I was only eighteen years old when I first met Jonathan, and He was twenty-one. I met him at my house where he had come to dinner. I had already heard a lot about him from my older brother, David, because they were co-workers. They worked at a lumber yard together. David says they hit off right when they first met because their personalities were so much alike, and he was right.
When Jonathan came that first evening I was the one that opened the door for him, and right away I knew that I was going to like him. He smiled at me and said, "You must be Laura."
"Yes, how did you know?"
"David talks about you all the time, and he told me what you look like."
I shot him a grin as I replied, "Wild curly red hair and a lop-sided grin?"
"Yep. And he said your eyes are always sparkling as if you have a beautiful surprise in store for the person you are talking to."
At that moment David came in and gave Jonathan a bear hug. “How's your throat?” David asked him.
“It feels a little bit better, but it sure seems to be taking it's time at getting over that attack of Bronchitis I had last month.”
Mom called to me from the kitchen and reminded me to offer our guest a drink.
"Sweet tea, or water? Don't be shy; make yourself right at home," I teased him.
"In that case," he teased back, "hand me a glass and point me the way to the tea."
That evening was wonderful. He ate enough of my homemade southern fried chicken and mashed potatoes to make any cook proud, and the conversation and good-natured bantering was very enjoyable as well. He left just a little bit before one o'clock in the morning, and then only with the order to come whenever he felt like it.
Jonathan didn't have a family, and he had only a few friends. He was an only child, and his parents had passed away when he was sixteen.
After that first dinner at our house, he started coming home with David every Friday evening and staying with us 'til Monday morning. We all loved him to death, David most of all because he was the only brother in our family with three sisters, Judy, Amanda, and myself, although I was the only unmarried sister. Jonathan even started calling my parents "mom and dad" and eventually joined our church.
On my nineteenth birthday he asked my father if he could enter into a courtship with me. Daddy said, "Yes, if Laura is willing." I was, and exactly two months later on October 18th he asked me to marry him. As an engagement gift, my father gave Jonathan and me a little piece of land right next to our house, and we began planning our little house right away. While we were overseeing the work on it I noticed that Jonathan would get out of breath really easy, and that he was coughing a lot, but I didn't think much of it since he had had Chronic Bronchitis right before I met him, and he had told me that he was just taking a while to recover.
One day in the middle of November when our little house was nearly finished, I was sitting in my room working on wedding plans. I was trying to decide how I could somehow pair up ten bridesmaids with Jonathan's two groomsmen when I heard mom calling me from downstairs. I tripped happily down them humming "Here Comes the Bride", and I saw Jonathan waiting for me at the bottom. I laughed while I went down the last couple of steps, just because I was so happy. I looked up into his face, and I could tell that something was wrong.
"What's up, Jonathan?"
"We need to talk. You wanna take a walk with me?” I looked at mom, and she nodded.
"Yeah, just let me run upstairs and grab my sweater."
I looked at mom again and noticed for the first time that her eyes looked red and swollen from crying. I ran up the first three steps and then turned around and looked at Jonathan, "I trust you," I said. My heart rate went up as I ran up the stairs two steps at a time, and it wasn't just from running I can tell you. I grabbed my favorite sage-green sweater from the hook on the back of my bedroom door and stuffed my arms into the sleeves as I ran back down the stairs.
I was pretty nervous because of the tension that I felt in the air. The only noise that I could hear was my violent heart beat and the crunch of the fall leaves beneath our shoes. I waited for him to break the silence, fear gripping at my heart.
Then finally, "I have lung cancer."
I gasped, and then drew a deep breath, "Is that all? I thought there for a minute that you changed your mind about marrying me."
"Listen, Laura. You don't understand. I waited too long to go see why I wasn't getting over my attack of Bronchitis and now it has developed into lung cancer. I have a type called bronchoalveolar cell carcinoma, and it's terminal.”
“But if you have that type can't you get a lung transplant?”
“They only do in very special cases, but my cancer was caught too late and it has spread, so no.”
I turned pale and shuddered. "How long do we have?" My voice sounded so tense, and I could barely get the words out. It felt like ages before he answered.
"Laura, I'm not going to ask you to go through this with me. I'm letting you out of the engagement."
Now I started crying, sobbing out loud.
After I finally stopped I lifted my head and looked him in the eye.
