6 – He Restoreth My Soul
This title is from the 23rd Psalm and describes the enormity of what this story means to me. In more modern English, one could say, “He gave me my life back.” This is not a story of improbable events, but rather one of a series of events that taken together are improbably coincidental – except for the Hand of Providence.
My wife had gotten cancer and had died. We’d had a wonderful marriage, but all that remained to me were memories. After seven years of intense grieving and a few more of just existing, I married again.
This marriage turned out to be as poor as the previous one had been successful. I tried to be a good husband, but wasn’t good enough. After the so-called dot-com crash of 1999, a couple of years followed during which I’d been unable to get any significant contracts for my computer business. This wife finally divorced me. She kept most of my personal belongings (those which wouldn’t fit into my car). I was loathe to fight her. Regardless, I didn’t have the money for a lawyer. She got the family’s assets in the divorce settlement and left me with the debts. I returned to northern California, where I grew up and where members of my family lived.
I was living on my Social Security retirement, a government pension. I rented a room in a widow’s house. All that I valued was in my past. I tried to be active in my church, but found no fulfillment there. I had nothing to look forward to on this earth. I prayed that I might go to my eternal home. While I waited for that, however, I resolved to do good to those who came into my life, as much as I was able.
I wrote a computer program that I hoped to use in a project. I believed that others could use this work in their projects, so I posted it on an “open source” web site where programmers help each other by sharing the software they write.
Less than a week after it was published, I got an email from a Pirjo (Peer-ee-yo) Posio, who lived in rural Finland. She thanked me for the software as she was in need of what it could do in her own software. She also suggested ways that I might make it better and told me her age and gender.
Programming is a male dominated profession. Programmers in the free software community tend to be younger. I wouldn’t have known from her name what gender she was and would have made the wrong assumption. I think she wanted to save me from the embarrassment that would have come from addressing her as “Mr. Posio”.
After my long, successful career, I had a tendency to become quite satisfied with what I produced. I had taken a couple of shortcuts in this code, but it was still quite usable. Now, this middle aged woman was telling me that changes in my code could make my contribution better. The problem was that she was right. And I really had nothing to do but to make it better. So, I swallowed my pride and began to incorporate her suggestions.
As I changed my software, we kept writing to each other. I knew that Pirjo wasn’t trying to win me for surely she knew that stepping on a guy’s ego isn’t the way to attract him. At this stage in my life, I wasn’t interested in another relationship, especially with a foreign woman in a land 5,200 miles from where I lived. I’d lived and traveled around the United States quite a bit, but had only left the U.S. briefly to visit Mexico and Canada. I had no desire to visit Europe alone and no money to do so, if I had wanted to. All I knew about Finland was that it was probably cold, because it was so far north. I’d also heard of the Helsinki Accords, but knew nothing of them. Pirjo was so far away that I considered it “safe” to be open and honest with her. Besides, she was twelve years younger than I. Another lady, older than she, had, within the past year, judged me to be too old for her. I wasn’t of a mind to risk getting involved with someone who, for all I knew, lived on walrus and reindeer meat.
Pirjo mentioned to me that Finnish men couldn’t talk of anything but “What’s on TV?” and “What’s for dinner?” I concluded that Finns must have television. I’ve always been gabby. If the lady wanted conversation, I could accommodate her. I felt that I had to note that her observation about Finnish men was really true of most men, not just those in her country. As we shared emails, it seemed strange to me that we felt the same way about so many different things. That really shouldn’t be, for we had different cultures, different countries, different native languages, different religious backgrounds and I don’t know what else different. While it was true that we were both single and were both entrepreneurs in the software industry, these things were not enough to make us feel so much alike. Why were our attitudes toward so many things so much the same? I was beginning to feel drawn toward her, but the prospect of our actually getting together in either her country or mine seemed like too big a deal to actually do it. Besides, I didn’t want to take the risk of another relationship. Getting involved with Pirjo would require a commitment that I’d be afraid to make. I tried to dismiss the idea, but it wouldn’t go away. After just a couple of weeks Pirjo said something about feelings that made me think that she might be interested in me.
I have always spoken openly about my relationship with God. I don’t think that I could have a relationship without allowing that part of me to show. Pirjo said that Finns don’t talk about their religion and asked me to accept her as she is. This was a concern to me, but as long as we were “just friends”, that would be all right. I did ask her if I could talk about my faith. She affirmed that this was OK. The problem was that our feelings and our words got beyond “just friends” so very quickly that I became alarmed and wanted to put more emotional distance between us. I didn’t want to hurt her, but I was afraid of what getting too involved with her might mean. I prayed, asking God to help put the brakes on this relationship. He ignored me!
