This was the latest trend in family vehicles. After their debut in 1984, the refinement had enhanced the look and feel of the upcoming all American transport for parents and their children.
Velour interior, power everything, spacious interiors, it was like driving a tall limousine.
“Hello, I’ve been getting your newsletters and I have a donation to make to Love In Action. I have a 1988 Plymouth minivan that I don’t want any longer. I thought with all of the clients you have that it may come in handy for your use.”
One of the largest donations we had ever received at Love In Action. We anxiously waited for the delivery of our “new van”. It was almost brand new! It only had a few thousand miles on it. We couldn’t figure out why this generous man wanted us to have it but we were ecstatic. It was decided that Anita Worthen would drive it daily to the office but in any event that the ministry needed to transport clients she would release it to our use. She grew pretty comfortable in her new luxury vehicle and sometimes seemed reluctant to give it up for a day, or a weekend retreat. I can certainly understand that . Our new van came in pretty handy. Allow me to share how this van fit into my life.
About one month after Vileen and I were married I was scheduled to go on a retreat with our new program participants with Love In Action. Leaving on Thursday evening and returning late Sunday night meant I would be away from Vileen for the first time. These retreats took place twice each year regularly so it was something that Vileen had known about for two years. I was selected to drive the new van on this retreat. Oh, Boy! I was looking forward to the retreat as I always had and driving the new van made it especially good.
Our First Marriage Battle
I came home from the office to get ready to leave and Vileen was crying and said she didn’t want me to go. Oh, man, I felt trapped, confused, and blindsided by her heightened emotional response. I had no idea how to handle this one. She had never been like this before so I was also shocked.
As I tried to think in an instant about what to do, I could only imagine that there was some Spiritual warfare involved in her attempt to sway me from going. To my own surprise out of my mouth came, “get thee behind me Satan.” The look on Vileen’s face was that of shock and surprise! But from her own shock she stopped crying and we were able to talk about the weekend. She said, “I am going to miss having you here and I’ll be alone in our apartment and I don’t want to be.” I told her that I understood and that I would miss her too.
I learned that she didn’t want to stop me from going, just that her feelings of fear and potential loneliness were causing her reactions. We were finally able to find peace in the situation and I left to go to the retreat. But as I left, I was still in shock and fear that this would happen again.
This was the first of many other struggles between us that came up in the newness of our marriage relationship. All of the talking and counsel before our marriage hadn’t prepared us for these days. It seemed that every weekend something caused us to engage in an emotional battle. There weren’t fights or heavy arguing but rather, just emotional discomfort or misunderstanding. Since we weren’t fighting, it just didn’t seem to fit normal marriage struggles that I was familiar with. I was caught with seemingly nowhere to go to get through this.
As it so happened, the retreat that took place in January of 1989 was incredibly memorable. It snowed in the Mendocino California area for the first time in over 15 years. It was overwhelmingly beautiful. To wake up with snow on the roofs of the incredible hand built cabins was awesome. We toured into Mendocino to see the snow on the Victorian buildings next to the Pacific Ocean coastline was beyond belief. Even though Vileen and I struggled through my going to the retreat, God was there and blessing us with His love and care. Vileen also felt His closeness to her while at home. We both learned so much about life, marriage, and each other through our battle.
Managing Our Finances
“Vileen, why are you crying?” Another confusing situation came up. I thought it would be best for Vileen to maintain her own checking account. I just figured that most women would want their autonomy financially. We tried desperately to figure out how to manage the two accounts and Vileen was struggling to keep her’s balanced. Finally, I asked her if she wanted to move to one account and she said she felt tremendously relieved to do that. We chose to do that and it turned out to be the very best thing we could have done.
In response to moving to one account, we decided to keep a record of every dime we spent. Through this exercise we managed to find a financial balance that laid the foundation for all of our financial management. To my own surprise, we have not ever argued over money! Strange, I know, but I think that our first few months of keeping these records gave us a clear understanding of our individual spending habits and we accepted it as it was. We are completely transparent in how we spend money and all large financial decisions are made together. It seems to have worked from that day until now.
