"I can't argue with you. You talk so fast, I don't get a chance to think of what to say before you make a new argument." Those were the words of my frustrated husband as he walked from the room.
He was right. There was nothing fair about Roger, a quiet man who carefully considered his words before uttering them, trying to keep up in a heated conversation with me, a woman who had a career in public speaking. We had to find a different way to air our complaints.
Journal of discovery
Ten years earlier we'd been high school teachers in love. Every day I'd slip love notes into his mailbox in the teacher's lounge and would eagerly return to my box to retrieve a message from him.
Remembering those special moments gave me an idea for a solution to our current communication breakdown. I decided to write Roger a letter in a journal and leave it on his pillow. When I went to bed that night, I was surprised to find the journal not only moved to my pillow, but a letter from Roger inside. That began 18 years of interactive journals that now live on a special bookshelf in our home. Those journals are filled with stories of love, appreciation, anger, humor, and cherished memories.
The journals became the instruments by which I discovered the real man I married. I tremble when I think what I might have missed if Roger had not penned his feelings and thoughts to me over the years. When I was out of town on business every week, his written words revealed his frustration that I was taking too much time away from my family. While I knew my schedule was difficult on my husband and sons, it was the words Roger put in the journal that helped me understand how necessary my presence was, not just for what I did to maintain order, but to emotionally support my family.
Writing daily letters to Roger has blessed me with the opportunity to share things I'd ordinarily not express. Thoughts of how I feel about his support, his husband and parenting skills, and the gratitude I have for him would have been lost if I had not paused to take the time to write them. Spending a few minutes writing a brief letter to the man God has blessed me with gives him the daily gift of my feelings for him. It's a wonderful bonus to receive a daily note from him in return. What woman wouldn't want to read, Sorry I didn't have a chance to write this morning before I left. I just can't go to bed without writing down how filled with love I was when I looked across the table tonight and you were encouraging our boys with that beautiful smile. Sleep tonight knowing you are treasured.
The "fire extinguisher"
It isn't all about blessings. Many journal entries are pages of raw anger. But it's anger our children didn't hear blared across a room. When we have a disagreement, we make time to separate and pull out the journal. We take turns expressing our position and frustrations. In those situations, Roger calls it "The Fire Extinguisher." It gives him the chance to express his thoughts. Our agreement is that we'll read what our spouse has written with an open, prayerful mind.
I've discovered that frequently God works on my heart while I'm writing. But the greatest benefit of writing our argument is that it minimizes misunderstandings. The thoughts are in black and white, and we're able to deal with them in an open way. It also removes the eye rolling, sighs, and body language that can escalate a disagreement.
Some of our best entries have been prayers we've written and agreed to pray together and Scriptures that speak to us as individuals and as a couple. There are prayers from times of heartache, joy, and guidance. To pick up the journal and read an entry from Roger that begins, This morning, I prayed for you … causes my heart to leap with gratitude. The journals are bulging with prayers for and celebrations of our children, as well as expressions of concern and problem solving.
Those treasures on our bookshelf are brimming with hopes and dreams. We've planned vacations and adventures. We've even included little clippings and travel brochures. We discuss big, life-changing decisions. I look back at some of the older journals and smile at dreams that have come true, as well as some that are still unfulfiilled.
The best medicine
Several years ago, my husband was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer's. Our journals are now a cherished record of thoughts and fears during the progress of a life consuming illness.
Now Roger's letters are filled with misspellings, grammatical mistakes, and lapses of meaning, but each one is an irreplaceable jewel. At this point, every precious word he puts on paper is a blessing. As physicians marvel at how well he's doing, I give credit to God for the gift of journaling. We believe Roger's dedication to writing a daily letter is an important contribution to slowing the progress of his disease.
One day after Roger had suffered a troubling bout of forgetfulness, I picked up the journal on my pillow and read:
Today fear is taking over. The day is coming when all my memories of this life we share will be gone. In fact, you and the boys will be gone from me. I will lose you even as I am surrounded by you and your love. I don't want to leave you. I want to grow old in the warmth of memories. Forgive me for leaving so slowly and painfully.
Blinking back tears, I picked up my pen and wrote:
My sweet husband,
What will happen when we get to the point where you no longer know me? I will continue to go on loving you and caring for you—not because you know me or remember our life, but because I remember you. I will remember the man who proposed to me and told me he loved me, the look on his face when his children were born, the father he was, the way he loved our extended family. I'll recall his love for riding, hiking, and reading, his tears at sentimental movies, the unexpected witty remarks, and how he held my hand while he prayed. I cherish the pleasure, obligation, commitment, and opportunity to care for you because I REMEMBER YOU!
Our journaling has had an unexpected impact on our children. Both my sons now incorporate a daily interactive journal in their relationships. Through the years it never occurred to me that they were watching and listening. Roger's simple act as a husband writing a daily note of love and appreciation to his wife was a powerful lesson for his sons. They're better men and husbands for it. How blessed my grandchildren will be to watch their fathers write notes to their mothers.
God in his wisdom knew we need the written word—after all, he wrote the Ten Commandments in stone. The Scriptures are filled with epistles that were so needed by the early Christians. They were precious letters that still guide us today. How blessed we are to be able to look at our Father and learn the importance of words written to each other.
Editors' note: Becky Zerbe touched many Marriage Partnership readers with her inspiring article, "The List that Saved My Marriage" (Fall 2005). We were saddened by the news that later last year Becky and her husband, Roger, were killed instantly in an automobile accident. We thought it would be appropriate to run this, her last article in Marriage Partnership, as a reminder of the powerful legacy the written word can have on our marriage and family.
Copyright © 2006 by the author or Christianity Today/Marriage Partnership magazine.