Thursday, July 10, 2008

Our Love Story and the Providence of God

Through the years, my husband and I have heard many love stories. We’ve watched movies, read books and listened as our friends’ shared how they fell in love. It never fails that afterwards, when we’re alone, one of us will lovingly say, “Nothing compares to our story”. Although we have told it many times, I have failed to write it all down, and in fear that my future posterity may fail to know or hear of the providential leading of God in our lives, I now sit to record the events of the love story that God has written.

During my first year of college, I met David Mark Johnson, who had been born to missionary parents in the Philippines. Listening to the adventures he’d had during his life and spending time around his family’s table became my favorite thing to do. It was an “Ozzie and Harriet” sort of family. His mom graciously served her family and laughter surrounded this peaceful home. David had three brothers: Doug, who was four years older, Philip, two years younger, and Matt, who was 5 years younger than David. How fun it was for me, to be surrounded with such a wonderful family, especially such handsome young men. David played the guitar, sang, and wrote songs, and our voices harmonized perfectly. Our relationship became magnetic and less than two years later, we were married on June 7, 1980.

At this time of our lives we became very materialistic. Now maybe you’re thinking that this means we had a lot of material wealth. Nothing could be further from the truth. Our poverty left us desiring and dreaming about becoming rich. We rented an old house with major plumbing problems which required us to keep a huge bucket under the kitchen sink to catch all the water. After I washed dishes, I would have to carry this heavy bucket outside, carefully tiptoeing across a rotted out back porch. We heated with a wood stove, but very little heat stayed in, since the house had no insulation. It would get so cold that many mornings we’d wake up to find a sheet of ice on the inside of our windows. We learned very quickly that you don’t have to be rich to have a rich man’s heart. Yet, as the old saying goes, we were in love and dreams are made out of love.

Our first home
The advice that rang out from all our wedding guests and friends was waiting several years before you start a family. Well, so much for listening to advice. Our first child was born a year later on June 22, 1981. I clearly remember, during labor, wishing I could somehow escape my body and the pain it was suffering. These were the beginning years of natural childbirth, when few doctors or nurses sought ways to help comfort and relax the mother during her labor. So here I lay suffering, flat on my back on a cold, hard table, while my comforter (hubby) was down filling out piles of paperwork, for the hospital. Within a couple of hours, my pain was over, and I held the most beautiful baby girl, who we named Christie, in my arms. I’ll never forget her big eyes looking up at me and just staring, as if to say, “so you’re the one whose been singing to me all those months.” As the nurse pushed us back to our room, I looked up and asked her if she had any children. She replied, “Yes, I have three”. All I could remember was the pain I’d just suffered, and said, “You must be crazy to have done this three times”!!! How ironic! I went on to have another seven children myself.

Melissa and Christie (2 days old)

David holding Christie

David and I grew up so much during that first year of being parents. It’s amazing how things take on a different perspective when your decisions affect a life that is dependent upon you. During this time one of my husband’s best friends, Larry Abrams, was killed in a hot air balloon accident. He was the most dynamic Christian we had ever met. His love for Jesus spilled over to everyone, and his death, led me to some tough questions about God. I questioned God’s sovereignty and wondered why He would take someone like Larry, whose life clearly reflected Jesus, and had been influencing so many others.

Larry and his son, Luke

Larry's hot-air balloon

At Larry’s funeral, there were hundred’s of people who came to pay their respects and share how Larry’s life and death had touched them. That night, David and I cried ourselves to sleep, angry at God, and wondering how we would ever survive such broken hearts. During that night, I woke and felt God’s presence. Suddenly, all my questions were answered, and I felt Him impressing upon me the importance of dying to myself and surrendering my life to Christ. I gave myself completely to Him during that moment, and wondered how I would explain the change to my angry husband, in the morning. That morning, I told David I had something I needed to tell him, and he said, “Sure, but I’ve got to tell you something first”. Our experience, during the night, had almost been exactly alike. God began showing us how he was providentially using Larry’s death to draw us even closer to Him. From that moment forward, our lives were never the same. All this occurred in the fall of 1982.

On April 24, 1984, another beautiful daughter was born to us, Heather Marie.

David, Christie, and Heather

Our joy was cut short, when only four days later, David’s youngest brother; Matthew was killed in an airplane accident.

