My Love

crown.of.thorns.100_4211My entire life was upended by the death of my dad; so much of my stability in life rested on him being so dependable. Too much really. With him gone, after having so many other portions of my life stripped away, God finally had my FULL attention. For the first time in my life. I was in the Word daily. I was in fellowship with other Christ-followers and working hard to build those relationships. At that time, my mom and I started taking sign language classes offered through our church by a deaf man and his hearing wife; they quickly became like family to us. I was also leaning heavily on my Savior in a way I had never done before.

As the months passed after Dad’s death and I began to emerge from my grief, I realized just how incredibly lonely I was, so I began to pray that the Lord would send me my perfect mate–not a perfect man, but the man who was perfect for me. I’d given up on the dating scene since I finally realized after a mountain of terrible relationships that I was HORRIBLE at picking men; even the one time I dated a Christian it was a disaster, so I decided that there must be a better way to find a mate. Somewhere along the way, my pastor and his wife shared how the Lord had put them together without dating. They’d both been married before. Both had been divorced. In fact, the pastor’s wife had been so horribly abused that she vowed she’d never get married again. Yet here they were in front of me, married. To each other. She had been EMPHATIC. NEVER. Obviously, God had changed her heart because here they were — married. I knew that if God could put them together without “the dating game” that He could find someone for me too.  

I began to pray specifically about the kind of man I knew I needed — someone who had a close relationship with the Lord and who knew more than I did. And I was determined that I would NEVER date him. He was going to have to propose to me without ever dating me. I didn’t know how God was going to arrange for that, but I was EMPHATIC. I had a few other requests as well. In fact, I had a short list that I wrote down in my journal; most things were of deep substance–he’d have to have a family I could get along with, I didn’t want to have to leave my church because I was growing there, and things like that, but there were a few things that were personally important to me regarding physical characteristics. It sounds shallow now, but in retrospect it’s where I was, I knew what I liked and I wasn’t afraid to ask the Lord for specifics.

I spent the summer traveling with my mom, who didn’t really want to drive thousands of miles all by herself with just her cat. She’d never lived alone before and she’d certainly never traveled alone. It was good for both of us to get out and see new stuff together. We stopped and visited with some distant relatives along the way; I enjoyed seeing the land where some parts of our family came from and meeting a few of the relatives I’d only ever heard of before. It was also fun to learn some of the the local folklore.

After that, we spent several weeks in the area where my dad had grown up. One of my uncles had a cabin and it was a very quiet, restorative atmosphere. No phone. No TV. Just good company and nature. While we were there, I reconnected with my ex-boyfriend, but I had no plans to get back together with him; I did care about him and I think he genuinely cared for me. He even gave me a dozen roses while I was visiting, but he was still involved with drugs and alcohol, and I remained determined to leave that life behind. It was nice to see my cousins and some of the people I used to hang out with, but it was clear that there was now a great separation between us. Our lives had gone in totally different directions and after a few weeks, I really began to miss my new friends that I had made in the last year. I think my mom was getting a bit homesick as well.

One day, when we stopped in to see my grandmother, Mom decided to phone home to our little church and see how everyone was doing. We’d been gone for a month or more. She talked to a couple of people and finally the pastor’s wife. They talked for a bit and then she passed the phone to me — the pastor’s wife had asked to speak to me. (This was in the dark ages before cell phones and everyone stood around the one land-line listening to half the conversation until it was your turn to talk.) While I was talking to the pastor’s wife, she got almost giddy and said that she thought that interesting times were coming for me upon my return. What the heck did that mean, I wondered??? I asked her what she meant, but she wouldn’t say any more. She’d already told my mom that they had a couple of new people coming to church every Sunday, so then I started to think that maybe the two subjects were related. I didn’t think too much more about it though. I wanted to enjoy the rest of my vacation before the long drive home and getting busy with school again.

