This month I share a God-is-good love story, Bill’s and my story that was in Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Dating Game.
Unforgettable! One word out of many to describe this Sunday in July with its sweltering 101 degrees. Imagine me standing outside a friend’s rent house with Matt playing his newly invented game: throw-the-ball-on-the-roof-and-see-who-can-catch-it-wherever-it-falls. For a Southern girl, I’m almost perspiring. Okay, I’m sweating. Yet, I’m trying hard to appease my nine-year-old son. Matt had been a good sport all weekend, playing alone while I gabbed away with my best friend Nina.
It had been a year since Nina and Steve had moved an hour away. For me, it had been one whole school year teaching high school art and English as a single mom without her best buddy for encouragement. Nina is that friend every woman needs, not only when she’s going through a divorce, but afterwards, when all of her other married friends have abandoned her.
It was Nina who affirmed, “Ann, you’ve been a great wife and mother. It was his choices and now his loss.” Throughout those days I needed to be reminded I was a person of worth when all I felt was rejection.
And it was Nina who had self-appointed herself to be my official matchmaker.
“I have just the one for you, my brother . . . my mechanic . . . the choir director . . . Steve has a colleague . . .” Nina believed there was a knight in shining armor for me when I couldn’t.
So it was for that weekend, too. Once Nina had arranged my visit and knew I would be able to help her with moving their college-aged daughter into this rent house, she also arranged for some man to bring his truck and help.
“Bill’s perfect for you, Ann. He’s new to town, recently divorced, and a great father who has custody of his two sons.”
I kept my distance, of course, as a standard rule of caution I had established by others’ unsportsmanlike behavior. And just when Bill and I were starting a conversation in the kitchen, Matt runs in breathless.
“Mom, come play ball with me.”
I smile cordially and excuse myself.
So, imagine my surprise–and delight–when Bill walked out the front door beside me and playfully grabbed the ball as it dropped from the roof. Matt sprang into action, stealing the ball from Bill, I supposed because that’s what guys do. I paused to wonder why Bill didn’t leave by going out the back door to his truck. I still didn’t get it.
“Mom, you move into the middle,” Matt said. “Then try to get the ball from one of us.” He tosses it over my head to Bill. “It’s called ‘keep away.’”
“I know how to play ‘keep away,’ silly,” I said, noting to myself how good I’d gotten at it lately.
So what should have been an easy game with Matt and this stranger, developed into an unexplainable event for me. Something strange happened each time I caught the ball and Bill rushed towards me. His blue eyes focused into my mine, I had to gasp from the fluttering in my chest. I have a heart? I have a heart!
“How long have Nina and you been friends?” Bill asked, propelling the ball over my head to Matt.
I leaped-up. My hands curled over the ball, barely catching it, placing Bill in the middle.
Bill advanced closer just as I pitched the ball over his head.
“How long have you been divorced?” he asked.
His question struck me by its boldness, making me question if he was snoopy, actually interested in me or just plain rude. Matt’s return ball thrust into my chest. “Three years.” I regrouped, hurling the ball back into midair.
At that point, I might have quit this game of keep-away. Except that with Bill, I suddenly wanted to get caught. Bill’s boyish yet masculine good looks were captivating. And he approached me with such strength and confidence. Yet, he had a gentle, humble demeanor.
I kept expecting to be called out of the game for not playing to my potential. Except, hadn’t I given my all for eighteen years? Look how that turned out!
This time when Bill rushed towards me, and my insides rotated, he casually cast out another pointed question. “Date much?”
Several minutes passed while I decided my halfhearted attempts had to end. I jumped-up, easily grabbing Bill’s slow, low ball meant for my taking. As he passed me to get in the middle, I replied, “Yes and no.”
I caught his smile.
I thought about Bill during that hour drive home and fought much mind-battling the rest of the evening. Finally, standing next to my kitchen pantry worn out by my thoughts, I offered my prayer, or, maybe more of a sacrificial compromise.
“Okay, Lord, I can’t think about him anymore! I’m giving him to you. If You want him in my life, You bring him back.”
I gave an exasperated sigh, one God might surely understand.
“But, Lord, if he’s not the one . . . well, could You give me someone just like him? I’ve never felt like this before.”
For the next three months I continued on with my life and the busyness of beginning a new school year. I was also in the midst of developing an educational seminar for high-school students on documentary films.
Then one quiet night, the phone rang and it was Bill. And with that ring, Bill and I began the most extraordinary game of our lives. The air was intoxicating, infused with new life and love. And our most devoted fans cheered us on to win.
We dated long-distance the first year, seeing each other every weekend, spending weeknights for hours on the phone. Throughout those weeks I often paused at the kitchen sink or wherever I was when the thought overwhelmed me, whispering, “I love you, Bill Robertson.”
I had to say it out loud, for it was far too big to hold inside me.
One night Bill confessed, “Do you know after that Sunday we met, I thought of you every single day. I figured that surely if I gave it a few months thinking about you would go away. Maybe, I’d see other women and think of them, too.” He shook his head. “I only thought about you.”
I laughed remembering my prayer.
We tried to be wise throughout those two years we dated, easily recognizing our differences: I’m all art and English, drawing words and lines into creative expressions where they belong, loving the world lopsided. Bill’s all math and science, carving cancers out of body parts where they don’t belong, a constant symmetrical kind-of guy. His pristine white coat is ironed with heavy starch; mine is splattered with paint.
Yet, for seventeen years, what has kept us steady throughout our death-do-us-part marriage is that we meet each other in the middle on the issues that matter, like work ethic, family values, and most of all, our faith in God. We play by the rules, wholeheartedly.
No more keep aways for us.
If you need a Valentine’s gift, you might get a copy to share.