Sunday, July 30, 2006

More than Just Blossoming

This is my version of our "pre-courtship" story. ~ Janine

In ‘96, I journaled a prayer for my future husband, if this was in God’s will for me some day. I asked for guidance in the choice of a marriage partner and prayed that when the time was right he would make it very clear to me with whom I was meant to unite my life with. I asked the Lord to make my future husband the man of God he would have him to be, and that we would only unite our lives together in marriage because we could each serve God better by being together rather than by being apart. For a long time, I almost forgot the prayer I had journaled so long ago.

A couple years ago, my previous roommate, Larie, invited me to join her for the Med School retreat. While hiking that Sabbath, we talked with a friend of Eric and Rachel’s named Curtis, who had just come to Loma Linda to start med school. The three of us shared our testimonies during the hike and afterwards I had two memorable thoughts: 1) this guy has an incredible testimony of coming to know God, and 2) I think he’d be great for my roommate! The thought of there being any remote chance he would be good for me did not even enter my mind because I was sure he was younger than me, and I thought I’d never marry a doctor.

Soon after that school year got started, Curtis took a leadership position at Advent HOPE, and so we worked together on planning some prayer events for our young adult church group. By this time I had become involved in a long distance courtship with someone, and of course the thought of anything between Curtis and I was even further from my mind then it had been when I first met him. To say it plainly, Curtis was not an option.

As it turned out, that summer my family and other mentors began advising me that personality-wise, I was not well matched with the guy I was with, and through much prayer, we called off the courtship. After that, I had no plans to enter another relationship again unless God nearly hit me over the head. Through that experience though, God was able to teach me a lot about my own self, and grow me in ways that I believe made me a better person.

That next fall, I sprained my knee, and actually could not teach for several months. Strangely, this turned out to be one of the greatest blessings. During that time I had nothing better to do, but pray for God’s presence in my life and his leading for me in all areas of my walk. One of my mother’s close friends, who is a true prayer warrior, challenged me to pray for real answers and almost out of the blue, encouraged me to pray that God would bring me my future husband that year. During my injury, guys seemed to come out of the woodwork to help me, and so I almost began wondering if my mother’s friend was really on to something. Maybe, just maybe, I should be praying with more faith! One guy in particular seemed especially helpful as I was on crutches, and I questioned if he may have the kind of character I was looking for in a possible life partner. I was committed to seeking a courtship kind of relationship, if I was to enter a relationship again, one that would be based on principle and that had a solid foundation of friendship before emotions ever become involved.

That fall, we had the Messiah’s Mansion, a life-sized replica of the sanctuary, set up in Loma Linda. I invited my family to come tour the sanctuary, and afterwards one of my relatives asked some questions regarding some topics covered in the tour. In my effort to address the questions, I emailed Curtis and Eric, knowing they both had key involvement in the Sanctuary project, and might have answers. Both guys shared valuable resources and feedback over email, and at one point, Curtis agreed to meet with me over a church potluck to discuss the topics further. I came a little late to the lunch, and once I got there I noticed he was sitting with the guy who had recently been showing me extra attention. I wondered how talking with Curtis would be perceived by the other guy if he was indeed interested in me, but I figured if that guy was checking me out I would in turn check out how he thought about deeper theological points. As it turned out, the other guy didn’t have much insight to share on the topics, and I found myself deep in conversation with Curtis. It still did not really dawn on me that he could be someone to pray about, it simply confirmed to me that the other guy who I had though was interested in me may not be the kind of person I was really looking for.

Over the Christmas break, I attended GYC, a revival conference for young people. While there, I was tempted to entertain “if only” thoughts, wishing my previous relationship could have work out. My mother was with me on the trip, and after briefly sharing my feelings with her, she counseled me to stop allowing my mind to dwell on there, as those thoughts would only hurt me in the long run. It was a struggle, because I realized I had been holding on to an effort to make things work in my own human strength.

