As Mike finished his Ph.D. last week, I remembered how it began:
A new academic year
The foundation for our relationship was laid the summer before the first semester of his Ph.D. program and my sophomore year at Cal Poly. The summer that ended with a kidney biopsy and medication-induced weight gain while I licked the wounds from what I’d thought was a budding romance, but turned out to be a terrible misunderstanding. So distracted by the partly real, partly melodramatic challenges of my young life, I didn’t notice Mike’s gentle but earnest affection until after the fact.
As summer ended, my thoughts swirled in gusts of fear and self doubt while I pretended to feel otherwise. Zapped physically by illness and the exhausting mental pressure, I slept hungrily, hoping to wake restored. I rarely did, but sometimes on those quiet mornings, God could reach my heart with peace and reassurance.
Confused by the war within my body and embarrassed by the resultant weight gain, I glimpsed a view through the self absorbed fog on one of those mornings and saw Mike’s actions with clarity. I hadn’t acknowledged them to myself at the time: the sting and fear of rejection was too close.
The tangible proof arranged itself in my memory: the eye contact held a beat longer, the innocent peck on the cheek that could have meant nothing, but meant everything. In that moment, he couldn’t have known that I wasn’t wearing the shoes I’d bought for that occasion just two months earlier. To my despair, I couldn’t buckle the strap that wrapped around my puffy ankles. A light sweater hid the not quite zipped top of my dress.
If my memory attached more significance to these interactions than he’d intended, I clutched a truly tangible piece of evidence: his handwritten letter responding to the birthday card I sent. I thought I’d sent that card simply as a thoughtful friend: had I, or was it a feeble, noncommittal attempt to get his attention? I’m not sure, now. He responded, with gusto, and I finally realized it.
A solid foundation
By November, the fall of 2006 had turned into a decidedly magical one, marked by more surprise letters in the mailbox. My days of puzzling through linguistics and Chaucer in the Middle English were punctuated by long phone conversations. We never ran out of things to say.
We lived our separate lives, laughing with our friends and going to class. From the beginning, we were serious: stabilizing lupus consumed so much of my mind during that season that it would have been impossible to forge an honest bond without discussing it at length.
In the brief interactions I’d had with Mike years prior, I most remembered his sense of humor. That he didn’t find such a serious condition off putting but instead became a steadfast supporter spoke volumes. One quality I love most about him is how he harnesses his gift for humor to lighten heavy situations. Getting to know him while I so needed something he couldn’t give (healing) set a standard of turning to God together.
I didn’t think much about the realities of his doctorate education, and what it would require of him (and us) in future years. He unflinchingly took on the arguably weightier burden I carried, one doctors say would last a lifetime. The Ph.D. may have demanded more sacrifice than either of us realized it would, but Mike has demonstrated selflessness since day one. He has helped me better understand God by his example of devoted, sacrificial love.
I’m considering writing more about the journey to Ph.D. Do you want to read more like this?