After spending almost two years in Southern California working for AIMCO, a national real estate investment trust which is the nation's largest publicly traded owner and operator of apartment communities, I moved back to NW Indiana in late October 1998 to finish my last year of college and earn my English degree.
I needed a part-time job, so my friend, who was a financial advisor for American Express (now Ameriprise), offered me a part-time job as her assistant. I enjoyed working part-time for her in the friendly atmosphere of the office which she shared with other financial advisors and their assistants. I was drawn to one assistant's friendliness in particular because it was so genuine. We talked almost every time I worked. I also became very intrigued by a good-looking guy by the name of Kent who happened to be the friendly assistant's brother and her boss, but I thought he was out of my league. My friend always thought he was interested in me though, because she noticed that he changed his route to the restroom once I started working there which meant he now walked by her office and mine. In February 1999, though, my friend decided to return to banking which meant I was out of a job. I quickly researched job openings within AIMCO and secured a site position in Illinois. Before my last day though, I asked a handful of people in the office on behalf of my mom to donate funds to an event for a not-for-profit Greyhound rescue organization and one of which was Kent.
Two months later while driving home from work one day, I checked messages at my mom's house to hear a message from Kent. When I heard his voice, I was initially in disbelief. As I listened to his message, my heart started beating faster. He wanted to know when I was going to stop by his office to pick up his donation for the Greyhound rescue organization event. I was stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic and just wanted to speed right to his office. I was too giddy to call Kent, so, instead, I called my friend. She was not surprised and said, "I told you he's interested in you!" I was still doubtful. I just thought he was being a nice guy by making a donation to a worthy cause.
I never returned Kent's phone call. Instead, I just stopped by his office. I was nervous to do this . . . mostly because my hair was two feet longer two months earlier, but he never batted an eye at my new hair style. After he wrote me a check for a donation, he asked me to join him for lunch at Applebee's. I drove because he had just returned from his dad's farm in Nebraska, so his truck was a mess and smelled like dog, Hank, a yellow Lab. We enjoyed lunch and our conversation, but I was still oblivious to his interest in me. Once we arrived back at the parking lot of his office, he didn't get out of my car right away. Instead, he asked me to go on a date with him. What?! My friend didn't know him well enough to know anything about his personal life, so I assumed a guy with such good looks and success must have a girlfriend, so I responded, "You don't have a girlfriend?" He assured me that he didn't have a girlfriend, so we scheduled a date for a few days later on Friday, April 23, 1999.
I was so nervous about this date. I bought a new outfit, and I even stopped by my friend's house before the date. I met Kent at his house, so he didn't have to drive an hour out of his way to pick me up at my mom's house. Like a gentleman, he offered to pick me up there, but it would have been a lot of unnecessary driving. My mom lived about 30 minutes south of Kent's house. We were going to Chicago which was about an hour north of Kent's house. We ate dinner at Tiparos Thai Restaurant in the Gold Coast area. During dinner, my nervousness subsided as we learned about each other. We talked a lot about his Christian upbringing which sparked my interest because I was struggling with my spirituality at the time. I believed in God, but I didn't understand Christ's work on the Cross for my sins. Kent's sincere interest in my spiritual struggle spoke volumns to me and I was so comfortable talking with him. After dinner, we went to the Briar Street Theatre in the Lakeview area to see the Blue Man Group. We had back row seats, but the Briar Street Theatre isn't very big. At the end of the show, there were countless rolls of toilet paper rolling out over our heads and onto the audience in front of us. It was a good laugh!
After a heart-wrenching break-up in late 1996 and a good amount of one-time dates, this was the first time I wanted a second date with someone. Not only was Kent a good-looking and successful guy, he was also quite a gentleman. It was also quite apparent to me that he honored and respected his parents and I greatly admired their relationship. I was very hopeful for a serious relationship with this man and, little did I know at the time, he was hopeful for one too with me especially since he had been the target of many futile blind dates by one of his sisters.
After our first date, we spent almost all of our spare time together. We started attending Bethel Church together which was the church that Kent had been attending on and off prior to dating me. Kent had not been walking with Christ for a few years and I didn't know what it meant to have a personal relationship with Him. As our attendance at Bethel became more regular, we occasionally met before or after a service with the pastor. The seed of faith had been planted in my heart and now it was starting to take root.
During the summer of 1999, Kent was very instrumental in encouraging me to restore my broken relationship with my dad. My parents divorced when I was three-years-old and I visited my dad every other weekend until I was 13-years-old which hindered our father/daughter bond. Once I was in high school, the visits with my dad dwindled because of multiple sports, a part-time job and, of course, a budding social life. For a few years, there wasn't any communication between us; although, I did mail birthday and holiday cards. When I moved back to NW Indiana from Southern California, I desperately wanted a relationship with my dad, so, one night, I showed up unannounced at his house and he was open to working on our relationship. When Kent entered the picture, my relationship with my dad flourished because their commonalities brought us all together.
