CHAPTER 1 (Ben’s words in BOLD.)
When I was a little girl, I met a cute, blonde-haired boy on the playground who would someday become the father of my children, my best friend, my hand to hold, my shoulder to cry on, my embrace to find comfort in and my better half. Here is our story of an elementary romance, jail time, unspeakable losses, God’s provision, redemption and the body of Christ. A story that is so laced with Grace only an Amazing God could have so beautifully orchestrated it. All the glory belongs to Him.
I first met Ben when we were in elementary school. We attended a small, Christian school in Cadillac, Michigan where he was two grades ahead of me. I was the new girl at school, having just moved to town. He says that the first time he saw me he thought I was really pretty. He became my first little boyfriend. (You know how it is in elementary school, you are “going out” but you rarely ever even talk to each other and there is a whole lot of giggling involved.)
Being at a small, Christian school our families knew each other well and God was knitting us together even then. However, this elementary romance ended when Ben’s family left for public school when he was starting 7th grade.
Our lives took entirely different paths at this point. I attended the Christian School through 10th grade, was home schooled in 11th grade while I attended a vocational school half days, and graduated from public school before heading to a university to pursue a degree in Graphic Design.
I grew up in a loving Christian home with lots of “religious influence”. I went to a Christian school and attended church functions all the time. I thought I had a “relationship with God”, you know with memorizing so much scripture and being such a frequent churchgoer. My family left the Christian school and church behind after I had completed my sixth grade year and we joined the ranks of public education. I really started to hang with the wrong crowd in high school and we did a lot of partying and drinking. It was all about me at this phase in my life. I saw no need for God in my life.
My relationship with the Lord has always been a big part of my life and I have been on a faith journey since accepting Christ as my savior when I was seven years old. In my school-age years, he taught me and grew me through experiences such as a back surgery when I was 15, a boyfriend who broke my heart, a volunteer position at a local pregnancy resource center, friends who faithfully encouraged my walk with the Lord and a family who loves God. I am so thankful for this foundation, because when the storms arise, it’s imperative to have that foundation secure. I didn’t have the slightest clue how stormy it was going to get.
After high school I joined the Marines and continued to party. I was involved in such risky behavior, I should have been dead. But, God showed extravagant grace to spare my life time and time again. After boot camp, I had what most people would think was a wake-up call. I partied so much and, while intoxicated, ran someone over with my truck. God was watching out for me by not allowing the guy to be injured or worse killed, but I didn’t appreciate this grace until much later in life. Not only did I not harm the guy, I was allowed to continue a somewhat normal life without any jail time.
We lived in the same, small town, so Ben and I would run into each other from time to time or our families would see each other around town. However, we had pretty much no real contact until one weekend in the fall of 2001 when I was home from college. My dad handed me an envelope that had arrived for me, hand addressed with a stamp in bold, red ink, “Mail originating from Manistee County Jail. Not responsible for content.” That seemed strange. I definitely didn’t know anyone who would be sending me mail from jail! Lo and behold, it was a letter from my long-lost, elementary friend, Ben. I hadn’t heard from him in years! I didn’t even know what he’d been up to. No good apparently! His letter was short and sweet. It was just an effort to reconnect, a yearning for friendship, a stab in the dark for a listening ear. Ben had been sitting in jail for quite some time and, quite frankly, had exhausted his list of family and friends to write letters to as he grasped for ways to pass the time.
Once again, I had taken my life into my own hands and got into drugs in the Marines. I failed a random drug test and this caused me to get kicked out and put in jail for 165 days. While in jail, I wrote letters to everyone I knew, with no responses, until I decided to write a girl I knew in elementary school named Stephanie. Much to my surprise she wrote back very frequently. This was just another undeserved grace that God was giving me, but I still wasn’t seeing it.
This was the beginning of an interesting relationship via handwritten letters and good, old-fashioned snail mail. Letters were exchanged daily as we opened our lives back up to each other. We caught up on the years we missed, shared dreams and confessed sins and struggles. Ben had been raised in a Christian family but had walked away from the Lord entirely. He was not associated with any Christian friends and he wasn’t a part of a church. A sweet pastor from our hometown reached out to him and faithfully visited him while he was in jail. Ben’s heart was softening toward the Lord and he clearly indicated his feelings for me were getting serious. I went with his parents a couple times to visit him in jail and we maintained a friendship across the miles. I was taking classes and working at my studies, but my heart became more and more focused on the mailbox and anxiously anticipating the letters from him, which arrived almost daily. Eventually, Ben was transferred to another jail, then to a transition house, then to his parents’ house on phone tether. All the while, we maintained letters and eventually phone calls and visits. He had won my heart.
After my jail time, and about a year of dating Stephanie, we got married. Stephanie is a very godly woman that I have learned to appreciate more and more through the trials we have been through together.