This was originally written for the Caring For Marriage magazine. I thank Lori, the editor, for letting us reprint it here.
We met, as if by chance…
By Robert Beiswenger
“It is granted to man to see the Divine Providence in the back and not in the face…” — DP 175
I met Cathy, the girl who would one day be my wife, on a blind date. We were both juniors at Auburn University, and it was May 2, 1970 when we went to see Ben Hur, a lengthy movie starring Charlton Heston in the title role. The story of Ben Hur, who was born a Jew in the same year as the Lord, was introduced as “A Tale of the Christ”. In the movie, Ben Hur learns of the Christ and eventually accepts Him into his life. At the time, we could not foresee the significance of seeing this movie on our first date.
It was almost 33 years later that my wife was lying on a hospital bed in our family room, her health failing from ovarian cancer. Earlier that day, she had gone into a semi-comatose state and the hospice nurse told me that she could probably hear what was going on around her, yet could not communicate. It was uncertain whether or not she would come out of this condition. I positioned myself in a chair next to her bed to keep a watchful eye on her and do whatever I could to provide for her comfort.
Later that night I turned on the television and began “surfing” through the channels to see what was playing that might be enjoyable. To my surprise, Ben Hur was playing! Of course, I stopped my surfing and watched it with Cathy by my side. Little did I know that this “date” would be our last one—at least in this world. After the movie ended, I stood by her bed and watched her as she labored to breathe. With sadness in my heart, I told her, “I love you…and I will always love you. But you have suffered long enough, and if you need to let go, I will take good care of the kids, and I will be OK.” After I had said this, she took about three more breaths, and then stopped breathing. Her ordeal was over, and what I would eventually call a “temporary separation” would be more trying than I could have imagined.
However, I soon realized that seeing Ben Hur had been our first date and our last date. As I reflected on our life together—a Catholic guy marrying a Baptist girl and together accepting the Lord in His New Revelation—was a similar “tale of the Christ”. We, too, had “found the Lord” and built a life together in a religious community.
A little more than a year after my wife left this world, Lana, her sister, called me and invited me to join her and her husband at their second home in the mountains of North Carolina. I decided to accept their offer and drove down there the next day. The first morning I awoke in their home, I said a little prayer asking the Lord to help me through another day and show me the path I needed to follow—what I needed to do—to be with my wife again one day.
Later that morning, Warren, my brother-in-law, suggested that the three of us should take a drive in the countryside for a little sight-seeing. We were soon on our way, enjoying the scenic drive. While on one of the country roads, we passed a wooden home that had been converted into an antique shop. Warren asked Lana if she would like to stop there and see what they had for sale; he had read that it was going out of business, so there might be some bargains. She was surprised that he was willing to turn around and go back to the store; according to her, it was hard to get him to stop even with advance notice, so his stopping and turning around was very unusual! I just laughed at the friendly jabs they gave each other.
Once in the store, I quickly realized that I had no interest in buying anything, no matter what the price. However, I noticed an area with some books and headed over there to see what might be on sale. I reached high on a shelf for one rather old looking book, but replaced it after a quick glance. After returning it, my hand reached for another book right next to the first one. The title on the spine was faded and unreadable, but I instinctively pulled it off the shelf anyway. Much to my astonishment, in gold lettering on the cover was the title—Ben Hur! I was floored to find something like this; I had never even considered looking for this book, and yet here I had come across a 1912, first edition copy of it! I then proceeded to open the book, and it fell open to the author’s dedication page. When I saw the words, tears quickly flooded my eyes: “To the wife of my youth, who still abides with me”.
Ben Hur—it was our first date, the story of our life together, and eventually our last date. And, when I least expected it, but needed it most, I found a copy of the book with an inscription that was an answer to my prayer.
“…there is no such thing as mere chance and…what seems to be haphazard, or fortune, is Providence at work…” — AC 6493
When I asked Bob if I could use this on my website, this was his response:
Absolutely, I’m glad it is useful.
The past 5 ½ years have been the toughest of my life, but the Ben-Hur account has helped me along the way. Perhaps it will encourage others to look for their own “Ben Hur” story, which is simply the role Providence had in forming their lives. I have a lot to be thankful for, but I am so very grateful for three things in my life – my childhood/parents, finding the Writings, and being led to my wife. Without the Writings, I would probably not see the true value of my childhood and my marriage; the truths within the Writings give meaning and purpose to my entire life.