It was a Friday morning in 1985 and it was time for class. I walked into the familiar room like I had every day for the last two weeks and yet something was different this time. Even though the teacher had not assigned seats, all of us had quickly chosen our spots on the first day of class and acted like they had been assigned anyway. I walked to the front of the class with my books when I noticed her. She was leaning across my seat and chatting with the guy who normally sat next to me. This was awkward. I didn’t even know her name and now she was occupying my space. With a slight hesitation, I walked up behind the chair and asked a question that changed my life, “Is this seat taken?” Looking into my eyes she quickly said, “No, it’s for you” or at least that’s how I remember it. With that remark, she had my attention and we began to chat. How had I not noticed this girl sitting next to me for two weeks?
That remark started a conversation that has continued for the last thirty two years. The girl was Debra Chapman and she is now my wife. Something happened that weekend that has shaped who I am today in more ways that I will probably ever fully understand. A simple comment led to a chat that led to a relationship that turned into a lifetime commitment. Looking back, I am amazed how quickly it all happened and how young we were when we met. Deb was eighteen and I was still seventeen. How could we possibly have known where things would end up when we simply started talking. The truth is, we didn’t have a clue, we just found each other too interesting to ignore and the rest is history.
Life is like that sometimes. Seemingly random events that don’t seem so random in hindsight. Two kids from very different backgrounds and yet remarkably suited for each other. I loved to talk and she loved to listen. She played field hockey and I played soccer. We both were interested in learning and fortunately, we both loved to read. Her mom had been a missionary in Iran and her dad was a missionary kid. My parents were missionaries and I grew up on the mission field. Yet with all these things in common, there was still one thing that mattered more. We both loved God and were serious about our faith. Just going to a Christian college did not guarantee that. It was so encouraging to me to discover that she not only wanted to go to a local church every Sunday, but that the type of church mattered too. We had a lot of fun finding a church together. Years later she told me that she had actually noticed me before that fateful Friday. She had seen me in a campus chapel service and was excited that some of the guys at the school were voluntarily attending worship events so early in the semester.
Even for our era, we married pretty young – only a few weeks after we graduated from college. Little did we know what God had in store for us. Life would throw us a few curve balls early in our marriage with job changes and our first son getting so sick that he nearly died eight weeks into his life. More often than not, we felt like we had no idea what we were doing and wished we had a play book. In moments like that, it was deeply gratifying to know that we had someone to rely on in those times of doubt and distress. While everything around us seemed to be so uncertain, we had a God who was faithful and never changing. He provided us a faith community that helped to keep us grounded and started to smooth out some of our rough edges as we learned to serve others. His word became our source of strength and provided many of the answers that alluded us as parents and partners.
While I wish I could say that the lessons we learned in those early days and our unique compatibility made our marriage and parenting journey smooth sailing, that would be a lie. Like every relationship, we have had our ups and downs and boy would we do some things over if we could go back in time. As we enter these middle years of life with our boys growing into young men, I am more and more aware of my need for a savior. No amount of will power is strong enough to conquer a sin nature that we are born with when we enter this world. Only the finished work of the God/ Man – Jesus Christ – is powerful enough to loose the chains that bind and the sins that so easily entangle us. Living the “Christlife” is a daily surrender to His will and not mine. I praise God that He was the one who orchestrated that “random” event so many years when that young woman was blocking my seat. Who knows what He will orchestrate next.