Chapter 4: Singing a new Song

20140123-212416.jpgIt was a very hot summer in that brick duplex. It faced the west, no trees in the front yard to block the fierce sun. Seriously there were days we needed to go outside to cool off ๐Ÿ™‚
We had a couple of small oscillating fans loaned by a couple of sweet friends,; but unless you stood by them with your hair wet, you only felt a warm breeze. Of course this was probably a blessing, making working out in the heat everyday easier to handle.
My heart was mending and by summer had, surprisingly, only the scars left to show where it had been shattered. One of the scars was my fear of trusting and loving again, traces of insecurities that come with divorce; but on the other hand, I had never been more secure in myself and what I was capable of with God’s help. I felt pretty tough.
I began to love my life again and accept it for what it was, but I never wanted to be comfortable staying there. I wanted a better life for my sons and I, so I began to take steps to bring it about.
I worked a lot of hours (mostly all weekends and sometimes double shifts) at Sonic that summer, rolling in the tips and walking with a spring in my step. During this time it was amazing how many people decided I needed to date again; and they just happened to have an uncle, cousin, brother, neighbor…..you name it. They would send them up to Sonic so I could meet them. Wow, I remember thinking more than once, “Do they really think I’m desperate?” (Haha). Let’s just say they were less than attractive to me. They came in all ages and sizes and brought to Sonic with them many awkward moments. We did have some good laughs over it at Sonic, for sure.
Every-time I thought I might consider dating, I had a reality check that there was no one around I was interested in; and I was not going to bring guys around my boys and mess with their little heads. I couldn’t see myself with anyone; but I knew if I ever could be, it would be different than before. Consequently, my weekends were spent working hard in the hot summer and letting my young 16 year old fellow car hop friends do the dating ๐Ÿ™‚ I have such warm memories of that summer. That’s truly when my life began to change quickly, with every day better than the day before.
I signed up for nursing school (and was accepted) which was a huge confidence boost. I had been depression free for a few months at this point and had learned to be ok with being alone. I missed being loved; gosh, that felt like forever since I had.
One miracle after another happened in my life, such as a gift of money that was given to me, interest free and not to be repaid until after my graduation from nursing school. That loan completely paid off my car, bought me a washing machine, and the boys school clothes for the fall. This gift was given me so that I could quit my job at Sonic and go to nursing school full time. What a blessing! I still tear up when I think of the fact that God loved me enough to have someone help me like that.
Another thing that happened that summer was a lot of swinging done by Caleb and Charley on the (less than safe looking ) neighborhood swing sets. They were a ways down from the house through the back yard, and oh how they loved to meet their little friends down there and swing and play. I remember they had to come back every ten to fifteen minutes to let me know they were ok :). Some of the little kids were less than cared for and a bit more street smart than my boys, but they managed to hold their own. Caleb had just turned three and what an adorable three year old he was. Dark brown eyes and white blond hair, with a summer tan. He’s always been the singer of my kids (still is). It was only after my parents came for a visit one afternoon and my dad walked down with the boys to swing that I realized just how much singing Caleb did while swinging. Dad told me later how Caleb would swing and sing a special song over and over with only a few simple words….”I want my daddy to come home.”
My dad was so touched by this, as was I when I heard it. How my heart ached for this little guy. My dad decided at the time he would talk with Caleb about his song (which by the way I feel was a prayer). He asked Caleb about it, and Caleb explained that was what he wanted. My dad asked him if he had ever heard about step daddys? Caleb said, “Noooooo,” but his interest was peaked!! “What’s that?” he asked. So my dad explained and Caleb’s little face lit up with excitement. From that day on he never sang that song because he had a new song that he sang loudly in his famous little southern accent, “My mommas gonna’ buy me a ‘tep-daddy. ” I guess he figured that’s why we didn’t have one yet; maybe I didn’t have enough money saved. hahahaha I know God heard his prayer and he had someone in mind that would suit Caleb just fine as well as Charley. Charley was my little man, always looking after me and checking on me. My little elderly neighbor lady told me once that Charley had come over not long after we had first moved in and knocked on her door. There stood my handsome little Charley and he said “Miss Hazel, please start praying, my moms in the bathroom crying again.”
Every time I think of that my heart just breaks. I wish they hadn’t had to go through all they did, but I’m thankful God filled in the gaps that I sometimes left when I was so heartbroken.
Not all was sad; we ended up having a great summer, laughing, playing, working and healing…. preparing for our future. The boys started school the same time I started nursing school, kindergarten for Charley and head start for Caleb. Caleb would cry every morning and say,”Momie, I don’t wanta’go to ‘kool”. But he soon adjusted and Charley thrived.
Life had changed so much; our little house felt like home, because to us it was. It felt like I was seeing in color again after black and white. I would sometimes let myself think about the fact that maybe there was someone out there who was going to love me, and my boys…..I began to dream and hope and even pray that it would be possible. I wasn’t sure I could trust again, love without walls of protection, but maybe I thought, just maybe. One night in the late quietness, alone with my thoughts, I suddenly realized I couldn’t remember the last time I had cried. I was happy again, fully content, just loving the peace in my heart and mind. I too was singing a new song!
Ecclesiastes 3:11
He has set the right time for everything. He has given us a desire to know the future, but never gives us the satisfaction of fully understanding what he does.

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Chapter 7: Smiles and Butterflies

I returned to Arkansas early the next morning, the day after our first date. The following days were filled with smiles and butterflies. Letters, phone calls, and an unending movie of moments and events of that evening played in my head.

