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Did One But Know (My Bride on Her Fortieth Birthday)

One of the things I love to do for fun is read, ponder, and memorize poetry. One of my favorites is “I Wish I Could Remember That First Day” by the Victorian poet Christina Rossetti. In this poem she gives voice to a woman thinking back to the first time she met the man she would eventually fall in love with. She expresses remorse that she cannot remember more about the day and the occasion. She knows it happened but is grieved at the realization that she can’t recall details—even basic ones like whether it was cloudy or sunny, whether it was summer or winter. But that lapse of memory should be no surprise, right? There was no reason to take note of the details because there was no way of knowing that this man and, therefore this occasion, would eventually prove to be especially significant. She says,

If only I could recollect it, such
A day of days! I let it come and go
As traceless as a thaw of bygone snow;
It seemed to mean so little, meant so much;

She finishes wistfully: “Did one but know…” If she had known then how important the day and the meeting would prove, she would have recorded every detail. She would have made sure to take mental snapshots of it all. But, alas, it was soon over and forgotten, lost to the mists of time.

I know the feeling.

It was the summer of 1993. I was sixteen going on seventeen, sandwiched between eleventh and twelfth grades, convinced, no doubt, that I was all grown up. That summer I was working shifts as a gas jockey in the little town of Ancaster, Ontario. The Blue Jays were flying high and well on their way to a second consecutive World Series. Life was good.

One evening my friend Mark asked me to hang out at his place and my guess is that we were getting together to watch the ballgame since he had cable and I did not. He lived on a little court with 5 or 6 other houses and as we drove into the court that evening, we saw the neighborhood kids playing a game together. One girl was a little bit older than the others—she looked about our age—and obviously the boss. Did Mark introduce us? I don’t remember. But I know I would remember if I had grasped the significance of that moment. I would have taken in every detail. I would have noticed exactly where she was standing, how she looked, what she was doing. “Did one but know.” But how could I have known? How could I have known that I was getting my very first look at my future wife, at the one woman God had already determined I’d spend my life with. I couldn’t. So Mark and I walked into his house and I didn’t think about her again.

At least, I didn’t think about her again until that fall. In twelfth grade I began a new school—Ancaster High School. On my first morning I walked into history class, and there she was, sitting at the desk right behind me. She recognized me—did I recognize her? Again, I don’t remember. We chatted, and pretty quickly we became friends. Again, I wish I had recorded every moment of that first day in class. It would be fun to replay it now—now that I know how our lives would intertwine. But I have no memory of it beyond the mere fact that we met (and that her first words to me were “If you ever tell anyone, I’ll kill you. I’ll absolutely kill you.” She was thinking back to the fact that I had seen her doing something as uncool as playing with the neighborhood kids.) We were friends for the first semester when we shared that history class, we were acquaintances for the second semester when we no longer shared a class, and then I graduated and moved on to university while she went back for grade thirteen—Ontario had thirteen grades in those days, though I chose to fast-track by compressing my final two years into one. And again, she disappeared from my life and mind. “Did one but know.”

More than a year later the phone rang. She had been cleaning out her address book, had come to my number, and had to make the decision about whether to keep it or erase it. She chose not only to keep it but to call it. It turns out she also had a murder mystery party coming up and needed someone to accompany her. Would I like to? No, I was far too shy so turned her down. But she called again a little while later. She asked me to go somewhere else, though I’ve long since forgotten what or where. I turned her down again. We kept talking, though, and eventually decided we’d meet up for ice cream.

She didn’t know it, but I had an agenda for this meeting, for the first time I had seen her in nearly a year-and-a-half. I had to explain to her that I couldn’t date her because I was a Christian and she was not—she had been raised without any reference to religion, hadn’t ever been to a church, hadn’t ever read a Bible, hadn’t ever put her faith in Jesus Christ. And here, at last, is where the vague memories give way to much more vivid ones. I can remember where we met and what she was wearing. I can remember her responding well and expressing what seemed to be genuine interest in Christianity. I can remember her professing faith just a few weeks later and being baptized not too long after that. And, see? The memories begin to get much clearer because I—because we—began to realize they mattered. It began to dawn on us that we were building toward something. We started to deliberately make memories together. We’ve been making them for more than twenty years.

Aileen PhotoThe girl I first saw when I was sixteen and she was seventeen turns forty years old today. We’ve been together for more than twenty years and have been married for nearly eighteen. I’ve often wondered if it’s weird that I carry in my wallet a picture of an eighteen-year-old girl. Is that weird? Not if it’s a picture of my wife, right? The photo has been there for twenty years now and I guess I keep it because it links me back to the beginning, back to the days I’ve mostly forgotten, back to when I first saw her, when I first spoke to her. It’s one of my most precious possessions. Yet even though I keep that picture of her from when we first met, it’s who she has become, who she is now, that I love the most. She has become patient and kind and wise and godly. She serves me, she helps me, she pushes me, she strengthens me, she guards me, she loves me. I am gladly, gloriously dependent on her in so many ways.

The great honor of my life is that she would willingly link herself to me so we can go through life together. I am proud of her: proud to be her friend, proud to be her husband. I am proud to have been there when she turned twenty, when she turned thirty, and to be here still as she turns forty. I pray that God gives us many more years, many more decades, many more memories together. It baffles me, it humbles me, it thrills me that God would entrust to me so precious a gift as his daughter, my wife. I am—and no doubt will be—eternally grateful.


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