I was widowed in February 2003 when my 45 year old husband died suddenly from a massive stroke. We had 6 children between us, and our grandson also lived with us and was only 2 weeks old when he died. I was left alone with a handful.
My youngest son, Sam, was 7 when his father died. I remember him taking me aside while my husband was still connected to life support, (the hospital needed time to put everything in motion for him to be an organ donor), and saying to me, “mom, you are going to find me a new dad, right?”
I’ve never been sure if God put Gary in our lives more for Sam’s benefit or mine.
Either way, it was clear to Gary and I, that it was meant to be and we pledged ourselves to one another forever. We did it before God; but not in front of a Pastor, Justice of the Peace, family or friends. There was no paperwork.
We didn’t dodge the legal marriage thing to be defiant. We would’ve loved to have been legally married but a little thing called “money” provided some roadblocks.
My deceased husband had served in the military for 25 years at the time of the stroke. His command officially retired him before he was taken off of life support so that my children and I would have medical and education benefits and we would also be entitled to the monetary benefits that he had paid into the system to receive when he retired. One of the stipulations was that these benefits would cease if I were to marry before the age of 57. I’ve often wondered, why that age?
And so we “lived in sin”. Still, we were “more married” than many couples we knew. All of our accounts were joint. Our wills made each other beneficiaries of life insurance policies and our possessions. We had living wills, giving one another the power of attorney to make medical decisions if we were unable. Gary was made the legal guardian of my children in case anything happened.
And it almost did. At the ripe old age of 40, I underwent open heart surgery as a result of a heart attack and several unsuccessful attempts at stenting blocked arteries.
Gary stayed by my side in the hospital, night and day for 10 days. We became well versed in “through sickness and in health”. There were plenty of “for better or for worse moments” as well. Yet it was rare for us to go to bed angry, and if we did we still made sure we kissed goodnight.
We never felt like God was mad about our situation. Maybe He was, but we just never felt “wrong” in His eyes in this department, anyway. Then a couple of years ago, Sam asked Gary and I to go to a church that he had been attending with his friend. We liked it very much but we right away started feeling uncomfortable about our marital status. We felt lying about it was wildly inappropriate, under the circumstances, but we weren’t comfortable with the whole possibility of this encounter:
“Great service, Pastor. My name is Gary and this is my girlfriend/fiancé/companion/life partner/lover/best friend/roommate, Susan”
See what I mean. Friends and family thought we were nuts to consider taking a “pay cut”, just to have the honor to call ourselves, legally married. But still it was uncomfortable when it came to the church thing. In fact we found out that we would not be allowed to be members of the church if we continued on with our current living situation. So we did what we thought was best.
We quit church.
Fast forward 2 years to Feb. 10th, 2012. Gary is still struggling with issues revolving around his ex wife and her not wanting to “share” the children. There was still so much ugliness after being divorced for over 10 years. Even though Gary’s heart was breaking at the moment, as he had just been left out of his son’s 18th birthday, he kindly thought to ask if there was anything I would like to do over the weekend to celebrate Valentine’s Day.
“Church, I’d like to go to church”. I felt a big dose of God’s presence might be the balm that Gary needed for the sadness in his soul at that time. So on Feb. 12th, we went to that same church we had been to 2 years earlier. We haven’t missed a week since. (Coincidentally, (I guess), this day was also the anniversary of my husband’s death)
February 29th this year, (Leap Day), started like any other Wednesday. I made Gary his egg sandwich and with a goodbye kiss, he was off to work. Sam was home with a fake stomachache, (which was a convenient plot twist that worked well for what God had planned for this day).
I had done a few chores and was sitting down to a cup of coffee and was ready to finish reading the newspaper.
In that quiet moment, God spoke.
“Today, you are getting married”.
He spoke so loud that there was no room for me to question whether it was my imagination at work. He turned out to be proficient at wedding planning. It was 9:30 when he announce to me that I would be a bride that day. This is how it played out.
1. I called the church and it turned out that if we could make it by 10:45, Pastor Tommy could perform the ceremony.
2. I call Gary and tell him we are getting married today and to come home quickly. Click.
3. I call my daughter and tell her to scoop up her 3 brothers and meet us at the church by 10:45 because me and Gary were getting married. Click.
4. I google, “where to get a marriage license in Clarksville, TN”.
5. I take a quick shower, and I shave one leg, figuring I don’t have time for the other, not today. I throw on jeans and a wrinkled shirt.
6. Gary walks in, hollers that I’ve lost my mind and says we are not getting married, not today, and says he is going back to work. I grab him by the shoulders and tell him that he can’t say no, because God said… And as if in a trance, he walks with me to the car and we are off to get a marriage license.
7. There is no line, (when does that ever happen at these kind of places???)
8. I call my daughter on the way to the church; no answer.
9. At 10:40 we pull into the church parking lot, followed by my children at 10:50, making it on time without a moment to spare.
10. We exchange vows in a flash as the Pastor has to leave by 11:00 am. Amazingly, it couldn’t have been more special if we had arrived in a limo, me in a beautiful wedding dress, wearing makeup, having dry hair and both legs shaved. It couldn’t have been sweeter even if there would’ve been lots of guests and attendants, flower girls, and rings… Shoot, we forgot about rings… (Pastor Tommy blessed our ring fingers and he told us that he would bless our rings when we got them)
11. At 11:00 am, we were out the door and on our way to our marriage feast at Red Lobster. KeyLime Pie stood in for the wedding cake. Gary was back at work by 12:30.
So did God throw this day together on the fly because He didn’t want us living in sin? I don’t think so. But I do believe He wanted to see If I could hear His voice. He wanted to see if I was ready to put all of my trust in Him. And I believe He wanted me to have what I wanted.
I wanted to be Gary’s wife. His legal wife.
The money thing has worked out, praise God!! We now get to be members of our church, because we have “the paperwork”. I found beautiful wedding bands on Amazon for $35 a piece. I was not paying $1000 for the simple bands we looked at, at a jewelry store after we left Red Lobster that day.
Our bands are made of Tungsten, the world’s strongest metal.
After a Wednesday night church service, we chased down Pastor Tommy in the parking lot and he blessed our rings made out of that “strong metal”.
Tungsten…Strong metal, strong love, stronger God.