Tom and Laurie married in October 2014 and began attending Central not long after. To see them together, often smiling, one might assume that theirs is the ordinary love story.
It is far from it.
The circumstances that brought them together were some of most painful and tragic that two people could endure. Only by the faithfulness of God has either made it this far.
In 2001, Laurie lost her first husband, Jonathan, at the age of 41 following a 13-month battle with cancer. When Laurie learned of Jonathan’s diagnosis — malignant melanoma that had metastasized into five brain tumors — she was on maternity leave with their son, Christopher. The couple was also raising a 2-year-old daughter.
After her husband’s passing, Laurie moved to Charlotte. It wasn’t long after that she encountered Tom for the first time at church. The two had many mutual friends, but it wasn’t until a few years later that they formally met and began dating.
“We had been within five feet of each other probably 50 times but had never made the connection,” Tom said.
In 2006, Laurie’s world was rocked by tragedy once again. This time, it was the loss of her 6-year-old son, Christopher, who died unexpectedly not long after being admitted to the hospital with difficulty breathing.
“He had never been sick a day in his life,” Laurie remembers.
The day of Christopher’s funeral was the darkest day of Laurie’s life.
“I remember the pattern on the carpet,” she recalls. “I specifically didn’t have a viewing because no parent wants to know what their child looks like in a casket, and I didn’t have the casket in the funeral service in the church, because you don’t want to create a visual that you can’t get out of your mind. I don’t remember anything about the funeral service, although I spoke."
In the months after Christopher’s death, Laurie begin helping people who had suffered through similar losses. A mutual acquaintance connected her with Tom, whose 10-year-old daughter from a previous relationship passed away just 10 months after Laurie had said goodbye to Christopher.
Like Christopher, Tom’s daughter, Missy, died unexpectedly. Less than two days after being hospitalized with a high fever and pneumonia, Missy passed away from a bacterial infection in her lungs. Tom remembers holding his daughter in his arms after she died and telling nurses who were in the room that, in that very moment, Missy was in the presence of Jesus.
“There’s a point in every process where God gives you strength that’s not your strength — it’s God’s strength,” Tom says. “That night it was almost as if I could feel the presence of God say, ‘I’m going to pick you up. You’re this girl’s daddy.' Sometimes you get in these moments where God will put you in a situation where He can use you right on the spot. Where that strength came from that night, I couldn’t tell you.”
Still stricken with grief in the weeks after losing his daughter, Tom had arranged to meet Laurie at a coffee shop where they planned to share their stories, and Laurie could provide some guidance and support. They intended to be together for about half an hour.
“We were there for six hours and 20 minutes,” Tom recalls. “We were there for a long time. It turned out we knew a lot of the same people; we just never knew one another, per se. Laurie walked me through the process, and we got to know each other as well.”
About four years after that first meeting over coffee, Tom and Laurie began dating, and a couple years after that, they were married.
Tom and Laurie now live in Charlotte with Laurie’s daughter, who is now a teenager. The couple refuses to let their lives be defined by tragedy, but instead they want to show how God can use tragic situations to ultimately help others know Christ in a deeper way.
Their home, which sits on a beautiful property that includes a pond, multiple streams and a gazebo, is a tranquil place where they invite pastors, cancer patients, widows and those dealing with grief to come, pray and find refreshment for their souls.
“We’ve started a ministry in the backyard,” Tom says.
The couple also owns a secluded cabin on 5 ½ acres in the mountains where they invite people to come and enjoy quiet time. Ironically, visible from the property is a lighted cross erected by a couple who lost a child.
“Our priority passion is people who have lost a child or experienced any extraordinary level of pain or suffering where they just need to escape reality,” Laurie says.
As painful as their journeys have been at times, Tom and Laurie can clearly see how God has used their suffering to be a source of encouragement and strength for each other — and the world around them.
“There’s an art to finding the upside in adversity,” Laurie says. “It’s there to be found. It’s much, much more difficult to find it if you don’t have faith.”