Love, Sweet Love, ACT II

They must have seen something in my eyes.

Why else would the couple I’d been interviewing ask if they could pray for me?

I met many wonderful people through my work as a newspaper reporter, people whose stories changed my life irrevocably. I’d interviewed Bill and Marcheta Lux for their unique love story for a Valentine’s Day issue, but it was the experience of holding their hands as they prayed out loud for me that has never left me.

Bill and Marcheta were both widowed and in their eighties when they met in 2011. As a four-year veteran widow, their story fascinated me. I noted with curiosity the ease in which they talked about their former spouse, how their hands automatically reached out to pat the other’s knee.

According to the couple, the secret to a successful marriage was inside the well-worn book on the end table next to Bill’s chair.

“Every day I asked God what his will was for me,” Bill said as he pulled a folded piece of paper from inside the Bible. “I wasn’t sure about getting married again.”

It was during a Christian radio show he got his answer. Jotting down notes about what to look for in a mate, he realized Marcheta met all the criteria.

“Number one is that the person must be Christian,” Bill read from the paper. “Marchetta trusted the Lord with all her heart. Second, the person must be trustworthy with all things. Number three is honesty. Marcheta is trustworthy and honest. And number four is the desire to be with the person, even when you aren’t being intimate. And I wanted to be with Marcheta all the time.”

Marcheta had smiled indulgently as Bill expounded on her virtues, discretely gesturing to me with a pointed finger that it was him who was so wonderful. As they stood for a picture, Bill slung his arm around the woman he loved, pulling her close.

“I want to be with her for as long as I have left,” he said, his head resting against hers.

My breath caught in my throat, my heart aching for what they had. My hands shook with emotion as my fingers fumbled for the button on the camera. Had my loneliness been so visible to Bill? Because what happened next didn’t make sense for a reporter concluding an interview.

“Can we pray with you?” Bill asked, and his wife nodded.

I put down my camera and held out my hands to take each of theirs. Following their lead, I bowed my head as Bill began praying.

He thanked God for the day and an opportunity to share their story. Tears sprung to my eyes as he continued. “Dear Lord, if it is your will, we ask you to bless Mary with a love story like ours.”

I don’t remember the rest of his prayer, past that heartfelt plea for me.

Bill would share his life with Marcheta for another three years. I heard that she followed him Home that next summer, while I was busy lamenting a loneliness that had heightened with the isolation of the pandemic.

A year later, this Christian couple’s prayer was answered when I got my own love story, one that rivals the newspaper narrative in its intensity and romance. God has been in it from the beginning, and I am in awe of the results. I have more questions than answers in how I’m to proceed in writing or speaking about this second marriage, but I’ve known since I met Nick that God wants me to share our story. Journal entries since our meeting have been prolific and daily prayers for guidance and discernment have resulted in pages of notes, so no doubt the how and when will be revealed. One thing that has been clear to both of us: We want to be with each other for as long as we have left.

dating, faith, grace, love, marriage, prayer, wedding

When God Writes the Love Story

“Can love really happen like that?”

I’d noticed the young girl’s sad demeanor even before I settled into the chair. For a split second, I was irritated, not wanting anything to mar the joy I felt at finding love after nine and a half years of loneliness. I’d asked for a more experienced student at the beauty college. Why did I have to be assigned to one who evidently had some personal issues to deal with when all I wanted was to look good for my wedding?

She’d done well faking through small talk until that moment when her voice lowered with intensity after I announced I was getting married and began telling her about the whirlwind romance, our certainty in our love and the quick engagement that would result in marriage a month and a half after our first meeting.

“Can love really happen like that?” she repeated before adding “Because I thought I was in love for two years and he just broke up with me. It turns out he wasn’t who I thought he was.”

I paused, silently uttering a prayer that God would give me the words she needed to hear.

“Yes, it can happen like that, if God is in it from the beginning. We pray together before each of our dates.”

She was silent as she worked the color through my hair. I wondered if I’d said the wrong thing, bringing up prayer and faith.

“He never prayed with me,” she finally said, so softly it was as if she was talking to herself. Our eyes met in the mirror. “I asked him to, but he wouldn’t,” she continued. “He wouldn’t go to church with me, either. I used to sing in the church choir, loved singing worship songs.”

