Sunday, October 2, 2011

how we met.

last night we saw the movie 50/50. it is about cancer. not sure why i picked it. i sometimes like to prove to myself that i can handle it. cancer. but i can't. i cried the whole time. even though it was funny at parts. mostly it was too real. too sad. too fresh for us. it was tough to watch having gone down a very similar role not that long ago. but one thing would not leave my mind...this movie is missing it. it was wasted because it was more about numbing the pain than dealing with the pain. even though at times numbness is normal. the core of it. the core of cancer for me was allowing the Lord to work through me and in me and glorifying Him in that.  my cancer was not wasted it. do not waste yours.


after we got home and cried in the regal cinema parking lot. i went upstairs and justin started typing in the living room. i tried to wait up for him but i was too tired. when he did finally come up he grabbed my hand and said..."i have a surprise for you."

i knew exactly what it was...

i think all love stories are beautiful. the idea of two people coming together and falling for each other in such a way that their heart is unable to express the love that is bursting inside. i love them all. i love hearing how people met. what brought them together. why they were first attracted to one another. every story is so different and so personal to each couple. parts of their story that no one else on earth could possibly ever understand the way they do. i feel that way. i think we were meant to.

i love all stories. but i love ours the most. here it is. written by my husband.

Sometimes during Chemo visits I would dress up nicely and act smart about medical things, while others I would dress poorly and act dumb about things I heard, and make jokes. I had no idea what to do during those appointments, so I just sat and hurt for Lib. These times were a mess of tears behind sunglasses and fiddling with things. It was the hardest thing I ever did in my entire life -- to try and not waste -- having to endure through cancer. Each poke, each test brought another inch of what felt like torture. I hated, despised, and cringed at each thing we did involving cancer. The rides to and from Chemo I hated the worst. We would always hit a bump. There was no let up, there were bumps everywhere. What I mean about getting worse is this: the “50th” one of anything wasn’t easier, and the minutes were hours. Rather, it was harder. There was nothing like seeing my wife go though this. I stayed in it emotionally as best I could, so I felt it too, and that I knew, would forever change everything about the journey we were on. I have only thought about what it did to me twice: first, at PF Changs to celebrate a cancer anniversary, and I cried like a baby. The second was tonight, watching the movie 50/50. Result was the same, cried.

A large place of emptiness returned to me tonight as I relived those rides, those feelings, those times, and those moments that I have tried so hard to forget. After all, this is my young, pretty, jubilant wife, right? Long haired, soft spoken, funny smile, writes messy, reminds me of a river, sings Ryan Adams in my truck, little wife. I always think of her with these descriptions in mind because of it reminds me of when we met. It was a wonderful encounter.

Here is how it happened.

Young Life has eager, passionate, and potentially responsible college students, of which I was one, do summer staff at their camps. I went to Rockbridge in 2005 to serve for the month of June. I took a lot of tie-dye shirts and had pretty long hair. I thought it was cool at the time. I came off a road trip with a good friend of mine. Camp was fresh - my mood was light. I was very passionate about growing in the Lord. I had $5. Potential was in the air as we started that month with a group of people from everywhere. Lib and I were among the group.

As we practiced an initial camp event, another friend introduced me to Libby for the first time. She said, “Ryder”, this is “Li**y”. The *’s are what I heard - meaning, I had no idea what she said. I said, “Lilly?”. “No”, my friend said, “LiBBy.” I remember saying next, “with B’s?” As crazy as it sounded, I had never in all my life heard the name Libby. It may sound dumb, but I thought it was one of the prettiest words I had ever heard in my life. I was dumb struck. I liked her right away. I was sweating, and meeting others, but thinking to myself, “what a great name”, and “I wonder if it’s a nickname?”. I was stuck on the name and her at the same time.

Libby worked in the bakery. I rode bikes through the woods as a guide. Whenever the bakery needed help (insert laugh here), I volunteered. I have received a hard time from several friends who were there at the time, and I still want to say to this day that I only went because they needed help. Yeah right, you say. It’s true.

I will say this, I was not confused about being incredibly in love, and being nervous about admitting that to myself. I did not have a great track record coming into that summer with relationships. A lazier friend of mine had me do his job in the morning, which was fill water jugs in the kitchen. I took forever doing it because I could see little glimpses into the bakery. Somewhere, some kid is still thirsty because of how long I took, with those glimpses, as I filled the water jugs. After all, Libby was over there and things were beginning to spark.

