The Second Part of the Story

First, I want to thank you all for your comments and emails on the post “An Anniversary.”  Even after 20 years past, kind words are welcome.  For those who said they had been encouraged, what a gift your words are to me.  If you weren’t able to read the first part of the story, then click here.  And now, to continue.
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Oh yes, a dream.  A dream about a boy I had known in college.  Honestly to say I had a dream is a bit of an overstatement.  There was no setting, no plot, no classic dream symbolism.  I simply woke up thinking about someone I hadn’t thought of in almost ten years.  This happened the next morning, and the next.  I was puzzled.  For one thing, I had no interest in dating and had made it plain to friends that I wanted no part in any “set ups.”  I really could not imagine ever marrying again, so, in my mind, there was no point in dating.
I wish I had time (and the memory) to recall all the coincidences and confirmations, God was sent my way, but about two months later, I finally wrote that “dream boy” a letter on behalf of our college’s alumni council, on which I sat for a three-year term.  The letter was almost a business letter, simply inquiring if he would be interested, or if he knew of anyone who might be interested in serving on our board as we were looking for more young alumni as well as a broader geographical representation.  Almost as an afterthought, I added that after going through a difficult time, I had come to value friendship more than ever, and I told him how much I appreciated his friendship to me during those “golden, carefree college years,” and that I hoped he was doing well.  And that was it.  Consciously, I thought I had lost my mind for writing such a letter, and, yet, inexplicably, I felt it was the exact right thing to do.
A couple of weeks later he called me, and we talked for more than an hour.  He worked for the Walt Disney Company in Florida and did a good bit of traveling.  Keep in mind that this was 1993; email and cell phones were not yet commonplace.  A postcard followed our phone call.  I sent another letter, and a courtship that pre-dated email had begun.  We wrote long hand-written letters to each other all summer, and by the fall we had begun talking on the phone regularly.  He invited me to visit, and so the weekend before Thanksgiving I flew to Orlando.  Friends convinced me that leaving Big to spend the weekend with his grandparents was the thing to do.  I remember one treasured pal, saying, “You cannot walk up that Jet way with a flight-worn toddler on one hip and a diaper bag on the other!”  Friends also convinced me to form a contingency plan—in other words, we had a rescue plan in case this fellow turned out to be an axe murderer.  He wasn’t.  The weekend was perfect; my new beau was handsome, charming, funny, and a complete gentleman, who attempted no more than one chaste kiss.  By the time I boarded my return flight on Sunday, we were figuring out how the relationship could work.  On Thursday of that very week, Continental Airlines announced nonstop service between Greenville and Orlando for $79 round-trip.  It is obvious to me now that God had begun to woo me back, to romance me with a romance of my own.
The Mister proposed to me and to Big a few weeks before Big’s second birthday.  We were married the following September, a little more than three years after my first husband’s death.  To all of us, it seemed to have been a fairy tale, and for that I am thankful.  Our great God, however, is not a writer of fairy tales; He is the author of love stories.
Big and I moved to a tiny town outside Orlando (way outside) to be with the Mister, and our “happily ever after” began, but not in the way you might think.  The Mister headed off to work each morning, while I tried to adjust to life in the swampy woods with a two-year-old.  The heat, the bugs, the isolation of a small town, where I was the only woman who wasn’t collecting a pension check, was depressing.  I was homesick and miserable, yet determined to make it work on my own terms.  Our marriage and family still looked like a fairy tale on the outside, but on the inside resentment and betrayal stained many pages.  And, through each disappointment, God was working.  You see, after my first husband died, I concluded that God—regardless of His sovereignty, love, grace, and mercy—could not be trusted, at least not by me.  My disappointment that our marriage was not the fairy tale of our courtship had less to do with the Mister and more to do with my own failings—my lack of trust in God, my pride or stubborn self-reliance, and my smug self-righteousness.
