A Love Story for Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day is upon us, but because we have a Cabinet meeting, Cindy and I will celebrate this coming Saturday. Cindy and I have been married for 37 years, and they have been great because she’s great, and God is even greater! She has put up with me and my quirks for a long time! I love her more today than ever! The glue that holds us together is our shared commitment to Christ. We knew that from the beginning.

That’s how we met actually. She and some Christian friends from Winthrop College were staying together at Rev. Jerry Robinson’s Presbyterian manse in Clover, SC. He and his wife had unofficially adopted Cindy’s roommate. Somehow I got wind of the news that a group of single young Christian ladies from what was then an all-girls college were going to be together. Ever an opportunist and a recent high school graduate, I thought driving 90+ miles to Clover from Edgefield, SC would be a welcome event for a guy wanting to hit it off with some older college girls. It would be tutelage for my upcoming arrival at USC. So off I went.

I’ll never forget walking into the house. There were these wonderful young women, but nothing special, no fireworks, no signal flares in the sky. They were nice, great even, but, then, this raven-haired quiet beauty walked around the corner of the refrigerator in the parsonage kitchen, and immediately I was struck. I will never forget it! I don’t know if I believe in love at first sight, but that’s what happened to me. Her eyes were like homes of silent prayer! I could sense her heart and it was pure. You could read her like a Nathaniel in whom there was no guile. She wasn’t prissy, pompous, or a put-on. She exuded a simple elegance. She wasn’t “frou-frou,” but, “Wow!” what a depth of beauty. Right then and there I was in love with Cindy Godwin.

The first words out of my mouth, however, pretty much doomed me. I said it with all sincerity, but everybody else immediately thought it was a horrible pick up line, “Haven’t I seen you somewhere before?” She declares that she said something back to me like, “In your dreams!” before dismissing me as a very poor example of mature Christianity.

Over that weekend, I backed off and tried not to be too direct in my approach. We talked in the Tudor-windowed sunroom, and shared in great conversations about God. I pushed her in the swing behind the parsonage. Then we freaked all the rest of the girls out when we went to a pond and I paddled her around in a canoe. After all, she was sort of the untouchable one in their group, like a Bride of Christ, and here she was letting this much younger whipper-snapper paddle her around. Beyond that, I also remember their suspicious stares as we walked the trail at King’s Mountain National Park and we both slipped into British accents as if the Continentals and the Redcoats were at it once again. I haven’t been able to do a British accent since. It was magical. We clicked. There was an overwhelming sense that we had always known each other.

I was in love. She wasn’t, at least with me. Her friends, I’ve been told, gave her the once, twice-over, and more, that I was too young, too much of a ladies’ man (I had dated the younger sister of her roommate – big mistake). Anyway, I was forlorn but not forgotten. Oh, I kept dating, which probably didn’t help my stature in Cindy’s eyes, though in all honesty I was looking for someone like her if she wasn’t going to give me the time of day. We saw each other at lots of shared retreats between the Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship chapters at Winthrop and USC. We went to Inter-Varsity’s “Urbana 1973” with friends. The next 2 summers I got the job as Youth Director at her home church, Kingstree United Methodist. We were the closest of friends. I accepted our non-romantic plight, but was deeply in love with her. Our paths continued to cross as I spent lots of hours at her Mom and Dad’s, then as she graduated and took a teaching job in my hometown some three hours away from hers. We literally could not keep from seeing each other. We were partners in the faith, the Lord’s work.

Once, and only once, in that time of working and sharing together, I dared to try to take our relationship to the next level. We were sitting in her parent’s den and I reached out to take her hand, and, “Wham!” she slapped me. Her words were fraught with poignancy, “It would take thunder and lightning for me to ever go out with you!” In other words, she wanted a miraculous sign from God or it wasn’t going to ever happen. I wish I could say that I moved on, but I couldn’t. I occupied my mind with my mother’s illness and kept doing my job at the church. I was 19 and Cindy was 22. She was a school teacher on summer break and I was still a kid. She says now that she saw me grow up when I was dealing with my Mom, and she admits that she missed me when I was away – a first step. We shared lots of prayers during that summer of 1975.

Then one afternoon we were sitting on her parent’s front steps sharing Scripture and talking about a passage from Ezekiel that I felt was a description of God’s call on my life to be sold-out for Jesus. I told her of my call to be a minister and what that life would be like. Then I repeated to Cindy something that I had never said to anyone else but had often said to her because she was/is so special, “You’re set apart.” I really meant, “You’re set apart, too,” like me, probably in different ways, places, and with a different person. To my everlasting delight and amazement at God’s profound grace she said to me, “Set apart for you.”

 What? I almost couldn’t believe it. This woman that I loved was returning that love. She wanted us to be partners in ministry! And, guess what, when she said, “Set apart for me,” it started thundering and there was lightning! Yeah, I know, a summer thunderstorm in the lowcountry of South Carolina is a common phenomenon, but, let me tell you, it was a marvelous confirmation from God. We walked in the rain basking in the glow of the Holy Spirit.

We went back into the house soaking wet. We had never kissed or been on a date but I asked her to marry me. She said, “Yes!” Then we hugged and had our first kiss. Telling her parents and sister took some courage. Her Dad was great. Her sister was reluctant. Her mother was so sick that she lost 13 pounds in two weeks! We got married 5 months later on December 20, 1975. I was 20 by then and she was 22. I graduated a semester later from college and off we went to seminary in Boston.

It has been a wonderful and sublime journey ever since. She is my Valentine, my heart, my love, the greatest gift God has ever shared with me, save Jesus. We have been blessed by three precious children, children-in-law, and 4 grandchildren. God is love and makes our best hopes come true in ways that are beyond our imaginations. Happily-ever-after’s do happen. I know so! Hang in there and Happy Valentine’s Day!