"No. It took two to make the engagement, and it will take two to break it. I love you. When I said I would marry you, I knew that marriage would be a sacrifice. I didn't necessarily know that it would be this kind of sacrifice, but I knew it would be a sacrifice. Jonathan, even if it's going to be terrible, and I might be scared, I'm not gonna jump and run and leave you to suffer by yourself." I swallowed another sob before I continued. "The Bible says, 'A greater love hath no man than this; that he lay down his life for a friend.' I love you so much, and I would give anything to suffer in your place. Please, Jonathan, please let me do this! You didn't answer my question. How long do we have?"
I saw Jonathan wipe away a few tears before he answered. "We have five months at the most."
"Okay, let's get married this Friday instead of waiting 'til December 21st."
"But Laura, that only gives you three days to get everything ready."
"I know, but I don't want to waste a single minute."
We turned and slowly made our way back to the house. Mom was in the office talking to Daddy when we came in.
"Well," Daddy looked at both of us and seemed to like the fact that we were both smiling.
"What did y'all decide?"
Jonathan explained to them that we were getting married on Friday. Dad nodded and smiled at me (He seemed to know that it had been my idea, and the look he gave me said, "That's my girl!").
Mom looked a little bit worried and said, "But that's in three days! We haven't sent invitations, or asked any of the bridesmaids, or called a church, or even ordered your wedding dress!"
"I thought about all of that already. I will wear Gramma's wedding dress with your veil, and Judy and Amanda can be my bridesmaids. We can buy two dozen roses at Walmart for us to carry. I will be married here, and we can have our pastor do the ceremony. We will only invite our church family, and any relatives that can get here in time. Judy can make the wedding cake, and Amanda can decorate the staircase."
"Well, I suppose that will be fine. Are you sure you wouldn't rather wait a little longer and have the big church wedding that you were planning?"
"No, Mom. If I wait much longer it will be too late for any wedding at all."
She looked from Jonathan to me, and from me to Jonathan, and sighed. "Alright. I'll start calling my relatives."
"Don't forget to ask Gramma to bring her wedding dress. Oh, and if she and Grampa can, they should come tomorrow. That way Gramma can help with food.
"Oh, Daddy could you ask Grandmom if she can bring her pearls? She always said I could wear them when I got married."
"Sure, Laura! What else can I do?"
"Umm, you could call Pastor Jim for me, if you don't mind. I'm gonna call Judy and Amanda, and maybe their two little girls can be flower girl and ring-bearer."
Jonathan gave me a look. "I thought that ring-bearers were supposed to be boys!"
"Yeah, normally they are, Silly, but that doesn't mean that girls can't be ring-bearers. And besides, I don't have any nephews, only nieces."
Jonathan stuck his tongue out at me, and I just laughed. It felt so good to laugh with him.
"Staying for dinner?" I asked him.
"Yeah, the boss let me off for today 'cause of my doctors appointment."
I could see a cloud fall over his face when he mentioned the appointment. I smiled at him and said,
"Honey, don't worry about anything. God has a plan for us, and even if we don't see it or don't understand it, it's still perfect for us because it's what God wants for us. He promised not to test us above our abilities, so that means that if it seems too hard it's because we are depending on our own strength instead of God's. So come on! I'll race ya to the mailbox!"
He beat me of course, but how could I run very fast when I was laughing like a carefree two-year-old? He felt better after the run, and when I walked him out to his car when he left that night he said, "Thanks for all of the encouraging words today; it gave me a whole different outlook on everything. Oh and thanks for that other thing, too." He looked at me with an impish grin.
"What 'other thing'?"
"For calling me 'honey'. I love it!"
"What are you gonna call me in return?"
"How about Pumpkin?"
"You're kidding, right?"
"Of course I am, Dear!" He laughed at me and I shook my head at him, playfully frowning.
"You'd better get outta here and get some sleep, big boy."
"Yeah, I guess so. 'Bye, Dear!"
"'Bye, Honey. I love you bunches!"
"Love you too!"
When I waved at him the full moon caught the sparkle of my diamond ring, and I remember thinking about how romantic and picture-perfect everything was.
The next day was Wednesday, and I was busy calling all of my relatives, church family, and close friends to invite them to the wedding. We went to a pretty small church and almost all of my friends went there, too, so when I made a count of all the people that could come it came out to about twenty-five.
