I met the man who would become my husband while I was a junior in college. We started dating and became serious soon after my niece was born in 1991.
My mom was James’ Sunday school teacher. I was away at college, so I didn’t go home very often. (Note that by “away,” I mean that I lived just far enough away—an hour—to have an excuse not to drive all the way home every weekend.) I was going to a church in the same town where my college was, but as I said, that all went to pot when I lost my job at their day care.
So when my mom told me that she wanted me to meet this young man in her Sunday school class, I was eager for a change of scenery; so I went home and went to church with my parents. I was certainly intrigued by James from the very beginning. Not only had my mom put her stamp of approval on him (that’s the way I perceived her telling me to come home and meet him), but I was excited because he looked like one of my favorite singers, Phil Collins!
I continued to go home whenever I was able. College kept me pretty busy, but since I wasn’t going to church anywhere else at the time, I found myself going home on the weekends a lot more often than usual.
James did not ask me out, though, for close to a year. We talked a lot and he seemed to be interested, but it took him a very long time to ask me out. To say that I was ecstatic when he finally did ask me out is an understatement.
Our early dating days set the stage for the strange relationship we continue to have to this day. For our very first date, James took me to a holy-roller revival camp meeting. Not your typical date, but fun for us nonetheless.
For our next date, James wanted to take me fishing. Now, it didn’t matter a hill-of-beans that I hate to fish, especially the putting-the-worms-on-the-hook part, because I was going to be with James! I was so excited the morning of our fishing date that I didn’t eat any breakfast. My stomach was tied up in knots.
As we loaded our gear in the canoe, James showed me the fishing pole he’d brought for me to use: a cane pole that was over ten feet long. The fact that I’m not even five feet tall was only a small part of the reason why that pole and I didn’t get along. So instead of fishing, James put me to work rowing the canoe in circles while he fished.
James kept having to put his fishing pole down (a nice rod and reel with great casting maneuvers, by the way) in order to straighten out the canoe and get us going in the right direction again. But he seemed to be enjoying himself, so I just kept rowing the best I could.
Now, any of you young ladies who have been on a first (or very early) date with THE ONE knows that we don’t want our man to think we’re pigs. So we try to eat delicately (many of us do, anyway). Remember: I hadn’t eaten breakfast.
The day was getting along, later and later, and I was getting hungrier and hungrier. But I felt that high water would come before I’d speak first about having something to eat.
It finally got to the point that no matter how I felt about it, my body was telling me that if I didn’t eat, it was going to demonstrate to James the importance of eating at a decent hour. So I finally asked him, “What time is it?” as casually as I could.
“It’s around 2:00,” he said as he glanced at a clock he had in his pocket. James didn’t wear a watch.
“Oh,” I said as I continued rowing the canoe in circles.
James finally looked away from his bobbin in the water and asked, “Are you hungry?”
Can you believe I really did marry this man?!
Anyway, I tried to be casual as I said something about how I was hungry if he was ready to get something to eat. He graciously put down his pole and rowed us back to shore where we ate some peanut butter sandwiches and crackers he had packed for us.
The sandwiches were not good—at all (don’t tell him I said that—it really was sweet of him to bring the picnic lunch), but I choked one down as well as a few crackers and a generic soft drink.
After we ate, we walked out on the dock, just talking and getting to know one another. I couldn’t tell you what we talked about. What I do remember is doing everything in my power to keep my lunch down.
Before I knew it, I was leaning over the side of the dock as I threw up into the water and James held my hair back so I didn’t get any vomit on it.
Great first real date, huh!
I know. I know. It’s a miracle he married me, the throw-up queen, or as my sister and I once joked, Vomit-Girl. (Yes, I continued to throw up off and on throughout the next twenty years.)
I was in graduate school when James finally proposed and we were married in 1993 just before my final semester prior to completing my Thesis. Just a few short months later in January, we moved to Missouri where he began Bible college while I finished my thesis long-distance for my Master’s. We had decided that I would work outside the home and he would go to school full time. We lived in campus housing and we created a budget so that we could survive on one income during the years he was in school. My parents had provided the opportunity for me to go to school and concentrate on school without having to work (just part-time so I could have a little spending money), and I felt that my husband needed a similar schooling opportunity.
