About this time three years ago, I was a mess. Most people, even my closest family and friends, didn't know it. I became a great actress, smiling and laughing when necessary, an expert at hiding my true feelings.
It had not even been two whole years since my husband Michael had been killed in a horrible accident. But it was enough time for people to move on. It wasn't so fresh and new anymore. The phone calls and letters had stopped coming. People didn't ask me how I was doing anymore, at least not in "that way." They saw me smiling, traveling, living life. "She's fine," they must have thought. But I was not in a good place.
Months before, friends had encouraged me to start dating again. And I did. But it was a disaster. I literally had no idea what I was doing. Michael and I had dated since I was practically a teenager, and I felt like a fish out of water, gasping for breaths.
I wasn't working, had almost completely stopped writing music and spent my days sleeping and my nights pacing, unable to sleep.
I knew I needed a change, something to force me out of the rut I was in. At this point, the YMCA had been an important part of my life, and I had wonderful relationships with many of the people there. I decided that I would start to work again. Not only that, but I would take the earliest shift possible to force myself to get up and out of bed. Well, the earliest shift possible was 5 am! But I went for it. Instead of staying up until 4 am , I forced myself to get to sleep by 10, so that I could be up by 4. And I loved it! I started working out again, enrolled in a couple of college courses and spent more time at the boutique I owned in Green Hills. I felt like I was moving towards the light.
But the darkness still found its way to me from time to time. I was lonely, and probably a little depressed, worried I would never fall in love again, or have children. These were two very important things that I wanted in my life, and I felt like they had been robbed from me. I often fell into the trap of feeling sorry for myself, hovering in that realm of self-pity for far too long.
About March of 2009, a friend and I went out for a girls' night. We had a great time, but somehow as we were getting ready to leave, I ended up in this awkward conversation with some guy. I think at that point, I didn't even want to think about dating or flirting. At any rate, it triggered something in me, and I spent the drive home crying and inwardly yelling at Michael for leaving me and putting me in the position of being single again and having to try and fit into the dating landscape.
I didn't sleep much that night and was utterly exhausted as I drove to work at 4:30 the next morning. But I did something different on this drive than I did on other mornings. I prayed.
Now, I grew up going to church, Sunday School, youth group. You name it, I was there. I had prayed many times, but looking back, I think they were more the stale prayers of someone who was used to praying the same words over and over again. I was never bold in my prayers. I never asked for anything, afraid that I would be over-stepping the God-Human boundary.
But this morning was different. I prayed like I had never prayed before, calling out and asking God for some very specific things. I prayed all the way to work.
About 30 minutes into my shift at the front door, a young man walked in. When he saw me, he got a huge smile on his face, like when you know someone and are wanting to say hello. I'd never seen this guy in my life.
"Are you still singing?" he asked me. Well, maybe he's seen a show of mine, or heard me sing at a YMCA event.
"Uh, not much," I replied, still a little confused.
"Well, you should, because God has given you a gift."
Well, okay, I thought as he walked away. That was nice. But a few minutes later, he returned, his eyes a little teary, and his hands shaking.
"This is really weird, but I have to ask you. Are you a Christian?"
"Yes," I said. "I am."
"Well, I was over there on the treadmill, and I got a very strong feeling, like God was telling me I needed to come over and talk to you. I didn't want you to think I was crazy, but the feeling just wouldn't go away. I think I'm supposed to come over here and tell you that your prayer will be answered."
My breath was knocked out of me. I had just spent the drive over praying a very specific prayer that I had never prayed before, and here was this stranger standing in front of me, telling me God had told him that my prayer would be answered. I didn't know what to think.
"I don't even know if that means anything to you, and you don't have to tell me, but I just couldn't leave until I talked to you," he said. And then he was gone. I never saw him again.
I spent the next couple of hours of my shift in a daze, oddly exhilarated, like I was walking on a cloud.
I left the Y and went to open up my boutique. About an hour after I had opened, I looked up and saw a large man standing in the doorway. He looked like Santa Claus. Even though I owned a women's boutique, I still had guys come in from time to time to buy something for a wife or girlfriend. I started to say "Hello, what can I help you with," when he came in and walked towards me. As he got closer, I saw that he had tears in his eyes and was carrying a book in his hands. He didn't say a word, just opened his book, which turned out to be an old yearbook, to an earmarked page.
"I'm Michael Lloyd, and I'm from Bushnell, Illinois," he said.
Well, once again, my breath was knocked out. My late husband's name was Michael Lloyd Bushnell.
He went on to tell me that he had read my recent article in Nashville's City Paper, about my boutique. It had mentioned Michael.
"I felt led to come here. I'm not sure why. Maybe it's the similarities in our name. But I feel like God is telling me to tell you that everything is going to be alright."
And with that, he handed me a tiny Bible and left.
My whole life, I had heard stories about miracles, about God speaking to people, but it had never happened to me. And now in one day, in the span of only a few hours, this.
Over the next few days, I only told a few people what had happened. I felt like it was a gift that I wanted to hold on tight to and not expose to the elements. I guess I knew there would be people who doubted my story, and I didn't want them to rob me of my wonderment.
Two weeks later, I was invited to a birthday party for a girl I didn't even know. I really didn't want to go, but my friend finally convinced me to. It was there that a tall reporter in a rainbow t-shirt asked me to take a picture with him. Six months later, we stood in the middle of the Brooklyn Bridge, surrounded by our closest family and friends and pledged to spend our lives together. And last September, we welcomed our son into the world.
Anybody who says that they don't believe in miracles has not lived my life. I am aware every single day where I was and where I am now. I thank God for his redemptive grace and the chance to live this amazing life. If I never do anything else, if I never write another song, or travel to another distant location, I will still have everything I could ever want.
Happy Anniversary, Nate.