I had been dumped by my “boyfriend.” I felt as if my life had been shipwrecked against the most jagged shoreline in the universe. My “treasure ship” was crushed to the core. In desperate need of relief, I moved out of state and far away. I accepted a position to be the first teacher at a fledgling parochial school in South Orlando, Florida. Trying to keep my mind off my woes, I shifted my focus to getting the classroom ready.
Late one Tuesday afternoon, as I was working in the classroom, the pastor came in with a guy dressed in black leather dress shoes, light blue slacks, and a light blue button-up shirt. After a brief glance at him, I thought, He must be some old guy with a wife and kids. If he were my age, he’d be wearing tennis shoes, jeans, and a T-shirt.
“Nancy, what do you need help with?” Pastor Adams asked.
I smiled at the two of them, savoring the relief I felt to receive that offer. The quickest thing I could come up with was the desks. Pointing to the used desks huddled in the corner, I said, “They could really use a good cleaning.”
Pastor Adams gave the guy some cleaning supplies. Before the pastor left, he informed me “Nancy, I am going to introduce you to the church congregation at our worship service this weekend. When I call for you, come up on the platform. I will ask questions about your background and such.”
“Oh. I wasn’t expecting that.”
“All you have to do is answer my questions. You’ll do fine.”
“OK. I’ll be there.”
I continued working with the books I was sorting through and didn’t pay any attention to the “desk cleaner” working quietly in the corner at the far end of the room. After an hour or so, the desk cleaner said he was finished and quietly slipped out the door.
Sabbath morning, I spent a few extra minutes trying to make myself look presentable. When the time came, Pastor Adams called me to the front. As I was answering his questions, I noticed this guy on the right side about four rows back from the front. He was wearing a smile that could have lit up the whole sanctuary! His face was beaming with a grin reaching from ear to ear. Why does that guy have such a huge smile on his face? I wondered.
Taking a second look, I realized he was the desk cleaner. He must be excited because he has a couple of elementary-age kids that will be in my class, I reasoned. It’s weird that his wife and kids aren’t sitting with him. Maybe they’re visiting with the kids’ grandparents.
The next week, one of the gals from church who was about my age, Tommazine, came by the school to ask whether I wanted to join a group of young adults to go swimming at Carl’s pool. The steamy Florida summer and the anticipation of a cool pool enticed my senses.
“Yes, I would like that, but who is Carl?” I questioned.
“You know who he is.”
I’d met many people at church, and they were all new to me. Trying to match faces and names along with focusing on getting the school ready for opening day challenged me. “I’m sure I must have met him, but I don’t remember who he is.”
“He’s the one who helped you clean the desks last week.”
“Oh, OK. When are we getting together to swim?” I responded while thinking, Carl must have a pool in the backyard of his house. I imagine his kids enjoy playing in it.
“Be ready Sunday afternoon around three o’clock,” Tommazine said.
“Where is his house?” I asked.
“He lives in the apartments just down the road. You know, the big green buildings on the right side of the road? He asked me to invite you. He dated Kris for a while, but he didn’t invite her. I think he likes you.
He likes me? My mind puzzled. Stammering, I said, “You mean, he’s not married?”
“Oh, no, silly. What made you think that?” my friend jested.
I didn’t answer her question, but my mind began recalibrating. He can like me all he wants, but it won’t make any difference. I’ve had it with men! All they want is to have a good time. When you start getting serious and they know they’ve captured your heart, they crush it like one would stomp on a pesky bug. I am not interested in him! But I do want to go swimming!
After the pool party, it didn’t take long for Carl to keep showing up in my life. He seemed to plan activities strategically to involve me. First, he asked me to go with him to visit an elderly lady and take her some food and study the Bible. He explained that for her comfort, my presence would be better than his going alone. That made sense, so I went. However, later on, I turned down a couple of his invitations. He planned things that didn’t really seem like “dates,” yet he was keenly perceptive of my preferences.
I learned he was “dressed up” when he came to clean desks because he was on his way home after work. He had a stable job as an electrical engineer and was in the process of getting his master’s degree in engineering at the University of Central Florida. With his good income, he had qualified for a loan to purchase a new home. One of his “not-a-date” invitations was to see the lot where his home was being built.
I was impressed with his motivation to be financially stable so soon out of college. He wanted to “invest” his money into a home rather than paying rent on an apartment. He said that paying rent was like throwing money out the window. However, paying a mortgage every month was investing in your future. Paying your mortgage was like paying rent to yourself. In the end, you would own your own home. I’d never thought of things that way before.
