It all started with a cold hot dog. Or at least that is what my husband claims was the temperature of this All-American staple food I fixed for him the first time we met. Though we had been officially introduced earlier in the day, it was the “hot dog incident” of that unforgettable evening in the summer of 1974 that inaugurated our relationship. Let me fill in a few details of the story.
At the time of our meeting, I was living at and working as a secretary for a Christian conference center in Bradenton, Florida, where guest speakers came to teach for week-long series. CJ had just arrived from Maryland as the new speaker for the week. The reason I was serving up hot dogs instead of attending to my secretarial duties was because I had recently quit my job as secretary. I had planned to move back home with my family before heading off to a Bible college in Texas in a matter of days. However, my friends hounded me until I reluctantly agreed to stay one extra week to hear and meet a passionate preacher named CJ Mahaney. And I was doing odd jobs for the week to compensate for my extended stay—thus my canteen duty where hot dogs and the like were served. But truth be told, I really did not want to be there. And I really did not want to meet CJ Mahaney.
So when he showed up at the canteen after the 11:00 PM closing time and asked for a hot dog, I said, “Sorry, we are closed.” He explained he had been traveling most of the day, just finished preaching and praying for people, and had hardly eaten a thing. He wondered if I would make an exception. With evident displeasure, I agreed. But I guess I didn’t boil that hot dog quite long enough to make it truly hot!
And I wasn’t the only one who didn’t want to be at that place at that time. CJ had also worked through his own struggles with not wanting to be there. After accepting the invitation to speak at this conference center in Florida, he had received another invitation to speak at Jesus ’74—one of the largest and most popular events on the Christian landscape at that time. So needless to say, he would rather have accepted that invitation. However, he believed integrity required him to be faithful to the commitment he previously made to the conference center.
So even though neither of us wanted to be there, he had come and I had stayed. We could not have imagined what the quiet providence of God had in store.
Tomorrow I will tell you what happened next…
Hey! We have had quite a few people requesting to see my parent’s
wedding pictures. I thought that would be fun, so I dug through the
archives and pulled out a couple for ya. I have to say that as happy as
Dad and Mom look in these pictures, they’re even more in love today.
And, yes, that really is Dad with hair!
p.s. For those of you asking for my mom’s courtship story, we have
convinced her to share it! You can be looking for it tomorrow.
Yesterday Nicole identified one of the aspects of a godly relationship as, “a humble pursuit of the involvement of others—godly parents if they are available.” The Bible makes it clear that we weren’t called to live the Christian life alone or independently. We need the support and encouragement of other Christians in every part of our lives—not the least being, romance!
As my daughters shared their courtship stories I couldn’t help but think about some of you reading this blog who do not have Christian parents, or maybe your parents are Christians but do not espouse these values. And you might be asking the question: What should parental involvement look like in my situation?
In his book, Boy Meets Girl, Joshua Harris answers this very question by elaborating on the principle of “inviting protection” from other godly men and women. He uses his own courtship experience as an illustration of one way this might look:
Different people will apply it differently in their lives.
For example, I didn’t talk to Shannon’s dad before I told her of my interest in her. She wasn’t living at home, and though she has a wonderful father, he wasn’t a Christian or providing spiritual leadership in her life. I knew that calling him to get permission for a courtship would be more confusing than helpful.
So instead, I talked to Shannon’s pastor, as well as two other married couples from our church who were close to her. I made sure that they didn’t have concerns about me or the timing of a relationship. Only after getting their encouragement did I talk to Shannon.
Then I called both Shannon’s parents the following day to let them know about our courtship and invite their participation. “I’d like you to be involved in our relationship,” I told each of them. I also told both her dad and mom that I’d talk to them before I proposed.
Do you see the principle at work in our situation? I was inviting the protection of the godly men and women who cared for Shannon spiritually, and I was honoring the father and mother who raised her. We don’t all have the perfect family situation, but we can all apply this principle in some form.
So if your family situation does not afford you the benefit of godly parental involvement, may I encourage you to pursue help from older and more mature men and women in your local church? Contrary to the world’s perspective, romance isn’t dampened by inviting godly counsel. Rather, romance is protected and ultimately cultivated through the wisdom and involvement of others.
Yesterday Steve and I had a conversation with a friend who is seeking to pursue a relationship with a girl in a God-honoring way. Yet, he was hesitant to use any term—“dating” or “courtship” to describe their relationship. As he put it, “people read so much into those terms.” He’s right. Sometimes simple words like these come loaded with all kinds of extra baggage, at times unfairly attached. That left this guy floundering for a “safe” and meaningful word or phrase to describe his relationship. I sympathize with his dilemma.
