Archive for May, 2011
Tuesday, May 31st, 2011
1963 Chevrolet Corvette
When I was about 10 years old my dad and I began going to the car dealerships to see the newly revealed models each fall.
We also went to the local car shows each year that were held in our local coliseum. We would walk and walk just looking at all of the shiny steel and chrome.
I remember one year sitting in a really sporty pure white Corvette coupe. It must have been 1963 because this lovely specimen of American sports cars had a split rear window.
Inside I saw a red ball that slid sideways to open the door. I thought that was so unique and yet strange and uncomfortable to manage for my little hands.
None the less, cars followed me with my dad all through the years. When I was older, in 1982, my dad asked me to go with him to buy a car. He wanted to trade to a new car and it was so cool that he asked me to go with him to pick it out.
We decided on a Chevrolet Celebrity. This car was somewhat of a new design and name for Chevrolet. It was a mid-sized sedan. As I looked at the options available I picked out a car that was a beautiful mix of two shades of copper. The interior was a new ribbed fabric and darker, almost like a rust color. So, off we went with dad’s new car.
My dad retired when he was just 52 years old. He had some problems with his feet that limited his ability to walk and stand. This was a challenge since he was a letter carrier for the United States Postal Service. He looked forward to retirement because in his mind he could spend more time with his kids and grandkids.
This became difficult because my sisters and I were in the throes of building our own lives and we were all busy with so many things. I remember my sisters telling me that dad would stop by their houses as odd times of the day and how this had become kind of a challenge. They were in the middle of things that had to get done and dad would stop by and want their attention which was awkward for them to manage.
Retirement Didn’t Set Well
A few months into his retirement we could see dad getting depressed and frustrated with his life. We didn’t know what to do other than to suggest that he get involved in volunteering to take up some of his time. He kept trying to build his life around us and got more and more bitter because it wasn’t working to satisfy his many hours of open time.
One day he came to us and said, “Well I did what you wanted me to do.” He found a home for developmentally disabled children that was led by a nun, Sister Evangeline. The kids went swimming several times a week and dad decided to go swim with the kids. In time he found odd jobs that needed to be done at the home and began to spend time there regularly helping in any way he could.
On his birthday that first year Sister Evangeline sent him a plant. He commented sarcastically, “Oh, they just want more work out of me so they sent me this plant.” He was truly not into this volunteer job and seemed to be doing it out of an attitude of spite since he wasn’t with us kids he had picked a second option. This was hard for me to hear but at least he was doing something.
My dad’s church began a helping ministry called “Stephen’s Ministry” which offered training for people to learn how to help people who were going through difficult things in their lives. Dad decided to go through the training. It involved bible study and small group interaction.
I had just become a Christian at this point and was excited that he was in a bible study. So, I bought him a new bible to take for his bible study. I knew he only had a larger “coffee table” sized bible so this surely would come in handy. I had stopped by his house one day and he sat down with me and told me about something he was learning in his training about servanthood. His eyes had been opened to what it meant to listen to others and serve them from his heart.
Dad Began To Change
I began to see a turnaround in his attitude about many things in life. He showed a sign of the resentments leaving that he had been carrying around with him. He began to show true joy in spending time with the kids at the school and a real thankfulness for his connection with Sister Evangeline.
After several years of seeing a great change in my dad I was getting ready to move to California to work with Love In Action. I came home to visit several times.
When I stayed with dad we had several late night conversations. This was very new for us to talk that much and I really enjoyed hearing his heart. One night I asked my dad why he never dated after he and my mom got divorced. It had been over 25 years since they separated.
His response was, “John, I didn’t want to be tempted. I am afraid I might find someone I am attracted to”. My dad whole hearted followed his church’s teaching that unless your marriage was “annulled” by the church then you were not able to remarry. I found something deep in my dad’s heart that amazed me. He was so convicted to submit his life to what he believed in, that he sacrificed his own personal desires for many years.
As I thought about my dad and women, I couldn’t forget all through the years that he had often talked about a lady named “Monica”. He had a green army trunk that had all of his life memorabilia. In it were pictures of many people from his past and he always pointed out the pictures of her. When he was nineteen years old he was engaged to her. He went into the Army Air Corp during World War II. He told us that when he returned home she didn’t want to marry him. I think his heart was crushed and he moved on to never talk with her again.
Teenage Love Rekindled
My dad’s cousin, Merc, maintained a relationship with Monica through the years so he heard a couple of things about Monica but never pursued knowing more because again, he was guarding his heart and I actually think it was too painful to know more.
I never heard my dad talk about any other women. He married my mom just a few years later and that was it for 16 years until they divorced. My mom as a very complicated woman to be married to and their relationship was very painful for my dad. So, I think he also didn’t want to go through that again. So, my dad was a confirmed single adult. I think this is why he had so much focus on his kids. We were all he had in life to put his time into until God began to work something new into his heart.
