How it all began:
When I first met stephcon, I was an agnostic. In case you don’t know what “agnostic” means, basically an agnostic doesn’t know whether or not there’s a god. And a lot of agnostics, including me, don’t think that anyone else really knows either. An agnostic can be a believer or an unbeliever. At that time I was slowly drifting toward unbelief.
Anyway, stephcon (whose full name is Stephenie C*****) seemed to like and relate to the posts I made in the agnostic community on LiveJournal. LiveJournal is a social networking site where people can post ‘journal’ entries, making it rather like a diary that you share with other people. My online name was (and still is) “slyfoot.” In around 2005 or 2006, stephcon and slyfoot became friends on LiveJournal.
At the time I was interested in Christian “apologetics” which essentially means a rational defense of the faith. It has nothing to do with apologizing or being “sorry” about something. But instead of arguing “for” Christianity, most of the time I would argue “against” it. Like I said, I was drifting more and more toward unbelief, and I was not shy about letting people know I didn’t really believe in Christianity.
But around 2006, a friend named Pam in the apologetics community on LiveJournal really got me to thinking. I felt like I missed something really important in my life. And I remembered how much I loved the Narnia books. I remembered how much I loved Aslan. And if you pay close attention to the Narnia stories, you can see a lot of parallels between Aslan and Jesus Christ.
And… I missed him. At that point I didn’t really miss Jesus, but I missed Aslan. To me, Aslan was the epitome of goodness, and I associated him strongly with faith. I associated Narnia very strongly with heaven. And since I missed Aslan and Narnia so much, I broke down and asked God to come back into my life.
Now from an atheistic point of view, this simply is not rational. There is no logical progression between “I love Aslan” and “I believe in God.” But I decided to make an intuitive leap, what Kierkegaard calls a “leap of faith.” And I decided that even if Jesus hadn’t been resurrected, I would try to live like He had been raised from the dead.
Do you remember Puddleglum from “The Silver Chair”? When the witch was trying to convince the children that there was no Aslan, this is what Puddleglum said: “I’m on Aslan’s side even if there isn’t any Aslan to lead it. I’m going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn’t any Narnia.”
Well, that’s how I felt when I asked Jesus to come back into my life. My head could not decide whether it was reasonable to believe in God or not. But, in my heart, I really wanted to. So I decided to live like Aslan (and Jesus) was really alive in my heart.
I was really aimless at the time. My life didn’t have much of a direction, and I didn’t really have any goals. I was living on Social Security and I didn’t care about being rich. I did care about making progress in my life, but to me success or progress had nothing to do with becoming richer. I also had a lot of nervous breakdowns. I was diagnosed as schizoaffective, which was supposed to be due to a chemical imbalance in the brain. But although I didn’t realize it, I was also causing myself a lot of problems due to obsessive thinking and poor sleeping habits. At that time, the Internet was my whole life, my whole world, and it was pretty much the only thing on earth that I cared about.
I re-joined the ‘christianity’ community on LiveJournal. There were a lot of arguments in there, but I would usually try to tell jokes to lighten things up. I still didn’t think anybody really knew if there was a God or if Jesus was still alive.
One odd thing did keep eating at me, though. Many years earlier, a travelling “prophet” had come to my parents church, and I had been there. The “prophet” delivered a prophecy over me, which I could not really hear or understand at the time. So I asked for a transcript of the prophecy. It was really interesting and it said that I would be established as someone of influence. It said that I would be known as a “father” in the house of God: not just a physical father, but a spiritual father. I thought it was a good prophecy, but I wasn’t really sure I believed it.
In around 2006, a random stranger on LiveJournal sent me a message. She said that she was a friend of stephcon, and she had added everyone else on stephcon’s friend-list so would it be okay if she added me? I said ‘sure’ without really thinking about it, and added her back. Her LiveJournal name was ‘swampfaye.’ And that’s how slyfoot met swampfaye.
At first, I didn’t pay a whole lot of attention to swampfaye. She seemed very negative and bitter about her divorce. She was also very upset and hurt that her two oldest sons had effectively shut her out of their lives. At some point I gathered that she was Mormon, and although I didn’t know a lot about Mormons, I was pretty sure that it wasn’t “real” Christianity (whatever that means).
But one day one of swampfaye’s posts caught my attention. It had nothing to do with her divorce or being Mormon or anything like that. She posted a short story. It was a science fiction story about a spaceship “captain” named Rock, and a woman named Samantha. I was intrigued by the story. I really like science fiction. I liked it so much that I even got a Star Trek communicator tattoo. So that was what really made me decide to ask her if I could chat with her on Instant Messenger. She said okay.
