I looked at my bedroom that was filled with pewter bowls, kitchen appliances, lingerie and Wedgewood china and wiggled my engagement ring off my finger as I sighed a long sigh and closed my eyes. I could not do this. I could not marry this man with a theology that seemed so different than mine. I thought I’d understood what he said when we walked though a Pennsylvania woods in the spring. I thought I comprehended his argument for the reformed faith. It was only two weeks ago, however, during a July Bible study taught by two of Dan’s seminary classmates that everything changed when my parents heard their Calvinist doctrine. They now saw Dan to be a dictatorial husband with a harsh and false theology.
My friends at The Fish House on Ohio State’s campus thought I was out of my mind to be marrying a Five Point Calvinist! “How did you get yourself into this with all the teaching on Grace you have heard here?” I questioned my love and trust in my fiancé as he rebutted every argument I could find from my stack of books defending an Arminian understanding of the Scriptures. How could I marry a church planter when I didn’t embrace his theology? I couldn’t.
I methodically wrapped my ring in an embroidered hanky and placed it in a gardenia-scented envelope filled with four newly pressed wild flowers. With my neatest script I wrote: “My love, my love, I still love you but cannot marry someone who would bar anyone from heaven if they had not been chosen as one of the elect.” I signed it and licked the seal hoping that I would not get sick as I swallowed the bitter taste.
I leapt through the pile of gifts and brushed the side of my wedding gown as I grabbed my tennis shoes from the closet and ran to my bike. I had been here before, but last time I rode my bike with such a wave of disbelief was when I had been the one who had received the call that the relationship was over. I pedaled furiously up McCoy hill wondering where I should go after hearing the thud of the postal box lid after dropping the letter that would change my life’s course.
That evening I called my parents’ bible study teacher, Martha, and explained my anguish. She kindly invited me over to her home to talk and bake whole wheat bread with her. It was the first time in my life I had ever asked an adult for help. I was nervous when I drove into her driveway with my hippie recipe book and rang the doorbell. By the time the bread was in loaf pans her counsel was to cling to what we did agree on rather than our differences. That was it. I wanted more. But, that was it. I left with my rising bread and a heavy heart and tried to picture what Dan would do when he received the letter.
Dan called a day earlier than I had calculated. He was harsh. Ready to move on. We had spent twelve months writing daily to one another because long distance phone calls were expensive. Now began a week of argumentative phone calls widening the gap of our theology and love. When hope was the bleakest my mother walked by and said,
“Maybe you should go to Florida and see if it’s worth salvaging.”
I was shocked at her sentence and the caring tone of voice.
I remembered Martha’s advise and decided that trying to save a marriage before it began was worth it. A day later the car was packed and I was ready to make the two-day drive to Florida. After checking the trunk one last time my father walked across the patio with a hanging bag of clothes and said, “I’m coming with you!”
When we arrived at the pastor’s house where Dan was house sitting I got out of the car and knocked on the door. There was warmth in his face and then he peered over my shoulder and saw my father and his countenance changed. I told Dan where my father and I would be staying and he said he would come by after mowing the lawn. In my dad’s presence we were cordial and when we were alone we argued.
An elder, who was a psychologist, counseled Dan to not marry a woman who was not aligned spiritually with him. On Sunday Dan preached and my father liked what he heard and approved of the church building. (Meaning, maybe this denomination would allow for a livable salary.) After three days he flew back to Ohio and with reluctant hope I stayed behind.
The following Sunday Dan was preaching in Fort Lauderdale at a church plant that met in a restaurant called, “The Flaming Pit.” It was my worst nightmare as I recalled my eighth grade social studies book and the picture of a spider over the fire to explain the faith of our New England forefathers. To my horror, the congregation jokingly called themselves “The Flaming Pit Presbyterians!” We arrived in the parking lot early after arguing all the way from Boca Raton. Dan turned off the car and sternly looked at me and said, “Get out. I need time alone before I preach. Get out!”