It was difficult, but we had our love. What else did we need?!
We also determined that we would not have any children until he finished college. It was a difficult decision for me because I’d always dreamed of getting married and having at least four children. I wanted children and James said that he did, too, but he felt that it was just too much to try to go to school and have a baby, too. He saw through his other married friends how difficult it was to get an education not just as a spouse but even more so when children were involved. While I would have jumped at an opportunity to have children at any moment James said he was ready, I agreed that we would wait until he finished college.
Our time in Missouri was not without its challenges. The worst challenge for me was my inability to hold down a job. I felt the weight of the responsibility of having and keeping a job so James could concentrate on his education, but every time I would begin to get established in a job, something would happen and I would no longer have that job. During the three and a half years we lived in Missouri (my mom and I started calling it “Misery”), I think I had a different job that averages out to about one every six months.
My self-esteem began to suffer and no matter where we went to church, I was unhappy. I couldn’t make any new friends; I felt that the other young wives and mothers were judging me, especially because I was overweight. (Of course, I can look back now and tell you that it was my own lack of self-esteem—and my depression—at the time, not that they were judging me, but that was how I felt then, sadly.)
It did not help that during this trying time we went on a young married couples camping trip with our Sunday school class. James didn’t feel the need to drive when so many others were driving and there were only two people in most vehicles, so he convinced another couple to let us ride with them. We had a nice, but very long, drive to the campsite. We had a great first evening where we sat around the campfire and just did normal camping stuff when on a group camping trip.
The second day was our scheduled canoe trip down the river. It hadn’t rained much that season, so the river was lower than usual, but no one had thought to take that into consideration.
So each couple got in their rented canoe and we all headed down the river.
In less than an hour, we discovered that the river was much lower than we’d originally thought. Every couple hundred feet, the men had to get out of the canoes and drag them (with the wife still sitting in the boat) across the sandbars. All the husbands—and wives—that is, except James and I.
At every sandbar, instead of James pulling the boat across while I sat in the boat, I had to get out and help him drag the boat across.
I was too heavy to stay in the boat.
It wasn’t long before the wife of the couple with whom we had ridden had back pains and couldn’t continue. Her husband turned around to take her back to the campsite and go back home. We were reassured by others in the group that they would make sure we had a ride.
So we kept going.
It was hot.
The water level was low.
James and I couldn’t keep up with the rest of the group because it took longer for us to get across the sandbars than it did the others since I had to get out and then get back in the canoe each time.
When we stopped for the very light lunch they had packed, I was miserable in more ways than one.
By the time we got out of the canoes at the end of the longest day of my life, I was sick. I was sick to my stomach and I had what I think was my very first migraine headache.
We made it back to the campsite, but I was so sick, James had to pack up everything by himself. I found somewhere to rest my head and attempt to keep from vomiting. James arranged for us to ride with another young couple and we were finally off.
I curled up on the backseat and, again, attempted to keep from throwing up. The rocking of the car as we rode through the twists and turns of the mountains did not help my situation at all, but I just kept swallowing and praying.
I was surprised more than I can say when the couple decided they were going to stop to get something to eat. Rather than get something fast-food and get back on the road, they decided to eat at a casual dining restaurant. I have no idea how long they were inside, but by the time they—and, yes, my husband had gone in with them—got back in the car, I knew that it would be a very long time before I went back to THAT.
Again, my self-esteem took a huge nose dive and I began to feel that no one cared about me and what was going on with me, especially my husband.
Why would or should they considering I was fat and unattractive and couldn’t hold down a job for longer than six months?
I didn’t just fall into a deep depression during that time in Missouri, I plummeted into it.
By the time we moved home to North Carolina after living in Missouri for three years, I was just a shell of the joyful, lively, loud, outspoken, full-of-herself, and full of vim and vigor young woman I had been prior to living in Missouri.
I hated not being able to hold down a job.
I hated my marriage.
I hated myself.
I hated my life.
I hated Me.