SPRING HILL — When Robert Church received an e-mail via Classmates, an Internet social networking site, in November 2004, he was at work and too busy to read it. It wasn't until three days later that he opened the e-mail and saw which former classmate had written to him.
At age 43, and having made several bad life choices since high school, Church was happy to hear from his old friend, Lori. He and Lori had dated for about a month when he was a sophomore and she was a junior at their school near Fairfield, Ohio. They had been in the marching band and chorus together.
At the time Robert read the e-mail, Lori was living in Spring Hill, caring for her elderly parents. After exchanging e-mails, they talked on the phone. Once again, they found themselves attracted to each other. They discovered that both were active in their respective churches and had recently rededicated their lives to the Lord.
They decided to meet.
"It was almost the first weekend of December," Robert said. "If we didn't do it then, we were going to have to wait until after the first of the year. So I left on Dec. 4 and drove all night."
When Lori walked out to her driveway to greet him, Robert was smitten.
"We instantly fell back in love," he said. "We'd had feelings in high school, but they really hadn't blossomed. That night, I actually proposed to her."
Lori went to Ohio to be with Robert over Christmas. A short time later, Robert made the proposal formal at a family gathering in Nashville.
They were married in June 2005, believing they had finally found the mate God intended for each of them.
Previously, Robert had married young, divorced, gotten married again, drank too much and went through another divorce. He had strayed far from his Baptist roots.
"I was in church and became saved when I was 10," he said. "I started singing in the choir and doing solos. I got married when I was 18 to a woman from church. Our families were close friends."
Robert and his first wife had their first of three children in 1979. They were married 6 1/2 years.
"We were just too young and got to where we couldn't stand each other," he said.
About five years later, he married a co-worker.
"I started drinking and went with the world (rather than God)," Robert said. "We got married and divorced after 13 years. My drinking was part of it. I smoked and drank for about 28 or 29 years. I knew I was doing wrong, but I still did it."
By May 2004, Robert had had enough of his lifestyle. He rededicated his life to God.
"God took the taste of alcohol away from me, so I've been sober going on seven years now," he said. "By the time Lori sent me that e-mail, the Lord was the focus of my life."
Life had also been difficult for Lori. After dealing with infidelity and other marital problems, she had been through two divorces as well. Like Robert, she had been reared a Baptist.
Lori said she justified her choices because her first husband, who was in the military, claimed to be a Christian.
"We had two children together and took them to church," she said. "I was surprised by his infidelity. But even in my insecurities, I knew better than to stay married to him."
After leaving her 10-year marriage, Lori said she began growing more spiritually. She attended Bible studies and sang in the church choir.
"So even though I was more spiritually mature, I made another bad mistake and got married again," she said. "Having the home and two kids and a job and everything being a little frazzled, I was distracted by dance lessons and married my dance teacher."
While she didn't think her new husband was a Christian, Lori thought she could "pray him into the kingdom."
"I thought God would answer my prayers and he would stop drinking," she said. "But no. That marriage lasted three years."
Lori decided that she would not marry again.
"My friends were concerned, because at that point I was unemployed and had no support. But I decided to let God be the center of my life, and I was completely peaceful," she said.
In 1995, she moved to Florida to be near her parents. From there, in 2004, she sent e-mails to a few former classmates with the thought of just saying "hi."
Since marrying, Robert and Lori have begun using both their musical and cooking talents to minister together. They have served in the Angel Food Ministry at Fellowship Community Church in Spring Hill and currently serve in several capacities at Hillside Community Baptist Church east of Brooksville.
Between them, they have 11 grandchildren, with one having died of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome two years ago.
After starting their marriage in Ohio, moving to Florida to take care of Lori's father when her mother died in 2007, a short stint in North Carolina for work and back to Florida again, Robert finds himself among the many unemployed in Hernando County.
His background is in steel work, a field in which there are not a lot of available jobs locally.
"I worked for Hernando High in '08 as a custodian, and when I went to Ohio, I worked in the schools up there," he said. "Now, I'm on the substitute list for custodians here, and I do yard work and odd jobs. I'm still looking for full-time employment. Right now there's a long line of people waiting for every job, so we depend on the Lord every day."
Prayer is an important part of their lives, the couple say, and they often pray together. Both say they are growing daily in their relationship with each other and the Lord.
With Valentine's Day approaching on Monday, the couple reflected on their feelings for each other.
"I want to spend the rest of my life with her, and my relationship with the Lord is better than it has ever been," Robert said.
Lori has similar sentiments.
"We're still on a honeymoon after six years," she said. "We say if this is what marriage is like, we were never really married before. This is what marriage is supposed to be like biblically and how God planned it. It's wonderful."