So I know I stoked some curiosity, back there, with January's final post... you know... concerning the "relationship"... And I've been intentional in not mentioning it since, up until now. I don't want to turn this into a soap opera. And I don't want to give anyone the impression that I'm any less in touch with what "living without Leslie" is, now that there is "another woman", than I was before. That being said, God is good. And to hide this story from view is to try to veil the goodness, grace, and providence of God... not that such a thing can be accomplished... But why keep a good thing from being known, right?
Katie's her name. Katie Umbaugh. Anna, her sister, was one of Leslie's dearest friends on earth, going back to when we lived in Indy. I've shared a bit in the past, on this blog, about this mysterious connection we've had with the Umbaugh family over the years. Another of the Umbaugh sisters, Sarah, went to Heaven a couple years ahead of Leslie, as a result of her own battle with cancer. So Leslie-- having "walked that road" with Anna at the time-- always had a special place in their family's collective heart, even before she herself was first diagnosed with cancer. And the Umbaugh family has always had a special place in our hearts, as well. Anna and her husband, Rob, have been great friends to us, and were wonderful hosts whenever Leslie and I would visit Indy to see family and friends. As Anna anticipated and experienced her first pregnancy, Leslie was experiencing young-motherhood. The two would talk about the future-- getting together on weekends and having the kids play. They were even starting to plant the seeds of an intricate scheme to get Rob and I to buy land together someday, so they could together enjoy having horses with their kids. (A love for horses was a common bond between Anna and Leslie) Those, obviously, were plans and dreams that were not a part of God's plan-- at least, not on this side of Heaven. Anna was giving birth to her first-born at almost exactly the same time Leslie was being wheeled into her first surgery, late in the summer of 2007. Leslie would never so much as get to see TJ and Will (Anna's son) play together.
As much as I'd come to know Anna over the years, I'd had very little opportunity to get to know her sisters. I knew there was a sister named Katie and another named Laura (although, to be completely honest, until last year, I didn't know which was which, names-and-faces), and there was Lydia, their adopted sister. And of course I remembered Sarah (we had her "anniversary" marked on our calendar in the kitchen, to remind Leslie to send Anna a note or give her a call... not that she would have needed reminding). But all I really knew about them was that they were Anna's sisters... I'd hear a story of Lydia getting married... Katie going to Africa... Laura getting married... But they were all just names and stories.
...Until the events of the past few months...
I have remained in close contact with Anna since about the time Leslie got sick enough that she was unable to talk on the phone due to the cancer which had spread to her lungs. Anna was always a wonderful friend and confidant to Leslie, and continued to be so, of course, as her battle took turn after turn for the worse. And Anna has become a wonderful friend and confidant to me, in Leslie's absence. I like to think we've been an encouragement to one another, as we have grown into life without Leslie, in our own ways. Anyway, through the course of our regular conversations, I remember Katie coming up in passing-- Anna would draw comparisons between how Katie and I would express certain thoughts... our hearts for God, and worship of Him, and so-on... But I never thought twice about it. Why would I?
After a couple of very hard months of heavy, paralyzing, depression-laced sorrow and grief, immediately following Leslie's death (see the posts on this blog from August and early September of last year)-- not to mention the months leading up to her death, as that is when the grieving process actually started, in my case-- God began doing an extraordinary work of healing in my life... Picking me up, dusting me off... starting the process of piecing my broken heart-- and life-- back together, according to His divine craftsmanship. (To avoid being redundant, I'll spare the details, here. You can read of this specific page of this "new chapter" in my life, as I recount it in a letter to my mom-in-law, in December's post, "Grieving With Gram".) Anyway... one day, sometime after God's beginning to work this miraculous healing in my heart, I was tinkering with the "analytics" application of this blog. (For those not-so-tech-savvy in the audience... there is a tracking mechanism on most websites that keeps record of general and non-personal data of the users of a website. I can tell how many people, for instance, have read the blog this week; what state they're logging in from; how long they spend on the site, on average; what search engine they found my site through; etc...) Anyway, the analytics were showing some traffic being generated from another blog with which I was unfamiliar-- people were linking over to my site from a blog that I didn't recognize. I entered the URL, and up popped Katie's blog. "AHA!" I thought to myself... "It's Anna's sister!" I read her very touching entry, there, about Leslie's memorial service... and Kate's then-terminally ill grandpa, from where people were linking to my "story"/blog. Deeply moved by what Katie wrote there, I continued reading the following posts... then some subsequent posts...
