Before I take you along on my first date with Jeremy, I need to give you some background so you understand its unusual nature.
There were four people who’d been intricately involved in our lives from the very beginning and who played large and appreciated roles in our getting together. A little background may explain to you why we invited them ALL on our very first date…
A Multitude of Counselors
I first met Jeremy when I was 19 years old. But I’d known of him even longer, thanks to his dad. Mark Holden not only organized the state homeschool convention for 10+ years, but he was a sought-after speaker in New York State and beyond, encouraging families with a biblical approach to parenting, schooling, and releasing their children to adulthood. And often, when he spoke, he was recorded.
So it was that we first heard of Mark Holden via a cassette tape on the topic of raising sons toward godly manhood. My mom got the tape from her best friend, listened to it multiple times, and along with the biblical principles, she also took note that Mark Holden had a son. She did the math and–what luck!–this godly man, who, it sounded like, really knew a thing or two about raising godly men, had one available who was just the right age for her daughter! In true mother-style, she tucked that fact away like a valuable coupon, imagining it coming in handy in the future.
Meanwhile, that godly son was beginning to navigate adult life, starting his first business, investing in his future, and yet also faithfully serving alongside his father, because thanks to the intentional investments of his mom and dad, he maintained a strong, healthy relationship with both of them as he transitioned into adulthood. There was trust, respect, and mutual appreciation for each other, and just because he had begun to be his own man, didn’t mean he was flying solo. He kept mom and dad along as wing men, and continued to value their input in his life.
Fast forward 5 years to the 22 year old girl we have already met, nervous yet delighted to have reached a point with her first boyfriend that they were talking about pre-marital counseling. The obvious choice for her and her boyfriend was the pastor they both new and loved–Mark Holden. He was delighted to have a chance to speak wisdom and blessing into their relationship, and did so in an very intentional manner. First he met with the guy, alone. Then he and his wife, Pam, met with the girl. He wanted to make sure he had a good handle on who they were and where they stood as individuals before getting them all together.
I still remember right where I sat on Mark and Pam’s back porch in Ovid, New York, looking out over the small mobile home park they owned and managed, sharing my heart with the man who had faithfully shepherded me from the pulpit for 4 years. I felt so blessed to have this individual time with a couple I so respected, and thought of our time together as a bonus to the wondrous experience of my first love. Mark encouraged me to share my personal testimony with them, and I detailed for them things I had only ever discussed with my parents because I sensed that as I moved forward into the unknown territory of engagement and marriage it would be helpful to have two more allies to go to for advice and support.
Shortly after that, we began meeting with Mark and Pam as a couple, sharing our hopes and dreams and gleaning wisdom from them as they gave us insight into preparing for a Christ-centered marriage.
Four months later, it was that same couple, plus my parents, who gently broke the news to me that my nearly-betrothed was not as ready for marriage as we had thought, and wisely counseled me to put our relationship on hold indefinitely.
And it was Mark Holden who continued to be more than a pastor, a true friend to me, through the dark days that followed as I tried to wrap my mind around my capsized dreams and ideals after the breakup. He never neglected to ask me how I was doing after Church, in a way that assured me he didn’t mind if the answer was messy. He spoke truth into some of my darkest moments of that winter, helping me realize that this was not the end of my life, but an important milestone.
I have already told you of the friendship and trust between my parents and I–how they were the only ones, besides my journal, who knew when I began to be attracted to Jeremy. And you have guessed at the camaraderie that must have developed between Jeremy and my Father in the months of working and traveling together.
And so, you see that it was not immaturity, co-dependancy, or some ultra-conservative dictate that prompted Jeremy and I to invite our parents to come with us on our first date, but an action stemming from deep respect and appreciation for the role they had played in our lives up until that point. They had been a source of crucial support and dependable encouragement to us every step of the journey so far, and we didn’t want to start this new adventure without them.
Besides, they were all so excited about us getting together, it seemed cruel not to include them.
The More the Merrier
My nervousness at getting ready for my first date with Jeremy Holden–the Jeremy Holden–was only slightly assuaged by the fact that I did so alongside my own mother. She was nearly as giddy as I as we put up our hair and slid in earrings, bumping elbows in front of the small mirror in the single bathroom of our old farmhouse.
The Holden’s 15 passenger van pulled into our driveway and Dad called us to hurry up. Mom and I paused for a quick, commemorative photo together in the kitchen, a photo I treasure to this day, because you can see even in the flat dimensions of a matte-finish 4×6, the excitement in our eyes. Then we headed out the door, and the evening began.
First there was the rather awkward deciding where everyone would sit. (This happens on all triple first dates, right?) I ended up sitting in the middle bench between the two moms, because I was totally not ready to sit next to my date. Then there was the hour-long drive to the nearest good restaurant during which we enthusiastically conversed about every topic but the one at hand because you can’t have a serious discussion when you’re spread out in, staring at the back of each other’s heads in a 15 passenger van.