Dad called me one day and said he was going to go to International Falls Minnesota. “Really? What are you going there for?” ” I called my cousin to see what had happened to Monica and I found out she is a widow, and that she is there visiting family.” I hadn’t seen dad so strangely excited in my entire life. Dad went on this trip and came home like a teenager in his heart.
He had learned that Monica had also lived in Denver for a season when he lived there. She had married and had several children and then after many years of illness her husband had died just a few years previously. He said they also talked about the last conversation they had had, Monica straightened him out on one thing. She had not said she didn’t want to marry him, she said she “didn’t want to marry him at this time.” She told him she just didn’t feel ready for marriage at that point.
All of a sudden, dad was consumed with trips to Las Vegas, where Monica lived and letter writing back and forth. He had found his childhood love had been stirred again. I knew that he wasn’t compromising his morals in the least bit but it sure was interesting when he said he was going to Las Vegas to stay for a month!
As I reviewed the ten years prior to his reunion with Monica I saw that the affirmation from Sister Evangeline, the unconditional love from the kids there and his Stephen’s ministry and bible study all worked to soften dad’s heart and allow him to once again search for love. His call to his cousin came from this internal desire.
They Get Married
So, after a few months, dad and Monica decided to get married but they had a hurdle. Dad’s marriage to my mom wasn’t annulled by the church. So, they pursued an annulment through his church in Omaha. Through a lot of paper work and interviews with family members who knew my mom and dad when they got married, the annulment was not approved. So, again, my dad wasn’t satisfied with the process and chose to try again through Monica’s church in Las Vegas. More paperwork and interviews occurred and during the process the priest at her church told them to go ahead and get married by the Justice of the Peace. He said they would continue to pursue the annulment and could get their marriage sanctioned by the church in time but for now his advice was to go ahead.
Well, my dad got some approval from someone he trusted and took advantage of the opportunity. Dad and Monica got married in 1989, the year after Vileen and I got married.
Everyone was ecstatic for them. They really loved each other. It was all positive! After a few months had gone by they got the word that dad’s marriage to my mom had been annulled. Now they could get their marriage fully sanctioned by the church and it was all good.
Vileen and I took a trip to Las Vegas to see them. I could hardly believe my eyes! I had never known my dad as a happily married man. They were so devoted to each other, sacrificed for one another, and were very affectionate with each other. I saw them pray together each night on their knees. They held hands every time they could.
My dad was now not only a model of faith for me to see, but he was modeling a godly marriage for everyone to see. They were both so happy. It wasn’t all a fairy tale, however.
They went through many very challenging circumstances together. Monica had cancer and two knee replacements. Her daughter had severe illnesses and passed away. Her son’s life was a challenge for my dad to experience and found he had to lay down some boundaries to keep their home peaceful. But through it all, their love grew and they had a wonderful marriage and life together.
My dad’s health was a challenge as well. He had a lung disease that he had suffered with from being in India during the war. He had a debilitating chronic cough that had caused emphysema and several bouts with pneumonia. Monica was by his side and always seemed to manage his life, her life, and that of her kids with such grace.
Dad Passed Away
In 1997 we got the call that he was once again in the hospital with pneumonia. It was really severe this time. My sisters and I went out to Las Vegas to see him. He was on a respirator which was very troublesome for him. He got so frustrated that he couldn’t talk with us and writing notes was a real challenge due to having to lay on his back.
The doctor came in to give some tests and we asked him if my dad’s lungs would heal. He said that the disease had caused a hardening in his lungs that would never get any better. He told my dad that he would have to live with a respirator.
After the doctor left dad said he would not live this way and that he was going to have the doctors remove the respirator. We all knew that this would cause his death but my dad’s desires came first. Shortly he communicated his desires to the doctors and they did as he wanted. Dad passed away in about 24 hours.
His plans were to donate his body to the University of Nevada for science. So, there would be no traditional funeral. They had planned to have two memorial services to remember his life. One was in Las Vegas for their friends and Monica’s family there. The other would be in Omaha for all of the other family and long time friends.
As I thought about my dad, I wanted the privilege to eulogize his life. So, when my wife and I arrived we went with Monica to talk to the priest about what I wanted to do. I was honest with him about what I wanted to say. I wanted to reveal my dad’s character through the way he handled life challenges. I said I wanted to talk about how he handled my homosexuality with such grace.
The priest sat there with a pondering look on his face and finally said that he would give his blessing to my plans. Then I took it a little further and also asked if I could take communion at the memorial service. I had not been a practicing Catholic for many years which could make this a challenge. But, once again, the Priest said he would definitely allow me to do that. It seemed that God was in the plan and Monica thought it was all a very good idea. So, I drafted an outline of what I wanted to say.