I returned to get my boys, resume studying and real life. I never mentioned a word to the boys about the special person I had met; I had decided long before I wouldn’t do that to them until I was serious about someone, just to protect their little hearts.
I received a letter that week from Mike stating that he would like to see me again, and that he thought I was beautiful inside and out….I felt so special just reading those words. I read and reread his letter several times and talked on the phone a couple of times. Everything seemed effortless to me: studying, taking tests, getting the boys ready for school and everything a single mom does. Life seemed to be a gentle breeze as opposed to the dark stormy season I had just lived through, where everything I did seemed to zap all my energy and emotion.
I had learned from my dark days to cherish the warmth of the sun, so the tiniest moments of happiness were to me like treasures. I knew on an entirely different level, the gift of being at peace with yourself and the feeling of coming out of the dark, dense tunnel of despair into a new world that was bright, fresh, full of promise.
There’s nothing quite like having calmness in your spirit, until you’ve lived without it.
In a very short, yet very long year, I had been transformed into someone new. I had lived through trials and heartache that I didn’t know I was capable of. I had trusted God in situations that normally would have been unbearable. I was stronger, I was kinder, less judgmental, more sensitive to the pain of others. I still lived with my boys in the little government duplex, still hung my clothes on the clothes line, put $5.00 worth of gas in at a time in my car; but my heart was happy, and now I had someone that thought I was beautiful. That was the icing on the cake!

After phone calls back and forth and “get to know each other more” conversations, I planned another trip to my sisters for the last weekend in September.
I anxiously awaited the arrival of the weekend, and it felt so good to have plans that no one really knew (with the exception of a few). I felt in control of my life again, and did that ever feel amazing.
I didn’t need a man to complete me, I didn’t need “things,” I only needed God and his wonderful plans.
Friday finally arrived; and after handing over the boys for their weekend visitation, I left in my little Chevy Spectrum and headed for Tulsa, Oklahoma.
We had a date planned, so he picked me up from my sisters. This time the nerves were a bit more settled but not completely. He took me to a wonderful dinner at Steak and Ale, where we soaked up each others’ company. Nothing serious, just great conversation. We rode around some afterwards and listened to music; then he stopped by his business and gave me a tour. The next morning he picked me up bright and early from Pam’s, and we went to my nephews soccer game and then on to the state fair. We just walked and talked for literally hours. He was such a gentleman and I loved how “even keeled” he was. I found out he was a volleyball player and had grown up in California on the beaches. He was full of ambition, but not in an imbalanced way. He was a dreamer, a visionary, and lived life with a purpose. He looked at me as though I was the only person in the world. The weekend was going by way too fast.
Before I knew it, I was headed back to my real world; but I left part of my heart with him. He was the perfect gentleman, not pushy, or assuming. I wanted to know more, and in some ways that scared me. Could I trust and love someone again? I knew I was getting way ahead of myself; after all, the word love or anything of a serious nature had not come up.
The next week’s letter included a question…..Mike wanted to know if Mena was big enough to have a hotel. If so, he would like to come see me and see where I lived, possibly go to church with me (I wasn’t ready for him to meet the boys). Wow, I thought, and immediately became intimidated about my living situation. What if he wants to see where we live? He had no idea I lived in government housing. Insecurities began to build, but they were quickly pushed out with my desire to have him come for a visit. I’d just worry about that when the time came (with the plan in my mind to make sure he had no reason to see my house).
I was beyond excited! I could finally let people in on my secret; I could have a date and everyone know it. Even my elderly neighbors waited with great anticipation for me to start dating. Lots of people would be excited for me.
I wanted to show him off, and I wanted to see him again; so I gave him the name and number of a local hotel (I think it was called Harvey House Inn). The plans were put into place for him to come for a weekend visit the next time the boys were on weekend visitation. Mike grew up around Los Angeles and knew nothing about small town life. He was in for an interesting experience. I counted down the days with anticipation. It was different having him come to “my world,” and I was a bit unsure how it would turn out. It would be a weekend that would change everything; little did I know the impact it would have.

Chapter 14: Will You Marry Me?