As our summer slipped away, we headed toward home, stopping for a just a bit in our old hometown to break the trip up. It was good for me to see that I no longer had a life there either. My life had truly become rooted in the little town where my parents had retired. I was grateful for the nice long break, and both Mom and I were rested, but we were really looking forward to seeing all of our newer friends at home. Little did I know what was in store for me upon our return. There were indeed several new people at church, but only one of them really makes it into my story. While I had been gone for all those weeks, this guy had moved to town, showed up at my church and had made friends with all my friends during my absence. And he was there to stay. This guy… let’s just call him Max.

He was there standing at the church’s kitchen sink washing vegetables when my mom and I walked in for a midweek Potluck Dinner. I remember thinking something like “Aren’t you supposed to fix your food at home first for a potluck?” I found it pretty strange; and that was just the beginning. It got worse. He was a vegetarian. I admit it. I was VERY narrow in my thinking. I felt like Toula’s mom in My Big Fat Greek Wedding. “What do you mean he don’t eat no meat? …that’s okay. I make lamb.” What kind of person doesn’t eat meat? Sorry, where I grew up EVERYONE ate meat and ate dairy. This was just too weird.

For the next few hours, every little old lady in the church came up to me and asked, “Have you met Max yet?!” Our church was awash in retirees; I was the youngster in the congregation and one of the very few singles. These very dear older ladies were just so excited that there were a few new younger singles around and, for whatever reason, they all seemed to think that I needed to get to know Max better. Outwardly, I was polite. “Yes, we’ve met.”  Internally, I was immediately resistant. (He was a vegetarian!) We did spend some time talking at dinner; I couldn’t really avoid him — he was sitting with my friends! Then during dinner I found out that he was going to be teaching at my school! I was really relieved when I found out that I didn’t have him for any classes; only later did I find out that he was in the same department as my favorite instructors. It was like he’d just been planted right in the middle of my new life.

Over the course of the next several weeks, we were thrown together at various events–lunches out after church, carpooling to baptisms and such. It was ALWAYS awkward. For me. (As he reads this, he says it wasn’t at all awkward — for him.) On one occasion though, things turned from merely awkward to totally bizarre. One of my single friends had discreetly asked me to go over and ask Max to go out to eat with us after church; “us” meaning me, her and her “boyfriend” that she was desperately trying to break up with. She was afraid to be alone with him. In all honesty, I just didn’t get it at first, but by the end of lunch I did. (Oh, the things you do for friends!) So, I walked up to Max and made the most ineloquent and awkward invitation to lunch.

We lived in a small town, so there weren’t too many choices for Sunday lunch, but the restaurant we chose had a nice buffet. It worked out well because my mom and our “like family” friends ended up sharing a big table with us too. The more of a group-thing we could make this already strained and strange lunch, the better! We picked our seats and went to go get food. As we were all standing in line, Max picked up a muffin off the end of the buffet table and took a bite. No big deal, right? WRONG! Absolutely wrong. Out of nowhere, “WE HAVEN’T PRAYED YET!”, my girlfriend’s stalker-guy shouts. Yes, shouts. I’m not kidding. There he is, yelling in the middle of a crowded restaurant, and I, who’ve spent my entire life hoping to remain invisible, was just MORTIFIED.

EVERYONE in the restaurant turned to look at us. Max nonchalantly mentions Deuteronomy 28 in response to Stalker-guy — “Blessed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl. Blessed shall you be when you come in, and blessed shall you be When You Go Out.” We were eating out; the muffin was blessed. Period. Max wasn’t being mean. He wasn’t loud. He was just being matter of fact. Actually, I was kind of impressed; but mostly I was just thankful that the yelling had stopped. No one was staring at us anymore and they’d all gone back to eating and talking.  

I quickly got my food and went back to the table, intending to keep my head down for the rest of the meal, but that was simply not meant to be. I enjoyed the food. The conversation was pleasant enough. Then out of nowhere, Stalker-guy loses it again. This time Max and my girlfriend had decided to split a piece of pie. More raised voices at our table. More stares from the other diners in the restaurant. This time he was upset that his girlfriend would share a piece of pie with some other guy. I sat dumbfounded. Really??? It’s just pie, I thought. In fact, it was just Shoo-fly pie. It’s not like Shoo-fly pie is some ancient courting ritual. Is it? Did I miss something in History class? More importantly… couldn’t I just hide under the table? (EVERYONE was staring again.) No. Apparently I could not, and it quickly came down to me to defuse the situation — not a role that I was very good at, or one that I enjoyed. So I took a deep breath and quietly said, “I’ll split a piece of pie with you Max.” I didn’t really want any pie, much less Shoo-fly pie, but I was willing to suffer through a whole piece of death by molasses just to finish this scene!

