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Once upon a time, there was this girl who didn’t see the wall this guy had built around his heart. She didn’t see the battle scars, nor the pain, but instead she looked right through the injuries and into the guy’s very soul. And she said, “There you are! I’ve been looking for you!”
This is where we push the pause button on our story, which by the way is as factual an account as if it had descended from Mt. Sinai on a stone tablet, in order to pass along some happy news. Yesterday, surrounded by family, I knelt before a woman whom I thought only existed in my dreams, and asked her to marry me. She said yes, and quick as a flash before she had time to reconsider, I gave her a ring along with my heart, happily and eternally.
Now, following the doctrine of preemption, let me answer some questions before they are asked, and tell you about Shelley Allen, a woman so amazing, with such a graceful spirit, such a radiant countenance, whose quick wit and humor give me face cramps from laughing and whose captivating beauty leaves me speechless and…well… I’m getting ahead of myself. Here, let’s have an interview.
Q: So how did you kids meet?
A: Online, actually. I was browsing through some profiles online one day when I saw what was, up until that point, the most truly radiant smile I had ever seen.
Q: Why do you say up until that point?
A: Because I’ve seen her smile in person since then and it’s even better than the photo.
Q: So it was Shelley whose smile you saw.
A: Yes, but I didn’t try to contact her after I saw her profile.
Q: Why not?
A: Figured I didn’t stand a chance with a pretty girl like that.
Q: So what happened?
A: She actually wrote me. Very kind note. She said I was handsome.
Q: Did you answer?
A: Is the Pope Catholic? Of course I answered! I wrote back and suggested that she might be overdue an eye exam. In no time at all we were writing back and forth, joking and having a wonderful conversation.
Q: So it all started with that photo?
A: Well, her profile showed that she is also a die-hard LSU fan, so that helped. It’s nice when someone is pre-converted.
Q: When did you actually meet for the first time?
A: Last Veterans Day. I had an event in Memphis to show the Ride of Pride truck, and we decided to go get a bite to eat after the event. It began as dinner between two friends, yet the very first moment we met, we very naturally gave each other a hug. As the evening went, it was obvious that there was a connection between us that was different from anything in our respective experiences. So it went from dinner with a friend to a wonderful date, and we never looked back. In fact, I was shocked by how difficult it was at the end of the evening to say goodnight and walk back to my truck. It was like I had left my heart with her, which in fact I had.
Q: Easy there, Sir Romance-Alot, let’s go back to your first conversations with her. What did you learn?
A: Well, for starters, I learned that she is Native American Indian — Cherokee, Choctaw and Sioux to be specific — and that her and her mother have both been active in the Native American Indian community for many years, to the point that they’ve both held office on the Commission of Indian Affairs for the State of Tennessee. Her knowledge of her own culture and ancestry is encyclopedic, and that includes the tartan pattern that she showed me while explaining the bit of Scots Irish ancestry she has as well.
Q: Does she work?
A: It would be easier if you asked, “when does she not work?” She does accounting work, making sure corporate bills get paid. She teaches cake decorating classes. And when she’s not doing one or the other, she is very active in her community and in her church especially, on any number of committees, juggling numerous projects and displaying organizational skills that would make any CEO envious.
Q: You mentioned her church. Do you two share the same faith?
A: We will. When we first started talking and getting to know each other, it was at a time when much of my world came crumbling down around me. I had lost my stepmom in September, only two months after she had been diagnosed with an aggressive brain tumor. Her passing shook our family down to its foundations. The situation was made more difficult when my Dad, suffering from Alzheimer’s and coping with the loss of his wife of 34 years, suffered a stroke shortly after Mom’s death. This was in addition to issues of personal tumult that would make your head explode were I to detail them, which I respectfully decline to do.
Q: How does Shelley figure into all that?
