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Commonsense Dating, Part One

I’ve been journaling for over nine years, ever since the death of my husband David in March 2012. Each journal is chosen carefully, with meaningful covers. I have previously written about my process of choosing journals HERE.

Because journaling was my way of working my way through things, I panicked when I realized I’d run out of journals at the beginning of the pandemic. I definitely needed to write my way through the gamut of emotions I was experiencing. Realizing the absurdity of my panic, (I did have reams of paper inside the house, after all), I called the local bookstore and had them walk through the store, describing various journals available. Though I wasn’t thrilled with the “Alice in Wonderland” themed one the saleswoman mentioned, I was intrigued when she told me it was a “novel” journal, with words pulled from the text as lines. I ordered it. When I pulled up to the curb and put my window down, the salesperson, gloved and masked, approached. We both laughed when she threw the bag through the open window. When I got home and opened up the journal, it seemed the perfect choice for that period of time. I filled it in three months.

I’ve filled several journals since. But at the end of May, with in-person programming beginning at my workplace once again, and a sense of normalcy returning, I picked up another “novel journal,” this one with words of H.G. Wells sporting both pages and cover. Wait for the common sense of the morning, the words on the cover say.

On June 4, I copied these words from Henri Nouwen’s book on spiritual discernment into this journal: “When we are rooted in prayer and solitude and form part of a community of faith, certain signs are given to us in daily life as we struggle for answers to spiritual questions. The books we read, the nature we enjoy, the people we meet, and the events we experience contain within themselves signs of God’s presence and guidance day by day. When certain poems or scripture verses speak to us in a special way, when nature sings and creation reveals its glory, when particular people seem to be placed in our path, when a critical or current event seems full of meaning, its time to pay attention to the divine purpose to which they point. Discernment is a way to read the signs and recognize divine messages.”

On June 26, I wrote in my new journal: “I’ve been thinking about Vicki Jolene’s advice to me regarding finding love again. She asked if I’d prayed to David yet, to help guide me to the man he would choose for me. I know God asked me twice in the summer of 2018 to ‘pray for the man that would be my husband’ because he was going through something tough at the time, and I’d obeyed, though I’d felt foolish. I’d written down those prayers and covered them up in my journal, embarrassed. At the time, I believed he was promising me a husband, but so many years have gone by, I just wonder if I’d misheard him. But pray to David? Pray to a dead spouse? Is that even Biblical? I know that David told me he’d want me to marry again because he knew how much I loved hugging and holding hands and he’d want me to have that again, but to pray to him to help me find it?

Vicki Jolene, trained as a Methodist minister, was well aware of my struggle with loneliness these past years, my prayers to God to protect my heart and his clear answers whenever my romantic self imagined something might be happening. God had consistently done just as I’d asked, protecting my heart by making it crystal clear when a certain man I might be entertaining romantic notions about was not for me.

Yet my heart ached with loneliness, especially at night as I cried out to God, asking why other widows I knew had found love, but not me. Why I was still alone. What was so unlovable about me? Yet even as I prayed, whined, and lamented, I knew, without a doubt, God was working in me, changing me, that I was becoming all he wanted me to be.

I seriously considered Vicki Jolene’s advice, finally deciding it would do no harm. So I “prayed to David,” through Jesus Christ, if he could help guide me to the man he would choose for me, could he please do so. I don’t know how Heaven works. Maybe our loved ones do watch over us. Maybe they can help us.

Just days later, I connected with a man on Catholic Match. I’d decided to give the website one last try because my son had recently met a nice girl online. Their experience made me brave. I was about ready to delete my account after a couple of what I call “creeper encounters,” men who either sounded too good to be true (because they weren’t) or those who were downright scary. So I was appropriately wary when Nick messaged me. He gave me enough information I could do an online search and figure out he was telling the truth. He was visiting his sister in AZ at the time and she’d encouraged him to join the site where she’d met her husband. Nick and I messaged back and forth several times before he asked if we could meet in person when he got back to WI. I chose a public space. We’d meet after I got off work on a Thursday at Panera Bread.

While doing a devotional Thursday morning, I was thinking about my date that afternoon when I clearly heard I was NOT to meet him at Panera Bread. I was confused. Why not? And if not Panera Bread, where?