I decided to have my two sisters wear jean skirts with a white top and each carry half-a-dozen red roses. I planned to carry a dozen roses. My two nieces were going to wear red dresses that they already had, and we had some old white silk rose petals from when I was a flower girl for my Aunt Kelsey. My ring-bearer-girl would carry the rings in on my great-grandfather's Bible that my dad had.
On Thursday, my dad ran to Wal-mart and bought some last minute groceries and a new toothbrush for my grandad (He had forgotten to bring his). Judy put the finishing touches on the cake, and Amanda finished decorating the banisters while I put sleeping curlers in my two little nieces' hair. At 11:00 p.m. Jonathan called me.
"Hi! Umm, I wanted to call you and make sure that you aren't going to regret this."
"Regret what? This phone call? 'Cause I will regret it if you waste your time trying to talk me out of marrying you tomorrow. It won't work! I mean, trying to talk me out of marrying you tomorrow won't work. So don't even try it."
"Okay. I sure picked a good one! I mean, I couldn't even get rid of you if I tried."
"Oh, so now you're trying to get rid of me? Seriously, do you think I would ever give up on you?"
"No! No way! You are the most wonderful woman I have ever known. I love you so much that I can't even begin to tell you. No words will explain it. I was just praying and thanking God for you before I called. Why would he pick such a wonderful woman for such a sinner like me? It's just mind-boggling."
"Wow. I had no idea that you thought of me like that. It's so sweet to hear you say that. Hey, I want to apologize to you for being kinda take-over-ish about everything. It's not my place to boss people around, you're the boss."
"Of course I forgive you. But really, there's nothing to forgive. You haven't been bossy at all, except for when you said you would marry me when I tried to let you off, but if you hadn't put your foot down there I don't know what I would have done."
"Jonathan, you're making me cry because you're so sweet. And Honey, that's not a good thing 'cause I'll look terrible tomorrow if I don't stop."
"Are you kidding me? You would look terrible anyway."
Jonathan was always good at making me laugh. It was a gift he had. We talked on the phone until about 1:00 a.m., and then I finally got some sleep.
I got up at six because we were going to do the ceremony at 8:00 am and then eat a wedding breakfast. We originally planned to do an evening ceremony and wedding dinner, but since he couldn't get extra time off from work our honeymoon would only last til Monday morning, and we wanted as much time as we could get.
Jonathan got there at 7:30, and we talked and prayed for a little while together before it was time to start the ceremony. My dad walked me down our long staircase, and Jonathan met us at the bottom where my dad gave me away, and Jonathan kissed me for the first time.
The ceremony was very short, so at 8:30 we all sat down to a wedding breakfast. I went upstairs to change into my mom's going away dress from when she got married, and I tossed the bouquet. My best friend, Lacey, caught it. She laughed and said that one of the other girls should have caught it because she was sure that she was a confirmed old maid. I just smiled, because I knew better.
Jonathan and I went to a small inn in a town nearby where we could see the lake from our bedroom window and stayed there 'til Sunday morning. Then we packed up and met my parents at church, and from there we went to our own home. And when we got there Jonathan carried me across the threshold.
We walked around it and explored it for the first time since all the furniture had been situated (Our church volunteered to do that for us while we were on our short honeymoon.), and I didn't let go of his hand the whole time. I cried when I saw a jar of money and gift cards sitting on the counter, but I cried even more when I saw the note from Jonathan's boss saying he could have week off but still get a paycheck for that week. We spent the week taking long walks together, and riding our bikes over to my parent's house, and just laughing together. We made it a tradition to have someone over for dinner every Friday night, and it was a joy to share our little home with people. When he went back to work after that first glorious week, I would put little notes in his lunchbox telling him how much I loved him, or with a prayer for him, or some scripture verses.
Every afternoon I would cook dinner and then watch out the window for him. When he pulled into the driveway, I would always run out the front door shouting "Welcome Home!" And hug him, and kiss him and then lead him into the house for supper.
One particular evening when we had been married for exactly two months, I had a surprise in store for him. I ran out to meet him with a little white envelope in my hand, and after I was done hugging him he asked me what was in it. I told him that he would have to catch me to find out and took off running into the house. After chasing me around the house a few times he finally caught me. He wouldn't have caught me so quickly if I hadn't tried to climb over our bed, but I did, and he dove on top of me and pinned me down.
