Ah yes, Valentine’s Day.
In the cold, dark depths of winter, a lot of folks are thinking about love. We’ve set aside a whole day to honor it—to find new ways to acknowledge or appreciate love.
Many are actively looking for it. It’s an elusive thing, this concept of love. With all the cultural influence and pressure to “find” it, no wonder people feel compelled to embark on an outward mission for love.
We need it. We want it. We’ve gotta look for it. Work for it. Keep it.
Often, the outward searching is futile. We get so busy in our quest to find and identify and earn love from the world, that we forget it’s already here.
We forget to look inward and upward.
We overlook or underappreciate the love that comes from within and from above, the love that lasts through changing circumstances, that withstands change and tragedy and loss.
My friend Lisa Wangerin has walked with love in many forms. She has felt it burn brightly, and watched its flames die out.
She has said goodbye to love only to rediscover its unexpected warmth and ease.
She has looked outward, inward, and upward for love, and through years of growth and experience, has found the gift of authentic love without condition or limitation – the only love that’s guaranteed to last.
This is Lisa’s story.
At age fifteen, Lisa began dating her high school crush, Greg. The two were inseparable through the remainder of their school years, and married at age twenty. Lisa and Greg had three children together – Andy, Neal, and Allysa.
The first ten years of marriage were great. Lisa and Greg enjoyed one another’s company and delighted in their young children. But a decade into their marriage, the relationship became rocky. External pressures, like Lisa’s mother dying of cancer, put strain on their household, and they found themselves working through issues of infidelity and loss of love.
For several years, they sought healing for their marriage. They opened their hearts to their pastor and church community. They participated in a year of counseling. But still, they were unable to rekindle the love they once had for one another. Lisa and Greg separated in October 2003 and divorced in 2004, after twenty-three years of marriage.
Shortly after her divorce was finalized, friends began asking to set up Lisa on dates. She was hesitant about dating. She had built a wall to protect her fragile heart and was not ready to break it down. Lisa was content being single, and wanted to put her efforts into her children, especially her daughter Allysa, who was a freshman in high school at that time.
Eventually, Lisa began praying that if God did indeed want her to be in a relationship again, that he would work out the details. Her dear friend Chris had suggested to her the importance of praying specifically. She made a list of the five qualities she wanted in a man:
- Loves the Lord
- My age
- Does not have small children
- Has a big extended family
- Has hair
In 2005, Lisa’s friend Tracy insisted that she meet a man named Steve Hansen. Tracy told Lisa what a kind, wonderful man Steve was; she was convinced the two could make a great pair.
Lisa and Steve had their first date in May of 2005. They felt an immediate attraction. There was so much common ground between the two. Steve had been married the same number of years as Lisa. He was also divorced, and had children close in age to Lisa’s own.
He had hair.
The two began dating regularly. Steve shared his love of motorcycles with Lisa, and she quickly discovered her inner biker-chick! The two of them enjoyed many bike trips together that summer, growing deeper in love with every moment together.
Lisa was delighted to have a loving companion in her life. They grew closer to one another and to God as they studied Rick Warren’s The Purpose Driven Life. Steve’s faith in God was renewed and Lisa was able to shed the protective shell she had built around her tender heart.
On the evening of August 23, 2005, Lisa was at home expecting Steve to come by for a visit after an afternoon of riding motorcycles with his son.
Steve never showed up. He never called.
At ten o’clock that night, the phone finally rang, but it wasn’t Steve on the line– it was his daughter Amanda, calling to inform Lisa that her dad was gone, that he had been in an accident and passed away.
Knowing what a prankster Steve was, Lisa thought it was all a joke. She laughed and told Amanda to tell her dad she wasn’t mad at him for being late.
“No, Lisa,” Amanda continued, “he’s really gone.”
Steve and his son had been driving their bikes on a gravel road. He lost control on a curve, and when he laid down the bike, it landed on top of him, severing his femoral artery. He was gone within minutes.
Lisa called her pastor, James Danielson, and her friends, Denise and Celeste, and rushed to the local ER. There, she said goodbye to Steve, who “looked just like an angel lying there, with barely a mark on his body.”