I eventually just went back to the beginning, started reading... And didn't stop. As it turns out, Katie began blogging a couple years ago, when, following God's calling, she up and moved to Kenya for a 5-month stint with a Christian ministry there called Tanari. My heart was just moved by how this woman cried out to God. How she reflected on losing Sarah, on the topic of worship, on seeking God's will and desiring to know His plan for her life, and so-on. Not to mention, I was just entertained by some of her stories of African adventures. When she returned to the States following her stint, she just continued blogging about what God was doing in her life. Funny how much you can get to know about a person, anonymously, through their blog, eh? :)
Upon my completion of the blog-version of the story of the last two years of this woman's life-- since she WAS, after all, my dear friend's sister-- I thought it appropriate to drop her a quick email and thank her for the encouragement, and to offer her some thoughts that were lingering in my mind and some truth that was on my heart, in response to her recent entries, in hopes she might be encouraged, as well. I honestly expected nothing more, in return, than a polite "thank you"... maybe, "I'm still praying for you and TJ..." or whatever...
Well... Katie was so moved by my words to her, that she wrote back, (but not without first going to sister Anna for "permission"), speaking directly into my own life... which then caused ME to respond... and so it began. We started emailing almost daily... then several times a day. Then, we began talking on the phone. (Our first phone call was the night her beloved grandpa died... She called me to tell me the news. We just prayed and cried together for about an hour. It was a beautifully bittersweet night.) We were just enjoying a new friendship. Enjoying God's blessing of encouragement we were receiving through each other. I was certainly not thinking "relationship". You long-time/ regular readers may (but probably don't) remember my "manna" references from that particular season of this "process"... "Manna" was my metaphor of how God was meeting my daily needs, in Leslie's absence. A call from a college buddy... A blog comment... a random hug from Dana or Mom... Or maybe just a miraculous sating of one desire or another, or a supernatural settling of "peace" on my soul... God was just showing up DAILY in my life to fill the void that Leslie had left, you know. Meanwhile, He was just capitalizing on my dependence on Him, just using me and teaching me so much every day. (And He has continued with this "symbiosis"-like dynamic in my life to this day.) Anyway, into October and November of last year, God began using Katie in some pretty cool ways... as "manna"... in my life. The really crazy thing was... God was using ME as manna in HER life, as well.
Conversation flowed with little or no effort between Katie and me. It's like we "spoke each other's language". We worshiped with the same song, metaphorically speaking. Much like how her sister and Leslie used to get along. At one point, I was explaining this phenomenon to Anna, "confessing" to her how much I was enjoying getting to know her sister. Anna's response was priceless-- "FINALLY! Somebody GETS Katie!" Katie and I began sharing our prayers with each other... our daily studies in scripture... we began challenging and encouraging one another. Yes, as she pointed out early on in our friendship, some of what drew us together was the "male-female" dynamic. But due to the fact that there was no direct physical/ "in-person" interaction between us, (and due to the fact that I was just so obviously "not ready" for a relationship, due to the newness of my "widowerhood"--yes I think I just made up a word), there wasn't the haze of romance or "sexual tension" clouding our minds, or our blocking the view of what God was doing in our lives. Bottom line-- our friendship was God-breathed, and Christ-centered, from the get-go.
As our phone- and email-based relationship began to grow in October and November, and into December, the idea of "what if..." started to form in both of our minds (and of course, due to our transparent honesty with each other, it found its way into our conversations). "What if, sometime down the road, you're still single, and I'm ready to consider 'dating' again...?" God began to reveal a lot through those conversations. We began to get into conversations that were prefaced by a silly little catch phrase... "I'm not sayin'... I'm just sayin'..." Basically... we weren't suggesting that indeed we WOULD find ourselves in a "commited romantic" relationship with each other some day, but, if by chance we DID find ourselves in that situation... You get the idea. We'd talk about what "moving on" looked like to me. We talked about what it would look like to her to be with a "single dad". We talked about TJ a ton. We talked about Leslie. My house. Her job. My in-laws. And so-on. They were difficult conversations, sometimes, but conversations that nonetheless needed to be had, by me, at least, as I considered the prospect of "dating" and eventually "remarrying" someday. And Katie was a "safe place" to begin to consider these things, because of the open-handed nature with which we were approaching (or accepting) the relationship. And at the end of each of these conversations, we'd end with the obligatory, "...but don't wait for me, Kate." "I won't, Ty." But secretly-- though not-so-discretely-- we both hoped... And we both took those hopes to The Throne every night in prayer, individually.
