It’s Veterans’ Day as I write this, and I want to thank all the military veterans I know for their service to our country. I’ve gotten side-tracked with transcribing Bethany’s journals. I’m all set up to do it, it’s just that life is busy. But I want to keep posting things here.
So my plan is to post snippets of things I’ve already written (but haven’t yet published).
Here’s some of what I’ve written (so far – subject to editing) describing the project in a Preface:
“Goddammit!” she said, and I heard a hand slapping hard on the typewriter. Maybe it was or wasn’t the proverbial sound of “one hand clapping”, but this act of anger against an inanimate object showed just how quickly she could and often did swell with anger, in just a flash.
I didn’t even know that anyone was sitting there. As I turned to see what was happening, I couldn’t have known that in the moments following her exclamation there, my life would be changed forever. It was a life-changing event in the most dramatic possible way.
I was a good Catholic boy at the time, having just spent several years seriously considering the Roman Catholic priesthood as a vocation. And it was clear from her language that she was, well, not a nice girl. Yet I was lonely, and she was beautiful. I found I needed something she had, and she seemed to need something that I could offer, and so we moved forward very quickly along those lines. There was no planning at all. And it wasn’t long afterward that I married the girl who had introduced herself to me with that amazing curse.
This is a book about our marriage, but it is particularly about my wife, Bethany, because she was a hero. Or at least, she became a hero in the sense that any Soldier who dies for his or her country is a hero. She did not die in uniform, but served with distinction at a time of war, and she died at age 54 from the complications that followed an active-duty deployment to Iraq in 2003, just after the Marines invaded, just after Saddam fled and that country descended into chaos, while she was 41 years old.
She had served as a medic with a weapons intelligence unit that was part of the second wave of American military into Iraq in April 2003, following the initial invasion by the Marines. Her commanding officer told me that the unit was the 19th unit overall into that country.
She overcame tremendous obstacles all of her life, and she did it largely while being cheerful and looking to God in Christ for hope. Not that she didn’t experience tremendous headwinds. She was able to overcome despite the almost inhuman obstacles that she faced.
She had been sexually abused as a child. She was a young runaway and a high school drop-out, and she got into all the different kinds of trouble that a teenage runaway can get into. The effects of her abuse lasted a lifetime, and they were passed on in various ways to others in her life, most especially our children. And she always felt hamstrung by her lack of education.
Maybe she looked for ways of being heroic as a countermeasure to the weakness and helplessness she felt because of these things. She was an overcomer of the purest and most noble kind, and many of her struggles will come up in this book, through both my observations and more importantly, from her journals.
She served two tours in the US Army: she was in West Germany in the early 1980s as a single young woman, and later, after the events of 9/11/2001, as a Reservist (we thought), as a mother of five (later six). She was activated (via an “involuntary transfer”) for a time and went to Iraq. She struggled with leukemia, we think as a result of chemical exposures she received there, and she died far too early.
So it’s a book about her lifetime, but it is also a book about Christian marriage. A particular Christian marriage to be sure.
It’s a husband writing about his wife, and so in the nature of things, I’ll spend some time telling you who I am too. I was her husband for 28 years. As a writer, I understand my need to remain in the background, but I was both the context for and now the narrator of her life story.
She kept a lot of journals, however, and wrote a lot of letters, and she will contribute her own thoughts liberally here, so you’ll get a good first-hand account from her throughout.
In our day, people “identify” themselves by their sexuality. Since she and I were married, and we fought to remain married, it is also story about a Biblical vision of Christian marriage as an image of the love, the joys, and the redemptive qualities of God for humans. It is about the pain of separation and the hope of glory.
Christian marriage is counter-cultural in our day. There is a prevalent understanding of marriage among conservative Christians, especially among Reformed Christians, who primarily see themselves as descendants of the Protestant Reformation. That’s where I locate myself on the scale of things.Jesus said of marriage, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate” (Matthew 19:5-7).