Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Our Courtship Story: Best Laid Plans

Continued from Taking the Plunge

April-May 2000

Chris sent his letter to Michigan by express delivery. And a day or two later, his phone rang. My dad and a couple of my siblings were in Kansas, two hours north of Wichita. Would Chris like to come up and spend the day with them?

Chris was perplexed. Could this have anything to do with his letter? If my dad had driven to Kansas, surely the envelope hadn't even arrived in Michigan before he left home. Hmmm, this was awkward. Of course Chris wanted to spend time with my family, however unexpected the opportunity! He agreed to meet up with Dad the next day.

The ill-fated letter arrived at our house, with great fanfare. It was addressed to Dad, from Chris. There was no doubt it was a Big Deal. Only Dad wasn't home. He was on his way to Kansas on business. What to do? Mom took custody of the envelope. When Dad checked in from his hotel that evening, Mom closed herself up in the bedroom and read it to him over the phone.

Back at the hotel, my brother and 18-year-old sister, Andraste*, were full of curiosity, too! A special message from Chris for Dad? What was going on?

Chris spent the next day helping make photocopies for Dad at the university, all the while wondering how much Dad knew! At the end of the day, Chris prepared to drive home. Dad and the others were headed south, too. Dad suggested he could ride with Chris for a while in his restored convertible. That suited Chris, who was anxious to know if my dad even knew about his letter! Sure enough, once they were on the highway, Dad told him that the letter had indeed arrived and that Mom had read him its contents.

Dad had met Chris when he visited for the weekend a year before, but he had a few questions that seemed appropriate now that Chris had put his cards on the table. Had Chris ever been married? Did he have any children? There were others, now lost to memory. Chris, a spreadsheet man, presumed that the two of them would chart a course for the proposed courtship. Dad, who made spreadsheets for a living but rarely planned ahead, was in no hurry. Chris should continue to make arrangements for his pending visit as if nothing had changed. He could work out the details with Michael. And then they parted, and Chris was left alone again to daydream and wait.

Letters to Dad from eligible bachelors did not arrive every day. I had been waiting years for a boy to show any interest in me whatsoever. And the first sign of such interest would naturally be a letter to my father. But then, my sister was also a young woman. Chris had met her when she spent a few weeks working in the Headquarters kitchen. Andraste was pretty and talented and so completely different from me in personality. I convinced myself that the letter could just as easily be an announcement of Chris's passion for Andraste. Chris was coming soon, to spend a week. That must have something to do with this. Surely all the mystery would then be made clear.

But whatever Chris had in mind, I was making plans of my own. After much thought about my future, I had made my first Big Decision: I applied to Wycliffe Bible Translators as a short-term volunteer. I had some money saved from my small IBLP salary. And I was saving more from my job at the window company. I was eager to see another part of the world, and I missed feeling like I was doing something useful for God.

Dad had read us numerous tales of foreign missions--they were regular evening entertainment after we got rid of our television. I was rather young the first time my parents had told me, "You would make a good Bible translator, Jeri." The idea lay dormant in the back of my mind for years, but while still working at IBLP Headquarters, I began researching Wycliffe opportunities. After I moved home, I looked into it more closely It was the one direction I knew my parents would be unable to object to. For some reason, mission work seemed the one place where a woman could find freedom to teach and lead in a capacity nearly equal to men. I knew I would have been a pastor had I been born male, and my spunky independent streak was growing particularly strong the longer I tried to live under my parents' roof.

Wycliffe's application form asked me to choose three nations where I would be willing to serve as a "guest helper". I had been studying Spanish on my own, so I selected Guatemala and Peru, countries familiar to me from missionary biographies. I needed one more. My uncle had spent time in the Philippines with the Navy when I was a kid. There was some Spanish influence, and the climate was tropical. I added "The Philippines" to my list.

I also enrolled in the Summer Institute of Linguistics, a cooperative effort between Wycliffe and the University of North Dakota. If I was seriously considering translation work, I would need training in linguistics. I wasn't sure what "Linguistics" covered, but it sounded good. I had already taught myself all the grammar I could from Inge Cannon's Sentence Analysis course, but when we requested the final test from ATI Headquarters, no one could find a copy. That was a bitter disappointment! I arranged to spend June and July (the summer semester) studying at SIL and imagined myself following in the footsteps of heroines such as Elisabeth Elliot, Marianna Slocum, and Marilyn Laszlo.

It wasn't long before I heard back from Wycliffe. From the SIL-Philippines Branch, in particular. They could use my computer and office skills at their center on the southern island of Mindanao. Would I come? Yes; yes, I would, but I wanted to take the linguistics course first. I would plan to fly to Manila in September, assuming that nothing else more earthshaking presented itself!

For the next few weeks, I held my breath, waiting for someone to spill what was going on with Chris. Michael knew--he had been on the trip to Kansas and was still Chris's best friend. But either Dad had sworn him to secrecy or he relished my desperate curiosity. With no information forthcoming from any quarter, I threw myself into plans for change at work, where I felt admired and was rapidly becoming more useful.

Chris, meanwhile, eagerly awaited his upcoming visit. It had been over seven months since we had said goodbye after Lisa's wedding. And now the dynamics had changed dramatically! He had laid his cards on the table; the ball was now in my dad's court. The rules of Courtship dictated that he not show me any romantic attentions before getting my father's approval. But my dad had been silent after his Kansas visit. He didn't call, write, or email Chris, whose nervousness grew as the days passed. Well, there would be plenty of time for significant conversations at the farmhouse in Michigan. Perhaps my dad thought some things were better discussed in person. 

Late in May, Chris packed his suitcase into his tiny 1978 Fiat Spider and hit the interstate heading north. 

Continued at The Plot Thickens


  1. So did Chris know you were wondering if his letter was meant for you or your sister? Or did he assume that since you knew about the letter to your dad, you knew he was interested in you?

  2. I love your courtship narrative, and am trying to be more patient for installments.

  3. I haven't read this installment yet but you have noooo idea how excited I was to see it pop up in my bloglovin' feed earlier today. It's like People magazine for post IBLP-ers....

  4. I really enjoyed reading your blog.

    I had a relationship with an "Old Flame" whose family was Gothardites in his earlier years. They dug their heels in early in our romance to nix the relationship because I have was younger than my "Old Flame." I bailed out of the relationship scared of the ramifications of the manipulation of being in that family. I have never regretted that decision.

    A few years later I married the love of my life for the last twenty-eight years. I have a great relationship with my supporting in-laws. I tell my younger friends when they see that much manipulation from a prospective father-in-law, run away from it as fast as you can

    Gothard is quite fond of anecdotal case histories. For my "Old Flame" his parental advice kind of ruined her life. She got married six months later, because she was tired of them scaring her boyfriends away. He ran off with a waitress three years later and left her with a newborn. A couple of years later she went crawling back to her family in shame. I don't think any of them realize that Gothard's teaching set her up for this disaster. Of course Gothard would spin this into a story about getting out from under the umbrella.

    Keep up the writing. I think you will find it as cathartic as we do interesting.