One of the biggest things I cut out of “For This Child I Have Prayed” was how Stephanie and I met. It just didn’t fit in the story and it detracted from the purpose of the book. That said, it is a fun tale and I thought sharing it would give you a behind the scenes look. So here it is, in its unedited glory. How I met Samuel’s Mother:
I met my wife Stephanie when I was 29 and she was 34 in 2012. I know I shouldn’t tell her age, but in her defense everyone thought she was younger than me. Her Greek skin definitely did not betray her. A manager at my job guessed her to be 2 years my junior. She loved hearing that.
My job had moved me to Pittsburgh in 2009. I was dealing with a major heartbreak when I first moved. I wasn’t thinking the clearest on a lot of issues, and I ended up getting my girlfriend pregnant. She pushed me out of her life not long after telling me she was pregnant; and so, I wasn’t involved in my oldest son’s life for his first two years.
After dealing with the shock and recovery of that situation, I ended up dating around a bit. I eventually ended up in another relationship. This relationship ended up being more devastating than dealing with my son’s mom leaving me.
When that relationship finally came to an end, I found myself in a place I had never been in life. I had always desired very strongly to find a wife and have children, and suddenly I found myself questioning whether I could trust a woman.
I remember a phone call to my best friend, Aaron, not long after the relationship ended. After talking for a bit, Aaron interjected some advice into our conversation, “Dude, you should come to our Bible study.”
My mind did a quick calculation on the last time I had been to Bible study. My last relationship, which I had officially ended a few weeks prior, had been a roller coaster, and it reflected in all my disciplines. To paraphrase Dr. Henry Cloud in the book “Integrity,” people are like boats – they leave a wake in your life. The wake this prior girl had left in my life was one of chaos and destruction. I needed healthy relationships and friendly people in my life, and I needed healthier habits.
“Sure, I’d be interested,” I replied. “Are there any girls there?” To this day, I still don’t know whether I asked hoping to find a girl or to make sure I wouldn’t find a girl.
“None for you,” Aaron shot back in his typical straightforward manner. His tone conveyed my reality: I wasn’t emotionally ready for a real relationship.
Satisfied with his answer, I made a mental note to put it on my calendar. I showed up on a Tuesday to a small house beside a main through-way in Avalon, a small suburb of Pittsburgh. I had to park in the neighborhood in front of their house on a side street. I ended up walking a block and a half. Thankfully it was summer, and was still light out at 7 p.m. I showed up closed to 7, parked my ten-year old Toyota Solara in the closest spot I could find, pulled out my journal and some snacks I had picked up, and made my way to the house Aaron had told me.
The small brick house was set into a rolling hill that matched the roll of the road. The road almost came up to the entrance way on the right side of the porch, but dropped low enough to fit a garage underneath the porch with very little dip from the main road.
I ascended the few stairs to a cement porch with white metal railing. The white door opened to an open concept room that was living room, dining room, and kitchen. The oak floors for the living room/dining room were separated from the tile of the kitchen by a bar with walkways on both sides.
The Bible study leader and owner of the house greeted me at the door. “Hello, I’m here for the Bible study,” I said, as Tony welcomed me into his home. I made my way to the bar past people talking on the couches. Aaron was chatting with his neighbor Diane. I said hello to both and set my snacks with the other food on the counter.
I noticed Stephanie quickly, her long blond hair and bright smile piqued my interest. She had also brought brownies. After the Bible study, I made my way back to the counter for food and to converse. Aaron and I were talking when Stephanie came over to join us. When Aaron saw Stephanie, he threw his arms wide, and loudly said, “Come here, let me hug you.”
This startled Stephanie. “Why?” she queried in reply, a look of concern suddenly on her face.
With his arms still wide, brownie in his left hand, he replied, “These brownies, they are just awesome.”
“Umm…. I don’t know you,” she replied.
I almost wrote her off completely at this point. I had known a few people who don’t like being touched, and I could never handle a relationship with someone who didn’t like being touched. I continued to attend the study, and I soon realized she was only being cautious.
The next day, I got a social media friend request… from her Stephanie’s mom. I thought the last name sounded familiar. After some digging, I realized it must be her mom given the age and displayed relationship. I found it amusing and endearing, so I accepted the friend request. I was never good at the dating game, and this reflected my own lack of prowess. Obviously she had been excited enough about me to tell he Mom that she had met me.
The following week at Bible study, I informed Stephanie that her Mom and I were now social media friends. The mortified look on her face was priceless. Her Mom unfriended me that night, which I also gave Stephanie a hard time about.
Despite my trepidation about relationships, we soon began to talk on the phone. Our relationship progressed slowly, which was what I needed. I also had one other early love interest, and this gave me the time and distance I needed to heal and to think about what I wanted.
