This guest post is by one of my closest friends, Dr. Jim Carpenter. Jim is senior pastor of Bonita Valley Baptist Church in San Diego, California. He blogs at Admiring Christ. I’m grateful to Jim for the opportunity to share this inspiring true story about God’s guidance in his relationship with his wife Dionne.
He woke that morning, thanking God it was Saturday. His roommate had left with his drinking buddies the night before, so he had their small dorm room to himself for the weekend. Today he had nothing on the horizon except to meet her for lunch.
Oranges by Jun Aoyama in flickrr
He rolled out of bed, showered, and pulled on some old jeans, a T-shirt and his sneakers, the 70’s uniform of the college freshman.
Breakfast today consisted of a candy bar he bought from the vending machine downstairs in the lobby. Unwrapping it, he headed across campus.
That first year he didn’t have a car, so he did a lot of walking. Any dates they had were on campus or carefully planned around the city bus routes.
His dorm was on the extreme northwest end of campus, and her apartment was a couple blocks south and central, right in the middle of campus near the old chapel. He could walk it in his sleep, and usually zoned out as he made the familiar trek across parking lots and behind buildings to short-cut his way to her place. Her kitchen window overlooked the front door, and he knew she would be watching for him.
You’d have to say they were an unlikely couple. Not that they didn’t have areas of compatibility. Both were bookish and shy. He could be bitingly funny and she laughed at his jokes. Both of them were planning on becoming teachers, though lately he’d been talking about going into the ministry.
The thing is, though, they were so young. At eighteen he was short and skinny, with long brown hair past his collar. He looked 14. Seven months older, she was slight and pretty, but when her eyes blinked behind her small glasses, you had the sense she was shutting away some kind of inner pain.
You’d probably have concluded they were together out of mutual neediness. Neither had dated much in high school. He was the resident bookworm and egghead in a small high school where jocks were royalty and smarts were an embarrassment. His dad’s death four years before had set him adrift, and he was still looking for an anchor.
Hers was a story of childhood abuse, years of betrayal by her minister father. No wonder she seemed brittle at times, vulnerable, and in her darker moments, filled with self-loathing. They hadn’t talked about any of this yet; he only knew Something had happened to her and that it was bad.
After six months of dating, older friends at church probably saw their relationship as a symptom of their immaturity. No one would have predicted any future for them.
But they had one thing going for them: they both had a real connection to God, a growing Christian faith. Their desire to serve Jesus superseded even their desire to lean on one another.
Which is why she prayed that prayer. She was a year ahead, a sophomore, and knew the destructive power of a campus romance. Last year she had dated a guy who had been bad news, and she was determined never to repeat that mistake. Her childhood secret rose like a sea monster in her dreams, and she had to force it back, down into the murkiness of her subconscious. Her love for him made this harder somehow.
So she began to pray her odd prayer, not really expecting an answer, but laying it before the Lord in deference to His ability to do anything, even something so strange, if He really wanted to.
She had been making this request of the Lord for a couple of weeks, and finally decided today was the cut-off. As she waited for him to show up for lunch, she knew she would finally have to tell him why they had to break up.
She sat and fidgeted and rehearsed what she would say. He would be upset, probably angry. But in the end he would agree. Right now they had no future and probably never would. Their priorities must be to grow up in their faith, to pursue mature adulthood.
He jaywalked across the street in front of the student union, preparing to cut across the lawn in a direct line toward her place. But on an impulse he found himself walking away, down the sidewalk in the opposite direction.
The little corner market is gone now, but in those days it was a place that catered to both college students and elderly folks from the neighborhood. You could write a check without showing ID, it was never crowded, and the prices weren’t much higher than at the chain supermarket several miles away.
He’d been in the place only a couple times, and never bought anything. He usually didn’t have any money anyway.
But today, a little bewildered by the impulse that produced his sudden detour, he crossed the busy street that paralleled the campus, jogged another half block to the little store, and pulled open the wooden screen door.
What the heck am I doing here? he thought. I guess I could pick up something to help with lunch. She’ll probably open a can of soup and I’ll still be hungry.
He ambled through the narrow aisles, looking at loaves of bread and bags of chips, passing canned goods and glancing briefly at the meat and deli case in the back. He rounded the corner and saw stacks of produce.
Impulsively he grabbed a brown paper sack and moved toward the pyramid of oranges sharing a display shelf with a bin of apples. I don’t even know if she likes oranges, he muttered. I don’t even like oranges. So how many do I get? Five or six, he concluded, still acting under a kind of comical duress.
“That’s it for you, buddy?” the elderly checker asked.. “Yup,” he replied, pushing a crumpled couple of dollars across the counter. “Thanks.”
His small package clutched in his left hand he headed back on course again, toward lunch and the girl he loved.
She watched from her tiny kitchen window as he strolled up the sidewalk to the apartment building, giving her a slight wave and a little grin as he pulled open the door to her building. He sprinted up to the first landing and her heart pounded as she let him in. Her roommate was also gone for the weekend. The speech she had rehearsed would be uninterrupted.
“How’s it going?” He leaned in for a hello kiss. She barely responded. “I’m okay. But I need to talk to you.”
He plopped down on the ancient sofa and rested his feet on her scarred coffee table. “Okay, let’s talk,” he said, looking up at her with an expectant smile.
Still standing, she dropped her eyes to the floor as she began. “Well, I’ve been thinking a lot about this…”
“Oh, hey, I brought you something,” he said, interrupting and proffering the bag.
“What?” She was momentarily rattled. “Oh, okay. What’d you get?” she asked. He shrugged and rolled his eyes. Big spender, weird gift, he thought.
Curious now, her speech briefly postponed, she opened the bag. And nearly dropped it. Tears sprang to her eyes and began to roll down her cheeks. She clutched the open bag to her chest and sniffed.
He began to apologize. “Look, I didn’t know if you liked them or not. I just had this weird idea I should get them, but it’s no big deal. No need to be upset. I’ll give them to my roommate,”
“You don’t understand,” she said in a small voice. “I thought we had to break up. You know, to work on ourselves and not just focus on one another. To grow in our faith.”
“What? I don’t want to break up…’
“Me neither. But I thought it was God’s will. So I prayed and asked the Lord to give me a sign.”
He still didn’t get it. “Like an eclipse or something? That’s probably not going to happen.”
“No. Not an eclipse.” Now she was smiling. “I prayed that if we were supposed to stay together you’d bring me a bag of oranges.” And dropping the oranges, she flung herself into his arms.
Over forty years later, she’s still there.