Tagged

My husband loved to give me jewelry. His dad owned a jewelry store, and he’d worked there in different capacities during summers as a teen and then as a college student. He learned how to polish silver, how to deal with the public and how to make a woman happy: by bringing her something from a jewelry store.

The first piece of jewelry he gave me was a delicate necklace made of silver in a starburst design with diamond chips around the outside and a pearl in the center. He gave it to me at Christmas, the year before we got engaged, sending the message he was serious about our relationship. Over the years I’ve received bracelets, broaches, rings, pendants and earrings, all lovely. But the most creative piece went above and beyond all of those.

When Nate was in law school, he participated in ROTC, entering the U. S. Army as a reservist. The Viet Nam War was raging, and by voluntarily enlisting, he beat the draft and a sure assignment to ‘Nam.

When he went on active duty, he was issued a pair of identical ID tags informally called “dog tags.” They were worn around the neck on a 24” ball-chain at all times. Made of aluminum, they wouldn’t corrode or burn. If a soldier was wounded or killed, one tag was taken to the record-keeping officer, the other left on his body for accurate ID.

Nate never went to Viet Nam, a blessing to us as young marrieds. After he received his honorable discharge, his pair of dog tags went into a dresser drawer.

Around the time of our 25th anniversary, he retrieved one of these tags and took it to a jeweler friend, asking him to dip it in gold as a pendant for me. The dog tags represented our safe passage through a dangerous time in America’s history, and he knew I’d understand the significance.

When I opened the blue velvet jewelry box on our anniversary, I was delighted. Next to the regulation dog tag, now gilded in gold, was a mini-tag, also gold. He’d had it engraved with the Scripture that was inside both our wedding bands: “My beloved is mine, and I am his.” (Song of Solomon 2:16)

On the back it read, 11-29-69, until the end of time.” He’d carved his promise to be my husband until time ran out. Today as I fingered the necklace, his inscription took on new meaning. Time had indeed run out on our marriage, and Nate had kept his promise 100%. My heart was flooded with gratitude and deep respect.

The five lines on every dog tag are a distilled summary of that soldier’s life:

  • Line one, his surname.
  • Line two, his given name and middle initial.
  • Line three, his social security number.
  • Line four, his blood type.
  • Line five, his “brand” of religion.

At the moment of death, these hard, cold facts are the only things that matter: who you are, and where you’re going.

There are several spiritual parallels to military dog tags. God knows each of us by name and invites us to the sure knowledge of where we’ll go immediately after dying. When life has boiled down to its bare minimum, dog tag data is all that counts.

But God doesn’t need ID tags to keep us all straight. He actually offers to carve our names into his hand as a way of showing us how much we mean to him. He doesn’t ask us to carve his name on ourselves once we belong to him but does it the other way around. It’s as if he says, “I’m holding your information. It doesn’t have to be stamped into aluminum to evade corrosion or fire. It doesn’t have to be strung on a ball-chain or hung around your neck. And there doesn’t need to be two copies, because who you are and where you’re going is supernaturally protected from all harm.”

Nate made a promise to me, “until the end of time.” God made a promise to all of us, “until the end of time, and throughout eternity.”

“See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands.” (Isaiah 49:16a)

“But now, this is what the LORD says— he who created you… ‘Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.’ ” (Isaiah 43:1)

Making Memories

When our Hans was two, I often said, “Hans, come over here.” He would toddle up to me, and I’d say it again. “Hans, come here.”

Then he’d say, “But I am come-here-d.” And I’d laugh and scoop him up for a hug.

Eventually he figured out this ritual had nothing to do with asking him to come over and everything to do with what he said when he got there. Eventually he’d run to me without having been called and say, “I’m come-here-d, Mama!” waiting for the hug to follow.

Every parent has a million of these happy memories tucked away in a mental treasure chest. They’re part of the family narrative, bits of glue that bond individuals together.

Hans is married now, has a family and lives 4000 miles away in England, but because of our shared memories, we remain close. He’s making new history now, and I’m not part of it. Gradually as the years go by, more and more of his time will be lived with others, which of course is how life goes.

When I think about Nate, the situation has several parallels. He and I each had our parent-child relationships for 20 years before we met, after which we began making memories together. The toddler-Hans memory was just one small part of what Nate and I shared.

Then he died. His departure was similar to when Hans moved to England. Both left quickly, and distances were great, but when Nate moved, he relocated farther away than any point on our globe. I can still get to my son but can no longer get to my husband.

As I think about Nate in his new life in that hidden world, I know he’s making a million fresh memories, none of which include me. The flip side of that scenario is also true. The memories I’m making, many of them delightful, no longer include Nate. For example, although he’d planned to live with me in Michigan, I’m experiencing my first winter in the “summer cottage” without him. Also, this year I’ll turn 65, and all the jokes we made about signing up together for Medicare now only apply to me. I will continue to age, but his birthdays stopped at 64.

Three of his grandchildren will join our family in the next three months, none of whom will know their grandpa. My travel to help with these babies and their toddler siblings, full of bright moments, will occur without him. Our family reunion this fall, returning to a place Nate chose and loved, will be full of satisfaction and significance for all of us, except Nate.

