This is a guest series by Phil Cate. If you missed previous chapters, you can read them all by clicking on ‘Phil Cate’ under the Categories heading in the right panel. Watch for new installments every Friday.
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The Love of my Life Walks In
At the same time I was working with Jim, this counseling thing was going on with the counselor my Dad had found for me. I had agreed to a group therapy situation, and in the group a woman in her late fifties had befriended me. She suggested that I meet a friend of hers, a woman she had met previously in another group.
So Kay and I met at a restaurant for dinner one night in March of 1994. I had never enjoyed talking with someone as much as I did with this woman. I was immediately drawn to her; however, I was not going to get involved at that moment. I had it in my mind that I needed a couple years with no relationship. I don’t even recall where that idea came from, but I was only a few months into my plan.
Some of you may laugh at this point, as you can clearly see I had never had a “plan” about anything in my life beyond what I was going to do that day, and now I had a two-year plan on romance. How silly.
I had been praying, though, about meeting someone, thinking that maybe I was ready. I remember telling God, However I have to meet the one you want me to have, make it happen. If I have to run over her foot with the grocery cart, or whatever needs to happen . . .
I also remember admitting to God that I had picked all of the wrong things in my life, and this time I would completely yield to His will. That was new for me, as I’ve never been much of a yielder.
And almost immediately after I’d desperately prayed to meet someone, I was asked if I’d be willing to be set up on a blind date. I said I would, and the date was set.
I drove up to visit my mother in Chattanooga right before this date, and when I told her I had a blind date planned, she gave me a quick sermon on seeking a girl with character.
I didn’t mention it previously, but no matter the issue, Mom thought if you just eat some vegetables all would work out nicely. In a few days, I got a card in the mail from Mom; and we still have it to this day in our wedding album. It reads, “Phil, it was great to see you, I hope your date went well and don’t forget the character bit, it leaves little room for regret later. Love, Mom. P.S. Don’t forget to eat your vegetables.”
Well my date did go quite well and I fell in love hard for really the first time ever. Kay was a pure heart, with bloodlines from southwest Missouri (that would be right next to nowhere); but she’d moved to Ft. Payne, Alabama (which is just south of nowhere). She had a story of her own, and we were both healing.
We found we healed better every time we were together. There was nothing we couldn’t talk about, and we closed every restaurant, bar, and coffee shop in town for months. I had never dated my best friend before. I’d never felt anything like this before, either; it just felt healthy.
She and I both were trying to connect with God; I was seeking God really for the first time, and she was reconnecting after a few rebellious years and a few tough breaks.
The happy meter was off the chart, and I couldn’t stay away from her for one minute. We wanted the same things, we had similar goals, we both had some hurts that were healing, we both had very driven fathers and very sensitive mothers. I had no doubt then and I have no doubt now, God answered my prayers.
Kay’s daughter Lauren was ten when I first met her in Kay’s driveway. Lauren was a gifted one in terms of looks, social grace, and obedience. She could do anything athletically, socially, or academically to at least a good A-minus average, and without much struggle. Even when she did struggle at something, she’d eke out a solid B. She still wakes up in the morning and looks beautiful, even with no make-up; every hair is in place all day, and she looks well-groomed and ironed all of the time. She’s totally organized and has never lost anything in her life, and she’s never one minute late or early to anything, ever. And she was about to end up with me for a stepfather; God’s clearly got a sense of humor.
Kay is the best housekeeper of “the seen” of anyone I’ve known. Everything in sight is maintained for the occasional houseguest. The living room looks great, but don’t open a drawer or a closet or you might be physically hurt in the landslide. Everything is just tossed in there haphazardly. If it can’t be seen by the public, it’s as good as not there, in Kay’s mind. Sara, my daughter, was just the opposite as a child; her closets and drawers were nice and tidy because everything she owned was tossed on the floor. Again, God’s got a sense of humor.
But let the conflict begin . . . It’s all so much fun, isn’t it?
I called my dad and told him we had set a date, and he interviewed Kay on the phone. I thought, Oh, boy, here we go . . . He hadn’t known her for ten minutes, and already he had really put her off.
He called me later that week and asked, “How firm is that date?”
I said, “Pretty firm. Why?”
He said (I’m not making this up), “Well… we’ve got an incredible opportunity to go to Vietnam that week.”
I said, “Well, I don’t know what to tell you, Dad. Brides are kinda funny about little things like wedding dates.”
The call didn’t go well, and that was it. I called Kay and she had some issues of her own going on and she said, “Let’s just call a minister, go over to Stone Mountain park by the grist mill, and get married.”
That took a lot of convincing; I had wanted swans and flowers floating in the punch and lace doilies and . . . I know, I know, I just had to pull your leg for a second.
Before we got married, I took Kay up to Chattanooga to meet my mom. We went in and sat down in the den where my stepdad, predictably, was watching sports. We chatted some, and Mom summoned me to the kitchen to help her with coffee. I followed her, and as soon as we entered the kitchen, Mom turned towards me with tears running down her cheek and said, “I’m so pleased; you brought me one I can love.”