On October 23, 1999, we had plans to eat dinner at the Chop House to celebrate dating for six months. We had 5:00 reservations that evening, but I was 45-minutes late meeting Kent at his house. On the hour drive there, he was unusually quiet but antsy. I knew we were late . . . very late, but he just wasn't acting like himself at all. Once we arrived at the restaurant, he was still fidgety. All through dinner, he wasn't very focused on our conversation and he kept checking his coat pocket. I asked him if he forgot or lost his wallet, but he hadn't. After dinner, Kent wanted to go on a horse and buggy ride, but I declined because it was so cold. Kent assured me that there were blankets in the enclosed buggies, so I agreed. We enjoyed a beautiful ride along Lake Shore Drive. Kent moved to the seat across from me to look at the City lights out the window behind me and then told me to turn around and look at them which I did. When I turned around, he was down on one knee with a big smile holding a beautiful diamond engagement ring and he asked, "Will you marry me?" My mouth dropped to the floor in disbelief, because we had never talked about getting married . . . but, of course, I said, "Yes!" When the horse and buggy ride was over, we couldn't get home fast enough. At the time, neither one of us had a cell phone and we wanted to share the news! When we arrived back at Kent's house, we called everyone in our immediate families. Most of all, I wanted to call my friend, but she was on her honeymoon. We were ecstatic!
As my semester came to an end at school, I started interviewing for jobs in NW Indiana as well as Chicago. After many interviews and a few offers, I finally accepted a position with For Rent Magazine based in a western suburb of Chicago as an account executive which was an outside sales position that also entailed servicing an existing client base of apartment communities for their print ads in this magazine. I started this job in January 2000.
Shortly after school ended in December, one of Kent's sisters and her husband hosted an engagement dinner for us with immediate family. It was an enjoyable evening of bringing our families together to celebrate our engagement.
We spent most of 2000 planning our wedding because we funded it ourselves. At first, we were going to be married at Bethel Church, but we left the church and didn't find another one. One of Kent's sisters, though, asked her pastor to marry us and he agreed. Then we reserved the Chapel of the Resurrection on the campus of Valparaiso University for our wedding ceremony since Kent was an alumni. We chose the Avalon Manor for our reception, and the hall wasn't even built yet.
We attended pre-marital counseling sessions with the pastor and he explained God's design for marriage, but, for me, it was more about our compatibility as a couple rather than the Biblical principles set forth by God for a lifelong marriage that is God-honoring and fulfilling. Even though we had attended church, God was not an active part of our lives . . . so we disregarded the vitality of starting our life together according to God's plan for marriage. Even so, we wanted God to be a part of our wedding day. Thinking back, I was so naive in my idea of marriage. It was hypicritical to want God's presence on our wedding day but not include Christ in our daily life. Regardless of our love for each other, we should have delayed our marriage until we submitted to God's authority and depended on Christ as our compass for every aspect of our life especially marriage, because this is the foundation of strong marriages.
As the wedding day neared, everything was falling into place . . . so I was not expecting news from my sister in Southern California that she and her family could not fly home for the wedding afterall. I understood, but I was crushed. I was also without a matron of honor. My bridesmaids were all close girlfriends from high school, so it was difficult to ask one over the other to replace my sister. After a lot of consideration, I decided not to replace my sister, and, instead, I asked my girlfriend, Sam, to be my honorary bridesmaid. Now I was short one bridesmaid. I asked one of Kent's sisters. This was a difficult decision as well because he has three sisters, but, at the time, I knew this sister better than his other two sisters, but they were still a part of the wedding though.
In August, my girlfriends of many years planned my bridal shower with some help from both of our family and friends. It was supposed to be held on the Crown Point Square in a cafe's banquet room, but it was still under construction with no end in sight as the date approached. So the location quickly moved a block or so down the road to a banquet room in the Hall of Justice, a former criminal court building with a lot of structural character.
The next two months went by fast and, before we knew it, it was two days before the wedding. Our bachelorette and bachelor parties were on the same night. Mine started at an Olive Garden in NW Indiana. After dinner, some of us drove to my girlfriend's house in the Lakeview area of Chicago. After awhile, a reckless cab driver drove us to the River North area for a night on the town where I promptly vomited when I got out of the car and, no, I was not intoxicated; I was completely sober. With this, the evening of celebrating the last days of my singlehood came to an end. In the meantime, Kent was celebrating the end of his bachelorhood in the City too . . . only he was at Gibson's Steakhouse in the Gold Coast neighborhood.
