the love story of Mark and Ruth Visser
Our courtship was not one of the picture-perfect ones you hear about. For a long time, I hesitated to even write our story, as it is difficult not to give unnecessary details that would be disrespectful or potentially hurtful to someone. So let me start by saying that the difficulty of our courtship was not any one person’s fault; and it brought great heartache to more than just Mark and me. But it was a time in my life when I grew by leaps and bounds spiritually–and if only for that reason, hard as it was, that it was worth it all, and I believe Mark would concur.
My family had homechurched for several years with the Dirk Visser family. We knew that Mr. Visser farmed with his brother, Sam, and his sons, though they had separate barns of their own. We had met Sam and Gail (Mark’s parents) once or twice through Dirk, but didn’t really know the rest of the family. Eventually, the Dirk Vissers moved away and we didn’t have any more contact with the extended family.
Then in the summer of 1999, some friends of ours had a big anniversary celebration. My family ended up sitting with Sam and Gail. My mom (Mama) and Mark’s mom (Mom) got to talking about how few Christian young people there were around here, and Mama mentioned that I didn’t have a lot of friends in the area. Mark’s mom suggested that I visit the young adult Bible study that their church had, especially since they could use more girls there. She and Mama also got to talking about braiding rugs, and Mama mentioned how I would enjoy learning to do that.
In the next few weeks, I struggled as to whether or not I would go to the Bible study Mark’s mom had mentioned. The day of their next meeting came and, being a somewhat shy person, I decided not to go. I thought it would be too awkward, not knowing anyone there. Instead, my family decided to visit Mark’s family’s church one Sunday evening to see if I could meet some of the young people. Our parents visited and I was introduced to Mark and another young lady who was part of the group. Mark’s mom persuaded me to come over and spend the day with her braiding rugs, saying that I could go to the Bible study in the evening with Mark and his older brother Eric. (Eric was also unmarried and living at home at the time.)
I enjoyed that day at the Visser’s immensely! But it felt strange riding to Bible study with two guys 6 and 10 years older than me. They just ignored me, however, and I wondered how they felt about being instructed to take this girl along with them. I could almost hear their mental groans.
For several months the pattern continued, spending the day with Mark’s mom and then attending Bible study with Eric and Mark. Our families also spent time together, going bowling and the like.
Mama kept saying that she thought Mark was interested in me. But I was in denial and thought he just wanted to be my friend. My parents and I had never really talked about what we believed as far as courtship–we just thought that was a long ways down the road.
Then in January, we got a phone call from the other Visser family. Their boys (whom I now refer to as my adopted brothers) were hoping to come over this way to go skiing and wondered if any of my family would like to go along. Somehow Mark got invited to go, too. But then the Dirk Vissers were not able to come. At first, we were disappointed, but then we decided not to cancel the ski trip, so Mark, Seth (my brother) and I planned to go after all.
January 31, 2000, the morning of the ski trip, dawned. I had taken some things to the car, when Mark and Papa appeared on the porch. They seemed to be in deep discussion. I tried not to think anything of it, but they kept casting glances in my direction. It didn’t take long for me to finish in the car and I knew I had to get back to the house somehow. But Papa and Mark were standing right where I needed to walk, so I had no other choice than to walk right between them. All I heard was my father saying, “We’ll talk about it…”
For the rest of the day his words and their strange looks played over and over in my head. I was starting to wonder if maybe Mama was right about Mark being interested in more than friendship…
I didn’t have long to wonder. When we got back that evening, I heard Mama talking with Mark while I was in the kitchen with my little sister. My parents told me later that Mark had asked permission to date me. He had never heard of courtship before, so the whole idea was new to him. His idea of dating was almost courtship, though, so he was very open to the whole thing. Papa met with him for lunch a couple of times in the next few days.
On February 2, Mark called to talk to me. He knew that I knew what was going on, but we had not talked about it together at all. I remember him groping for words, “I think you know what has been going on. I spoke to your father about starting a relationship with you. Are you at all interested?”
I agreed, of course.
A brief romantic period of emotional bliss followed. Mark and I kept the phone lines busy with all our conversations and e-mails. We saw each other two or three times a week, depending on his schedule.
But very quickly, we came to realize that there were some doctrinal differences between our families. My parents began to have doubts as to whether or not our relationship should continue. They encouraged Mark to study and find out what he believed about these things. For several months, our relationship was very unstable. My parents continued to talk and pray, trying to determine God’s will and what was best for me. Mark’s parents were concerned about our differences, as well.
