(Transforming Emptiness and Solitude
to Togetherness In Matrimony
and Oneness Near Yahweh)
Once upon a time in the large hamlet of Chicago, Illinois, Boy and Girl grew up a few short miles apart. Little did Boy and Girl know how their paths would intertwine down the road -- for in their younger days, an eight-year age difference was an eternity. When grown-up Boy finally met grown-up Girl in 1978, it became quite another story. But let us now commence back to the events leading up to this fortuitous occurrence. (No, I don't usually talk like this. Just trying to sound literary...)
Let's begin this tale in 1976, a momentous and often bittersweet year for Girl (heretofore to be known as "me"). On February 16 of that year, my mother fell just outside our north side apartment and broke her hip. At her age, 63, this would have been a slow-healing injury even under ideal circumstances. As my dad and I were soon to learn, ideal circumstances had ceased to exist...for when she was operated on, air hit and spread like wildfire the cervical cancer she had to that point managed to keep a secret from us.
I quit work to begin taking care of her as she grew progressively weaker and to accompany her to her daily outpatient radiation treatments at the hospital. Shortly after these treatments began, which required transporting us to the hospital via taxicab, God sent us a taxi driver named Stanley Sroka. He quickly agreed to become our regular chauffeur to and from the hospital, to help my mother in and out of the cab and wait for us while she had her treatment each day. Of course, I thought that was beyond the call of duty, and we were grateful. But I also quite quickly realized the guy was a religious fanatic! He constantly quoted the Bible and hummed old dusty hymns. Then he started trying to talk to my mother and me about Jesus. I basically told the guy, "Look, I appreciate all you are doing, and I believe in God but this is too much!" So he stopped talking to us about his beliefs for awhile. But he still quoted Scripture and hummed those darned hymns. Fine -- in one ear and out the other. I really didn't want to offend the guy. After all, he WAS helping us....
Then came the day in August when my dad and I were told my mother was terminal. How could this be?! We were told at the outset that "95%" of people with this type of cancer recover. How could we then imagine she would be one of the other 5%?! Of course, her not seeking treatment when she learned long before of her condition had quite a bit to do with that. When Stan learned the news, he again started "witnessing", as he put it, to my mother and me. At that point we felt too worn down to argue. But we still didn't feel desperate enough to become religious fanatics like him!
My mother was in the hospital now and we were told she would die there shortly. This just couldn't be happening. I loved her so much. She took good care of herself and never looked her age till she got sick that year. Now she looked like a very old woman. Maybe it WAS time to get desperate. I had always thought I was a Christian. After all, America is considered a Christian nation, and several of my relatives went to churches for weddings and funerals. I had even been sent to Sunday school as a child. Wasn't that all it took? Did a person have to go to church every week, and read the Bible and pray? I had tried reading it in the past and didn't understand it. And people only prayed when they needed a favor from God, didn't they? Well, I sure felt I needed one now.
So on the evening of August 31, 1976, I got down on my knees by my bed in the dark for what seemed like a long time and begged God to heal my mother. I included the ever-popular bargaining ploy, "If You will do this, I will never ask you for another thing", and I did sincerely mean it. I don't remember much else of what I said. All I knew was that when I got up, I felt different. I had a peace I knew didn't come from myself, and there was no earthly way I could explain it. Maybe God really was going to heal her!
The next day, September 1, I was at home alone waiting for my dad to come from work and take us to the hospital. I turned on the tv to seek some mindless distraction and flipped the channels. I found what appeared to be a talk show with a white man and a black man sitting at a Johnny Carson-type desk, but instead of being joined by celebrities talking about their current projects or the latest Hollywood gossip, they were talking about, of all things, how to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. I was taken aback; that was the same way Stan our cab driver talked. They seemed to have the same unexplainable peace and joy I'd seen in him, and they were talking about knowing Jesus just as naturally as one would talk about a ball game they just saw. The show was "The 700 Club" and the men were Pat Robertson and Ben Kinchlow. Then they flashed a number on the screen to call prayer counselors. I thought, "I'll have them pray for my mother to be healed!"
I called the number and a woman answered. I told her my mother had cancer and needed to be healed. The woman asked me, "Have you ever asked Christ into your heart?" I said, "What?" I had no idea what that meant. Could it have something to do with what I saw in Stan and in the men on the tv? The lady prayed for my mother and me. I don't remember what she said in her prayer, because I was crying and confused. All I know is that when I hung up, everything had changed. Not the circumstances; my mother still had terminal cancer and my dad was still an alcoholic who had begun drinking again following her diagnosis. But I had changed. I had this sudden strange urge to pick up from the shelf the Bible that I hadn't understood before and turn to the gospel of John. I don't remember how much I read before my dad came by and it was time to go....but I understood every word. It was then I knew that what had happened to our friend Stan Sroka, and to the other people I called religious fanatics, had just happened to me. I had been born again.
