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4. The Two Worlds Meet

We seldom settled anything after we argued . . . it was a
poor habit pattern that would carry over into our marriage.

It was shortly after I came to know Christ as my Savior that my father accepted the call to pastor the Calvary Baptist Church in Bristol, Pennsylvania. And other than being a preacher's kid, I lived a relatively normal childhood. I was in my early teens when Mary's father began building his dream house several miles south of Bristol. Her parents were both believers and one of their first priorities was to find a new church home. Here is how she remembers it:

"While looking through the church pages in the telephone directory, my mom found the listing of a church pastored by Lehman Strauss. In amazement she exclaimed, 'I used to know a Lehman Strauss when I was younger. His family lived around the corner from us, and my brothers and his brothers were friends. But from what I remember, he surely wouldn't be a minister. And yet it seems unlikely that there would be two men with that name. Let's go and see.'

"To our surprise it was the same Lehman Strauss mother had known when she was a young girl, now saved and serving the Lord. And so we all (mother, dad, two sisters and myself) settled into our new church home. It was difficult, as it was with most young high school girls, for me to break into the girls' clique at the church. The boys were much more accepting of me."

I can heartily agree with that. I still remember the first day Mary walked into church. My first thoughts were, "Now that's a cute little number; I'd like to get to know her better." Her vivacious, outgoing personality attracted me. And every time I looked at her, there were several guys around her. She seemed to be everything I was not, and opposites really do attract. But with my lack of confidence, I never made a move. She dated seven different boys in the first year she was there. And I just stood by and watched. Mary admits:

"I enjoyed the attention of all those guys. I was at the age when boys were becoming important. Richard was not entirely out of my mind during that year, however. There was something about him that I liked. He was the preacher's son, and he played an accordion in front of the whole church (that was a long time ago, before guitars were so popular; accordions were 'in' then). I enjoyed being in the limelight, and dating him would have given me some prominence."

So the scene was set for that fateful October hayride. Mary went with one of the other boys from the church, but I just went with the guys. Sometime during the evening she had a typical teenage spat with her date and they split up. That was just the opportunity I had been waiting for. I sat down beside her and we began to talk.

We don't remember how we got started, but we do remember that the conversation turned to spiritual things. One of the things we discussed was the difficulty of maintaining a strong testimony for Christ among our school friends. She impressed me with her love for the Lord and her desire to do His will. She was mischievous and talkative, and got into trouble with her teachers, and yet there was a spiritual depth in her that I wanted in the girl I eventually would marry. Our long and sometimes turbulent courtship began that night.

Our dating life was characteristic of most high school relationships. We attended rival high schools, so we did not see each other much during the week. But we spent a great deal of time together on weekends. And we talked for hours on the telephone. We both graciously offered to baby-sit our younger siblings for our parents on prayer meeting night so we could talk on the phone uninterrupted for the entire evening.

Three times during those high school years we broke off our relationship and Mary dated others. I had a couple of brief summer romances, but they meant very little to me. In the back of my mind I always thought about getting back with Mary. I wanted her to be my girlfriend, and that was all that mattered to me. When we were going together, I usually wanted to go steady. It was selfish of me. As I look back on it now, I realize that it was my insecurity that made me hold on so tightly. And it led to repeated arguments.

Maybe Mary should explain it from her perspective. "I thought Richard was being possessive. I wanted to date other guys and also spend time with my girlfriends (by this time I had gotten into the clique). He didn't understand my wishes. It was frustrating to me, and I would vent my anger frequently."

Even when we were going steady, we didn't know how to communicate our feelings to each other without hurting one another. So we seldom settled anything after we argued. We just kissed and made up. The Lord in His grace helped us to refrain from ever having sexual relations before we were married, and we are thankful to Him for that. But we did make the same mistake many other young Christian couples make by getting too physical on occasion. There were times when it kept us from exploring each other's personalities more fully, getting to know each other on an intellectual and emotional level, and sharing with one another spiritually. While we did have profitable times of communication together, it was often easier to kiss and cuddle and forget the problems than to talk them through seriously and prayerfully.

It was a poor habit pattern that would carry over into our marriage.

Walking Together

Sit down with your mate in the next day or two and talk about what drew you to each other.

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