Wednesday, January 18, 2012

A covered dish, an empty chair and a broken arm

After several relationships and some real craziness in this single girl's life, I decided that with the cancer diagnosis I had more than enough on my plate without complicating it by being in a relationship. To be completely honest with you, I was really enjoying being single.

For the first time in my life, I did what I wanted to do when I wanted to do it. If I didn't feel like cleaning the house, I didn't. If I didn't feel like cooking dinner, I didn't. This was the first time in my adult life that it was all about me. For the first time in over forty years, I was getting my nails done, going tanning, joined the gym and was beginning to really like the lifestyle I found myself living.

For the past twenty plus years without even knowing it, I had adopted a martyr's mentality. I thought if I put everyone else's needs before my own that made me a better person. In my singleness I was beginning to realize that everything has to be kept in check and balance. It wasn't healthy to put everyone before myself and it wasn't healthy to make it all about me either. So I was learning how to balance this tightrope called life and let God show me how to successfully maneuver through my singleness.

Me and kitty just did our own thing and were quite content with this stage of life. The girls at work however were not impressed with my decision to remain single. Day after day... after day... they prodded me to go with them to the single's events. And event after event I dodged the bullet. But finally they wore me down and I told them I would go to the Single's Picnic. “I'm only going to one event!” I demanded. “Then you've got to stop bugging me.” They agreed and I reluctantly signed up for the picnic.

A few days before the picnic I had been canoeing with a friend. We flipped the canoe and landed in the river. On the way over the side of the canoe I managed to break my arm. So picture this single girl attending her first single's event, stumbling across the lawn with a casserole balanced precariously on her cast. The cast was my excuse to exit the picnic early. My plan was to smile politely, sit for about an hour and then take my wounded self home. It sounded completely reasonable to me.

As I approached the back porch, I was shocked at how many men and women were actually there. Stepping past a man sitting on the steps, my anxiety level began to rise. What in the world was I doing here? How did I ever let those girls talk me into this?

I knew very few of the women and even less of the men. My eyes glanced around the crowd and before I knew it I was actually enjoying watching people. There was one desperate girl there who had me howling with laughter inside. She was working those men over big time. She had all of their attention. All but one.

The man sitting on the bottom step when I arrived was still sitting there quietly watching the same charades I was watching. Trying not to be obvious, I would glance in his direction to see if I could figure him out. He had very kind eyes and a great smile. Whenever he spoke I tried desperately to hear what he was saying. When I caught myself I thought, “What are you doing? You've finally got all your ducks in a row. He could mess up everything!”

As I sat in a big blue lawn chair just enjoying the show, everyone decided to go sit by the bonfire. When I stood, I wasn't certain whose chair I had been sitting in and was embarrassed I had forgotten to bring my own. The man with the kind eyes came over and said “Hi. I'm Joe. That's my chair but you can sit in it. Would you like me to carry it to the fire for you.”

Ms. Independence wanted to snap back “No! I'll get it myself!” But it was obvious that me and my pathetic cast needed help. So I simply smiled and followed him to the fire. Once he had me situated by the fire, he sat on a log beside me. My heart was pounding and I didn't want to have a conversation with anyone especially not this Joe guy. He talked with everyone around him and I really enjoyed listening to his conversations. Then without warning, he turned to me and tried to strike up a conversation. This anti-social, terrified, single girl (who looked so confident on the outside) did everything within her power avoid his attention. It was only a few moments when I let everyone know that my arm was beginning to bother me and I was going to go home.

Joe immediately got up, went and found my casserole dish and walked me to my car. I quickly threw all of my belongings in the trunk of my car, thanked him for his help and sped down the driveway to freedom. I could not wait to get out of that uncomfortable situation and get back to the safety of my little home and my little kitty.

Finally tucked into bed I began thinking. “I wonder what he's really like. I wonder what his story is. I wonder if he's really as nice as he seems. I wonder...” Then I would scold myself for thinking about him and forced myself to fall asleep.

For days I caught myself thinking about this mysterious Joe Lantini. Every time I did I would scold myself again and turn my thoughts in a different direction. After a couple of weeks, I was really upset that he hadn't called. After all I work at the church. He knows that. All he has to do is call the church and ask for me. Why isn't he calling. Wasn't he interested in getting to know me? Why was I so interested in getting to know him then? Stop it! Move on! Single life is the best!

Three months later our singles group was planning another event. This time they were going on a romantic riverboat excursion featuring sightseeing, dinner and specialty entertainment. Would he invite me to go? Would he take someone else? Why am I torturing myself this way? He probably hasn't thought of me once in the past three months. I mean "come on" it's been three months!

One Sunday morning as I was getting dressed to go to church, I was looking in the mirror thinking about this Joe guy again. Should I go to the cruise and hope to meet him there? Should I see if he's signed up to go? Should I just ask him? No. Definitely not that. That's way too bold.

So I said “Lord. If You put him in front of me I'll ask if he's going. But You've gotta put him right in my face.” After first service I had to grab some music before second service started. So I went sprinting up the center aisle and without thinking threw open the double doors.

Guess who I just about knocked out with the double doors. You got it. That Joe Lantini guy. I could feel the heat in my face as I apologized for almost knocking him over. He smiled and said “Hey. I was going to ask if you are going on the Gateway Clipper.” And before I knew what was happening, a giggly-squeaky little voice came blaring out of my mouth saying, “I'll go if you are!”

Again, the heat in my face got more intense. What is wrong with me? Why am I acting so desperate? I thought I liked being single. What in the world is going on with me?

The long and short of it... we went to the Gateway Clipper with a van full of others but for four hours it was just the two of us. We talked non-stop and laughed like there was no one else around. We stood on the deck and tried desperately to find something we had in common. The only thing we found we had in common was God.

Joe had just graduated from Teen Challenge a year earlier after being an alcoholic and drug addict for thirty years. As he shared his story with me, my mind kept screaming “What are you doing? Why aren't you running?” I couldn't believe some of the things he had been through and some of the things he had experienced. I couldn't believe he was being so open. I couldn't believe I wasn't scared to death. Why was I so enamored by this man and where did I really think this relationship was going to end up?

Joe and I couldn't have come from more opposite lives. He had experienced so much destruction and devastation caused by his choices and addictions. I had been a Christian for over twenty-five years. I lived a cushy life at home as a child and had everything I needed handed to me. Married at age nineteen, althought my divorce was tough but my marriage of twenty years was also pretty cushy. Up until the last five years or so, I lived the Hallmark dream in the little house with a white picket fence and 2.5 children.

The evening ended far too quickly but I was certain Joe would call. Days passed. Weeks passed. Months passed and again I lie in bed thinking about this man and hating him for not calling. Was he playing with my emotions? What was his deal?

Finally I decided to call the Teen Challenge director who happened to be a good friend of mine. As I was dialing his number I was saying to myself “If Kevin says even one bad thing about Joe I will never think of him (or speak his name) again.”

After stammering around for several minutes, I finally blurted out that I wanted to know what Kevin knew about this Joe Lantini guy. Immediately, Kevin started laughing and teasing. What in the world made me think this was a good idea? Gosh I wish I hadn't called him!

Kevin had nothing but good to say about Joe. He told me all about his past and his journey through Teen Challenge. He told how honest and transparent Joe is and before hanging up Kevin said, “Hey! Don't forget... I do weddings” and he began laughing. I hung up the phone and never even said goodbye. Well, now what? I can't find anything bad about a man who won't even call me.

A few weeks later, I went to a Teen Challenge banquet with another man. We had gone to the Teen Challenge banquets for several years together. It was our annual date night. I felt safe in that relationship because I knew it wasn't going anywhere and we just had a lot of fun together.

Toward the end of the evening Joe came up to me and asked, “Can I call you sometime?” Finally. I said 'yes' and the rest is history. Eight months and several confirmations from God later, I was Mrs. Joseph J. Lantini Jr.

Kevin did our wedding and to this day teases me about that phone call. I had no intentions of ever remarrying. I was content being single. Or at least that's what I was trying to convince myself. But God had a plan and it was a good plan.

Here we are many years later and I don't know how I would have ever gotten this far without him. We've had our moments and it's not always been easy. But we both know that it was God Who brought us together and He will continue to unfold His plan as we continue to walk out our destinies together.

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