I longed so much to tell people what had happened inside me, but I didn't know how and I didn't think they would understand, just like I hadn't understood Stan. I called him late that night to tell him and we ended up talking about it half the night. He was overjoyed for me. Mostly, I kept the news to myself. But I realized the importance of telling my mother, that she might find this saving knowledge of God while there was still time. I did try to tell her, but she thought I had met a boy and was in love. She didn't understand it was God I was in love with. I can only trust she understood well enough, as she slipped away to be with Him on September 24. This was initially hard for me to comprehend, as I was sure she would be healed. (In a way, she was, but not the way I planned.) Yet I had that peace I first experienced a few weeks before and had no earthly way to explain. This time though, I knew where it came from....
At a time like this, a person will either turn away from God or turn to him. Sadly, my dad chose to turn away. He had begun drinking again and wanted no part of this God who took his wife and turned his daughter into a churchgoing, Bible reading fanatic just like that crazy cab driver. We went through with our plans to move a few weeks later to Shreveport, Louisiana, a small city (compared to Chicago) where we had found some long-lost relatives the year before, who we hoped would help my dad get through this, along with the warmer climate he preferred. But he continued to drink and his spirit remained restless. Six months later, with me settled down in an office job and a small Baptist church, both of which I enjoyed, he said he wanted to return to Chicago. I didn't -- and yet there again was that unexplainable peace about the situation. So we returned to Chicago that April, reluctantly on my part yet with an inner assurance that this return was God's will for me. And so it was....
The following year I began attending Northwest Baptist Church, a few blocks from our apartment. The college-career group, young people mostly in our 20s, met on Sunday evenings. One fellow in this group, Boy (heretofore to be known as Rex Karl Nelson, a/k/a Rex), was a little older than the others and very quiet. Our pastor's daughter, Sandi, insisted he liked me. I didn't think so -- and besides, "he's too old for me and he never talks". One evening, it was discovered I needed a ride and Rex just happened to be going that way. How convenient! So he became my chauffeur from these Sunday evening meetings. He was still too old and he still hardly talked to me. But maybe he was just shy, and he was nice-looking. Maybe it wouldn't hurt to see if he really did like me. So one Sunday night before exiting his car, without being asked, I gave him my phone number. And he started using it!
We had our first date in July '78 and saw each other just about every week. On Sept. 24, the second anniversary of my mother's death, the following transpired in his car as he dropped me at home:
He (mumbling): "...maybe we should get married..."
He (mumbling only slightly): "...maybe we should get married..."
She: "....Is this a proposal???...."
He (mumbling): "No...not really...."
She (to herself): "O....KAY!!" (well, at least he's starting to think about it)
A few weeks later, at his cousin's wedding:
He (not mumbling): "You'd look nice in a white dress!"
She: "....Is this a proposal???...."
He (mumbling): "No...not really...."
She (to herself): "O....KAY!!" (well, he's still thinking about it)
November 7, 1978 (Election Day): This time he did pop the question. We were married April 7, 1979, his birthday! (my idea) We honeymooned in Door County, Wisconsin and lived in a large, nice, 1920s apartment on the north side of Chicago for the next several years. Though we both grew up in Chicago, we wanted to live in a smaller, more scenic, less flat and less crowded town. For a long time, we thought it would be Madison, Wisconsin. But we seemed to travel further and further west on our car trips each year, in search of that perfect place, until in 1984 we ventured about as far west on this continent as possible -- to Seattle, Washington, an astonishingly beautiful and vibrant blend of natural and manmade wonders that very quickly gets into one's heart and never lets go. Just to make sure, we returned the following year -- twice. Yeah...we were sure. Trouble was, by now we were both in college part-time and working full-time -- and I had to go and marry a man who was practical. So my life went on hold for the next five-plus years while I ached with every fiber of my being to be 2,000 miles away. How could it be God's will for me to not be there?! (During this endless wait, my dad, who had been drinking again for several years now, passed away in March, 1986.) AT LAST, in June '90, it HAPPENED! We moved into a tiny apartment in the old historic part of downtown Seattle, half the size of our Chicago apartment, so half of our worldly possessions were in storage. But we were HERE!!