Finally we got to the restaurant and the dinner our stomachs were growling for, only to discover it was prom night and we wouldn’t get a table for, oh, at least an hour. The irony was not lost on me as we sat in the waiting benches of Outback Steakhouse: we were surrounded by young people on significant dates with their significant others, but Jeremy and I were the only ones in the restaurant (and I’d venture to say the state) who had invited their parents along. Once again, the evening’s topic was delayed as we waited for the privacy and relative quiet of our own booth.
At last, we were seated. By this time my nerves were weary. I had spent 4 months falling for a guy I wasn’t sure cared about me, 3 weeks waiting for our first chance to talk after he finally expressed interest in me, and 2 hours shyly avoiding eye-contact on our first date, and here we were across from each other with our parents flanking us, and a waiter anxious to take our order. Would I ever actually get to hear the thoughts and words that would assure my heart that he really wanted this–me?–and that it was safe to land?
Not Your Typical First Date
I don’t remember what we ordered. I do remember how grateful I was that our waiter was the gregarious type that kept our drinks full and the atmosphere light through the evening. I remember being so relieved that our fathers were both their to provide leadership in the conversation, and that my mom was beside me as I tried to keep a lid on all the emotions that fought to take over through the conversation.
In so many ways it was not your average first date. There was not the small talk that introduced us to each other, where we were from, who our parents where (hello!). In fact, we were already much further along than most couples on their first date.
We knew each other’s histories. He knew I’d been practically engaged 6 months ago. I knew I wasn’t the first girl he was interested in. Instead of the hurdle I had worried my past would bring to a relationship, I sensed that our pasts had the potential to bond us. But it also made us cautious–very cautious. And that’s why having our parents along was so great. They’d been around longer, and had more perspective, and thus more hope for us then we could even muster.
That first date is usually when a couple figures out if they want to go forward in a relationship. Jeremy and I had already made that decision. Instead, we talked about what things would look like next.
After ordering and praying for our food, Jeremy was finally given the floor, and, my heart and my stomach seesawing inside me, I finally got a chance to look straight into this man’s face and hear his heart.
Ya’ll, my man is a quiet man. We’ve covered this. Those who know Jeremy know that you don’t put him on the spot and require him to speak unless you’re willing to be patient, and listen up. He is no orator, his words coming quietly and thoughtfully from deep inside him. The words he spoke that night were not a well-rehearsed speech, with alliterated sub-topics that one by one answered every one of my heart’s questions and drew a detailed map for me to follow.
He simply shared his heart, vulnerably and authentically. How he had desired to pursue marriage in a God-honoring way, and how experiences had thwarted his efforts. How he was nearly disillusioned with the whole idea of taking an intentional approach to dating, and yet was willing to attempt it again, if I was. He expressed a desire that, with our parent’s blessing, we simply get to know each other as friends, without the pressure and weight of the traditional courtships we had observed or taken part in, which put so much weight on outcome and results. He wanted our relationship to be able to grow–if it was meant to be–without the strain of conforming to expected structure or timeline.
Basically, he didn’t want to court me. He wanted to date me. Which, using our circle’s definitions of those terms, meant he wanted less commitment up front, and more freedom to just be friends.
Just My Type
In any other setting, with anyone else, that proposition might have been a turn off. (He doesn’t want commitment?!) But for me, they were exactly the words I needed to hear. My last relationship had been a very traditional courtship from the start, beginning with an unnatural amount of commitment to the future of the relationship before we really even had a chance to get to know each other, resulting in a lot of pressure for my heart to conform to decisions that my head was making without all the facts. After it fell through, I had a deep desire that if I ever courted again, it could begin more casually, naturally, like a friendship.
When it was my turn to respond, they all looked at me, and I shyly attempted to confirm that I was all for the idea of becoming friends with the guy across the booth from me, with one stipulation: I wanted our relationship to remain a secret for a while.
This was all before the days the Lord set me free from my anxiety and fear of man, so “what people thought” was a huge factor in all my decision making. All I could think about as I stood at the brink of another relationship was how people would assume I was in a whiplash relationship, and how if it didn’t work out, I’d have the agony of un-telling everyone while I nursed yet another broken heart. Could we please just keep this under wraps until a time–if such a time came–when we felt more confident about the future of our relationship?
Jeremy very willingly agreed to this idea, showing his thoughtfulness to my needs from the very beginning of the relationship. We ordered dessert to celebrate, and then headed home.
We sat beside each other on the way home. I remember nothing else.
So it began. Slowly, stumbling, shyly, yet deep down where we couldn’t admit it yet, enjoying every minute of it, Jeremy and I began to get to know each other as friends. And we would do so secretly for a while.
Which would get tricky when we decided to ride a bicycle-built-for-two down a public highway.
To be continued…(subscribe if you don’t want to miss the next post!)