Loved, as if there were no more worship songs in her life. We both fell silent until she continued.

“I wrote a prayer to my future husband once. I even wrote out a list of what I wanted in the perfect man. I thought I’d found him. But he wasn’t who he pretended to be.”

What were the odds that I’d end up in the chair of a young woman who had done what I had done? I was convinced. I wasn’t there for the haircut and color. I was there for her.

I told her about God asking me to pray for my future husband in the summer of 2018 because the man God had in mind for me was going through something rough. How I’d followed that prompting, transcribing a prayer in my journal so private, I’d covered it up.

I told her how I’d wonder in the ensuing three years if I’d imagined the prompting as I waited for the man God had promised me. That I’d also made a list of all the qualities I wanted in a man. I told her how Nick’s wife died in the spring of 2018. “That summer was one of the hardest times in his life,” I said, choking back tears. Her eyes widened. “He has every quality I asked for: the kind eyes, the broad shoulders, the desire for holding hands and hugging, all the way down to the neatly trimmed goatee beard he’d begun sporting shortly before I met him.”

I went silent as she worked intently on my hair. What else could I say to this wounded girl? I closed my eyes, praying.

“Will you do me a favor?” I opened my eyes and saw her nod in the mirror. “Next time you begin a relationship, will you ask him to pray with you?”

Tears sprung to her eyes as she nodded again.

“And this time, if he says no, run the other way?”

“Do you think I can have a love story like yours?” her voice was husky with longing and unshed tears.

“I know you can. And I want to hear about your love story when it happens.”

“I think God put you in my chair today,” my young friend said.

“I think so too.”

We hugged before I left.

I immediately called Nick when I got into my car.

“How did your hair turn out?” he asked.

“I don’t know, because I don’t think I was there for my hair,” I began crying as I related the encounter. My cries turned into sobs, and I could barely speak past the lump forming in my throat.

“Just think; this is what our life is going to be like together, as long as we put God at the forefront. Random encounters that are not random at all, as we grow in faith together. God brought us together and God can use us together in so many ways.”

On August 23, 2021, three years and one day after the day I wrote down a prayer for the man who would someday be my husband, I married him in the woods I’d found solace in during the pandemic, the land where I grew up that my son now owns.

Commonsense Dating, Part II

When Tricia Lott Williford’s And Life Comes Back was released in 2014, I reached out to her as a fellow widow and author, and she graciously responded. Her next book Let’s Pretend We’re Normal resonated with me as I struggled to cobble together something that resembled a “normal” family with the pieces left behind after a husband and father’s death.

As much as I’m ashamed to admit it, once Tricia found love again and remarried, I stopped reading her books. It was too painful to see yet another widow remarry, while I remained alone. I wanted to love again. David had wanted that for me. This wasn’t the first time I’d envied another widow or widower. I once unfollowed a friend on Facebook for a good year after he remarried, because his beaming face in the wedding photo that served as his profile picture caused sharp pains of envy every time I saw it. I felt guilty about my envy of Tricia and my friend. How dare I begrudge someone a second chance at love!

Because of that guilt-induced discomfort, when Tricia put out a call for people to be on the launch team for her new book, I offered to participate, even though I wasn’t sure what the book was about. When the bubble mailer arrived in mail, I’d let it sit on the floor near my recliner.

For nearly two weeks.

Until that endless Saturday as I waited for Sunday, and my second date with a man I couldn’t stop thinking about, a man who had agreed to pray with me at the beginning of our next date. There was no getting anything done that day. I’d tossed and turned the night before. I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t think straight for thoughts of Nick.

I decided to read Tricia’s book. Tearing open the mailer, I pulled out This Book is For You: Loving God’s Words in Your Actual Life, and began reading. I found it interesting that the introduction addressed some of what Nick and I had been discussing during our first date. A lump formed in my throat and tears stung my eyes when I got to page 38.

Nick and I had talked about these things on our first date:

How my husband David and I had almost lost one another in raising eight children.

How we’d found each other again during his cancer in 2006. Just in time. Six years later David died.

