Saturday, November 10, 2018

Just Long Enough - The Story of an Improbable Marriage


Growing up in Louisville, Kentucky, I was never forced to go to church. My dad never went and, since my mom didn’t drive, she hitched a ride with her cousin when she wanted to go. Sometimes I went with her. I don’t really remember anything except having a role in a Sunday School Christmas play.

As I got older, I would occasionally attend church with friends. The one visit that stands out the most was when the Sunday School teacher told us how he thought interracial marriage was frowned on by God. He said something about birds of a feather flocking together. I remember thinking that had he picked dogs for his example, a totally different conclusion would have been reached. I also wondered why God would care about who someone married since he had created us all. “But,” I thought, “I’m just a kid and he is an adult, so what do I know?”

Nothing I ever heard during my infrequent visits to church convinced me that I was a sinner in need of salvation. In fact, by the time I had reached college age, I was a deist. I believed that God existed and created the Universe, but I didn’t believe in any of the Gods of the world’s religions.

As a teenager, I was very shy. Well, as least when it came to dating girls. I had no problem being around a girl as a friend, but when it came to asking someone on a date, I froze. During my high school years, I asked exactly one girl on a date. She was someone I had known since first grade, but she turned me down. I thought perhaps I had broken the ice and asking for a date would come easier. Wrong! It didn’t help anything. Still, I had quite a few friends and was somewhat outgoing in high school. I didn’t play sports or anything, but I was in the Honor Society and the Photography Club. A group of friends and I even put together a performance for the Senior Talent Show where we sang one of my original comical songs. It was a hoot and a huge success!

During my high school years, I had crushes on several girls, but the biggest one occurred my senior year. That was when I got to know a girl by the name of Anita Zettler. I had seen her around school before, but we did not have any classes together until our senior year. I fell pretty hard for her, but still couldn’t get past the fear of dating. When prom time came, I really wanted to ask her to go with me, but I kept delaying, delaying, and delaying until I heard that someone else had asked her, and she had accepted. I was both disappointed and relieved, if you know what I mean.

Shortly after high school graduation, I finally got up the courage to call Anita. We talked for over an hour. As I enjoyed our conversation, I was secretly building up to asking her out. But before my courage reached a sufficient level, a friend knocked on the door. I let him in, and since I wasn’t about to ask for a date while my friend was listening to my every word, I ended the phone call.

So that was that. Anita went away to college while I stayed at home to attend college. I just assumed I would never see her again, so I tried to push her out of my mind and get on with my life.

Throughout college, I concentrated on my studies. There weren’t many girls in engineering school, so it was easier to avoid crushes and the agony of knowing I didn’t have the courage to ask anyone out. Also, on the religious front, I was still the same old deist.

As I was nearing the end of my college days, I was waiting for the time to move to Alabama to start my career as an engineer. I was interested in photography and astronomy, so I would sit up late reading magazines on these topics. Oftentimes I would get caught up on my magazine reading, so decided I would read the Bible from the beginning. I just wanted to see what it said; I was not on a spiritual quest. I made it through 1 Kings when it was time to move. With the full-time job, my Bible reading stopped.

In those early years at work, I was in a carpool. Two of the people in the carpool, one man and one woman, were members of the Church of Christ. At some point the woman asked me if I would like to attend church with her and one of her best friends. It turned out I recognized her friend as someone who worked at a convenience store across the street from my apartment. I wasn’t terribly interested in attending church, but I thought I’d give it a go. It turned out I really enjoyed it.

One of the things that really impressed me was how the members seemed to want to truly understand what the Bible taught and live by it. I began attending the church regularly. One Sunday my friends were out of town. I was disappointed that I couldn’t go to church, but then I realized I could attend on my own. At the end of the service, I was invited to Sunday dinner at the home of a chiropractor and his family. I accepted. I had no clue that in a few years, that man would become MY chiropractor. I had a great meal and fun fellowship.

I began studying the Bible with a man named Jim Massey. He was a teacher at the local Bible college (which was also the location of the church I was attending) as well as a preacher and an evangelist. After several weeks of study and prayer, I made the decision to become a Christian and join the church. That was in July 1980 when I was 25 years old.

I quickly got involved in the evangelistic activities of the church. One Saturday, we were meeting at the church to plan a door knocking excursion. A beautiful young girl who was attending the Bible college was there. We had met before, but I was still surprised when she came over and sat next to me. Since we were going out by twos, we agreed to be partners. I still remember her being somewhat starstruck when a well-known basketball player in our city answered the door while we were canvassing an apartment complex. Shortly afterwards we were circling around the backside of the apartment building when we came upon a pretty young girl sunbathing in a skimpy bikini. I looked at my companion and said, “Don’t worry. I’ll handle this one.” She responded, “I bet you will.” Interestingly, when we told the bikini-clad girl who we were, she responded that she was raised in the Church of Christ. We talked a bit, gave her our literature, and walked on.

Becoming a Christian changed me in several ways. One was how I viewed myself relative to others. No longer did I view myself as inferior when it came to dating. I decided that if I wanted to ask someone out, I would. If she rejected me, I was still valuable in the eyes of God. I liked this young college student, so I asked her out, and she said yes! I was nervous on that first date, but not terrified. We dated several times, but later she met another student at the Bible college who shared her desire for mission work. She broke up with me, started dating him, and later married him. It was all for the best.

One day, Jim Massey, the man with whom I had studied and who baptized me, called to give me the phone number of a young lady he thought I should call. I was a bit skeptical calling someone I had never met, but I did it anyway. I guess you can tell I was quite a different person than I had been. She accepted, and we dated several times. However, she was bit uncomfortable being several years younger than me, so it didn’t work out.

