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  • Writer's pictureVirginia Knowles

This Is My Story #4: College and Courtship, Of Course!

Just after New Year’s Day 1981, my parents moved us again, this time to northern Kentucky. I didn’t want to go to a new high school for just one semester, so I dual enrolled in college. Always the devout evangelical, I wrote all of my Freshman Composition papers and Speech class projects on Christian topics with a heavy dose of morality thrown in.

In June, I drove back to northern Virginia for my high school graduation. Then I headed straight down I-95 to Florida to transfer to the University of Central Florida, about an hour away from my mission team boyfriend. We quickly became engaged, but unfortunately, our long distance romance hadn’t prepared me for his disordered personal life. He was easily enraged and often manipulated me by claiming he had “a word from the Lord” that we were to do this or that. It was a tempestuous on-and-off relationship, and we were engaged three times in less than two years. We finally set a wedding date and I said yes to the dress. Was it an omen that the zipper split when I tried it on?

One day in 1983, I heard my own “word from the Lord” in the voice of my business professor quoting Peter Drucker: “The difference between efficiency and effectiveness is that efficiency is doing things the right way, but effectiveness is doing the right thing.” A lightbulb clicked on in my head. I couldn’t patch up a fatally flawed relationship no matter how hard I tried. I drove straight to my fiance’s home, delivered my news, and handed him the engagement ring. He was not amused by my prophetic insight, but at least I was free.

Since I wouldn’t be spending Sundays (or a lifetime) with my ex-fiance, I promptly joined a new house church near where I lived. A pastor I knew from the ex-fiance’s church had started it as a haven for those who had burned out from intense church experiences. But then it abruptly shut down within a year since this pastor was more of a wandering prophet than a shepherd of local souls. He is the one who inspired my “Lift Up Your Head and Laugh” poem at the beginning of this chapter. The funny thing is that 35 years later, I sat in my church as our guest preacher made a nostalgic comment about the charismatic Jesus movement. I instantly thought of my old pastor, then turned my head and was stunned to see that he was sitting across the aisle from me. Of course, I lifted up my head and laughed! What a blast from the past!

Back then in 1984, when I got the phone call on a Sunday morning saying that we weren’t doing house church anymore, I scrambled to find another church that I could get to in time. I picked a non-denominational community church whose pastor had spoken at our InterVarsity Christian Fellowship meeting on campus. Within my first few weeks there, I met a devout and handsome Christian man who believed in serious courtship rather than serial dating. This concept appealed to me and so did he. However, spurred on by InterVarsity’s emphasis on discipleship and global outreach, I had recently renewed my determination to serve God as full-time overseas missionary. I didn’t have time for men who weren’t, as we would say, like-minded.

Then a mutual friend invited this young man, two older single women, and yours truly to a missions conference organized by a small yet zealous church denomination. He had been a member of that group in the past, so maybe he would hear the call to missions there. Instead, what I felt I heard from God was, “You aren’t going to be a missionary. You’re standing next to the man you will marry.” That afternoon, I told him the first part, but not the last. His response was, “If you’re not called to be a missionary, then maybe I’m not called to be a celibate.” Well then. We married the following year.

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