Twenty years ago today, I wrapped myself in satin, lace, and bows and made myself a birthday present — a bride for Steve Dagen on his birthday. With that “I do,” I changed my status from widow to wife and childless to child-full. I became an instant mother of four children, 9, 8, 5, and 3. I had no idea what I was doing.
But even now, when I look back, I have to say that ours was a match made in heaven. I’m not saying it was a bed of roses (unless you refer to the thorns). Often marriage and motherhood seemed difficult at best, and I thought God had had no idea what He was doing — or I that had completely misread His cues. (I don’t mean to suggest we don’t have free will, but I will say a lot of “coincidences” led Steve and I together.) God seemed the ultimate matchmaker. Our back story seems orchestrated completely by him.
In 1991, after slightly more than two years of marriage, I found myself a widow. My beloved 25-year-old Bill died suddenly following complications from ulcer surgery. Before he died, however, he told me that if anything happened to him, he wanted me to marry again. (Being slightly more selfish, I did not return the favor.) I couldn’t imagine losing Bill, and I couldn’t imagine loving someone other than Bill. My imagination was short-sighted; both came to pass.
Because Bill and I lived in a not-so-nice apartment and section of town, friends of mine invited me to live in their spare room until another apartment situation opened for me. While I was living there, among their three children who knew Bill, I was forced to grieve “out loud,” as it were, answering questions such as “Is Mr. Bill in heaven?” and “Is Mr. Bill watching us right now?” It was painful but good. My friends and church family rallied around me, and one day my friend Becky visited, bringing me a cassette tape of music she thought I would find soothing. I still remember walking her to her car that day as she left, when she asked me to pray for her friend’s husband and four children; the woman was dying of melanoma. I didn’t remember the name, but I did remember to pray for “that man with the four kids.”(I later knew that name as well as my own. 🙂 )
Near what would have been my third anniversary with Bill, my first one without him, I wrote a column in the local newspaper, where I worked, along the lines of “It is better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all,” in which I shared the heartache of losing my spouse but believed it was better than to have never had that love with him, even for so short, too short, a time. Unbeknownst to me, Steve read that column and almost called me. He was the man with four children who was losing his wife to melanoma, and my words connected to his experience. He didn’t call, but he did begin following my byline in the newspaper. That is all.
Life went on. I surprised myself by dating and falling in love and desiring to married. I just happened to fall in love with Mr. Wonderful who was also Mr. I Won’t Commit. I knew what I wanted, and it wasn’t dating forever without hope for marriage. I ended that. A couple of months later, a friend introduced me to his friend — a bodybuilder who talked to me about this thing called the Internet and how it would transform shopping. That, too, was beyond my imagination, and I ended that. I worked with a man who I could picture loving — and he moved away. And then my pastor tried to set me up with someone who had admired me from a distance at church. He invited me — and then my roommate, so it would be less awkward — to his house for Easter dinner, where he also invited this young man. Ultimately, my pastor did set this man up — with my roommate.
Timing is everything, right? So on a Saturday night, my roommate and I organized a singles’ group outing to view the movie “Forrest Gump.” We drove separately so I could give a ride to a man with cerebral palsy. Rather than Barb beating me home, I arrived and waited hours before she finally returned home, in tears. After the movie, my pastor’s friend from Easter dinner had confessed his love for my roommate. She cried; I cried. She felt terrible, but I certainly wouldn’t do anything except encourage their love relationship. It was painful just the same.
Even at church the next morning, I was tearful. I felt God had taken away every potential man, and I was anticipating living single forevermore. I recommitted myself to Him and asked Him to take away my desire for marriage and to help me be satisfied with Him as my bridegroom. I felt peace.
That afternoon, my friend Becky called and asked “Would you be willing to date a man with four kids?”
She had met Steve at the local swimming pool and conversed about dating.
“Do you know Sara Olson?” Becky asked him.
“Does she write for the newspaper?” he queried.
Their conversation ended with Steve suggesting that Becky ask me if I would be willing — because, really, what were the chances that a single woman would be willing to take on a man and his four children?
Perhaps one who had just dedicated her love life to God and found the timing of this call anything but accidental. I still think it all points to God — including the fact that twenty years later we are still together and still in love.
A few weeks ago, we were in Seattle attending the wedding of my nephew. While there, we both had moments when we saw each other at our worst, and, yet, at the wedding reception, I turned to my husband and told him I would say “I do” all over again. Crazy as it sounds, I would. (I probably still have no idea what I am doing.)
P.S. That Mr. Wonderful who was also Mr. I Won’t Commit? He went to another country, met a woman, and proposed within a week.
P.P.S. The bodybuilder who predicted the Internet? I lost track of him, but he was definitely Mr. Right — at least in his forecast of this worldwide web.
P.P.P.S. My colleague who moved away? He never moved back and never knew my disappointment. I got over it.
P.P.P.P.S. The man who my pastor inadvertently set up with my roommate? He married her, and they are living happily ever after.
As am I.
And P.P.P.P.P.S.? The story that follows that back story is titled “A mere nineteen years ago…“