|Mario 2008 - On our Sudan Trip|
Today is Mario’s Birthday.
By some incredible grace that God had for me (still unexplained and incredibly undeserved) Mario married me on December 29, 1987. He was way out of my league. He stood six foot-two, solid muscle and had a tanned, boyish face that was unusually handsome, like a movie star. Since he had grown up skinny and funny-looking, he didn't have a big ego attached to his outward appearance and it made him even more attractive.
For some reason, he adored me. I would catch him looking at me while I was telling a story and his eyes would be starry and transfixed. No other guy ever looked at me like that.
I met him at the Inaugural Ball of the Lieutenant Governor of California in 1982. My friend, Lisa Beutler and I were working the reception area, welcoming guests to the grand affair held at the California Railroad Museum. The built in “security detail” were State Park Rangers, an elite group to which Lisa belonged. I was convinced that she had arranged it all.
Afterwards, we all went out to dinner and I sat out most of the conversation while they all discussed Law Enforcement and Union business. I was convinced I had no life because I was nineteen and I worked with old people. My new social network was cops who were old and boring. Lisa was 30– Mario, 27.
Years later (when I was 23) I applied for a job at a State Park where Mario was the supervising ranger. I was hired while he was away as a lowly Park-Aid, smiling and welcoming visitors, taking fees and explaining the rules to all who entered. Mario returned from his trip and informed me that I was hired illegally – I literally pleaded for my job. Later that day, he secured it, taking pity on me as a single mother. I found out later that he was recently divorced and was also a single father. We began to share stories and experiences at work.
Before long, we were connecting on many levels. He was fun to work for, gave me clear direction and appreciated my work. I trusted him as a friend and a boss; valued his advice, and sought it regularly. One night after work; after a long discussion about parenting, our deep dreams and the not-too- distant-future, we parted ways. Mario asked if he could give me a hug goodbye.
I was sure that a hug with Mario would not be a simple thing. I was frightened of igniting something, but before I could say no, he was already walking toward me. Our embrace was supernaturally beautiful.
As soon as I laid my head against his chest, I was home. His arms went around me and we fit perfectly together. It was as if heaven opened and doves came down, bringing the songs of angels and blessings from God. In the dead of night I felt warm and safe and all lit up inside.
Our hug lasted for about three minutes.
As soon as we released each other, I knew he was mine. I knew I was his. It was perfect.
That hug was twenty-seven years ago.
We spoke vows to each other the following December, where I promised to value him and love him all the days of my life. Mario’s vows were written himself, passionate and bold and spoken with tears that made me look shyly down at the rings we just exchanged. I read them over and over again later. How could this man feel this way about me?
Even greater than the vows that Mario wrote and spoke to me at that altar twenty six years ago are his daily decisions to be who he is. He has decided everyday to be faithful to me; to love me and be thankful for me. He has been a sensitive and protective father, a loyal friend and a genuine man of God. He keeps his word, is kind to strangers and keeps cool under pressure. Because he is a gentle giant, I call him my tender warrior.
Shortly after we started dating, my mother told him to beware of my laugh. She warned him not to say anything too funny of he didn’t want to be embarrassed in public.
“Embarrassed?” Mario asked her, incredulously. “Janet’s laugh is LIFE!” I watched him say this and realized he meant it. He wasn’t trying to rack up points; he genuinely loved my laugh. He genuinely loved me for me.
Today is his birthday.
I don’t know why God gave him to me. I really don’t deserve to be this happy in marriage. He is a stunning specimen of a man, a genuine and honest friend to me with the tenderest heart toward God.
I don’t know many people like Mario; the world needs more of them.