Our phone conversation on Tuesday evening lasted for hours; probably about half that time was actual talking, the other half just sitting in silence while I studied for school with neither of us wanting to hang up. ๐Ÿ™‚
It was decided that night that I would come to Tulsa the following Friday October 26,1990. He told me the first thing he wanted to do was buy me an engagement ring. I could hardly wait!! We talked about possible wedding dates. With me in school and not wanting to quit and move until finished, we threw around the idea of a spring or summer wedding. I would be finished with nursing school in August so that seemed to be a great plan. I had already had the “big wedding” thing so I was way over that; however, I wanted Mike to have a wedding of his choice since it was his first marriage. Mike is extremely quiet and a bit of an introvert, so the last thing he wanted was a big wedding. We casually talked about possibilities of maybe just family, or family and a few friends. He had told his family about me, but I had only met his brother Jim and his wife Gail (my sister’s friend who set us up ๐Ÿ™‚ and their little girl Jamie. I’m sure everyone was shocked that Mike was telling them we had decided to eventually marry; like I said in an earlier blog, this was not in his personality to be impulsive.
Between October 19/20 (the weekend of his proposal) until we would see each other again on October 26, it seemed like a life time. Seriously, that week felt like a month because of all the changes and planning. I had decided not to say much or really anything about marriage to the boys (or anyone else) until I had a ring to show them. With every day that passed, I grew more and more sure of my decision. I still had moments of fear (especially when I wasn’t with him), but just a phone call and hearing his voice was calming and reassuring. I could hardly focus on anything there in Mena. It was all I could do to keep up my grades in nursing school, but I did somehow. A few times before the proposal, but several times afterwards, Mike would ask to help me financially in some way, just to remove some pressure from me. I was so funny/weird about it, I just would not accept anything. With the exception of our weekend in Ft Smith, I always insisted I pay for my own gas to go to Tulsa! Even calling him collect (long distance was extremely expensive back then) was just something I couldn’t bring myself to do. When I was the one calling he would insist I hang up and let him call me back. I’m still not sure what I thought I was proving, but I’m sure it involved my wall of defense and self preservation. He was always so kind and offering to help in any way even though I felt I could not accept.
The boys talked about nothing to anyone but their fun filled weekend in Ft Smith. They always wanted to talk to him on the phone when he called, and he took time to talk with them both as long as they wanted. What a fun, light-hearted time in life it was for us all; worries seemed like a thing of the past. Heartbreak was all but forgotten, and I had not cried in months. In fact, I would go several years without crying at all which was so strange, because I wasn’t hard-hearted. I honestly think I had just ran out of tears, and nothing about my life was telling my body to replenish the supply ๐Ÿ™‚
Friday could not arrive soon enough! After saying my sad goodbyes to the boys for their weekend visitation, I headed out as quickly as I could for Tulsa. Everything about this trip felt so different. I can still remember the feeling so vividly….the mix between butterflies and tranquility that comes with knowing you’re loved and that someone is just as excited to be with you as you are with him. He was crazy about me; and he always made sure to remind me of that, always made me feel like the most beautiful woman in the world. He just thought I was flawless. I kept saying, “I’m afraid you’re going to be let down at some point when you realize I’m not as perfect as you think,” but he would always remind me that every day those feelings were stronger and he had no doubts of the kind of woman I was. No one has ever made me feel the way he did…..ever ๐Ÿ™‚
When I pulled into the neighborhood I was immediately picked up and we were off to dinner. We were so comfortable with each other by this time; I loved everything about him, including his quietness. For some reason it was so refreshing to me. I had never met someone so quiet. He was very confident (not at all shy), but his silence spoke volumes to me. He listened like no one I had ever met; and even though he wasn’t a talker, he never seemed to tire of listening to me. ๐Ÿ™‚ I knew I loved him but I also was so aware of how much I respected him…so honest, so giving, so selfless. For me, he was everything; and I wanted to be with him forever, yet it still made no sense.
We decided to wait until the next day (Saturday) to ring shop. I had been looking at every married woman’s ring I came across, trying to decide what type and style I wanted.
He picked me up from my sisters house early that Saturday morning and we went to my nephew’s soccer game first. By then it was around 11:00 am, and we were officially ring shopping. We ended up at Moody’s (by Woodland Hills Mall) where Mike insisted I not look at the price but just pick out the ones I liked the most. Oh my, this was so hard for me. All my life I have always managed to like the most pricey things, so I was paranoid that I would pick something over the top. Obviously I knew the bigger the diamond the higher the price, but I also knew in upscale jewelry stores even the smallest diamonds were not cheap. Eventually I narrowed it down to liking the round stones which were very popular back then. Mike could tell I wasn’t comfortable picking out the size of the diamond so he did that for me and it was the most beautiful solitaire diamond ring I had ever seen. It was more than I had ever dreamed of wearing, and I was speechless for a moment. The size was perfect as well, so while they did a last minute cleaning and polishing on it we went ahead and picked out the bands that we liked. I picked out the wide gold band that went so well with the solitaire back then; and for Mike, we picked out a gold band that had sort of a basket weave look to it. Wow, my heart was full! This was really happening. I was going to be able to tell everyone I was engaged (I had waited to announce that until I had a ring). I snapped back into reality as I heard the lady who had helped us say “Well, Mr Feeley, here you go; here’s the beautiful ring. He took it from her, we were both all smiles and she was genuinely excited for us you could tell. Mike took the ring box, opened it, sort of grinned and said, “I guess I’m supposed to put this on you,” in a tone somewhere between a statement and a question. I just smiled as I felt myself blush a little and put my hand out toward him. He took my hand, slipped the ring on my finger and we didn’t say a word. It felt like a moment too big for any words. In that few minutes time stood still, and I cherished each and ever second.
Then there was a quick kiss, accompanied by lots of stares from people in the store, which helped make it quick. If there’s ever been a perfect moment in time, it was then. I had no idea how the end of this day would turn out; I could have never imagined! By now it was late afternoon; and we were headed to his nephew’s football game, where I would be meeting his oldest brother. It was a night of showing off the ring numerous times; but by the end of his nephew’s football game, everything had changed.

Psalm 126:5
Those who sow tears shall reap joy.

