James Lawson Sr. walked down a busy street in Kenya 38 years ago never dreaming he was about to encounter the love of his life.
Lawson, a young Marine from Stillwater, had just taken a long flight from Istanbul to the African country. He left the U.S. Embassy in Kenya, where he was stationed, to grab a bite to eat and look around when he saw two women walking toward him amid the hustle and bustle.
Lawson, now 56, said the women were beautiful, and one in particular caught his eye.
Several weeks later, he attended a New Year's Eve party at the embassy and met the woman, Nancy, who had captured his attention when he arrived.
The two have been inseparable ever since and celebrated their 37th wedding anniversary Dec. 29, 2010.
James Lawson, who is now a minister, said he has told his children and grandchildren over the years that meeting his future wife so far from home was a God-sent “shangaa” — which means “surprise” in Swahili.
“Little did I know He had my honey of 37 years there,” James Lawson said.
Nancy Lawson smiled at her husband.
“I thank God it's worked out,” she said.
Two worlds unite
The Lawsons' son, James “Jimmy” Lawson II, and Joan Hubbard, a member of their church, Trinity Word of Faith, collaborated to nominate couple for the “Inspiring Couples” initiative.
The couple's ability to successfully bring their two cultures together has been a source of inspiration for others, Jimmy Lawson wrote of his parents.
“Meshing these two cultures together has proved to be very easy for these lovebirds,” he said.
“Together, James and Nancy are Batman and Robin, salt and pepper and alpha and omega. Their motto is one person can influence millions, but when two people come together as one, a whole world can be changed.”
James Lawson said he and Nancy dated for eight months before he proposed marriage.
He said in that time, he learned much about her African culture from her large, close-knit family who lived on a nice ranch about 300 miles from Nairobi. He said his horizons were broadened by the African excursions he experienced and the internationally aware, intellectual discussions he participated in with Nancy and her family.
“She was my personal tour guide,” he said.
“It was serendipity for me — I was educated and enlightened.”
James proposed with a gorgeous diamond ring on Nancy's birthday. Nancy said her feelings of love for him were strong, but so were her feelings for her family and native land. She said she had never dreamed that one day she might leave her homeland and live elsewhere.
“It was a soul-searching decision for me because I had to leave the country, but love conquers all,” she said.
The couple were wed in December 1973, just a few short months after Nancy arrived in the United States. James Lawson said he had a scholarship to the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology, also known as MIT. However, he said he decided to return to his native Stillwater and obtain his engineering degree from Oklahoma State University. James Lawson said he thought Stillwater would be better for his new bride because she would be surrounded by his family and friends, unlike at Cambridge, a place with which they both would be unfamiliar.
Besides their son, Jimmy, the Lawsons have a daughter, Charissa Lawson Harland.
James Lawson is a retired AT&T electrical engineer. These days, he is senior pastor of the nondenominational Trinity Word of Faith Ministries, 2800 W Hefner Road, and also serves as a teacher's assistant at Eisenhower Elementary School. Nancy worked as an administrative assistant at OSU for many years. She is now a sales consultant with Hartford Insurance, working primarily with the AARP.
Legacy of laughter and love
The Lawsons said they attribute their long-lasting marriage to their willingness to laugh together, plus their shared sense of adventure and love of traveling.
Nancy Lawson said she also thinks their ability to have intellectual discussions with each other has kept their marriage stimulated. James Lawson agreed and laughed, saying that his wife often likes to debate, and that's OK because they know how to agree to disagree.
“We have each other's back. We just complement each other,” he said.
Most importantly, the couple said their union is God-centered, and they have a strong friendship.
They said young couples need to know that it is critical to respect one another and create shared goals and dreams for their family. James Lawson said he also advises couples to remain flexible, be willing to compromise and learn how to agree to disagree.
“Somehow, they have got to be open enough to allow growth to take place,” Lawson said.
“We know it can be done, because we have done it.”
James and Nancy Lawson are featured in the â€œOklahoma's Most Inspiring Couplesâ€ calendar, sponsored by the Oklahoma Marriage Initiative. Couples featured in the calendar are being profiled in The Oklahoma''s Life section each month. For more about the Oklahoma Marriage Initiative's inspiring couples, go to www.foreverforreal.com.