At the conference, I ran into Curtis and he asked how my Christmas had gone. We talked briefly and he helped carry my backpack over to where I was to meet my mother and a couple friends. He introduced himself to my mother, wished us a good evening, and we went our separate ways. Back up in our room, my mother and I somehow began talking about Curtis. She had a soft smile on her face and at one point in our conversation my mother turned towards me and said, “I could really see you with Curtis… Now that’s the kind of guy you need.” I wasn’t expecting this response from my mother, and I told her why I thought he could not be an option and that I had even heard he had a long distance relationship. My mother listened but didn’t seem convinced. That night, I lay awake for awhile thinking of my mother’s words and praying for God’s guidance.

I woke the next morning to my mother and girlfriends singing ‘happy birthday’ to me. That day, somehow, Curtis ended up sitting at my table during lunch and since it was my birthday, everyone at the table shared their ages. I learned that Curtis and I were much closer in age than I had thought, and quite interestingly, I still wasn’t seeing him with any girl.

That night at Vespers, the speaker David Gates gave a powerful message followed by an alter call to surrender all to Christ. I went forward, and tears came to my eyes as I knew God was calling me to surrender my own all to him – specifically the hope that I had of getting married and also my fears that accompanied that hope. When we came forward I found my friend Rachel standing next to me and somehow after the prayer we slipped away to talk and pray on our own. I shared my heart with her, both the knowledge that I needed to make a full surrender to God in the area of relationships, and that I had fears of considering new possibilities. During that talk, Rachel shared something I will keep with me for the rest of my life. She said, “Sometimes, in life we need to experience a death to a vision before we can be really ready for God’s true best.” That thought hit me like a ton of bricks; I knew I needed to lay to ‘death’ my hope of every being married someday, and truly surrender my own ideas and desires to Jesus, for he knows what is really best for me far better than I ever could. During our conversation, though, another revelation came to me, as well. I shared with Rachel that my mother had noted someone who could be good for me, but that I had fears of considering anyone else again. I hadn’t planned to tell her just who that guy was, but somehow that fact came out. To my amazement, Rachel wasn’t surprised at all and shared that she had actually felt Curtis and I would make a good match way back when she had first met me and seen us both together in group settings. We ended in prayer and I realized I now had much more to continue praying about.

Back home during the next months that followed, from January to April of 2006, I embarked on an amazing journey of prayer and discovery. I continued to ask God, regardless of whether Curtis was meant to be in the picture or not, to purify my own heart and give me a true “death to a vision” experience so I could follow him to the fullest, whether it was his plan for me to be married someday or to remain single for the rest of my life. In early January I prayed for strength to overcome fears and in February and March, I became a student of both God’s Word on the subject of relationship, and of Christian friends’ and mentors’ word on the subject of Curtis Farnham. Interestingly, the more I prayed, read, and observed, the more I became convinced that Curtis might indeed have the kind of character I desired in a man who could become the spiritual leader of my home someday. As I observed him humbly leading the Restoration team, genuinely showing an interest in the people I brought to the student evangelistic series, and prayerfully seeking God’s leading for his own life as his medical studies met with challenges, I gained greater confirmation that my mother’s observation may be God’s leading. By late March and early April, the Lord had given me a peaceful sense of assurance that Curtis was a worthy young man I could consider…

Just before my April break of 2006, our young adult group went on a hike to Mt. Rubidoux. There Curtis and I had our first real heart to heart conversation. Then on the first day of my break, Curtis came by my place to drop off a Bible study book he had offered to loan me. I was just getting my shoes on to go exercising when he came by. He mentioned he had not gone on his walk yet and wanted to know if we’d like to go together. I agreed, not realizing that my short exercise session would turn into three hours of getting to know the guy I had now been praying about for three months. One evening, later during my break, Curtis asked if I would go for a walk with him again, but this time there was no apparent excuse. While walking, we stopped at a point that overlooked much of the city. Curtis was quiet for a few moments and finally said, “It seems like our friendship has been blossoming lately, but I just wondered what you’ve been thinking.” I actually laughed a little, and shared how I had been praying about him for quite some time. With that understanding in the open, he looked much relieved. We prayed together, committing to trusting God for the keeping of our friendship and for the timing of things if we were meant to pursue courtship.