Lisa was devastated to have lost her companion…again. Yet she had a peace from God that she could not explain or understand. She knew that Steve was with the Lord, and that God would continue caring for her as she mourned the loss of her loved one.
Looking back on the events surrounding their relationship, Lisa believes that God put the two of them together to soften both of their hearts. Through Lisa, Steve experienced the joy of renewed faith and rediscovered love. In turn, as Steve’s faith connection was strengthened, Lisa’s walls came down, and she entered a new stage of peace and assurance.
At that time, Lisa accepted that she might spend the rest of her days alone – it was difficult to imagine opening her heart again after the pain she had endured.
She continued to pray that if God’s will for her future included a romantic relationship, he would lead her to the man who met the expectations she had outlined on her list, which now included one more item:
- Rides a motorcycle.
Friends and family encouraged Lisa to keep dating, but she just didn’t feel motivated to go out looking for love.
She laughs about the time her daughter Allysa convinced her to sign up for a free trial on eHarmony. “In a whole month, I had ONE hit! It was a mountain biker named Ed – yeah, he rode a bike, but it was the wrong kind! I bought another month because I was so mad. Then my girlfriends at work told me they were signed up too, and they would tease me — ‘Oh, I had seventeen hits this month! I had twenty-two hits and you only had one?’ I thought, ‘I can’t believe this! What is wrong with me?’
On her birthday in 2006, Lisa’s dear friend Julie bought her a “man pillow” with a stuffed fabric body and arm. They had a wonderful time laughing about Lisa’s new “boyfriend!”
A few months later, Tracy, the friend who had set Lisa up with Steve, told Lisa she had someone in mind that she just had to meet. She couldn’t believe she hadn’t thought of this man for Lisa before! His name was Scott. Tracy had known him her whole life, and believed he had many of the qualities Lisa would hope for in a companion.
Lisa told Tracy, “Well ok, I’ll meet him, but you KNOW I don’t like dating!”
A few days later, Scott called Lisa and they chatted on the phone for a half hour before setting up a date to meet for pizza at The Sidetrack.
Lisa sat at the bar watching for Scott to come in. She noticed a very handsome man wearing a baseball cap walking up to the restaurant; a minute later, she was happy to learn that the handsome man was indeed Scott!
The two hit it off immediately. Conversation was light and easy. The waiter kept coming over to see if they wanted to order, but they hadn’t even looked at the menu. They chatted about their families and Lisa learned that Scott had two adult children of his own, Stacey and Matt, along with a large extended family – Scott has five siblings! They spent three hours talking and laughing that evening.
Before the date, Lisa had arranged for her niece Debbie to stop by the restaurant on her way home from a baseball game, just in case Lisa needed a way out of a bad date. When Debbie came, Lisa gave her the code word for “Get lost!”
She was having a wonderful time with Scott.
Later, when Lisa reported back to Tracy that the date was a success, Tracy giggled that she had a confession. Scott kept his baseball cap on through dinner because he didn’t have hair. Lisa said supposed she was willing to overlook one item on the list since he met all her other hopes and expectations!
It didn’t take long for Lisa to feel that Scott was the man she would spend her life with. She felt gratitude for a wonderful companion, but also a bit of anxiety because of past hurts. Driving home from work one day, Lisa prayed, “Lord, I need to know if this is the man you want me to be with. I am falling in love. Please help me to know your will so that I can move ahead with peace.” Just after she prayed those words, a clip of Pastor Greg Laurie played on the radio. He quoted this scripture “Be still and let God do the work” (Exodus 14:14).
From that moment forward, Lisa felt an abundance of confidence and peace about her relationship with Scott. She never turned back.
On Valentine’s Day (a day Lisa had always hated!) of the year 2007, Lisa and Scott were married at Lisa’s home church in Norway. Although no formal invitations were mailed, Lisa was surprised and honored by the number of family and friends who attended the wedding ceremony.
Lisa’s daughter, Alyssa, and Scott’s daughter, Stacey, served as attendants. Lisa’s father, Louie, and oldest son, Andy, walked her down the aisle to meet Scott at the altar.