It was so hard and so sad for so long for both of us.

God is near to the brokenhearted.

By page 90, I was sobbing. Tricia had written about all of the faith topics Nick and I’d discussed during our first date: Jeremiah 29:11, the verse on my wall I’d pointed out to Nick. A dependence on devotionals. I’d told Nick how much I depended on devotionals and offered him one of my favorites. How to live in the Word of the Bible. This book wasn’t just for me. It was for both of us!

READ IT TO HIM. Once again, a clear directive I couldn’t make sense of. I was to read a book to my date? Who even does that? READ IT TO HIM. I couldn’t get around it. I was being asked to read to another adult, something I’d never done or imagined doing. I was a bit apprehensive about the idea. First, against all common sense, I’d invited a strange man to my house. Now I was to propose reading a book to him? What would he think?

Nick arrived, bearing flowers. We held hands for the first time as we prayed together. He asked what I’d like to do that afternoon. Then this wonderful, amazing man didn’t even blink an eye when I replied I’d like to read to him, and explained why. We got through the lengthy introduction that first day of reading, an introduction that included these words:

“You are holding this book in your hands. That means that I am inviting you, but far more important, God is inviting you. He has chosen you. Not because my particular book is a divine tool of any kind but because God can use anything he wants- from divine texts to absolute drivel- to get your attention. And if these first pages have pricked your heart, if you feel even remotely interested in falling in love with God’s words in God’s book, then I daresay God is getting your attention.” (page 5)

God was definitely getting our attention. Not just through the book, but in the nine hours of conversation that followed that day. The ease in which we talked, the sparks that flew. More dates that included prayer and extremely deep conversations. Nick and I began questioning the intensity of our feelings for each other. Can this be real? Because commonsense would tell us us that it couldn’t be. It didn’t make sense.

Until it did.

Cecil Murphey, 88-years-old, is my spiritual advisor, mentor, and friend. I shared our unlikely friendship in the March 2021 Reader’s Digest magazine, in a story on unlikely friendships.

Cec smiled through my entire saga of this new relationship, my strong feelings, my fears. How I didn’t trust my feelings. Privy to my struggle with loneliness, Cec has been praying for me to find a Godly man for several years now.

“Why are you surprised, Mary?” he asked. “This is exactly how love happens when God is in it from the start. Trust your feelings. They are a gift from God.”

I wasn’t sure I could trust my feelings. But I do trust God.

I have shared photos of this page in my 2018 journal during my expressive writing for healing workshops, demonstrating how I covered up writing that was too private for my comfort. Twice during the summer of 2018 God had asked me to pray for a man I did not yet know. One of those prayers was dated July 25, 2018, the other August 22, 2018. I’d resisted when God told me to pray for a man I would someday love because it seemed so presumptuous, but I finally obeyed, so the prompt could have been days before those dates.

I sat down next to Nick on the couch during one of our dates. “There’s a prayer in here I want to show you,” I began. “It was so private, I covered it up. I haven’t looked at it since, but every once in awhile in the last few years I have wondered where that man was God asked me to pray for so many years ago. Where the man was that he promised me.”

I uncovered the prayer and began reading to Nick, words still too private to share on a blog, except these few:

I’m praying that God brings us together in a way that we will see Him in it. I have seen Him in everything these past years. If we are meant to be together, He will be in that too. I pray that you already have a relationship with Him, that you are surrounded by family and friends who love you.

“I knew the man was going through something, that God would ask me to pray for him that summer.”

Nick’s eyes widened when he noted the dates. His voice thick with emotion, he said “My wife died in April 2018. Her birthday was in August. That summer was the worst summer of my life. Do you think that man was me?”

“I wouldn’t have shown you if I didn’t think so,” my answer was a whisper, but he heard it. He took my hand in his.

Commonsense says you can’t fall in love in mere days.

But we don’t serve a common God. Our God is awesome and amazing. He delights in his children. He hurts when they hurt. He asks a woman to pray for a man she does not yet know because that man needs prayer that summer. He promises her love in 2018 and delivers it in 2021 in a way that she will recognize it. God writes a love story that this man, and this woman, watch unfold, in awe and amazement.