Thursday, March 4, 2010

The Path to Love

For years I would have said the great love story of my life began on a late summer day in Tennessee. A freshman at Lipscomb University in Nashville, I had been on campus just over a week when we met.

Classes started on a Wednesday that semester, and our first session of class voice met the following Tuesday. There were only three of us in the class. I had met Kristy during a freshman mixer, but didn’t recognize the boy who sat next to her. The last to arrive, I took my seat beside him on the front row just before class began. He sat between us girls, an air of confidence and cool detachment about him. As class began, our music teacher called him Joe. He had brown hair and olive skin. He was so cute. My heart fluttered when I stole a glimpse of him.

The hour lapsed swiftly, and as our first session of class voice drew to a close, the director showed us the music book we would need for class and sent us off in the direction of the bookstore. As Joe, Kristy and I headed out of the music building together, I noticed how his blue eyes sparkled in the afternoon sunlight. He was witty and dynamic, making us girls laugh with his funny stories. He flashed a dazzling smile, and my heart melted.

The three of us crossed a parking lot and stepped onto the sidewalk. As we headed toward the bookstore, we stopped when a classmate spoke to Kristy. I averted my eyes as Joe and I stood there, hoping he wouldn’t see the color that crept into my cheeks when he looked at me. As Kristy chatted with her friend, Joe and I stood quietly for a few seconds. I held my breath, inwardly pleading that we should go on to the bookstore without her. Moments later, I struggled to look nonchalant when he motioned that we should head on.

I looked briefly at this boy named Joe, then turned my gaze toward the sidewalk that stretched before us. I hoped he couldn’t hear my heart beating. Conversation was easy as we headed down the path, talking about school, home and family. There was something so significant – so electric – about our first encounter that when I went back to my dorm room later that afternoon, I called my best friend back home and told her I had just met the boy I would marry.

Many Paths
If that sidewalk in Nashville is where our love story began, the preface was written years before. The eldest of three children, I had come to Lipscomb from the rolling hills of East Tennessee. I grew up beneath the warm gaze of my parents, Bob and Sharon Prichard – high school sweethearts more in love with each passing day. Daddy is a minister, and Mother has always been his greatest encouragement and closest confidante. A devoted preacher’s wife, her warm, gentle nature has been an asset as she has served alongside him in congregations in Tennessee, North Carolina and Alabama.

Now approaching their 40th wedding anniversary, Daddy still dotes on Mother – filling her car with gas, helping with household duties, and taking her out to eat several times a week. I have seen the depth of his love for her as she has battled multiple myeloma, a rare form of blood cancer. Daddy has proven himself a strong and faithful companion through grueling treatments that pushed Mother’s body to the brink of death. He has taken her across the country to seek the best medical treatment available, and he has kept vigil at her bedside during the very worst of days.

With her petite frame and porcelain skin, Mother has always been beautiful. I knew it was difficult for her when chemotherapy claimed her hair, but Daddy’s heart never wavered when her physical appearance changed. In fact, his love for her only deepened as he witnessed quiet strength emerge in his delicate flower.

My other early influences were my grandparents, Mema and Papa, the late Robert E. and Gladys Williams, married nearly 50 years; and Grandma and Granddad, John and Frances Prichard, who will soon celebrate their 60th anniversary. Many of my happiest childhood memories were spent in their company.

I never knew Papa as my mother remembers him – a well-read college professor of economics who loved the outdoors so much he walked to the university each day. Paralyzed by a massive stroke just five days before my parents married, he was completely bedridden by the time I came along. As a little girl I played with his wheelchair and tended my baby dolls beside his hospital bed. I marvelled at his faith in God, and to this day my eyes well with tears to sing “Be Not Dismayed Whate’er Betide” because at every family gathering Papa gathered us to his bedside before we parted to sing the chorus: “God will take care of you, Thro’ ev-‘ry day, O’er all the way; He will take care of you, God will take care of you.”

For more than a decade, Mema was Papa’s devoted caregiver. Papa became a hero to our family for his positive attitude in the face of adversity, but it was Mema who quietly shouldered the burdens of his physical care along with managing the finances, yard work and household duties. Theirs was a happy home, peaceful and content. I grew up blissfully unaware of the challenges they faced, yet keenly aware of the great love that carried them through.

If Mema and Papa represented the companionship of old age, Grandma and Granddad demonstrated the joy of the golden years. They continue to lead such vibrant, active lives that in my mind Grandma and Granddad have not aged since my childhood. In fact, I think I am catching up with them!

With Granddad’s building skills and Grandma’s creative gifts in the areas of music, sewing and painting, I have often said there is nothing those two cannot do. They enjoy travelling and are always eager to take on a new challenge – whether it is helping a son with a building project or sewing a baby dress for a great-granddaughter. With Grandma and Granddad, life is a great adventure and their zest for experiencing it fully is contagious.