In December, as had been planned for some time, I spent the weekend in Indy, with some old friends there. Due to the fact that I was staying at Rob and Anna's house from Thursday through Sunday (I also had work to do in Indy that week), and the fact that Katie and her sisters had standing plans on Thursday nights at Anna's house, it so happened that Katie's and my paths were going to cross. We decided to take advantage of fate's opportunity (or Providence, perhaps), and made a coffee-date for Friday afternoon... which happened to morph into a full-out dinner date, mid-stream. From the moment I first saw her that weekend, I knew that God had something greater in store for Katie and me. Something came alive in me. A veil was lifted. There were "fireworks"... or whatever. And I watched in amazement, as TJ (who had joined me on the trip to see Anna and Robbie and "Baby Will") and she interacted-- TJ just latched onto her... and hasn't stopped talking about her since, to this day (not something I've provoked, in case you were wondering...). In those moments during my visit that weekend, with her, in the flesh, in the same room as me, I was becoming aware-- as unlikely and shocking as it is to admit, given things such as "timing" and "history" and etc...-- I had in fact begun falling in love with this woman, through the course of all the email reflections, phone prayers together, and "I'm not saying, I'm just saying..." conversations. And here she was, right in front of me.
Brings new meaning to the term, "love at first sight", doesn't it?
I was so surprised by all of this. "God... it's too soon...!" I'd pray. "I mean... really...???" But as I would pray, continually asking Him to "take her away", if it was His will-- to take these feelings away, or even put somebody or something else in her life that distracted her from me, unless this was truly of Him-- I began to realize that it was actually my flesh that was causing me to doubt what He was giving us. "What will people think?" That thought haunted me. And Katie certainly had her apprehensions and fears. This certainly couldn't be the relationship that God had desired for her, on which she was called to "wait"...?! Leslie's HUSBAND!? "What will people think?" She'd ask herself as well. But meanwhile, the more we prayed about it, giving each other up, the more sure we became, in the Spirit, that this was indeed "good".
Over the holidays, we started sharing the idea of this new "secret" relationship with our families, close friends, etc... little by little, as the opportunity would arise. (We had previously opened up to a couple of people in the name of "accountability" and prayer support-- a couple guys for me, some women for her, but were up to then reluctant to disclose the situation fully to family, etc...) And the more we shared our thoughts, fears, and feelings, and the more we told the story-- the more we asked friends for prayer and accountability-- the more confidence God gave us... that it was "okay"-- even more than that... that it was indeed "right" for us to pursue this thing. As I alluded in my prior post, Katie spent the time leading up to the New Year with TJ and me. It was a crazy couple of days-- the flooded house, TJ and her interacting more and just hitting it off and loving on each other, she and I spending New Year's Eve together-- truly an unplanned event until the moment was upon us. But as she drove back home to Indy on January 1, 2009, we were both at peace and in full acceptance of what we now had... we had each other. And it was good.
So, yes... it's "too soon". (but by whose standards?) Yes, we need to be careful not to "rush God's will". (but who am I to drag my feet?) Yes, it's complicated. But it is SO good. I'm learning so much. I'm so happy.
The crazy thing is... it's like I've never been here before. Not a moment goes by when I am not fully aware of the fact that I've "lost" Leslie. But it's not like I thought it would be, as I have now entered into the realm of a new relationship. God has provided... and He's given me a new heart, as it seems... Or rather, maybe he has simply taken the shattered pieces of my heart and reformed them into a new vessel. Whatever the case, everything is new. Yet, Leslie is the very foundation on which it is all being built-- I mean... all I am is the man she made me. It's so weird. So beautiful. So... "God".
And as for Katie... certainly there are hard parts. Hard days with "this". She loved and adored Leslie-- spent so much time in heart-rending prayer for our family and miraculous healing. She looked up to Leslie. And now... THIS... And TJ... Me, with all my "baggage", as they say... Yet, it was Katie herself who offered the touching bit of encouragement, several months ago, as I began to conisder what it was to "move on"... as my heart began to consider "life after Leslie":
I know that whoever God has coming down the road for you Tyson will be an amazing woman of God. I know that she will love you for who you are, including everything about Leslie that is now a part of you. That is the Tyson she will fall in love with. She will know no other. God has extraordinatry things in store for you.
A different spin on the term, "self-fulfilling prophecy", eh?
So there's some "background". Some of the "story". I could go on and on about how God is making Himself known in this... And I probably will, in future posts. There's so much to share... an amazing testimony of God's provision, providence, grace, and the joy He takes in redeeming His children. Anyway... another time. Another post.
Know that we're not deceiving ourselves. Know we're not "forcing" anything. On the contrary, we would be deceiving ourselves to deny what's been given to us. Certainly, we've got some time, now. We have a lot to discover-- God has a lot to bring us through... many things to work out... before... I'm not sayin', I'm just sayin'...
But in the meantime, we're just enjoying being here. Enjoying being happy. Enjoying this crazy story God seems to be writing, right before our very eyes. I'll keep you posted from time to time with updates and insights... like maybe when He finishes the next sentence...
(By the way, if you care to get to know Katie a little... click the picture below to visit her blog...)