28 years ago, God crossed the paths of two people in thisworld. Toot and myself. At the time, there was no possible way toknow or to comprehend just how significant this crossroads was going to affectthe rest of our lives and the lives of so many others around us. Despite the 11 year age difference, Toot andI clearly struck a common cord with each other. We both shared the same sense of humor and the love of laughter. It was the beginning of a very long andfulfilling friendship for both of us. Little did we know, that despite the normal twists, turns and paths thatlife would take us on, we would end up coming together as much more thanfriends and for a purpose much greater than we could have ever imagined.
After enjoying many years as the best of friends, coworkersand crying towels through good times and bad times in each others lives, mymarriage of 19 years failed. As far as Iwas concerned, that was the end for me. Never again would I embark down the road of marriage to anyone everagain. I was going to pour myself intomy work and my friends and family. Godhad other plans for me. Two years later,Toot’s marriage of 7 years painfully failed also. Only two years earlier, Toot suffered theloss of the father she loved so very much. As has always been the case, Toot and I were there to hold each other upthrough the toughest times in each of our lives. Months after Toot’s divorce was final, wewere sitting in my office doing what we did best. Talking and laughing. It was then that Toot, out of the blue, so tospeak, asked me the question that I will never forget as long as I live. She turned to me and asked me if I thoughtthere could ever be anything more than friendship between us. It was without a doubt one of the very fewtimes in my life that I was caught totally off guard and was left totallyspeechless. You could have knocked meover with a feather and the “deer in headlights” look on my face was pricelessaccording to Toot. It was a week later beforeI could even begin to answer that question, and even then I was not able togive her a straight answer because of all of the red flags going off in my mindas to why I wouldn’t want to touch this situation. If you have been a close part of our lives,then you probably know the rest of the story.
After weeks of intense discussion and soul searching, Tootand I found our way clear to explore the possibility of a relationship, whichhad struck me as insane when she first asked me. As this love story started to develop,despite all odds and all known logic that would clearly indicate that thisshould never have been attempted, Toot and I came to realize that there wasindeed something more between us beyond our very long friendship. Toot saw something that I could have neverseen or imagined on my own. I simplydidn’t have the vision. But it changedthe course of my life in a direction that I will forever be grateful for hervision. Despite both of us comingthrough very painful divorces, a love story that would eventually affect thelives of hundreds of people came to life. This love story however was not without it’s challenges. Rumors that Toot and I were having an affairall along and divorced our spouses to be together were quickly spread by notonly both of our ex’s, but by many of the bar stool judges who are alwayslooking for their next victims. Wequickly became the “talk of the town”. Neither one of us cared. Atall. We were too focused on what thefuture held for this new found love we had discovered to worry about what theunhappy lives of the bar stool judges in town thought.
As our love quickly grew, matured and deepened, we werefaced with the greatest challenge we would ever face together. In June of 2008, we were told that Toot hadbreast cancer. It sent an incredibleshock wave through both of us. It was atthat point that God’s plan for us, God’s reason for crossing our paths so manyyears ago, was just starting to be revealed to us, even though we could not seeit yet. God used that cancer diagnosisto bring us both face to face with the very real fact this was something wellbeyond our control. He used it toconfront us with the fact that there was only one person who was in controlright now. And it wasn’t Toot or I. That cancer diagnosis brought both Toot and Ito our knees as we bowed and acknowledged that only God was in controlhere. When we got up off of our knees,we were two people whose lives had just changed in so many ways and on so manylevels, that it would take weeks before we could see and comprehend themall. The bottom line was that we bothturned our lives and our circumstance over to God. It was the greatest thing we could have everdone for ourselves. This is where Iembraced the phrase, “let go and let God.” Had we not listened to God speaking to us through this cancer, we wouldhave gone forward only to bear the full weight of the cross that God had givenus to carry. It would have crushed thelife out of both of us.
Toot started this Caring Bridge sight and tried to keep upwith it, but with chemo treatments and fatigue, it became apparent that she wasnot going to be able to keep up with it. That’s when I offered to write it for her and she was so veryappreciative. If you have been a followerof this story, than you already know how the story goes and ends. It did not go the way we wanted it to go nordid it end the way we wanted it to end. But it did go the way that God wanted it to go and ended the way it hadto end. His way. Toot and I came to realize and embrace thatGod’s ways and timing are not our ways and timing. But we also embraced the reality that God isa loving God and that even though His will for us is hard for us to understandand comprehend at times, we both knew that there is always a perfect and lovingreason for it. This is what faith wasall about for us. Toot carried her crosswith all of the grace and dignity befitting someone of her love of God and herloving heart. Our lives together on thisearth ended with our complete faith in God’s will for us. We both knew that this earth is not ourhome. We both knew that the time we willspend apart from each other now is not even measurable when you consider howlong a lifetime is compared to eternity. We both knew that we would be together again in the relatively nearfuture.