I believe these thoughts are God’s gift to me, encouraging me toward the future. Although my first choice would have been for our family leader to still be leading, the Lord is leading now and is hinting at wonderful memory-making to come. The fact that Nate is a million miles away having a spectacular time without me doesn’t mean I ought not to keep making happy memories right here where he left me.

I believe Nate and I will always be who we are, even in the hereafter. God went to the trouble to design people to be unique, each different from all the others. Why would he homogenize us in heaven? Just as Jesus prompted his friends to notice he was the same recognizable person after his resurrection as before, I think Nate will be the same recognizable man when I see him again.

Once in heaven, we’ll most likely remember our earthly history together while catching up on the separate memories we’ve made during our time apart. The Bible says there are no marriage partners in heaven, but I’m sure Nate and I will be good friends, just as we were on earth, but better.

Erwin Lutzer, one of my favorite pastors, said, “Death breaks ties on earth but renews them in heaven.” I believe it wholeheartedly. In the mean time, I’ll do what Nate did. I’ll “soldier on” and take pleasure in making memories where I am.

Eventually God will ask me to “Come here,” and one day I’ll be standing next to him, thrilled to say, “I am come-here-d!” And after I get my hug, I’ll look up, and there will be Nate.

“God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.” (Ephesians 2:6-7)

Scent or Smell?

Have you ever stepped into an elevator with a woman who’s wearing too much perfume? It’s enough to make you step out and head for the stairs. That’s the way Nate wore cologne. His preference was Aramis, a pricey scent introduced in 1965. He was wearing it in 1966 when we met as college seniors and was still wearing it on our wedding day three years later.

I liked Aramis, even lots of it. The problem came when I was expecting baby #1, in 1972. Funny things happen to normal women when they become pregnant, and my hormones birthed a hatred for Aramis. It no longer smelled good; it just smelled. I couldn’t stand to be in the same room with it, which presented a major problem for our marriage.

“Pour it down the drain,” I insisted, but Nate loved his Aramis and didn’t understand my turncoat behavior. By baby #3, I’d done so much complaining, he finally surrendered, and I know why. Desperate to get my way, I’d told him, “If you keep wearing it, I can’t kiss you anymore and risk that stuff rubbing off on me.” That did it.

Trying to remain calm amidst the churning emotions of his pregnant wife, he asked, “So, what cologne can I wear?”

“Old Spice.”

I saw him turn up his nose and tip his head as if to say, “Are you kidding? That’s what our fathers wear!”

But he didn’t say it, and soon a stopper-topped, milk-glass Old Spice bottle appeared in our bathroom. The familiar ship on the front was comforting to me, and the scent was pleasing since it reminded me of… my father.

Nate saved his bottle of Aramis for years, hoping I’d eventually warm up to it again. I left it there under the sink, thinking I might enjoy it after we finished having babies, which took 17 years. In the mean time, he got plenty of kisses while wearing Old Spice. Sadly, though, my distaste for Aramis never went away.

But 2005 was a banner year, because something happened that opened the door to Aramis. Our golden retriever had a mental snap, and though she loved me, attacked me with an intent to kill. Snarling and growling, she bit me repeatedly, tore my skin open and shook me like a captured rabbit. Two days later, admitted to the hospital with a serious infection, I was given “the atomic bomb of antibiotics.” It was a last-ditch effort to save my hand from amputation.

“You’ll probably smell something terrible inside your head for several weeks,” the doctor told me. “It’ll be the medicine. And more than likely it’ll take away your sense of smell. But which would you rather have, a hand or a sense of smell?”

I picked my hand, and the doctor was right about my nose. After those antibiotics I couldn’t smell anymore, not even Nate’s Old Spice. So one day I told him, “Guess what. You can wear Aramis again, because I can’t smell you anymore.”

He immediately got rid of his Old Spice bottle, but rather than resurrect the Aramis, he experimented with other colognes. I bought him a bottle of Brut, thinking Elvis Presley’s choice would make cologne-wearing fun again, but amazingly, he settled on Mennen Aftershave, a mild scent bought at Walgreens for $1.99.

Today at the cottage I found three bottles of his bright green Mennen under the bathroom sink. I opened one to sniff deeply, wondering if I might be able to smell Nate, but nothing came. Since our boys had no interest, I simply poured it all out. As I watched his Mennen swirl down the drain, I realized in a new way what a great love Nate had for me.

It’s the refusal to give in to the whims of a spouse that can one day become the spontaneous combustion of divorce. Nate didn’t want to give up his Aramis, and he held on for three babies trying to convince me. But when he saw I wasn’t going to bend, he did the bending for both of us and put it away. At the time I didn’t appreciate the significance of what he’d done. I probably said something like, “Thank goodness!” or “Finally!”

Today I say, “Shame on me.”

My objection to Aramis was valid, but my mistake was in failing to honor my husband for his willingness to give up what he’d wanted to keep. More and more I’m realizing that much of the reason our marriage worked was because Nate acquiesced to my desires. I wish I would have looked for more ways to give in to him, and oh how I wish I could thank him now… for putting away his Aramis, way back in 1977.

“Keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins. Be hospitable to one another without complaint.” (1 Peter 4:8-9)