Over the next couple months we entered a phase of deepening in friendship. Early during this time Curtis decided to meet with my mother to ask if he could spend more time together with me for the purpose of considering courtship. When he came to see her, she greeted him as warmly as if he was already her son-in-law, and even before he could explain the intent for why he wanted to talk with her, she proceeded to give him a two hour Bible study on the Biblical principles for courtship and marriage! Needless to say, when he finally had a chance to ask for her blessing on his spending more time with me for the purpose of considering courtship, she did not hesitate to grant it.

At the end of my final quarter of school and intern teaching, Curtis had arranged for me to fly out and spend the week of July 4th together with him and his family at their cabin on Lake Okoboji. That first evening, after his family had gone in from a boat ride, Curtis and I were left still sitting together on the dock just after sunset. We sat quietly for a little bit, still just watching the painted sky sweeping over the water’s horizon. Curtis broke the stillness by asking me what I was thinking and how I was feeling. I think I shared I was thinking about how happy I was to be with him and how blessed I felt to share in friendship with him. Curtis then asked me what I thought about getting rid of one more of the “ifs” in our relationship we had mentioned before. I knew he meant the “if” of courtship, and I responded, “yes.”

Monday, July 10, 2006

Thursday, 29 June 2006 -- It's Official!!!!

This was my write-up from when we officially began our courtship back in July 2006. -- Curtis

Have you ever noticed that sometimes the best things come when you least expect them? Or maybe it's a cliche' for you. Here I was six months ago, minding my own business, trying to get through Medical School and help out with church ministries however I could. The idea of dating and courtship had been almost totally extinguished the prior summer. All of the girls I had ever been interested in turned out to be really poor matches for me. However, the way I reached this conclusion about the last girl a year ago turned out to be a huge embarassment and probably the biggest social flop I've ever made. "That's quite enough for me," I had decided, still reeling from it months later.

Here's the thing. I don't date around. If I'm going to date anyone, it's going to be with the understanding that we are evaluating each other as potential life partners. I believe anything less is selling one's self short. Many think that the way to find a happy marriage is to pretend you're married to someone, sex and all, and, hey, if it doesn't work, you're outta there. This is little better than practicing for divorce. I'd rather stay single and be lonely than to have a marriage end that way.

Courtship is what I prefer to call the dating system I am using. It's when two people observe each other from a distance for a time, in group settings and working on projects together, building a solid friendship in the process. Then, if there seems to be a commonality in beliefs, goals, and ideals; there is some level of attraction beyond the mere physical appearances; and the two personalities complement and balance each other, then the two agree to enter a courtship. During this time, they carefully evaluate each other, leaving physical intimacy aside and focusing instead on the intellectual, social, and emotional, asking questions to probe into how they think and work, and observing how they act in all of the situations and stresses of life. It is an investigative activity, rather than something that provides gratification of the flesh and a "just for fun" altering of one's social status.

Well, I could go on, but I should return to my story. Suffice it to say that there is a distinct difference between dating and courting. Though it may seem old-fashioned, I believe the courtship process is a far superior way to determine compatibility. Such heightened care -- some would call it paranoia -- is all the more important in today's society where over half of all marriages end in divorce within the first 10 years.

Anyway, there I was minding my own business, thinking that if I ever was going to meet someone, it would not happen in Southern California. And since I'm committed to being here for a minimum of three more years, courtship and marriage seemed a long way off. On top of that, I really needed to get through my second year of Medical School, and I could not afford to be distracted by a relationship.

So, when I received an email from Janine, a friend I had known for the last 11/2 years, asking how to respond to a family member who had asked her some questions about the Mosaic Sanctuary, I thought nothing of it. I would respond as best as I could and keep moving on. We exchanged emails about it a few times and finally agreed to discuss her situation in person at an upcoming church function. As we were talking and a third person had joined the discussion, it suddenly dawned on me that A) she was available, B) she probably had what I was looking for, and C) she might, just might be interested in me. "But no," I thought, "not now." I couldn't afford anything more than a casual friendship."