As we told our courtship stories these past two weeks, some of you may have wondered exactly what we meant by “courtship.” Or maybe you assumed you already knew.
Let me explain. First of all, we used the term “courtship” to describe our relationships, and yet it’s not the term that we think is important. It doesn’t matter if you call it “courtship,” “dating,” or “a special friendship,” (a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, right?). What matters—what truly matters today, and on that last day—is that we live in such a way that brings glory to God.
“Courtship” is simply—to borrow a concise definition from Joshua Harris—“that special season in a romance where a man and woman are seriously weighing the possibility of marriage.” By using the term “courtship,” we mean a relationship between a guy and a girl where they are seeking, above all, to honor God. This necessarily includes a commitment to purity (Col. 3:1-5), a humble pursuit of the involvement of others—godly parents if they are available (Heb. 3:13-14), and an intentional focus on serving one another (Phil. 2:1-11). As Dad always says, “Courtship is about sanctification—God changing us to be more like Him.”
Someone else who uses the term “dating” may mean all these things! We simply use the word “courtship” to distinguish between our culture’s approach to dating, which lacks these biblical essentials.
Ultimately, 1 Corinthians 10:31 is our infallible guide through the relationship maze: “So, whether you eat or drink [or date or court], or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”
I came across this comical poem several years ago. Though funny, this woman’s experience feels uncomfortably familiar. See if you can’t relate.
“A woman was waiting at an airport one night,
With several long hours before her flight.
She hunted for a book in the airport shop,
Bought a bag of cookies and found a place to drop.
She was engrossed in her book, but happened to see,
That the man sitting beside her, as bold as could be,
Grabbed a cookie or two from the bag between,
Which she tried to ignore, to avoid a scene.
She read, munched cookies, and watched the clock,
As the gutsy ‘cookie thief’ diminished her stock.
She was getting more irritated as the minutes ticked by,
Thinking, If I wasn’t so nice, I would blacken his eye!
With each cookie she took, he took one too.
When only one was left, she wondered what he’d do.
With a smile on his face and a nervous laugh,
He took the last cookie and broke it in half.
He offered her half, as he ate the other.
She snatched it from him and thought, Oh brother,
This guy has some nerve and he’s also rude.
Why, he didn’t even show any gratitude!
She had never known when she had been so galled,
And sighed with relief when her flight was called.
She gathered her belongings and headed to the gate,
Refusing to look back at the ‘thieving ingrate.’
She boarded the plane and sank in her seat,
Then sought her book, which was almost complete.
As she reached in her baggage, she gasped with surprise:
There were her cookies in front of her eyes.
If mine are here, she moaned with despair,
Then the others were his and he tried to share!
Too late to apologize, she realized with grief,
That she was the rude one, the ingrate, the thief!”
Valerie Cox. “The Cookie Thief,” in Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen, A 3rd Serving of Chicken Soup for the Soul (Deerfield Beach, Fla.: Health Communications, 1996).
“And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.” Philippians 1:9-11
We’re signing off ‘til Monday.
Carolyn, Nicole, Kristin, and Janelle
I added a couple of pictures from our weddings to the photo album if you want to take a look…
It was a year and two months after Kristin’s wedding before Steve asked Dad’s permission to pursue a courtship with me. Through a funny series of “slips” (not Steve’s fault, but a story in and of itself) I learned of his interest some months prior. So I’d been praying and talking to my parents about this possibility. But poor Steve had no idea that my entire family and I knew of his interest.
In January of 2000, when I had finally despaired of his ever making a move, Steve walked into Dad’s office and asked to talk with him. “It’s about my daughter, isn’t it?” Dad asked.
Steve, stunned, managed to blurt out, “Yes.”
“You want to know if you can court her, don’t you?”
“OK. You have my permission,” Dad said. (He already knew Steve personally by this time). “I’ll ask her and tell you what she says.”
In less than thirty seconds, a rather shell-shocked Steve stumbled out of Dad’s office. This wasn’t how he’d thought it would go. He hadn’t even used the speech he’d prepared.
But Dad wasn’t finished with him yet. After I gave my answer of “yes” he decided to have a little more fun at Steve’s expense.
A few days later he pulled Steve aside at church. “I have bad news and I have good news,” he said. “The bad news is that Janelle is not in faith to enter into a courtship with you…”
Steve frantically thought back to the brief meeting in Dad’s office and realized he had never actually said “Nicole”! All he’d said was “yes!” Dad briefly enjoyed the utter confusion on Steve’s face, but didn’t leave him in turmoil for long, “…but Nicole is in faith to enter into a courtship.”