My entire family adored Kay. I remember the first time she met my grandfather; he fell in love with her. He looked at Kay so adoringly and was misty-eyed the entire time we were there at his house. He had heard how serious I was with Kay; and just for her, in his workshop he had made some homemade lamps from wood from my great-grandfather’s old barn.
When we left, Kay hugged him and said in his ear, “I’ll keep him close to God.”
Grandfather was starting to be feeble at his age, and he just relaxed in Kay’s arms. It was as if he could finally relax and know I was going to be okay. It was just one of those moments you capture in your mind and never forget.
We left him, and all of us were in tears over the moment we had just shared. I didn’t want to leave, but I knew we would be back soon to spend Thanksgiving with him.
We were married at Stone Mountain Park on August 19, 1994. Kay was such a lucky dame; it was as if she had won the lottery. Just kidding, of course.
It was a beautiful evening and the best night of my life.
We went to a mountain lodge for our wedding night, and I remember every word spoken on the drive there. I was so excited that after all the mischief and messes, I was on my way to a new life. I knew I was doing the right thing. I was in love with my best friend, and now she was my wife. What a feeling!
We got on our knees and prayed together on our wedding night and asked God to forgive us for our divorces and past indiscretions and asked him to bless our marriage. I’m so glad we did that, because we’d need his blessings more than we knew to help us endure what all was to come.
Unfortunately, we would never get more time with my grandfather. The week of Thanksgiving, we got a call very early one morning that my hero had a massive heart attack and was barely hanging on.
Aside from the normal pain of losing someone so special, I was so disappointed that he and Kay didn’t get more time together. It was all selfish though; I knew how much I’d love watching them together. Kay brightens a room with her warmth and beauty and her laughter. I wanted so badly to watch him glow, watching her be herself. I knew he’d be so proud of me for marrying Kay. He had always believed in me, and finally I had something good in my life.
But he knew . . . I look back at that scene in his driveway when he went limp in Kay’s arms; he was tired and wanted to go home to heaven, but had been worried about me. And now, he didn’t have to worry anymore. Kay and I were at the hospital all day and into the night with him, and he passed. I missed him the second he was gone, and I still do.
That same year, Kay and I spent our first Christmas together. I had Granddad’s wedding band mounted on a necklace for Kay. I told her I wanted to be the kind of man and husband he was, and I asked her to wear it from time to time to remind me . . .
She’d need it.
We got very involved in our church. We loved our pastor and maybe even more, our Sunday school class and the teachers, who were a couple in their late fifties. Kay was such a social animal; she loved any social opportunity. Bob, our primary Sunday school teacher, was a true teacher; and for maybe the first time in an organized way, I was getting a glimpse into the Bible on a regular basis.
I really felt like life was hitting a stride. There was one small glitch; I was driving a long way to work, and that drive was really starting to work on me. That was easily fixed, though. I was making plenty of money and we could afford to move.
Jim had me tithing, based on Malachi 3:8, and it’s a powerful promise. Even if you think the Bible is a bunch of hooey, you’ve got to admit Malachi offers a very tempting idea. Just throw 10 percent in the plate and let God worry about the rest. He offers to open the floodgates of heaven and bless me till I can’t contain it.
Man, that will preach for a guy that just took on a new family and obligations. And you know what? In my case, it has worked every time I’ve had the courage to test it . . . every time.
God says in Malachi,
8 “Will a man rob God? Yet you rob me.
“But you ask, ‘How do we rob you?’
“In tithes and offerings. 9 You are under a curse—the whole nation of you—because you are robbing me. 10 Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it. 11 I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not cast their fruit,” says the LORD Almighty.
I thought, Hey, I really like the sound of that.
I hadn’t even written the first check yet; I just committed in my mind to give 10 percent to the church. The very second I made the commitment to do so, the phone rang and I made $40,000 in one phone call. I hung up, elated, and the phone rang again and my grandmother called and gave me a car.
I thought, What a great system. Maybe I should raise my goals and give eleven percent. After all, look what that extra one percent could do for Jesus. Not to mention, I seemed to be getting a huge return.
For the next two years, I tithed religiously and my income rose several hundred percent. But then I started to make a series of mistakes. I know it shocks you that I would be mistake-prone, but I was. Looking back, Dad made this mistake, too; and later, I’ll touch on that further.
We put a contract on a house without really giving it much thought. It was three minutes from my office, and that was the driving motivation for me. Right after we put the contract on the house, Kay told me she was pregnant. Within a week or so, I got served with papers that my ex-wife was seeking more money (which, by the way, she was probably entitled to).
I was making considerably more money, but an increase to my ex, with a kid on the way and a new house under construction seemed like an overload. I guessed I’d just get through it.