While my sisters and I were in Las Vegas following the memorial service Monica asked us if we wanted to go through dad’s things to sort out what we wanted. As we searched through his papers and personal things we discovered more of his character. We looked through his cancelled checks and saw our names written on many of them. We discovered that he had helped us out when we needed it. We learned that we had no jealousy or comparisons that caused any problems. We even joked about how we were each his favorite child. We found that dad had the gift of loving each of us as though we were his only child.
We Saw His Character Through His History
When we sorted through things that were his we were able to completely defer to each other and compromise for one another. If I wanted something specific, my sisters would agree to me having it and the same was done for each of us. We were amazed at how much we were able to do this without any difficulty and attributed this to what we had gained from being children of our father. He had raised us to know this kind of integrity because that is the way he lived.
The second memorial service took place in Omaha and I asked for the same permission and the local priest gave his approval. So I was allowed to share my heart once more before my own family and long time friends. As people entered the church I wanted to greet them personally. When my female cousins came in one by one some would stop by me and show me a special “angel” pin they wearing and said, “Your dad gave me this pin.” It became kind of funny because three cousins did this in a whisper almost to hide that they felt as though he had only given them a pin like that. Again, I saw the say my dad could unconditionally love people a though they were the only one he loved like that.
As I spoke for this second time, I knew that my dad was in his eternal place with God giving whole hearted approval for what I was sharing. This gave me the courage to speak. I just knew it was ok with him because he was in a place where he would know the whole truth of his life, and mine.
It was amazing that God had opened up such a door to talk about His grace through my own dad finding it for himself. After I returned I wrote my notes into a Tribute to my Dad which has been publicized in many periodicals and remains on my own website today.
Through the following years I often grieved but also recognized Monica’s loss. She had a very tumultuous marriage with her first husband much like my dad had. He struggled with many things as well as severe health issues and she had come to find such joy with my dad. They only had seven years together and it would have been so wonderful if they had more time to enjoy their love for each other.
Since my dad’s passing, Monica lost another daughter to cancer and her son died far too young. Her sister in law from her only brother passed from a severe disease as well. She has one daughter left that fortunately lives near her.
It has been humbling to know her. She has faithfully acknowledged all of the special holidays each year for all three of us kids as well as many of our children. No matter what was going on, we knew we would receive a card every year for birthdays, Christmas and often our anniversaries. Monica was just like my dad. They were both cut out of the same cloth. Her faith in God has never wavered and her love for people has revealed that all through the years I have known her.
She is now living in an assisted living community home because she has struggled with TIA’s, or mini strokes. She still is able to talk and remember but physically she isn’t able to live alone any longer. Her fortitude remains strong!
It seems that serving others and learning how to sacrifice was the turning point in my dad’s life. Giving to the developmentally disabled kids even when he did it out of spite began to change his life, it seemed to do something in his heart. Sister Evangeline’s gifts to my dad, even when he received them with a blocked heart, changed his life.
Every time my sisters and I get together or talk, my dad comes into our conversation. We remember how challenged his life was and how he ended it with such grace and joy.
One of my cherished possessions happens to be a rib that was removed from my dad’s chest during a lung surgery when my dad was in the Army. It was kept in the green trunk with all of his other life memorabilia. When I was a boy I used to ask him to see his “rib” and we would open the trunk and go through all the stuff there. When he passed I asked my sisters if I could have the rib and they let me have it.
Although it may seem strange to some of you, I have continued the practice of showing the rib to my grandson, Devin. He has now begun to ask to see the rib from Grandpa Norm. Oh, I have other things like a pocket watch that was my grandpa’s that my dad had restored to give to me. I also have his army jacket and the American flag from his funeral. And his green army trunk sits in our guest room.
He (John the Baptist) will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” Luke 1:16-17
Friday, May 27th, 2011
1988 Plymouth Voyager
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.
The Audi Loses It’s Glamour
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.
A upcoming marriage that was unexpected turned out to be an amazing surprise and a change of life for many people.
Friday, May 20th, 2011
1988 Mustang Convertible
The third generation mustang in its later years. This car was similar in size to the original mustang from the mid sixties.
This car was a rental we drove on our honeymoon trip in Hawaii. We knew a convertible would be the way to go for seeing such a strikingly beautiful place.
It was great fun to cruise around the island with the top down!
Our wedding story unfolds.
Our First Kiss!
Standing in our church fellowship hall with all of our friends and family around the wedding shower was almost over and everyone energetically shouted “kiss, kiss” over and over. Vileen and I had been in different cities for a year and a half with only short visits in between. We had not kissed each other so this moment seemed like a strange one to engage in our first kiss, but here we go.
