Rosemary and Neil
A chase across the continents
The Story of Rosemary and Neil
After my separation and subsequent divorce I spent the first few years believing that God would restore my marriage. Then when it became clear that my husband had permanently broken our marriage covenant and was pursuing divorce so that he could remarry, I began to realise that God would never force him against his will. At that time I held the view that remarriage after divorce was not allowable even for the “innocent” party. There were some clear defining moments when I moved from this position to doing what amounts to a complete U-turn.
As the pain of divorce healed I found myself looking at other couples that had remarried after divorce, and observing how God was pouring out his blessing on their new relationship. This didn’t fit well with my theology, so I read a good Bible based book to try to see things from a different viewpoint. I saw that the only way now that I could fulfill my original marriage vows was to pray for him, and as a result I began to discover a growing concern for my ex-husband and his new wife and a desire to see their relationship to God blossom. This is, in the light of eternity is the most important issue. I wasn’t comfortable with praying that God would break up their relationship so that we could be re-united – it just didn’t feel right.
I have had some excellent friends who have been my lifeline these past 7 years, listening to me, praying with me and helping me regain the joy of living. Only trouble was, they are mostly female. I missed the extra dimension of male company. “Coincidently”, if such a thing exists in the life of a Christian, an advertisement for a Christian introduction agency called “friendsfirst ” appeared in our weekly church newsletter. Wanting to make some new friends I signed up.
One of the Elders of the church I attend preached a message in which he encouraged us to find out what was the major call on our lives. If we are going to live effectively for Jesus then we need to know what our gifts and strengths are. I had begun a journal, in which I write things that were on my mind, prayers, and all sorts of things that I felt God was saying to me. As I thought about what I wanted most to do and be in life I finally admitted that my greatest desire was to be the wife of a man who also loved God, and to work along side him, loving and supporting him in whatever way needed – in other words, to be the sort of wife which would bring delight to his – and God’s heart. I now think that God sighed, said “At last! Now we can get on with my purposes for you!” Or something like that.
A really close friend – who had been living with us when my marriage fell apart was visiting from Japan just at the time my first profiles from Friends 1st arrived. I took them with me when we went out for a meal, and said to her “Which one have I chosen?” She also picked out the same profile. As I drove her home she told me of her experience when she started to trust God to lead her towards her husband. She asked God to clearly show her if she was pursuing “red herrings”. She didn’t want to cause unnecessary hurts for herself or others she might get involved with. This became my prayer too, which I recorded in my journal. I also told God that I was determined to line my will up with his, and asked that he would show me if I was making a mistake or being willful.
So – I wrote to this man (Neil Genders) who’s profile looked so interesting. He had not received mine, but when he had read it he interested enough to want to arrange a meeting. By this time he was about to go to Zambia for a few weeks, so it had to be postponed until after his returned. Right from the very beginning I had an excitement growing inside which had no basis in any concrete evidence. Certainly Neil’s profile matched all I had hoped, and I knew his description of what he was looking for matched my own profile.
But looking back on it now I know that it had the seal of approval from above – that God was saying “I know just the man who you will suit, and who will suit you”. Pause for violins, and hankies….
We finally met a few months later in Ashbourne, where I like to tease Neil by saying he interviewed me for an hour or so in his car, after a cup of coffee. We corresponded a few times by email, gradually getting to know each other. Neil was very busy preparing for the imminent arrival of a choir of young Zambians, and would be fully occupied for the next seven weeks. My twitchiness continued – patience may be a virtue but it is hard on the nerves. I resorted to decorating – anything that would occupy me until the concert at Ashbourne when we could again meet up.
I need now to change over to Neil’s story for the next bit. He had been tragically widowed two years earlier; when his wife died suddenly from a massive heart attack as he was on his way home form a business trip to family in Australia. He had joined Friends1st a year earlier, and when I wrote his membership had lapsed. He says he had one or two “skirmishes” but was disillusioned, as most people seemed to live miles away, which was no good when you wanted to meet up for a cup of coffee. He had been travelling to Zambia for several years, and he and his wife had sponsored a Zambian lady to do nurse training. Their friendship continued after his wife died – and gradually began to blossom. She was to accompany the choir when they came to England to see if there was any permanent mileage in a relationship, recognising the vast differences in their cultures. This was the situation when I first came on the scene. As it became obvious that my interest in Neil was growing, – and vice versa, and being the honourable man that he is, Neil explained the situation in an email, and gave me the option of continuing our friendship but just as a friendship – or discontinuing until it became clear how things would progress with his Zambian friend.