Matt with his parents (taken a few weeks before his death)

Matt had a wonderful job as a software engineer for large company in Huntsville, Alabama and was heading with several other young adults from his church to a Navigators convention. The plane exploded in mid-air during the trip. Matt was only 23. Our suffering was different this time, since; we now had a comforter during our grief. We desperately missed Matt, but praised God that we had the hope of seeing him again one day in heaven.

Fruit began to flow forth from our lives. People around us got saved. Our marriage grew even stronger and our purpose for living now became clear. David began feeling a strong desire to go back to the mission field, but not wanting to have to raise support, decided to try being a self-supported missionary. He started a log home business, and worked diligently, in hopes of building a company that he could hire others to run, while we would be supported on the profits.

Our home that David built

Pictures from David's sawmill...

Everything began very promising, but through circumstances beyond his control and deceit of others, David was forced into bankruptcy, a decision that he felt compromised his integrity.
My husband went through a deep depression at this time. Even the birth of our third daughter, Stephanie Jean, on February 26, 1887, didn’t seem to be enough to bring him out. Even though he hid his depression well, his melancholy undertones revealed to me the struggle going on in his heart. Sometime during this depression, David was in an accident, in which he miraculously escaped un-harmed. Everyone who saw his truck marveled at God’s hand of protection. This close encounter with his death led me to worry even more about my husband‘s spiritual depression. It concerned me that my exuberantly happy husband had become a tired and melancholy man. We heard about a Christian song-writers’ convention and feeling the break would do him good, I encouraged him to go. When David returned from the convention, all his depression and melancholy were gone. He was as passionate for Christ as ever. He later told me that during this time of reflection, he had laid down his dreams and told the Lord that if bankruptcy and poverty was what the Lord desired for his life, then he would gladly embrace it, knowing that only God can know the plans He has for our lives. How God could use these things, he didn’t know, but he could trust in the one who did.

Typical moment of David casually playing his guitar

Melissa, Heather, David, Steph, and Christie

Heather (4), Christie (6), and Stephanie (14 months)

One month later, on April 20, 1988, there was a knock on my door. David and my dad had gone to the saw-mill to work and just a few hours later my dad was standing there, as pale as I’d ever seen him. “David has had a heart attack, and we need to get to the hospital quickly”, he said. “What? He’s too young and in such good health, what’s going on?” I replied. Quizzing dad on the way to the hospital and discovering that neither he nor the paramedics had been successful at resuscitating David left me with little hope. When I walked through the emergency room doors and they pulled us into a side room, I knew that I would never hear my husband’s laugh again. As I went back to the room and looked at his lifeless, cold body lying upon the bed, I realized that this precious friend, who was so much a part of my life, would never again be there to guide me. His autopsy revealed that David had a heart disorder called Super-valvular Aortic Stenosis. The valve failure had caused so much strain on his heart that his heart had actually exploded. Those next few days are hazy. I functioned completely by the grace of God. Having been taught never to show public displays of emotion, I had a difficult time knowing how to handle my grief. Looking back, I know people wondered what was going on in me; as I would stuff my tears and pain. Dutifully smiling and shaking hands presented to me, yet on the inside looking for every opportunity to withdraw so I could grieve. Even though God took my life in a different direction, and I overflow with the abundant happiness He has restored to me, there are still moments when grief can overtake me as memories of my past come to mind. It’s during these times that I must focus on what God has given me, instead of what he has taken away. I often tell my younger five children that if David hadn’t died, Hannah, Matt, David, Josiah and Esther would have never have been born. David died at 3:00 in the afternoon, and interestingly, we had been awake 12 hours earlier at 3:00am. Neither of us could sleep, so we had been talking about the events of the previous day. His brother, Philip had just moved back to town, after having worked and lived in California for several years. Over the last month, I had been cooking dinner for David and Philip on Tuesday nights, and then, while they watched the girls, I’d go to a Bible Study Fellowship class I was taking. This particular night, he and Philip had been talking about Philip’s desire to be married. Philip would soon be 30 and because he was rather quiet, he had never had a serious relationship. Marriage had been so wonderful for us that we just kept trying to think of girls that might be good for Philip. We began talking about how hard it would be to have to go through the whole process of getting to know someone and deciding on if they would be a good match. David, just out of the blue said, “If anything ever happens to me, I’d want you to remarry”. Thinking something like this would be many years down the road, I simply replied that with girls and the way our society is I could never trust another man to step into our lives and become father to our daughters. I couldn’t live with myself if my daughters were harmed in someway by my selfish desires. He agreed, rolled over and went back to sleep, or so I thought, until suddenly he turned back over and said, “If Philip’s still single, marry him”. Philip and David (holding Stephanie), a few months before he died

