I pulled myself onto the bathroom counter so I could see my face in the mirror close-up. Red-rimmed eyes. Runny nose. Cheeks streaked with mascara. The next time you get to thinking you want a man in your life, I told myself, remember this. Remember how miserable you are.
I held up my bare finger, the one that had once boasted a gorgeous diamond ring. Divorced. For the second time. I was a woman of accomplishment, a school principal. Mother to two beautiful girls. Yet I was a magnet for men who were not what they seemed. Why couldn’t I get marriage right?
That morning, my lawyer had called to tell me my divorce was finalized. I had known it was coming, but the emotions that boiled up surprised me. Anger. Shame. Confusion. I didn’t want the girls to see me like this. I dropped them off at my sitter’s house. Then I retreated to my bathroom and proceeded to have an epic pity party.
“God, do you even love me?” I choked out. “How could you let this happen to me again? Don’t you care about my children? Our happiness?”
I’d grown up in New York City, raised by strict parents of Jamaican and Portuguese descent. They instilled in my four siblings and me the importance of using our God-given abilities to succeed in life.
My mother was a nurse, with a side business as a cake baker and designer. My father owned a construction company and used his basement barbershop to minister to young men. We kids were expected to be just as driven. I pushed myself to excel in everything I did—academics, piano, art. Marriage and family were sacred. Divorce was something spoken of only in whispers.
In college, I fell in love with literature and writing. I earned a master’s degree in education and got hired to teach sixth grade for a school district on Long Island, on top of teaching art at an inner-city school.
I often got assigned the kids the other teachers had given up on. The problem students. But I discovered I had a talent for keeping them engaged, motivated. I mentored several students outside the classroom and got involved in citywide programs. That’s how I met Husband No. 1. He worked for the New York City mayor’s office. Smart, motivated, handsome. And he had Caribbean roots like mine. That confirmed he was the one. I didn’t even have to pray on it. We married.
Then I discovered how little we actually had in common. Like the fact that he was a smoker and didn’t exercise, while I loved in-line skating. We were opposites in our approach to handling finances and emotions. He had zero interest in praying or reading the Bible together. Our first year of marriage, I got pregnant and gave birth to a baby girl we named Zaji. Parenthood didn’t bring us any closer. We divorced a year later.
My parents were supportive, but there was no hiding their disappointment. I threw myself into my work and made plans to pursue a doctorate, recruited by Arizona State for an intensive program. Meanwhile, I mentored new teachers in New York City. That’s how I met Husband No. 2. I knew the pitfalls to look out for by then. He was regimented, financially responsible, raised in the church. And the way he folded laundry made me melt.
“He’s amazing!” I gushed to God one night. I wasn’t asking for confirmation exactly, but it sure felt right.
I got accepted into the ASU program. Neither of us realized how demanding the program would be. I got pregnant and had our daughter Kesia. Raising two children added to the strain. I graduated and found a job as an assistant principal at a school an hour from our home. Zaji cried every day when I left for work.
In time, I learned my husband and I had different ideas about parenting and discipline. We stayed together for five years, but in the end, it was clear we couldn’t go on. That’s how I ended up with a second failed marriage.
I stared in the bathroom mirror at my tear-stained reflection and shook my head. It was obvious I couldn’t trust my own instincts. “God, what should I do?” I said. “Write it in crayon for me.” I needed the answer spelled out so clearly that a first grader would understand it.
The previous few weeks, I’d been going to a seminar for single people at my church, led by a guest pastor from the Bahamas. His words came to me now: “Work on yourself.” “Start with your relationship with God.” “Be whole and seek whole people.”
Scanning the room, I found a big brown paper bag that was sticking out of my purse. I hopped down from the counter and snatched it up, then found an eyeliner pencil. Not a crayon but close enough. One by one I listed the things I wanted to work on:
1. Develop a consistent prayer life.
2. Connect more intentionally with my children.
3. Learn to date myself.
A total of 11 items.