Later, Vileen told me that she appreciated that we had not engaged in kissing prior to that time. She said that if we had begun physical affection before that, the long distance and time between would have been much harder. So, our relationship was now being cemented by the invitations, the shower, and – the kiss.
I had found an apartment that seemed suitable for us to begin our life together. There was a lady who was coming into the Love In Action program in January of 1989 and needed a temporary place to live until that time. It seemed to be an answer to prayer to provide Vileen a roommate and some help with the rent so she moved in when Vileen did, in September 1988. Their relationship went well and it proved to be a good thing for them both.
During the last months before our wedding we did a lot of talking. Our relationship was very comfortable and we discovered more about ourselves and each other. December came fast and it was time to go to Omaha for our wedding which would take place on the tenth.
Since we understood the slim finances of all of our wedding party and our pastor, we decided it would be best to provide the dresses and tuxedos rather than to burden them with the cost. Our maid of honor was Debbie Smith, which happened to be one of the first girls I met in our singles ministry. She later became good friends with Vileen. My best man was Clark Peterson, who was a great friend of mine that spent many hours with me talking through my life and his.
We asked Dennis Franck to marry us. It seemed only right since he was our pastor when each of us came through our previous lives into the singles ministry in Omaha. Dennis knew us through and through, down to the nitty gritty details of our lives.
Travel to Omaha
Several men from our ministry in California had planned on coming to the wedding which was a tremendous blessing for me to have their support and encouragement. As we all got to the airport, my mind was certainly not on the details. All of our luggage was unloaded onto the curb. We were all trying to get into the ticket lines and Vileen turned around and said, “where is my dress?” I had left it on the curb! Thankfully, it was still there when I ran outside to get it. We have joked about that moment many times through the years.
When we reached Omaha, I took all of our friends on a tour of our home town. We saw all of the highlights including where I was raised and went to school. I love to tour people around things I am familiar with, so they got the whole story.
Our wedding was really spectacular. I didn’t want to wait in some room away from the people so I was in the foyer to greet all of our guests and put corsages on the special people in our lives. After everyone was seated, I remember standing there waiting for it all to unfold with tears in my eyes. I could hardly believe I was there and that all of our family and friends had gathered to celebrate with us.
It was December so we utilized the decorations that were already in place for the church Christmas program. The sanctuary was filled with poinsettias and red and white all through the place. We arranged for a simple cake and punch reception to keep our costs down.
But the simplicity didn’t hamper the joy, laughter, and meaningful comments from our guests. Jill Frank, our pastor’s wife, donned the infamous “nose and glasses” to read a comical poem that symbolized her memories of our budding relationship. She wrote it on the “barf” bags she found in the seatback pockets. It was hilarious and memorable. We still have the bags she wrote on. I am amazed to this day that Jill knew us both and our relationship so well.
This is the story of John and Vileen
‘Tis found to be a wacky if you know what I mean.
They met on a trip with some folks out of FOCAS,
when John prayed over a car – this was no hocus pocus.
The car belonged to a girl named Dawna
When urged to keep going the car said “I’m not gonna”.
When John’s prayer flowed like water from a cup
Lo and behold the car started up!
With mouth wide open Vileen almost lost her lunch
And said to herself “how’d I get with this bunch?”
As time quickly passed and the Lord had His way,
John and Vi discovered Cupid’s arrow had hit them both that day.
In ‘86 on Memorial Day they had their first date planned in John’s special way.
They rode “Ollie the Trolley” in Omaha town
From that day forth they went round and round.
Alysha and Amanda were always there too
They wanted to see what their dad would do.
Their romance began on that glorious day
John showed Vi what he thought by moving away.
A typical FOCAS man showed what he intends
By saying to Vi, I just want to be friends.
But alas and alak, he began to miss her;
And wished that he could hug and kiss her.
So they wrote and they called and they visited too
And they prayed to their God “Oh, what should we do?”
Watching the sunset John proposed to his love
And Vi exclaimed loudly “Praise God from above!”
He gave her a diamond dear to her heart
And two weeks later the ring fell apart.
‘Twas two days before the wedding at dawn’s early light
No wait just a minute I believe it was still night.
From across the land in the area known as “Bay”
Came 10 crazy travelers, yes 10 in one day.
They brought with them luggage, both boxes and bags.
Now Vi, don’t you nag, just because your fiancé had abandoned your dress;
Left outside the terminal, come on John, confess.
Then came the rehearsal when arose such a clatter
In Amanda, Alysha, Dan, what’s the matter?
Michael, Debbie, Clark, Vileen, come walk this way.
John’s here and he’s waiting, it’s now the big day!
This poem you asked for so as you hear it please don’t gag;
But if you do, I brought you some continental barf bags!
A Famous Photographer
Jeremy Marks, a good friend of mine from London, came to our wedding and agreed to take our pictures. Jeremy was the official St. Paul’s Cathedral photographer for the Royal Wedding of Charles and Diana. It was great fun to have him with us much less to have something to talk about later concerning the photographer!