The past 28 years with Toot in my life have been nothingshort of a wonderful, loving and inspirational gift. When you look back 28 years ago and realizehow all of this has been a part of a great plan for us and everyone in ourlives, I am left in awe. When you attaina consciousness and the vision to see how God used us to call so much glory andpraise to Himself through changing the lives of so many people who followedthis love story, you can’t help but be truly humbled and honored that God wouldtrust our faith in Him to be an instrument of that plan. Only now can you see that He brought Toot andI through the pain of failed marriages in preparation for what was tocome. He brought us through the pain ofthose marriages so that we would both truly appreciate the gift that we were toeach other from Him and cherish and protect our love. This way, when He revealed His plan for us throughbreast cancer, we would both have the strength in our love and marriage tocarry us through. And, as usual, Hisplan was perfect.
There is not a day that has gone by since God called herhome to Himself one year ago today, that I have not started and ended my daythinking of her and feeling the pain of how much I miss her. It is impossible for me ever foresee a timewhen I will ever stop feeling that pain. As much as I miss her every day, I am not angry that I no longer have her,because she is exactly where we all hope to be when we are called from thislife. I actually am very happy forher. She made it home. None of us are guaranteed that. The choice however is ours to make. But I miss her, her smile and laughter andsweet love in my life so very much. Inot only miss her, but I miss the love and laughter of her two children,Ashlynn and Logan who I and my family came to love so very much, who were tornaway from their home, school and friends by their biological father the dayafter Toot was buried, despite the pleas of the children to give them more time. I also sold the home that held so much love,laughter and so many fond memories for us all. As much as I did not want to leave it, it became a constant andrelentless reminder of how everything that I loved was now gone. The joy, the laughter and the good times withour family were now gone. The lovinghome had now become a shell of a house and represented pain and anger. I simply could not live there anymore.
If you have ever lostsomeone you love as much as I love Toot, than you know how painful the “firsts”are during the year that follows. I havefelt the pain of each and every “first”, but none of these compares to thefirst Christmas without her. I willnever forget the family trip of a lifetime that we were blessed to be able totake to New York with Ashlynn and Logan after being told that Toot would mostlikely not live that long. Not only didshe live that long, she made a miraculous recovery. Unfortunately however, the only way she couldtake that trip with me and her children was to painfully choose between beingarrested at the airport for kidnapping or give up what would prove to be thevery last Christmas that she would ever be able to spend with her children. As you know, she gave up her last Christmaswith her children. After Christmas wetook another very loved and anticipated trip to Arizona to be with my parentswhich Toot and the kids always loved. Unfortunately, Toot’s health gave out and what was hoped to be areplacement for the Christmas that she lost at home, turned out to be a weeksstay in intensive care instead. Despitethe incredible fun we all had in New York, this is why Christmas was so veryhard for me this year. All she wanted wasto spend Christmas with her children. Despitepleading with him to change his mind, he would not listen.
And now I am faced with the one year anniversary since sheleft us. It is very surreal to say theleast. It caps a very long and painfulfirst year without her. It is importantto me to point out that despite all of the pain and disappointment this yearhas brought, I have the faith to know that there is nothing that happens in mylife that is not for a very specific and loving purpose, no matter how hard itis to see. This year is noexception. And I thank God for my trialsand challenges this past year because I know that he allowed them all to happenfor my benefit. There have also beenmany joys and blessing in my life this year that I am very grateful for. God never fails to keep me balanced withboth.
Toot and I shared a love that everyone dreams of havingfinding one day. We were very blessed toshare a love this deep and this committed and we knew it and were thankful forit. It was the greatest love we couldhave ever known. I will never be able to“move on” from a love like that, but I will move forward, as I know Toot wouldwant me to do. I know with certainty, because of who she was, her love for me andwhat we had together, that she would never want me to be stuck in sorrowanymore than I would want her to be stuck in sadness if it was myself who died. She would want me to move forward and behappy and take the love that we had with me. This is what I am doing. WhenToot left for home with God, I felt that my purpose for God’s plan with us wasfulfilled and that the plan was over. Ifelt that to ever love again could never happen after the love story that welived out. I was ok with that. The beauty of being in love with someone likeToot is that you are not left with regrets. So many married couples, when they part ways are left to deal with somany regrets about their relationship that is now gone. I don’t have those regrets and it helps sovery much to move forward. But, justlike when I got divorced and was ready to be alone the rest of my life, Tootreminded me that God has other plans for me.
