What I love about Julie

December 2018, celebrating our 17th anniversary.

I’ve noticed that lately I have been pondering my Julie more than usual. I’ve noticed what so many say is true: I love her more now than when we got married.

I decided that I needed to put into words some of what causes me to love her, and for my love to have deepened. It’s important for me to fully appreciate who she is, and who she is for me.

And I want the world to know. I hope her qualities impress others so that they imitate them.

Julie is kind to everyone

This comes first, because I find when a person is kind it allows others to see everything else about that person, but when a person is not kind others can’t get past it to see other good things. Julie is completely and constantly kind.

Julie is humble

I’ve never heard her brag. Not once. Her work speaks for itself. Her life speaks for itself. When she talks about herself, or something she has accomplished, she does so in a matter-of-fact way, never to feed her ego or make herself look better than someone else.

She can show some sass when it’s called for.

Julie is smart and wise

I’ve often said that she’s the smartest person I’ve ever known. Smarts aside, that she’s also wise is what makes the difference. She uses her smarts in ways that benefit everyone in her life.

Julie is a hard worker

I can’t think of a single time when she was lazy. She rests and relaxes—which is wise to do—but never to excess. She always has a list of things to be accomplishing, and she’s always working on the list.

Julie is a team player

Since we’ve been married, Julie has worked four places. In each place, without hesitation she’s learned everything about each job, each place, and used her knowledge to improve things and to help her coworkers. Where there is a need, she learns new things so that a job can be done.

Circa 2004. My kids became our kids because of Julie.

Julie doesn’t gossip or run down people

When Julie talks about others, she’s either sharing something important or interesting, or seeking to help or improve a situation, and always from a positive perspective toward those about whom she is speaking.

Julie has a can-do spirit

Julie lets nothing defeat her. Before calling a plumber or taking a car to a mechanic, she investigates the situation, often figuring out the problem, and frequently fixing it on her own. That spirit is seen in her in every aspect of her life.

She loves being behind the wheel of a tractor.

Julie is patient

I experienced this one the most beginning in 2013 when gender dysphoria crushed me, and all the years since because of the roller coaster my life has been. Rather than push and prod and pester, Julie has hung in there with me.

Julie is reliable

If you are expecting her, she’s there. When you need her, she’s there. And she will be pleasant, and kind, and friendly, and helpful. Reliable. Faithful. Constant.

Us, in 2002.

Julie is thoughtful

It’s never a surprise when the answer to my question, “Honey, what’s that for?” is, “It’s for so-and-so, because …” and it’s because she learned the person liked this thing, or it’s a coworker’s birthday, or she knew one of the grandkids would enjoy it, or because I had mentioned my need or desire for it, or …

Julie is selfless

After ten items on this list, selfless naturally follows. Self-centered people neither possess nor display more than a few of the ten.

Julie is fun and funny

Julie laughs easily and is not afraid to laugh loudly. And crack a joke? She can do it with the best. She’s not afraid to get down on the floor and play with the grandkids, or go you-name-the-place for a good time, or dance herself weary at a wedding reception or in our living room.

A few years ago. Holding granddaughter Maggie, with granddaughter Margot looking on. Who’s having the most fun?

Julie has helped me become a better person

Julie has not shied from showing me where I could have expressed something more helpfully, or handled a situation in a better way. Because she has talked gently with me, I could trust her when she brought up challenging things. The result is that I have grown more patient, more careful with my words, less apt to make foolish jokes and, I hope, an all-around better person.

Julie loves me

I’ve said many times that I love Julie because she loves me. That’s too simplistic, of course, but it sums things up. Everything I love about Julie, she applies to me.

I will always strive to give to her what she gives to me. With joy!

Us, in 2014.

Julie’s foreword to my book

Having completed the final edit of my book, Julie said, “I’ve been thinking about writing a foreword.”

“Oh. Wow. Okay. Yeah, I like the sound of that. Do you have in mind what you’d write?”

Giggling, she replied, “No.”

“Well, now that you’ve mentioned it, I love the idea. Just start writing, it will come to you.”

She retrieved a pen and pad. She started writing:

Soon, she was typing. A few hours later, she showed it to me. Immediately, I was dazzled.

I am but a few days from offering the book for sale. I present Julie’s foreword now because she sets the tone for what I’ve written, the spirit in which I’ve described the challenges I’ve endured.

