It was 25 yrs ago today that a seemingly innocuous event happened that established the course of the rest of my life– a TGIF happy hour. There are no accidents in God’s economy. The 24th wasn’t the date, but it was this Friday in May. People ask me how I remember these things; it’s just the way my mind works–compartmentalizing time in a certain fashion to create meaning for my life–maybe it’s a gift, maybe not.
In May, 1988, I had been divorced for about a year and a half. I was relieved to be out of a painful 9-year marriage but I was wretchedly lonely. I had bought a little cement block house in a wooded area on a lake. It had a stunning view and for a few weeks I felt like the luckiest guy in the world–I couldn’t believe that I actually lived here, that I was not a guest–I lived here, it was mine. But I didn’t know anybody in Orange City, and I made no attempt to get to know my only two neighbors and so after a while it started to feel like a very lonely spot. It was 20 miles or more from where I worked and my heretofore Florida “roots.” But my mother lived just a couple miles away, which is why I moved here, and so I was close enough to keep an eye on her and most days I stopped by there. I did have a few casual friends from a community mental health center where I’d worked for 13 years, but they were all married and had their own lives. I had one single guy friend from the center who I hung out with on occasion–but mostly I just felt terribly alone and isolated. I did what I could to keep busy. I had little home improvement projects. I joined a Nautilus gym and developed a mad crush on an unattainable aerobics teacher. I didn’t miss my wife, but I missed our level of communication–and the occasional intimacy.
The other thing I started doing again, which I’d done plenty of when I was single before, was hang out in bars. I’m not proud of it, but I always had to have my spot. I always had a “Cheers” type bar where I went 3 or 4 nights a week. I’d sit at the bar sparking one Camel Light after another, sipping scotch, looking at my image in the mirror or scanning the tiers of multi-hued bottles and hoping that someone attractive would talk with me–they almost never did–and after a while I realized that I was headed down a path I’d been down before and where I didn’t want to go again. So I went back to sitting at home at night, reading or watching the tube and generally feeling sorry for myself. In retrospect, I can’t believe that I’d reached age 43 or 44 and my social skills were that limited–but they were.
By about April of ’88, I’d gotten so desperate that I actually started to pray about my situation. At that time I felt kind of sheepish about that because I thought you only went to the Lord with life’s big issues–like life and death things, not whiney stuff like how you were feeling. One friend suggested I join a church to make some friends. Well, the only people I really wanted to meet were single ladies and I felt like going to church for that purpose was beneath me–and also that seeing my sorry face in church looking for a babe would not be very pleasing to the Lord.
Early in April, an old friend, my stepson’s godmother Edith called to tell me about an event happening in May. She was one of the three organizers of a day-long workshop for single, widowed and divorced Catholics. Due to the fact that I was a counselor she thought I should participate, perhaps as a speaker. I deferred. I felt too shy and wounded to even attend this event. Then Edith said the magic words, “Well, Carl there will be 300 divorced Catholic women there.” The lightbulb went on.
The workshop was great. It was at St. Margaret Mary in Winter Park. There were plenty of handouts and speakers–one priest gave a memorable talk about forgiveness. There were small group sessions organized by topics of interest to singles, and between sessions there were breaks. I went out to a smoking area in the courtyard between sessions and each break I started noticing the same faces. Two ladies, Laura and Patty and a guy Alex were there every break and we started to talk–Laura was kind of cute and very friendly. They were members of Annunciation Singles, connected with the Church of the Annunciation in Altamonte Springs. Laura told me that the coming Friday they were having a Happy Hour at a restaurant in Longwood. Yay, my kind of event–drink in hand, I just knew I could relax enough to be charming and likeable.
So, the magic Friday came. On the 20-minute drive there I was so nervous that perspiration had not just soaked my under-arm, but my shirt totally down to my waist was damp. When I sauntered into the bar trying to look like Joe Cool, I was scared out of my wits, and I realized that my soaked shirt totally betrayed my wannabe sophisticated demeanor. The thought occurred to me to just leave, but I was a driven man and like the Blues Brothers on “a mission from God”–though I didn’t know that then, but I do now.
Laura was really happy to see me and she introduced me to the group’s president and social director, Bob and Vinnie. They both looked me in the eye, shook my hand and with great warmth said “Carl, we’re really glad you are here.” I couldn’t believe it. I knew almost immediately that I’d found a home. There were about twenty people at the happy hour–almost all in their 40s, mostly divorced and about an equal number of men and women. They were mostly well-educated, well-dressed and generally observant Catholics. They looked like the kind of folks that I could be comfortable with–and they were, and within weeks my social life totally revolved around this group. I had found friends, I had found a home.
Like I said, there are no accidents in God’s economy. To this day, 25-yrs later, there are people I met that friday night, and in the ensuing few months, who remain close friends. The group petered out in the late-1990s. However, every few months, someone in the old Annunciation alumni group will suggest a game-nite or happy hour–and we will gather. A dozen or so are friends on Facebook and keep in touch thru Fb.
This past Wednesday evening several of us gathered for a sad occasion–to say goodbye to a friend. Dave is skin and bones and only has days left. He has serious dementia and I’m not even sure how aware he was of our presence. He’s on morphine. His eyes were open and at times his lips moved but no words came out. Stan and Nell tried to talk with him. Eventually, I just laid hands on and prayed and they did the same. It was sad and painful, but I’m glad we were there.
Two friends I met in the Annunciation group, Stan Hahn and Nancy Smith, led me to another church in 1993–Northland Community Church, and that led to a time of rich spiritual growth in my life, and eventually in 1999, a ministry of sorts. Once again, being led to Northland followed a time of sadness, restless dissatisfaction, and eventually, prayer. Now there’s a concept: praying for the Lord to fill a legitimate need. It’s an amazing and wonderful thing when our needs, our prayers, and the Lord’s plan come together.
God’s timing is no happy accident: Ephesians 2:10: “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God has before ordained, that we should walk in them.”