Then I heard something deep in my spirit: Just believe.
A sense of rightness filled me. I needed to follow the roadmap God had laid out, to trust in him more than I did in myself.
I turned the bag over and began listing the qualities to seek in a husband. There was nothing about looks or a Caribbean ancestry. This was about the kind of man God wanted for me. A man who truly wanted to be a father, who treated his parents with love and respect. Who had the highest integrity and was a Christian in both word and deed. There were 12 qualities by the time I was done.
In the months that followed, I focused on being the best person and mother I could be. I spent a half hour each morning praying and reading Scripture, opening myself to God’s presence. It was like a protein shake for my soul, a great way to start each new day.
I established routines for the girls, giving them simple chores, limiting screen time and enrolling them in Sunday school. I also scheduled weekly game nights and outings to the park. It wasn’t easy being a single mother, but I felt closer to my girls than I ever had before.
I joined a gym and worked out regularly. Took up painting again, even entered local art shows. And I went on dates with myself. I would hire a sitter and go to a movie on my own. Or out to a nice restaurant. I still felt lonely at times, but there was no longer a sense of desperation. My life was full. I had become whole.
Nearly three years went by. One day, on a lark, I created a profile on a Christian dating site. A few days later, I saw a message from a man named Tony in my in-box: “Hi. Would love to chat!” He was handsome. Career military. Divorced, with children. Interesting, but I wasn’t going to leap into anything.
I messaged him back. We hit it off. “Would you like to meet for coffee at the bookstore?” he asked one day.
We wandered around the store on a Saturday afternoon. He laughed easily, seemed genuinely interested in me. We gravitated to the section on nutrition and fitness, then fiction. He was looking for a book for his daughter and asked for my suggestions. His thoughtful questions made it clear he was really listening.
We went to the coffee bar. The conversation never lagged. He was a chief warrant officer with the Army. He had just come home from a deployment in Iraq. He asked about my daughters and talked about his parents, his upbringing, the importance of family and faith. He didn’t have Caribbean roots, but I knew my parents would approve of his values.
Neither of us wanted the date to end. We went to dinner. A movie afterward. Then a jazz club. On the dance floor, he pulled me close and whispered, “Just believe.”
Only after I got home did I remember I’d heard those exact words three years earlier, that night of my bathroom pity party. Where was that list I’d written? I found the paper bag stuffed in the bottom of my closet.
I read over the qualities in a husband I’d felt directed to write. My pulse quickened. I could see so much of the list reflected in Tony. But before I opened my heart to him, there was someone I needed to ask first.
“God, is he the one?” I prayed. “Help me to be sure.”
The next morning, after church, I waited impatiently for two young women at the end of the pew to exit. They’d been staring at me throughout the whole service. Irritating.
The taller of the two strangers turned and asked, “Are you married?”
What business is it of yours? I thought. But I said, “Why do you ask?”
“God asked my friend to tell you something,” she said. “I’m trying to convince her to share it with you.”
“Okay,” I said slowly.
“You’re not married, but you want to be, right?” the shorter woman said.
Anyone could see that I wasn’t wearing a wedding ring. This is your divine message?
The woman pressed on. “You have two girls who need a father figure. You’ve been praying for a godly husband, a protector. A man of integrity and honor.”
The woman kept talking, but I no longer saw her or her friend or the pew. I felt as if I were alone with God. “God has heard all your prayers, and they will be answered speedily. The man God has chosen for you, you’ve either just met or will meet soon. Just believe.”
The message could not have been more clear if it had been written out in crayon.
It was only after Tony asked me to marry him, four months later, that I shared this experience with him. By then he had shown he possessed every quality on my list and then some. We married nine months after our first date, on Valentine’s Day, 2007. Fourteen years later, I’ve memorized the list I wrote in eyeliner on that brown paper bag. I think of it as a love letter from the One who knew what and who I needed far better than I did.
Culled from guideposts.org by Katherine Hutchinson-Hayes