Later that day, Max called me at home to make sure I was okay and to make sure that he hadn’t offended me in any way. Nope. We were good. I recognized who the troublemaker had been that afternoon, and it wasn’t him. In fact, it wasn’t really Max’s fault in any of those awkward occasions when we’d been thrown together. It just seemed to work out that way. I realize now that I was being set up, but at the time I was clueless.

The week after that, I was talking to Max after church and he mentioned that he’d moved to town from out of state with only what fit in his car and he didn’t have any furniture yet. It wasn’t a big deal until he moved into a bigger duplex and began to think he should borrow some furniture. Hmmm. My mom had a bunch of furniture sitting out in her garage that she wasn’t using, so I told him to come by and have a look at it to see if he wanted to use any. I went home, had some lunch and sat down to finish a paper I was writing for my English class. Writing had never been my strong suit, so I sat there, pondering how to finish this paper. The short story we’d been assigned to write about was some deplorable Lost Generation piece. It was just awful and I was totally lost regarding this assignment. I did some free-writing about it. It was absolute drivel and I was starting to get frustrated. About then, Max came by to look at the furniture. We must have started talking about getting it over to his new place in my truck. I’d probably done the hospitable thing and asked him if he wanted to come in for a while. Somehow we started to talk about the assignment I’d been writing. I was hoping to get back to work on it, but he just wouldn’t leave. Time was flying and I started to get antsy, but he just sat there being Chatty Cathy — all day long. I couldn’t believe it. Tick-tock. Tick-tock. The clock kept telling me that my assignment needed me.

All during this time, my mom was in the dining room, engrossed in some church business stuff. I was hoping for a rescue that never came. Finally (my afternoon vanished) I was really at my wit’s end, wondering how to get this guy out of my house. He. Just. Would. Not. Leave. Finally, about dinner-time my mom excused herself saying that she was going over to see her cousin. Gee, thanks, Mom! Just one more awkward situation in an ever-growing line of them with this guy.

No sooner than she pulled out of the driveway, he said, “Oh good! I’ve been waiting for her to leave all afternoon!” By then, I was totally confused. I had NO idea what he was talking about, but the next thing that came out of his mouth was absolutely mind-blowing. There he sat in the chair across from me — where he’d been sitting ALL afternoon and said, “I want to get to know you with the intention of marrying you. But I don’t want to date.”

I sat there dazed. I’m not often left speechless. All I could do was look at him and watch him talk. As I did, I noticed that he had a very nice nose. Yes, that was probably my shallowest moment ever, but that was one of my “requests” to the Lord. In all of my years dating, I could never bring myself to kiss a man whose nose I didn’t like. In fact, I had actually dodged kisses from a couple of men just because of their noses. So I had a thing about noses. There I’ve said it for the whole world to read. I can’t believe I’m sharing it now. But it’s true. And this rather strange vegetarian guy had a really nice nose.

As he sat there talking to me — and I have NO recollection what he said after the getting to know me thing — the Lord began ticking off items on my “list” — one by one. He made it clear that He’d heard me and was answering my prayers. No one else knew about my “list” — NO ONE. This wasn’t  a coincidence. Still, I sat stunned as Max continued to talk.

A few hours later my mom came home — and my Chatty Cathy guy was still there. I really couldn’t say anything about our evening together (I was still in shock) and Mom was completely oblivious. After she told us about her evening, we all started talking about family. Somewhere along the way, photo albums came out and stories of my childhood came up. At one point, she said, “Wow. I really have no idea why I’ve just shared all this with you.” Hmm. Max and I did. It was Mom’s turn to be clueless.

