I met Mary at the park early in 2012. She was pushing her youngest on the swing next to where I was pushing mine. We had just recently moved to our town to plant a new church, so I was hungry to meet people and invite them into my life. Mary and I made small talk about our kiddos and realized that our sons were in the same preschool class. I was elated! Now I had a friend... well, at least someone I knew I would see regularly in the pick up line. I would call us friends, even if she didn't!
We continued chatting, and I asked questions, as I do, because I wanted to know her story. Turned out that this was her first time out of the house with her three kiddos since her husband had passed about a month prior to our meeting. He left for the bank and never came home. Looking back Mary says, "His death was unexpected and tragic, and the grief set in immediately." I was speechless. No words. We pushed our littles as she shared more pieces of the story. She prayed that God would redeem some of the pain, but wasn't sure he would this side of eternity. She was hurting in the deepest way, trying to process the pain, trying to understand how God was good in this.
I never questioned whether or not that was a meeting set up by God. I loved her from that moment on. We did actually become dear friends, and as our lives have connected over the years, I have found great joy and encouragement in our friendship.
Almost three years later, Facebook reconnected her with Geno, an acquaintance from college. Fifteen years had passed since they'd seen each other. They met up and talked about all that had happened in each of their lives since then. She did her best to scare him off that night, but he responded with humor and grace. He was patient with her as she tried to trust God with her heartache, and understanding when she wanted to run for the hills to protect her heart and the hearts of her children from more pain. He was patient, never rushing her. Seven months later, Mary was ready to give him her heart, when her world stopped once more.
In February of 2016, Mary was diagnosed with malignant melanoma following a surgery to remove a large tumor from her liver. Three weeks later she started immunotherapy treatments to help her body fight the cancer.
"I'd seen God's faithfulness in even scarier circumstances before, but I always felt like I could carry the weight, the burden, with God's help. This was different. I was the one down for the count. I was fatigued, sick, scared to death, and just so overwhelmed." The kids were anxious and struggling with their mom being in and out of the hospital. This was hard. During this season, Mary gave Geno ample opportunity to politely bow out of this situation. She thought it might just be too much to ask anyone to step into.
Geno just stuck around for all of it. He was a rock for Mary in this time of unknown. He wasn't afraid. He helped with the kids, took Mary to appointments, and continually reassured her that he wasn't going anywhere. On her worst day, Geno never wavered. He loved her selflessly.
Soon after Mary got her first "all clear" from the doctor, on Christmas Eve, Geno proposed. Mary most happily said yes!
"What evidence of God's faithfulness to me! And the most precious thing in the middle of our love story is that he also chose each one of the kids."
Geno has very gently and slowly taken each of them in. He has willingly stepped into the role in front of him, never trying to replace the kids' daddy, but reassuring them that he would be here for them, to help them, since their daddy wasn't anymore.
Mary and Geno saw no reason to wait long to get married! They were ready. With the loving prayers and support of their families, they said their beautiful vows underneath towering cottonwood trees on a cloudy Sunday afternoon in February. I, for one, was honored to be there to witness the day. It was perfect, just the way it needed to be. And so beautiful. Our hearts rejoice at this piece of redemption that God has brought to Mary and the kids, through Geno. What kindness. What love.
My heart is moved by this story. As I read and reread it, I am struck by how clearly it displays the gospel, and the way that our loving God pursues our hearts. He is patient with our fear and hesitations and need to try to figure this out on our own, just as Geno was with Mary. He could have walked away. Many would have. His life most certainly would have been simpler. Not better, but definitely easier. Geno loved her, so he willingly took the hard with the amazing.
Jesus loves us, so he willingly laid down his life, to give us a life that hopes, that knows real, unconditional love. We don't all get to see redemption on this side of eternity, but for those whose hope is in Jesus, all of our hurts and struggles will be redeemed.
Vaneetha Rendall Risner has published a beautiful book called The Scars that have Shaped Me. In it, she says, "Heaven will change everything. Things may or may not get better for us in this life, but one day, one glorious day, everything will be made new. One day, in the blink of an eye, it will all be changed."
Romans 8:18 says, "I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us." Vaneetha comments, "Paul knew that this life alone would never be able to balance the scales of suffering. But it was never meant to. We were made for heaven, for eternal life. Looking at this life in the context of heaven is the only way to make sense of suffering. Let alone make up for it."
Thank you, Mary and Geno, for letting us in on your story. Your perseverance and faith encourage my own, and I am glad to know you. I know the brokenness you have tasted in this life have created in you a deep longing for heaven, for everything to be made right. By God's grace, you have suffered well.
(And if you are wondering, Mary is still undergoing treatment every 3 weeks, and her prognosis is really good. Will you pray for God's grace in their marriage and for healing right now?)