Let it be known, I am no romantic. But being an avid This American Life listener, sometimes I get sucker-punched by the occasional, irresistibly sappy story. This is such a great story of grace in practice I couldn’t not share it. It doesn’t hurt that Mockingbird is getting ready to release a publication about the show called This American Gospel

In episode #425, “Slow To React”, Ira Glass cues up the scene of a “legendarily romantic love story”. The writer of the piece, Sean Lewis, recounts the story of his somewhat awkward, sometimes stoic, dutiful uncle, Mark. This is the kind of uncle more likely to live a predictably monotonous single life than to live out a private, near two-decade love story. It goes something like this:

Mark was a military man that did time in the Korean War. While there, Mark meets a beautiful Korean local named “Ha”. They fall in love, he writes home about her, and they plan to marry. Initially, Marks’ mother isn’t keen on the idea. After Mark returns home, he plans to somehow bring Ha back to states, get married and live happily ever after. But some family financial woes sidetracked Mark from his romantical plans and over time, Ha moves twice, and Mark loses track of her.

All the while, before turning the light out each night, Mark takes one last look at a photo of Ha. First thing in the morning, he’s looking at that same picture and he wonders if he’ll ever be with her again. Mark never speaks to anyone about Ha.

Mark’s life moves on. He becomes a police officer and his family nudges him into meeting new people. Eventually he starts dating.

The few women he does go out with don’t last and I could see why. His idea of a good date at the time was for him to watch the movie Stripes seven times and then bring a woman to the movie and quote the whole thing to her as it’s happening. He wanted his dates to share his love of Irish military history and his interest in naming his first child Wolfgang. He’d lecture people about anything they were doing that seemed wrong to him. He didn’t smile much. None of this went over well with the women of Greenwood Lake. So his social life was mostly us, his family…

And this is Mark’s life for 10 years. He dutifully supports the family by going every day to a job he doesn’t like, with coworkers who despise him for being so by the book. He exercises. He goes home to his one room apartment. And on Sundays, he sees the family. And this is the Mark we think we know. Dutiful, straight-laced, family oriented. Probably never going to get married. We have no idea that this entire time Mark is pining for Ha.

During this monotonous ten-year period, Mark takes out ads in Korean newspapers, and does everything he can to make contact with Ha again. Eventually, Ha and Mark reconnect. But Ha’s life has since changed. She is a successful businesswoman and she’s afraid of being hurt again. Eventually, Ha agrees to meet Mark halfway and they meet up in Hawaii. They have a great time and on their first trip together, Mark proposes. Ha is lukewarm to the idea. But for another 7 years, Mark calls and writes and they keep meeting up in Hawaii, and he keeps proposing.

Here’s where the story gets awesome.

Sean Lewis: So year seven, what changed?

Ha: You believe in God, right?

Sean Lewis: Do I believe in God? I do.

Ha: I thought it’s God work make me really quick change. Because I was very, very sick. My heart is pounding. It’s like a double pounding, triple pounding. So I found out later I have a whole check on my body, it’s like I have thyroid. And my doctor say, you cannot continue your work.

Sean Lewis: Ha is sick for weeks and Mark calls her every day.

Ha: Every day. Sometimes twice. He showed to me his love. Before I told you it’s like I cannot see his love. He hugs me and kisses me and he say, I love you. It’s not moving my heart. And then, but I was sick. He called twice a day and how is you doing? You have to have [INAUDIBLE] in United State. My mind start moving. You know what? He really loves me, I believe, really. So I closed down my business and I talked to my mom and my family. I’m going to United States to marry.

You can guess the rest of the story. Mark and Ha marry and the family is overjoyed for the couple but surprised, once again, by Mark’s low-key persistence.

Isn’t this just like God’s love?

When life is rolling along predictably, we don’t have much need for another’s love. But when we’re depressed or sick, our usual support systems often fail.  Our brokenness eventually becomes a burden to others and they bail. But God keeps quietly and persistently loving and pursuing us behind the scenes despite our weaknesses, and eventually, we have a change of heart.

In other words, when life goes down hill, grace (one-way love) changes people.