She seemed to like me too. I was also praying at the time like crazy because the situation was so complicated, and hearts and people were involved. I felt a great peace about trying to stay away from her, and be respectful, and do things right. She was not “mine”, after all, to be thinking this way about. So we kept our distance. There were many rich relationships that month that formed, and this new feeling with Libby was not center-stage. Jesus was the most significant things about this month. Our relationship  was present alongside, and wasn’t rushed. Wasn’t inappropriate or shady, it was just, well, developing inside us with every look and forgone conversation. It was a love that was gaining steam. We would see each other and purposefully go do something else. But, it backfired. We might as well have talked, because even the silence brought us closer to loving each other.

We never actually even high-fived, or anything. It was right, and slow, and simple on the outside. Inside my mind was racing when I saw her. The month might as well have been a year long thing. Each day, and each conversation was 1,000 years long. And it was summer, those kinds of summers from when you were younger. We were in Virginia. Every time someone asked me to take a picture where Libby was in the group I would zoom in on her, then zoom back out, and take the picture. 

Soon, Libby decided to give me a gift. I left camp to go to a wedding back in Kentucky. I drove many hours there for that wedding, slept a little, and drove many hours back. I didn’t hear anything that anyone said during that time in Kentucky. I was still at camp in all the whirlwind of emotions that were going on. When I arrived back to camp, around 6am, Libby and a few friends had stayed up all night waiting, to make sure I got there safely. I was caught off guard to see them up. It was a nice gesture from the others, but from Libby, it was a gift. Now, granted, if you have been in love like this you can see any thing as a gift. In fact, you are pretty much looking for a reason to try and feel indebted to that person. But here from Libby, instead, was a real gift. An “I care about you” in the midst of many unspoken emotions. I resolved that I would also get Libby a gift in return.

I made her cry one time as well, working in the bakery (this was not the gift). We were filling up ice cream pies, racks and racks of them. She asked me, “what’s your favorite movie?”. “You’ll never guess it - it’s so random”, I said. She kept asking, so I told her a little background. Years ago I had seen a movie that I had watched on repeat ever since, with Nicholas Cage, called The Family Man. It’s a Christmas movie. It’s about an incredible successful business man who gets a glimpse at what an ordinary life would look like with love, had he made different choices and “chose” her. It made me want a daughter. It made me want to be funny. It made me want to wear sweatpants, write letters, sing, and be courageous with my wife of someday. I love that movie. So I told Libby, “The Family Man”, adding, “it has Nicholas Cage”, thinking I would need to clarify. She quickly ran into Rockbridge’s giant freezer, crying. I looked at another bakery worker, and said, “Did I say something wrong?”. Libby emerged soon after, and quickly I realized why she had run in. It was her favorite movie too. (side note from libby. i freaked out and started sweating and had to cool down. no one on earth likes that movie and i watched it on repeat for most of my senior year. we had the same favorite movie. that was enough for me to know he would be my husband one day. girls think like that). Thank you Nick Cage.

So, our glimpse continued with shadow puppets. One night, up late, where I would later write in my journal, “this is the most tired I have ever been”, I was making shadow puppets trying not to go to sleep against Rockbridge’s gym wall. It was worth staying up and doing it because the light was perfect, and your shadow on the wall showed every last detail of your body with the light behind. I had never noticed before this night, but it was perfect for shadow puppets. So I made a little dog and was messing with it as a shadow, when suddenly, another smaller, obviously more female version of the same dog shadow appeared near it. Both dogs looked at each other blankly. They flirted around a little, then they kissed. It was awesome. Libby (the controller of the other dog shadow puppet) and I did even talk. I went straight to bed, proud of my dog, sensing the magic of the moment. I have not forgotten those shadow puppets, even to this day.

Around a day or so later we finally talked seriously, though we had done everything right, barely even talking, trying to avoid each other, trying to look the other way, even talking seriously that we “were not here for this, but are here to work, to serve, and to build into these people”. We had promised to each other, “no maneuvers”. We were not children - this could be dealt with. Even though all this preventative work had happened, finally, on one of the last nights, Lib asked me to talk. I was wearing a blue rain coat. She had to put a ham into the oven for the next days brunch, and she asked me to go to the kitchen with her. We took about 500 steps and she talked for 498 of them, about life, what she was thinking, what she was feeling. She talked about me, and not about me, then back to me. I remember thinking that her life was exploding right now. God was teaching her so much. She was discovering who she was. It was wonderful to be a part of.