Did David have some premonition about what was going to happen? I don’t think so. Just a week earlier, because of financial tightness, he had canceled the automatic payoff on our house to help cut down on our premiums. This is something he never would have done if he had thought anything would actually happen to him in the near future. He was the sort of guy who was always trying to find ways to protect and provide for me and the girls. He was simply thinking through solutions in case he did die. God inspired these words of David’s, as later on you will see, to help me move on with my life after his death.
The day of David’s death, Philip had taken a young lady out for lunch. After he had taken her home, he thought to himself, that this girl had possibilities. But as soon as he returned home, he had a call that David was dead. He says that on the way to the hospital, he thought of the girls and me, and knew what plans the Lord had for him. Sometime, after everything had settled down, he approached me, and told me that he wanted to help me take care of the girls. Thinking he meant in an uncle sort of way, I graciously said, “Sure that would be great”. But then, realizing I had missed his intent, he said, “No, you don’t understand. When you’re through grieving, I want to marry you.” My shock was evident and I simply said, “Philip, no one marries me out of pity.” Over the months that followed, I began to see that it was more than just pity, and that he truly did care for the girls and me. One of Philip’s friends, after David died, asked me why Philip and I hadn’t gotten together yet? After sharing how I thought he just felt sorry for me, he began telling me of countless times in the past when he’d tried to match Philip up with girls and Philip would say, “She’s not my kind of girl.” After hearing this over and over, this friend asked, “Ok then, what type of girl are you looking for?” He said Philip simply replied, “A girl like Melissa, who will make a great mother and wife.” After hearing this, my heart melted. I remembered David’s last words to me and shortly after on November 11, 1988, Philip and I were married.

My flower girls with their cousin, Erik

This November, Philip and I will celebrate our twentieth year of marriage. These have been glorious years filled with beautiful memories. The first few were spent with Philip comforting his brother’s wife and children, and then going on to have five more of his own.

David (11), Esther (8), Matthew (13), Hannah (15), and Josiah (10) in 2006

He has never shown partiality, and David’s daughters have grown into beautiful young women who hold Philip with the highest esteem.

Stephanie, Christie, and Heather

His dedication to the girls and me as well as each of the children we’ve had together, has demonstrated valor worthy of all medals. Living in a society that’s so focused on personal pleasure, I have observed so many young men selfishly consumed with themselves. Philip was a handsome, athletic man who could have had his pick of all the beautiful, single girls out there. Yet, he chose to sacrifice his own dreams and become a ready- made father of three. I could have searched the world over and never found a more suitable, wonderful husband and father for my children. Thank you, David, for not only laying your life down, but also for seeing the wonderful qualities in your brother. I will close by saying that because of the sacrifice of two men, my happiness has been complete.


Look how our family has grown!


shalana said...

What a powerful and beautiful testimony of God's grace and love. Thanks for sharing it. Congratulations (a little late) on 20 yrs.!)

cali2carolina said...

What a beautiful testimony! Thank you for sharing and God bless you all. Hoping to come to the dance! :-) Stacey in Raleigh

Jules said...

I've just followed a link from Christy's blog and I have to tell you that I'm now sitting here with tears in my eyes. What a wonderful story of love and sacrifice. You are indeed blessed among women.

Maggie said...

Wow, I have been truly blessed reading this wonderful love story. Thank you so much for sharing your heart's deepest thoughts on this subject. I have enjoyed spending time with you in the past and think you are a very special lady. I hope my children will grow up and be blessed like your older ones have grown up and have been blessed with wonderful families of their own. It takes a lot of hard work but the blessings that come from bringing up the children in the fear of the Lord make it all worth the effort. May God continue to bless you and make you a light in this dark world.

Love ya.
Maggie Gheorghies (Christi's Romanian Friend :)))

Lhoyt said...

I just stumbled upon your testimony serendipitously while reading Christy's tale of the trip she and Isaac made to the land of my maternal ancestors,Switzerland.
Of course, few people have the exciting story you have,but as the father of a very young widow, whon led her good friend, who later became her husband, to the Lord, I would be overwhelmed with joy if the Lord were to provide her with a wonderful second husband. Thank you so much for sharing this.

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