Most of our battles have been emotional. Some of my thinking led me to blame our struggles on my homosexuality. There were some things about our intimate relationship that seemed to confuse me, so it seemed to me that the root was contained in my homosexuality. This brought me to do a lot of blaming myself for all of our struggles. I just couldn’t get passed the thought that this was all my fault.
One of the men in our program was in partnership with his mother in developing a marriage retreat ministry. They privately invited couples they knew of to come at no cost to the couple. The weekend was held at a high class hotel with well known speakers. So, one day his mother contacted Vileen and I to invite us. In our conversation she mentioned that they typically didn’t invite “newlyweds” but in this case she felt led to invite us.
We quickly agreed and they flew us down to southern California for the retreat. Many of the typical topics were covered but the work that was done in our lives took place outside of the meetings. One morning I was praying and talking with God about our struggles. God posed a question to me, “John, do you love me?”
I had always struggled with the concept of loving God. I knew of those who always talked of this wonderful over the top “love” relationship with Jesus, that I never seemed to understand. I often felt inadequate in my relationship with Jesus because I didn’t seem to be able to muster up that kind of experience.
So, my answer to God was, “I can’t say I feel that way every day.” After my honest answer, He posed a second question, “John, are you going to leave me?” I said, “no, never, Lord. I am committed to You for life and have no temptation to lose what I have with you. I clearly understand who You are and what you mean to me.” So, He posed a third question.
“John, do you love your wife?”
Again, I could only think of comparing my relationship to others I had admired or at times felt jealous of. I could not honestly say that I had gushy feelings towards my wife all the time, at least not like I felt I needed to. We had known each other now for five years. We had a significant connection and relationship that was very important to me. But, to say I loved her in my mind meant that I couldn’t stand being away from her and that every morning I woke up with a dramatic need for her affection.
I had experienced emotionally dependent and exaggerated relationships where I used the word love to describe them but our relationship was nothing like that. I didn’t have the same needs to control her life. I didn’t feel enmeshed with her. There were days when I didn’t have that over the top kind of emotional connection with her in our relationship. So, to say I loved her was something that didn’t seem to match up with my past experience.
So, another question came my way through my time with the Lord. “John, are you going to leave her?” “Lord, no way. I was divorced once and that doesn’t work, no way am I going to leave her. It has never entered my mind to leave her.”
Oh, I am getting it. Then the Lord made a statement, “John, do you know what love is?” Now this is getting interesting. He said, “Love is commitment.” I went on to ponder the amazing reality that just came into my heart. Love isn’t based on a feeling, it is based on commitment!
Do I love Jesus?
YES! Do I love my wife? YES! This little but significant piece of wisdom has laid a foundation for my life and my marriage that has never left my side. A lot of the emotional turmoil that was going on in my heart in my marriage was relieved in this time with the Lord.
From the many places of confirmation that prepared us for getting married and the commitment that I have with Vileen I have never been tempted to run away, leave, or even think of ending my marriage. This brings me the much needed peace and confidence necessary for me to have experience a deeper love than I have ever known with the Lord, and with my wife. Our life together has never been a “Romeo and Juliet” relationship. But, through it all we are significantly bonded together and have seemed to make it joyfully and with some level of ease.
I also recognized that weekend that our struggles were not all mine. During our marriage “renewal” retreat we were assigned to spend some time talking face to face. It was one of those times when Vileen talked with me about some things in her life that I had not known about. I was aware of some things that had wounded her in her past but this time she talked in more detail of the depth of wounding that had occurred. I was surprised and had to do some thinking about all of this. But, I was now much more aware of some things that contributed to our emotional and relational battles.
When we got home our marriage life was distinctly different and much better but it wasn’t all cured. We went on to discover more things that were playing into our struggles. At one point I was walking and the Lord prompted me again. He challenged me to pray with my wife every day and bring a more spiritual foundation to our marriage. For some reason, praying together was a very challenging and vulnerable thing to do so I had not done that with her in our relationship.
