We were married on August 24, 1986, a sun drenched day in Santa Ana, California. It’s hard to believe that it’s been 25 years, a full quarter-century!
I first met Jean Stephens in 1985 at a wedding in California. People often say that weddings are great places to meet people (for good reason!), but at the time I wasn’t interested in finding a girlfriend. Honest! I had recently returned from a year in Japan and graduated from college. With my business degree in hand, I landed a good position with a local paper company and began the corporate climb. I had decided to take a break from dating. It was just something the Lord had laid on my heart. As a result of that decision, my head was clearing, my prayer life was improving and it felt great to devote my full attention to my spiritual development, not the pursuit of a pretty girl.
My friend, Dan, was incredulous. We bantered about it and although he respected my decision to steer clear of romance, I could tell he was unconvinced. He was on the verge of marrying his fiancée, Tina, and asked me to be his best man. I was honored and accepted his invitation. As it turned out, Jean was Tina’s good friend. When I think back to the circumstances surrounding it all, I’m reminded that though man has a free will, God will always have His way!
Before I tell you about our first meeting, though, something extraordinary happened on the Wednesday night prior to Dan’s wedding that complements the story. I had decided to attend a service at Lake Arrowhead Christian Fellowship. I was not a regular attendee, and knew very few people there. In the midst of the worship service the pastor (whom I did not know) walked directly towards me.
“I have a word for you,” he said. “The Lord has picked out a wife for you. She will have a heart for the things of God.” He paused and then continued. “And in the years to come you will spread the gospel of Jesus Christ to people all around the world.”
That coming Saturday I met Jean at Dan and Tina’s wedding. Despite the fact it was their big day, the couple worked like crazy to get us together. They were successful. We had some pleasant small talk but quickly parted ways. When I returned to the table, I couldn’t believe what I heard myself say to my friend, Victor, “I think I met the woman I’m going to marry.”
I was right, but surprisingly, life got busy and Jean and I didn’t talk or see one another for the next nine months! Once again our friends successfully orchestrated another meeting. For our first official date, I escorted Jean to an Amy Grant concert at the Pacific Amphitheatre in Newport Beach. I packed a picnic dinner of grapes, cheese, crackers and iced tea. (I later learned that Jean hated iced tea – but that night she happily drank it with a smile.) In the fading twilight of that warm evening, I think we both realized something good was happening, but like guarded courting couples do, we kept our private thoughts to ourselves.
Jean was still in college and due back to classes in September for her senior year at the University of California at Davis. I hated to see her go and wasn’t crazy about having a long distance relationship. So what does a love struck young man in this situation do?
I quit my job and moved in with my brother, who happened to live within a few miles of Jean’s school. For the next two semesters I burned through savings and some income from a few odd jobs. Jean finished the year. Our dating life was intentional and lots of fun. While she was still in school, I bought a ring and proposed under the shade of a large Santa Barbara oak tree. She said “yes.”
There is more to the story, and perhaps I’ll save that for another time. In the meantime, I would encourage all of you who are married to enjoy your spouse. I received a note yesterday from a gentleman who, knowing it was our 25th anniversary, wrote:
Please PRAY for my marriage restoration so my wife, Kim and I CAN CELEBRATE 25 yrs in 10 more.
Indeed, please do remember not only this man and his wife in your prayers, but also pray for your own spouse and the marriages of those within your circle. The institution of marriage is a glorious institution and both Jean and I thank God for these last 25 years together, along with the blessings of our two sons, Trent and Troy.
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