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Chapter 15: Forty Four Days

Who knew a middle school football game could hold so much excitement? But it certainly did on that Saturday night in late October. Mike and I had known each other for a total of 43 days and yet here we were, engaged, a sparkling diamond on my left hand to prove it to me every time I thought I might be dreaming. It’s certainly not something I go around advising people to try; but I’m also non judgmental when I hear of how serious someone is becoming, relative to time. Obviously it’s not something you would see often; but for us, it was just perfect. Two hearts brought together by God. The more about Mike I learned, the more I loved and respected him. He was very funny, with a dry sense of humor, 6’3″ (yes very important), he was on a men’s volleyball league and was very in shape and athletic. I’ve never met a more intelligent man, even to this day. He was raised Catholic and in Catholic schools, but became a Christian at a concert in Anaheim, California when he was 17. He had moved to Tulsa about 6 years before we met to start a business with his brother because it seemed to be the perfect city for it. He was six months younger than me; we were both 26 at the time. I’ll never forget the crisp feeling in the air that night, maybe partly from the excitement of the day; but it was magical, for lack of a better word.
We were at his nephew’s game, so naturally I was introduced to a few more family members for the first time such as his older brother Ron (it was one of his son’s game.)
Jim (brother and business partner) Gail (the one responsible for the match making) and Jamie (their little girl ) were also there, but of course I had already been able to get know them a bit in the few weeks before.
Mike’s sister and parents were yet to be met. Mike’s parents lived out of state, and his sister and her family lived on a ranch not far from Tulsa.
It was a light-hearted conversation during the game that became slightly more intense as the game ended and we all made our way to the parking lot where we would stand and continue the talk for another half hour or so….mostly going back and forth with when we should get married, where, etc. etc.
I had told him to decide the “where” and “when” since this was his first marriage. Mike said something to the effect of, “I’m already tired of trying to figure this out.” ๐Ÿ™‚
I didn’t really want a big wedding at all, and Mike was no fan of that either. Ron, Jim, and Gail were helping us think through some dates that might work when one of his brothers (Jim I think) said, “What are you waiting for?” They were all suggesting that if we didn’t want a wedding then don’t stress over it. One thing led to another, with Jim saying something like, “Just hurry up and do it so you can get some work done at the office!” haha
Following there was some joking around that we should just run off. They all agreed that everyone would understand and not be surprised…..more comments, more discussion, and basically they helped talk us into something so bazaar, so off the wall; but the more we talked, the more positive we were that that’s what we wanted to do. After a little bit of nervous laughter and last minute advice we all went our separate ways. Mike and I headed back to his house to finish discussing all we had just talked about. At one point we looked at each other and it was like, “Let’s just go for it!” The next few hours are almost a blur.
He dropped me off at my sister’s and went on to his house to make calls on airlines. If my memory is correct, I believe Gail made some calls for us too, trying to find flights. I asked Mike to drop me off at Pam’s so I could tell her our plans and then call my parents and tell them. They had not met Mike but knew we were fairly serious. My sister was probably the hardest one to tell; she was understandably extremely hesitant to be OK with it all. She felt a ton of responsibility because she saw herself as the main reason I had met him. She felt a huge burden of, “What if this doesn’t work?” I knew where she was coming from. She didn’t want me to be hurt, and she sure didn’t want to be left feeling responsible if I was. We both cried a bit. Just like at times before my heart was saying, “Yes,” and my brain was saying,”YOU ARE OUT OF YOUR MIND!” but my heart kept winning. I hadn’t expected the relief in my parents’ voices, but I didn’t want to go get married and not let them know. I didn’t tell the boys, feeling that I really couldn’t without putting them in an awkward and unfair position since they were on their visitation weekend. Besides, this news was not something I wanted to share over the phone with them.
Lots of feelings were floating around in my heart and head; it was truly like being in a dream. Of course I could only follow my heart, and I had no guaranties I was making the right decision; but I did have that peace that would sweep back over me and calm my thoughts and fears down. Love is always a risk you take, no matter how long you have known or think you know the other person; but the fact that I was taking this risk after being so devastated and disappointed in love was a miracle in itself. There were many times I thought I would never love and trust again. Of course I still would battle trust and vulnerability issues, but the fact that I was willing to take the chance at all was amazing. At that point in my life I would say definitely my heart was healed, but even after you heal from anything there remain scars for sometime. In some ways I was stronger than I had ever been, but I was still pretty fragile.
We would not be able to fly out of Tulsa until 7:00am the next morning, October 28, 1990.
Then, there we were at the airport, with excitement that can’t be described; and soon we were boarded on the plane and headed for Las Vegas, Nevada. I had flown before but not often and not in a very long time, so even that was exciting. We had lots of talking to do as you might imagine, going through all the details about figuring out where to go once in Vegas. He had visited there a few times with his family and even on business, but this was not the typical trip by any means. We really weren’t sure how everything would unfold.
After a layover in Salt Lake City , we arrived in Vegas where it was still morning because of the time change, probably around 10:30-11:00am.
I never saw any nerves at all from Mike until we were about to land and it hit him, no second thoughts just a big reality jolt. It didn’t help when he suddenly remembered his drivers license had just expired and he had not had time to renew in all the busyness of our last couple of weeks. Because he had forgotten, we couldn’t rent a car. I certainly didn’t want to drive in Vegas! This was not the only issue as we suddenly realized we might not be able to be married with an expired identification . Wow, what are we going to do?
We decided to get a taxi first. When we were in the cab, Mike told the cab driver that we were here to get married and asked for any suggestions or help he might give us with the process? I’m guessing he had been asked that before, because he gave us a chuckle and said, “Well I better take you to the courthouse first and let you get your marriage license.”
Here it was Sunday morning and the courthouse was open; welcome to Vegas!
He pulled up in front of it and said he would wait. “Wait, you don’t think it’s going to take very long?” we asked. He replied, “I doubt it on a Sunday.”
As we walked up those steps, we were both pretty nervous, just not knowing what would happen with Mike’s drivers license. Would there be a waiting time before we could get married? Blood test? We had NO idea.
We walked in and there was a sign that said Marriage License and a couple people lined up, but after what felt like 2 minutes tops, we were there at the counter where it was our turn. We were given a paper to fill out which was general info type thing…..in only 3-4 minutes and we were back at the counter with it. The lady took it and said, “Thank you very much and good luck.” We just looked at her like, “That’s all?”
All that concern about his license not being current and we didn’t even have to show ANY ID
We had a good laugh over that for awhile.
From the time we stepped out of our cab to the time we got back in, couldn’t have been more than 8-10 min (closer to 8 I’d say).
So back in the cab we go to procure some more free info from our cab driver who was our friend at this point ๐Ÿ™‚
He suggested a couple of nice chapels and told us the ones that were famous for who married there.
He dropped us off in the area where we went ahead and booked a room in the “Frontier,” which is no longer there. We carried our luggage in and sat down to make a plan. I didn’t want to get married in the middle of the day (didn’t seem as romantic I guess). Besides, I wanted to look my best; and we had been traveling for hours. We decided we would get married that night after dinner (not sure who thought eating first was smart ha).
I had nothing to fix my hair with, because when I went to Tulsa to see him I always stayed at my sisters and borrowed her blow dryer, curling iron etc.
So that became our afternoon activity, to shop for me some hair equipment ๐Ÿ™‚
The only place we could find was a mall, and so he bought me a blow dryer and curling iron in Dillard’s. They don’t have the best hair tools; but it beat none, except for being pricey! Again, I had trouble letting him buy it for me (ridiculous, I know).
Then he told me he wanted to buy me something special (like a wedding gift) and so we ended up at the perfume counter where he bought me my first bottle of expensive perfume, a bottle of “Red” by Giorgio Beverly Hills (yes I still remember).
We walked a lot just looking at Vegas, the strip, it was all very new and exciting for me.
Finally it was late enough to start getting ready for the evening.
We both wore fairly casual clothes. I mean I didn’t know I was going to get married, or I would have packed differently! I had on some casual pants and cute top, while Mike wore corduroys and a casual polo shirt. With a spritz of my new perfume, we were off to dinner.
As you might imagine we didn’t eat much, just talked more. I felt some big time fear slipping up on me; but Mike just reassured me over dinner once again that he would love me for ever and ever, and I would never be sorry I gave my heart to him. I believed him!!
Around 7:00 that night, not long after the sun had gone down, we took a taxi with marriage license in hand to the closest little wedding chapel “Candlelight Wedding Chapel.”
It was lit up so beautifully. We stepped inside to find a very tastefully decorated sanctuary of sorts, decorated with gorgeous flowers, complete with pews and everything a small church would have. We were met by the minister who after finding out that we did indeed wish to be married, had us sit with her for a few minutes. Interestingly she talked with us about what an important covenant marriage was with God and how it should be taken very seriously . She talked about the beauty of a loving marriage and that we should be sure we were ready for a lifelong commitment. She called in another person that worked there (a younger woman) that was to stand with us as witness/photographer. Then we all went to the front and began the ceremony.
It was not what you might expect from Vegas; it felt very reverent and intimate. There we were, just Mike and me along with two people we had just met; but the most important One there was the One who ultimately had brought us together, our Heavenly Father. Those moments were frozen in time for me, looking at this man who had swept me off my feet, knowing he loved me and I loved him…nothing has ever felt so right, so “meant to be,” as we stood there and committed our lives to each other for ever, for better or worse, richer or poorer, in sickness and in health…I knew this was something very special. It was more than his kind eyes and handsome face. We were connected much deeper than that; we were two souls drawn together to love each other, to build a family. Just like a beautiful painting, our lives were planned out and put together color by color, moment by moment, and the painting would have details added to it as the years went by until someday it would be a master piece of God’s plans. The painting of our lives had just started, but it was already so beautiful. I knew it was a day I would never forget. Just Forty Four days after we met, I was Mike’s wife.