So, that week, we began a daily prayer time. In a few months it seemed Vileen was more settled and our pattern of highly emotional “Saturday’s” calmed down. The pattern of upheaval that seemed to occur every Saturday was replaced with daily prayer.
After about six months we were settling in nicely with our marriage and life style. As I thought further about our marriage I was fearful of not being able to meet Vileen’s emotional needs. A focus of this fear was when I thought of her parents passing on. What would I do when that happened? Would I have what it takes to comfort her in such a devastating loss?
As I grew I began to learn that Vileen didn’t need me to fix the problems that came up. She just needed me to listen and validate what she was feeling. I had always had a struggle with the sense that I needed to resolve the feelings she had experienced, rather than to allow her to just experience them.
And of course, in just about a year or so we got a phone call that her mother had passed away. I remember distinctly sitting on the side of the bed with her when she put the phone down. I put my arms around her and just remained with her. I felt such a peace knowing that I wasn’t going to take the grief away but I was committed to be there with her. I think the lesson of commitment regardless of feelings was something that has added to our being able to build the marriage we have today.
Vileen was faithful to support me in all that I was involved in. After we were married for just two years I became the Executive Director for Love In Action. This meant that many priorities would have to hang on my responsibilities there. I had daily office commitments, as well as evening meetings that I was leading. And yes, there were the annual retreats, speaking engagements, and national travel that would take me away from home. Vileen always understood and after our initial few months of adjustment, she has never in any way attempted to control my life so as to take me away from the things that were part of my ministry life.
Back to our Audi 5000, Vileen continued to enjoy driving it but it began to have some problems. The transmission began to slip and the sun roof stopped working. I felt overwhelmed with what this could mean. I already had learned of the high cost of repairing this luxury European vehicle. Vileen accidentally “sliced” a tire on a curb that cost us over $200 to replace it through having to special order it. I couldn’t imagine how much a new transmission would cost us.
I was talking to Frank, the ministry director, about my financial concerns regarding our car. He said simply, “John, put a sign in it, park it on the street, and sell it.” I didn’t think that would work but I got a sign and put it up for sale. Within two days, someone came into my office and said “I want to buy the Audi you have for sale.”
I told him it had a bad transmission. He said, “I’ll take it and get it checked out.” Upon his return, he informed me that one of the five cylinders was bad as well as the transmission needed replacing. He said he still wanted to buy the car. He offered $2000 to take if off my hands. Amazingly, $2000 is just what I owed on the car. Frank’s suggestion worked! I was free of the burden of the broken car but now what would I do to replace it? I didn’t make enough money to get another one or even make a down payment on one.
I often pondered what an incredible privilege it was to live in the San Francisco Bay Area. At times the natural beauty would take my breath away. The brisk, clean, bright sunny mornings were often so refreshing. There was so much to see and do but to be honest, like most people, we didn’t take full advantage of what was given to us for the years we lived there. I often wonder what may have been different in our relationship if we had done more walking, touring, and visiting the many sights that were there. Don’t get me wrong, we saw all of the main attractions and every time a friend or relative would come to town, we always took them to the things many wanted to see there. But, what if…. What if we would have walked in the redwoods more, or traveled around San Francisco to really digest what was there? But in the end, we did enjoy living there and still to this day count is as an amazing time in our lives.
The time was drawing near for Frank and Anita to leave for a new ministry in Manila Philippines. Anita sat me down one day and said, “I think you should have my van when I leave. It seems right since you will be the director, that you it take over. I was so excited to have this wonderful vehicle! I felt honored and privileged to be able to drive it. I knew how much she liked it and this made it even more special that she would give it to me. Much less, God provided once again for our needs.
This experience was the beginning of learning to trust God with my fears and concerns. It was a lesson in how He will miraculously provide when things come into our life that can make us feel overwhelmed with burden or need.