Toot’s and my relationship could not have come at aseemingly worse time with both of us just coming off of divorces. Our relationship was not approved by the“social norms” of the community because in their minds, not enough days hadgone by on some calendar somewhere that dictates when you are or are notallowed to do whatever society tells you can do. So we became the scourge of thecommunity. No one understood the timingof our relationship anymore than anyone understands the timing of myrelationship with Renae. This is mostlydue to the fact that nobody has ever walked in our shoes or experienced what wehave experienced. But both Toot and Iunderstood from very personal experiences that God’s timing and ours are notthe same. We do not choose ourpath. God does. I did not understand the timing of myrelationship with Renae anymore than I understood the timing of my relationshipwith Toot. But, as we all know now, thetiming with Toot turned out to be for a very specific purpose and the timingwas perfect. There are many people whothink that I am somehow dishonoring Toots memory with my seemingly ill timedrelationship with one of her very best friends. As I see it, this is the defining differencebetween those who truly knew Toot, and those that just thought they did. So many people are of the opinion thatbecause I have a relationship with Renae, that I therefore have “moved on” frommy love for Toot. In fact, there arethose who would believe that I simply woke up one day and said, “well Toot’sgone. That’s over. Who’s next?” It is sad for me to think that people could believe that it’s reallypossible to love someone like Toot, foras long as I did and share what we had and simply just “move on” one day. It is hard to believe that after followingour journey that this is all they got out of it. If Toot were here today, she would tell thosewho judge me just how happy she is thattwo people that she loved very much have found love together, despite thetiming, which was no more understandable than ours was. Can anyone even imagine Toot saying, “Eventhough you always showed me so much love and always made me so very happy andhow wonderful you always treated me, and despite the fact that you not onlyshowed me you loved me, you told me you loved me each and every day we weretogether, I want you to remain alone for 3-5 years and feel the pain of losingme each and every day. I want you tostay in this empty shell of a house and think about everything you havelost. Even though God has crossed yourpath with Renae to help each other through this very painful time for the bothof you, I want you to turn away from it. This is what I want for you”. Cananyone really say that this is what Toot would want for me? The love that Toot and I shared has neverfollowed any clock or calendar of social norms. If it had, we would not have ever been together. When Toot and I fell in love, we were able tobe there for each other to help each other through very painful times in ourlives, namely our divorces. Toot wouldbe very happy to see Renae help me through the pain of losing her and mehelping Renae with her very painful divorce. Toot knew all too well what it felt like to live with someone who hurtsyou so bad, and how much it helped that I was there to help her throughit. Never the less, there will be thosewho refuse to have faith in what I have lived through and despite the fact thatthey have never walked in my shoes and never will, will continue to judge Renaeand myself the same as those who continued to judge Toot and I. We simply have to let go of those people andmove forward. The prayer of St. Francisspeaks volumes here. Renae is aseffortless to love as Toot was and God has blessed us to be able to use eachother to get us both through very painful circumstances as part of His love andplan for us. What is God’s plan forus? I know better than to ever try tospeculate. We are simply going to livein His grace and take with us the loving memory of someone who we both loved somuch.
I love you Diane Toot Marthaler as much today as the day westood before God and professed our love and commitment to each other. And I always will. I know you know that. No matter what anyone chooses to believe,they cannot take away the love that we had, the memories or the love that Iwill always have for you. Never.
I am going to publish this Caring Bridge journal into a bookfor all those who would like to relive this journey and this love story. But it is primarily for Ashlynn and Logan, sothat when they are older and wiser, they will be able to read this journal inorder to realize just how much love their mom and I had for each other and toserve as a testament for themselves as to how God works in our lives, and withHis blessings, find the same love that we shared. I also want them to know that the love I havefor their mom is eternal and never ending. Asunthinkable as it is to use a child as a weapon against the other parent, thisis what Ashlynn and Logan are the victims of here. And, unfortunately, Renae’s children arehaving to wrestle with similar circumstances. Life is too short to hate, muchless hate for all the wrong reasons. Itwould be easy for both Renae and I to go into the future with hate andresentment on our hearts. But I knowthat this is not what God is asking us to do. God is asking us to forgive both biological fathers the way He hasforgiven us for our sins. We havecommitted to God that we will try but that the pain runs deep when children areused as weapons with not a care in the world as to how it will affect them inso many ways. I have told God that I amweak in this regard and that I am going to need a lot of His help if I am everto accomplish what seems like climbing a mountain. But I know I have to try.
As usual, this has been painfully long. In conclusion, when God took Toot’s body andsoul, it left a huge and painful hole in my heart. But the incredible love and memories that sheleft me with help to fill and heal that hole. From the bottom of my heart, I want to thank each and every one of youwho have been a part of or have followed this journey. Thank you for your support, your love andyour prayers. It meant the world to bothToot and I. I pray that this journey hasinspired and changed your life for the better, both personally andspiritually. I leave you with the samething I have always left you with at the end of every post,
Tell your family youlove them and let go and let God.