Joe grew up a few hours south of Nashville in the picturesque city of LaGrange, Ga. When he found out I had moved six times growing up, Joe joked that his biggest move was from upstairs to downstairs in their lakeside home. His parents, Betty and Louis Lester, also met at Lipscomb. When they married, Betty left her Tennessee home to join her husband’s family in LaGrange. For more than 40 years, Betty and Louis worked together in the family’s successful floor-covering business. Throughout their marriage the two have worked in their community – building the business, growing the church, and leading in civic activities. This past summer we celebrated their Golden Anniversary.

Joe enjoyed a happy childhood in the bosom of extended family, led by his grandparents, Howard and Janelle Lester. Known affectionately as Big Daddy and Nanelle, you could not find a more beloved couple in LaGrange. Big Daddy had a golden touch in business and a giving heart for the Lord. He supported a variety of worthy causes and was instrumental in planting churches throughout West Georgia. A firm believer in Christian education, he served on the board of Faulkner University for many years. In fact, Lester Chapel in the Bible Building on campus bears his name.

For more than 60 years, Nanelle was his beloved wife. The epitome of a gracious southern lady, Nanelle was known for her easy smile, good-natured temperament and warm hospitality. Ten years after her death, people still talk about her legendary banana pudding!

When her health began to fail in later years, Nanelle clung to Big Daddy. As Alzheimer’s clouded her mind and memories began to slip into a sea of confusion, come what may, he was her lighthouse. His name was on her lips day and night, and his presence steadied and soothed her worried mind until the end.

I was struck by the change in Big Daddy after Nanelle died. He only lived a few years after her passing. Larger than life in his early years, he became more subdued, more retiring, after she was gone. Observing the contrast, I realized he was able to be the fullness of himself – the great man God made him to be – with his beloved by his side.

Joe’s maternal grandparents, Carl and Eula Belle Nix, lived in Tennessee during his childhood. Known in their community for operating the telephone exchange in their home for many years, Joe remembers enjoying the simple things in life during his visits to Granny and Papaw – walking to the corner grocery near their home; drinking SunDrop from a bottle on a hot summer day; and sampling vegetables fresh from the garden. Joe remembers Papaw as a quiet, hard-working man who never complained; Granny, a skilled seamstress and doting grandmother. They, too, were married more than 50 years.

Converging Here
That hot summer day in Nashville, when I met the boy I would marry, I could think of no one else. It was as if the rest of the world faded from view and all that was left was the two of us standing on that sidewalk leading to the bookstore. The path stretched before us, full of all our hopes and dreams and the promise of what was yet to be.

But looking back now, nearly 20 years after Joe and I first met, I am so thankful for the loved ones whose paths brought us to that point. Carried by their love and prayers, we were ready to step out in faith, knowing that finding true love was worth the risk. How blessed we are to have grown up with parents and grandparents whose love stories have become part of our own. Their long, successful marriages serve as examples for us every day.

I thank God when I think about my parents, grandparents and in-laws. Their stories remind me that although the road will not always be easy, the journey will be blessed when each step is taken hand-in-hand with the one God made just for me. Y

This article was written for Our Families Magazine, a publication of the Cloverdale Center for Family Strengths at Faulkner University in Montgomery, Ala. Photo by Lee Cathey of LaGrange, Ga.

Joe and I were surprised and humbled to learn we were named the Cloverdale Center for Family Strength's 2010 Tower of Strength Family. Notice of the award came on a day full of housework -- always a challenge for me -- and my first thought was that we are not worthy. But the more I pondered, the more I appreciated the encouragement. Being a wife and mother is not always easy, and I make more than my share of mistakes, but what a blessing it is to receive recognition for a lifelong job that usually brings only intangible rewards. We appreciate the reminder that this journey might not always be easy, but it will be worth it in the end. Here are a few photos taken at Tuesday's Friends for Faulkner luncheon, where we received the award.

We missed my mother, who could not travel due to illness, but appreciated my father, Bob Prichard, and Joe's parents, Betty and Louis Lester, for joining us for the occasion. (Photo by Leigh Brannan)

I snapped this photo of the children after the luncheon.

I'm so thankful the journey Joe and I began nearly 20 years ago includes these dear ones!


Cheri said...

Melissa, thank you so much for sharing and writing this amazing love story family-wide. Really touched my heart, coming from a family where that was not the case. What an inspiration! My husband and I hope to have shown our boys, now almost grown (at 21 and 17) what true love really is, through the ups and downs but the unwavering love and support in this covenant of marriage celebrating 23 years this month.

You have a way with words, and it touched my heart tonight.

mary beth said...

What a beautiful legacy of love! I am so glad you have written it all down, especially for your children to read and think about. Thank you for sharing it with all of us.

Love Being a Nonny said...

I sat down with my breakfast to read this post. I am so glad I did. What precious, encouraging love stories. You are blessed...and I LOVE that you KNOW you are!!! I too am blessed with 35 years of marriage. I pray we BOTH have many many more. Thank you for sharing.

And, as always, your children are so adorable!

Kathryn @ Bonafide Southern said...