Even now I find it hard to put into words how I felt. I seemed to be operating on several channels at the same time. I knew – and phone Neil to tell him that the right way forward would be for me to back completely out of the picture. We left it that I would still come over to the concert in Ashbourne, as I was very interested to hear the choir, and that he would contact me if it was appropriate for us to start corresponding again. I knew that I had to kill the relationship in the same way that Abraham had to be prepared to kill his son Isaac at God’s request. But I also had more than a sneaky feeling that, like Abraham who believed God would resurrect Isaac from the dead our friendship would restart in the future. However, the present had to be coped with, and I put almost all thoughts of Neil out of my head and got on with my life. I made contact with some other Christian men via the Internet but no one appealed.
As the time for the Ashbourne concert drew near I had a short “testing the water” email from Neil to see if I was still intending to come. He told me that the cultural differences between he and his friend were too great, and asked me if I was interested in taking up our friendship where we had left off. My answer? YES.
Looking back over my journal there have been constant references to this man. There was a lull in the excitement during the weeks of separation, but I did note with interest the strong emotional reaction that the first brief email prompted.
On the way over to Ashbourne I remember praying that God would somehow let me have some indication as to his plans for us as a couple – I didn’t ask for anything specific – just that I would know. Well, no details, but I had enough to go on to light the blue touch paper. I couldn’t get Neil or the choir out of my head; I felt an emotional wreck. But still I had had only a few words and a few more emails from Neil to go on – not nearly enough to account for how I was feeling.
Again, lots of prayers; lots of submitting what I wanted to God, telling him that I was prepared to give it all up if I was making a big mistake. The next opportunity to see Neil – and the choir was at Worcester. This would need me to find accommodation overnight, and I was a little concerned in case Neil would feel he was being chased (which he was, of course.) But I needed to see him again just to settle in my mind and hear what God was saying. There wasn’t much opportunity to talk, as looking after the choir kept him fully occupied, but he did manage to convey to me his interest, and seeing him in action introducing the choir etc. gave me opportunity to observe him from a distance.
We were still corresponding by email, and I was getting more open about how I was feeling, and he too gave me confidence that it wasn’t all one-sided. I then took Joy with me to the last concert in the area, at Sutton Coldfield. Joy has been an essential God –given support over the past 7 years. We meet every week to talk, pray and generally encourage one another. It was important to get some feedback from her, which I knew wouldn’t just be her own opinion.
Then I had to be really patient whilst the choir tour went to London and then flew back to Zambia until Neil and I could finally meet and see what we thought about each other. Knowing he would be very tired after seven weeks of driving around, I suggested a walk in Dove Dale. This was met with enthusiasm, and we did so two days after the Zambians flew home.
Following that day we took opportunity to do some ordinary things together. The wake of the tour left 24 sets of sleeping bags, blankets, sheets, etc. to wash, plus carpets to clean, mattresses to be bagged up, gardening. Of course there was lots of talking, praying together, meeting friends and getting their feedback, questions, laughter. We asked each other “hard questions”, trying to see potential problem areas, and were as practical as possible in trying to find out how well matched we are. But the most important area of compatibility is a joint love for Jesus and a desire to learn together what he wants us to do. I shared my journal with Neil, showing that he didn’t stand a chance right from day 1 because not only was I on his case; God was too. And he was quickly convinced. We felt as if we had known each other for years, not months and very quickly started to plan a life together. We were engaged within three weeks and married seven weeks later and spent our honeymoon in Africa meeting all Neil’s friends.
It is high on our hearts that that visits to Africa will feature frequently. Meanwhile there is plenty to do whilst allowing the “glue ” on our marriage to set and we await God’s timing for the next step! Five months further on, and we are constantly amazed at how easily we fit together. Our families met for the first time on our wedding day and they got on so well. (we had three – one civil ceremony and two blessings in each of our churches). Knowing that God did the choosing has given us added security.