feelings about that name forever. Thanks to memorable characters from the distant past, my list of favorite names includes Emily, Alison, Cathy, Sam, Joe, and Fred … and of course there’s a counter-list of names that give me the creeps.
And then there’s the name Maureen.
In the early 60s, when I was around 10, my daddy the civil engineer was doing some business with a fellow named Jack DeWitt. One day Mr. DeWitt brought his wife and little girl to visit us in Green Bay from their home in Mt. Horeb, Wisconsin, over 150 miles away.
Maureen was just my age, although much taller and neater than I, and she must’ve been awfully nice. Her visit has been etched in my memory by a couple of snapshots and a thank-you letter from her that has somehow survived nearly a half century of household moves and spring cleanings.
For some reason, I never came across another Maureen in the decades that followed – until a sunny Saturday August afternoon, when I came home from the grocery store to find a lovely message waiting on voice mail. It had been left by a woman named Maureen Enriquez. She lived not far from us, she said, and had just finished reading Heaven Without Her (Thomas Nelson, 2008) -- a first-person account of my journey from feminist atheism to unshakable faith in Jesus Christ in the wake of my beloved Christian mother’s death.
“I’ve never called an author before,” the woman said, “but I just wanted to let you know how much I identified with your story!”
I picked up the phone and called “Maureen II,” as I’d already dubbed the bold Mrs. Enriquez. Learning that she and her husband were new Christians with a great interest in the Bible, I invited them to my Bible-teaching New Testament church. They showed up the following Sunday and have never left.
Once die-hard feminist career junkies, Maureen and I still work long hours. So it was that nearly three months passed before we were able to do anything more than chat before and after church services. But finally, in early November, she and I met in a rustic 19th century farmhouse restaurant for sandwiches.
Over the next hour, we found to our astonishment that our lives had been practically mirror images in key respects: We’d been born in the same year and had known the joy of storybook childhoods lived out in small Wisconsin towns. We’d both been well-raised (and well-churched) by loving parents against whom we had rebelled early, often and finally completely. Our dads had both been self-made men, well-respected in their professions and communities. We’d even both been crazy about everything from dogs, horses and tiger lilies to dirndl dresses straight from Germany.
As we were finishing up our sandwiches, Maureen said something that prompted me to ask her maiden name – a non sequitur, it would seem, but for some reason the question just popped out.
“DeWitt,” she said hesitantly, apparently finding it an odd question herself.
I gasped. “Maureen,” I said, almost unable to breathe, “is your father’s name Jack?”
She literally did a double-take. “How did you know?”
“Did you grow up in Mt. Horeb?”
“I never told you that!”
And so it was that I discovered Maureen II was actually one and the same as Maureen I, the little girl who’d come to visit nearly a half century ago.
So unbelievable was this discovery that she even called her 90-year-old father to see if it could possibly be true. Jack not only remembered my dad, who had died in 1970; he said they’d traveled to Germany together on business back in the 1960s.
Maureen and I jabbered until the restaurant closed for the day, then parted reluctantly. It wasn’t until later that I realized I’d forgotten to tell my new old friend one of the most amazing facts of all: that in chapter 27 of Heaven Without Her, I’d named another long-ago little girl Maureen, because I flat-out couldn’t remember that little girl’s name.
This in spite of the fact that she had been my best friend during the remarkable summer of 1961, when my parents had left me, then eight, with family friends while they headed off to Europe. It was the summer that would, 40 years later, help me see the world with eternal eyes, as a heaven-bound child of God whose beloved parents have simply gone on ahead.
It was such a heartfelt story for me that I emailed Maureen to tell her about it, inserting a little passage from chapter 27 to jog her memory:
Arlene even found a playmate for me. Her name was Maureen. She was my age and lived up the hill from Arlene’s house. Her house was exotic, too: it had no upstairs, and her backyard was all wooded, and there were these beautiful flowers in front, in a bed framed by split-rail fencing. I remember in particular stunning orange blossoms with freckles, which my new friend called tiger lilies.
“Imagine that,” I typed. “You had such an impact on me that I even named this wonderful little girl after you!”
A little while later, Maureen emailed me back.
“My parents just about killed themselves,” she’d written, “laying down that split-rail fencing.”
Then, to make sure I didn’t miss her point, she added, “It completely escaped me that while reading chapter 27 I was reading about myself!”
I read these things through tears of joy, overwhelmed by a God who loves us enough to let us see His hand on our lives.
Perhaps that was His sole purpose in arranging this reunion. Or perhaps there are many others that Maureen and I will discover some happy day, now that we’ve both bounded through the narrow gate that leads to eternal life. Imagine how astounding it will be when we are able to examine the tapestry of this world and see the threads that have brought each of us into His kingdom forevermore!
There’s a post-script to this story. A few weeks later, right before Christmas, Maureen and I drove through a snow storm to visit her parents for a joyful reunion. We were even able to solve a final mystery: how she’d come across Heaven Without Her in the first place.
It turned out that her older brother had seen a review of my book in Acts & Facts magazine, a publication of the Institute for Creation Research in Dallas. It’s an outstanding magazine, but not one you’d find at your local newsstand. Yet he had stumbled across it, read the review, and was intrigued enough to seek the book out. Then, liking the story, he took the unusual step of sending it to his sister Maureen.
The rest, as they say, is history.