The summer after I turned eighteen, I met Mark Retherford. Within 3 weeks of meeting him, I was hooked. Infatuated? Sure. In love? I didn’t know. I just knew in my heart and soul that I wanted him. So I chased him.
In the chasing, I realized that I wanted a whole lot: his love, his respect, his attention; I wanted him for myself, for-maybe-ever. But knowing he was a Baptist White guy from the Midwest and I was a Black girl from the South, I knew the odds were not in my favor. And I also knew deep down that I didn’t know the first thing about commitment or promise keeping. As a child of divorce, I was unequipped and unprepared for the kind
of relationship I dreamed of. I wasn’t even sure that relationship was possible.
But in the confusion of what I thought I wanted and what I thought was possible, the words, “With God all things are possible” kept popping into my head (you can find them in the Gospels of Matthew and Mark).
And so I, who had abandoned church, deigned to pray. I prayed, really prayed, for perhaps the first time in my life. I would have liked to have prayed an eloquent, dignified prayer, but what came out was, “God, whoever you are, this is who I am, this is what I want; I have no idea what to do or if I even deserve anything this good, but if you lead me, I will follow.”
A little over a month after I prayed that prayer, I met the late Rev. Bob McGee. Needless to say, he was NOT the answer I was expecting. Bob was the Episcopal Chaplain at Wake Forest University and a herder of wandering souls. With the lure of pizza, Bob re-introduced me to church and spiritual community and the Holy Spirit. A few months after that, I discovered the University Counseling center and the joys of therapy. And all along the way of my journey through college, Bob would say, “God has good things in mind for you! That’s Jesus’ whole point!”
At the time I had no idea how going to church was going to help me keep a boyfriend. But, today it seems fitting to me that in trying to learn how to love the man who became my husband, I learned about loving God and even more about how much God loves me.
I learned how love is about freedom, not bondage. I learned how love is a choice and that I have to choose, actually CHOOSE, love, every day. I learned that love is verb and that the words I say must match the things that I do. I learned what a gift it is to be loved “just as I am” and still be called to be my better self. But the biggest lesson I’ve learned is that love=forgiveness (giving and receiving) and forgiveness is amazing. Forgiveness is the stuff opens us to the Holy, to the world and it is the stuff that makes abundant life.
After eight years of the hard work of building relationships (with God, with myself and with Mark), I was finally brave enough to ask Mark to marry me. He answered (in typical Mark-fashion), “I’m open to that. When were you thinking?”
This month I celebrate nineteen years of marriage to the most amazing man I know. Nineteen years, two cats, three dogs and 4 children later, I still consider myself blessed beyond measure to share my life with him. We have known better and worse, sickness and health, richer and poorer. We have known laughter and tears and “whose idea was this?!!”
In my dreams I couldn’t have imagined love so deep, so broad, so high. I could not have hoped for better love in my life. And there are days I ask myself, “How is this real?” “How is this possible?” And that little voice says, “With God all things are possible.” Even love.