The "game plan" had always been to live IN Seattle and to not continue renting apartments. But houses and lots in the city had grown expensive. One could buy acreage on the other side of Puget Sound, a 1-1/2 hour ferry/bus commute away, for less than what a city lot would cost. Rex had to sell me on the basis of the animals we would now be able to have (large dogs, and eventually sheep, goats, maybe even llamas), because I was the last person I would have ever expected to live in the country -- or as I still call it, "the wilderness"! But we purchased acreage six miles outside of Port Orchard, Washington and moved our 70s mobile onto it in March '92. We acquired our "furry children", Great Pyrenees dogs Farley and Tessa, as 6-1/2 week old pups that September. We had almost 11 great years with Farley till he passed on in May '03 and almost 12 years with Tessa till she passed in July '04, as well as adopting additional furballs detailed elsewhere on this site. I worked at various office jobs in Seattle till May '06, when I started working at a small office on a nearby island where I still commute via ferry and bus, but the commute takes half the time as commuting into Seattle. I thought I would really miss not being in Seattle 5 days a week, but find I am content at this point with an occasional shopping visit.
I haven't told you too much about Rex. He's a good man! He must be, as we've been married well over 30 years! Hard to believe. We have been through some disappointments and hard times, but we are devoted to each other and to our dogs. He is patient (usually), kind, and has a good sense of humor -- the first thing he reads in the paper each day is the comics. He is an excellent photographer and a "railfan" (a person with a keen interest in public transportation and its depots). He has had some of his transportation-related pictures published in magazines. He drove a transit bus in Wilmette, IL for ten years before we came to Wash. and following our move here, sold aerial photography for Air Photo for several years. He then worked in residential real estate for three years. In fall '04, he joined the staff of a large local "mall within a store". In summer '06 he began selling subscriptions to our county newspaper but he still has had two booths in that store as a sideline, where he sells mainly books, mugs, and collector tins. As of summer '07, he began doing maintenance work at a large dog kennel not far from our home. However, he has a great speaking voice and probably should have actually become an announcer!
We have most of the same favorite movies, though he likes to call me an "incurable romantic" and teases me about Gene Kelly and Jimmy Stewart (see my "interests" page). We like some of the same music as well, though he is more into "old country" (I kid him that he thinks Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard are the only country singers that exist) and likes classical, which I've never gotten much into. I am the spectator sports fan in the household, which may be the most unusual thing about us! But he tolerates my games and races, and kids me when I root against people or teams and they win (which seems to happen a lot...). The most important thing about our marriage is that we are both Christians and realize that Christ must be at the center of our marriage and our individual lives. I admit that hasn't always been the case! But we have made a renewed commitment to our church and to the God we serve, as we realize that's the only way to live! My favorite verse is Psalm 73:26 -- "My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever".
I will end this page with a few links for ministries besides "The 700 Club" that have come to mean a lot to me, and links for a couple of other very special places we have traveled to:
M i n i s t r i e s:
The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod is where my heart has been since early '09. I would love to officially belong to an LCMS church, but there is none in my town of 10,000. I fell in love with the beauty and history of the Lutheran liturgy when attending an ELCA Lutheran church in '08-'09, but had left due to what I consider unbiblical recent rulings by the ELCA. I did return to that church recently since I love this particular church in spite of the ELCA. But I still feel that one day, I will have the opportunity to join an LCMS church. (Hubby usually has to work Sundays nowadays, so we unfortunately don't get to church together often, which I miss.)
Dr. Tony Evans is a Dallas-based pastor and also a prolific author, combining accuracy and conviction with humor and empathy. His "Urban Alternative" site likewise offers radio and tv listings and makes available his CD's and books.
Peggie's Place is the most fun and interesting Christian site I have found online. She writes wonderful weekly devotionals and offers many other features including several great links to other Christian sites.
P l a c e s:
My second favorite big city next to my adopted home of Seattle is New Orleans. I doubt I could handle the summer heat, but it's a magical place, everything you've heard and more! It has a vibrancy and personality all its own. At least, it did before Hurricane Katrina. It breaks my heart to realize what that storm did to such a great city. But I believe "Nawlins" will rise again...
The company where I used to work was headquartered in Baltimore. I had the chance to visit for a week in late '97 for training and loved it! It reminded me in many ways of Seattle, and that's saying a lot! If you go, check out Fells Point, the quaint historic part of downtown, and the dynamic Inner Harbor.
My favorite place in "God's country" (the Pacific Northwest, of course) besides Seattle, is the beautiful city of Portland. Oregon.
The above tracks link to the "Christian Train" section of a terrific web ring alternative called "The Rail", which seven sections of The Evergreen Refuge have joined effective Dec. '08. Click the left or right arrows to visit like=minded sites belonging to the "Christian Train". If you have your own web site, click the tracks to learn more about "The Rail". It's a great way to generate traffic for your site and get acquainted with similar sites!
These beautiful graphics were sent by members of one of my former Christian web rings, Faithfully Standing, which has now apparently vanished from the Net. Wherever you are, thank you!