The memories of when I first I met my wife, Nancy, are fresh in my mind these days. I met her twenty-seven years ago, right about this time of the year. God’s timing was perfect.
It didn’t seem that way when 1986 began. I’d been through a particularly difficult divorce a few years earlier. Career wise, I was at a dead end. Former “friends” from the church I’d attended were sending me occasional pieces of prophetic hate mail, usually prefaced with the words, “I knew what you were like all along. I knew you were nothing but a failure.”
I had to work my way out of the pit I was in, so I began attending a downtown Kansas City church. One of the first things I remember was a presentation one of the members made about a trip she’d taken to India as director of a charitable foundation called Wellspring. I wanted to talk to her after the service, but she was surrounded by lots of others who’d also been moved by what she shared. I went out to the vestibule and asked someone about her. “Everyone here knows Nancy,” he said. She’s “someone very special.” I decided I had to meet her face to face.
That time did come. We were both chosen to be representatives on a Biblical literacy team the church was developing. By the time the spring of 1986 came along, all my bells and whistles were going off. I’d never been around someone quite like her. She was an immensely gentle soul, a tender flower, yet she was full of the kind of conviction that adds strength and depth to the gentleness.
In time we found ourselves outside the church long after the classes were done for the night. We talked about our respective dreams and visions. I began to sense that our souls were being knit together. But, when I was alone I wrestled with my fears. What could a man like me, with a track record of brokenness and failure, possibly add to this relationship?
There was a bridge for me to cross and it was paved by love. I fell, head over heels. I was like the cartoon character whose heart pounds out of his chest on the end of a spring when his love is near.
That was twenty-seven years ago. It really does seem like yesterday.
There have been so many wonderful moments between then and now. Even today, in this quiet time, I can still feel the power of Nancy’s touch as we looked out our kitchen window in Montville, New Jersey. She saw a flicker making its way up a tree trunk. She whispered softly as she grasped my hand. “Oh, Phil, look….It’s the flicker!” The voice was soft, but the grip was supernaturally powerful, revealing the depth of what was going on in her heart.
There was a morning at a bed and breakfast in Cape May, New Jersey. I don’t know why she asked me the question. Maybe she sensed that I was, for the first time, feeling my age and coming to grips with my own mortality, and hers. “What will you do, Slick, if I die before you?” I became indignant and refused to answer the question. If I remember it right, I sulked all the way home to Denville. Later that night I came to my senses and saw why she’d asked that question. C.S. Lewis answered it better than I ever could – “Bereavement is a universal and integral part of our experience of love. It follows marriage as normally as marriage follows courtship or as autumn follows summer. It is not a truncation of the process but one of its phases; not an interruption of the dance, but the next figure. We are ‘taken out of ourselves’ by the loved one while she is here. Then comes the tragic figure of the dance in which we must learn to be still taken out of ourselves though the bodily presence is withdrawn, to love the very Her, and not fall back to loving our past, or our memory, or our sorrow.”
It was hard to see it that morning, but I believe Nancy was trying to tell me, in her gentle, yet powerful way, that I needed to be taken out of myself. I treasure that lesson as the most valuable I’ve learned in this life.
So, I love the memories, but I know there are even more memories to come, more experiences to share, and more lessons to learn if I’m willing to be taken out of myself. And, amazingly, there will come a day when I will see God in all his glory, Nancy clothed in hers, and even greater memories than this beautiful, yet transient life, can possibly offer.