"So, what do we have here?"
"You have to pay for it first!"
So he kissed me and then I handed him the little white envelope. He opened it, and inside of it was a little piece of paper that said "Happy Father's Day!" on it. He gave me a comical look and said, "Is this some kind of a riddle? Or wait... are you trying to tell me what I think you're trying to tell me?"
I nodded vigorously and then he kissed me again.
"Aren't you excited?" I giggled like a twelve-year-old girl. This was one of the very happiest days of my life. We started planning how we would decorate our baby's room, and painted it together. We had my parents over for dinner the next Friday and told them all about it. We were all so happy.
And then I started worrying about Jonathan. He seemed so much more tired in the evenings, and he got to where he didn't feel like eating much. His symptoms were also getting worse. All that he liked to do in those next days was to sit on the porch swing with me and hold me in his arms. He went into the hospital on the four-month anniversary of our wedding.
The nurses there at the hospital were so kind to me, and were so nice about leaving us alone together as much as possible.
One day when the end felt very near, I suddenly experienced the most over-whelming peace I had ever felt. I knew that God was preparing me to say goodbye, and that he would give me the strength to give my husband to Him cheerfully. I was sitting in a chair next to Jonathan's bed and holding his hand in mine. He was sleeping very deeply, and I was just about to doze off when he suddenly opened his eyes and said, "Laura, I love you so much. Never forget: 'a greater love hath no man...'" and then his voice trailed off as he faintly squeezed my hand and closed his eyes with a sigh. I didn't even try to stop my tears, but let them run freely down my face. A few minutes later a nurse came in to do Jonathan's evening check-up. I looked up at her and said, "It's too late; he's already gone."
The nurse gave a start but went on with her check-up and then turned to me and said, "No, he's not; he is in a very deep sleep, so try not to wake him up. This is the best sleep he has had since he came to this hospital."
I cried even more, silently thanking God that he was still alive and asking God to bless him in a special way.
Two days later a doctor came in an sat down next to me. "Mrs. Howard, would it be fine with you if I do another CT scan on your husband's lungs? He has improved so much in the last two days. I just suddenly got this gut-feeling that I need to do another scan."
"Sure! I don't see why not. When do you want to do it?"
"In three hours, if that is fine with you."
"Yes, that is perfectly fine."
I stopped and prayed, and asked God to please let the results from this CT scan be good. For some reason I felt extremely excited about this.
About an hour after Jonathan finished with the doctors, one of them came to me with the results on a clipboard. He seemed very nervous, or excited or something, because his hands were shaking violently as he looked at his report.
"Mrs. Howard, nothing short of a miracle from God has occurred: the cancer that had spread outside of your husband's lungs is completely terminated."
I burst out crying hysterically. The doctor stood and quietly waited until I had regained my composure and then continued, "We are not going by just the CT scan, but by some other tests that I had done on your husband in the last two days. So, that means that we can do a lung transplant on your husband, because we see him as one of the special cases of bronchoalveolar cell carcinoma. Do I have your permission to put him on the waiting list for a bilateral transplant?”
"Yes, by all means. Praise God! And oh, Doctor! I don't know how to thank you!"
Two weeks later the nurse told me that they had a donor for Jonathan, and that they needed to prepare him for the transplant which would take place in twenty minutes. I thanked God for another miracle.
Jonathan came out of surgery doing very well under the circumstances. One month after Jonathan came out of surgery I went into labor, and our precious baby boy was born ten hours later. We named him Jonathan Russell Howard for his father and grandfather. Jonathan recovered much faster than the most hopeful doctor predicted, and we were able to go home five months after his surgery.
God blessed us with five more children over the years, and our little house grew in size and in love. My friend Lacey (the one that caught the bouquet at my wedding) married my brother right after Jonathan, the baby, and I went home, and they have seven children now. My brother built a house right next to ours, and our children are growing up together.
Every day I thank God for blessing us so greatly, but most of all I thank Him for letting me keep my husband. Jonathan and I will be celebrating our twentieth wedding anniversary day-after-tomorrow, and never does a day go by that I don't look at my Jonathan and say, "'Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for a friend.' Aren't you glad that I married you anyway?"
He usually teases me and says, "Sometimes..." and then I punch him in the shoulder, and we laugh and thank God again for the miracles that He has done in our lives.