I will take a brief hiatus from the nitty gritty of pain and suffering and angst and struggle that sometimes seemed to be my life and tell a fun, fun story. I tell this story because this is really what came next. I also tell it because, next to my meeting Jesus, meeting this person was the most significant event of my life. And I tell this because, as God arranges things for fun some times, I met this person 29 years ago today, November 23, 1986.
I moved to Asheville, NC in June 1986, right out of college, to take my first job as a dietitian at the local hospital. It was my first time out on my own and I didn't know a soul in town. Asheville was not then the hopping hipsterville haven of young adults it is now. I was lonely.
I had attended a weekly meeting of Christian singles for a while but found it hard to connect. Perhaps due to my growing up in the private school community of Chattanooga, I was socially and culturally limited in experience. The people I met at the group seemed in awe that I had gone to, and actually finished, college The guys stared at me like I was a bug in a jar, excited for a new specimen to hit the market, and the girls...well...I was the new competition. I actually had a few dates with guys in their mid-30s. One of them invited me to dinner in his singlewide. I had never even known anybody who lived in a singlewide, so sheltered I was in my upper middle class upbringing. It was all a bit disorienting. Nowhere in sight was the handsome Christian Yuppie I hoped to marry.
One Saturday in November I met a neighbor who invited me to visit his church. They had just started a single adults Sunday School class. I had visited there once before and wanted to give it another shot.
So Sunday morning I walked into the room. My attire was part professional and part little old lady with my blue Pendleton wool suit, black pumps, and satin bow in my hair (looking, Matt says, like my mother had dressed me). There was a crowd of people milling around and a nice guy walked up to me and handed me a penny for one of those introduction games.
His name was Matt Barker and he and I had a lot in common. He had attended Covenant College, outside of Chattanooga, and had even spent many years of his childhood there, playing with kids I knew in high school.
After church a large group of us went out to lunch. Matt says I talked too much. I think I was just so thrilled to be around people that I connected with. As they were leaving the restaurant, Matt's roommate, Gregg, asked him what he thought of me. Matt replied that I seemed nice but talked too much. He asked Gregg what he thought of me and Gregg replied, "She's lovely. Marry her."
I cannot say that it was love at first sight, because it wasn't. I was lonely. He was a bit lonely himself. But I had my vision of who I was going to marry and Matt, well, he had a four figure income, drove a 1974 brown VW bus we called the Rolling Turd, and dressed in nothing but cross country race T-shirts and blue jeans. (For the record, I was not the artsy, fartsy girl of his dreams, either.) But we clung together and over the next few months played endless games of Trivial Pursuit while listening to the Weather Channel and soon discovered that we had become fast friends.
He moved to Atlanta for a job and two months later I followed him. Over the next several months we dated and broke up and dated and broke up and the only difference between whether we were dating or not was if we were dating, we kissed. If we weren't, we didn't. He became the only person, and perhaps the first person, that I truly trusted.
It wasn't all fun and games. It was easy at times for him to worry about my insecurities. It was easy for me to fear desertion. But one day a friend and wise counselor pushed him off the fence and he proposed. We were married May 7, 1988.
As I said before, there is nothing outside of my relationship with God that compares to the significance of this relationship. I say this not only as a wife but as a person who has struggled with mental illness all her life.
On so many occasions over the years has has said these most beautiful words to me:
"You might hurt. But at least you do not have to hurt alone."Those words are worth more than gold.