Darrin Richardson never forgot the day he said good-bye to Melissa Harris.

She was in eighth grade and he was a year behind, but they became sweethearts at an after-school program in Morristown, N.J. She beat him in pool. He smiled at her from the basketball court. On movie days, they would sit in the back of the room holding hands or sneaking a kiss. “We were an innocent little couple,” Harris says. “He was just always real sweet and loving, and I was really in love with him.”

In early 1977, her mother passed away suddenly. Arrangements were made for Harris and her siblings to live with their father in California. At her farewell party, Richardson “couldn’t stop crying,” he says. “It was really emotionally overwhelming.”

The two lost touch completely. Harris settled in the San Francisco Bay area. She grew up and eventually married and had two sons. But that marriage faltered, and by 2005 she was back on the singles scene. She prayed that she would find someone who loved God the way she did, but every guy she dated seemed to fall short.

Richardson married right after high school and had three daughters. He became a chef and moved to the Washington area. By 2000, his marriage, too, had unraveled. In 2003, his life was turned upside down when he found out that a persistent cough was actually emphysema. Soon he was on an oxygen tank and the waiting list for a double lung transplant. He prayed daily for his health and for love to return to his life and spent hours on Facebook reconnecting with old friends. In 2011, a friend suggestion for Harris popped up. “I cried when I saw her face,” he says.

Harris, a rental property manager, was delighted to reconnect with Richardson. Though she picked up on the flirtation in his messages, “I didn’t really think anything because he was so far away.”

On Jan. 3, after a year of near-daily exchanges, they caught up by phone, relaying the stories of their lives. An hour into the conversation, Richardson told her about his lungs. Harris said she’d pray for him and began talking aloud to God, requesting that Richardson be healed.

“I felt a warm sensation — just a warm chill all over my body,” he says. “And that was it. I was stuck. I was in love. ’Cause I had asked God for a God-fearing woman.”

When Harris finished her prayer, Richardson asked if she would marry him.

“I thought it was crazy,” she recalls. But she said yes. “Something spiritually just clicked with us where we both knew that we were supposed to be together.”

They spoke for nine hours that night and for the next two months spent many of their waking hours talking, texting and using Skype. “It’s like we’re just picking up where we left off in eighth grade,” she says.

Richardson, 48, asked Harris’s two sons for permission to marry their mom. With their blessing, and without having seen each other in person for 35 years, they decided to wed on April 3. Friends worried they were moving too fast, but Richardson and Harris say they have no doubts. “It’s something you know, but you can’t explain it,” she says. “Both of us are so close to God that there’s no mistaking it. And we wanted to get married because we were just really falling in love.

They continued to pray together daily. Harris, also 48, encouraged Richardson to adopt a healthier diet. Whether it’s love or the lifestyle change, Richardson says he’s feeling better than he has in two years and now needs just one liter of oxygen a day, down from the four he was using a few months ago; his condition is still serious, however, and he remains on the transplant list.

“We feel that we had to go through what we had to go through so that we could be mature and really appreciate one another,” Harris says.

On April 2, Harris flew into Dulles International Airport from California. Her eldest son, Demitri Jones, a 20-year-old Marine stationed in North Carolina, picked her up at the airport and drove her to Richardson’s house in Brookland. “I’m going to meet my husband!” she said on the way. “I felt like I was winning the lottery.”

The couple planned to hold off on a kiss until they were declared man and wife, but when she arrived at his doorstep, he couldn’t resist. “When she knocked on my door, she took my breath away,” says Richardson, who plans to move to California in the coming months.

The next day, they arrived for their wedding at the Josephine Butler Parks Center, across from Meridian Hill Park. Harris walked down the aisle on the arm of her son, and the couple exchanged vows before two dozen guests. In the middle of the ceremony, Richardson’s sister-in-law serenaded the pair with “You and I” by Stevie Wonder:

“Here we are on earth together,

It’s you and I —

God has made us fall in love, it’s true,

I’ve really found someone like you.”

More Weddings and Engagements:

Photos: Marriage proposals in the movies

Photos: Wedding trends for 2012

Photos: How to choose a diamond

Engagement stories: Upload a photo and share the story of your marriage proposal

Timeline: When and how to plan your wedding

Getting married in the Washington area? Tell us your story to be featured in On Love.