Julie’s spirit shines through her words—the lovely person with whom I fell in love by her words, before I ever saw her face.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

“I would have left in a heartbeat.”

The declaration is volunteered by many, men and women alike, upon hearing the story about a transgender husband transitioning to live as a woman. The question I, the wife, expected—“Did you ever think about leaving?”—is bypassed, and the listeners fast forward to their own bold assertion about hitting the road. As though even asking the question about staying means there is a sliver of possibility they themselves would have to live through something so unfathomable, so unpleasant. Better to nip that in the bud, slam that door shut. Outta here, in a heartbeat.

How a couple handles a big situation has more to do with how they handled all the little things in all the previous years. Since our wedding on December 30, 2001, I’d learned a lot from Greg Eilers about respect, unconditional love, and kindness. We’d built a pretty deep store of those Golden Rule treasures, so it was only natural that we drew upon it when Greg’s gender dysphoria upended our lives.

I couldn’t declare “I didn’t sign up for this”, because this—facing hurdles with my life partner—was exactly what I did sign up to do. I couldn’t turn my back on the person I loved, because I knew he, without hesitation, would face any deluge of difficulties I threw his way. I couldn’t run the other direction because, I asked, what would I want my spouse to do if I were in his shoes? I couldn’t shout “This is not fair!”, because life isn’t about fairness. It’s about being our best for others.

We tend to view relationships as a give and take proposition. That what we give and what we receive is measurable and should somehow balance out the scales. As if every checkmark in the debit column deserves a credit entry on the next line.

What if we saw it this way instead: that both sides of the scale belong equally to both partners, that all the debits and all the credits belong collectively to the team.

Living through a spouse’s gender dysphoria and transition from one gender to another seems a very debit-heavy transaction. It is excruciating to watch the person you love experience the torment of being one gender on the inside and another in public. It is painful to see your spouse feel trapped in an unchangeable life and view death as the only escape. It is sorrowful to mourn the loss of the only identity (husband and wife) you’ve known with this person. It is daunting to fathom an existence where you expect to be condemned and ostracized. It is nerve-racking to think about how your family, your friends, the world will see you.

Life has an abundance of challenges, but the majority of them are understood and accepted. Most everyone will commiserate with you when your spouse has a terminal illness, a disability-causing accident, an affair, a job loss. People can imagine themselves in common situations. They have a frame of reference. You might still feel isolated, but at least you know you’re not the only one.

The crossing of gender boundaries, though, is just too weird, too outlandish, too forbidden for most people to wrap their heads around. You don’t have the luxury of calling up friends and family, of drawing on a readily-available support network, to help get you through this. This—the “my spouse is transgender”—starts out a closely-held yet extremely-loaded secret—a frightening one to share. And when you do begin to share, it’s very often not support you get, but highly-opinionated directives and ultimatums.

It’s no wonder most marriages don’t survive a gender transition.

Jesus teaches us in Romans 5 that we should “rejoice in our suffering”. Quoting scripture doesn’t take the hard stuff away. But understanding the point—looking though our earthly suffering to the ultimate spiritual reward God gives us, eternal life with our Savior—helps us take a bigger picture approach to the struggles we have in life.

Despite the trying times, despite the unconquerable mountains and precarious ravines that riddled the landscape of my spouse’s gender dysphoria, I always had one thing to cling to: hope. Hope for the four things I desired for my spouse—that he stay alive, that he keep his sanity, that he be as healthy and whole as possible, and maybe even that he achieve happiness. Hope that Greg and I would emerge as a couple—however that looked—stronger, better, and deeper in our love. Hope is a powerful little thing. Hope let me redefine the debits as credits.

It is my hope that Greg’s story, and the story of all transgender people, will prompt others to see the bigger picture. To set aside their preconceived notions about what it means to be transgender. To turn their ears and listen to a group of people struggling to be heard. To brave their awkward feelings and step into a space they’ve never been.

Comfort zones are tough to give up. When faced with an unfamiliar situation, particularly one vastly different than we are accustomed to, our tendency is to recoil, get back to the easy. Something new might pique our curiosity, but we’re careful about getting too close, cautious about letting ourselves be vulnerable. Yet, there are some really valuable benefits outside our bubbles: Enrichment. Love. Growth. Understanding. Compassion. Selflessness. Humanity.

Would I leave my comfort zone to stay with Greg? In a heartbeat.