I got to feeling that He didn’t know the difference between a brake pedal and an accelerator, for Pirjo and I got even more “involved” even more quickly. How could we, considering that we’d only seen a couple of photos of one another and had not spoken in each others hearing! For as much as we had to say to one another, using the telephone would have killed either of our budgets. Besides, her time was ten hours ahead of mine. At 7:30 P.M. in California, it would be 5:30 A.M. the next day in Finland. When my cell phone rang and I saw her name displayed, I was very surprised. A storm had caused a lot of trees and branches to fall, which took out a lot of telephone lines, including her Internet service. Service might remain out for as long as a week or two. Pirjo didn’t want me to feel that she had just dropped out of sight. When I heard her voice, my mind went blank. I’m glad I was alone. I have to laugh at myself. Here I was, 64 years old, acting like a shy teen-ager. She wasn’t any more “collected” than I. After a bit of stammering during which she managed to communicate the problem, we just hung up.
Some well-meaning friends in California that I had told about Pirjo advised me that if she couldn’t talk about her faith, that meant that she didn’t have any, so I should regard her as an unbeliever and avoid getting involved. I could understand where they were coming from, for I was reared to believe that one got a relationship with God by doing step 1, then step 2, etc. and that everyone must do it exactly the same way or it wasn’t valid. However, I had met several people whose faith I couldn’t deny, who came to God in ways that didn’t fit the pattern that I’d been taught was the only way to salvation in Christ. I did need to know that Pirjo had a real relationship with God, that she was really my sister in Christ or I couldn’t allow myself to be romantically involved.
In one email, Pirjo told me that my words had “awakened” her faith. She didn’t talk about her faith, but she certainly lived its principles. We wrote to one another nearly every day, sharing things that we’d never have shared if we’d been anywhere near each other. Like so many others, Pirjo had been hurt by people that she had depended upon, yet I could sense a complete absence of emotional “baggage”. Her words lacked the bitterness that one might expect in such a middle-aged woman, but were as fresh and sweet as those of a maiden who’d always been loved. She had forgiven each of these people! Yet this lady wasn’t a Bible student who could quote our Lord’s warning, “For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”1 Why she didn’t even have a King James Version of the Bible! This was a refreshing contrast to some Christians I’ve known who talked about their faith, but didn’t live it. She’s a member of the Finnish Evangelical Lutheran Church. Most Finns are. But, she’s never gone to church much. Being an American, living in a country where there is no national church, this was strange. I gradually became aware that the Holy Spirit has worked some awesome grace in Pirjo’s life.
Within two months from the time that we met, we would have liked to have visited one another to get better acquainted, but the money just wasn’t available to do it. We had to decide to ignore our feelings and be content to be pen-pals or to make a commitment to a deeper relationship. Breaking our relationship off couldn’t be a consideration. Our conversation turned to discussing “what if” one of us moved to the other’s country. We had the understanding that this would mean marriage to a person that we’d never seen, whose life style we hadn’t observed and couldn’t observe. Looking at the matter logically, the prospect was just plain scary! It was pretty apparent that she shouldn’t move, for she had property, business interests and children still at home. I had none of these constraints, so we began talking of my moving. I really wanted to find reasons for me not to move, but this tack just didn’t work. Things fit into place just too neatly. I asked the Lord in prayer to show me why I shouldn’t go, why I shouldn’t marry her, but I received no answer. In talking about my moving to Finland, we included the idea that we’d be married when I arrived, although I hadn’t formally proposed to her. We knew that we loved one another, but we weren’t “in love”. After all, we’d never seen each other and never experienced each other’s company. All we had were words. I strongly suspected that our Heavenly Father had matched us and was bringing us together. Pirjo and I “graduated” from email to instant messages, but couldn’t use the services that allowed people to talk over the Internet because I couldn’t get high-speed Internet service where I lived.
I got on the Internet and looked for Finnish-American societies in the United States. I needed to learn more about Finland, if I could. One of the very few such societies was only a few miles from where I lived. Could that have happened just by chance? The Finn Club gave me the opportunity to meet people who had come from Finland. I tasted my first Finnish food and heard my first Finnish songs. Pirjo had taught me some Finnish words, but I couldn’t hear them except as I’d ask members of the Finn Club. One of those words was “Armaani”, a poetic way of saying “my dear”. At a Finn Club dinner, I asked a couple about the meaning of the word, because I wanted to be sure to be using correct terms and I wanted to hear how it should be pronounced. The broad smile that crossed the typically silent Finnish man’s face told me that this was a word that I wanted. There was one thing that I wanted to learn how to say, however, that I couldn’t ask Pirjo. Minna, a lady from the Finn Club, taught me.
