It was a hot June day in 1991 as I lay beside our family pool with one of my best friends, Jennie. I heard my Dad's voice shout a familiar, 'Hello?'
I wasn't prepared for what I would see when I popped my head over the deck, nor did I have any idea how it would change the course of my life.
There he stood, arm softly draped around the small of another woman's back. A woman who was not my mother. Now, it should be mentioned that my father was not having an affair, my mother had died of cancer 8 months earlier. But for the hurting, angry 18 year old he might as well have been.
I stared blankly at them, unable to speak as though someone had poured liquid nitrogen on my voice-box and at that moment it shattered, unable to function. I felt my skin bristle with the fury bubbling just below the surface.
'This is Marion, she's going to be having dinner with us', came my Dad's voice somewhat timidly.
I was still silent, still staring.
Sensing the tension and my inability to speak, Jennie piped in, 'Hi Marion, nice to meet you'.
I turned around and sat back on the lounge chair. I could feel a volcano of hurt, anger and confusion boiling within me.
'You're staying for dinner' I managed to choke out to Jennie. If anyone in the world understood me at this moment it was her. Jennie's Dad had died of cancer just two months after my mom, a bond that linked us unlike any other friend.
A while later my Dad called out to say that dinner was almost ready. As I walked up to our patio door I stopped in my tracks and my breath was seemingly vacuumed out of my lungs. For a split second I saw my mother standing at our stove, cooking. But then reality kicked me in the gut and I realized that not only was it NOT my mother it was HER. It took every ounce of self-control not to start running and never stop.
We sat at the table to eat and since my voice box had been shattered it was still not functioning. I stared at my plate, mechanically shoving food in my mouth while Jennie, bless her, made polite conversation throughout the meal.
That meal would be the first of many, as my Dad asked her to be his wife just a few months later. As a teenager who'd just lost her mother I mistook it as a reflection of how little my mother had meant to my Dad. I couldn't have been more wrong.
That was 20 years ago. Over those 20 years my anger cooled, forgiveness came and finally understanding took firm roots. Today I have a heart full of gratitude and love for the woman who has now been in my life longer than my mother was. She has been by his side, kept him young and been his best friend all these years. She is the only grandmother my children have known, and they LOVE their Nana.
There were times shortly after my mother died, that I would find my Dad sitting quietly, staring out a window, the shadow of sorrow covering his face and it broke me. I didn't want to move away to go to school, I felt it was important to stay near him, I worried about him. But school did take me away, and as it turned out God had other plans for my Dad, better plans.
A scripture that brings me great comfort when I don't know how things are going to turn out or I am faced with troubling situations is Jeremiah 29:11 "For I know the plans I have for you" says the Lord. "They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope."
Marion has been that future and that hope for my Dad. Can you believe she is almost 80? She just celebrated her 79th birthday, and she is the picture of vitality.
So Marion, it's a little late but Happy Birthday, and thank you for sticking around despite that angry 18 year old daughter who glared at you from across the table.