I did get out and felt convicted of what I had done. Soon we went into the darkened restaurant together. I no longer was introduced as his fiancé since I wasn’t wearing his ring. I sat in a clunky maple captain’s chair along with the other thirty or so people. Dan was up front with his three-piece plaid suit and his tie plastered with pointing hunting dogs. Soon he seemed to be arguing with one of the elders. To my surprise, Dan asked us to stand then he pushed the play button on a cassette player and the sound of a pre-recorded warped piano tape playing, “Oh Sacred Head” droned and Dan’s loud and out of tune voice began this unusual Sunday service.
My Methodist hymnal did not include this odd song and what happened next was a surprise to me. Tears began to flow down my cheeks. The music, the singing was awful and Dan was at ease. He appeared fine with being a fool for Christ. By the time we sang the last stanza of this hymn I must have whispered: “I can trust him.” I wasn’t sure how, but if Dan was willing to humiliate himself and follow Jesus with all of his heart it was worth the risk of being brave with him. Being brave seldom feels like being courageous. It just feels like there is little choice. Sometimes the ability to be brave involves nothing more than letting the hymn move your heart.
Becky Allender lives on Bainbridge Island with her loving, wild husband of 38 years. A mother and grandmother, she is quite fond of sunshine, yoga, Hawaiian quilting and creating 17th Century reproduction samplers. A community of praying women, loving Jesus, and the art of gratitude fill her life with goodness. She wonders what she got herself into with Red Tent Living! bs
Your words provoke such strong emotion. Your vulnerability – such love. Thanking God for your bravery and faithfulness. You and Dan stand together like a lighthouse and encourage many in the faith. I’m thankful you stayed!
Thank you. I am glad I stayed and oh, how easy it would have been to have never gone to see if we could blend our theology. Often when we have to be brave (giving birth, death of a friend or parent) we have no choice. There was choice and how easy it is during conflict to be angry and leave. Thanks for seeing the risk.
” It was the first time in my life I had ever asked an adult for help.” I remember having doubts and having no one to talk to. Nowhere was safe, and I felt stuck with no choice but to get married. There is so much about just about everything in this story that triggers me, yet offers kind hope and the reminder that God is always working, even decades later. Thank you for sharing your brave choice to wrestle through your doubts while still coming out on the side of staying. I believe that is where I would have landed, as well, had I felt the freedom and courage to struggle through the hard questions and voice my dissent. 24 years later we are together in a place of healing that I have to believe somehow ties to a young woman who used her voice and then chose to stay. Thank you.
Wow….I feel your panic and bravery to have no one to talk to and it must have been lonely and scary. I am sorry for all the triggers, but wow…so much was the same for us. I do not know if I could have married Dan without counsel and voicing my struggle. I think you are amazing to have married without that. Blessings to you.
Wow! This is an amazing story. It is especially fascinating to me, being raised in a very strict, conservative Weslian Armenian church… growing up thinking all the Calvinists were going to hell. (That’s all very laughable to me now, as I’ve been out of that church for 10 years and have learned that Jesus reaches people from all over and through all kinds of denominations. It’s the relationship with him that counts.) But had I been faced with that kind of choice 10 years ago, I can only imagine my response would have been to leave him. So I see such INCREDIBLE bravery, strength and courage in you as you chose to trust God in a deeper, wilder way than I ever knew growing up, and am only now starting to learn. And I am in holy awe of where it led. The impact that you and Dan have had on my life already in the last year or so that I’ve been listening to podcasts and reading blogs is just amazing. You guys have brought so much goodness to this world- to me! I am so very thankful you chose to stay with Dan and that God is teaching me more and more of his wild, uncontainable love through you both. Thank you for being vulnerable and real in all of your writing. You are a beautiful writer and your words impact me greatly!
Dear Sarah, thank you. You know exactly how horrified I was to “sign up” and marry such a man who wanted to be a church planter! How self-righteous I was that he was wrong and how cold his theology was to me. (yikes, I spelled Armenian wrong!). Today…none of that matters. In fact, years after marrying Dan…little resemblance was on our hearts and intellect as to how many points we believed in. I love how you wrote: “have learned that Jesus reaches people from all over and through all kinds of denominations. It’s the relationship with him that counts.)” So very true. Thank you for your kind words, Sarah, you have blessed me and may what you learned and felt led by Jesus to claim after your training bring joy in new ways.
