He was twenty, a senior in college, tall, athletic, gorgeous with amazing blue grey eyes and absolutely unaware of his own good looks. Add to that he was a Sigma Chi, physics major and an alleged “woman hater”…..all of which added up to be the perfect challenge. I met him on my nineteenth birthday. I was a sophomore in college, an art major, spoiled, shallow, and up for the challenge. It wasn’t very long, with a little bit of luck and a lot of manipulating, before we were dating on a regular basis. I may have been dumb but I was smart enough to know he was a “keeper”.
Happily, he was smitten too. By the end of that school year we both knew that this relationship was for real and marriage was inevitable. He vowed his undying love, gave me a diamond engagement ring and left the next day for a two year stint in the Peace Corps.
Those were the two longest years of my life, but I survived. I wrote a massive amount of air letters addressed to Malaysia and I lived for his treasured letters coming from that far-off place. There was no email and it was impossible to connect with a phone call, so letters were our lifeline.
Half of my heart was a world away teaching science in Southeast Asia. With the other half, I languished in college, longing for our reuniting and listening tearfully to melodic Harry Belefonte records, spending my senior year studying in Florence, Italy. Those two years apart were bearable (but just barely) and without a doubt the wisest plan of action we could have taken. We both had rich experiences with which to seed our shared garden of life.
He came home on August 14, 1964 and we were married in 16 days.
It was wonderful! We embraced our new life with the joy of just being together. We jettisoned any ties to church or organized religion, with no recognition of God in our lives. We were alive, we were together, and that was more than enough. Besides, after 18 months of being married we became a threesome, and two years later there were four of us. Life was busy with two little boys and trying to stretch the budget of a graduate student’s income. We were arrogant, we were ignorant. But God was there in the midst of our denial… loving us, protecting us, providing for us, and guiding us. And we never recognized him. We thought it was all our own cleverness.
Life was amazingly good until we hit a bump we couldn’t crawl over. At the age of two and a half years old, our older son was diagnosed with retinoblastoma, a rare childhood cancer of the eye. The pit of fear that lodged in my being took up permanent residence. It was a level of anguish I had never experienced before; a pain in my mother heart that permeated every breath.
Even then, God guided. We ended up at the best hospital for this unusual disease and after our son’s right eye was removed and he endured a month of radiation and one more surgery, the cancer was contained. I felt strong, a survivor. I had sustained my worst nightmare, and it was over. Yeah me! I had not prayed…not once.
A year later my husband was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. He was twenty nine years old, our sons were two and four, and we didn’t know where to turn. We didn’t know God. What we did know was fear, terror and anxiety and we started looking for spiritual help in all the wrong directions. And the very last thing I wanted to be was a Christian.
In the midst of this chaos, my dearest friend became a Christian and tried to share her new love for Jesus with me, with us. We mocked her, called her pontificating, rejected her faith. And what was her response? Her response was to pray for us. She prayed faithfully for us for eight long years. Eight Long Years!
Until one day, alone in my painting studio, I found myself on my knees saying petulantly to the God I had rejected, “OK God, I am willing to be open to the possibility that Jesus is your son.” That was it. No acknowledgement of my sin or awareness of my need, but it was enough.
God came in through a tiny little crack in my heart and my life was changed. I didn’t think a whole lot about what I’d done and I didn’t mention it to anyone (especially not my faithful praying friend), but six weeks later I looked back on our lives in awe. We found ourselves going to a warm and genuine church. I had a surprisingly hungry desire to study the bible for the first time in my life and, though we didn’t know it until years later, our oldest son received Christ that first Sunday he went to the new church’s seventh grade Sunday school.
That was thirty seven years ago. Thirty seven years of joys and blessings and sorrows and endurance, but always with the presence of Jesus reminding us of his love and sovereignty. He never left us or forsook us but carried us, lifting us up with love and laughter.
I wore many different hats in the forty nine and a half years of my marriage to the man of my dreams, a godly man of great integrity. I was wife, mother, artist, bible teacher, grandmother, even great grandmother. Now I am wearing a new hat: widow. It’s not my favorite chapeau but even as I struggle with this new identity I find that God’s grace abounds and I praise him.
I still routinely thank my good friend for her prayers that changed a family and for her faithful prayers that saved my life. I came kicking and screaming but by God’s grace, I came. How can I do anything else but rejoice.
Don’t give up. Your prayers do make a difference! -Gini
The Lord has heard my cry for mercy; the Lord accepts my prayer. (Psalm 6:9)