Since both of my parents were there I wanted something that I didn’t have, a picture with both of them and myself. So, this is the only picture I have with them together with me.
Afterward, we spent our first night in a local hotel near the airport since we were leaving bright and early the next morning we didn’t want a fancy place. We were headed off to Hawaii! The hotel that came with the gifted package was the Hyatt Regency Waikoloa on the Big Island of Hawaii. It was a brand new hotel with the best of amenities.
When we arrived we could hardly believe how wonderful our honeymoon was going to be. The hotel had a boat channel that took us to our room. There were hammocks hanging around the property underneath the palm trees. The swimming pool was not only one, but several places of cool enjoyment.
We planned our days so we could see everything there was to see. Since our hotel was on the lava rock side of the island, there wasn’t a ocean beach right near us. This meant we would take one of our days to spend at the beach. The others were planned so we could see the black sand, island forests, rainy Hilo, and volcanoes.
We got up each morning, walked down the beach side path to breakfast and got ready for our daily tours. By the end of the week it seemed we hadn’t rested at all! Our last day was our beach day hoping for a little rest there but when we got up to go, it was raining and continued to rain all day. So much for the beach in Hawaii.
We loved being there, seeing the sights, driving all around in our little convertible and all of the luxury of Hawaii but, emotionally, our honeymoon felt like the ocean wave we seemed to miss on our beach tour.
I began to experience some depression in the reality that my life was going to change dramatically. I had spent two years in a community that was a wonderful experience. I loved the variety of people, the conversations and the camaraderie of friends. I realized that had come to and end and began to grieve the loss of what I had enjoyed so much.
Neither Vileen nor I were prepared for what we were going to experience. All of our conversations, prayer and counsel had not prepared us for the emotional roller coaster that rushed into our relationship. Our struggles began on our honeymoon and followed us back to San Rafael in our new married life.
Within one month after our wedding we had some serious things to conquer and it seemed no one had any answers for us to help us make it through.
Thursday, May 12th, 2011
1984 Audi 5000 Turbo
5 cylinder engine, all leather interior, sun roof; the Audi 5000 was one cruising machine! This car actually listed for $25,000 when it was new! That was a chunk of change for anyone to pay for a four door sedan.
I bought this one in 1988 for my fiance as a welcome to California gift when she moved from Omaha. You may think I was the man with all of the big bucks but actually, surprisingly, I got her Audi for a whole lot less than $25 grand and boy was it a pretty car. I had picked out two cars, the other one being a 1984 Volkswagen Cabriolet convertible, but I decided she may be happier with something a little more “sedan-like”. I remember listening to this automobile start up and run with a low but powerfully solid purr. Taking it out on the curving roads of Northern California was a dream come true.
This Audi had five cylinders and turbo so the configuration was a bit unusual. Driving it was certainly “European” in feel. It didn’t start off quickly but once she got running, it was like driving a large yacht on land.
Yes, I now had a fiancé. Please humor me a little to hear how all of this happened. In the last chapter I mentioned that there was a Christmas gift that was about to change my life dramatically. Well, that is true. During my first year as a house leader at Love In Action I struggled greatly with my relationship with Vileen. We weren’t really dating since we lived 1500 miles apart from each other. She came to visit a couple of times and I went home to visit as well. But one would hardly call that a dating relationship.
We wrote letters a whole lot and spent time on the phone but the relationship was missing something that seemed to keep us focused. With counsel from some more mature men it seemed that the right thing to do would be to release Vileen from the relationship and free myself from the ongoing conflicts. Actually, I was advised to either “crap or get off the pot”. Sorry for the explicit analogy but I needed to get some motivation to do something.So, my plans were in place.
We’re Breaking Up
In July of 1987 I had arranged a trip to Omaha and knew that my assignment was to take care of this uncomfortable business of telling Vileen that I had to break up with her. So, a dinner was planned and as we sat down, before I could say anything, Vileen said, “John, I have something that I have to tell you.” She went on to say that she felt a strong leading from the Lord to release our relationship from any kind of dating or romantic expectations on either of our parts. I am sure my face turned white. “Vileen, that is very interesting because I have the same message from the Lord as well. We both looked at each other in astonishment.
So, after our visit I returned to San Rafael with a new freedom and a new search. I wasn’t done with my dream of getting married. I remember wondering who would come into my life next. I saw one lady who drew my attention but I found out that she had become engaged to another man that I knew. That didn’t stop me and I continued to pray and look further.
Vileen and I didn’t stop our communication, it just felt different now that we apparently were not an “item” any longer. As Christmas drew closer I had gotten a large box in the mail from Vileen. It looked like some sort of picture. I thought it might be one of those collage picture arrangements that she had put together from our friends from the singles ministry. When I opened up the box I was completely blown away!
