“No deposit, no return.”
My father-in-law whispered those words to me as he gave me his daughter’s hand at our wedding.
This Sunday will be our 23nd wedding anniversary.
Ironically we will spend it leading a marriage retreat for couples raising children with special needs.
I don’t know if I believe in love at first sight, but I do believe in love at two weeks. We had only been dating for two weeks and I knew Becky and I were going to get married. I tested the waters by whispering; “I think I’m falling in love with you.”
I threw that, “I think” in there to give myself a little wiggle room, an escape route if necessary, but I knew.
We went to a fireworks show casually with a group of friends one night right after we met. They tell me the show was spectacular. I don’t remember anything about the show. The fireworks in my head and heart drowned out the fireworks show.
We got engaged in three months. I kind of failed to tell my parents I was dating anyone until we took them out for dinner and I introduced them to her and said we were getting married.
Probably should have thought that one through a little more.
A lot has happened since that Saturday afternoon on May 18, 1991.
When we got married we planned on me having a successful business career climbing the corporate ladder. Becky was going to teach school for a while. Then when the time was right, she would stay home to raise our children and we would live in a big house in the suburbs. We would lead a perfect life in a perfect world as the perfect family and she would be the PTO president.
It was, in fact, a perfect plan in my eyes, because I came up with the plan.
I had written the story of my life, but I didn’t realize at the time that the story to be told wasn’t about me.
When you recite traditional wedding vows, there is always that phrase, “for better or worse.” We took that vow as part of our wedding ceremony. Like everyone else though, we only focused and assumed on the “better.”
Have you ever noticed the “better” always gets mentioned first?
The “worse” is almost thrown on like an afterthought.
Since that day 23 years ago, my plan has been totally thrown upside down.
We lost our first child.
I was across the country on a business trip when it happened and unable to be home when my wife needed me the most.
Our second child Jon Alex has profound special needs. His cerebral palsy, seizures, and autism have let him as a now 16 year old boy completely non-verbal, unable to walk, and utterly dependent upon us 24/7 young man.
He requires our absolute constant attention and care for everything. Over the course of his life, he has never been able to say even one word.
No one can prepare you for the grueling, exhausting, draining task of caring for a child with profound special needs. You will never attempt anything harder in your life. And it will affect everything about your life- emotionally, financially, spiritually, relationally and mentally.
The toil it takes on your marriage is staggering. It’s intense and even brutal. But we had taken a vow. Our marriage was based on a covenant, not a contract.
We learned a whole new vocabulary- sensory processing disorder, occupational therapy, physical therapy, quadriplegia, and so forth. We learned a whole lot of new acronyms as well like, IEP, AFO, and CFGF.
Then there was the night I died.
Five year ago I stopped breathing. A health incident left me in a coma on life support for several days with only a slim chance of a full recovery. I spent months in a wheelchair requiring 24/7 care myself now. I had to have help bathing, eating, moving around, and learning to walk again.
For months my wife had two special needs individuals requiring her constant care and attention, as she took care our son while nursing me back to health.
That’s when I realized I had married Wonder Woman. And I wonder every day why God chose to bless me with her as my wife.
I am not the easiest man to love even under the best of circumstances. I’ve got my quirks, my hang-ups, and my character flaws.
I’m not exactly a “ off the rack” type of guy. I’m a high maintenance custom job type of guy who deep down struggles with insecurity and pride at the same time. Do you see what I mean?
Without the grace of God in my life I would be a train wreck.
At the age of 40 a lot of men realize half of their life is over and begin to take stock of their life. I did that too.
But instead of buying a convertible, a boat, or dying my hair- I did something more drastic.
I quit my six-figure income job.
I made us sell our 4,000 square foot home, both our SUVS and half a house full of furniture.
I took a 75% pay cut, cashed in my paltry savings, moved us out in the country, and changed my life’s vocation.
Most importantly I changed how I kept score.
I told Becky God was calling me to leave the corporate world, and start a ministry for special needs families. She asked when we could start.
She could have called me “crazy.” Instead she called me “chosen.”
She could have said you can’t do that to our family. Instead she said, we would do this together.
Nothing has gone according to my plan. But everything has gone according to God’s plan.
Our 23 years of experiences, 16 with our special needs son, have been richly rewarding, richly enriching, and left us richly blessed.
We are stronger, more determined, more together, and more incredibly blessed through our life than we can imagine.
What should have divided us has instead united us.
What was intended to harm us, has once again by God’s grace and plan, been redeemed and reclaimed for good according to His purposes.
Turns out that God’s plan was the perfect one. He’s just using us to tell his story.
For all of you in the midst of the struggle…for all you special needs moms and dads about to throw in the towel and quit…for all of you ready to just give up and walk away…for all of you wondering if it ever gets better…for all of you struggling to find anything good about your circumstances…
Sometimes “better” follows “worse.”
(This post was originally written on our 22nd anniversary last year. Now it’s ben revised and updated for this year as we celebrate our 23rd anniversary.)