I cannot recall what she wore that day, but I will never forget her eyes. The replay in my mind runs in slow motion as they widened, an involuntary reflex from Rachael’s realization that the person whose name she mentioned in a conversation 30 seconds earlier was now walking toward her. She intuited what was indeed a most remarkable providence, one without which we might never have crossed paths and without which we would not be celebrating 10 years of marriage today. Please indulge my brief exultation in the sheer mathematical improbability of this encounter.
At the time I was ministering in a West Virginia church plant. There was a 1 in 5 chance that we would take a group people from our church to Fayetteville, GA to celebrate the 20th anniversary of our planting-church’s pastor. There was a 1 in 250 chance that a well-known Southern Baptist speaker–who had been highly influential in this pastor’s life–would be available to fly into town to speak at the celebration service. There was a 1 in 600 chance that I would get an opportunity not only to talk with the speaker but to be asked to give him a ride back to his hotel. And, the kicker, there was a 1 in 1,000 chance that he would, after knowing me for less than an hour, ask me to accompany him on a speaking tour in Alabama a month later. On that trip we had a window of 4 hours on the campus of my college alma mater. When I went to the music school to visit my beloved piano professor, there was a 1 in 3 chance that he would not be in his office and, if I may be conservative, a 1 in 10,000 chance that, when I turned the corner into the hallway after finding his door locked, I would be 10 feet away from someone who had mentioned my name in a conversation 30 seconds earlier. According to these numbers, there was a 1 in 22.5 trillion chance that I would encounter Rachael and, seeing the whites of her widened eyes, stop to have my first ever conversation with this classmate of 2 years.
Even if my calculations are off, the undeniable factor in our story is the providence of God–his loving, gracious intervention in our lives. Such providences permeated our relationship as it moved from friends e-mailing about theology to hearts falling in love to bride and groom making wedding vows on December 20th, 2003.
Calculating the odds that evidence the sovereign hand of God is a delight when we recount the happy stories like our “chance” initial conversation or our calling to Whitton Avenue Bible Church or the purchase of our dream house. But there are other events in our life together about which we are less eager to calculate the possibilities. What about the negative pregnancy tests that piled up month after month until they spelled out “infertility”? Or health issues that stretch us to the limits of our physical and emotional capacity? Or the squeeze of life and parenting and work and conflict that reveal that I am much more flawed than Rachael realized a decade ago?
These too, as it turns out, are part of God’s providence. God created marriage as an arena in which his image-bearers could experience a measure of the intimacy that has existed eternally among Father, Son, and Spirit. It is not the only relationship in which we experience intimacy, but certainly the most intentional and concentrated. As Rachael and I review the last 10 years, the circumstances that have deepened our intimacy the most have been those instances William Cowper dubbed “frowning providence[s]” behind which God “hides a smiling face.” God deepens our intimacy much more through sorrow, mourning, and repentance than the “we just won the lottery” moments.
So, by the sweet and bitter providences of God, I have tasted a rare delight this side of the new creation: being at home with another. It is still as imperfect and unglorified as I am, but with another decade of struggle and success, chaos and calm, trials and triumphs, I trust our hearts will become one flesh in ways more profound than I can imagine.
Happy anniversary, Rachael,