AT YOUR HOUSE. Now, if you are a new Christian, or have not yet developed a relationship with Jesus, this kind of directive could easily be ignored. But because I have been living in the Word and I can discern God’s voice, I should have known better than to disobey.

But it made no sense to me. Why would God be asking a single woman to invite a strange man to her house? I decided I had misheard the directive.

INVITE HIM TO YOUR HOME. At work, the message got stronger and stronger. I was jumpy with the ridiculousness of it. Invite a strange man to my home? That’s insane. It’s the exact opposite of the advice I would give to my daughters or any other woman. I tried calling my oldest daughter so she could talk me out of it. She didn’t answer the phone. The message became urgent. INVITE HIM TO YOUR HOME. I couldn’t take it anymore. Okay, okay! I threw up my hands in despair. I will obey.

I messaged this stranger, telling him exactly what had transpired, including the spiritual directive, and how I didn’t understand it. I waited. An hour passed, and no message from him. He would be leaving soon to get to Dubuque in time. Oh, no, I scared him. He must have thought I was a total weirdo. I sent a quick message “We could meet at Village Inn if you’d prefer.” He replied “No, it’s fine. I’ll plug your address into the GPS and be there at 4:30.” I ordered Panera Bread to be delivered to my home. All the way home, I was praying, “God, I don’t understand. Why would you ask me to invite a stranger to my home? This doesn’t make sense.”

The food was on my steps when I arrived home so I put it in the fridge. Nick arrived shortly after. When I saw him walking up the stairs, it was the first time I realized he had the neatly-trimmed goatee, broad shoulders and kind eyes I’d added to a list for my “ideal man” I also kept in my journal after someone had advised I tell God exactly what I wanted in a man.

“Did you think I was crazy, inviting you to my home against all common sense?” I greeted him as I let him in the door.

“No, it told me something about your faith that you would follow God’s lead like that,” he said before adding, “But it was crazy and you shouldn’t have done it, and your children would kill you if they knew what you had done!”

We sat down and began talking. And talking. We talked with ease about everything. And nothing. We couldn’t stop talking, and it seemed as if we’d known each other for years. Our talking was interrupted suddenly by a noise outside. I looked out the window and my oldest son Dan was there, fixing my stair railing I’d asked him to repair weeks before.

“My oldest son is here,” I told Nick, and then realization dawned on me. “Do you think that is why I was supposed to invite you here? So you could meet my oldest son, or him meet you?”

Because, suddenly, that made perfect sense. Dan has taken care of me since his Dad died. He has worried about me, fixed things around the house, has known of my loneliness. We share a special relationship in which we can sometimes feel each other’s pain.

“Dan! I didn’t know you were coming,” I step to the door and call out. “My friend Nick is here.”

“On the phone?” he says. “I’m just here to fix your railing.”

“No, my friend is in the house,” I stepped aside as Nick comes to the door. They exchange pleasantries and Nick and I went back inside, to return to talking. We discuss faith, the Bible, our spouse’s deaths, our children. We talk with an ease I’ve never before experienced, realizing we intimately share the loss of a spouse who will forever be a part of our lives. He asks about the Bible verse on my wall, Jeremiah 29:11, and I explain how it has been my life verse since David’s death. Remembering my summer 2018 journal entries and the prayers for a man I did not yet know, I get a tiny shiver down my back when he mentions that his wife died in April 2018 and the next few months he experienced the hardest time he’d ever had in his life.

At some point, I realize I have forgotten to feed him and my son is still outside, working. Dan finishes up his work and talks to us for awhile as we eat our salads on the couch. Only later do I realize I hadn’t heard a word Dan said because I only had eyes for this amazing man sitting next to me.

Hours have passed when Nick stands up to leave and I give him a hug. I’m not sure which of us asked for the second hug, but by the time Nick got to the door, we both wanted the third hug and I said yes to a second date that Sunday.

Neither of us got much sleep that night, tossing and turning. In the early morning Friday hours, we texted each other, wondering at what had just happened. Commonsense tells us that people don’t feel like that about each other after one meeting. Commonsense tells us we must be imagining things. We both forget to eat that day. Sunday suddenly seems so far away. As we talk on the phone that evening, marveling, wondering, confused, we come to the same conclusion. Before our date on Sunday, we must pray together. We need to ask God into this relationship.

