One woman's quest for answers in an online classroom brought her more than she expected – a man, not like any other.
When Linda LaForge enrolled in a comparative religions class at Ashford University in November of 2006, she was fresh out of rehab, twice divorced, and a mother of three.
"I went through a lot of stuff, not knowing where I was," recalled the Michigan native, who started searching for answers to her unending list of questions in her class. She began to study Buddhism and other world religions, trying everything out, much to no avail. Nothing was working for her.
"At the point when I took the class I had been searching different religions. I felt like I was burnt out with the Christian religion, and I knew without a doubt that that was not for me," she said.
Enter Jeremy Phillips of Ohio – confident, expressive, and most importantly, a lover of Jesus. He too was a psychology major, like LaForge, and signed up for the same class online, having already had a certification in ministry school.
"I was already saved and had my mind made up, where Linda was not so sure about everything. For the next five weeks she drove me insane," said Jeremy. "I just really couldn't stand her."
Having initially met through a brief Blackboard introduction, where their rivalry was established – he, a Buckeye, she, a Wolverine – the two began their never-ending feud, online.
All the work that Phillips did and everything he posted on discussion boards would draw commentary from LaForge, who found Christianity intolerant.
"I could remember calling some of my best friends and telling them I don't know why this woman replies to my work, I just don't understand it. She drives me crazy!" he expressed.
LaForge brewed an equal affection of sorts. "He made me angry … When he made his comments, I questioned, every day that he posted. His assurance and dedication to his faith both annoyed me and attracted me."
Up until the end of the term, their verbal sparring continued and slowly began to take a new dimension.
"At the end of the class, I assumed that was it. Then she found me on Myspace and I thought she was stalking me at this point," Phillips jokingly stated. "We exchanged some ideas, still talking about religion, and a few weeks later we were talking on the phone and continued talking."
"When we started talking on the phone, his confidence and certainty of Christ, that's what drew me to him and drew me to getting saved again," she revealed. "He would read to me the Bible and discuss certain stories and what they meant."
Their conversations, at first dominated by questions about God, naturally led to more intimate talks, revealing more about each other. Though it was his love for God that first drew her to him, it was his honesty and realness that kept her there.
"During that month we grew close. I knew I was never getting rid of her," he said. "I already knew I loved her before I met her [and that] God used that time on the phone, and emails and instant messages [to bring us together]."
Deciding to meet face-to-face, Phillips felt that Valentine's Day seemed an appropriate time to see her.
After a long, anxious eight-hour drive from the southern part of Ohio to the far north of Michigan where LaForge resided, the two finally met.
When asked about their first reactions, Phillips sweetly answered that it was very familiar. "It was almost like returning to someone you already knew, like being away from home or something and coming home. I guess coming home was the best way to say it."
While for LaForge, seeing him for the first time just confirmed to her what she hoped was real throughout their conversations with each other.
"From what our relationship had grown to so far and what we shared, if that had been real, and it was, if that was real, then I knew I loved him. I loved that person that I knew."
What had started out as passionate discussion boards, to e-mails and phone calls, to meeting face-to-face, eventually led the couple to their marriage in September 2007. LaForge soon after moved from Michigan to Ohio with her three daughters.
Three and a half years later, with one new daughter and a son on the way, how has their view on love and marriage changed since meeting each other?
"I clearly understand love is an action now, not just a feeling," Phillips shared. "I guess I confused love with infatuation … and now I know that love is choosing a certain way to act, and a certain way to react. I don't always do that exactly as I should, but I'm learning that."
"I've learned a lot from [Jeremy] and how to communicate. My first couple of marriages were pretty rotten in that way, full of chaos and abuse, and when stuff would happen I wasn't quite sure how to react because I didn't really know," LaForge explained.
"He taught me a lot, and we've kind of taught each other on how to approach things," she continued. "My view on marriage now is there is no room for divorce … We have a family here, we love God, and God wants us together and we know that."
Phillips concluded, "The way I look at it is, God is love and if I am imperfect God doesn't stop loving me. Linda's imperfect, and I can't stop loving her. I'm imperfect and she can't stop loving me."
The happily married couple is celebrating this Valentine's Day on a very rare night out with a Bob Evan's special and a movie – a perfectly conventional way to end a not-so-conventional beginning.