During the first ten years of my first marriage, my then-husband and I went to Galena, Illinois a handful of times.
I have a few vague memories of those weekends, but to be honest, mostly things like arguing, or me feeling ill at ease, or me seeing what he ordered for dinner first so I knew how much I could spend on mine.
Our final visit to Galena was in October of 2003. I know this because I surprised my then-husband with a tenth-anniversary vow renewal. (Who surprises her spouse with a vow renewal?? Someone who knows that if she asked him to do it, he would laugh and say no. And I know this, because I had asked him and there had been laughter.)
We brought another couple along, our then-pastor and his wife. We stopped at the scenic overlook on Route 20 between Elizabeth and Galena, and I went into the restroom and secretly changed into my wedding dress.
I climbed up the half a dozen flights of stairs of the tower, amidst gawks and whispers from strangers, and overlooking the rolling hills of Galena, I re-promised to stay with my then-husband for the rest of our lives, re-promised to love him the best I could. He – understandably half-heartedly as he had just been blindsided – made the same promises.
That was 2003. I hadn’t been to Galena since.
Our marriage continued on a steady decline over the next decade, with us separating in 2011 and divorcing in 2012.
In 2016, my new, precious husband wanted to take me away somewhere overnight to celebrate our being together for two years. He suggested Galena, which was thoughtful and kind and romantic.
I gratefully said yes, thinking and hoping to myself that enough time had passed. And then I made the reservations.
And then I prayed for redemption, and I prayed that I would have no memories of my first marriage that would cloud over the time celebrating my new, better, stronger, healthier relationship with my new, sweet husband.
Though we drove by the scenic overlook on the way to town, we didn’t stop in until the way back home.
Richard did not know my history there. He did not know that thirteen years before, my first husband and I had pulled in to that same spot and renewed our shaky vows.
Though I wanted to see the view, and though I wanted Richard to experience it, my heart was pounding to see that tower again, possibly to walk up there with my new husband.
But as we turned the bend, I didn’t see the tower, the tower that had been there for twenty-eight years. There was no trace of it, as if it had been burned to the ground, as if it had never been there.
Because, as it turns out, it was torn down in 2011 (the same year my marriage finally came crashing down).
Because, as it turns out, the structure had been deemed “unsafe” (hmmm…).
And because, better still, by the Illinois Department of Transportation (Richard works for the Illinois Department of Transportation). I can’t make this stuff up, people.
In its place, a flourishing garden of gorgeous wildflowers.
I started to cry. I didn’t tell Richard why. He thought it was because of the view (in a sense, it was).
And Richard and I passed the garden without a word. But we stopped to take in the view of rolling hills that went for miles and miles. And I told him, forget mountains, forget oceans, I’ll take hills and hills of farmland any time, that a view like this would be my dream someday.
And he held my hand, and we drove home.
And I continued to sneak glances at him, in awe, in gratitude.
That this sweet man never makes me beg for a thing.
That this sweet man wants to give me the world.
That this sweet man cherishes me.
That this sweet man wouldn’t have to be tricked into making me promises.
That this sweet man doesn’t fight me on anything, really.
That this sweet man is beyond generous with me.
That this sweet man supports me and encourages me and builds me up.
That this sweet man takes care of me.
That this sweet man just loves me.
It was a deeper gift to go back there than I expected. It is our place now. Redemption can come anytime, anywhere.
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