I had sent her a photograph of my favorite cabin at “The Lord’s Land”. It was Faith Cabin and the surrounding redwoods and fog had really captured the ambiance of the place. Inside the box was an oil painting of the picture that I had sent her. She had a friend of ours paint it for me.
My emotional reaction to this picture drew me to an inner truth that had been hidden away. Vileen and I really did love each other.
We’re Back Together
So, shortly thereafter, I asked Vileen if we could start over and rekindle our relationship. She agreed so we moved forward into a rediscovery of our goals. Vileen was coming to visit in the summer so I decided that would be an excellent time to ask her to marry me.
I was enthused about her coming, and the plans I had in my heart, so I wrote a letter to my sister and included in it that I was going to ask Vileen to marry me.
Well….. I had said some other things in the letter that I wanted Vileen to read and absentmindedly copied the whole letter and sent it to her. So, Little did I know that she now knew my plans, but didn’t tell me that she knew.
When the trip came about, we traveled to the Lord’s Land to spend a few days away from the ministry. My kids were there and we began to enjoy the wonderful place that Lord had set aside. I had planned on proposing there. Vileen loved the sunsets on the ocean which was only a few miles to the coast from where we were staying.
In my desire for complete obedience to the Lord, I made a deal with Him. I said, “Lord, if there is a sunset on the ocean, I will know you are in agreement with me to marry Vileen.” The day I was planning on asking her was overcast, dreary and wet. I woke up with FEAR in my heart. “Oh, no, what am I gonna do now?” I just kept praying, “Lord, help me, I want to marry her but without a sunset on the ocean – it is off!”
We’re Getting Married
As the day progressed I remained focused on my plan waiting for the Lord’s will to be made known. At 5:00 PM we drove to the ocean view. As we got closer something became clear – a sunset began to shine through as the clouds and fog lifted. Wow! This is amazing. God had shown me that we were free to go forward.
So, as I planned, I wanted my daughters to feel included and yet we needed some privacy. So, I asked them to take the camera across the road so that they could take pictures of me asking Vileen to marry me. They did and we have a picture of the exact moment!
So, our plans became a reality and we had set a date of December 10th to get married. Interestingly enough, Vileen’s job was coming to an end in Omaha so she made arrangements to move to California in September to get things settled in. A good friend continued on with all of the plans for our wedding which would take place in Omaha were all of our family and many friends remained. We were also excited to get married in the church where we had met and spent most of our time together for the previous two and one half years.
My aunt who was a second mother to me had passed away just a few months earlier. I found out that she had left me a little money from her savings. We were thrilled to be able to finance our wedding and some other things with what she had given us through her passing. As the time drew closer for Vileen to move to San Rafael, she decided to sell her car in Omaha before she came. This is where the Audi came in to play.
As September arrived I tried to think of a way to present her with her new car. She didn’t know I had gotten it. I have always wanted to give someone a car with a huge red bow on it like on TV. So, when she arrived I went to show her the apartment that I had arranged for her to live in. It had a garage attached so I parked it in there with the front end pointing out. I put a huge red bow on it. When I opened up the garage all you could see was the bright gold car with the bow. Needless to say, Vileen was quite surprised. I think it was a winner!
During the next few months as we prepared for marriage we talked a lot. Our pastor at church went through some premarital counseling with us. We made all the preparations that we could from 1500 miles away. We talked with our pastor in Omaha at length, Vileen had a new pastor on the church staff that she spoke with about our plans. I called her parents to get their blessing as well as my own. Throughout all of our conversations and discussion, there was not any hesitation in those who knew us and loved us. The wedding was on.
During the first month of Vileen’s living in San Rafael she got a job as a travel agent. This became a great asset right away. A friend of ours who worked for a travel agency had won a one week vacation in Hawaii. It just so happened that the date he was scheduled for the trip was the week right after our wedding. He was unable to use the package and offered to give it to us for our honeymoon! And, her new boss offered two airline tickets for our trip. We were so ecstatic about what God was doing!
Preparing For A New Life Together
We had just a few months to prepare for our new life together. We were really enjoying our conversations, our walks on the beach, in Sausalito, CA, and many other very romantic places I felt tremendously privileged to be engaged to Vileen in such a wonderful location in our world.
Many surprises waited for us after our wedding.
Friday, May 6th, 2011
For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God. Rom. 8:14-16
In March of 2010 our little Spencer doggie was killed after he strayed out of the yard and was hit by a car. It was Easter morning and we were devastated. I questioned all of the things that had preceded his accident wondering what I could have done differently……? If I had only seen him wandering off…… ? He was elderly and may have had some dementia and got lost, but that didn’t seem to calm my internal guilt.