We didn’t talk a lot. Every now and then, when I had nobody else to talk to, I would send her a message. I found myself babbling about all kinds of far-out science fiction ideas, like parallel realities and the Q-Continuum from Star Trek, Next Generation. She was really fascinated by the “prophets” on Deep Space Nine. While we didn’t really seem to have much in common religiously, I noticed that we would both mix our science fiction ideas with our religious ideas.
I remember the first argument I had with swampfaye–whose name, I learned, was Noelle. The argument was over the Oracle of Delphi. I argued that the Delphic Oracle was simply making vague prophecies which could be interpreted in more than one way. But she argued that God could call people from non-Christian religions to be prophets too. And since my favorite author, CS Lewis, had said something similar, I grudgingly conceded that she could be right, even though I still think that the Delphic Oracle was a phony.
I really did not ‘connect’ all that much with swampfaye other than our talks about science fiction. I even felt like there was something that put me off about her. I felt like we had a clash of personalities, that we didn’t really ‘click.’ But at that point I was pretty lonely, and I was pretty sure that Noelle wasn’t faking being female. (smile)
One day while Noelle and I were chatting online, I blurted out that I was interested in coming to visit her in Houston. At that point I really was. But I was poor, and a trip to Houston would have cost me a lot of money on Social Security, and I wasn’t really sure it would be worth it. To my surprise, Noelle said it was fine if I came to visit her.
But as I continued to read her LiveJournal posts, I stopped wanting to visit her. I didn’t want to get involved with a bitter divorced woman. I had already had a relationship with a divorced woman who had been very bitter toward her ex, and I didn’t want those kinds of problems again. So, I didn’t really make any plans to come visit Noelle.
But one day (and I’ll never forget this) Noelle sent me a message that really pierced me. It was a desperate cry for help. She ended with this line: “I can’t do this alone!”
Well, if she couldn’t do it alone, I thought, then maybe she was looking for someone to do it with. And if that was the case, why not me? And I seriously began to think about visiting her again. I wanted to see what she was like in person, because sometimes people seem different online than they do in real life. You can’t always learn everything about a person just from the words they write.
I wondered if she was cute. At the time I thought she was blonde. I don’t know why. The only picture I had seen was her icon, which was of an eye. Sometimes I would feel like that eye was looking at me, straight into my soul, straight into my heart. It was kind of spooky.
Religiously, I had begun to evolve. Although I had converted to Catholicism in 2002, I didn’t really feel very Catholic. My roots were Pentecostal and Assembly of God, but I thought there were many erroneous teachings and practices in those churches. I was trying to find out which was the “right” Church. Not just the right church “for me” but which one was closest to the truth, if any.
At that point I had gotten interested in the Eastern Orthodox and their practice of hesychasm, which is a lot like meditation. I was particularly interested in a book called “The Way of a Pilgrim” and the Jesus Prayer. The Jesus Prayer was very simple: Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner. I would pray that a lot.
I noticed that when I did chants, mantras, or repetitive prayers that I would start to feel better. I would use rosaries and mala beads to keep track of how many times I had prayed or said a mantra. I even managed to quit smoking for about 3 months just by using my prayer ropes and mala beads. I really felt like I was connecting with God, or the Universe. At any rate, I usually felt more serenity when I practiced prayer and meditation.
But I was still unstable mentally. I would hear voices all the time, or think that ‘presences’ would come into my head. I don’t like to think about it, but I was seriously mentally ill.
One day I thought I was talking to “God” only “God” looked a lot like George W. Bush. “God” asked me what I wanted, and I said “I want a wife.” Of course I didn’t really know if this “George Bush” presence in my head was God or not. Anyway, I told “God” that I wanted a wife, but at that point I wasn’t really thinking of anybody in particular.
A couple of weeks later, Noelle told me about “the dream.” She can tell it better than I can, but it is the most important dream in our relationship. It’s the one that brought us together. In the dream, she said that someone named “Robert” was looking for her. Her dad had interpreted this dream, and said that this person was already in love with her.
At first, I didn’t know what to make of it. But then I realized something: Before I had been adopted, my name was Robert. I almost didn’t tell Noelle this. I sort of felt like if I told her this, I would be manipulating the situation. I remembered that she said she couldn’t “do it alone.” And I was lonely. By that point we really liked each other, and I think we were both looking for some kind of confirmation that we belonged together. So I told her that before my name was Sam, it was Robert.
I still remember the golden chills that ran up and down my spine and moved like tendrils of electricity throughout my scalp. This was a very powerful moment for both of us. Noelle was stunned, because it seemed pretty clear to her that her dream had been leading her to me. And, at that point, I believed it too. I really did. I know it’s not “rational” in any terms that an atheist would accept. Even most theists would probably dismiss it. But, to us, it seemed very clear that God was bringing us together.
