Always My Valentine: The Love Story Of Zach And Lauren
February 14, 2017
Lauren McCall and Zach Barrow were high school sweethearts at Northview High School. She played softball; he played baseball. She was an Auburn girl. He, you guessed it, an Alabama boy. If you can overcome that, they were pretty much that perfect high school couple. They even returned to Northview…Zach as an assistant baseball coach and Lauren as a cheerleading coach.
They planned their perfect lives together, knew what they wanted to be in life and had their plans and goals. It was the perfect relationship.
Then insert life.
Zach was diagnosed with cancer, and Lauren stood by his side. There was a remission, a wedding proposal, wedding plans and another battle with cancer.
Zach passed away February 8, less than a week ago. NorthEscambia.com had planned this special Valentines feature on Zach and Lauren, and with much thought, decided with Lauren to move forward to share her love story. And, at the bottom of the story, you’ll find one last love letter that she penned to Zach for Valentine’s Day.
After Zach’s death, Lauren’s sister-in-law Kirsten McCall summed up Zach and Lauren’s relationship in a post on her Facebook wall:
“Talk about a power couple. These two have faced every obstacle known to man, yet they still always wore a smile on their faces. They adore each other the way you see those absolutely adorable couples in movies adore one another, but their love is so much greater. Because it wasn’t acted out like on the movie screens, it was real. It was admirable. The way Zach looked at Lauren was enough to melt anyone’s heart. And mine was basically a gooey mess on the floor while taking these photos of them. There was no denying their love for each other. God put them together because he knew their story would touch hundreds, thousands of people’s hearts. Like it did mine. And yours. God knew their testimony would make believers out of people. Would turn an unsure heart right into the eyes of our Lord. The struggles this family has faced in the past few years is quite frankly unimaginable…struggles that could have turned their faithful hearts away. But I haven’t met many who have more faith then them, Zach and Lauren, the Barrow family.”
February 13, 2017 — the day before this article, five days after Zach’s death, the day before Valentines and just a month and a half before Zach and Lauren’s planned wedding day. Lauren reflected on why she stood by her high school sweetheart instead of slipping away.
“Zach was God’s will for me. The Lord put a love in my heart for Zach, and I never once felt the urge to leave. Not once even through two cancers and six years together. I was placed here to be a help to him, I truly believe that,” Lauren said.
I love looking at this picture. We had no worries, no plan, just me and you.
“One year ago today, we got told Zach Barrow was cancer free. I couldn’t be more proud to be yours. I love going through this life with you, and serving the God who brought us through tough trials. Thank you for always being my smile.” — October 5, 2015.
On October 17, 2015, Zach popped the question. Without a doubt, Lauren said yes.
“A year ago today, you asked me to be your wife. We promised to love each other through all of the good and especially the bad.. I’m so thankful to be yours and can’t wait to be Mrs. Barrow,” Lauren wrote on October 17, 2016.
“The goal is… to laugh with you forever,” she wrote in October.
In the fall, they were making wedding plans, purchasing land for the future Barrow home and celebrating Zach’s birthday in early December. On the cancer front, the news was good, with Zach’s tumor shrinking.
“You know how people say when certain people come into your life, they are either a lesson or a blessing. I think the best people-are both. Zach has taught me how to love God more than I ever have.. how to love someone unconditionally.. and how to love myself. I don’t deserve a man like him, but God’s grace is more than I can describe, and certainly can’t describe it without crying. And of course, God brings blessings upon blessings to both of us. Even during the hardest days for him, he chooses to make me smile, laugh or just fix my heartache. He is my biggest blessing and lesson. I love you forever and a day after.”
Just a few short days before Christmas, Zach was rushed to the hospital for emergency surgery due to a tumor on his spine.
“Friends, I have never wanted anything more in my life than to see my fiancé healthy and cancer free. Please join me in prayer for a complete healing for him. Also, for the people who do not have Christ as their savior… I ask you… please don’t wait until you get a phone call that could change your life. Get it settled now, so that you know if something ever did happen to you… you’d have an eternal home in Heaven,” Lauren wrote.
Christmas…in the hospital.
New Year’s Eve…still in the hospital. Not exactly the thing dreams are made of.