And I was in faith. In faith for courtship. In faith to take a step.
As I had watched Steve in various contexts (work, leaders’ meetings, social settings) for the past year, I was drawn to many qualities about him. He was a leader, yet drew no attention to himself. Uncommonly humble. He was a joyful, passionate man who worshipped with his long arms outstretched. He dearly loved his family—a quality that struck me as somewhat unique for a guy his age. Not to mention he loved all things literary.
As we entered our courtship, I discovered Steve was all these things and more. And yet, I had many doubts and questions, primarily stemming from the picture I’d carefully sketched in my mind of the man I would marry and, maybe even more significantly, the life I would lead after marriage.
You see, as a young child I was sure I was going to be a missionary. As this desire ripened to maturity and a love for my local church gripped my heart, I desired to be a pastor’s wife. Growing up as a PK, all I’d ever known was life in full-time ministry. I couldn’t imagine supporting a husband in any other vocation. It was familiar. It was comfortable. I knew my way around. And besides, the church was what I was passionate about. I just couldn’t envision spending myself on anything else.
“Problem” was, Steve’s calling and future were still unsure. He had graduated from the Pastors’ College and was serving an internship with the dean, Jeff Purswell. He had a desire to pursue full-time ministry. Yet, this desire had neither been tested nor confirmed. And so I wondered, Did I really want to marry a man who wasn’t a pastor? What if he pursued a different career—would I be unhappy for the rest of my life?
Pause. If I may be so bold as to offer a word of advice to single women everywhere: beware of creating an imaginary life around an imaginary man so that when a real man comes along you can’t see him for the imaginary life you’ve created. I almost missed him and I wouldn’t want that to happen to you.
In the midst of all my questions and doubts my parents graciously counseled me for hours. I also had coffee with every girl I knew who was in a courtship, had recently gotten married, or had been married for twenty years! It didn’t matter. I searched high and low for that perfect courtship stencil over which I could paint my courtship story. I figured that if I found a woman whose story matched mine, I could discover what God’s will for me.
But my search was in vain. Although many courtship stories had similarities with mine, they all had one thing in common: they were all different! There was no comfort to be found in another woman’s experience. Eventually, I realized God was still teaching me the lesson that had begun before I was courting: Trust Me. It was only in trusting Him that I found perfect peace regarding my future.
After much prayer and invaluable counsel from my parents, I realized that I had to marry (or not marry) Steve for the man he was—not the job he had (or didn’t have). And so it’s the man he is that I fell in love with, and am more in love with than ever five years later.
Today Steve is part of the pastoral team at Sovereign Grace Church of Fairfax. But I will always be grateful that it wasn’t so when we got married. Because I’ll never have to wonder if that is why I married him. I married him because I loved and respected the man that he is. And that will never change.
At our wedding, a member of our church, Kevin Hartnett, wrote the following poem. It expresses beautifully what I think God was after in my heart, and every woman’s heart—married, single, or courting: a deep abiding trust in the quiet, wise, faithful, and loving providence of God.
May vineyards flow from all the good the Lord has brought to me,
And richest life extend throughout the land for all to see
That not of my good will or sense the plan unfolds this way,
But in the gracious mind of God tomorrow forms today.
Copyright 2000, Kevin Hartnett
When I met my tall, dark, and unarguably the handsomest of husbands, we were attending different churches, but ended up at dinner with some mutual friends. I don’t think we spoke a word to each other the entire evening. Neither of us left an impression on the other (disproving the old adage that first impressions are lasting). It wasn’t until Steve Whitacre came to the Pastors’ College (based at Covenant Life Church) in 1998 that we met again for the very first time.
But to appreciate my courtship, you have to go back to the winter of 1997 and begin with Kristin’s courtship, as hers came first. This is significant, as I am the older sister. And although I didn’t condone his methods, I kind of agreed with Laban (father of Leah and Rachel) in the Bible: it’s best for the older sister to get married first, because, well, she’s the oldest! However, truth be told, I kind of always knew that my younger, prettier, and sweeter sister would get married before me. But that didn’t make it any easier when the time came.
To top it off, one of my closest friends (Kelly) also began a courtship at the same time as Kristin, and then Joshua Harris (who was living in our home at the time) began his courtship with his now, wife, Shannon. So, at home, I had to live with two love-struck puppies and when you added Kelly to the mix it meant (as I told Mom) that everyone I knew was courting! With seemingly no prospects for miles (maybe space travel would present some options?) I hunkered down for a long winter that even Laura Ingalls Wilder couldn’t have imagined.