I also told her about the prophecy that had been given to me many years before. All of this seemed to point to us belonging together. When I try to think about it all “rationally” I can pick holes in it. But I think that sometimes our intuition can lead us better than our rationality can. Sometimes the heart is wiser than the head.
So we began to make plans to get married. Neither of us wanted to have a long, drawn-out dating period. Around this time I asked her for a picture. And, yes, we had talked about me flying out to Houston and getting married before I even knew what she looked like! So she sent me a picture, and my heart melted. She called the picture “A Smile For Sam.” It was the most beautiful smile ever, and it was just for me. It is still my favorite picture of Noelle.
If I was going to get married, I needed a wedding ring. Both of us were poor. Many years earlier I had given my friend Bryon a wedding ring so that he could get married. I was hoping he could help buy me a wedding ring. He rode a motorcycle all the way from Daytona Beach to Orlando to give me a ring. And it turned out to be the same ring I had given him. I felt a little uncomfortable about it, but Bryon assured me that he wanted me to have it. And another friend named Annie had helped me with a loan, with which I was going to be able to buy Noelle a ring. So I was as ready as I could be.
Now here’s where it gets even more interesting. At that time in Orlando, one of the only people who came to visit me was my friend Robert Turkel, who changed his name to JP Holding. As JP Holding, he was relatively famous Christian apologist. His ministry was to defend the “truth of the gospel” as best as he understood it. And what is really interesting is that JP had spent a lot of time writing about Mormonism and why it was wrong.
But even though JP didn’t believe that Mormonism is the truth, he still helped me by taking me to the airport and making sure that I got on the right plane to Texas…to marry a Mormon! I had no plans to come back to Orlando. I had no backup plan of any kind. I was flying out to get married, and if for some reason Noelle or I backed out, I had no idea what I would do beyond that point. As far as I was concerned, this had to work.
I believed at that time that love is a choice. I still believe it. I was raised to believe that the feeling of being “in love” is little more than infatuation, and it has little to do with real love. Many people who stop being infatuated with each other decide that they no longer love each other. And then they leave each other. But I believed that love is a choice, and you decide to love that person whether you feel infatuated or not. And I had decided to love Noelle, come hell or heaven.
I was so relieved to get through the airport and onto the plane that I decided to just not think too deeply about what I was doing. I had made preparations in a rush, made arrangements to have a green trunk with my essentials mailed to Noelle’s address. I mailed my computer and clothes and not much else. I felt a little sad that I was leaving a lot of books behind, but as far as I was concerned it was better to have a wife than a big library.
When I touched down in Houston I was relieved that the plane hadn’t crashed. I also felt optimistic. I had made it! I was going to meet the woman I was going to marry in just a few minutes! I told her I would be wearing a brown leather hat, and she had told me that she would be wearing a red top.
I walked into the airport, following everybody else to the luggage. I was looking for my carry-on bag when suddenly a woman ran up to me and hugged me. She hugged me three or four times, really quickly, like she was afraid I would disappear if she didn’t keep hugging me. She reminded me of a bird, and sometimes I will call her “Redbird.”
I was nervous, but happy. I thought she was pretty and shiny and very, very red. She didn’t know sign language at the time, so I think I had to rely on what I could hear with my cochlear implant. I asked her to come with me into the airport chapel, and I formally asked her to marry me. Fortunately, she said yes.
I arrived in Houston on August 1, 2008. On August 8, 2008, Noelle and I were married. We were married on 08/08/08! I still remember how nervous I was during that week. I felt shy and awkward around the kids, named Josh and Erin. But they seemed really nice, so I thought Noelle must have been a pretty good mom. During that week I remember sitting in the car with Josh and Erin, and a Johovah’s Witness came up to my car window and gave me a Watchtower magazine. The magazine cover had a story about Fatherhood. I felt like maybe it was a sign from God that I really would become a father.
The wedding was short and simple. Erin, who is not shy about speaking her mind, even said that it wasn’t very interesting. But it still meant a lot to me and Noelle.
Today, after about four years of marriage, we live in a new house that we call “Calinor.” It feels a bit like a fairy-tale realm. Noelle jokes that I am her hobbit, and I call her “Queen of the Fae.” We both feel like something miraculous or magical must have happened to bring us together, even if we really can’t prove it to anybody else.
And now we’re working on living “happily ever after” in the realm of Calinor, with Lady Erin and Josher the Mighty, two cats, and a bunch of squirrels and birds.
And that’s the story of how it all started, as best as I can remember it.