, the second was glorious and it has only gotten better since.

We made an intentional decision as we began to date to work on our friendship and not focus so much on the romance. I am thankful we did. Because we learned to spend time together without the tension of physical exploration we built a bond that goes deeper than sex. As we continued to date in this way, I fell in love with her mind. I fell in love with her soul. With every passing day, I longed more and more to spend the rest of my days in her presence.

So, on July 31, 2004, I said, “I do,” to a woman who truly made me whole. I mad a vow to the only human being who was uniquely made to put up with me. Andrea and I met each other broken. We both felt shame from previous relationships and considered ourselves unworthy. However, we were and are perfect for each other. We will spend the rest of our lives mending each other wounds. We will spend the rest of our lives putting each other back together.

Over the years, I have learned that marriage is a war. After years of marriage, we carry scars from the battles we have fought to make this thing work. We have made harsh statements to each other. We have hurt each other, but we have always been quick to forgive.  For me, it’s been worth the fight to get to spend the rest of my life next to my bride.

In honor of Valentine’s Day I wrote Andrea a poem to describe how I feel about her. You can see it below.

There once was a girl

Filled with beauty and grace

She was like no other

She could not be replaced

 

So Pretty, So Rare

She met a boy

So Silly, So Fair

She was Confident

He was Nervous

She was Courageous

He was Unworthy

 

There once was a girl

Filled with beauty and grace

She was like no other

She could not be replaced

 

She met a boy

And in her presence he stopped,

Lost thought

And could only stare

His life was changed and sent in a swirl

In a moment, a blink, she made his heart whirl

He never conceived something so rare

Could ever like him, love him or even care

 

There once was a girl

Filled with beauty and grace

She was like no other

She could not be replaced

 

She had eyes like the stars that shine in the night

They burned bright in the darkness of time

With one look

With one glance

She held the boy close

He lost breathe,

His heart skipped

 

There once was a girl

Filled with beauty and grace

She was like no other

She could not be replaced

 

She made a promise

In sickness, and death

He made a promise

To love and to hold

They made a promise

As long as they both should live

And sealed it with a kiss

 

There once was a girl

Filled with beauty and grace

She was like no other

She could not be replaced

And that girl was You!

 

Finding Laughter…

Over the past few months, I haven’t laughed much. Sure, I have had moments of smiling. I have had moments of joy. I have even had moments of forced laughter. However, for the most part, most of my responses in public setting has been more of act. I have continued to play my part and pretend that everything is fine. Even when asked, I sugar coated how I felt because I have learned that people prefer artificial sugar over the real kind.

This doesn’t mean I didn’t have times of hope. This doesn’t mean I didn’t have times of joy. This doesn’t mean I haven’t laughed. I just felt pressure to pretend. Most of laughing responses were because I knew, or felt, that most people didn’t really care to hear the truth. People didn’t want to see the pain. People just wanted to see Joshua acting okay. So, I did.

Sure, some asked for the truth. For them, I tended to lie. I know I am not supposed to. I know that may discredit me to some people. I just became numb to the rote responses and proverbial antedotes. I got tired of superficial answers. I would also become angry when it was apparent people only asked because they assumed it was their moral, social, or spiritual duty. Recently, I have gotten better. Last week, I laughed, “Greatly.”

Last week I spent a few days with men who do the same thing I do. We are actually a part of a network of connected guys who agree in philosophy and praxis of the church. We meet twice a year and take that time to discuss current issues and encourage one another. I honestly wasn’t excited to go. I haven’t seen these men since my bride was diagnosed, and I feared I would have to relive and retell our whole journey. I expected to talk about my bride. I didn’t expect to sing karaoke.

As we were unpacking our bags in this plush rental home, I suddenly heard blaring music. I came running upstairs to see one of the men holding a mic and singing at the top of his lungs. Instead of joining, I turned to go back downstairs. I made an excuse in my head and just slipped away. A few years ago I would have fought to use the microphone, that day, I just wasn’t in the mood.

Over the next few minutes, there were loud songs being played and bad vocals being projected into the air. In between each song, there was a bellowing call for Broughton to get upstairs. Apparently, everyone was supposed to participate and it was my turn. I resisted as long as I could. Finally, I gave up and sang. I half-heartedly belted out a Nickleback song. By the end, I couldn’t decide if I was more ashamed of how I sang, or the fact that I knew all the words to Rockstar. The answer is still up for debate.

Soon, it was time to leave and I was thankful. I appreciated the guys trying to have a good time and including me, but I just didn’t know how long I could keep up the act. The evening went on in typical fashion. We met up with other guys who were in the area. We ate dinner. We shared stories from the past year. Then we headed back to the house.

As we were driving back I began to get worried. I feared that they would get that dreadful machine out and I would be forced to sing again. A large part of me wanted to just go to bed and call it a night. However, I resisted and stay up with the guys. Then the machine appeared again in the room. This time there was an iPad for people to see the words. I sat by the fireplace and listened. Then they asked me to sing again.

As I walked up to the microphone the guys began to cheer. I smiled as I took the mic and prepared to sing another song. As I began to do my best to imitate the iconic vocals of Matchbox Twenty, I could hear the guys around me begin to sing with me. Before too long we were all belting the song out at the top of our lungs and laughing during instrumental breaks.

We stayed up late singing. We stayed up late laughing. I found myself for the first time in months laughing so hard I doubled over on the floor. I laughed so hard tears ran down my face. I laughed so hard all the pain, anger, frustration, and fear dissipated for a moment between the cool beats of L.L. Cool J and the humorous nonsense of Wierd Al.

By the end of the night, I was dubbed Karaoke King. I am not sure how this happened. To be honest, my competition wasn’t really fierce, but it was a whole lot of fun. It was nice to sincerely laugh again. It was nice to feel pure joy again. It was nice to let down the wall I have built around my heart.

On the last morning as we all packed up the leave and the machine showed up again. This time the soft melody of My Heart Will Go On was echoing throughout the house. I walked into the living room to see two grown men leaning over rails and singing their hearts out. I honestly may like their version better than the original. As I stood there, I smiled and then joined them. In that time and that space, my soul was able to heal a little. Those men gave me a gift. They gave me laughter. Laughter won’t take away the pain of radiation to come. Laughter won’t pay our medical bills. But laughter did give me a moment to feel real joy again. It’s these moments that have gotten us through the battle with Ole Scruffy, and it’s these moments we will share for years to come.

To those men who made me laugh again, Thank You.