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By Diane S. Bratcher
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2016 Diane S. Bratcher
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"Hey, I have an idea. Let's get married without actually meeting each other in person until the wedding." We could be the next Youtube sensation. Luke and I had been talking through texts and e-mails for four years. We met on Facebook after Luke left a humorous response to one of my posts on the stroke survivors' page. We soon discovered we had both actually survived almost the exact same type of stroke at very young ages. At the time of mine I was 35 years old and Luke was 33. They also occurred in the same year. He became my best friend and we discussed various points of recovery in all aspects of life. It was very interesting and almost eerie how similar our residual problems were. The mobility issues were exactly the same, but unfortunately Luke suffered complete blindness in his right eye. My massive stroke was due to a clot but I also experienced a bleed damaging my frontal lobe affecting my impulse control including anger and other emotions. At the three-year point of our friendship I realized I was in love with him despite having never met face-to-face. I knew his heart and it was good. He was a good Christian man who reflected my faith. We both had become closer to God after our experiences and clung to Him for support during our tough times. To me Luke was exactly what I was looking for in a partner for the rest of my life. He had even stuck with me as I went through my divorce and initial separation from a marriage that should have ended way sooner than it finally did. I was pleasantly surprised when Luke agreed to my proposition. We just knew we could be happy together; after all we did both persevere through our own catastrophes. We just felt that two people who had been through what we had were obviously fighters and would be good together throughout the rest of their lives. I wanted to experience what was left of my life with him and go through those difficult times together. He had already become my rock and advisor. I relied on him to guide me out of some of the situations I always managed to get myself into, and he always did so with kindness, humor, understanding, and honesty even when he knew I might not want to hear it. I had nothing but respect for him. When I imagined settling down again it was Luke's face I saw and his heart I felt. Getting married just seemed like the logical next step for us. We agreed to continue on to marriage in our seventh year of stroke survival. We discussed dates and how we would proceed and because he lived in the mountains which I loved we agreed to have the outdoor ceremony only surrounded by immediate family near his home town in North Carolina. I explained that I really wanted my minister from my home church in Indiana to perform the wedding, and because he preferred to counsel his couples prior to marriage I gave him Luke's contact information. The minister planned to talk to Luke to get a feel for Luke's idea of marriage. I knew Luke was going to like him and I was thrilled when he texted me after talking to him for the first time and said he was very happy my minister would be performing the ceremony. Luke did a lot of the leg work to find the perfect site for the wedding already knowing what I would like. He sent pictures and locations so I could travel down to look at them for myself I needed to see them in person, so I could imagine and plan how the wedding would be set up, even though not much set up would be required because it was just going to be a simple service. I did fall in love with one of the places Luke had chosen right on top of the mountains, and he was happy with my choice because it had actually been his first choice too. We decided the best date would be August 1 of our seventh stroke anniversary year. We were trying to avoid autumn because my first marriage had been in the fall as well as my stroke that actually occurred the day before my fourteenth wedding anniversary with my ex-husband. Luke and I also both loved the warm weather, so end of summer made sense plus we would be getting it done before our kids would be going back to school giving us enough time for a short honeymoon and get us back before school started. Our honeymoon was being spent in the Cayman Islands, a place we had both wanted to visit and a combined gift from some of my friends.CHAPTER 2
The drive down to North Carolina was fun and entertaining as always with my sister, niece, daughter, and cousin. We laughed and joked for the entire trip. My sister, niece, daughter, and cousin, had my same sarcastic sense of humor joking about what Luke really looked like asking things like, "What are you going to do if he's really a troll?" I just simply answered that we had exchanged pictures and that I would have hoped our minister who had met him in person would've told me. But also it didn't matter to me because I knew he had a good heart. The joking helped take my mind off what I was about to embark upon, and we arrived in what seemed like record time with everyone sharing the driving responsibility. We checked into our hotel and decided to go for dinner since it was still just the five of us. We chose a local restaurant that Luke had recommended not far from our hotel. Every time I looked around I swore I saw Luke until finally my sister (Cindy) said "Rachael you know his church was having a special get together tonight and there is no way he could be here. You know how church functions go and that Luke is usually one of the last ones to leave from hanging around and visiting with everyone. Just enjoy your meal and stop scrutinizing every person who walks in." Hanna finally spoke up saying, "Mom, are you going to be okay? I don't think I've ever seen you this nervous." My daughter was very perceptive and didn't miss anything. Oddly she also had never seemed this concerned about me and my mood or behavior. Dinner was over quicker than I expected and we headed back to our hotel, which was in the very beautiful historical district of Asheville, North Carolina. I couldn't have asked for a more beautiful setting for a wedding. I loved that we were nestled in the mountains. In our hotel room we had a perfect view of the mountains. When I made the arrangements for the hotel I made sure there was a perfect view of the mountains. I was somewhat discouraged with myself being so emotionally distant, but that was how my nerves presented. I was hoping this would be a fun bonding time for my sister, cousin, daughter, and I, but like usual I didn't take into account being so nervous. We started busying ourselves with straightening out our dresses for the ceremony, and we decided to practice make up followed by doing our nails. Hanna loved to play around with the make up because she was still too young to wear it regularly. So we had a lot of fun doing that. Soon it was time for bed, and I could only lay there restlessly thinking about what Luke was thinking right now. As my anxiety began to compound I almost had myself convinced that Luke was going to back out changing his mind and deciding this was too crazy. I knew how I felt about him, and he had said he felt the same way. But my past experiences in this area did not speak well of my decision making. I was becoming slightly anxious that it wasn't going to happen, and Hanna recognized that I seemed to be fitful so she told me she was going to make me some tea, something I did often with her when she couldn't sleep. She and Betty, and Cindy became very consoling. They had been very supportive of this decision because of all the men I had met on the computer they liked who I was better when I was talking to Luke. They could see a difference in me even though he and I hadn't officially met.CHAPTER 3
I decided to get my phone and text Luke just to see if he too was having trouble falling asleep. I needed to hear his voice to reassure me what we were doing wasn't too crazy, so in my text I asked him to call me. I knew he hated talking on the phone and preferred texting mostly for the same reasons I did. With our types of brain injuries it was sometimes difficult to find our words, and he and I both hated that even though we could relate to one another. It just made me self conscious and I knew he felt the same way. Texting was easier for us because it allowed us to control the speed of the conversation. He did finally call, which seemed like an eternity later to me. He sounded exhausted as he described the dinner his church had for him, and I told him all about the drive down and the joking and laughing. I also thanked him for the restaurant suggestion explaining that even Hanna enjoyed it which was saying a lot because she could be very tough to please. After discussing how we spent our evening he admitted to being very nervous as well. I had to ask him one more time "Do you think this is too crazy?" "On the way here from home I didn't think it was, but now that we're on the eve of it I'm getting more nervous. I can't seem to put my old demons to rest wondering what if he thinks I'm hideous." Luke kindly stated "I already told you I think you're beautiful inside and out." "Thank you, Luke that makes me feel better and I cannot wait to be your wife." I have very high hopes for our future and because our marriage is surrounding God I know we will be very happy as long as we keep God in the center. I know you've prayed about it too, so I suggest we say a little prayer together right now. "Dear Lord, Rachael and I ask that you please bless and watch over this marriage and bring peace to us tonight so that we may rest before we take this big step in your presence tomorrow. And Lord please keep your hand of protection on Rachael's family and Pastor Timothy as they travel down tonight." "I feel better how about you?" "Yes, I definitely feel more peaceful now. Thank you, Luke!" I finally lay down willing myself to relax enough to fall asleep praying still in my head. I had no idea what time I finally drifted off to sleep but awoke bright and early, which was pretty uncommon for me. But I remembered as I awoke thinking Luke is always up early so I need to get accustomed to getting up early as well. I decided to mute the negative chatter in my head by thinking about my future with Luke. I started thinking about getting to wake up next to the man I loved for the rest of our lives and how I thought this day would never come especially after spending 17 seemingly wasted years with my ex husband. I began imagining what my next 17 years were going to be like and also was thinking about the vows I had written. I just repeated over and over in my head, "I wish I could give you all the years I wasted. This love is more spiritual than physical. I love you, Luke. This is a pure love and a gift from God."