I made my plans to leave for Finland on January 11, 2006. I had to do the things that travelers to other countries must do, such as get a passport. After my divorce, I owned very little, but even these were too much to ship to Finland. Since I planned to move there permanently, I had to determine what I really needed to keep. I donated some things and packed the rest of them. Everything was accomplished without a problem. I anticipated having some anxiety, but had none. I had the sense that my Heavenly Father was in control and all I had to do was to obey Him.
When I arrived at Helsinki-Vantaa Airport on January 12, Armaani Pirjo and I recognized each other immediately. Thankfully, her daughter, Merja, had a telephone that takes good pictures, so those first precious moments are on the record. Pirjo’s son, Jukka, and Merja took my baggage to their car. I asked for a place to sit. Pirjo thought that I needed it. When we found a place, I asked her to sit. I knelt beside the chair and asked the question I’d learned from Minna in California, “Pirjo, kultaseni. Tuletko vaimokseni?” (“Pirjo, my sweetheart. Will you be my wife?”) I knew that women like to have the formal question asked, so I asked her at the first possible moment. I got the answer that I anticipated and wanted, “Kyllä.”
When I first arrived at Pirjo’s home, I recognized it as one that I’d have wanted if we’d been looking for a house together. We married first in the magistrate’s office, for this simplified my getting permission to remain in Finland longer than ninety days. Then, a month later, we had a ceremony in the church where Pirjo had been confirmed, a church that was built before Columbus discovered America.
As of this writing, I’ve been in Finland for a year.
In thinking about this great change in my life, I’ve thought of the fact that I came here from the place in California where the discovery of gold in 1849 started the Gold Rush so famous in American history. I found no gold in California, but I did find gold in Finland. Pirjo is my gold, my sweetheart, for in Finnish, the word for “gold” and the word for “sweetheart” is the same!
I have marveled over and over again at how perfectly matched Pirjo and I are. When people marry as young adults they are more flexible than older folks are. One of my concerns was that I am pretty well set in my ways. But even in the little insignificant things of life, my beloved wife and I have the same preferences. We have not needed to adjust to one another. We just fit. Despite the number of times this has happened, I still find it awesome. We do have one major difference – she is a woman; I am a man. But we’ve been able to make this work for us.
What makes this story so remarkable to me in terms of my faith walk is the number of things that had to happen in order to make this marriage possible and to make it work so very well.
There was a lot that had to happen in order for us to even meet. If we were not both using the same computer language to program with, we would not have met. When I planned to add another language to those I knew, a training opportunity for the PHP language presented itself and I changed my plan, which had been to learn an alternative language. Two years earlier, Pirjo had decided to learn a new computer language and happened to choose PHP which she had to learn by trial and experimentation. One of her learning tools was the web site “PHP Classes”. She spent a lot of time there, downloading and studying the free software available that did specific tasks. A year after she began visiting it, I posted my software to it. I don’t even remember how I found it. I wasn’t looking for a wife. I just wanted to give back a little to the free software community. Pirjo wasn’t looking for a husband. She was looking for software to learn from and perhaps to use in her own projects. Many people downloaded my software. She was the only person who felt moved to write and say “Thank you.” We both firmly believe that our Lord nudged us both toward that Internet site.
Through my adult life, I had lived in many places in the United States. America doesn’t have one culture, like many countries. In different places, people have different assumptions and different laws. I knew I could adapt to the different things I’d find in Finland, such as their foods, their use of the metric system and so forth. The big question is how two people with different countries, different cultures, different languages, different histories could end up being so very much alike. What is the chance that two such matched people in places 5,200 miles (8,500 kilometers) removed from each other as metropolitan Sacramento, California and the little village of Ryttylä, Finland are could find one another if they were even trying?
Still, there were so many things that we couldn’t know without having had the opportunity to share one another’s company before committing ourselves to a relationship that some might say that we took an awful chance. Yet, neither of us ever felt a sense of “risk”, just the peaceful confidence that our loving Heavenly Father prepared us for one another, then brought us together, so that we might serve Him and bear testimony to His love together.
During this last year, we’ve had an exciting, vibrant marriage whose quality any couple would be thrilled to have. Pirjo and I did not engineer our meeting. We did not make the many circumstances fit so that we might be together as husband and wife. We have not struggled to make the marriage “work”. It just does. This marriage was planned by One who loves us both. I have told people that God, through Pirjo, gave me my life back. Surely, He restoreth my soul.