Even knowing the outcome, I was on the edge of my seat. The struggle was so enveloping. Your bravery was throughout – ring in envelope, reaching out, going to FL, your dad coming, and then The Pit. Wow. This is so redemptive and hopeful. God did brilliant orchestration in shining light through a beautifully dark hymn in The Flaming Pit (of all places! What awful comedy!) I wonder where you would have been in all the battles to come post-nuptials without such struggle and assurance to get to that place. I am sitting in awe of God’s crazy hard goodness. This is beautiful, Becky. Thank you. ~timi
Thank you! It WAS an awful comedy! That is brilliant, Timi. God is truly crazy and His goodness is so far reaching. I am grateful that was in the past. It is painful to remember!
Staying is so brave. God has done such a work through you and Dan, I for one am so grateful you chose courage. You give all of us such an example of the bravery that only comes from trusting God with our whole heart. Thank you for sharing your beautiful story.
Thank you Cindy! I truly felt courageous to go, to stay and then to marry a man who was wild in his faith! I am grateful for my mother’s comment to go…and for so much else!
Oh, good God, Becky! Yer killin me with these stories. They simply must be made into a book. The faithfulness of our (Calvinist!!!!) God is so very beautifully portrayed in all of the pain, confusion, glory and growth. Thank you for spilling the beans about all of it, the good, the bad and the ugly. You, my friend, are very brave.
Dear Kelly, thank you! You crack me up. And…who cares what caused us to battle against each other back then. It just, well…we both have changed and grown together and what almost caused us to say no…is not visible like it was then.
Being brave seldom feels like being courageous.
Yes, oh yes. I have lived into the meaning of these words.
Yep, Joanna! Glad you understand.
your story completely sucked me in and I was hanging on the edge of my seat even though I knew how it ended!! THAT my friend is the work of a brilliant writer!!
Thank you for sharing your heart with such raw honesty and courageous vulnerability. You are one of the bravest and kindest women I know and you being so brave and honest with your truth is helping me to see, name and embrace my own.
Please write more as I almost can’t wait for your next post!!!! xoxo
Your words bless me more than I can express. Wow. Thank you. I think as we name and embrace our lives and other people’s lives we can live with greater freedom and honesty. I think in the articulation of what was we see God’s goodness and faithfulness with clarity and awe. I too, am amazed at the story. I have known it, of course, but in the writing goodness- God’s and my family’s is embraced all over again. Grateful. So grateful.
Hello. I attend Mars Hill Bible Church, in Grandville, MI. Dan has visited to teach before, but I’ve never heard or seen you do a teaching at Mars. Maybe I missed it. If you HAVEN’T taught a Mars Hill you should. Maybe even bring your husband along to introduce you…
Thank you for your writings.
Nope, you did not miss it! I am a teacher by profession, just beginning to “go on the road” with Dan. He is the teacher whom I fell in love with almost forty-one years ago. Except for a “few bumps in the road” I am amazed at how the Holy Spirit is present when he speaks as an ambassador for Jesus Christ. Thanks for your compliment!
Wow, what a story! I found myself both drawn into yours and my own – always a good sign. I remember so many difficult, painful conversations with Chris and my family surrounding ideas like infant baptism vs. “believer’s” baptism – even that term feels shaming! And my grandmother bemoaned our “mixed marriage”. And I know with absolute certainty I would not be the woman I am today if I had not married someone who so challenged my faith and beliefs. Your courage in saying “yes” to Dan has made a tremendous impact on so many lives – certainly mine!
Dear Janet, thank you for your reply and I am glad that you reflected on your own story while reading mine. I had no idea of your struggle over baptism and your grandmother’s naming of your “mixed marriage.” Thank you for your kind words about how saying yes to Dan allowed much to take place. I am grateful for the impact Dan has had on so many people’s lives. And I am grateful you are able to see that goodness in your own life.