From the New York Times Vows Section to Cancer, What Next?

Williams0373The numbers 00000000 popped up on my caller ID, and I knew it was The New York Times. We were standing on top of Whiteside Mountain, North Carolina on our honeymoon. Our wedding announcement had appeared in the Times’ venerable Vows section the day before, which I thought was a hoot since we were not rich, overly successful, or particularly well connected.

“Are you available today to be interviewed for a video story?” the reporter asked. I imagined that their first-choice couple had cancelled.

I looked at my dirt stained hiking boots and regretfully declined. However, if the Times had covered our story, you may have heard something like this.

When I met Robert in August 2003, I was coming out of another bad time. Six months earlier, my dad had another one of his heart attacks; my mom had a near fatal car accident and was in a wheelchair; my brother shattered his ankle in a freak hacky sack accident and needed surgery, and I went home to find the basement covered in vomit and cat shit. Our poor little Hazel had to be put down. I took six weeks of family medical leave to care for them all. Depressed, I was talking about quitting my publishing job in New York, moving back to Pennsylvania, adopting six kittens and taking up quilting when my friends staged an intervention. They posted a dating profile on

I’d tried online dating before and had low expectations, but the headline “Fair and Balanced” caught my eye. His name was Robert, and he entertained me with stories of sassy southern relatives and archeological digs in Ireland. We decided to meet at Angel’s Share lounge in the east village for cocktails.

Robert teases me that I was late for our first date. On the way out of the subway, I noticed a street artist’s necklace that reminded me so strongly of my late grandmother that I felt a strange sensation, like she was standing beside me. I hurried to get cash at a nearby ATM so I could buy it.  As I raced to meet Robert, I had a premonition. Had Nana chosen this moment because Robert was going to be important?

It was instant attraction. We discovered many odd coincidences in our stories. Both our fathers were ministers from blue collar backgrounds. Our mothers were both daughters of bank presidents. In the weeks before meeting, we had crisscrossed each other twice, practically brushing sleeves at the Howard Dean rally in Bryant Park and at Marble Collegiate church, where his dad was an associate pastor.

I felt like my world suddenly switched back to color. One typical Saturday shopping in Park Slope, I told him that I felt like we were on vacation. How could normal life be so fun?

We traveled everywhere: Cape Cod, the Berkshires, Vermont, Russia, Finland, Estonia, Ireland, and the Caribbean.

We dated for five years before he proposed on the eve of my 30th birthday. He gave me his great-grandmother’s Edwardian engagement ring, which fit perfectly. We were married a year later, three days shy of what would have been her 100 year wedding anniversary.  We held the service at New York Avenue Presbyterian in Washington, DC where Abraham Lincoln worshipped, where Peter Marshall preached “one nation under God” and where Robert’s maternal grandparents had married during the Second World War. My father walked me down the aisle, beating all medical odds, and turned and performed the ceremony along with Robert’s father.

Our wedding day was one of the shiniest, happiest days of my life.

I remember telling our story to a stranger soon after the wedding. She said, “Damn, you’d better never get divorced. It would be too embarrassing.”

I laughed and thought, “Nothing will ever tear us apart.”

This past summer, a week before Robert’s kidney surgery, we sat on the deck of my grandparents’ lake house wondering if cancer would do exactly that. While I was inside napping, Robert heard a loud buzzing behind his ear. He swatted and turned to see a hummingbird staring him in the eyes. I felt it was Nana reminding me that she was still there watching over us. If she could, I know she would try to protect us from the disease that stole her life.

Please remember to pray for my husband, for successful treatment and healing, for the 30 others in his clinical trial, and that the researchers will find a breakthrough.

Wedding photo courtesy of Aaron Spicer.

8 thoughts on “From the New York Times Vows Section to Cancer, What Next?

  1. avatartammy schnarrs

    Oh jen, that is the most beautiful story on how you two met, the timing, it was all fate and destiny and ment to be, Yes, i am sure your nana was instrumental in this unity,. I bet this was the most beautiful weddings, you both have the most gorgeos smiles and you can see and feel the love you both have for one another, Love ya

    1. avatarJen Post author

      Thanks, Tammy. Love you too, and thinking of you so much this week. I’m holding you and your family in my heart.

  2. avatarLee

    Your wedding was beautiful on so many levels!
    You two are perfect for each other, and now Kella is another manifestation of that precious love.
    I pray for Robert every day, and give thanks for the healing that is taking place.

  3. avatarTom Smith

    Your story touches my heart on many levels… Our family has walked a very similar path and so the joys and struggles and laughter and tears that come almost simultaneously are well known. We are praying for the miracle to happen ~ and for the grace of God to hold you close to each other and to him.

    (If you’re wondering who I am… I am an RCA pastor in Iowa – read a prayer request in the Synod of New York’s newsletter. God has a big family, and I’m honored to be praying for you.)

    1. avatarJen Post author

      Thank you, Tom. It means a lot that you are praying. (Just remembered how to reply! I’m a wordpress newbie.)

  4. avatarLinda Lann

    You have a very beautiful and moving story. I keep you, Robert, Kella and your entire family in my prayers. Knew your father-in-law, Rob Williams, in Memphis, TN, where he was my pastor at the time. He was aslo my mentor into ministry and now I am an ordained pastor in the PCUSA. I posted a link to your website on mine and hopefully a lot of people will be joining their prayers with yours, mine and everyone else’s as Robert’s healing unfolds. Peace.


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