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Chapter 16: One plus Three, Equals a Family!

It was an unforgettable 24 hours and we were back on the plane headed for Tulsa. The boys were in Arkansas with my cousin and her family, and of course I had school to get back to there as well.
Funny picture in my mind is……for some reason we decided to buy souvenir T-shirts and wear them home on the plane. Don’t ask me why; I have NO idea, ha! I just know Mike and I have never since worn matching shirts in any form for any reason, but it seemed the thing to do at the time. So there we were, on the plane, exhausted from the exciting whirlwind of our weekend. Our T -shirts said, “We were married at the Candle Light Wedding Chapel in Las Vegas”…..haha, must have been a pretty funny sight. We both fell asleep and Mike said he woke up and saw someone laughing at us. Oh my. So funny, looking back.
The closer we got to Tulsa, the more somber our moods became as the reality hit us that we would be going our separate ways upon our return. Mike was a good sport and so understanding of my need to stay in Arkansas and finish school. He just made sure I knew I didn’t have to; but knowing my insecurity, he didn’t push anything. We would just be together on the weekends, we thought. While on the plane ride, he pulled out his checkbook and insisted I take money for the week. I was his wife now, but it was still difficult and felt less than normal. He wasn’t taking no for an answer and I had no good reason for saying no. I watched as he filled out my new name on the check, and I couldn’t help but smile.
It was late afternoon before we arrived back at his (now our) house, and I needed to head to Arkansas right away before it got any later. We drove up to find my car all decorated (by Pam and my new sis n law, Gail) the two that had fixed us up. We hurried and said our goodbyes. It was much harder this time, very different; and I felt that knot in my throat as I fought back tears.
A few hours later I arrived safely and called to let him know. He told me he had gone into the house to find the entire place was decorated with rice, balloons and streamers with no one there but him to see it ๐Ÿ˜ฆ ….I could tell he was wishing things could be different. On the other hand I was rather shocked that it bothered me. I had felt very independent and was not thinking I would struggle with the “apart” thing; but I found myself torn.
I didn’t have time to think about it much after I arrived home. I had two very excited little boys that I needed to talk to and let them in on the updated news. We got right back Into the swing of things in our routine, but it just felt a bit hollow. I proudly drove my car around town with the “just married” and “Mrs.” written on the windows. My friends in nursing school were beyond shocked and anxious to hear details. They all thought I was quitting school but I told them that was not my plan.
By Wednesday evening, I was miserable and realizing this was much, much harder than I had imagined. It felt almost like I was pretending I got married. I had a rush of mixed emotions. I had worked so hard to be in nursing school, but yet my heart was in Tulsa Oklahoma.
It was the hardest, yet the easiest decision ever. I called Mike that Thursday evening and said, “I can’t do this; I want us to be a family. I’ll just take classes in Tulsa, but we need to be together.” He was thrilled and surprised. That Friday evening he arrived in a big U-haul truck and spent the weekend with me in my little government house. ๐Ÿ™‚
We packed up everything I wanted and gave the rest away to neighbors and friends and Sunday afternoon the four of us were headed back to Tulsa. I had a peace in my heart that I was doing the right thing. The proof of that was the fact we were immediately a family, and it felt like it had always been that way. I can honestly say there was no adjustment period for any of us. Charley asked if they could call Mike, “Daddy”; and he of course wanted that very much; so from that day on, he had a new name.
The next morning found me enrolling the boys in a private Christian school (with Gail’s help) where everything came together like clockwork. I waited until January to enroll in a couple of college classes. In the mean time, I had a beautiful home to make my own, a new kitchen to cook in, a new life. I depended on Gail (who lived next door ) to help me get in the swing of things, such as, “What does he like to eat?” She had fixed most of his non-pizza delivery meals; and since he was next door to Jim and Gail and they were in business together, it worked out quite nicely. Everything was different now, but it seemed so comfortable. The boys adored their new cousin, Jamie; and she became like a sister to them. She was 5 at the time.
I never looked back, as far as doubting my decision to marry and move. We had those who said it wouldn’t last (or so I was told). We just smiled and thought, “You’ll see.” To the hand full that claimed I married for money, well we just laughed at those few; and after over 23 years together we are getting the last laugh I do believe ๐Ÿ™‚ ๐Ÿ™‚
God had matched us up, way before we even met…..our best days were in front of us. I treasured being loved differently; I still do!