I experienced a lot of internal pain from the grief of our loss. The ache was tremendous and surprised me. I thought, “he was a dog.” But that also didn’t make any difference, he was a significant part of our lives and we really missed him. For weeks the pain lingered and tears formed daily as we both processed through what had happened. No other dog could possibly replace Spencer. But our future was to include another lesson in life that would again, surprise us!
We weren’t sure what to do and questioned whether or not to get another dog. We talked about how it would be so much easier to not have to deal with a pet. We also became frustrated with each other over the decision that we weren’t ready to make and was still filled with the pain from our loss.
A New Doggie, A Teaching Moment
One day, we were both on the same page and decided to pursue another little doggie. We decided on a rescue poodle that had been raised in a cage in a puppy mill as “breeding stock” and had never been socialized with humans. We felt confident in adopting her but had no idea what this was going to be like.
After seeing how wounded she was I remember thinking, “we may never see her skip and run, but she is worth taking the time to love her anyway.” We loved her unconditionally without expectations of her actions changing. We knew it would be a sacrifice to work with her. Soon, we became quite attached to her and began to love her and uniquely our hearts were knit to her little life.
After months of trying everything we could think of to help her, we sought the help of a professional dog trainer. He gave us two pieces of advice. One was to put a “thunder wrap” on her. This was a tight sweater that would hold closely to her body. He said it may give her a sense of security that may help to calm her fears. Then he said to walk by her bed and each time let a treat roll off of our hand without any eye to eye contact. He said this may begin to symbolize for her that we aren’t so bad and she would see that each time she is in contact with us, a treat seems to come her way.
So, first came the sweater. In just moments she actually chose to come out of her bed! Mollie began to explore the house. She ran upstairs and checked out her full environment. We were shocked! The change was immediate.
Then, the treats. This didn’t seem to have the same effect. We dropped treats for weeks. The goal was to get her to finally take a treat out of our hand. After a lot of work, we finally saw her take a treat out of our hand but not every time. So, we continued to practice the treat routine with the hope that it would make a difference.
Progress Along the Journey
“Mollie” had finally gotten into a routine with us that was working to bring improvement, but she remained severely cautious around us, or any people for that matter. She seemed to find ways to stay her distance as she sought “safe” places to calm her own fears. The living room couch and chair seemed to be her favorite place to find some sense of security. When we would ask her to go to “her chair” and she would most often jump up there. This was the only way we could pick her up or have any physical contact with her. She would run from us whenever she wasn’t in her safe place.
In our continued process to work with her to eat out of our hands, I developed a little game with her that we practiced every night. I would sit in a chair and toss a kernel of her food out onto the floor and she would search for it and eat it. Night after night I would literally toss every bite of her evening meal out onto the floor. She got excited to play this “game”. After days of this little game, eventually she would come to my feet and I would hold my hand out to her with a handful of food and she would cautiously grab bigger bites. Progress was seen! This became a playful interaction with her that included a person.
One problem that persisted was that she would bark loudly every time I would enter the room or come into the house. No matter if I had just been there seconds before, it seemed she wanted me to know that she didn’t want me around. We learned that if I would get her onto the couch, while she was barking, then sit down next to her the barking would cease and I would hold her close and love her up. This seemed to work every time, so to keep her barking down, this was the practice.
In the morning, and evening, her personality would change. Mornings she would race around the table in a circle and then into another room and back again. My wife would begin to chase her and she would run even faster. I’ve never seen a dog run so fast inside the house! It was so much fun to watch her chase around and play. Her tail wagged as fast as she was running throughout her play time. We were thrilled because we finally saw her running and skipping more than we had hoped for.
In the evening, she would jump on our bed and for some reason she seemed to want to play with me! Even though I was the most feared, she wanted to run up to me and nip at my hands and jump around with me. At no other time of the day but this time, she seemed to find me to be her favorite play mate.
Vileen was overall, her “alpha dog” so to speak. She followed Vileen all over the place. When she would go to her office, Mollie would follow her and sit on her lap. That was a very safe place for her to stay for long lengths of time. She didn’t bark at me if she was there.
We continued to try everything we could to help her, but as we watched her grow day by day it seemed she had reached a point where the growth seemed to stop. She was stuck in a pattern that didn’t seem to be changing anymore. We had often wondered if maybe a second little dog would be helpful for her. At one point we went back to “Sunny Meadows, A Safe Haven for Pets” and took a look at several other dogs. Each one seemed to be as emotionally damaged as Mollie and we knew that would not be helpful for her. It seemed she would do better if we had a healthier dog for her to “learn” from. We didn’t find any there so, we left without another dog and forgot about it at the time.
Recently, we brought up the subject again concerning a second dog and I found two possible choices on the website. I ran through the criteria and found that each of them seemed to be socialized, one being a little 8 month old puppy and the other one was a stray that had been brought in. So, off we went to meet these two dogs.
