In the summer of 1971, I joined thirty other teenagers and six adults from various churches in Lane County, Oregon, for a two-week trip to Guadalajara, Jalisco, México and back. Being a normal teen-age male, of course I was well aware that there were pretty girls in the group. Three or more of them used to take turns sitting in front of me in the van for me to braid their long hair. But one in particular got more of my attention than just hair braiding. Her name was Michelle Paudois.
We saw each other occasionally after the trip. When I went away to Oral Roberts University (ORU), we wrote¹. I left ORU in 1974, returned to Oregon, and we saw each other again that summer. I don’t recall exactly when, but between 1971 and 1974, we talked about marriage. How much of it was her good looks, how much young male hormones, and how much genuine love, I don’t know.
In late July 1974, I joined the Navy and went off to boot camp followed by Sonar “A” school, both in San Diego. I expected to be in the Navy four years, and at some point, I got to thinking, four years would be twenty percent of our lives, and we might both change a lot in that time. So I wrote to her suggesting we continue to correspond, but wait till I get out of the Navy to see whether we still think marriage is right for us. (This had nothing to do with any other girl.)
Once on a leave² from duty, I took her a book as a birthday present and saw her with another guy. Or at least that is what I thought I saw. Even though we were no longer “going steady,” that bothered me a little. I thought about it a while and wrote a letter saying that if she still thought “we” were a possibility, to respond. She did—more than once—but I didn’t receive them, so I never wrote again. I didn’t forget her, but I did lose her address and thought of her less over time.
I never dated or had any girlfriends for years after that. I am a normal male in that regard, yet I was never motivated to pursue anyone. If that was because of Michelle, I was not consciously aware of it. All of that was long ago, so details may be inaccurate or even omitted.
In 1984, I left the Navy (four years turned into ten!) and took a job in Syracuse, New York. Soon after, I met a woman in my church named Monica Dec. I had no romantic interest in her either, but we were working in the same ministry and naturally got to know each other somewhat just from being in the same room a lot. Eventually, a romance did develop and we married in 1987.
In 1997 or 1998, I got a letter from Michelle. I don’t recall what it said, and I either lost it or threw it away. I did reply to gently inform her that I was married and had two children. Or I asked Monica to reply—don’t recall which. Michelle then wrote a letter to Monica assuring her that she wasn’t trying to steal her husband but only wanted to apologize to him for not writing.
Over the next twelve years, Monica had cancer twice and beat it, though the second one resulted in the loss of her left arm and shoulder. Not long after she was declared free of that cancer, spots were detected in her right lung. Chemotherapy was started, but more spots appeared in more places. Eventually, the oncologist said the chemo didn’t seem to be working and switched to another drug. That apparently didn’t work either, and we began preparing to say good-bye. She died in my arms on 10 February 2010, four days before our 23rd anniversary.
I cried a lot for a long time, but eventually work forced me to think of it less. When I retired in 2014, I was still emphatically not interested in re-marriage but I thought I was pretty much back to normal. However, in May of 2015, someone I knew mentioned a pilgrim who had lost his wife to cancer, and I bawled for several minutes. Obviously I was not over it, but God and my “family” here in Spain³ helped me to cope better.
In spring of 2018, the idea of “surrender” came up a few times in our prayer and worship gatherings. I was walking on a country path thinking about that, and God suggested to me what might be put in words as, “How about you surrender that pain you’ve been nursing? It’s ‘till death do us part,’ not ‘till a decade after’!” My response was essentially, “OK, God, you can take it. But if You want me to re-marry, You have to arrange it.” I resolved to tell no one, so that no well-meaning friends would be playing matchmaker. I also decided God is my husband until such a time, and if that should be forever, I’m OK with that.
Approximately one month later, my legal time in Spain (for that trip) was over and I returned to USA. Took a little over a week to get to Oklahoma where I had the last of my belongings in storage. One of the first things I found in the boxes was the 1998 letter previously mentioned. I had either forgotten about it or never saw it. It did not strike me at the time as anything significant, but I sent Michelle a letter just as a courtesy. No attempt at romance, just a factual update of what had happened since 1998. Her response was also polite and non-committal. But we continued to e-mail and before long it occurred to me that it might have been more than coincidence for that letter to come to my attention at that time. After all, it could easily have been thrown away at any time, yet it remained in my things without being noticed for twenty years, and then re-appeared at a particularly pertinent time. So, I asked Michelle whether we might consider the possibility of more than casual friendship, and she agreed that it is possible.
With more correspondence, I began to think that “possible” was evolving into “likely.” Perhaps I’m overly cautious, but St. Paul advises husbands to “love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave Himself for her.” That’s a awesomely high standard for an imperfect human like me. So we have been “getting to know each other.” Of course, that’s a life-long process; we already know we will marry. I’ve found a place to stay near her house until the wedding. No date is set, but there’s a separate page⁴ for that.
Sometimes, I start down a path that I think God wants, and He somehow gets me somewhere else. For example, when I retired, I thought I would become a nomad, starting in Amsterdam, but God put me in this community in Spain. Sometimes, He might put me on a path that looks a bit scary, but I just have to be brave and follow it. And even if we get it wrong, God has a way of fixing things—Rom. 8:28>; Prov. 19:21; Prov. 16:9.
It’s bit scary for two people with so many years of independence to think about changing our ways to adapt to each other, and we both have families for further complications, but we’re already confident God has arranged this! (Another surprise is having the sorts of feelings we thought were for teenagers.)
We’re certain we’re doing the right thing to marry on 3 January 2019, but we’re trying to figure out whether it will reduce or end my involvement in Oasis Trails and Barbarin, which I had previously thought would continue for years.
¹Letters! (antique version of private messaging)
²Military term for a vacation from work.
³Other posts in this blog mention how God brought me to Spain.
⁴We married 3 Jan 2019; our pre-marriage blog will be deleted in late 2020.