Psalms 91

14-16 โ€œIf youโ€™ll hold on to me for dear life,โ€ says God,
โ€œIโ€™ll get you out of any trouble.
Iโ€™ll give you the best of care
if youโ€™ll only get to know and trust me.
Call me and Iโ€™ll answer, be at your side in bad times;
Iโ€™ll rescue you, then throw you a party.
Iโ€™ll give you a long life,
give you a long drink of salvation!โ€

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Chapter 17: Things Don’t Always Turn Out The Way You Had Planned

Not long after the wedding I was able to meet Mike’s sister, Sheri, and her family as well as his parents, Bob and Alice. His entire family completely welcomed Charley, Caleb, and me with open arms as part of the family. They accepted and loved us and made us feel like we had always been in the picture. I still feel so blessed with that fact! The first year was filled with lots of “first’s,” including a honeymoon trip to Cancun in June of ’91and then a family vacation to Disney World in September. We also bought a new house that July. Mike taught the boys how to swim right away (in our very fun indoor pool), and they both started playing soccer.

They loved their school, Grace Fellowship, and continued to attend there for several years. Our church home became Victory Christian Center, where we still attend.

Around 5:50 a.m., July 26, 1992, we welcomed a beautiful little baby girl into our family. Our 7lb. 14oz. Stephani Lynn arrived very quickly for me after only 7 hours of labor. Mike practically had to deliver her, because she came before the nurses or doctor could get things ready. I finally enjoyed my first epidural and loved it of course! ๐Ÿ™‚
Stephani was such a little princess; I couldn’t believe I finally had a girl, and she had two very proud big brothers. I was wondering one day (as moms will do) if in their minds they might think Mike loved her differently?! One of the boys had been told by another child that Stephani was only their half sister, and man did that ever cause an argument. Ha! So I decided to have an impromptu talk with them one day about the whole dynamics, and most likely made it a little more complicated than I should have. I had never for a moment sensed a difference in Mike around the boys; he truly loved them as his own, but I went ahead and took the opportunity to ask them. I finally got to the point and said, “Sometimes in these situations where there is a new baby, children might feel like their step parent loves the baby more.” They looked at me with big brown eyes full of mostly interest but also dipped in little confusion. Before I made my closing statement about how that wasn’t true and all…..I asked, “Do you boys ever feel like Dad loves baby Stephani more?” I assured them that they could tell me honestly.
They looked almost startled and Charley (who was now 8) looked up at me and in the most matter of fact voice said, “Oh…..I think he loves US the most,” to which Caleb nodded in agreement. I can assure you that was the truth in their little hearts, and that describes the type of dad Mike was (and is) to this day.

January 9,1995, we welcomed our second daughter, 8 lb. 2 oz. Jessica Lynn, (both girls share the same middle name with me) into our family. Jessica was the first of my labors that I felt no pain at all from start to finish, and I loved it!! Now we had two princesses, each one playing such an important role in our lives. We had become a family of 6, two boys, two girls….everyone had a buddy ๐Ÿ™‚

Our children have always been close, and we cherish each one of them!
Life’s road has taken many turns, as it’s known to do; but I have been abundantly blessed, and I’m forever grateful.

This year Mike and I will celebrate our 24th anniversary. It seems so hard to believe that he was ever not a part of my life.
The past year we became “empty nesters,” and we love this part of our lives just like we have loved every season through the years. This is quite different for us, however, because we were never “just us two;” but how we treasure our alone time together…..making plans, being grandparents, we just never get enough of each other.
My heart still skips a beat when I hear the garage door raise and know he’s home from work. He still tells me I’m perfect (which I know I’m not :), but it always makes me smile. He loved me right through those first few years when my insecurities and fears would creep up, always being faithful and true to me, never giving me any reason to doubt him or lose trust. He’s never made me cry (except in a good way:), never spoken a harsh word or shown any anger towards me. We cherish each other, and not one day goes by that I don’t stop at least once (often more) and thank God for my husband and this Plan B that I’m living. Sometimes things don’t turn out like you planned……sometimes they turn out BETTER!

Only a couple more chapters left……

Jeremiah 29:11
Iโ€™ll show up and take care of you as I promised and bring you back home. I know what Iโ€™m doing. I have it all planned outโ€”plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for.

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Chapter 19: Faith

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The doctor there in Mexico did not speak English with the exception of a very few words. He motioned me into a hall and I followed. I could see the concern in his eyes as he conveyed to me in a few words that he thought my husband would be OK, but then he paused and said, “Your daughter…..not sure,” and sort of shook his head. I quickly asked, “Will she be OK?”
Again shaking his head, he said, “Not good, not sure she will make it.” I choked back tears and panic and thought to myself, it’s probably the language barrier, maybe he just means long recovery. Before I knew it, perhaps thinking this would cut to the chase, I heard myself just coming right out and asking,”Is she going to die?” I’ll never forget the look on his face as he searched for the right words in English to convey to me that he thought that was a big possibility. I know his broken English came through loud and clear and brought me to my knees. He said she needed to be taken to another hospital in town that had a machine to check her brain (I believe it was a CT-scan) to see how bad her bleeding was.
As they loaded up my sweet Jessie back into the ambulance, I knew I needed to warn the others about the seriousness of her condition. I walked into the waiting room where I was met with questioning eyes from the others except for Caleb who could barely make eye contact with me. I explained where we were going and that there was a chance Jess wouldn’t make it (I was only repeating the message the doctor had so seriously given me). I said it without tears or panic just matter of fact which sort of still surprises me. Steph was only 13, but she looked even younger in that moment. I wanted to stay and comfort her and wrap my warms around her, but I didn’t have time; I had to hurry and get in the ambulance with Jessica. I watched Steph go over to a small couch there in the waiting area and lie down as I was walking out. What I would find out later is that she almost immediately fell asleep. Now, this is my child who never ever took a nap, ever! I believe her angels comforted her in restful sleep on my behalf.
I stopped by Mike’s cot of a bed and also let him know of the seriousness and that we were leaving. He was still not fully himself, but he did make sure Charley was going with me and told me to call our friend, an ENT back in Tulsa.

