Love and The Red Dress

I had no way of knowing February 14, 2015 would be our last Valentine’s Day together. And that three months later, almost to the day, angels would usher my husband, Barry, into God’s very presence.

His valentine that year noted we met nearly forty years earlier. “Forty years is a long time, nearly two-thirds of our lives,” he wrote. “I’m glad God has allowed us to be together for so many years . . .”

I’m glad, too.

The Red Dress from 1977

We spent some time reminiscing about our first Valentine’s Day date, a banquet sponsored by the college we attended. I called home, pretty sure the tall, skinny guy from Michigan would ask me to go with him. “I’ll need a dress,” I told my mom. Before Barry even asked me, she had purchased yards of double-knit red fabric, and my grandma had it cut out, ready to sew. The floor length dress arrived just in time for the special event. It still hangs in a little-used closet beside my yellowed wedding gown.

Back then we never thought about where our lives would take us. Maybe it’s good we didn’t have a map of the future. Looking back, there’s an unmistakable red thread of love woven through the dark and bright and in-between shades of those forty years. Forty years in which two young kids turned into soon-to-be senior citizens.

During this month of February, I find myself reminiscing. Among the happy (and often humorous) memories of children and jobs and vacations and Saturday night suppers, the hollow ache of grief also rises to the surface. I miss him.

Barry’s TBI left him with partial double vision.
I broke my neck and L-1 in the accident.

I remember the year I almost lost Barry, who somehow survived a fiery car crash twelve years before his passing. Due to a traumatic brain injury, his recovery remained uncertain for weeks. When he finally left the coma behind and gradually became more aware, we began to realize that his personality changed. Who was this man? As grateful as I was that Barry made it through the trauma, I didn’t find it easy to know how to love the altered husband and father who emerged. Sometimes the words and actions stemming from his frustration hurt me and our girls as he tried to figure life out. Sometimes my reactions hurt him, too. In reality, the crash changed both of us.

During that season of tension and tears, I often thought about our marriage vows and my naïve and youthful promise of faithfulness to this man in sickness and in health. One day at a time, I would stand by those vows. We made it through the adjustments and uncertainties, and by God’s grace, our relationship grew more settled. More comfortable. More loving. I still treasure the miracle of his healing. Our healing.

Jesus taught his followers about love, and He didn’t water it down to mere sentimentality. “If you love those who love you, what reward do you have?” He asked (Matthew 5:46). “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. . . . And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them” (Luke 6:27, 31). “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). In other words, don’t just show love when it feels easy. Love when it hurts. Love when it’s hard.

Jesus didn’t only instruct us to love; He modeled it by giving His life. He became sin for us so we might become His righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21). This is the essence of the gospel, the good news that He was born, died, was buried, and rose again—all because He loves us. And we, in turn, show our love to Him as we love others. It’s not about you and me, after all. It’s about a faith that shows itself in love (Galatians 5:6)—the everyday kind that shines bright in a dark world.

I know a little more about love now than I did when I wore the red dress. Love is more than stars and hearts and flowers. It demands grit, acceptance, and sacrifice all bathed in prayer and rooted in the gospel. In a word, old-fashioned commitment—even when it hurts and even when it’s hard.

Sarah Lynn Phillips

Sarah Lynn Phillips shares the inspiring story of her family’s near-fatal car crash in her award-winning book, Penned Without Ink: Trusting God to Write Your Story. For individual or group study, she has also written a companion Leader’s Guide with reproducible study sheets. Her articles, devotions, and poems have appeared in numerous online and print publications. Through her writing and speaking, Sarah offers a vision of hope in the hard times. She has three adult daughters and three delightful grandsons. Reading, quilting, and tending her garden are among Sarah’s hobbies.

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