It was only God’s persistent conviction that brought about my sorrowful repentance.  I started to pray to trust God more.  And, then, things began to happen.  I joined with other women, and we began to pray for our husbands.  We prayed for more faith.  We prayed to love God more, and God answered and is still answering those prayers.  The answers are seldom in ways we expect and often in ways that are harder than we’d planned, and yet, how we have seen Him provide.
A little more than five years ago, the Mister and I began feeling rather restless.  We had recently finished building our dream house, and were ready to add a pool.  Our children were happy and healthy.  We thought something was wrong with us.  We began to pray for contentment.  We felt increasingly content, but paradoxically we felt increasingly restless.  On a weekend beach trip to Amelia Island, we walked into a shop called Go Fish Clothing & Jewelry.
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It was a cool place, and from that afternoon God has led us on an amazing adventure from corporate security and a lifestyle we loved to having our own store here in downtown Greenville.  The mission of Go Fish is to provide opportunity to artisans and craftspeople from around the world.  Ours is a fair trade store, seeking to treat both those we buy from and those we sell to with the dignity and integrity of Christ.  Once again this January, the Mister and I will travel to Peru, having the great privilege of serving some of the world's poorest people. 
Please pray for us.  Only God could take us—two fractured fairy tale characters—and give us vital roles in the love story of His son Jesus, who is the author and perfector of our faith.  The Mister and I have been blessed far more than we deserve, but our greatest blessing is knowing that our “happily ever after” is yet to come.

An Anniversary

I guess I have some ‘splaining to do.
First, I must say that I am in awe of any bloggers who work full-time away from home and write posts regularly.  Really.  I thought I could do it; I want to do it, but, well, the posts I’ve written in my mind never seem to make it to the blog.
I’m not giving up, though.  In fact, quite the opposite.  I have, with the Mister’s encouragement, carved out a little time to write regularly.  We’ll see if it actually happens.  I’m not exactly sure why I’m so determined to continue this writing experiment; most days I don’t even think I’ve found this blog’s direction or my voice yet.  And maybe that’s why I want to keep going.  Either that, or I’m just crazy stubborn.
Nevertheless, I’ve been planning this particular post for a while.  Kind of.  It’s personal, more personal than I have been before.  It took a while for me to decide I wanted to share this, but I believe it’s time.  Earlier  this summer, when I began thinking about writing this, it didn’t occur to me that tomorrow would be the tenth anniversary of September 11.  To anyone who’s reading this who lost someone that day, I pray that you have found hope and comfort. 
And, if you have not, I pray that you will.
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I love lists.  I loved the sense of organization I get when I make a list, and love the sense of accomplishment I get when I check things off my list.  Grocery lists, packing lists, gift lists, book I’ve read, books I want to read, and, of course, to-do lists.  I love lists.  And calendars!  I love calendars, too.  I guess you could say I’m a planner.
All this list-making and calendar-keeping began for me in earnest in college.  Classes, clubs, and dates demanded organization, and I loved that sense of order—and yes, of control.  I met my husband at the end of my freshman year.  We dated throughout college and for a couple of years while he finished a second degree.  Planning a wedding, moving, a new job, buying and decorating a house—all afforded me countless opportunities to plan and to further delude myself that I had control over our lives.  We were married in 1987.  We both had great jobs and a terrific group of friends that we spent time with almost every weekend.  We attended church, Bible studies, and even did a few service projects here and there.  Our calendars were full, and our plans were big.  And, then, it happened—Donna was expecting.  Then Beth, then Anna, then Debbie.  Then me—all according to plan.
Late one September afternoon, my husband called me at work to say he’d be home later than usual—he’d forgotten to tell me about an after work get-together.  He was a chemical engineer for a large manufacturer in the electronics industry, and he played on the company softball team.  The team had won the championship a few days earlier, so the guys were getting together to celebrate.  I assured him that I didn’t mind as I had a late meeting myself.  As I left that evening of September 11, 1991, I drove home, planning our baby’s nursery.  In all honesty, I was hoping to get home first so I could have the quiet house to myself.  Although I was only six weeks along, pregnancy was making me tired.  I felt as though I couldn’t get enough sleep.  As I pulled into the garage, I could hear the phone ringing.  I decided to bring the empty trash bin up from the street, in hopes that when I returned to the house, it would, indeed, be quiet.  Oddly, the phone was still ringing.  Reluctantly, I answered. 