A: She listened to me for hours on end, as I tried to reason through events and make sense of them. Her patient responses, the wisdom of her advice, and the warm kindness that exudes from her perspective is due in large part to her Catholic faith. Now, keep in mind that at this point, I was questioning a great many things. Not my faith in God, though. I learned years ago not to let fallen man come between me and my Redeemer. But it was at this time, however, that I cleared the table as it were, of my preconceptions about the Catholic faith in particular, and looked at it anew. Through my own study of the faith which is continuing, through my conversations both with Shelley and with a very knowledgeable and caring priest, and through attending church with Shelley and watching her faith in action, I felt increasingly drawn to it.
Q: So you’re converting?
A: Yes I am. Now, there have been religious debates on Ricochet, and I’ve steered clear of them, as I will continue to do. Let’s just say that the more I learn about the Catholic faith, the more I attend Mass, which on so many levels really is a feast for the soul, the more I feel like I’m coming home.
Q: Change of subject here. How does Shelley handle your, shall we say, unique sense of humor?
A: With a loaded gun… the gun being her own wit and humor. I remember joking with her when I drove out to L.A. for Ricochet’s 200th podcast that, even though I’m 10 months older, I would actually be two hours younger than her while in L.A. Of course she was having none of it… but as soon as I crossed back into the Central Time Zone, I got a text from her saying, “Welcome back, Old Man.”
Q: Takes no prisoners, eh?
A: She doesn’t need to. She said something playful about my bald head one day, and I wrote a message feigning injury and said, “That’s not funny.” She wrote back, “Yes it is. I’m laughing hysterically over here!” I even enjoy it when she chastises me!
A: Her church is planning some activities in honor of their upcoming 60th anniversary. I had some suggestions, like, The Feast of the Immaculate Gumbo, for example, or an Our Lady of Perpetual Motion Hula-Hoop Contest, or The Running of the Protestant. She called and warned that at this rate I would be excommunicated before I even converted.
Q: Seems like a reasonable assessment to me. Do your kids get along with her?
A: They are thick as thieves. My kids are grown now, and have families of their own, but they have embraced Shelley in a wonderful way, and I think that’s in part because she is a wonderful person, and in part because she has embraced them. In fact, when we began to realize the trajectory our relationship was taking, Shelley made it plain that she would never come between my children and I, and that if the kids objected to the relationship we would need to call things off.
A: “Family comes first,” were her exact words. She not only believes that family takes care of their own, she lives it. In fact, we’ve let the kids know that our home will always be their home as well.
Q: Neither of you is exactly a spring chicken anymore. Is it disappointing to have found each other at this point in life?
A: We believe that things happen for a reason. Our respective lives, up until this point, have been filled with triumphs and tragedies that make us who we are. We’ve both learned some hard lessons from previous relationships and have been able to apply that knowledge in a way that makes our relationship even stronger. Besides, some people go a lifetime and never meet that one special person. I’m blessed beyond measure to have met this remarkable woman at all. To be loved by her, at any stage of life, is more of a blessing than I could ever hope for, and certainly more than I ever dared to dream was possible.
Q: When is the wedding?
A: Well, there is the little matter of my conversion, which process is starting now, but will culminate next Easter. We hope to be married shortly thereafter. Next April hopefully.
Q: Is that how the story ends?
A: No, that’s the beginning of a whole new story. But here… when we left the earlier narrative, this certain girl had looked into this guy’s very soul and said, “There you are! I’ve been looking for you.” The story continues:
And the guy looked up and said, “Is it really you? Is it possible?” She smiled the most beautiful smile the world has ever seen, and said, “I love you.” The guy sat there a moment, stunned, half in disbelief you see, because he had been burned before. But then, with the strength of her love and the beauty of her heart… he realized that this was different… that his dream girl really was standing beside him… and that she would never leave his side. And he found his own heart, because it called her name as if in recognition of that one kindred spirit. And he stood, stretched out his arms and enfolded her in his embrace, to love and to cherish, for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, forever. Happily Ever After is only beginning.