By Saturday morning, we are miserable. We haven’t gotten much sleep. We miss each other even though that makes no sense. We’ve met only once.

We have no idea what God is going to ask of me that afternoon, a request that once again, makes no sense at all, a directive that makes me feel foolish and uncertain.

How do I tell a grown man that I am to read a book out loud to him?

dating, love

Love in the Time of Corona

I received an e-mail offer from a Christian dating site this week, giving me the unprecedented opportunity to scan through profiles and respond to messages without paying a fee. It makes sense that dating would be a challenge during these self-isolating, social-distancing times, so a website that depends on the dating scene would need to come up with some kind of special to entice potential customers. After all, how exactly would one date during a pandemic? “Hey, I don’t know you and you don’t know me, but let’s meet in a park and stand six feet apart and wear masks and talk really loud so we can hear each other.” 

I’m not sure what I think about dating sites, even Christian ones. On the one hand, I believe that if God plans for me to be with someone, he will bring the right person at the right time. On the other hand, God helps those who help themselves and I know people who have successfully navigated dating sites to meet their spouse. I’m not completely sold on the idea, feeling a bit creepy poring over photos and profiles to find a compatible mate.

With Coronavirus running rampant, however, my concept of an ideal dating situation (getting to know someone through e-mail or letters before ever meeting for coffee) suddenly looks like the best way to protect heart and health. So, yes, I’ll admit it; I took the bait. For one solid hour I perused the website, filtering first by distance (within 100 miles), and age (57-69), and eventually by status (widowed). The filtering system felt a little unfair, as I’m certain God has his own system for bringing someone into our lives, and I don’t like to mess with God’s plans.

I admit to having some fun on the site. I even found myself commenting out loud about some of the profile pictures. “You are way too good looking for your own good, fella.” Swish. (that’s the sound of my finger on the touchscreen, people…) Next.

“Puhleeze… You took your profile picture in a gym wearing a sweaty muscle shirt? Is that supposed to impress me?” Swish. Next.

“Ditto on the profile picture in the fancy sports car you probably borrowed for the photo.” Swish. Next.

“This photo is obviously from the 70’s! What do you look like now?” Swish. Next.

“Um, this one’s so blurry, did you take it in a dark alley?” Swish. Next.

I did learn I do have a type, and am drawn to kind eyes. But I also learned some valuable lessons you guys out there might want to take notes on; what not to do when you create a profile on a Christian dating site. Heed my advice if you want more responses than that swish, next.

#1) If you clearly state in your profile that you have no children, and I can assume then you also have no grandchildren, leave the Elmo toy out of your profile picture. You’re 59 years old, for heaven’s sake. Why do you even have an Elmo toy, and what message are you attempting to convey by cuddling up with it in your profile picture? elmo

#2) Ditch the leprechaun suit. The green tights are not flattering, and frankly, the beard dyed to match is just downright scary.

#3) Ditto on the penguin winter hat. Just no.

#4) Making googly eyes in the bathroom mirror? I’m sorry, you don’t look fun. You look demented.

#5) If, in your description, you lament your inability to find a woman “with morals,” rethink the profile picture choice of you at a theme park standing between two scantily-clad women, your arms thrown around their shoulders.

#6) In a similar vein, if you clearly indicate (sometimes with crude language) that you don’t believe in “waiting until marriage,” we all know what you want, and you might consider a different sort of dating site.

#7) Two words: spell check. I know plenty of intelligent people who aren’t good spellers, but intelligent people do know to use spell check for something important, and your profile description is your first impression. “I bean luking for a gud women for a vere lone time.” I wonder why.

I don’t think I’ll go back to that dating site, though I see in my e-mail I have a message waiting for me.  I’m scared to read it. The guy is 81. And from New Zealand.

But he does have kind eyes.

