The Possibility of Love
By Jane Thornton
“Papa, tell me a story about the wild, wild, west!”
“I’ll tell you a story about the wild, wild, west where I met the girl I loved the best, and her name was Mimi Hot Shot.”
Thus began many a tale told by my grandfather to my big brother. I often listened in, but I don’t remember any of the adventures, dangers, or shootouts. Girly girl that I am, that introduction sticks out for me. Papa loved Mimi. Their love story lingers as a family legend.
When Mimi was twelve, Papa was a hero of twenty. On a family visit, Mary Virginia (to be called Mimi by her grandchildren) tagged along behind two older girls. If you’ve ever observed the dynamics in a group of three girls, you know it’s not pretty. One invariably gets left out, if not treated with outright hostility. This time, Mary Virginia fell victim to the teasing.
At this ugly point, J.F. (Papa) arrived on the scene. He rescued her from an afternoon of isolation and rejection by taking her on a Sunday drive, and he promised, “Don’t worry, Mary Virginia, I’m gonna come back and marry you when you grow up.”
Flash forward six or seven years. Lovely Mary Virginia, a freshman at Rice University, strolled downs the streets of Houston. Who should she meet but J.F. Reed back from working the oil fields of Venezuela and a new student at Rice? Comparing schedules, they grimaced in disappointment – not a single class in common. However, the following day, J.F. showed up enrolled in every one of her classes. And so they embarked on their destiny to become Mimi and Papa.
This story inspired many dreams in my romantic heart. As a young girl, I’d hear sermons on marriage and against divorce; I’d smile and weave fantasies of the perfect man who would cherish me, as Christ loved the church. I glossed over the part about respecting my husband, assuming that would always be easy.
Somewhere in my teens, it occurred to me that those verses (Ephesians 5:22-33) were written in a time of arranged marriages. Not everyone would be granted the luxury of a soppy love story, but all are expected to follow Paul’s advice. This truth hit me again with the poignant scene in Fiddler on the Roof where Tevia asks his wife if she loves him, and in the following song they ponder their emotions.
As I wrestled with these realities, I again went to my greatest source of wisdom (other than the Bible, which, as I mentioned, I was struggling with)—Mom. She lived a true love story, too. I remember the five o’clock rush to tidy the house and for her to put on lipstick to greet Daddy. However, I saw enough of the day-to-day grind of her life to know that love isn’t always rosy. Although my parents presented a united front, we children couldn’t help knowing that they didn’t always agree nor get along perfectly. But we knew they loved each other and us. How exactly did that work?
Frankness ranks as one of the most important values that my parents, especially my mother, modeled for me. She shared her memory of a difficult time in her marriage: “I remember lying in bed next to your dad and thinking I can’t stand this man. So, I prayed, God, I can’t stand him. How can I be married to him? Please give me back some love for him.” She hugged me close. “God can bring the feelings back and give you the strength to keep going until He does.”
Her honesty has helped me through so many times—not just in my marriage, but also as a parent, friend, and teacher. She gave me a practical version of Luke 1:37 “For nothing is impossible with God.” (NIV)