- - Sunday, July 30, 2017

Thirty-four years ago this month, I was fresh out of college and earnestly seeking God’s will in my life. My heart was hungry for a godly man of outstanding character.

And though I had decided that compromise in this most critical of relationships was not an option, I was beginning to doubt whether a man of that quality could possibly exist, or if I would ever find him.

Little did I know that God already had set his answer to my prayers into motion.

I can still feel the heart-pounding, inexplicable attraction that took me by surprise when I met Andy in July 1983. When I close my eyes, I see him standing on the boardwalk along the shores of the Mediterranean Sea. He was the most handsome man I had ever seen, and yet there was something more. When I got within clear view of his sparkling eyes, I felt my spirit soar and sensed that our meeting was far beyond chance.

On the trip of a lifetime to Israel, I was part of a delegation of five college Democrats and five Republicans on an all-expenses paid exploration of the Holy Land, sponsored by The North American Jewish Students Network. We met with members of the Knesset, toured Judea and Samaria, and even had a private audience with Prime Minister Menachem Begin.

But the most important person I met was a young U.S. naval lieutenant who “just happened” to be on the same stretch of beach as I was, during the same five-minute period, in a country halfway around the world.

We spoke briefly. Suddenly embarrassed that I had introduced myself, I said good-bye and ran back to the water’s edge. Hoping he was still watching from the boardwalk, I did what any self-respecting young woman in my situation would do: I set a trap.

Still in my sundress from touring through the hot, dusty July day, I took off my shoes and strolled through the gentle surf. Every so often I would daintily pick up a small pebble and toss it into the waves.

The scene beyond me was majestic. The last sliver of the red-orange ball that was the setting sun had just slipped below the horizon, and the deep dusky blues and purples were reflecting off the sea. In the distance, the silhouette of a ship could be seen, its lights twinkling as the last rays of daylight danced across the water’s surface.

Months later when Andy came to see me, he said, “I’ll never forget the way you looked the first night I saw you. You carried yourself so well. The sun was setting and there was a ship on the horizon whose lights were just coming on.”

Bingo! He had taken the bait!

Back in Israel, I couldn’t get him out of my mind. How unlike me to be so enamored of someone I didn’t know. I was still thinking about him the next evening, when, walking through the pavilion on the beach in Tel Aviv I heard someone call my name. It was Andy.

Several naval officers and a couple of people from my group ended up going to the movies that night. Afterward, everyone wanted to go bar hopping, but Andy suggested that the two of us go for a walk on the beach instead.

We ended up walking and talking for several hours, and by the end of the evening I knew that Andy was the man I had been praying for. He spoke of faith, his family and his sense of adventure. I learned he was a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy and that he had always envisioned going to school there. He was a perfect gentleman with a soft laugh and warm, gentle voice. As we said our good-byes, he asked for my address: “You’re a rare woman. I want to keep in touch.”

I was smitten.

And keep in touch he did. The lost art of letter writing was not lost for him. He wrote moving, detailed accounts of his days at sea. The most profound letter described the scene from his ship anchored just offshore as he witnessed the horror of the terrorist attack on the U.S. Marine barracks in Lebanon. He wrote of how “the stacks of black body bags on nearby USS Iwo Jima grow larger every hour.”

Andy returned to the States that Thanksgiving, and we were wed the next year on Thanksgiving weekend. He is my handsome prince, my knight in shining armor, my spiritual confidant and my best friend.

Thank you, God, that you are always working in the background when we earnestly seek your face. And thank you that you delight in surprising us with answers that are quite often bigger and better than even our biggest hopes and dreams.

Rebecca Hagelin can be reached at rebecca@rebeccahagelin.com.

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