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Purge

Wednesday night my sister Angela called and asked if I had plans for Good Friday, Saturday, or Easter. “I might be filling a dumpster,” I answered, and I’m sure she wondered if I had gone over the edge. Yesterday after the dumpster was delivered, I pulled the old carpeting off the porch and threw it in, then grabbed some wood from a desk my son had destroyed. I relished the sound of the heavy boards hitting the bottom of the metal dumpster and threw the next ones in harder, practically slamming them into the trash receptacle. I began crying, then laughing, as I imagined the curtains of nearby houses being pulled back and the residents of our neighborhood whispering to each other about the crazy widow down the street.  Widow, widow, widow, the word taunted me. I opened the garage door, looking for more things to throw away. I wanted glass, or mirrors to shatter. Tears poured down my cheeks as I surveyed the garage; the cluttered shelves, the empty flower pots my husband had collected.  I thought back to David’s last three weeks before his heart attack, when he’d spent several hours out there; a radio playing. “I got a lot done today,” he’d announced one afternoon. Surveying the garage yesterday, I wondered, where? Where had he gotten cleaning done? The state of the basement and the garage had been the bane of his existence. It had become overwhelming. There had to be four coffee pots in the basement that barely dripped, and yet David saved them “in case.” I tried not to nag him in any way after his cancer treatment, but the build-up of junk did bother me.  He knew that.  So I was glad it was his idea when on the way home from the hospital he’d said, “Let’s get a dumpster soon and clean up. I won’t be able to do much, though.” He smiled when I told him he could sit on the porch and order us around.

This morning started out as one of the Good Days. Before the children were even awake, I’d printed out a speech to work on, revised an essay I’d begun while David was in the hospital, and started my Sunday column. I’m writing! I’m writing! was the joyful refrain inside my head.

Then I went to Wal-Mart with the girls. Standing in the Easter aisle, I couldn’t think.  I couldn’t care less about chocolate bunnies and jelly beans. “Hi, how are you doing?” a woman I’d once interviewed approached. A woman who had been married over 50 years. A woman who still had her husband.

“Not very good,” I replied carefully. What is the proper protocol for these situations? Was I just supposed to answer “fine?”

“What’s wrong?” she asked, and when I told her my husband had passed away, she was genuinely sympathetic. The rest of the shopping trip was a blur. I know I sobbed in the car afterwards and Emily ran into the grocery store for the eggs because I couldn’t seem to stop the flow of tears.

I decided to use my sadness as an impetus to clean the basement. The first two or three trips out to the dumpster were easy; an old office chair, some broken plastic tote lids, a torn rug that had gone through the flooding in the basement.  When I entered the corner room of the basement, I suddenly wanted to turn back. This was David’s domain, and surprisingly well-organized;  lined up on the shelves were rusty-lidded cans of paint, a dozen spray cleaners that he’d confiscated when they were thrown out at work, and empty water bottles I’d discarded that he’d evidently plucked from the garbage. I was overwhelmed with sorrow at how my thrifty husband held onto things I would so easily toss. My eyes lit on the glass jars in a corner. When the sanitation company informed Manchester residents they would no longer take glass in the recycling, I’d casually dropped my jars into our kitchen trash. I’d  recently caught David removing a pickle jar and asked him what he was doing. “I’m going to take them somewhere,” he’d mumbled.

Evidently, the basement was “somewhere.”  I filled a box with the jars and headed up the stairs to the garage. My feet felt leaden as I walked towards the dumpster outside. With a grunt, I hurled them over the side, and was heartened when I heard the shattering, and saw sharp pieces of glass hit the sides of the container. I was surprised at the anger that assailed me. Who was I angry at? Certainly not my gentle husband who would not have chosen to leave me or the children. Not God, who had blessed me with those bonus five years after David’s cancer.  Was I angry at myself? I’d sometimes teased David about his frugal ways, removed his precious pie tins when I knew he was saving them for something. I didn’t always understand his penchant for saving everything, even as he didn’t understand all my idiosyncracies.  Had I hurt his feelings at times? I suddenly couldn’t stand to have hurt him in any way. I should have loved him more, treated him better! I railed at the skies, even as I knew I couldn’t have loved him any more than I had, and he had known how much I cherished him. One thing we could thank the cancer for was that each of us had learned to treat the other in the best way we knew how, short of kissing each other’s feet, and we’d even been known to do that on occasion.

The anger dissipated as quickly as it had come.

I went into the house to make a cup of tea, with a fresh sense of loss. David had made 75% of the cups of tea in our house for the last year or two.

I’ll get back to the garage and the basement, but not alone.

And here I’d thought it would be the clothing that would be so difficult.