What a beautiful story you have shared, most deserving of an award. I'm at school this morning, reading this as my students slowly trickle in eager to begin a new day. As I sit at my desk with tears in my eyes from your touching post (with more than a couple students staring at my watering eyes), I think about my own life's story, how it's filled with such warm and fond memories and how new memories are made with each passing day. Thank you for reminding me of the beauty that comes with living and being loved.

Lara said...

Melissa, What a beautiful picture and post of you and your family. Congrats on the award!!!

Mary Mac said...

What a beautiful story and great legacy. Maybe one day we will be reading your children's blogs about all their love stories and their parents love.

Grace at Home said...

I don't think I've ever enjoyed a post of yours as much as this one, Melissa. That says a lot because I really love your blog! :) I loved reading how you and Joe met...I could almost feel what you felt. And when I read about your father's commitment to your mother, well I just broke down in tears. It reminds me so much of my own daddy's loving commitment to my mother as she continues to battle Alzheimers.

Congratulations to you and your family on your award. Thank you so much for sharing this story, Melissa. Off to find a handkerchief...

Auntie Cake said...

Such sweet stories of faith and love. Congrats on your award. What a huge honor! You deserve it!

LaurieR said...

I LOVE LOVE LOVE this story, thank you SO much for sharing it! Congratulations on your award, I can't think of anyone I know that deserves it more!

Judy said...

Thank you for telling such a moving story of yours and Joe's families. Today in our world of lack of family values and with divorce rates skyrocketing, it gives hope that there still exists the kind of love for families that God intended us all to have. It also brought to mind wonderful memories of my grandparents love they had for each other and how that has served as an inspiration to me all my life.


Jennifer Driver said...

Beautiful story about our precious family! Love you! Congrats on your award!

Suzanne said...

What a beautiful tribute for your ancestors! You have such a lovely family.
Have you ever heard "God Will Take Care of You" by Plumb? It is such a wonderful version of that song.
Many blessings,
Suzanne :)

Sandy said...

Hi Melissa,
What a loving family story! I, too, met my hubby at college - our meeting was in "Philosophy of Law" class. We will be married 36 years this May. My parents almost made 50 years before my Mom passed. My in-laws were married 58 years. I am so thankful to have this good man by my side. Thank you for sharing!

Teacup Lane (Sandy)

Personalized Sketches and Sentiments said...

You have such a beautiful, beautiful way with words! What a truly wonderful narrative of your life's journeys.

Here is to many more blessed years together.
Blessings & Aloha!

Melissa Lester said...

Suzanne, that Plumb CD is one of my favorites! Her rendition of "God Will Take Care of You" is so touching!

Rach said...

Beautiful story and congrats on the award!

Sarah said...

What a beautiful heritage! You are very blessed.

The Quintessential Magpie said...

No one deserves this honor more! You are such an inspiration as is your whole family.

Applause! Applause! I'm so proud of you!


Sheila :-)

Shane and Kristy Davis said...

Congratulations! That is wonderful... what a godly heritage you have. I am praying, that as we labour for Him in Alberta, Canada, that we too can leave our children and grandchildren a godly heritage.
Have you ever heard that song?
"I have a Godly Heritage"

Just a little something from Judy said...

It is early in the morning and in it's quietness, I paid a visit once again to your beautiful and always memorable blog. I cannot tell you how blessed I was by this visit. The well written words and the emotional tugs that went with them actually brought me to tears. God's goodness, mercy and grace seeped out through each word. How you and your husband met and all that went into that meeting for many years before, renewed my faith again in the Soverigniety of my God. A very special love story, brought about by a God of detail and direction. Doesn't bring comfort to you with your own children? It brings a new reality to Proverbs 3: 5 & 6.

Congratulations to you on this honorable award! You are a beautiful family! This blog brings joy, blessings and encouragement to so many...especially me on this Saturday morning.

Velvet Over Steel said...

What a beautiful story and family! And what a beautiful loving heart you have! I am so glad I found your site! Following and will be back soon to read more! Hugs ~ Coreen

Donna @ Party Wishes said...

Congratulations on a well deserved honor. Such a lovely story.

myletterstoemily said...

what a precious love story and legacy
for your children.

hans and i often remark that one ofour richest
gifts to them is our love for one another.

you, obviously, feel the same way.


Christine said...

What a beautiful story! You are such a good writer and have a special gift of telling stories. I loved reading about your grandparents. It makes me want to write down my own grandparents' love stores. We too were blessed with wonderful examples of long marriages with my parents and grandparents. Congratulations on the award. I can't think of anyone who would deserve it more!

gramma2many said...

A beautiful story. You are truly blessed to have such a background.
I love the picture of the kids walking away with their arms entwined about each other.

angel said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Live.Love.Eat said...

OH Melissa, what a gorgeous family picture at the top. I hadn't seen one of Joe before. And 20 years? Wow. Thank you for always being an inspiration, not just with birthday cakes and invitations but also with family, God and the power of love.

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