Several friends helped make the day special and memorable. Diane fixed Lisa’s hair and makeup, Cris made a delicious cake, Dan recorded the ceremony, and Catherine provided lovely piano music. “It was just a fairytale,” Lisa beamed.
Scott and Lisa have enjoyed many blessings in their first years of marriage, including two delightful grandchildren and moving into their new home in 2008. They’ve taken motorcycle trips and enjoyed numerous family get-togethers and adventures.
But as Lisa well knows, no life — no relationship — is without hardships.
In April of 2014, a routine mammogram revealed a mass in Lisa’s breast tissue. After further testing, she learned that she had a genetic form of breast cancer.
“I got the phone call on Easter weekend. I couldn’t believe it. I cried and cried in Scott’s arms. He just held me. All we could do was hold each other.”
This story was too familiar. Lisa’s mother, Pat, died of breast cancer at age 56. She was diagnosed at age 53, the same age Lisa was on the day of her diagnosis.
“I thought, ‘I’ll be dead and buried.’ Stage two Triple Negative cancer is fast and aggressive,” she said. “I planned a trip that I thought would be my last family trip. I was terrified.”
“Then one day I was driving in my car – it was about two weeks after my diagnosis – and I was listening to K-LOVE radio.God doesn’t ‘speak’ to me all the time or anything, but when He does it’s clear. He said ‘Lisa, listen to the words of this next song.’ It was “Glorious Unfolding” by Steven Curtis Chapman. The chorus is:
And this is going to be a glorious unfolding,
Just you wait and see and you will be amazed.
We’ve just got to believe the story is so far from over,
So hold on to every promise God has made to us
And watch this glorious unfolding.
“And it just hit me that God had plans for me yet – that I would see a glorious unfolding. That song — it has become my theme song through all this. I had never even heard it before, but God just told me to listen and I did. It gave me such hope.”
Soon after, Lisa was surprised and overjoyed to learn that her doctors were quite optimistic about her prognosis. She started chemotherapy with “her girls” in the very hospital where she works as a nurse.
In October, Lisa had a double mastectomy. As Lisa was wheeled out of the room to go into surgery, she heard the sound of Scott sobbing, overcome with emotion. “After all those months of being there for me, of being my rock, he finally broke down. I called him over and hugged him close. I said, “Scotty, it’s gonna be ok. It’s all gonna be ok.”
And it was. The surgery went as expected. Of the fourteen lymph nodes that were removed, only one was affected by the cancer.
Scott was right at Lisa’s side throughout her recovery. He refused to go home from the hospital, spending the night in the room with his wife. After her discharge, he nursed her at home, caring for her emotional needs as well as the physical necessities.
“I don’t know how I would have gotten through this without Scott’s support. He’s behind the scenes on everything. I’m getting cards and food and prayers from others, and I just want to pass those blessings along to him for everything he’s done.”
This week, Lisa and Scott will celebrate eight years of marriage. Looking back, Lisa feels as though she has lived three different lifetimes, each allowing her to grow in faith and strength as she revised her hopes and expectations for relationships and for the future.
“I thank God every day for his grace,” she says. “I’ve had so many ‘Really, God?’ moments in my life. I’ve been through a lot, but I trusted the Lord and have found a solid relationship that was truly God-ordained. I used to believe in soul mates – at this point in my life, I don’t think there is one soul mate for everyone. I have truly loved three men over three different stages of my life. But I do believe, now, that I have found the love of my life in Scott.”
Lisa is confident that her story is far from over. Her recent bone scan and CAT scan detected no cancer anywhere in her body. She is undergoing preventative radiation treatments and is hopeful that a healthy, bright future lies ahead.
“No matter what, we must never give up hope,” she says. “Without hope, the future is bleak. We can’t let a situation or event rob our joy for another day. Tomorrow is a new morning.”
I suppose when you’ve been through three lifetimes of joy and pain, you learn a lot about hope, about hanging on. You refine your perspective and recognize each day as another opportunity to witness a blessing, to experience love, to marvel at the promise of another glorious unfolding.