I know my wife has been waiting with baited breath (whatever THAT means, I still haven’t figured it out!) for this entry. She also told me she has the right of first edit. But, that’s okay; I certainly don’t plan to say anything she wouldn’t agree with, I don’t think!
I believe I’ve already told you how Darlene and I met. My family had just moved to the town of Upland and we were church-shopping, so to speak. We drove into the parking lot at Foothill Baptist Church in Upland a few minutes before worship service was scheduled to start. The first people I laid eyes on there were three beautiful young women, friends walking down the sidewalk together. The girl in the center was tall, blond, and lovely beyond my wildest dreams.
“Mom! Dad!” I shouted. “I think I’m getting a message from God … this is the church He wants us to attend!”
My mom followed my gaze then shook her head and sighed.
But, it was true. Well, not the message from God part, perhaps. But that WAS the church he wanted us to attend. So much of what happened at Foothill has had such an incredible impact on my life, from the chance to learn guitar and lead worship, to being discipled by our youth pastor, John Carroll, to the opportunity to lead the high school group, to meeting the love of my life!
The Possum Test
Shortly after I first started dating Darlene, I was surprised to learn that her parents approved. She was only 15, and I was 16. As a dad (much later) of a 15-year-old girl who wanted to date, I know how torn this can make a parent feel, regardless of who the boy is. But I’ve always gotten along well with Darlene’s parents, at least since I passed the Possum Test …
One day I went over to her house to hang out with her, and her dad, Fred, who was a celebrated insurance agent for Allstate working out of his home, called me to one side. “Would you like to help me with something?” he asked with a smile. Against my better judgment, I said, “Sure.”
“I think something has died under the crawl space of the house,” he informed me. “You can smell it from my office. I need a nice, strapping young lad such as yourself to help me find and remove it. Are you up for the task?” I glanced at Darlene who was listening from the other side of the room. I think she had buried her face in her hands.
“Uh, yeah, okay, I guess so,” I said, with all the enthusiasm I could muster.
Fred handed me a plastic bag, and some gloves, and a flashlight, and a jacket with sleeves and a hood to keep the spiders out. In Southern California, when I say “spiders” I mean “Black Widows.” Their venomous bite is horrific and I was deathly afraid of them. And not too crazy about enclosed spaces, either. But, I took a deep breath and headed outside the house where the access to the crawl space was.
I don’t remember how long it took, but it seemed like forever. I could hear voices in the rooms above me — mostly Fred’s laughter, and Darlene’s mother (Dottie) expressing concern for my life. I didn’t hear Darlene saying much of anything, and wondered what she was thinking.
It wasn’t terribly hard to find the problem, you just had to follow your nose. A rotting possum carcass, replete with maggots and swarmed by flies, greeted me with snarling yellow teeth in the glare of the flashlight.
Somehow I managed to get it scooped into the bag without losing my lunch, and tied it off, then got the heck out of there as fast as I could. Fred was waiting for me gleefully outside, holding up a trash can. “I knew you could do it!” he exulted. I had passed the test.
Darlene looked both relieved and fearful. Later she told she was so afraid that would be the very last time she would see me.
But of course the episode had the opposite effect on me. Matthew 6:21 says, “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” If you pay dearly for something, if you invest heavily in it, your heart becomes committed to that thing … or person, as the case may be. There was no way I was letting Darlene get away, after passing the Possum Test!
Perhaps this is what Fred had in mind all along? I’m not sure. The man had some pretty remarkable wisdom on how life works, and I learned to respect it.
Our First Dates
So Darlene and I dated and fell in love and became best friends. I clearly remember our first date, to a high school basketball game, and then to MacDonald’s afterward for refreshments. The date was an unmitigated disaster. It was supposed to be a double-date. Our church friend Carl came … without his date. And spent all his time talking to Darlene while I looked on glumly.
But at least he had the grace to bow out of the MacDonald’s portion, so after the game we were alone at last. I was more than a little nervous. I had this beater old Volkswagon Squareback (1969), and used the back storage area mainly for trash. When we got our meal, with a certain amount of swagger I attempted to throw my trash over my shoulder back into the storage area. But I was holding my drink in my left hand and inadvertently threw it all over my blue tie-dyed shirt in the process. Darlene had the grace not to laugh out loud, though I could see in her eyes that she was stifling it.