We brought them home to our own back yard for a test run with Mollie. As soon as we put them on the ground, Mollie and the other two dogs began to run playfully around the yard. Mollie came to life with these dogs and there was no jealousy or fighting from any of them.
Bringing A Friend to Help
Our hearts went out to one in particular, the 8 month old puppy was so cute. He seemed amiable to everything and there were no problems between him and Mollie so we decided to adopt the puppy. After several options, we decided to name him “Buddy”. I call him Buddy Boy.
So now we began the process of adjusting to two dogs. Mollie stayed a little distant but not for long. As I played with Buddy Mollie came to join us. She ran up to me, to him, and pushed her paws towards us, ran away and ran back to us again. Mollie hasn’t run up to me in the entire 9 months we have had her! Then the two ran away and played with each other. When I called Buddy back to me, Mollie ran as quickly towards me as he did.
When it came time for bed, we put them both in Mollie’s bed and they each fell fast asleep curling around each other. My wife said, “I think we definitely made the right decision.” Mollie was at the right place in her growth process to take advantage of a new little brother. We have had Buddy for two days now and we have seen a significant growth in Mollie’s social development. She is out amongst us more. She is much friendlier towards us. At times she jumps on the couch since Buddy can’t quite get up there yet, to find some relief. It seems she has to stop and process what is happening in her life.
As I have thought back over what we have seen in Mollie and now in Buddy, I can only look at our own human experiences. Mollie had been so wounded by a lack of personal attention and human contact that her fears became the controlling factor of her life. She was living each moment with the question, “Do I feel safe?” and seemed to often come up with the answer, “No.”
While we have been kind to her and tried to love her deeply, she remained cautious around us. I could see in her actions that she wanted to be closer, but her internal fears kept her away. She seemed to know internally that we weren’t going to hurt her, but her past life was dictating to her to stay away.
On the other hand, Buddy, was a normal puppy. He immediately runs up to everyone energetically! He licks our faces, jumps to us when we enter a room or return from being gone. He has no fears of people to keep him away.
When Mollie sees Buddy’s playful response to me or my wife, she wants so badly to fully engage but for now, she can only come so close but still her face shows a little more joy and less fear around us. It is our hope that in time she will be able to move closer to us on her own and enjoy a fuller life and relationship with those around her. Buddy’s ease seems to help her and hopefully will continue to do so.
I am seeing some things about wounded people, fearful little ones, people who live by a daily struggle with fear. I am learning that maybe for some of them, they need mostly, a safe place to build confidence. Safe places may be places that aren’t necessarily the best places in our minds, but to them, it may feel safe. Going to them in their safe place may be one of the only ways we can begin to show them we love them.
Practicing kindness without any demands of a return may also be necessary. Looking for their love language of words of affirmation, gifts, acts of kindness, physical affirmation, or time; is very important as long as we don’t overwhelm them more than they are comfortable with.
Seeing that it may take a tremendous amount of patience to walk with them. It may take much longer than we would have imagined. Each one of us has a different time line with regards to our growth here on earth. I also have to learn that only God knows what each of us need and when we need it.
Everyone Needs A Friend
Something that has come to me in our recent experience with Mollie is how important is it to find camaraderie with others who understand.
Let brotherly love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body. Hebrews 13:1-3
I also see such a tremendous lesson and value in the need for relationship with each other. Mollie now has a friend who can relate to her much more than any of us humans can. Buddy has given her the courage to face some of her fears.
How about our connection with God? How comfortable are we to run to Him quickly? Do we remain distant and fearful? I have my own personal experience with feeling distrustful and somewhat fearful about relating to God. Maybe you do as well. I see two significant sources of courage to draw nearer to God personally.
Jesus came to us in humanity so that he would experience our humanity and die in our stead.
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Philippians 2:5-8
The other source of courage will come from being close to others.
And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. Hebrews 10:24-25
Mollie’s story continues to give me insights and things to contemplate regarding my own life. It helps me to think of others that I know and learn to be patient with. It gives me hope that all of us will grow and that our loving Father will bring to our lives just what we need when we need it.
Mollie consistently runs up to each of us now filled with such excitement, with her little button tail wagging as fast as it can, as if she is saying, “Thank you so much for bringing my Buddy home.”
It seems that God has led us to just the right friend at just the right time in Mollie’s life. But it isn’t only for Mollie, Buddy is now trying to adjust to his new home and Mollie is bringing Him alongside her as she runs and skips around the house. He is her “little brother” and she is doing a great job as the “big sister”.
Can we trust our Father to do that for us too? He knew the timing was right to save us. At the right time our Father brought to us our own Friend, Jesus. Are we ready to receive Him?
And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Romans 5:5-6
But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8