Weirdest engagement ever?
I know my parents did not have the weirdest engagement ever. But it seemed like that to me when I was growing up.
For one thing, my dad was exactly ten years older than my mom. We used to laugh at our parents that our dad could have babysat our mom.
But the weirdest part was how they met and decided to get married.
The story they told us is that one day my dad’s friend, the only other unmarried seminarian in his class, suggested my dad get a date for the upcoming wives and girlfriends tea at the seminary. My dad’s friend had a girlfriend he wanted to bring, and he wanted my dad to keep him company.
My dad gave the obvious objection: he wasn’t dating anyone at the moment.
His friend had an easy answer, “Ask Mary LaGrand. She’s great. She’ll be up for it.” My mom was a student in a college class he was teaching, and he thought she would be the perfect person for my dad to ask.
Dad was game. As it turned out, Mom was too.
She told us later, “They never let women inside the seminary. I had always wondered what it was like. So I jumped at the opportunity. It sounded fun. And I knew Frank and thought he was fun.”
For some reason we kids never found out, Frank and his girlfriend never showed up that afternoon.
And the event really wasn’t called “The Wives and Girlfriends Tea”–it was “The Seminary Wives Tea.”
As could have been predicted, the other seminarians and their wives saw my dad’s entrance with my mom as an announcement. They teased him about “holding out on us.” I met one retired pastor decades later who still refused to believe that was my parents’ first date.
That day as they were leaving the tea, my mom said to my dad, “You owe me. Big time.”
He laughingly agreed: “What do I owe you?”
That dinner with its four hours of conversation changed my parents’ lives.
My mom’s version of it: “He knew where he was going and what God was doing with his life. I wanted to go too.”
They evidently had quite a few more dates in the next two weeks before deciding to get married. But they chose to marry in six months, despite the fact that my mom had just finished her junior year of college and my dad was heading overseas to study at the Free University in Amsterdam.
Over the years I asked to hear that story many times, amazed that my rich-girl mom chose to marry my farmer-turned-student dad because of how impressed she was with the calling he was answering from God. She saw the reality of Jesus Christ in his life.
Her other suitors had sought to impress her with their own merits. My dad had pursued God. That had captivated Mom. This “weirdest engagement ever” led to a long-distance relationship and Mom’s following Dad across the ocean to marry him—far from friends and family.
Though they experienced some predictable difficulties of such a marriage choice, we children always saw our parents united in their desire to answer God’s call on their lives: during almost sixty years of marriage and ministry. Praise God!
I felt disoriented, almost dizzied by my parents’ indecision.
Parents are supposed to know what’s happening in life and be in charge, right? At ten, my world felt flipped over because of my parents’ not knowing what to do. It disoriented me. First, they believed God was calling my dad to a different ministry. Then they weren’t sure. My mom and dad needed to pray about it more.
For what felt like a long time—probably only a few weeks—my sisters and I didn’t know whether we were going to continue living in Tri-Cities, Washington, or move to Portland, Oregon. The memorable thing is that while my parents were praying and waiting for God’s answer, my sisters and I felt disoriented–unmoored. As children, we obviously found our security not in God but in our parents—and in their knowing what to do.
Our family had moved from California to Washington the year before, which had disoriented us in different ways.
Initially I had experienced great homesickness, believing I’d never again find wonderful friends like the ones I was leaving. But by this time my sisters and I had all adjusted. I think we were not so much scared of the potential move as freaked out that our parents didn’t know what to do. One clear memory is of the three older girls gathered in a closet for a meeting and having a secret “vote.” It was probably my crazy idea. We each gave all the evidence we had on either side and then “voted” by “secret ballot” on whether we thought we were going to be moving or staying.
We were looking for some sort of certainty in ourselves, since we were not seeing it in our parents.
Ironically, the sister vote was unanimous for Portland, but we ended up staying in Tri-Cities. We later learned my parents had also initially believed God wanted to move them into a new ministry. But then God showed them otherwise. During those weeks of their indecision a number of people committed themselves to the Lord and to our local church, giving evidence to my parents that the elders were correct: God had been using their gifts of evangelism. And he wanted them to stay and continue to work there.
God continued to bless their ministry in the church abundantly over the next decade.
Clearly my parents had heard God correctly. What I remember most powerfully, though, is my parents’ waiting to hear what God wanted them to do. I never heard them discuss either the advantages of friends in Washington or the culture and beauty of Portland.
It was simply “What does God want us to do? Where does he want us to serve him?”
As a child, it amazed me that adults would make major decisions simply because of what they understood Jesus wanted them to do.
I wish I could say I began then to instantly trust Jesus for daily decisions in my life. I didn’t. But I did perceive for the first time this important practice.
How do we show others that we trust Jesus for major decisions?
As a budding eight-year-old atheist, I traumatized my parents by throwing over Christianity.
Ours was an overtly Christian household, with both parents having the gift of evangelism. And my dad was a pastor. I had definitely believed when younger. But the influence of an excellent third-grade teacher—a strong humanist—changed that completely.
One night after family devotions, I announced to my family, “I don’t think I can believe all that stuff. Mrs. Allen says there is no God. People just created the idea of God as a crutch to lean on. He’s only an idea for weak people.”
My parents were shell-shocked. My dad spent countless hours explaining to me all the proofs of the reality of Jesus Christ. No dice. After months of frustration with my stubborn disbelief, my mom—in her desperation—decided to do the only other thing she could think of.
She began sharing with me daily examples of her prayers to Jesus.
She also shared how he was answering them. Bingo. I don’t remember what she was praying about most days. Certainly things in her kids’ daily lives. Probably about how yucky she felt while pregnant. I know those are the kinds of things she asked me to pray for after I grew up.
One answered prayer stands out hugely though. That day she ran into the house over-the-top excited because her dentist had prayed to receive Christ with her. We all knew she had been praying for him. She knew he had tough stuff in his life, but she also knew she couldn’t take up appointment time to talk about Jesus with him. On the day of her excitement, he had told her that he had purposely scheduled no one after her, so he could ask her more questions.
It turns out he and his new wife were going through a really rough time with their newly blended family—three teen-aged daughters. Mom’s joy had attracted him. He wanted that for his family. Later the whole family became Christians after my parents met with him and his wife together.
That day I saw the reality of Jesus Christ in the power of my mom’s personal relationship with him.
I now see that she had finally resorted to what the disciples did as the first ones to introduce others to Christ. She told me about her daily companion and Lord of her life. I had no moment of sudden realization–simply gradually returning to believing in Jesus Christ. I’m sure my parents wondered for a long time whether my faith was solid or not. I can’t tell you a time either, but I know Jesus spoke through my mom’s uncertain words to me.
I know many parents and grandparents want their children to know Jesus Christ as Lord. But sometimes they’re unsure what to do. They feel they don’t know enough. Or they feel not good enough to be the best examples.
What has nurtured your faith in the most noticeable ways? Is there an eight-year-old atheist or some other child in your life you could share that experience with?