I wanted to back out of the house. It was taking longer than the builder had originally said, and we had sold our home and were in a temporary apartment. I wanted to just enjoy Ashton’s birth and then buy a house later. Kay blew a gasket on that idea, and her reaction made no sense to me at all.
I went to talk to my buddy, Conrad, for some wisdom. After all, he had just moved into a new house and was a few years older and had been married to one of Kay’s friends for a good number of years. Maybe he could translate the female screeching that came out of my darling’s mouth every time I mentioned dumping the house we were building.
I apprised Conrad on my “situation” and could immediately tell he was an expert. He said, “Man, you’re messing with the Triple Crown. Don’t ever mess with the Triple Crown, Phil.”
I had no idea what he was talking about; I wasn’t in a horse race. As I sat there looking stupid, he realized I was clueless; and he asked, “Has no one ever explained the Triple Crown to you?” I had to admit no one ever had. He explained. “Jockeys have the Derby, the Preakness, and the Belmont.”
I nodded impatiently. He went on, “For a woman, it’s a man, a baby, and a house to raise that baby in.” I had no idea.
I felt enlightened and burdened at the same time. I asked Conrad, “Does this mean I can’t back out of the house contract?”
He quickly replied, “Sure you can . . . if you don’t mind sleeping alone in your car for the next year or so.”
I said, “Conrad, you don’t understand; she loves me for who I am. Our relationship is spiritual; there’s no way she would force me to close on a house I was nervous about. She just wouldn’t do that. And if need be, I can put on my deep man-voice and say ‘Honey, there will be no more of this house business’.”
As I said, I had no idea…
On top of that, we had bigger fish to fry. Ashton was trying to make her debut way before schedule. We didn’t plan on a distressed pregnancy, but we got one. Kay bled heavily twice during her pregnancy, and it was a very tenuous and dangerous situation. We had to put Kay on steroids to ensure Ashton would quickly develop lungs and eyes, in the probable event that she would come early.
Further, they put Kay to bed full time. Now, I’m not one to complain (unless I want to), but Kay going to bed was tough. We were not living in the county where Lauren was starting school, so I had to drive her to and fro. We also had the cheerleading thing going on. I had to do the shopping, the laundry, meet with the builder a couple times a week, cook, clean, get Kay to the doctor, etc, etc…
Kay being stuck in bed on steroids wasn’t fun, either; she was good and wound up when I got home from task land, exhausted. Now, maybe normal people would just take all of this in stride, but I was born to be irresponsible, remember? Six in the morning till midnight, for months, was a tough one; actually, it was a tough time and would’ve been for anyone.
Now here’s the real shocker. Right in the middle of this, my company made me sales manager of the entire many-million dollar business and wanted me to manage the guys we had, hire ten more guys in six months, train them, and keep selling, too. They actually wanted me to be in charge of other people. Good night, what was the world coming to?
Seriously, it was a total pressure cooker.
So since I’m on a roll with this complaining thing, here’s the list: We moved and left our church, so we lost our pastor and Sunday school class. Kay’s in bed on steroids and shoots flames out of her mouth at the mention of me not wanting to buy the house that wasn’t progressing. I had to be a school bus for Lauren, interview guys at night, then cook and clean and do laundry while listening to Kay’s steroids sound like a Tommy Gun in her mouth. Isn’t it romantic?
I knew responsibility was not for me, and somehow I found myself sitting in a pile of it.
The second time Kay bled, they did an emergency surgery to rescue Ashton. She was delivered at four pounds and quickly fell below that and spent weeks in an incubator. It had really been a life-threatening thing.
Ashton was our little miracle, and in years to come she was the greatest thing to happen to our family. At very difficult times when we couldn’t love each other, we all loved her. She came into the world as a four-pound, wet little creature, and she would become the glue for our family.
Back to the new house, though. I was out of this house thing for sure. There was no way the woman I loved was going to make me build a house in the middle of all of this. She was lucky just to have me, and she knew it!
I recall it was raining the day we closed on the house, which made me thankful I wasn’t sleeping in the car…
With all of this going on, I felt very squeezed financially and I quit tithing. I want to make sure you don’t misread what I am saying in the next chapter. I am not trying to imply that you can buy into God’s kingdom or buy good circumstances by tithing. Nor am I saying God will hurt you intentionally if you don’t tithe. I’m just telling you factually what happened. I quit tithing, yet continued to make a lot of money, but it seemed like pests showed up.
I think the even bigger lesson was that when things got tough, I totally quit counting on God and instead I counted on me. My faith wasn’t very strong after all; I had only been paying it lip service.
Next: Incredible Losses
Phil Cate is a resident of the Atlanta, Georgia, metro area and runs a small medical equipment resale business. He is available for speaking engagements and can be reached at PhilC@ER3.biz or by phone at 678-429-0901
Printed by permission from Phil Cate, Mama told me Jesus saved my soul, but who was gonna save my butt??? Confessions, lessons, and revelations of a born rebel, © 2008.