A few weeks later at a convention over the New Year's holiday, we shared a little more about our backgrounds and I got to meet her mother. I concluded that she was probably interested. However, I was determined not to go there, and I still wasn't sure if she was someone worth courting in the first place.

I was busier than ever over the next few months, but I greeted her when I saw her at church, and we exchanged a few more emails on random topics. I went through three phases during this time. First was the "I'm not interested" phase, where I somewhat easily avoided her. Second was the "I shouldn't be interested" phase, where avoidance for some reason had gotten harder. I was praying more and more throughout this time, usually something like, "Lord, if you're leading please make it clear. But help me to focus on my studies." Then one day over Spring Break (which I had stayed in town for, due to my studies), my church group went on an afternoon hike. Somehow, even though there were probably forty people in our group, the two of us ended up hiking together. Here was our first real heart-to-heart conversation. By the time we got back down the mountain and were heading home, I had gone from "I shouldn't be interested," to, "yes, I'm definitely interested."

Then followed a three month period, April through June, which is sort of difficult to put a label on. We weren't courting yet, but it was becoming harder and harder to say with a straight face, "we're just friends." It really came at the right time for us, because she was on vacation from teaching for a few weeks, so she had time to think and pray about things. I had also entered a much lighter schedule due to an unforseen change in my educational plans (yes, I'm still in Medical School). The biggest question on my mind at this point was, "Is she safe to court? Who is this girl?" Over the next two or three weeks, I asked her on some walks together, and we shared a meal or two. I asked many carefully crafted questions, trying to rule her out. The difficult thing was that she kept giving all the right answers! With every conversation, I was more and more deeply impressed with who she is, that we would be very equally yoked spiritually, and that our future plans and goals are compatible.

I spoke with her mother to see if she approved of our spending time together. Not only did she approve, but she had been impressed way back in December that I might be good for Janine! She had been praying for us the whole time since then. Over the next two months, I learned that seven people who knew one or both of us well, had been impressed about the same thing, and long before we were talking. Seven!?! Before we had even noticed each other!?! There were also dozens more who expressed strong approval when asked about us. There was not one word of disapproval from anyone. This was all very encouraging to me, because it has never happened this way with any other girl. "In the multitude of counselors there is safety" (Prov. 11:14). This is especially important in courtship and marriage, because emotions very easily can block one's objectivity.

I felt a little bad about not proceeding with courship sooner. If we had done things "by the book", I suppose I would have spoken with her mother and made things official shortly after Spring Break. Perhaps the more common dating model which we had grown up with was still with us subconsciously. Perhaps we were making up for lost time and wanting to solidify a friendship first. Nevertheless, a relationship was blossoming.

The last test before I asked her about courtship came in the month of June. I knew I would be visiting friends and family out East during that month, and I wanted to see which way our relationship would go if the only contact we had was through telephone and email. We ended up having spoken on the phone more than we had ever spent talking in person! I then felt ready to take the next step.

Before I left California, we realized that she would be able to take vacation from work over the week leading up to the 4th of July. I arranged it so she could fly out to meet me, and we would accompany my family on a vacation at their lakeside cabin in northern Iowa. Before I left California, I had also obtained permission from her mother to initiate a courtship. On the first night after we arrived at the lake, my parents conveniently (and unknown to them what my plans were) left us alone at dusk sitting on the dock. We were silent for a little while. I asked her how she was feeling and what she was thinking. "What do you think about getting rid of one of those if's that we've been mentioning?" I asked. She knew exactly what I was asking. "Yes," she nodded, without hesitation.

And so it is, that for the first time in seven years, I have lost my singlehood. Praise God! I don't know what the future holds, and this is not a guarantee that I will marry her some day, but this is the greatest progress I've ever seen toward that end. Please pray for us.