Carl provided me with answers to questions that I should have been asking in the past regarding the type of guys I dated. One of the first questions a person should ask about a prospective mate is, Does he or she have a good job, or if they’re in college or university, what kind of grades do they make that would indicate their sense of responsibility and dependability?
Carl planned another “not a date” when he learned that the musical group called the Heritage Singers was coming to town. He knew I liked them and owned some of their recordings. When he asked me whether I’d like to go, it sounded as though it was a church-group activity, so I said yes. The concert was inspirational and uplifting, but our seats weren’t near anyone else from our church.
On another “not a date,” Carl answered some other important questions before I’d ever thought to ask them of my previous “boyfriends”: Is this person financially responsible? Are we similar spenders? He wanted to know whether I had a retirement savings plan. This was a first for me! I’d never had a conversation with anyone, not even my dad, about saving for retirement. I thought he was joking. I am just barely out of college, I thought. Why would I be thinking about retirement already?
He set up an appointment at Merrill Lynch and took me to set up a CD with the best interest rate he could find. I thought it was really nerdy, but he and the financial consultant did a good job of explaining the long-term financial benefits.
In the past, I was always attracted to the tall, athletic, fun-loving, spur-of-the-moment, outgoing type of guys. Carl was almost completely the opposite of that. He was average height, quiet, soft-spoken, kind of shy, and planned for the future. It touched my heart that he cared about my financial future. I was a saver, but he taught me an entirely new level of savings.
I let down my guard and accepted a “not a date” that was borderline “real date.” He wanted me to go to Shea Schwan Gardens, a Chinese restaurant he liked. Well, friends do eat together. And after all, I do need to eat! I told myself. He isn’t the kind of guy I want for a boyfriend, but I think he’ll make a good friend. This won’t be a date. I’ll just be eating a meal with a friend. I’ll even pay for my own food. We can go “Dutch treat.”
As you might have guessed, Carl did not let me pay my half of the restaurant bill. And after that “not a date,” Carl started acting way too serious! His conversations started alluding to marriage. I asked him, “How can you talk about marrying me when you barely know me?”
His response was, “I know you.”
Shaking my head, I reflected, Why did the guys in the past that I wanted to get serious shy away from it, and now this guy is jumping the gun? Doesn’t he know he’s not my type?
“I just want to be friends. Nothing more,” I told him, but he simply smiled and continued to be pleasantly persistent.
Carl quickly became a good, trusted friend. I felt safe with him. His laid-back personality made me feel at ease. He was never pushy. He never projected any expectations. I could just be me. I didn’t need to fulfill some unobtainable level of model-like glamor. This naturally revealed other desirable characteristics in a potential partner: Do you feel comfortable with him or her? Can you just be yourself and not have to strive to constantly please them? Does your prospective mate have a personality that’s easy to get along with?
Being a teacher made me well aware of the results of careful parenting. Most of the time, I could ascertain the type of parenting done at home by how well the child performed at school. Naturally, this is an important question to consider in someone you are dating: Will he or she be a good parent?
All of the guys I’d dated in the past were professed Christians. Some of them even had their membership with the same church as mine. But saying that you’re a Christian isn’t the same as demonstrating a Christlike character. Actions do speak louder than words. And this Christlikeness is another characteristic to look for in the person you’re dating.
The more time I spent with Carl, the more I realized what a dependable, patient, loyal, godly man he was. The Bible advises us not to be “unequally yoked with unbelievers” (2 Corinthians 6:14), so another critical question to ask is, Are his or her spiritual beliefs and levels of spiritual commitment similar to mine?
Carl was on fire for Christ. He was grounded in God. He enjoyed attending church services and Bible studies. My flame for romance had dwindled. My outlook on life had soured from being “run aground” and shattered too many times. Yet, fanned by the whispers of the Holy Spirit, the flickering flame within me glowed bright enough to realize that a husband of noble character, who can find? He is worth far more than rubies (adapted from Proverbs 31:10). Carl was where I’d once been in my relationship with Jesus. I missed that and wanted it back.
I admired the many valuable characteristics Carl possessed. I began to believe that he cared for me far more deeply than anyone else ever had. Without searching, I had stumbled upon a treasure. I gradually discovered what a gem he was. His slow, subtle, winning ways melted my heart of stone. He won me with his love.
We’ve been married for 37 years!
Nancy Schafner is a freelance writer living in Salt Lake City, Utah, USA. She is a frequent contributor to Signs of the Times®.