What I didn’t know was that at this very time, God was drawing my future husband’s heart to Himself.
Meanwhile, God had a whole lot of work to do on me. In the midst of my self-pity, I had a pivotal conversation with Mom (which is how I could describe many of our conversations!). She kicked my backside so to speak and challenged me that God had “good works prepared in advance” for me to do during this season. I wasn’t single because the “flight to marital bliss” was overbooked and I was left on standby. I was single because God had a purpose for my singleness.
Once I repented of my sinful self-pity and joyfully threw myself into all those good works God had prepared for me in my local church, I couldn’t have been busier or happier. While a worldly perspective would be that I could only find true happiness when I found “the one,” I discovered that true happiness comes in serving Christ. So nine months later, at Kristin’s wedding, my “walking down the aisle smile” was for real.
What I didn’t know was that in the wedding congregation, watching me, was my future husband.
To be continued tomorrow…
We’re still not finished answering the “courtship question” from last week, so we will continue with that for now. Nicole’s courtship story will be online later today!
I met Brian Chesemore (the most handsomest guy ever!) in our church parking lot in May of 1996. Brian grew up in a town only thirty minutes north of where my family lived. Yet it took until I was 18 and Brian was 23 before we met. Nine years earlier the Lord used the ministry of Young Life to open his eyes to the gospel. Upon his transition to college he was introduced to the Sovereign Grace Ministries church in Philadelphia. Here he began to understand the importance of doctrine and commitment to the local church. At the conclusion of college he believed the Lord was leading him to return to Maryland and to attend Covenant Life Church. In just a short time Brian had been hired by our church to do an internship with the college ministry in which I was involved…this set the stage for our romance!
The next year and a half we attended many of the same meetings and events, but we didn’t have many opportunities to develop a friendship. I admired Brian’s passion for the Lord and heart for others, yet I didn’t think he would ever look my way. What I didn’t realize was that in December of 1997 he began an eleven-month process of praying and seeking the Lord about a courtship with me. He didn’t want to follow past, ungodly, dating patterns, so this time he sought the Lord and the counsel of others before he pursued a relationship. I also didn’t realize at the time that my mom had noticed what a godly man Brian was and had begun praying that the Lord might bring us together. Maybe that’s why he looked my way!!! The prayers of a godly mother are powerful.
Needless to say, I was very surprised when he approached my dad about pursuing a courtship with me. Brian was well spoken of and respected by everyone. And Dad’s personal experience with him only confirmed their high opinion. Though I knew my answer was surely going to be “Yes,” I decided to make him sweat for two weeks before I delivered the official answer! Thus began my first and only courtship relationship. Brian and I talked on the phone, spent time with his family and mine, went to many dinners, and hung out with friends. Our relationship was so much fun and very easy. Just one month into it, he was ready to propose. But my dad smiled and told him that he needed to “chill” for a little while longer.
The major question throughout our relationship involved where the Lord was calling Brian to serve in ministry. He began praying about an opportunity to serve a close friend who was leading a church plant in Chicago. As our relationship progressed, so did Brian’s sense that the Lord was behind the opportunity to go to Chicago. Through much prayer and much counsel he saw his desire to serve this new church only increase. By the time we were engaged in April the decision was made and my “Yes” meant leaving my family, friends, and the only church I had ever known to follow my new husband to the Windy City. I didn’t realize at the time how much the Lord was going to use this move to bring me closer to Him and my future husband.
My parents were so helpful in preparing us for this transition. Some twenty-plus years earlier they had walked through this same transition themselves. My mom moved from Florida to Maryland immediately following her wedding. They helped us to see that this would be a process, one that might not always be easy. They were able to serve Brian by preparing him for the reality that it would be especially challenging for me due to my close relationship with my family and my church. They were also able to help him see that any sadness upon leaving was not at all a reflection of my lack of love or desire to be with him. Although nothing could fully prepare us for this move their counsel was invaluable.
We were married on November 7th, 1998. It has been seven wonderful years. I am so grateful to the Lord that my parents helped me see the importance of waiting for a humble man with a passion for the Savior and the local church. The Lord has been so good to me.
After our wedding we lived in Chicago for 4 ½ years. Although I missed my family I am so grateful to the Lord that we were a part of Grace Covenant Church. Those people became our family and we will treasure our years there for the rest of our lives. About 2 ½ years ago we relocated back to Covenant Life Church where my husband serves as one of the Married Life pastors.
Brian, you are the man of my dreams and the love of my life and I look forward to growing old together! I love you!