“Mom, if you had the opportunity to either be who you are today, or go back and be, say, 25 again, which would you pick?” Andrew Joseph asks from the front passenger seat of the Toyota truck.
Wow. I had to stop and think about that one for a minute. You see, when I turned 25, I became engaged to the boys’ daddy, and the next 23 years were filled with love, laughter, and all-out fun. Each and every day. I miss those days. The three of us, well, we’re doing okay, and we laugh together quite often…but it’s not the same as living with “Mr. Fun.”
“A.J., that’s a great question. And even though it would be wonderful to be 25 again, especially if it meant starting over again with your daddy, I have to say that I would rather be who and where I am today.” Those words came out of my mouth? Yes, they most certainly did.
I wouldn’t trade my life for anyone else’s in the world. And I really don’t want to be 25 again. Looking back, I was so naive. I just hadn’t been out in the world. I led a sheltered, happy life in Western Kentucky. I’ll never forget the chairman of the Biology dept. chuckling before our wedding, saying, “Nancy, you’re going to discover there’s a whole big world outside of Mayfield, KY.” Maryland and Texas were the two states that were home to us as a married couple…Maryland for 2 years, Texas for the other 20.
Plus, if I went back to being 25, I wouldn’t have my Andrew and my Benjamin—the singularly two best things Mark Howell and I ever did. Their faith, their strength, and their empathy continually amaze me.
Don’t get me wrong…they are still 9 and 10 year old boys, prone to disgusting sounds and raunchy humor, just as apt to start wrestling each other in the floor as they are to help around the house. But they are my 9 and 10 year olds 🙂
I took the afternoon to begin going through things piled in our garage. I brought home several boxes of miscellaneous treasures from the Kansas farm, leaving practically no place for us to walk between vehicles.
Mark’s mom kept many things. We have teased her that she may have kept too much at times, but the things I went through this afternoon were truly keepsakes. She kept every letter Mark wrote them, and after we were married, we would both write. It is so funny to read about what he was doing, especially as he was getting ready to “pop the big one” (his term for proposing) to me in April of 1986. There are letters of him waxing poetic about how content and happy he is, as our wedding approaches. While he was readying for his TPWD interview while we were in Maryland, he agonizes about the long wait, before hearing he did, in fact, secure the job. He sends a job notice to his parents, circled in red, with “This is the job I got!” at the bottom. He wrote them frequently from his work computer, and I never read those letters until today. Thank you, my sweet mother-in-law, for saving these for me and our boys.
Mark saved every letter I wrote him. Every card I sent, too. I love reading my prose, seeing how young and wide-eyed I was about the world in general. He was my knight in shining armor, and I thought he could do no wrong.
Twenty five years later, looking back, I may have been naive about many things, but I was 100% on target about him. He was a great guy, and rarely did do wrong. He helped me become the woman I am today. With his encouragement, I gained confidence and self-esteem. He tirelessly worked to provide for our family, spiritually, intellectually, and monetarily.
I’m beginning to look at things like these letters and photos, with more of a realistic fondness. There’s rarely the sobbing and heavy weeping that would’ve accompanied an afternoon of sorting like this 6 months ago. I can smile, shake my head, and give a little chuckle, while at the same time have a couple of tears run down my cheeks. He was awesome. He was mine. But now he is God’s….
I believe that a deep healing has begun in me. Not only in me, but in my boys. The trip to Kansas for the one year mark was difficult, but so very necessary. As much as we love him and we miss him, life is going on. We wish he were here physically. But we know he is here spiritually.
There will always be a part of me that loves him. Heck, I’ve loved him since I was 22 years old. But God is helping me move forward, and is opening new doors for us. There will never be another Mark Howell. God pretty much broke the mold with him.
It is my prayer that my family is content with just us three, but if God sees fit to bring someone else to us down the road, we will welcome that, all of us, with open arms. These boys have so much love to give. And I would just like someone to cook for every once in awhile 🙂
I am amazed at the greatness of my God. He is magnificent, He is my confidante, He is my closest friend. And I might have never gotten this close to God if I hadn’t walked the difficult path I’ve walked for the past 13 months. Just goes to show you that God can weave good from anything.
In some of Mark’s personal papers, I ran across a church directory from his home church, circa 1985. As I flipped it over, there is a poem, author unknown. It is beautiful, and I had never heard it before.