On another date at the same romantic venue, a little later on, we were sitting in the front seat of the Squareback, in the MacDonald’s parking lot. Things had been going better. For some crazy reason I thought, This is the perfect time to make my move. (I already told you I am impulsive, right?) But, I was still nervous. I attempted to swing one arm casually around her shoulder. But in the process I clocked her squarely in the forehead with an elbow. She saw stars, and later told me she thought I might have given her a concussion.
After these first few dates, you’re probably wondering how I ever got more? Only by the grace of God, I think.
We did have lots of double dates and triple dates with friends in those early days, and occasional walks to the park. Most of our activities revolved around our church youth group, however. In the last blog I told you about how we served together as junior high camp counselors at Teepee Town.
What WAS I Waiting for, Anyway?
Then I went away to Biola, but would return on weekends. Darlene was a year behind me, so she too decided to attend Biola and enroll in their nursing program. By this time we had been dating for more than three years. It was a five-year program, so to me it felt like we had a long time before we had to make any big decisions. My buddies and I joked that we were going to start a chapter of “Bachelors to the Rapture.” Darlene wasn’t very happy about this, which should have been my first clue.
I also had my mom to contend with. She and my dad really liked Darlene. “What are you waiting for?” she’d say. “Don’t blow this, Larry!”
The following year Darlene sat me down and said, “We need to talk about where our relationship is going.” Now I liked where I thought it was going, so the idea of having to define the relationship at this point was rather startling. But I promised to pray and seek the Lord about it. “Let’s give it a year,” I suggested stupidly, thinking that should be a sufficient amount of time.
Once again, I think it was only by the grace of God that Darlene didn’t throw up her hands and walk away at that point!
Fortunately, it didn’t take anywhere near that long, because being confronted with a deadline I really did begin to pray about what God had in store for my life. If you had to create an approximate transcript of how that praying went, it might go something like this …
Me: “Hello God. I need your help. Darlene thinks we should make some sort of commitments about our future. I love her very much, she’s wonderful. But I’m not yet sure I’m ready to settle down …”
God: “You idiot.”
Me: “Say what?”
God: “You’re an idiot. I’ll have to agree with your mom here. I have brought the most incredible blessing into your life, and you are acting like this is some kind of tough decision. What’s wrong with you?”
Me: “Well, I don’t know. Maybe I’m just a little scared.”
God: “Well, get over it. And ask her to marry you, already.”
Now obviously, I’ve taken some liberties with God’s part in that conversation … but I think that pretty much sums up the result of my prayers. It wasn’t very long before I thought, Wow, okay, this is going to happen.
NOT April Fools
I’ve always been impulsive and never very strategic about the big moments, so once I decided, I didn’t really think carefully through how it was going to happen. One night we were sitting in the car near Biola and talking, way too late. I contend that it was not yet midnight on March 31. Darlene says it was after midnight, which would make it April Fool’s Day when I first asked her to marry me.
Which would explain the momentary hesitation in her response.
But when she realized it was no joke, thank God she said “yes.” And we followed this conversation up later with a more formal proposal, involving a ring, and a restaurant called Magnolia’s Peach, and some very excited servers who got to play a part in bringing out the ring with the dessert. (Yes, sometimes I guess I trust people when I really should be more careful, but it worked out this time!)
We were still smack in the middle of our college studies, and Darlene’s parents were justifiably concerned about whether getting married would be a distraction for her against finishing her nursing studies. We assured them it would not, but we did plan a long engagement (the original plan called for 18 long months, but it ended up being more like a year) to try and get as close to graduation as we could. But we’ve always been glad we got married when we did, two years before graduation. For us, it was actually much easier being married and students than dating and students.
They were also concerned about where we would live. I was renting a garage apartment from a little old lady in Fullerton. It literally was a converted garage, plus one room of a house. Since there were two bedrooms, I rented each to two other guys for $150/month, and I slept on the couch. Since I only paid $275/month in rent, I was actually making a profit. (Don’t tell the guys.) But our plan once we were married was to kick out the roommates and have the garage all to ourselves.
