Grief, Thankfulness & The Delima of October 20th

Ten years ago, I approached this day with nervous trepidation. I had never lived with a woman as husband and wife. I fully anticipated that my future with April would be glorious. But I had no clue what my life was about to become.

Turns out all the nerves that got me up and dressed by 5AM on October 20, 2012 were justified in the same way this grade school boy once rightly burst with enthusiasm the morning before his first game at Wrigley Field. But what I experienced these past nine plus years defied even my expectations of what could be.

As we turned the corner into the wedding chapel’s back annex, I kissed my purplely person for the second time and felt pure happiness. All was well with me. I was her husband, and she was my bride. We went on to kiss so much those first few days that we practically rubbed her chin raw. Oh, to love and be loved.

The Last 9+ Years

The sweetness of that first week translated into a lifetime of joy. I got the awesome privilege of watching my bride go from being the girl who put chili powder on our cinnamon toast to one of the best cooks I know. She mastered the skill of chopping fresh vegetables, of making log cakes and of crafting her own recipes not from personal interest per se but from love. Truth be told, she hated to eat and always found the consumption of food to be a chore. But she loved caring for me and our kids and found joy in living out the command to be hospitable. The girl who once thought her home should be a castle helped me see that our home needed not to be a fortress but an oasis for the weary and heavy laden…our brothers and sisters in Christ.

As she grew, we grew. She proved to be my greatest spiritual companion these last years. On the inside of our wedding rings were inscribed the words, “sanctification buddy.” She fulfilled that promise. I benefited greatly from her insights into theology as we talked through the Scriptures that we were memorizing together and hashed out my sermon texts both before and after the service. During those early years of ministry, we also learned together the importance of placing our trust in the Lord as opposed to our feelings. We were the worst of prophets.

Though she possessed a gifted mind that made her a great counselor, her faith was not academic. She patiently bore with my insecurities and failures, extending mercy and forgiveness when I sinned against her. And long before anyone else, she encouraged me to be a senior pastor. She cheered me on through every difficult season of study and church reform resolutely saying, “I don’t know why you worry; I always knew you could do it. I never doubted you.” She had a resolve when it came to her theology and to living out that theology and yet a sweet spirit of submission and charity. She delighted in being my sanctification buddy and I hers.

And she could pray. When she wrestled through her own failures, doubts, and sorrows, she cast her cares on the Lord, trusting him to care for her. She pleaded with God to grow our church, to heal her body, and to save our children.

As the prayers recorded in her journals evidence, my dear April was also the best of moms. She delighted in her children even when they were spilling food, writing on the walls, and throwing up all at the same time. And as she cooked, cleaned, and homeschooled our three children, she took note of their special personalities and delighted in encouraging Lacey’s passion for music, Lily’s love of board games and puzzles, and Luke’s passion for basketball. I loved parenting with her and hearing her joyfully recount all that she and the kids had done.

I also had the privilege of helping her understand that its ok for boys to bleed and that winning a three-hour sit-in with your three-year-old does produce huge long-term benefits. And she showed me how to slowly lean into a hug from a lonely four-year-old and how to patiently delight in a six-year-old’s silly story performed on a makeshift stage. We made a great team.

Perhaps most importantly of all, she was fiercely loyal to me. I was hers. As she would tell me often, “Peter, I chose you.” She was no man’s captive. She dated me, married me, and stayed with me because her heart overflowed with love for me. She sacrificed for me at every turn, allowing me to get my counseling certification, to pursue my PhD, and to serve as a senior pastor. One of her last prayers consisted of a request that God would bless me with a happy PhD graduation. She endured the hardships of ministry gracefully and embraced having to walk through seasons where she functioned as a single parent. She never once resented me for having to visit this person or attend that meeting. If anything, she spent those lonely and exhausting hours praying for me, our children, and our church family. About a month before she died, I knew things were on the brink of disaster because a church emergency arose and for the first time in our marriage, she asked me to stay.  

Even as her breast cancer began to get the upper hand, she pressed forward because of her love for me. She did not want me to suffer the piercing loneliness that I now know all too well. In many ways, she anticipated far better than I the sorrow that was about to crash over me and did all in her power to protect me. She was an amazing woman. She loved me. Oh, what a joy it was to come home to her, to talk with her, to be with her. As I told her often, the only thing I wish I had done differently in our courtship was marry her sooner. Oh, to have loved and been loved by April Gentry Witkowski.

What Now?

And now ten years later… my sanctification buddy is gone. Our marriage is over. There are no cards to write nor dates to plan. Once again, I find my heart on an October 20th filled with nervous trepidation. I have no clue what tomorrow will bring and cannot predict what form God’s deliverance will take. As I noted before, I am neither a prophet nor the son of a prophet. And while I struggle to wait patiently upon the Lord, I face the daunting task of trying to make sense of this day that meant something so very different just a few short months ago.

How does one both appreciate what was and push forward towards what could be? What does one do with what was once his anniversary?

In one of her journals a few months back, my dear April penned these gracious words:

I can’t express…how much my marriage means to me. Peter is more than a best friend or partner; he is the one whom my soul loves. He is the one I always want to be with. I never grow tired of talking to him…You gave me the exact husband that I always prayed for. Thank you! Thank you for giving me something so great!

I suspect that I will never fully know what to do with October 20th. But I know where to begin. I will follow the lead of my dear wife one last time and thank our heavenly father for what was. Or to quote my dear April, “Thank you for giving me something so great!”

May God be so merciful to me again.