Twenty years ago today, on a bright summer afternoon in the middle of Ohio, I married my soul mate. The day was beautiful, wonderful, and perfect. I remember how jittery I felt waking up that morning, the way my dad’s whole body trembled all the way down the aisle, and the look of pure love on Jeff’s face as I stared into his eyes. I never thought I would love him any more than I did at that exact moment. Yet here we are TWENTY years later, and I’m thinking of how much more love my heart holds than I ever would have imagined. I have been Mrs. Nafziger for almost half my life.
Jeff and I met in January of 1998, and got engaged on Thanksgiving. We were a year apart in our degree programs and knew we could be facing a long engagement, but we were happy to be dreaming about our future together. Unfortunately, we spent large periods in our engagement separated from each other. Our courtship blossomed on the campus of Cedarville University where we met, but our families lived over 400 miles apart. That meant our summers were spent pining for each other from afar. To complicate things even more, Jeff got a job in St. Louis upon graduating and moved 400 miles the other direction. Though this situation was far from ideal, it gave us the opportunity to work out issues in our relationship, as well as cause a period of personal growth in both of us. I honestly believe our marriage is stronger today because of that.
Our long stretches of time apart were spent in the days of the internet’s infancy. There were no cell phones… long distance calling costed us a small fortune. There was no FaceTime… we had to survive four or five weeks apart without seeing each other’s face. Even email was only available through dial-up and computers were hard to come by… we had to correspond through the US Postal Service and wait patiently for letters to arrive. Armed with loads of kitty cat stationery, oodles of stickers, and a small Hallmark store worth of greeting cards, Jeff and I shared a snail mail correspondence of legend. Jeff created collages and mix tapes and wrote funny poems to let me know that I was not far from his mind. In turn, I wrote letters filled with encouragement and longing… that as far as I know still exist somewhere in our basement.
But the most precious and wonderful thing of all is that, every day that we were separated, Jeff wrote to me in a journal. Every single day! I think he saw it as a way to talk at the beginning and end of every day, and a way to keep him from being lonely. He thought it would be awesome to someday look back and read the story of how we became “us.” (No, he did not read a Nicholas Sparks book before he did it.) Part everyday narrative, part dream diary, part love song… these journals chronicle our love story before our marriage began.
This past week, I spent my time reading through those letters and journals again. I had stored them away long ago and haven’t read them in twenty years. What a wonderful journey back in time! I was completely unprepared for the emotions I would feel reading through them again. In some ways, it felt like reading through a familiar tale… in other ways, it felt like reading the journey of a couple of strangers. Who were those scared, hopeful kids in the story?
The first journal began during our first spring break, when our love was very fresh and new. Jeff spent a lot of time trying to impress me with his off kilter sense of humor and silly non-sequiturs. They were the stories of a boy who was dating someone seriously for the first time, introducing himself to the girl who followed him around campus like a puppy.
The next journals came from summer 1998. These stories told of a boy and girl who were pretty sure they wanted to be together forever, but were still working it out. The journals detailed dreams of a future traveling, sharing CD collections, and celebrating milestones. They also told the story of a boy who had a lot of broken pieces he had never dealt with or shared with anyone… trusting them to the one person he wanted to share them… if she would.
And then there were the journals from St. Louis. These told the story of a young career professional, living on his own for the first time, and preparing a home for his future bride. They chronicled every new thing he purchased for the home and every new challenge he faced at work. They were full of words encouraging the girl to keep going… during student teaching, senior recital, finals, and the end of a very dear friendship. They shared of the urgency and anticipation of sharing a life together. And they shared the desires of a boy who felt very lonely… enough to make me blush after twenty years. (Thank goodness I never had children and shared the story with them. Oh my!)
It was beautiful to read through that story again. In some ways, I was ashamed. I was a broken person at that point too and was a complete brat. (Why he ever stuck with me after that, God only knows.) However, it was amazing to see how much we have grown and learned to speak to each other over the last twenty years. (And to see our Enneagram numbers shouting loud and clear before we ever knew what that was.) I can’t imagine how much more we will have grown when I revisit them again in another twenty years.
More than anything, it did my heart so much good to see how very much I am loved, and always have been, by the boy I chose to share my life with. He is a pretty incredible human being. Not many girls get a love letter like that.
June 22, 2000: ” I love you, Jennifer. I need you. I am coming to you soon, my Beloved.”
And they lived happily ever after.