Thirteen years ago, when we were still on our roll of celebrating each anniversary in a different city, Kaci and I moved to Kazakhstan. We didn’t just move there to find strange new cities for our anniversaries, although we did do that. We were there to work with college students. We taught English classes and quickly met lots of students. It was easy to start conversations in English with our students, to get through the basic greetings, but it was often difficult to keep the conversations going. We couldn’t understand them. They couldn’t understand us. They couldn’t find the words to say what they wanted to say. We couldn’t get across what we were trying to say. It was tiring.
I had ways to cope, though. I would smile and say, “Oh, ok” to something a student said, assuming (and hoping) it was just a statement that did not require a response from me. When I asked a question but got no response from the student, I made some effort to be understood, but would quickly give up. If I could tell it was hard for the student and I was losing them, I would let the conversation die, telling myself that we at least gave it a try.
During those early days I came home to our flat one afternoon to find Kaci and a group of girls sitting and talking with each other. As I eavesdropped, I heard Kaci persevere in her conversations long past what I would have done or expected. When she couldn’t understand them, she did not bluff her way through, and she did not allow them to do so either. She made them repeat their words. She re-said what she wanted them to hear in different ways with different words until they understood. It drove me crazy. To my surprise, however, the conversations, and, therefore, the newly formed friendships moved slowly forward. The girls didn’t leave. They stayed. They came back again. More students came. I eventually learned through Kaci’s example to persevere more with the students God brought my way, but to care for them and connect with them through the difficulties of language and culture in the ways Kaci did for two solid years was something I couldn’t do.
|Kaci and some of her girls cooking and talking in our Kazakhstan kitchen|
Sixteen years ago, standing in a Wal-Mart parking lot, I told Kaci that I wanted to marry her. It wasn’t the actual proposal. That would happen later. It was me telling her where I saw our relationship going. We had had some conversations earlier that week and agreed to share where we were at with each other that coming weekend. I thought I was pushing things when I jumped the gun by a couple days in that parking lot, but after much prayer and thinking I had finally figured things out! I told her we could still wait until the appointed day to have our official conversation on the matter, but she replied, “No, that’s ok. I know what my answer is now. I’ve known for months.” Kaci has always been way ahead of me in the relationship department. I had wanted to be with her for probably as long as she had wanted to be with me. I just didn’t know it. I didn’t yet see what was happening between us. She knew, though. She saw how close we were becoming. She saw how we were entrusting ourselves to each other and caring for each other. She was also wise enough to wait for me to catch up (with help from her, some friends, and God’s Word). I am having a difficult time expressing what it is exactly that Kaci can do that I can’t, but I suppose part of that difficulty is due to my lack of understanding of what it is she does exactly. She sees things in relationships that I don’t see, or she at least sees them way before I do. When Kaci shares these insights with me, I am often a bit stunned. They sound harsh to me when they concern a difficult situation, or even so clear and final concerning something good. I think to myself, “Let’s just wait and see.” It’s not that Kaci knows the future or employs some psychological theory to predict behavior. I think she just sees what is happening. If an argument is driving two people apart, she sees it driving them apart as it is happening. It usually takes me a few years. I’ll notice that so-and-so and so-and-so aren’t around each other anymore, then remember the huge fight they had, and then wonder if that might have had something to do with it. Also, if Kaci sees forgiveness drawing two people back together, if she sees a tragedy bringing someone grief, or if she sees a victory bringing someone joy, she sees it as it is happening. She is able to mourn with those who mourn and rejoice with those who rejoice better than me.
|Kaci and I dancing together... one of the many clues I missed|
She also writes better than me. I have written my fair share, and as I get ready to start a PhD, I will be writing a whole lot more. I find my own writings tedious and unclear in places. I have to slow down as a reader and try to understand what was written. It usually doesn’t make sense because I didn’t really know what I was trying to say, or I was trying to say it in some clever or evasive way. (Side note: not really knowing what I’m saying, but nevertheless trying to say it in a clever and indirect way—sounds like I’m ready to start my dissertation!) I always enjoy reading what Kaci writes. She serves her readers well by making herself understood. She seems to know what she wants to say and is courageous enough to say it. I admire her for that.
I could say that Kaci throws parties and hosts events better than me, but that would be an insult. That would imply there was some basis for comparison between the two of us in this area. Instead, I will say that Kaci throws parties and hosts events better than most other people I know. She is so completely inefficient when it comes to throwing parties. She would never go for a “party in a box” because the parties she envisions for herself, her children, and her friends could never fit in a box. Some of us put on parties as if the purpose of the party is to get the party over with as quickly as possible, but not Kaci. She decorates and plans activities. She prepares food and works to get everyone fed and satisfied, but she does it all with a higher agenda in mind. She wants to draw people together.
|Getting ready for one of many great parties we've had this year with international students and friends|
|Some of the guests at our Christmas party|
Today, Kaci and I celebrate our 15th wedding anniversary. Looking back through her blog, I noticed she had written posts on some of our anniversaries. I thought I’d steal the opportunity to write this year. During the early years of our marriage, Kaci and I struggled to figure out how to come together as two separate people, with different personalities, gifts, and desires. Over time, as the intensity of that struggle faded, as we became one flesh, I imagined the two of us were simply becoming homogenous, and that this was the ideal. I now see that God had something more for us. As we have had to die to ourselves in marriage, as we have allowed ourselves to become lost in the other, our distinctiveness as individuals has not been flattened. It has been heightened. This is certainly true of Kaci. She has put my needs ahead of her own countless times over the years. She has selflessly served me. Through her dying to self, through her sacrifices, I did not lose her. I gained her. I do not just have a wife who has become the same as me, who does things the way I would do them. I have a wife who can do so many things better than me, and I am thankful to reap the benefits. I love being at her parties. I love growing closer to others in her presence and building friendships with those she reaches out to. I love having someone who challenges me to say what I mean to say clearly.