The woman calling told me that my husband had been in an accident.  He was on his way to the hospital.  Two of his co-workers would be by to pick me up.  I hung up, stunned.  I knew almost no details, and yet, I knew that we weren’t going to be talking about stitches or casts when I got to the hospital.  Looking back, I believe this “knowing” was one of God’s first assurances to me that He was with me in this.
As we rode to the hospital, details unfolded.  After the cook-out, some of the guys started throwing around a football.  The neighborhood yards were small, so they began tossing it in the street.  My husband  went back for a pass—and wearing his slick-soled Weejuns—slipped and fell, hitting the back of his head on the curb.  He sat up for an instant, waved the guys off, and fell back into unconsciousness.
When we arrived at the hospital, I was taken to a private room to wait in the ER, where my in-laws met me a few minutes later.   My own parents joined me as quickly as they could, making a four-hour drive across the dark mountains. Sometime after midnight, my husband was admitted to ICU, where he survived in a coma on a respirator for three days.  I watched each monitor, and with each beep, I prayed and willed each reading to either go up or down, depending on what the doctors had told me.
For three days, brain scans showed no activity—there was no physical response to pain or to light.  I’m told that, at times, there were literally hundreds of people in the hospital halls and chapel and parking lot praying for us.  And I hoped as long as the neurologists would allow.  Then I signed the organ donation papers and was given a few minutes alone with my darling husband of four years.  I sang to him because I didn’t know what else to do.
No doubt many of you have heard, or read, or even  memorized Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declared the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.”  At 29 years old and six weeks pregnant, I did not find this verse especially comforting.  I had already made my plans, and widowhood was not on my list.  Surrounded by family and friends, insulated by shock, I planned a funeral in one city and a burial in his boyhood home of Tennessee.
To say I was angry at God is an incredible understatement.  In my not-yet-30-year-old ignorance, I believed that I had been good and faithful, and for that matter, so had my husband.  With God, I was done.
In His great faithfulness, however, He was not done with me.
Mark 2 tells the story of four friends who carried their paralyzed friend to a house where Jesus was teaching.  Unable to get through the crowd, the friends carry their friend up to the rooftop, where they proceed to break through the roof to put their friend in front of Jesus.  Clay-caked palm leaves, dead bugs, dust, and broken tiles must have crashed down.  I am sure that the friends’ perseverance made a mess.  Those are the kind of friends and family I had.  Daily they carried me to Jesus when I could not go and would not go myself.  Stubbornly and persistently they prayed for me, for our baby, for our future.  They were hurting over the loss of their friend, too, and I imagine that at times it was very, very messy.
Seven months later on Easter Eve, I gave birth to a beautiful brown-eyed boy, named for his father.  On this blog, he goes by Big, and he is studying to be an engineer at Clemson University, as his father did.
Grief is hard work.  Grief with an infant is indescribable.  Of course, there were moments of delight and joy—followed always by pain and sadness.  Bittersweet was as good as it got that first year, but as Big’s first birthday approached I knew we needed to celebrate.  First, there were a lot of people who needed to be thanked—meals and yard work had been miraculously provided for months.  Second, Big and I had survived our first year.  I decided to throw an April birthday brunch.  The day was a lovely spring day, and Big’s first year was truly celebrated.
That night as I cried myself to sleep as I had every night for a year and a half, I vowed that it would be the last time.  I couldn’t provide Big with a father, but he deserved to have a happy mother.
Two weeks later I had a dream.   to be continued.
[All of the images used in this post were selected from Google Images and are not my own photographs.]
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