I wasn’t a stellar student in high school. I liked my classes and teachers for the most part, but only as long as they didn’t interfere with all the other parts of my life; namely my friends and spending time with them. I was a slightly above average student–hold on–you know what? Let’s just say I was average. In a graduating class of 225 students, I was ranked #101. So when I say slightly above average, that’s really quite literal, if perhaps a little generous.
So you can imagine my utter shock (and my parents’ utter delight) when 2 admissions counselors from a teeny tiny school called Pinebrook Junior College in Coopersburg, PA sat in my living room and were apparently wanting me to attend, starting that coming fall. That I was wanted by any school at all was a mind-bender, if I’m being honest. Like I said I wasn’t anything special, especially not academically.
That conversation in my childhood living room was a game changer though. When those two folks walked out, I was all but a signed and committed Pinebrook Panther. And the outlook of my life would never ever be the same.
I seem to recall my parents walking a few inches above the ground when we stepped foot on the Pinebrook Junior College campus. The thought that their youngest and only son, in all his averageness was actually heading off to college, was clearly filling them with glee.
The campus was miniscule but at the time I had no recognition of that. I had no point of reference, so the size of the school was inconsequential. What I remember most about that move-in day was when from across a parking lot I saw a group of students who I would later learn had been there for a summer term so were already connected and settled in. And in that small group of faces I saw the one that would have my heart entranced from that moment forward.
When I use the expression “love at first sight”, I sometimes get eye-rolls and general disbelief. But the best way I can describe seeing this young woman (I was just shy of 18 years old at this point), was the good gift of God in the form of neon arrows that only I could see hovering all around her, pointing to this absolutely stunning woman. Scoff if you’d like but my eyes, my heart, my spirit, my soul, and all my attention were completely fixated on this one I had yet to meet. In a word, it was “over”. And remember, this was my very first day of college.
I soon got to know who that young woman was. Her name was Merritt Medlock and even now as I type her name my heart quickens. So you can imagine that as a young man, just barely out of boyhood in many ways, I simply could not stop thinking about her. I still can’t.
The thing was–that “love at first sight” thing? It was only a one-way street at that point. This woman I was gob smacked over didn’t really seem to reciprocate. But that minor detail would not deter or derail what I was convinced was the script of heaven when it came to my future and who I’d walk through life with. So needless to say, I had some work to do but I did it with utter confidence of impending victory.
Over the coming weeks I did my dead level best to woo her. Or at least wear her down. I think it was a combination of both. A little over a month later, a month filled with daily walks after class and hours spent talking and getting to know one another, we found ourselves at a concert with some friends when I “officially” asked her to be my “girlfriend”. It’s a term I still apply to her today.
We dated all four years of college. That cute little junior college where we met is no longer on the map because within a couple weeks of us arriving it was announced to us that that would be their last year in existence. Financial woes, apparently. But a wonderful college in New York by the name of Nyack College showed up as if out of nowhere and a small army of Panthers would agree to transfer to Nyack College at the end of that academic year. Thankfully, Merritt Medlock and I BOTH planned to transfer to Nyack College. And that next fall, we moved to Nyack, New York right on the bank of the Hudson River just north of New York City.
Most if not all love stories have a bit of turbulence. Ours did, but I alone am fully responsible for all of it. After 4 years of dating and at the beginning of our senior year of college, I broke up with her. I will never forgive myself for the pain that caused her. I don’t even have a good reason for that decision. I think I was seeing the oncoming train of real life after college and just freaked. I know I will never be able to sufficiently explain my thought process there because I don’t fully understand it either. But I know that I hurt deeply the one I loved most. On the night I should have proposed, I ended it.
We spent some time apart and from the moment that time started, I was in agony. My heart hurt and I had no one to blame but myself. I had wrecked the one person that meant everything to me. Over a period of time we began to speak again. It was the first week or so in October now and I was headed to Ohio for a quick trip to be in my cousin’s wedding. While I stood there in that ceremony, all tuxedoed up and watching them exchange their vows, I again felt the full weight of the colossal mistake I had made in hurting the woman I love.
The next day I returned to Nyack College and asked Merritt to take a hike with me up nearby Hook Mountain. It was one of my favorite spots, overlooking the beautiful Hudson River. We hiked to the top and sat on the cliff’s edge talking. I was so glad we had reconnected but I was so much more than ready to show her how deeply in love with her I was (am) and only one question would do that.
We sat, ate some snacks, and were getting ready to head back down. We were sitting on the ground, so I suggested we stand up for a hug before heading back down the mountain. When she stood, I dug into my pocket to where I had tucked the tiny box with the tiny diamond ring. In my recollection, I was stunningly awkward, nervous, and even though I was on one knee and thus low to the ground, I felt like I was shaking so much I would likely fall over. I looked up at her, this beautiful woman I loved, and asked the question:
“Merritt….. Will you marry me?”
Her response in that moment was the most glorious, beautiful, slowest of slow motions. And I was glad for that because I wanted to savor every single moment of this question/answer exchange. So sweetly, so carefully, she bent down to be eye to eye with me, kissed me softly and said:
The time it takes a human to stand from kneeling isn’t in my mind because before I knew it I was standing upright again embracing my fiancée. We walked down the mountain, hand in hand, and I couldn’t stop smiling. I still can’t.
That day was over 28 years ago and while my memory won’t let me recall every moment of those 28 years, I can tell you unequivocally that I am the happiest man there is. I was given by God the greatest gift of a woman that I couldn’t even have ever dreamed of. But then when I completely screwed that up and had no one to blame but myself, that woman still stayed. I’ve said on many occasions and to many people that to me, Merritt Medlock IS the greatest reminder and representation of God’s grace in my life. Everyday I wake up is another day to love her in a way that seeks to show that I know I don’t deserve her.
I’m so in love with this woman. I’m convinced that I have indeed been given as my bride the most incredible woman I could’ve ever dreamed of. She is so loving, so wise, so giving, so gracious, so strong, so hilarious, so caring, and so beautiful. And I love her with all I am. And that’s our story…so far.