Stephanie had a little firmer grasp on her interests. She organized a group outing to go to a Pirates baseball game. Unbeknownst to her, Aaron’s friend Diane also invited the other girl who had my interest. As always, I overthought it all. I almost didn’t show up, but I ended up going and trying to float between hanging out with different people. Stephanie and the other girl sat on opposite ends of our group, and so I went back and forth, attempting to make it less than noticeable that I was trying to spend time with them both. The problem I ran into was that Stephanie was a little more interested. She kept insisting I sit with her and talk with her, ribbing me and laughing about it. I ended up buckling to her requests and spent most of the time sitting beside her
Towards the end of the game, Stephanie leaned over, putting her shoulder against my chest and tried to snap a selfie.
“What are you doing?” I responded.
“We should put a picture on social media,” she replied.
I wasn’t having it. I was a little put out by the request and the insistence. I stammered, “I don’t really want to do that,” and leaned away from her.
She snapped a picture anyway. “Why not?” she asked innocently.
Stephanie ended up driving me back to my car, as well as the other girl I had an interest. She was completely oblivious, and I wasn’t sure how to handle any of it. The other girl didn’t seem interested after that night, and I liked how much Stephanie was interested in me.
We soon began to hang out outside of Bible study. Stephanie would come over to my house, or I would come over to hers. I was mentally recovering from a bad break-up, and so I did something uncharacteristic of me – I watched TV every evening after work. Single or dating, I typically spent my evenings pursuing friendships or entrepreneurial ventures. A friend of mine had been pushing me to watch “How I Met Your Mother.” My ex had been pushy about me not spending money on a TV, and so the first thing I did when we broke up was to purchase a nice TV. Stephanie and I would sit on my couch and laugh at the characters and their antics.
A few weeks later, I made an evening trip to Buffalo, NY for my business to hear Jake, my future mentor, share about his business. On the way home, Stephanie talked on the phone with me the entire way. When I finally parked on my street and crawled into bed around 3 A.M., we were still talking on the phone.
I was about to say goodnight when she cut in, “I really want to date you.” She was slightly scared to say it.
“Stephanie…..,” I paused for a long few moments. “I’m not sure if I’m ready to date anyone. I am interested in you though.” I said it as gently as I could.
I wasn’t ready to jump back into a relationship. Stephanie’s forwardness didn’t bother me, as I recognized it for what it was, inexperience with relationships and anxiety. Had I not dealt with my own levels of anxiety, it might have turned me off.
Thankfully, she found good counsel and didn’t press the situation.
Because of the counsel she received, she chose to continue to our non-committal relationship. Our relationship began to grow, hanging out late into the night, most nights of the week.
After four months of hanging out, the couple who ran our Bible study had a straightforward conversation with me when Stephanie wasn’t around.
“R.L., what are your intentions with Stephanie?”
I paused. We were having dinner after Aaron’s wedding, and the mood had been festive. I replied, “Well, I like her, I’m just not ready to date her yet.”
The husband, Tony, paused for a brief moment, and then said slowly, “Well, I think you need to shit or get off the pot.”
His wife jumped in a little quicker to cover his directness, “Stephanie’s a great girl, and we just don’t want to see her get jerked around.”
I reassured them, “That’s not my intention.”
Tony persisted, “I just think you need to make your intentions clear.”
I got the message. They knew Stephanie to be a sweet innocent girl, and they didn’t want me to string her a long and break her heart. I had no desire to break her heart, but I didn’t think I could commit to a relationship just yet.
Because of their counsel, I started to put some distance between myself and Stephanie. When she would call or text, asking to hang out, I would avoid it. For the month of November, we didn’t hang out much at all. I slowed the texts back and the emails.
In the beginning of December, she went with her twin brother and his wife to Disney. She had invited me, but I was still keeping my distance. The whole trip, she didn’t text and she seldom texted back. At first, I didn’t notice. As the week wore on, however, I started to get upset. By the end of the week, I was slightly upset.
This was what I needed. I realized I really did like her and wanted a relationship bad enough with her to commit to dating her. When she got back, I told her that I wanted to date her.
By July, I was starting to contemplate asking Stephanie to marry me.
I know Stephanie loves butterflies, and Phipps Conservatory has a butterfly garden. I found some stick-on butterflies, and I hid them and the ring in my pocket. Amidst the leaves and the butterflies, I knelt down, attempting to look like I was talking to Izaiah. While down on my knee, I put the butterfly on the box, and I handed the box to Izaiah to give to Stephanie..
We were married in 4 months in a fun family affair. Two months later, Stephanie was pregnant.