April, 20 years ago on my last night as a single man, I lay in bed staring at the ceiling unable to sleep in the middle of the night. I was afraid you were making a huge mistake by marrying me — one for which I was largely to blame.
You were going to give me everything you had, including your future. You were going to say “Whatever happens to you, I’m going to be involved.” You were going to take all your chips, bet them on “Tom Hoopes,” roll the dice, and live with the consequences.
It seemed like a monumentally stupid thing for you to do.
I wrote a prayer that night and showed you the next morning. We were getting married on the feast of the Assumption, a day that celebrates how God’s grace filled Mary’s life, bringing glory out of sorrows. I told you we would say the prayer privately when we knelt before Our Lady of Guadalupe during the Ave Maria after Communion.
In that prayer, we told Our Lady that we were entirely unequal to the commitment we were making, that we had literally no resources capable of fulfilling our vows and that it would take divine intervention to keep the whole thing from going up in flames.
If it hadn’t been set it in a liturgical context, it would have seemed desperate and panicked. As it was, it just seemed overly pious. I guess in reality it was both.
Be careful what you pray for. Everything that I worried about as I lay awake that night happened. Here is our history in nine bullet points:
- I lost my job when you were expecting our first child and had to find odd jobs to support the family.
- You went into labor with our second child during your final Master’s comprehensive exams. You earned your degree at 2 p.m. and had the baby at 2 a.m.
- Our third is named after the coworker who provided us with a living wage by secretly having his salary reduced by $5,000 and mine increased by $5,000. At his funeral, we learned what he did.
- Our fourth, thank God, is still with us, after being dragged from a lake by a stranger whose name we still don’t know.
- Our fifth was named for his older brother who was miscarried.
- Our sixth was named for the suffering Pope without whom he and his brothers and sisters probably wouldn’t exist.
- Our seventh was named, in utero, for my mother, a few days before she died.
- Our eighth was born during the single most difficult week in both of our lives, when we saw the center of our life disappear.
- And our ninth — well, two months after he was born, you still haven’t recovered.
So, 20 years later, life has confirmed my worries. We have made bad decisions, we have been petty and self-seeking, we have fought, we have failed, and we have more than once wanted to give up on the whole thing.
I was right: Putting your whole life in my hands would have been stupid after all.
But that’s not exactly what happened, is it? The first thing you learn from the story of Mary’s life is that God, not Mary, is the protagonist of her story. We didn’t give each other our futures, we together gave our future to Christ, sacramentally. And God the Protagonist made wonderful things happen the only way he ever does: Through the cross.
The child who came when I was laid off did urban mission work this year. The one who interrupted your test now prepares dinner each night. The one named for the co-worker helped keep the house running the year I went back to school.
Last Sunday, all 11 of us ate and joked in the park, then scattered to swing, play catch, do a crossword and sleep on the grass in the shade. Watching the scene gave me that glow of happiness that has been our real story all along, despite the difficulties.
It also made me wonder where we will all be 20 years from now. Twenty years later, it seems like we’re still just starting out.
But I no longer lose sleep over it. God is God and we are his. We will be fine.
Tom Hoopes is writer in residence at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas.