I first attended the Summit (Evangelical Free Church of America) in January of 2012, just 2 months after being delivered from my 12 years in captivity. My good friend Jessica Gambill and her family attended there and I finally decided to go with her to church. I’d finished 2 months of intensive counseling and was ready for the next step. They started a 13 week session on Emotional Healthy Spirituality and it seemed to be just what I needed for the next step of my healing after so many years in a toxic church.
Ross would preach about the study topic for the week each Sunday. I can remember sitting there in church and listening to him preach. I’d think to myself, “Lord, can I please have a husband like that some day?” He loved God, was authentic, humble, sensitive, not afraid to admit his faults, and did not have wandering eyes. He loved his wife and family and he loved his flock.
In May of 2012 while all the men were at Trout Bums, I attended a get together of some women in the church. Ross’s wife, Cathy, was there, and about an hour into the evening she said to me “You know, Athena, I told Ross if anything ever happens to me, he needs to marry you!” Needless to say that totally freaked me out and plenty of mind games ensued (does he know that she told me that? Etc., etc.) I found myself distancing myself just because I didn’t know what to do with that information.
Not long after that I got interested in a widower from Colorado and spent the next 6 months waiting and wondering if anything would develop, which it did not…but it’s interesting how God allowed that distraction to keep me busy with other interests so I didn’t think about Cathy’s comment.
Then in November the Lord took me down to Texas to help my brother with our 90 year old Momma who was on hospice. For the 14 months I was there I experienced more healing, bonding with my older brother, and ended up with a radio ministry. On a few occasions I tried online dating and God just shut me down every time. I whined and complained that I’d been single for 14 years and let God know in no uncertain terms that I was ready for a husband! I had no interest in dating unless it was someone I would be interested in marrying. So I waited, and I waited. No dates. No nothing. Intermittent whining to God.
Last summer I reconnected with an old author friend and we had a great friendship. I thought maybe God wanted me to wait for him while he healed from a traumatic end to his marriage of three decades. (see my post entitled “Speed Bumps, Benches and Trees, Oh My!” for a better idea of my struggles with waiting!) This gave me something to look forward to, and I was committed to waiting, thinking that this was God’s plan. I was so committed, in fact, that when I heard the news that Ross’s wife had passed away I freaked out thinking that was a distraction to what God was asking me to do…wait for my friend. So, I decided I needed to draw a line in the sand and let Ross know that I wasn’t available. I wrote him a letter addressing the “elephant in the room” with what Cathy said to him and to me and let him know I felt God wanted me to wait for my friend. His response was gracious. He made sure to let me know he did not find the thought of being married to me unpleasant, and that he wanted to make sure we stayed friends in the future.
By the end of the year God was helping me to see how much I had tried to make this other relationship happen, and I spent the entire New Years’ Eve repenting for idolatry, for pursuing, for assuming I knew what God was doing. I told the Lord, if this is not the man You have for me, then I surrender my will and what I thought my future was going to be like, and I say HAVE YOUR WAY, LORD.
On January 8th I land in the ER and end up having my gallbladder removed. While in the hospital, WinePress announces on their website that they are closing their doors. Two days later the question is posed…would I be willing to return to Washington to start a company to help all the orphaned WinePress authors?
I’d been telling God for 14 months that I was NOT returning to Washington…too many reminders of the trauma and the loss and the abuse I’d endured, so when the question came I was a little taken aback. I committed to pray and ask for Godly counsel from my family and others I knew I could trust. All responses were positive, and on January 14 I felt confident that this was God’s will. (You can listen to the podcast of my Always Faithful radio show from February 1 where I told the story of how this all played out).
I had already purchased roundtrip tickets to come to CA and WA to visit grandkids, and all of I sudden I am realizing that I wouldn’t be using the return ticket. As I prayed through the transition to Washington I felt compelled to try to stay under my Commission to Every Nation banner and expand my radio ministry to include publishing. In order to do so, I had to explain my plans to CTEN and my pastoral care couple and see if they would approve it. They asked who I would be accountable to, who would be my pastor and where I would worship. Well, of course I would go back to the Summit…that was my church, and I was returning to Enumclaw to live and work in the same building that used to be mine. My pastoral care couple called Ross and asked him many questions…could I meet with him weekly, and would he be my overseer? He was happy to oblige, and I began to wonder what God was up to!
As my time to travel back to WA drew closer, communication by messaging on Facebook increased, and just before I left on the 23rd of January Ross told me he was glad I was coming back to WA and asked me to call him some evening since he now has so much free time on his hands. This really sent me into a tizzy! He was pursuing me! That was one of the things on my list of what I wanted in a man…if it was really the man God had for me, he would pursue me, not the other way around. I finally got up the nerve to call him while I was traveling to CA and sitting in the Sacramento airport waiting for my shuttle to Redding.
That phone call was a defining moment. Within the first 5 minutes he asked to take me out. My first date in 14 years! And from there we both asked questions to see if each other fit the requirements we each had on our “list”. It didn’t take long to find out each non-negotiable on our lists were checked and confirmed. It was quickly proving to be a perfect match.
Ross picked me up at the airport when I arrived in Washington on January 27. Walking off the concourse and into his arms felt like coming home. We talked for hours and I was stunned at many of the facts I discovered. I found out that Cathy had made a list of potential wives once she knew her cancer was terminal. And who was #1 on the list? Yep. I was. And guess what else? Ross had a sailboat for about 14 years, and when he bought it, the name was, yes, you guessed it…The Athena. He changed the name of the boat, but the curtains on the inside still have Athena embroidered on each one of them…what a hoot!
I also found out that if God hadn’t taken me to Texas, and I was still a member of The Summit, he wouldn’t have been able to date me. There’s an unwritten rule in the church world that pastors don’t date in the congregation because of the tension in causes between people. God took me away and brought me back right at the right time… amazing!
I look back and see that on September 5 my daughter wrote me an email saying that God was releasing the word Marriage to me and is sending me my match made in heaven. I thought it was referring to my friend that I was waiting for, but in reality it was all about Ross and I, but I couldn’t see it. Turns out that word from the Lord through Roby was right after they realized the chemo wasn’t working, and she passed just 25 days later. While God was bringing me to a place of realizing that I’d been trying to make this other relationship happen, Ross was asking God to send him a wife because he didn’t want to spend the summer alone. He even began telling his staff that he was going to get married…he just didn’t know who to yet! All that was going on while I was realizing I was in sin and needed to repent.
There’s so much more to share, but this is the basic timeline of events and a testimony, once again, to God’s faithfulness. We knew pretty quickly that this was it, what we’d both been looking for and dreaming of in a relationship. It just blew my mind that every single line item on our individual lists of what we wanted in a mate got a resounding “check” … God really was blessing me for being willing to wait for the right guy and Ross for being faithful and true for 49 years of marriage.
It was important to wait to announce it to the church family until Ross’s adult children felt good about his decision. That’s definitely the bittersweet part. The kids and grandkids suffered a huge loss, which enabled me to experience great gain. Ross didn’t want to rush them and encouraged each of them to process their own grief in a way that would be authentic. Once that was moving forward and they were all supportive of their dad’s decision, we announced it to the church family on the weekend of March 15 & 16 that our marriage date is set for June 13. While Ross had grieved ever since June of 2013 when the diagnosis first came, there were still a few women in the congregation who felt he was too easily replacing his wife of 49 years. I was so amazed at the analogy God gave Ross to share on that day. He recalled the time when Cathy found out she was pregnant with their second child and was overly emotional. She could not see how she could possibly love another child as much as she loved her firstborn, Bret. But, as time went on, she not only loved Thad well, but Nathan and Elizabeth too. She found she had the capacity to love each child as an individual without taking away any of the love for the others. And just the same with me, Ross’s love for me in no way diminishes the love he had for Cathy for 49 years of marriage.
As I read over all that has happened in such a short time, I stand amazed at the faithfulness of God. In fact, a good friend told me she’d been sharing my story with some ladies, and just how evident God’s blessing is for my being willing to repent and obey His call. She said I’m only the second woman in her life who she knows who walked away from the wrong guy to really get God’s choice. I am SO glad I did…so glad He gave me a tender enough heart to lay down what I thought was His will and surrender all my plans in exchange for His. I am, literally, stunned by the goodness of God!
Update as of April, 2015 – What? Me? A Pastor’s Wife?!