I never imagined that someday I’d be accepting a marriage proposal on a beautiful, fall day, high above the clouds in the Blue Ridge Mountains.
But that’s exactly what took place this morning.
Honestly, two years ago when this goofy, smart, kind man walked into my life, I had no thoughts of marriage. In fact, just the very idea of dating someone was overwhelming to me.
I’ve grown very stubborn, strong and independent, as a single mom, following my ex-husband’s arrest in 2009.
Ok, maybe I’ve always been stubborn. And independent. But facing the challenges that followed the devastation of his arrest served only to magnify and intensify both of those attributes. Where I was once just stubborn, strong and independent, I am now doggedly and fiercely so.
And I had no intention or interest, in marrying again.
C.S. Lewis – my favorite author – expressed it best, in his book “The Four Loves”:
“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal.”
My heart had not only be wrung and broken–it had been shattered.
I was determined to not be vulnerable to that pain again.
Turns out, though, that God had other plans.
I first met Ken virtually, on teleconferences for my job. He worked in the field of cybersecurity, but on the customer side. His job was to make sure we were maintaining security compliance in the system we were building, for the government.
My first impression?
This guy is grumpy. And he does not like us.
I was still fairly new to the world of IT compliance; really, I had no idea what his job was–I didn’t understand all the nuances nor the role that he was in. I just thought he was a jerk.
And then, one day, I heard he was coming to work for our company.
I was astonished. Shocked. Dumbfounded.
Why the heck would this guy, who clearly didn’t like us, want to come work for us?
Well, friends, that just goes to show you that first impressions may not always be right.
I would later learn that he had the utmost respect for the company I work for–he loved working with our engineers, project leads and managers so much so, that he jumped at the chance to come over to the “contracting dark side.”
Guess I was wrong.
And, the first time I met him “in person”, he wasn’t at all like what I had imagined him to be. I had pictured him as this overbearing, self-assured, know-it-all guy.
That couldn’t be farther from the truth.
Shortly after he joined the team, we had a team dinner in Hampton, and while I pretty much ignored him, I could tell that he wasn’t all those negative things that I had initially thought. But, really, I didn’t give him much more thought than that.
But then came the summer of 2015—the summer of our new United States Marine Corps contract. And with that contract, we attended some of the same meetings. We started chatting, getting to know each other. He invited me to dinner; I accepted. We slowly got to know each other.
And then, he decided that he liked me.
And then, I panicked a bit. Or, maybe more than a bit. Because I liked him, too.
In the course of our talks, I expressed to him early on that my relationship to God is and always will be first in my life, and that my kids are my world. My involvement in church is a non-negotiable. And my overwhelming responsibility of caring for my four amazing kids and continuing to raise them to adulthood must remain my primary focus. For now, any relationship we pursued, would have to be done with those two things in mind.
And while the kids would and will not need me as much as they get older and become strong, independent and stubborn young adults (I’ve taught them well!), my relationship with God and the importance of that in my life will never change.
He listened. Thought about my words. And didn’t waver.
In other words, I didn’t scare him off.
In fact, the exact opposite happened. He worked hard to get to know my crew. Respectfully, though–he never tried to step into a parenting role. He understood from day one that this was not what my kids needed. Instead, he got to know them as a friend—giving advice where it was appropriate. Encouraging them always. Cheering them on, in their accomplishments And goofing around with them. My kids are pretty protective of me–and he won them over. Ken became a part of our family–which is saying a lot, because the 5 of us are pretty tight-knit, a result of facing some really tough things together.
And church didn’t scare him, either. Instead, he decided he was going to go to church.
I’m a terrible person, friends.
I told him, “That’s fine, but you can’t sit with me.”
So he came to church, but didn’t sit with me.
But one Sunday morning, I looked at him sitting up there in the balcony, with another one of our coworkers, and my soul said to my mind, “He belongs sitting next to you.” So I motioned for him to join me.
And I’ve never looked back.
There is a lot more to this story–much more than what can be expressed in a blog post. There are the numerous hours that the men in my church have invested in teaching Ken about who God is, and what it means to be a Christ-follower. There are the pages and pages and pages of prayers that I’ve written, passworded and locked away–prayers about our relationship, and the future. There are many cherished moments, as I’ve watched Ken play ping-pong with Mark, give Bethany driving tips, pay for Tim’s dinner and cheer Keli and I after our first (and last) half marathon. There are the hours upon hours of deep conversations, settled contentedness, and loud laughter—and then there are (much less, but no less significant) the hours of tears as I’ve sat alone in my room, wrestling agonizing fear of the pain that comes from loving someone, along with the whole concept of divorce and remarriage, and grief that is to raw to share here.
But, through this whole experience up to the moment when I said, “Yes, I will marry you” this morning, I have often been “Surprised by Joy.”
Yes, I have borrowed that phrase from C.S. Lewis—and I am very aware of his meaning and definition behind the phrase–the deep longing for what can only be supplied by and found in God. But without diminishing Lewis’s intended use of the words, or his experience of becoming a Christ-follower which was so similar to my very own, I find the phrase still very applicable to the journey that has brought me to be on that mountain ridge this morning, above the clouds and below the sky that I hold so dear, with this kind-hearted, sweet soul whom I love and who I look forward to spending the years that lie before us with.
There is much joy.
So many times over these hard years, I’ve turned to the book of Job to find strength in the midst of hard things, and to preach to myself the words of Job 13:15: “Though he slay me, I will hope in Him.” And, these words, in Job 1:21: “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”
And all those times I’ve wept tears and poured out my grief before God–about so many things, not just the loss of my marriage, but so, so many things that ache deeply–my focus has always been on the phrase “the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”
But–oh, my soul–He has also given. He has given me so much–a community that has stood by my crew and I. A church family that has truly been family in their love and protection and care for us. Dear friends who have stood by us and who have not abandoned us. A job that I love and that gives me the ability to house, cloth and feed my crew, and coworkers that are friends and a joy to support. The ability to laugh, much. The deep blue sky that settles my soul. The gift of music.
My crew–all four of them–and the deep bond we share.
And now, Ken, my fiance.
The Lord has given.
Blessed be the name of the Lord.