How big a part of it was I? She wasn’t sure, and she told me that. But there was something about us, and this glimpse we were getting of an “us”. Finally, after many words, she asked me what I thought about the conversation we (she) was having. I did not go with my gut instinct to tell her I felt the same way, and in hindsight, this made all the difference. I was called to respect her. I mumbled some answer and asked to go think about somethings. She looked confused, for she had really just put herself out there. I felt that I might have made a mistake not saying anything. It was too late, and I wondered if it was over.

It was time to say goodbye. Libby asked me earlier in the month if I would take her to the airport after the month was over. Having no where to be (until August), I agreed. The goodbye would happen at the airport, but not before I could repay her that gift. This was Libby’s first time to Virginia, so all these mountains and smells were new for her. As our June team left with many tears and talks of reunion, I went into the bathroom to try and figure out how to deliver Libby a gift and also tell her what I was trying to communicate. What did I want to say? I wasn’t sure, but it was something to the effect of this: this was all a “Family Man” glimpse for me. I wanted her to know that no matter what happened for the rest of our lives, this month, all those looks, those tears, every feeling unspoken and unrealized, it was all a gift to me. No matter what. There were no expectations of anything - it was just a gift. And I would never forget it or her.

So I wrote this with a marker in a small note, and we left camp, driving down the windy roads near Rockbridge, past a timber company, to the Goshen Pass. The water was strong on that day and the music was good. We traded favorite songs and parked near the water. I have told everyone who would listen whenever I was near this water that this is the place my wife and I fell in love. The truth is, it happened long before then. But on that rock, looking upstream, with Libby looking down, I believed it could be a practical love that we lived out, not just forgot about. For the next drive partway up a mountain, I asked Libby to blindfold herself to that she didn’t see the view as we climbed the gravel road leading to a lookout over the valley. I had found out about this place the year before, and this would be the gift I returned to her. Still blindfolded, I walked her out to this ledge looking out over the green hills rolling into the distance. I told her to wait 30 seconds, take off the blindfold, and look. Breath it in, I told her, and I would be back down the trail after she had all the time she needed. I left a little note, and this is what it said (for the most part):

    L ~ No maneuvers. This is a gift to repay you, and allow you to say goodbye to Virginia. Take all the time you need to pray and reflect on the beauty, and I will be waiting back down the trail. Know from me - that every second, every look, and every talk, was a gift from the God we serve, who gives and takes away. We have been given the chance to say hello, and today, the chance to say goodbye. No matter what happens, thank you for the glimpse. 
Yours, Justin.

Only half of that letter remains, after Ava got a hold of it. I would go onto write many letters that summer and in the coming years, but that was the only one, until cancer came along, that I thought might be my last to Lib. I had no idea what would happen, and what would be forgotten as we got back into normal life. I was too caught up during it to think about the future, but now, I began to wonder what would translate into reality.

Onto the airport with the sun shining. It was a beautiful day, and we carried suitcases in for the flight and final goodbye. This was it - the final one. I love the memory of this next moment and the way it always seems like I am making something up, although what really happened next did actually happen and did actually change everything. Two words posted on the screen: FLIGHT CANCELLED. More tears and running into the bathroom. What a joy, it honestly felt like winning the lottery. Libby’s flight cancelled, along with another co-worker of ours from the camp, we had a little time to explore, eat, and wait, and more importantly, we could postpone the goodbye until later.

What followed were normal things in a normal city, with our same exploding feelings intensifying. Camp is tough and can seem like a bubble, but I felt the same way about her in a mall, at a restaurant, buying a hat (that quickly became my favorite), than I did anywhere else. It was a true glimpse of the way we felt in normal life, thanks to this cancelled flight. We would always know it wasn’t a camp thing. The day changed everything. We talked sitting near a pool until midnight that night, outside of a hotel that Libby and our other friend were staying in. I decided I would leave at midnight, and the time quickly came. The real goodbye was quick, as there was nothing to say. We hugged for the first time to say goodbye. Then I drove off looking in the mirror. I tried to think of a good line, but had nothing, and felt so tired. Lib says she cried but I did not see it. We had met, fallen in love, and thirty short days later, a lifetime having passed, we said goodbye. That is the story of how we met.