We crawled back into that ambulance (the one with no air conditioning or working siren), flies buzzing everywhere and headed to the other hospital. Jess was 10 years old and much taller than most 10 year old girls but also very tiny in weight, only weighing around 85-90 lbs even though she was already around 5’5″. I looked at her lying there, my baby, the one who just a few hours ago was begging to ride the jet skis and insisting she be the one that rode with Mike on his…..I couldn’t help but think if it had been Steph (who was also begging to ride with Mike), she would have been killed probably instantly because of her height and the way the jet ski was hit. Of course in that moment I thought I was loosing my Jess, and my heart filled with fear and helplessness. I had no faith in the doctors there; there wasn’t even any soap in the hospital bathroom. I wanted an American hospital that could give her what she needed, but I didn’t have a choice since we were in Mexico and at the mercy of what was available.
We arrived at the other hospital within 5-10 min and were met by several men dressed like doctors, but we were not sure what they were. They quickly pulled out her stretcher and started halfway running with her into the hospital. This hospital seemed a bit more modern, but still had that distinct smell of a bad sewer system. They began to motion Charley and me that we could not follow them and pointed us to another area. My heart was in my throat as I thought a million thoughts such as, “What if they let her go to sleep?” Charley and I had worked feverishly to keep her awake and from slipping back into unconsciousness. They had definitely gotten that point across loud and clear that if she fell asleep she might not wake up.
It was probably one of the hardest things as a mom to let these “doctors” take my little girl and tell me I couldn’t follow. I was about to make a scene and insist, but Charley sweetly grabbed my arm and said, “Come on mom let’s go sit down.” I was shaking as we sat there. I know Charley had to have been scared as well, but he was taking over the Mike’s role now and was being so strong for me. It’s a moment special to me and Charley as we sat down and he sort of took over and said, “Mom, we always talk about faith, but now it’s time to practice it.” Then he took my hands and prayed a beautiful prayer of faith. It was a time when all we had was our faith; our trust was not in the hospital or the doctors I can promise!! ALL we had was our faith in God…..that’s when faith is in it’s purest form but also in its most terrifying form. We needed a miracle, and we needed it quickly.

These are pictures of the engagement (two nights before the accident) and some from the hospital.

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Chapter 20: The Storm

It seemed like an eternity before they returned to talk to us, and much to our surprise they were pushing Jessica on her bed along with them.
Charley and I rushed over to meet them. In very broken English, the one doctor who seemed to be in charge was able to communicate enough with us to let us know that there was no bleeding in her brain, and she could return to the other hospital. I cannot adequately convey to you the weight that lifted hearing this news. We still didn’t know where the blood (that she was throwing up ) was coming from; but she had stopped that as well, so relief is an understatement for what we were feeling.
We headed back to the other “hospital,” where I couldn’t wait to put everyone’s mind at ease. It was probably about 2:00 in the afternoon by now. They told us both Mike and Jess needed to stay in the hospital for awhile; and they were adamant that Jess was not “out of the woods,” so a different reality check was upon us ๐Ÿ™‚
For those who may not remember, we were on a cruise and ALL of our things (including passports) were still on the ship…that was leaving at 5:30pm. We had nothing but the swim suits we were wearing.
Charley and Ruth decided they would take a taxi to the ship and pack up everything and bring it back. They had about 45 min on the ship to do all of this, and I’m still in awe of how they managed. We have always said that Ruth and Charley really came through like champs, unlike many typical 20 year-olds.
They managed to pack up the belongings of 7 people plus Caleb’s guitar, get them off the ship and meet with some of those in charge to explain the circumstances surrounding us not making it back.
Meanwhile, Jess had begun to become more aware of her surroundings and started trying to communicate. I remember one of the first things she asked was, “What time is it?”
I told her it was about 4:00 and she said,”Mom, what about the ship; can we make it back there in time?” I tried to explain to her the seriousness of what had happened and that we couldn’t risk it…..I’ll never forget the silent tears rolling down her cheeks as she realized the cruise, for us, was over ๐Ÿ˜ฆ
She had no way of understanding how insignificant that was compared to her being OK; but of course she couldn’t, since she had been mostly out of it for several hours.
The staff in the hospital began to admit Mike and Jess into a room, (which thankfully did have air conditioning). They charged my credit card 5,000.00 dollars, and of course I would have given everything I owned to have Jess and Mike OK and whole.
So many times I had to practice my faith, for so many reasons. One of the things that was so difficult was watching them (nurses?) put medicine into Jessica and Mikes IV and have no idea what they were giving them. Due to the language barrier, they were not able to tell me. I wanted to say “STOP” but was terrified to do that in case it really was what they needed.
The emotion of the day began to take over for all of us (except Mike and Jess who were floating in the clouds with whatever was in their IVs).
Late that night I remember Ruth just sobbing with emotion and exhaustion. I returned from the restroom at one point to find Caleb at the foot of Jessica’s bed playing his guitar and singing to her, and then I proceeded to have my own melt down.
During the night Mike was able to help with some planning, and we decided all the kids (Charley,Ruth,Caleb,Steph) would take a taxi to the Cancun Airport where a representative from the ship had helped to book flights for them. They left at around 4:00 am the next morning, flew to Houston, then took a taxi (Charley was too young to legally rent a car) to Galveston where we had parked our suburban, then drove 9 hours home.
Meanwhile, the doctors were overly cautious about Jessica, not letting her watch TV or sit up or anything except bathroom trips where I practically carried her.
They continued to give her SO many vials of medicine into her IV and Mike as well. We were in touch with family members and friends, and everyone began to mention that a hurricane was headed for the area and was a Category 4 at the time and expected to make landfall in 48 hours. Hurricane Emily…..now what would we do? We felt very vulnerable, so unsure, and so we called a family friend and doctor (ENT) who said, “You have to get out of there and soon!” The risk of flying were less than the possibility of being in Mexico during and in the aftermath of a major hurricane. The doctors in Mexico were saying we couldn’t leave because she could die. They wouldn’t release Jessica; they said she wasn’t well enough. Now what?

