"I have loved you with an everlasting love.
Photo Notes: Erik proposed at “Michael on the Thames” Restaurant in London, Ontario May 1991 (photo 1). The rapids at Pagsanjan Falls in the Philippines (photo 2). Deborah enjoys the colourful costumes of Japanese Kanto Festival dancers (photo 3). Mom looked beautiful in her fuchsia dress, God’s pleasant surprise (photo 4).
The Pink and Blue Envelopes: I saw all kinds of different families growing up. My father (Charles Willner) was in the army, then worked as a missionary, and later my life involved much travel too. This gave me the opportunity to meet families from all over the world. I saw African pygmy families who’d crafted unique items like turtle shell harps, Japanese families whose slow graceful Tai Chi in a city park in the bright morning sun was a thing of wonder, a Canadian family who entered clogging competitions together, a Filipino family who faced the rapids at Pagsanjan Falls and on it went...
But for some reason one scene in my Springfield, Missouri home church called “House of Prayer” where we often ended up between travels, captured my heart as my ideal of a loving family. It was a father sitting in the church pew with his arm tenderly encompassing his wife’s shoulders, and beside them their children. I longed for God to one day give me a husband who would love me enough to take time out of a busy week to sit together and reflect on God’s goodness, to learn more about how to care for each other and our children, and to have the presence and alertness of mind to feel tenderness and warmth towards me as we nestled in together.
I didn’t learn until my forties that I suffered with a condition called narcolepsy, a disorder of the nervous system characterized by sudden and uncontrollable, though often brief attacks of daytime deep sleep. Wherever I travelled I made a point of being at church, but I was typically the one with head rolled back making an occasional disturbing and interrupting snore followed by a head jolt to reality. I was continually perturbed at how no matter how much sleep I got the night before, and my passion for participating in the music or sometimes playing roles for dramatic plays, that I still struggled to stay awake. I had a designated poker, a friend who’d jab me in the ribs when my head starting rolling. How God would be able to answer my prayer to find that right guy when I was rarely even conscious at church, I just didn’t know!
Interestingly enough, I didn’t meet my husband at church, my Dad did, while he was at a youth conference in Petrolia, Ontario. One day he just announced he was going to attend. Not being a youth didn’t faze him and he went anyways. Erik happened to be seated across from my Dad during the meal time. Dad proceeded to tell Erik about his family including his five unmarried daughters. When he arrived home he told me about how great Erik was. Meanwhile he and Erik’s landlady managed to set us up on a blind date for a Christmas banquet at “Royal View Pentecostal Church”. Very sceptical about the setup, I arranged to meet Erik first at Robertson Dunbar Insurance Services, where I worked at the time, and to have lunch together.
Unbeknownst to me, my mother (Fern Willner) hid out in the snowy parking lot looking for Erik’s black Trans-Am wanting a chance to see this guy for herself. (She never revealed until our wedding, that she had approvingly saw him unfold his six-foot five-inch frame out of the sports car and head into the building before she drove away to give us our privacy). When Erik appeared at the entrance, he was a vision in a dark leather jacket, with a muscular build and blond hair. I couldn’t believe it...Dad was right. I was interested! ;) Buried in an office of eligible ladies, I was glad to be the one to make my way through the cubicles to take his arm and head out for our lunch date. More than good looks, I would learn as we dated that this young man also had character, a great sense of humour, was hardworking, extremely gifted in many ways, was a devoted family man, full of adventure, and at the time he was a pastor, so he couldn’t bail on me if I fell asleep at church.
A couple years later we were planning our wedding. Our finances were tight as we were both starting out in life, but we frugally and creatively planned our dream wedding anyways. Many people generously helped us. Erik had saved and purchased a diamond and had a ring specially made for me with seven stones on each side of the diamond, representing that I came from a family of seven children, that we were to be married in the seventh month, and that we had seven people stand up with us on each side. He was short $200 to pay the final bill and pick it up. I had planned to buy a special fuschia suit for my mom to wear for the wedding and needed $100 to pay for it.
While at church one day, this woman came up to me who appeared somewhat flustered. She handed me two envelopes, a pink one and a blue one. She explained that she had wanted to wait until the wedding to give these gifts to us but her husband had insisted she give them to us immediately as he felt strongly we needed them. She graciously gave me the gifts and walked away. I looked after her amazed and proceeded to open the envelopes. Inside the pink one was a beautiful card addressed to me and $100. Inside the blue one was another beautiful card addressed to Erik, and $200. It was the exact amounts we were short to pay for our wedding bills, but no one knew. Except, well God knew and put it on this couple’s hearts to bless us...
Over the years Erik would become known for very creative sermons... I wonder if he was challenged to try and keep his wife awake! ;) I relish every opportunity to sit with my family, Erik and our two children at church. 19 years later I’m continually thankful for Erik’s tender touches. I was glad that God in His infinite wisdom saw past a sleeping girl to a seeking heart, and saw fit to show me such kindness.
Puzzle Piece: God delights in details. We get pleasant surprises.