In the comments for part 2, I was asked, "Is there a part three?" Truthfully until Carol asked the question, I really hadn't thought about it. She asked what I had learned through all the losses I suffered in such a short time, and there are many things that I have picked up in the years since those tragedies and more still which I still need to learn. But before I can deal with any of that, I need to tell one more story. I hadn't really thought about this in terms of being "thrown together" but I think in some ways it still fits the criteria.
I was painfully shy during most of my school years -- especially with girls. By the time I gained a little confidence at the age of sixteen, I was steadily being turned down by members of the opposite sex. The confidence which I had slowly built was being torn down twice as fast. However by the middle of my junior year of high school, a girl had taken an interest in me and we began dating. That relationship lasted through my freshman year of college, which was her senior year of high school.
My girlfriend decided to attend a college not too far from mine, but shortly after beginning classes she found someone else. After faking fidelity for a few months, finally she dropped the hammer on our relationship. That hammer hit me dead in the skull. A relationship which I assumed would be forever became history in the blink of a fickle woman's eye. I was back to being a single guy once again.
The thing is, I wasn't any better at being a single guy in college than I was in high school. I was still being rejected steadily, sometimes in the most obnoxious ways. Fortunately, I had a lot of friends on a large campus and even though women didn't want to date me, they didn't mind hanging around me. That would have to do.
After college, I moved to Michigan to take a job. There, I was all alone. And I felt alone. I worked evenings, so it was hard to meet many people, let alone single females. One day I saw an advertisement for a singles group, so I called the phone number listed with the ad. The voice on the other end was male... and not exactly youthful. I was undeterred.
"I'm interested in learning more about your singles group," I said.
"Oh, that's great," answered the man on the other end of the line. "Tell me, how long have you been a widower?"
My jaw hit the floor.
Scratch that possibility.
I started to wonder if perhaps I had been called to be single. It didn't seem right to me, knowing myself the way I did. I wanted to find someone to love and to share my life with. But maybe God wanted me to take the apostle Paul's approach. I know that if I had no family I would have the potential to devote a ka-jillion more hours to Bible study and ministry. I also realize that potential means nothing. The reality would probably be that I'd have a ka-jillion hours in front of the television studying the Top 100 Moments in Sitcom History and The History of the Interstate Highway System. I'd never follow through. So why would God want me to be single?
After Michigan, I moved to central Indiana, unloaded my belongings into a new apartment and began a new job. The story was the same. Eventually I met a woman at work who I liked spending time with. It wasn't a romantic interest, but it was someone who I enjoyed being around. She was just a few years older than me. We spent a lot of time together -- especially finding new places in town where pie was served.
One day this woman invited me to go watch her son's football game. Tagging along for the trip was her eighteen year-old daughter whom I had met in passing once before. We spent the crisp autumn afternoon sharing a thermos of hot chocolate and a blanket. I didn't realize what was happening. God was throwing a couple of people together.
The phone calls started sometime later, along with a few visits. When we finally had our first date, it had been so long since I had dated I was scared to death to mess it up. I stood awkwardly by the car at the end of the evening before she finally put me out of my misery and kissed me.
My wife told me once that one reason she took a romantic interest in me is that one night as we talked on the phone, I mentioned that I had candles burning. I've always liked candles. That night I had two pina colada votives burning on my shelf. Somehow from that revelation, she figured out that I wasn't like the other guys she had dated. Kudos to her for figuring that out! Had I known that candles could have been the solution to my problems with women, I may have set my apartment ablaze trying desperately to show my sensitivity!
We continued to date for a year exactly before I proposed while kneeling beside a bench in a forest clearing. I had to wait about 15 seconds to get her attention, as she was busy watching a deer who had apparently come to witness the event. We were married the next summer on her 20th birthday. It was the happiest day of my life.
Today I have the most incredible wife in the world. Not only has she gone from being the wife of a radio DJ to the preacher's wife (talk about different set of expectations!) but she has become the mother of four wonderful children, three of whom we have had the pleasure of raising together. She puts up with me in all my weirdness, my laziness, my thoughtlessness, and my helplessness. She challenges me to become a better husband, a better father, and a better Christian. I am a much better person today simply because of her.
It's been more than 16 years now since my career as a bachelor was mercifully ended. And while I couldn't understand for so long why God would want me to be alone for so much of my early adulthood, I now understand that it wasn't time for me to be married to my wife. After all, she was only 18 when I met her. I had no business being around her when I was lonely five years earlier! As frustrating as it was for me to admit, God actually knew what He was doing.
And I guess that's the answer to the questions Carol put to me in my comments section. What I have learned through losing a grandparent, losing a child and losing a good friend in a six month period is the same thing that I learned through waiting out lonely years in search of a wife -- although it's hard to understand, God can use what you go through for your benefit. It's the biblical image of the refiner's fire. It burns. It hurts. It feels like you can't go on. But once you're out of the fire, you become purer and stronger. Admittedly we don't "cool off" from the fire immediately. I still have pain to deal with. I won't deny it. But the further from that fire I get, the easier it is to see the refinements that have been made in my Christian walk, my character and my life.
God knows what He's doing. What a concept!