On the day before the wedding, the bridesmaids and I enjoyed the morning at a spa getting manicures and pedicures. The wedding rehearsal was later in the afternoon followed by dinner at the Court Restaurant on the Valparaiso Square which is now closed. Kent stayed at a friend's house that night and I stayed at his house with my girlfriends. It was a fun night with my girlfriends because we reminisced about how much we had matured since meeting in the early days of high school. Thinking back to that time in my life, though, makes me realize that I was still terribly immature even at 26-years-old.
On the morning of the wedding, my mom delivered a continental breakfast for all the ladies. While everyone else was getting ready, my friend and I had appointments for up-dos. Everyone was ready shortly before noon when a black stretch limousine picked us up to take us to the chapel. On the way there, I was so excited about becoming Kent's wife.
Once we arrived at the chapel, everyone in our wedding party and our families were already there. The videographer had us record messages for each other. My excitement about getting married exuded and, in retrospect, I think I was more excited about the event than the meaning of the event. I loved Kent and was excited about starting our life together as husband and wife, but the most crucial building block of starting our marriage was missing . . . Christ as our foundation. Looking back, I realize how blessed I am that Kent, even though he was on a hiatus from his Christianity, asked me . . . basically an unchurched, unsaved girl . . . to marry him.
When we lined up for the processional, I was standing next to my dad . . . a man that I didn't really know but was so honored to have him walk me down the isle. When my dad walked me down the isle and my eyes caught Kent's for the first time, I knew we were right for each other. I didn't credit God though . . . instead, I just thought I was lucky.
Even though we chose to include God in the vows for our wedding, I didn't understand the importance of including God in our marriage. Our marriage vows meant more to me years after we were married than they did on our wedding day. When God is present in marriages, they can thrive even during trials.
After the wedding ceremony, we greeted 200+ guests at the reception hall where we enjoyed a family style dinner and a four tier basket weave cake as well as an evening of socializing and dancing. It was a fun celebration and, instead of disappearing toward the end of the evening, we stayed until the end. After a long year of planning this special day, it was over so quickly.
After the reception, we went home where our luggage was already packed. We changed our clothes and then drove to Chicago's O'Hare Airport. Kent planned our honeymoon and we spent a week on two of the Hawaiian Islands: Kauai and the Big Island.
Upon returning from our honeymoon, we transitioned into marriage for only six months before we had to prepare for parenthood. I resigned from For Rent Magazine when I was six months pregnant and accepted an at-home position with Relocation Central, a national relocation company. Our oldest son, J, was born on January 9, 2002. Within the next three years, we had two more sons: E was born on October 2, 2003 and N was born on February 2, 2005.
When J was three months old, we started seeking God for our marriage and family but mostly for ourselves. We visited a good handful of churches until our second son, E, was seven months old in May 2004. During this month, we visited Bethel which was the church we left four years earlier. God used the pastor that day to speak to our hearts. We were convicted of living our life for ourselves and not for God. With a message so convicting by the Holy Spirit, we knew Bethel was the place for us. For Kent, he had always kept his foot in the door to God and now he was opening the door completely for the first time since his late teen years. For me, the seed of faith that had been planted in my heart years ago had not only taken root but also started to grow and produce fruit. Through my own brokeness for various reasons, I realized my need for a Savior. Soon after, I accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior.
In June 2004, we moved from the retail hub of Lake County 20 minutes southwest to a rural area of my hometown. I was newly pregnant with our third son, N, and we were splitting at the seams in our 1000 square foot two bedroom home. When I was half-way through my pregnancy with N, Relocation Central eliminated all at-home positions so I was without a job. Since then, I have been a stay-at-home wife and mother.
In January 2005, I was baptized . . . at 31-years-old and 37 1/2 weeks pregnant with N! In May 2005, we promised before God, our church and our families to raise our sons in a Christ-centered home according to God's purpose for their lives in a dedication service. Later in September 2005, we became members of Bethel Church. During our Christmas Eve service, we shared our testimonies which was about the difference Christ has made in our lives individually as well as a couple.
Our hearts' desire was to live our life in a way that glorifies God and we were living out our Christianity to the best of our ability constantly seeking and serving God. However, in June 2006, our life came to a screeching halt with Kent's brain tumor diagnosis.
God allowed the trial of a brain tumor in our life to test our faith, but our hearts were faithful to God . . . even though challenging at times . . . because He was so faithful to us. This trial drew us closer to God and strengthened our marriage. Our future was uncertain, but we trusted God's good and perfect plan for us and were thankful for the gift of each day.
Written 10/07; edited 4/10.