By the time Max finally left, it was probably midnight! As he pulled out of the driveway (furniture forgotten), I told my mom about what had happened. It remains one of my most treasured conversations with my mother; we’d grown much closer after Dad had died and she was truly excited for me. (Mom was no stranger to miracles; when I was quite young, she’d had one of her legs grow out as she was being prayed for about her back problems.) We stayed up for a couple of hours talking about the day’s strange events and Max’s announcement. When I finally got to bed that night I couldn’t sleep.

I am not one of those people that can function on no sleep. The next day was a holiday, fortunately, and I got up with every intention of finishing that English paper for school the next day. For some reason [sarcasm], I was having a terrible time concentrating. Sometime in the late morning there was a knock at the door; it was another friend from church. She was hoping to park in our yard so she could go watch the parade that was coming down the main street just a couple blocks away. She took one look at me and asked what was up. I looked dreadful and when I couldn’t put a sentence together, she grabbed my arm and told me that we were going to the parade.  

I certainly considered her a friend, but we didn’t know each other all that well yet. I was at a complete loss for words. This whole thing just sounded totally crazy. Even to me. We found seats on the curb as we watched the parade and had a good talk. She’s always been a very direct sort of person, so there was no point in beating around the bush with her. I just jumped right in and told her about my strange day with Max and his abrupt announcement; then she surprised me too. She told me that it wasn’t at all strange to her. She and her husband had known a handful of couples who never dated (or even kissed) before they got married! Whew! Thank God! Without that sort of encouragement I’m not sure I could have moved forward in accepting that the Lord was answering my prayers for a godly husband without dating.

After that, my week just FLEW by! By some miracle I finished that English essay on that ridiculous Lost Gen short story, but every time I sat in class I started to space off. I was totally exhausted from not sleeping and then my ex-boyfriend called me — to see if he could come down and visit me. Um. No! Not a good time, and so I told him I was totally swamped in school. It was not untrue. I just didn’t tell him WHY I was so behind in my schoolwork. Yikes. My life had suddenly gotten very complicated. I can still remember sitting at my desk during a Statistics lecture wondering what in the world was going on in my life!

As Sunday morning approached, I began to get panicky. I knew I was going to be seeing Max in church and that I had to have some sort of response about what he’d said to me the week before. As I was doing my hair, I was sort of talking to myself and to the Lord at the same time, “How can I marry a man I don’t love?” and in quick response came the statement, “If you’ll make the decision, I’ll change your feelings.” Anyone might assume that I was simply talking to myself, but MY mind never came up with responses like that! That thought was NOT from my own mind. I’d only had that happen to me once before that I could recall, and I KNEW then (at age 13) that it was the Lord. This was that same Voice. And I knew to pay special attention. “My sheep know My voice and another they will not follow.”

Later that evening, Max came over for dinner. We were in the kitchen, just draining the spaghetti in the sink when he asked my mother for permission to marry me. She said yes and then he formally proposed to me — over a strainer full of pasta. I stood there like a deer caught in headlights. Frozen. This proposal just came at me out of nowhere again, like the announcement from the previous week. It had only been ONE week since he’d announced his intentions. Wasn’t this rather sudden??? Then I remembered what the Lord had “said” to me earlier that morning. “If you will make the decision, I will change your feelings.” My heart was pounding in my chest! It was a critical juncture. I couldn’t bear the thought of going back to my old life and old ways of doing things, but this new way, with this new and very unusual man who didn’t seem to flinch at anything, was just terrifying to contemplate. And I wasn’t given much time to think about it either. (Good thing I’d spent so much time in class thinking about it all that week!)

That “yes” I gave Max forever changed my life in ways I could never have imagined. In the instant after he asked, I decided not to look at the wind and the waves that were roaring around me, but to trust Jesus and His leading; there was no way for me to deny that God had already arranged every single thing I had prayed for and written about in my journal, all the way down to the handsome nose-thing and a no-dating marriage proposal. It was a God-thing and I knew it. And true to the Lord’s word to me, as soon as I said, “Yes” I began to see Max in a new way. This was just the beginning of a wild ride that has continued for nearly thirty years.