These are the lyrics to the song Caleb sang to Jessica that night in the hospital.

“Storm” by Lifehouse

How long have I been in this storm
So overwhelmed by the ocean’s shapeless form
Water is getting hard to tread
With these waves crashing over my head

If I could just see you
Everything would be alright
If I see you
This darkness would turn to light

And I will walk on water
And you will catch me if I fall
And I will get lost into your eyes
And everything will be alright
And everything will be alright

I know you didn’t bring me out here to drown
So why am I ten feet under and upside down
Barely surviving has become my purpose
Cause I’m so used to living underneath the surface

If I could just see you
Everything would be alright
If I see you
This darkness would turn to light

And I will walk on water
And you will catch me if I fall
And I will get lost into your eyes
And everything will be alright

And I will walk on water
You will catch me if I fall
And I will get lost into your eyes
And everything will be alright

Now everything is alright
Everything’s alright

Chapter 21: Arrived in an Ambulance….Departed in a Taxi

Mike was for the most part back to some sort of mental normalcy after his blow to the head and concussion. They kept his IV full of unknown drugs that made him pain free and not overly concerned. He was beginning to realize some things needed to be dealt with, and I remember him making a phone call to one of our doctor friends in Tulsa, an ear,nose,and throat specialist.
Mike explained our predicament, which was the category 4 hurricane approaching and the doctors there in Mexico telling us Jess was not stable enough to leave the hospital.
He told Mike in no uncertain terms to get out of there and that the risks of staying were greater than the risk of leaving and flying home.
Mike hung up and immediately called the airlines though I’m sure our odds of getting through were very slim to none as no doubt every tourist in Cancun (the closest airport) was trying to find a way out of that area before the hurricane made landfall. At this time it was briefly a category 5. Be that as it may, the first call Mike placed was answered immediately and as I recall, he was not even placed on hold.
He explained our story to the airline representative on the phone, but of course left out the part about us planning to leave the hospital under the doctors vigorous and loud advice/commands not to because we would be risking Jessica’s life.
The representative felt very bad for our situation and said, “You know, I think all of my seats out of Cancun are sold”…. But then she said she would check one more time. She was back on the line after a very brief pause and in a very pleasing voice said,”Yes, yes I do! I have only three open.” Three were the EXACT number we needed, and she went further to say they were in first class but she was not going to charge us the first class price. Mike hung up, and we were more determined than ever that this was the right thing to do. It was not by accident that we had just secured the last three seats on the last plane out of Cancun before the hurricane and first class to boot.
By this time Mike had requested they take his IV out and when they brought their “tool kit” in to take Jessica’s blood, Mike refused to let them and told them we would be leaving.
This started quite a disturbance among the nurses and the one doctor on duty, who immediately came to our room and began to try and persuade us not to leave unless it was by medical helicopter or medical plane.
We had no way of making that happen in the time frame we had, so they made us sign all types of documents stating we were leaving against their advice and putting Jessica’s life in jeopardy. The one thing that really helped us have the courage was knowing what our doctor had said from back in Tulsa, so we stuck to our guns.
We called a taxi, but it was the strangest feeling walking out of that hospital to get into it. Jess was so weak she could barely walk, and Mike had been off of his IV for about 6 hours. His pain was kicking in and was becoming almost unbearable from not only the blow to the head but also his busted chin with stitches and a broken bone (very small) in his face, we would learn later.
It was frightening, I must admit, to leave against the advice of the doctors there; part of me thought they knew nothing, but yet part of me was so thankful for all they had done….I was torn.
It was dusky dark when our taxi arrived (around 8:30 pm or so) to pick us up. We climbed in and asked our driver to stop at the first little store of any kind, as we were absolutely starving. Mike ran in and bought three orange Fanta’s to drink, a can of Pringles potato chips and another bag of chips (there was hardly anything in this tiny gas station of a store to choose from). I can tell you orange Fanta has never tasted SO good. Just getting something in Jessica’s stomach and in Mikes seemed to have an immediate positive affect and on me as well. I began to gain a little more confidence that this whole ordeal might be close to being behind us.
By this time it was dark and we made the 45 or so minute drive to Cancun. We stopped at a hotel in downtown Cancun that had a room open, but it was far from tourist friendly. It was rather old and kind if smelly and a bit on the scary side but we couldn’t keep driving around looking for something else. By this time, Mike was in excruciating pain and we didn’t have as much as an Advil with us.
It was after 10 by the time we found this hotel and got into our room (only to find out there was no air conditioning, and remember, this was in July!)
Our ENT doctor friend had told Mike that he and Jess needed to use Afrin nose spray that night before the flight the next morning to keep pressure down, so as soon as he got us settled in the room he went walking looking for a pharmacy to buy that, something to snack on and of course Advil. He walked because he thought surely there would be something close by since we were downtown.
He ended up being gone almost an hour, walking, and finding nothing for blocks that turned into a few miles. What he did find wasn’t open at that hour. When he returned he could hardly talk from the pain that was taking over, the overexertion from his walk, coupled with the incredible sticky tropical heat. Jess had fallen asleep while we waited and as soon as Mike took a cold shower (only kind you want to take in air conditioner-less room), he followed suit.
Later on, as we lay there side by side, all three of us, I was almost overcome with thoughts of fear as the reality hit me that I was the only “healthy” one. I was going to have to be the one to help encourage and bring confidence that we could do this, while swallowing my own doubts and fears. It was a long night filled with many thoughts of whether we were making the right call or not. At this point there was no turning back. Right or wrong we were going to be taking another taxi very early the next morning to the airport, the same airport I had seen on the news earlier that day with lines of people stretching through the entire airport and onto the outside, stretching down the side walk for what seemed to be miles. I wasn’t sure Jess and Mike could even stand in line at all much less for hours. I didn’t have a clue how this would ever be possible, but I knew I would need to figure it out. Somehow we had to get on that plane and do so without letting it show to the attendants that Jess and Mike might not be fit for travel. It was a sleepless night for sure.

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