I remember nervously asking Natalie to join me at a family reunion in Nevada. I was a college student, trying to figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up. I was just a goofy guy – a geek on every level. She worked in a law office and always intimidated me. In her mind, she quietly felt as though she lost her glass slipper, an intruder at the ball, and that she wasn’t anything special. To me, she was a princess, unaware – more beautiful and remarkable than she had eyes to see. How often I tried to say, “If you don’t believe your eyes, please believe me.”
So when she said yes to my invitation, I almost couldn’t believe it.
I remember the long six-hour drive to Mesquite, Nevada. I worried about boring her. I worried that if she discovered the real me … you know, the ordinary, flawed me … perhaps she would lose interest. On so many levels, I felt like an impostor; for I felt far less than what I might have seemed. But I set those self-doubts aside and trusted where my heart was leading me. All I could do was be me and hope for the best.
I’ll never forget that long drive. We talked and laughed and before we knew it, the 6-hour drive felt like 30 minutes. At one point, our arms were resting on the center console and they almost touched … my heart nearly exploded. It was on this same trip Natalie and I sat at the edge of a swimming pool under a moonlit sky when I asked her if she would marry me. I didn’t have a ring in my pocket – I just had a lot of love in my heart and I wanted to give it all to her.
Somehow this extraordinary woman said yes to a most ordinary boy.
We started our lives together in humble circumstances. We lived in a dark, spider-ridden basement apartment. We had old furniture and used dishes, hand-me-down books, and thrift-store decorations. We were poor in things of the world – but we were rich in the things that mattered most. As I’ve grown up a little, I’ve discovered the material things we think we want in life often take us away from the things we need.
It wasn’t long before we started our family. Each child was a remarkable gift. Laura-Ashley, our first, was a precious little girl who was smart and sassy. She is almost 18 years old now, and she is still smart and sassy. Ethan soon followed; a loving and sincere boy who was as funny as he was creative. Then came Mitch, a quiet and docile child whose love was transcendent. He would capture our hearts, break them and put our faith to the test. Wyatt soon followed … an alert, passionate and loving boy who would become a ray of light during life’s darkest moments.
I had no idea that the girl who swept me off my feet and made my voice tremble and hands shake as a college student would soon become my soul mate and that our life journey would take us down such unexpected, soul-stretching paths. I wish I could say life went according to plan. To the contrary, our greatest nightmare became our waking reality. We’ve had wins and losses. We’ve endured famine and weathered terrible storms. During times of trouble, we clung to each other and held on the best we knew how.
Nineteen years have passed and this humble princess who felt like a peasant has become, at least to me, the most beautiful and courageous person on earth. I remain, and will ever be, deep in her shadow. For her light shines brightly, so often helping me to see. Me, the true peasant, and she, royalty.
When we’ve reached our golden age, when our lives are nearly done, I’ll look back and count my blessings and know that Natalie was the biggest one.