Over the following months I asked several girls on dates. Some accepted; some declined. It was all good. I no longer viewed rejection as a reflection on me as a person. There was one girl I dated off and on for quite some time. I really liked her, but we always seemed to find something on which to disagree. I finally realized it was time to move on.

Early in 1981, I was visiting my parents in Louisville, Kentucky. A good friend who had lived down the street from me as a kid invited me to go to church with him. He told me that Anita Zettler was now going to his church. She no longer went by the name Anita, but rather Kathy, which was short for her middle name, Kathleen. I couldn’t believe it. I was actually going to see the person I thought I would never see again: the girl I had a major crush on in high school.

I still remember being in Sunday School class with Anita…uh, Kathy. During open discussions, she had interesting things to say. Those old feelings began to creep back in, but I was dating someone back in Alabama at the time, so pushed them aside.

In October 1981, I was going to be back in Louisville, and I wasn’t dating anyone. I decided I was going to ask Kathy out. The Louisville Symphony was going to be performing, so that would be our entertainment for the evening. I was visiting with an old friend from junior high and high school the night I needed to call her. But no longer caring about what he might think, I told him I needed to make a call on his phone (we didn’t have cell phones in those days). I called Kathy and told her I’d like to take her out to dinner and the symphony. She accepted; I was elated.

Date day arrived. I drove to Kathy’s house to pick her up. She was living with her parents since she was teaching at a private Christian school at a low salary. We went to Sizzler for dinner and then on to the symphony. We had a great time talking, cutting up, and laughing. I always liked her laugh back in high school, especially when she was laughing at one of my jokes. Sadly, the evening came to an end. When I got back to my parents’ house, they asked me, “How did it go?” I answered, “Let me put it this way. If I had to marry someone tomorrow, she would be the one.” My mom said, “Well, it could happen.” I said, “I don’t know how. We live 300 miles apart.” She said, “Well, all it takes is 18 cents.” That was the cost of a postage stamp at that time.

I returned home to Alabama not knowing what I should do. Luckily, Kathy decided for me. I soon received a letter from her telling me how much she enjoyed our date. This encouraged me. We began writing and calling each other. Keep in mind this was in the day when long distance phone calls were expensive. Soon, we were racking up phone bills in the hundreds of dollars each month. But I didn’t care; I was falling in love. Eventually, Kathy came to Alabama to visit me. I went to Louisville whenever possible to visit her.

A short four months after our first date, I decided I was going to ask Kathy to marry me. It happened on Valentine’s Day of 1982. She said, “YES!” It was a dream come true. I even had people at work notice a change in my countenance afterwards.

We quickly started planning our wedding. We ultimately decided on July 3 of that year at her home church in Louisville. We hoped that date would allow some friends that lived in other places to attend since it would be a holiday weekend.

As the wedding date approached, we continued to visit whenever possible and send letters and make phone calls when not. The big day finally arrived, and it was great.

After our honeymoon, I told Kathy that we didn’t have to keep going to the same church I had been attending. We could visit around and see if another church better suited us as a couple. As it turned out, the first church we visited became our church. Also, in order to learn God’s word better, we began studying the Bible at home. That didn’t turn out as planned.

As we studied Genesis, I began questioning many things, and Kathy didn’t have the answers. I talked to the preacher, some deacons, and some elders at our church about my issues. None of them had the answers. Usually they would conclude, “You just have to have faith.” But that didn’t satisfy me. I wanted to know I was having faith in what was true, not just something I chose to have faith in regardless of its truthfulness. Eventually Kathy and I had to stop our private Bible studies. There were just too many unanswered questions. Ultimately, I stopped reading the Bible for fear I would lose my faith.

Five years passed. I continued to attend and participate in programs at church on a regular basis. But eventually I realized I had to confront my doubts head-on and decide what I really believed about the Bible. I started studying again on my own. Over time, the evidence became overwhelming. I could no longer believe in the resurrection of Jesus, so could no longer say I was a Christian. It was a tough time, and tears were shed by both Kathy and me. We were both concerned about how my changes in belief would affect our marriage. After all, had I not been a Christian when Kathy and I met again, she probably would not have even dated me, let alone marry me. Actually, we probably would not have even met again since I most likely would have never attended her church.

But after several discussions about our situation, it became apparent that we loved each other deeply, and neither of us had any desire to abandon our marriage. Our love was stronger than our differences.

It has been over 30 years since my deconversion and our marriage is stronger than ever. When I think of Kathy, I am reminded of the old Spiral Starecase song, “I Love You More Today Then Yesterday.” The lyrics continue with “but not as much as tomorrow.”

To this day I wonder what happened. Why did I come to truly believe the resurrection message for a little over two years, just long enough to gain confidence with women, reconnect with my high school crush, fall in love, and get married? It seems as if the whole thing was orchestrated. I often wonder if God was behind it because he knew Kathy and I belonged together, and my conversion was the only path to that end. Of course, I realize it could all just be a happy coincidence. I also frequently wonder what my life would look like had these events not taken place and I never married Kathy. I simply can’t imagine that it could in any way be better than it is. I consider myself to be very fortunate, or should I say blessed. Kathy feels the same way.

I wrote this story because I felt it was important. Perhaps it will help others in a similar situation. But even if it doesn’t, it’s still a good story. One that would make a good movie, perhaps. Well, one can dream, right? I once did and look where it took me.