And so I always think of summer and what happened to us as we drove away and begin to process the forming connection. We knew it was special, and it has never lost its punch, even to this day. There is a certain feeling about her words, hair, smell, and life that always remind me of that summer. There are certain songs that take me there once again. There was simply never another time in my life when I ever felt like that for anyone else.

And that same young, beautiful, brown-haired girl that became my wife, is the same one who taught me not to waste my life through her cancer. It’s the same woman I had to watch wilt away and become sicker and sicker, wondering the whole time how she was as strong as she was. What the glimpse of a “perfect” life of love turned into was a glimpse at a perfect grace - when my young love vision was changed. There will not be a day that I don’t thank God for Libby’s survival, but more so for what he taught us in the process of curing her with medicine. I learned Libby was a gift when I was young, but more recently that the greatest gift is the grace in Jesus I received enduring through this with her, stumbling along, trying to help out the love of my life. The same girl that sat alongside the river with me, was the one who suffered before me this year. I can hardly believe it.

So I often go back to that chemo room in my mind. And I remember being young and falling in love energetically and simply in this way so long ago, innocently and unexpectedly. But it’s there, near Libby getting chemo, where I am humbled, lost, and weak. There. It's where I can feel being poor and empty inside, and being filled with only grace. Seeing that same light-hearted, brown-haired girl of summer ’05 -- white as a sheet with poison, hair falling out, asleep, disoriented, heart broken and sick, but stubbornly hopeful. There I see her catch a vision for not wasting the worst thing that’s ever happened to her because she believes in a  God who is for her in it. There I see her pray, wait, and live. She is younger and more attractive then ever in those moments. This I realize, is where I fell in love, all over again. The story of how we met is wonderful, and now you know it, but the story of who met us through cancer is way more significant and much more impactful, and that is the love story we most want to contribute to this world. That is what we do not want to waste. 


  1. No words, just thankful to have read such an amazingly sweet God written story of the two of you. Thankful, so incredibly thankful for you both.

  2. Holy Cow,

    Tears fall down my face.

    Praise Jesus.

  3. This was so beautiful. Thank you for sharing. I feel like every post pushes me closer to Christ. This one especially. Yall have an amazing love relationship/romance and yet you constantly glorify God. so admirable.

    ps summer staff? typical ;)

  4. This is so beautiful )

  5. Beautiful! Your story is such an inspiration...

  6. This is a beautiful story and just another testament of God's unwavering love for all of us. Thanks to you both for being constant reminders to me of what it looks like to follow Christ with reckless abandon. Justin, I loved the line where you described Libby going through cancer and chemo treatments because I think it also represents how every person goes through this life - heartbroken and sick, but stubbornly hopeful - heartbroken by our sinful ways but always, always hopeful in Christ.

  7. Great post! I am as proud.

  8. I was there for that! Though I had no idea what was going on. So happy for you guys though!

  9. How amazing it will be when Ava get's to read this someday!

  10. bawled my eyes out. amazing story! amazing testimony! powerful. thank you for sharing!!!

  11. This just might be the most beautiful thing I've ever read...

  12. My husband has cancer and I needed to be reminded of the blessings that have come from going through this with him for 2 1/2 years. God used you to bring me out of a couple days of self pity and back into His grace.....fully aware of His provisions and love. Thanks!!

  13. Just-Thx for loving lib so well...and for loving Christ so well too. Love u 3!

  14. Beautiful! Tears running down my face.

  15. Wonderful retelling of such a precious time in your lives.
    As a wife of a cancer survivor, I relived our experience a bit through reading your heart here today (Justin). I am so thankful for your testimony--both of you! Reading each post over this past year has brought further healing to my heart. So often I have been reminded of this passage as I read:

    "The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me; because the LORD hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound;
    To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all that mourn;
    To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he might be glorified."

    God really is SO good, ALL the time! May He continue to be glorified through you, and abundantly bless your sweet family. What a wonderful work He has done in you--so far! :)


  16. I was at Rockbridge in June of 2005. I was 18 and had just graduated high school. It was in week at Rockbridge that I decided to give my life to Christ. I am now married and a pastor in Bowling Green, Ohio. Because you guys served I was able to meet Jesus and my life has never been the same. It seems that the Lord was making sure your lives would never be the same either.


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