One night we had Darlene’s folks over for dinner, their first exposure to the garage apartment. I could tell they weren’t incredibly excited about it. Which sometimes works in your favor. After dinner they immediately went out house-shopping, and bought a nice little house very close to Biola which they could rent to us. It sat on a hillside overlooking the Orange County valley where both Disneyland and Knott’s Berry Farm were located. It had a romantic little screened-in back porch where we could sit and watch fireworks in the summer from both locations. We really liked it.
The lady who rented us the garage apartment was disappointed. She was quite invested in what happened in that garage, and wouldn’t allow us to move any of her furniture around. She frequently looked into the windows to check up on us. That probably would have created some tensions for our first year of marriage, so it all worked out.
Starting a New Life Together
Well, we were married on August 10, 1979 at Foothill Baptist Church in Upland, California. It was a very hot summer day in Southern California (over 100 degrees) and we had an evening wedding. More than 400 people were in attendance, since our families were both very involved in the church, and that was about the size of that church. Most everyone was there, plus extended family members. We opened gifts for days.
I have lots of stories I could tell about the wedding. There were funny things that happened, like my kid brother Lee getting soot all over his powder blue tux. (Yes, we wore powder blue tuxes with ruffles. In the 80s, those were the cat’s meow.) My brother and I had our printing business going, and we had printed our own wedding programs. We gave these to Lee to distribute to keep him busy, and he went to town. To be fancy we had burned the edges of the stack to make them look old-fashioned, not realizing the ash on the edges would stick to a powder blue tux and turn it into a chimney sweep’s suit.
But overall the wedding was beautiful and went off without a hitch. My brother Don was my best man, and my youth pastor John and friends Ken and John were groomsmen. Darlene’s niece and nephew were flower girl and ringbearer, and her sister Sharon was her maid of honor.
We honeymooned at a large hotel in Pasadena (which has since been demolished!) and then drove up the coast to Rockaway Beach, Oregon, where we stayed in a cabin owned by the family of a friend at Biola. Everything was simple and inexpensive, but we had a fabulous time.
We lived in that little house in La Mirada for about two years, until we both graduated in June of 1981. After graduation we moved back to Upland, bought a two-bedroom condo, looked for work, and eventually started a family. More on that later.
God’s Grace in My Life
Since this blog is about transformation, I would be remiss if I didn’t touch on the transformative impact that loving Darlene and raising a family with her has had on my life. She is the most serious and committed Christian woman I know. She is discerning, compassionate, and loves people like crazy. Young women at our church wait in line to be around her, hoping her wisdom will rub off on them. Often, on matters of great importance (like the time we decided to move with World Vision from our home in California up to the great state of Washington; or the time when we began the young adults group at our church), she hears from the Lord way before I do. I have no idea exactly what my life would be like without her, but I do know I would be missing out on so much blessing, that I sincerely hope that never happens.
Since we first met in 1975, we’ve only been apart for longer than a month, twice. The first time was when I did a short-term summer missions stint, with 90 other Biola students, to the island of Trinidad the year before we were married. And the second time was when our daughter, Mandy, and I traveled to Southern Africa to do communications work for World Vision there during the summer of 2006. (I’ll talk about these adventures more in subsequent posts, I’m sure.)
After that second trip, I thought: I never want to be apart from my wife, that long, ever again.
We have very different personalities, but in many ways I think that’s a good thing. Darlene is very intentional, and steady, and a homebody. I’m an adventurer, flying by the seat of my pants, with a tendency to make snap decisions and take risks, easily swayed by my emotions.
We’ve had our disagreements, and times when we’ve let one another down, as all married couples do. We’ve gone through times of great joy and also times when we’ve shed a lot of tears together. But, next to my relationship with the Lord whom I treasure above all else, Darlene is the greatest gift of God in my life, which makes surviving a crisis and forgiving each other and moving on together, so much easier to do.
All this to say: Darlene, I love you with all my heart. My love has done nothing but grow throughout the years. And with God as my helper, it will never stop growing!