Almost 20 years ago I walked into the same restaurant I had worked at through college, seeking a job to restart my life. The first place I applied, the first time to check that horrible box on the application that put me in a category, changed who I was, I sought a relatively safe place to begin again. I needed an income fast, two children to support, housing and transportation to secure. I started back where I had been before things had gone so wrong. Maybe I was looking for a do-over, a chance to make new choices based on the new me. What I found was that second chance, the hiring manager looked carefully over my application and asked about that box. He was clearly puzzled, I didn’t look like the usual applicant for the position and certainly not one who presented with a felony conviction. I told him my story, he checked with HR. He gave me a job, he gave me a lifeline.
I worked my lunch shift as a server then washed dishes in the back for a free lunch, came back for the evening shift on the days the kids were with their father. The manager gave me every extra shift available, I took any chance to make money. Soon he moved me up to an hourly management spot, a shift meal came with that as well. I couldn’t afford to eat otherwise. The business was slow, we had much time to begin knowing each other. His work ethic was exceeded only by his sense of fun, he had such a ready laugh. He attracted people, all ages and genders. I watched him while I worked, wondering how someone could be so light, so easy to be with, seeming not to carry burdens as he lifted those of others. One evening after a shift he asked me if I wanted to go for a drink. Thus began the end of that job and the beginning of the rest of my life.
We are opposites politically, he likes red wine, I only drink white. He backs the state school to the South, I will never abandon my Boilers. A smile is his most natural facial expression, mine is resting bitch face. He craves social time, I don’t think I ever have. A proud carnivore, he knows I prefer veggies. He doesn’t eat fruit, my mainstay. His entertainment is visual, I hate watching movies and need books like I need air, he doesn’t read. Ice cream is his favorite treat, I am lactose intolerant. How could we possibly be together? Married now for 16 years, we have weathered too many storms to recite. Low points take me back to that day when I walked into the restaurant and wonder if his life wouldn’t have been so much easier had I chosen the one down the street. Left wondering just what he could gain from a union with me, I know that God chose him as my partner.
Chef rounds me out, pulls me up from dark moods and too much introspection. He reminds of the playful world available, if only I choose to engage. He has modeled what a father can be, in the sometimes impossible position as step-father. His love never stopped, his generosity never quit, even as frustration boiled over. He carried the worries of troubled children, he insisted on respect for me when I was willing to allow unacceptable behavior, he made fun breakfasts. Through it all he kept working, working working 60, 70 plus hours each week, securing the future of our family which now includes our grandson. Demonstrating what God wants from men, not perfection but striving with integrity to be leaders in the church, home and community, he brings redemption to his brotherhood. He taught me to give other men a chance, to allow for friendships and small group interaction with that other gender who had before only meant danger. He opened the world to me.
My Chef has been pruned these last few months, a cutting so painful to watch I often can barely contain my rage. He deserves much more, has sacrificed too deeply for this to be his daily reality. Yet this season is bringing him into his own rounding out, plumbing the depths to discover what else he truly wants, who else he is called to be. I see his more, all those around see it. Finally he has time to explore his own reflection. I know that the man God led me to is now truly leading him. Scary as it is to not see the road ahead, when you trust the One who paved it, the One who sends the Light, traveling only requires a next step and then a next until finally you realize you have arrived.
Today my Chef turns a year older, maybe a day he will reflect that he is not where he wants to be if measured by bank account statements or employment status. Yet I know he is right where God intends, on a new path, one I am so blessed to walk with him. Today I celebrate not just my Chef but a God who led me into a restaurant 20 years ago to rebuild my life, a life now restarting together with God at the center. Faith, family friends and then work, balance restored. Through it all, I am so very proud to call this man my husband, to affirm those vows taken long ago. God knew our individual strengths would be called on to lift us rather than separate us, a strong union to face the future only He could see. Hand in hand we take this journey, following God, discovering the next adventure. Happy birthday to my Chef, I contentedly stay in your shadow, remain your sous chef, allow your light to warm me. We are right where God wants us.