“If I had to sit here and tell people 2016 has been easy, I’d be lying. I thought it was going to be filled with wedding planning, going on random adventures with Zachary because he was healthy, working in a new job, and getting ready to move in with my future husband! Instead God saw fit to change our lives once again. This year has been stressful beyond imagination, but as I sat next to Zachary this morning and we prayed together before his first physical therapy, he thanked the Lord for this trial he set before us. It’s very hard for me to thank the Lord for putting us through this, but I know there a reason behind it. Life hit us with something unexpected this year, but I am so incredibly thankful for a man who leads me closer and closer to Christ and is a fighter through and through! I truly believe God will bless Zachary and me, so until then… we’ll keep pushing and fighting.”
By the middle of January, that nesting syndrome that every bride to be gets had set in. Zach was in the hospital, where romantic dinners consisted of strawberries, Jack cheese cubes from a bag, and crackers. Anything beats hospital food.
“Help please! Zach and I are wanting to build a metal barn/home on our new land. I wanted to see if anyone knew of reputable contractors that may could help us, any ideas?”
A few days later, in a flashback to their carefree days as high school sweethearts, Lauren posted a photo taken on the Northview baseball field:
Lord, take me back to this day…please.
In January, Zach was back in the hospital, his mother Joanna Barrow battling cancer in the room next door. She passed away January 30.
“I sit and look at Zachary and I’m just so overwhelmed with the love God has placed in my heart for this man,” Lauren said at the time “It’s more love than I could have imagined I could feel for another person. Honestly, there is bad in the world-our family seems to be surrounded with it. But today, I don’t want to be angry or bitter. I’m choosing to just love God, Zach and my family just like I’ve been doing. God has so much planned for Zach and I, we’re just patiently waiting to see what that is, and when God shows us… I can only imagine how awesome it’ll be.”
Nine days after his mother Joanna lost her battle to cancer, her middle son, Zach, joined his mother in heaven. He was 23.
February 8th, 10:48 a.m. A day that is one of the worst/greatest days of my life. My best friend, my soul mate, my smile and my superman left this earth to be with our Savior in paradise where he is no longer hurting, sick, sad or longing for anything. My heart hurts, but to have the peace of knowing where the love of my life is makes it easier. “I’ll love you forever and a day after.” He will forever be my forever and always my sunshine on a cloudy day.
Lauren has written an open Valentine’s letter to Zach:
“To my Superman and my Sunshine, This is my thank you to you and a few others. First, I want to thank your mom and dad. Two beautiful people, who you admired so much. Your dad, a man that taught you how to play ball, how to love a woman and how to serve the Lord like a Christian should. Your precious mother, a woman sent straight from God it seemed like. She was a warrior just like you were. She taught you how to fight a good fight and win it. I also want to thank your brothers. These two men fought, argued and played in the yard with you almost every day of your life. Men that have promised to take care of me for the rest of mine now that you’re gone. Men that are now my brothers.
My sweetheart, I want to thank you for just being you. You were the man that me and my parents prayed for every day since I was born. Your walk with the Lord inspired me to be a better person and a better wife for you. Thank you for loving me more than I deserve. A man is supposed to love their wife like Christ loved the church, and sweetheart you did just that. You loved with every ounce in you. I did not deserve you, but God’s grace is more than I can describe. He sent you to me almost six years ago, and put us through a fair share of trials. Cancer. Not once, but twice. The thought of cancer terrifies me and shakes me to my core, but you Zach, you took cancer by the horns and just rolled with it. Even with cancer, you led me just as a Godly man should’ve. Cancer did not beat you my love. Cancer was a huge part of your testimony. I don’t know why the Lord decided to choose you to carry this burden, I don’t want to and will not question God’s choices. You were and are the strongest person I’ve ever known. Zach, you have fought your fight, and you have finished your course. I’m sure when you met the Lord, he met you with a smile and a “Well Done.”
Thank you for letting me be a part of your wonderful life, because you will always be a part of mine. I will carry your testimony however long the Lord allows me to. There are not enough words to describe how much my heart longs to be with the Lord and you where grief and sadness is nonexistent. Until that day, I have a job to do down here, but I will see your beautiful face again.
Thank you for being my sunshine.
Thank you for being my superman.
Thank you for leading me.
Thank you for being Zachary Thomas Barrow.
I love you and will miss you always,
Lauren McCall Barrow”
A benefit “Breakfast for the Barrows”, which was planned prior to Zach’s passing, will be held this Friday evening at the First Baptist Church of Bratt beginning at 6:00. Tickets are available in advance at Byrneville Elementary School or at the door. The meal includes pancakes, sausage and drink.