My parents and brother-in-law had arrived late in the evening and checked in with Cindy so I could get some sleep. My cousin (Betty) started reminiscing about her mom, my mom's twin sister, who died 18 years prior. I wished she could have been here to share my day and meet Luke. Even that far back she knew I was unhappy in my marriage and had begged me to get out. So I knew she would've been pleased to see me happy and to meet Luke whose soul was forever intertwined with mine. Cindy, my niece (Lynnie), and, Betty came to mine and Hanna's room first thing in the morning to help with makeup and hair. My naturally curly hair could be very unruly at this time of year and my sister and cousin managed to get it tamed with lots of hairspray. My makeup was minimal because I never wore much and besides most of the pictures Luke had seen were usually me without make up and I didn't want to walk up the aisle looking like a clown causing him to run the other direction. My nerves finally started to give way to excitement when I thought how Luke hadn't even seen pictures of me for quite sometime and I had lost a substantial amount of weight. Then I started thinking he might not even recognize me. I also with the help of continued therapy, regained movement of my paralyzed left hand. When my therapist had asked what I hoped to accomplish with therapy I told her I wanted to be able to hold out my hand for the ring to be slipped on. She and I had worked very hard to make that happen, and I was so excited that we had succeeded; however this was a milestone I did share with Luke because I knew I couldn't keep quiet about it. We always enjoyed celebrating those little successes with each other, so he already knew about it. My hotel room was a flurry of brushes, combs, hair, and small floral arrangements and looked as if a tornado had touched down. Dresses were slipped carefully over constructed hairdos and made up faces. I was glad we all had decided to do our nails the night before because we were quickly running out of time. I was thrilled to discover my cousin would be standing up with me because she didn't get to be in my first wedding. She looked beautiful in a pale pink halter-type sleeveless dress. I was glad we all chose sleeveless or tank dresses because the day ended up being very warm and humid even in the mountains. I still needed to call Luke to make sure we were good to go, so I hit my speed dial and gave him a call. He, too, was ready and on his way to the location. The arrival was going to be the most difficult part trying to time it and organize it so we didn't see each other especially considering we were on a mountaintop with no real facilities around, but we had arranged for two small tents to be set up so we could remain concealed until time. This was the only part of the actual wedding that required any planning, and I was grateful to Luke's church friends who had agreed to help and donate their tents, which looked more like small bungalows you might see on the beach. Luke had of course arrived before me and was patiently waiting in his makeshift dressing room surrounded by his family and friends. His friend was standing up with him during the ceremony. As soon as I arrived I was immediately ushered into my tent but did see that the videographer who also attended church with Luke was set up and ready with a camera at the back and one at the front where Luke would be waiting. We had explained to the videographer we wanted to make sure to capture the bride and groom's expressions once first seeing each other. Our only request had been to have our tents close enough together so that we could pray together prior to the ceremony but still remain concealed. I was happily surrounded by my mom, Cindy, Betty, and Hanna and eventually Carolyn, Luke's mom in my tent, so they could help maintain the concealment as Luke and I reached under our tents to take hands and pray. Luke of course led the prayer asking God to bless our marriage and thanking him for bringing us together and for ensuring safe arrival for my family. Once the prayer had been said Luke was escorted to the end of the aisle where he would be waiting to receive me from my dad. My dad and I joked and laughed while walking down the aisle talking about the first time he'd walked me down and tried to convince me to go play softball instead, but I had a very big smile plastered on my face as I looked into Luke's eyes for the first time as I walked up the aisle. He seemed pleased with what he saw as his grin was even wider than mine. My grin broadened when I discovered my favorite Christian artist decided to surprise us with a performance of a couple of his songs, one of which that had played a significant role in my life once arriving home from inpatient rehabilitation. He had learned of our plans and unique situations and because our ceremony was just over the mountains from his home he was easily able to work it out. The feeling I had was almost without explanation because I felt nothing but love radiating from Luke. As I continued to close the gap I desperately wanted to break into a run up the aisle. Our minister was smiling widely as well. He had been through so much with me and my whole family and I truly believed he wanted me to be happy. I think he saw my heart before most people ever did, but it was Luke now who made my heart shine brightly with our synergistic love for God. Once arriving to my spot my dad handed me over happily to Luke. He was able to spend some time with Luke prior to the service, and from what I heard he and my dad hit it off immediately. Of course it helped they were both very sarcastic. I had told Luke multiple times that he would fit in perfectly in my family, and obviously I was right. Once taking Luke's hand as Pastor Timothy began I saw a glow almost angelic in nature surrounding Luke. I knew God was there because I could feel him, too. As I stood there holding Luke's hand I wondered if he could feel it and see it as well and also wondered if it would be on video. When he squeezed my hand I figured that was confirmation he too felt the presence of God. Luke's friend, Marc prepared to hand him my ring as we were getting ready to say our vows. I was nervous and excited to recite the vows I had written. I loved to write but was also hoping I had captured every feeling I could, and I wasn't used to my writing being part of something so important. "Luke at least for the past year when I imagined my future it was your face I saw, and your heart I felt. The feeling is more spiritual than physical, and I can only say I wish I could give you back all the years I wasted. I love you, Luke. And I want to spend the rest of our lives making you wonder how you lived without me. You are my spiritual match from God. I cannot wait to finally start living again with you by my side. I have absolutely no doubt that we will be happy forever. You make me want to be a better person and with you by my side I will be the best me I can be. You have encouraged me, inspired me, and amazed me by all that you have overcome and with the way you embraced your new life and new normal."
Excerpted from Unlikely Circumstances by Diane S. Bratcher. Copyright © 2016 Diane S. Bratcher. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse.
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