It all came to a head at the end of July when my parents did decide to call off our relationship. I knew I had to submit to their leadership and trust the Lord to work His perfect will in our situation, but I was heartbroken. I went to visit some friends for a week or so and was glad for a change of scenery to help lift my spirits. While I was gone, my parents continued to talk with Mark.
Soon after I arrived home, we were permitted to start seeing each other again. In September, we seemed to come to a stalemate once again and our relationship was called off a second time. This time, we were apart for over a month. That month was an extremely difficult time for me. It seemed like all anyone had to do was mention Mark’s name and I would burst into tears. It was a blessing in the midst of pain to see how my friends rallied around to encourage me.
Long before I was even in love with Mark, God had given me such a peace in my heart that Mark was the one I would marry. But I didn’t understand these feelings during the times when everything was off because I also knew that it was His will for us to obey our parents, and I didn’t see how anything could possibly change. During that time, someone told me that “God does not call us to understand, but to obey.”
I knew our parents only wanted what was best for us. And slowly, yet miraculously, things began to get better. Mark continued to talk with my parents, as well as his own. By Thanksgiving, we were officially courting again. We were so overjoyed at what the Lord had done! I was hoping for an engagement soon after that, but Mark wanted to wait a while to make sure everything continued to go well, to be sure that it was the Lord’s will.
A few days before Easter 2001, Mark had lunch with my parents to ask their permission to propose on Easter morning. They refused, saying that we still had too many differences. I was very upset when I heard this (as was Mark) and it took me a while to understand their decision.
Then the day before Easter, Papa called Mark and told him that they had decided to give their permission after all. Mark didn’t know what to do, because he had thought that if it was God’s will for us to be together that neither set of parents would have any more doubts. But after much thought on the matter and a conversation with a good friend, Mark began to feel at peace with it.
The evening of April 17, Mark came over to talk to me about the whole situation. We were going to go out to the local diner to discuss it over dinner, but the diner was closed. Mark called my parents and asked for permission for us to go for a walk at the beach to talk, and they agreed. It was a cool evening, so Mark gave me a huge jacket out of his trunk to put on over the one I already had on. We were both dressed like Eskimos!
As I was getting out of the car, I saw Mark do something under his seat. I wondered what he was doing, but didn’t think much of it. After walking a ways, we found a picnic table to sit at. Mark set his Bible down, and then just looked at me. He sat there looking at me for a few seconds and I didn’t know what to think.
Finally, he reached into his pocket and took out a box. Getting down on his knees, he fumbled with a ring as he asked me to marry him.
When I said yes, he reached for my hand to put on the ring–but it was the wrong hand. I gave him my left hand, and as I looked at the huge ring, I thought that it was exactly what I would have picked had I chosen it myself. It was beautiful!
When we got back to the house, Mark gathered my siblings to tell them about our engagement. My parents had given their approval but did not know when Mark planned to propose. After Mark told my siblings, as well as some visiting friends, Mama just kind of sat in her chair blankly for a while. Finally, our friend Teresa asked Mama if she was okay. She finally laughed and said that she just couldn’t believe that her daughter was getting married. It was a joyous evening for everyone!
We planned our wedding for November 10, 2001. Our engagement was a very exciting time of planning and preparations. The months seemed to drag and yet fly by at the same time.
When the long-awaited day finally came, everything turned out beautifully. It was such a joy to know that I belonged to Mark forever and that we didn’t have to worry about being apart any longer.
I guess this is where most courtship stories end. But for us, it has been only the beginning. The word romance has taken on an entirely new meaning. People say that it doesn’t last, but Mark and I have concluded that romance will last just as long as you make it. Love truly is a decision. We have had some hard times through our years of marriage, but it has been a joy to be not only lovers, but best friends as well.
Mark and I have never been able to figure out when we fell in love, but I don’t think you can put a date on things like that. True love doesn’t happen all at once–it comes from knowing and being close to a person. Neither of us were in love when our courtship began, though we did feel an attraction to each other.
My encouragement to those of you who are yet unmarried would be first of all, to submit to your parent’s leadership. If what you desire is truly God’s will, He will work through your authorities to bring it to pass. After all, even the hearts of kings are in His hands–so much more your parents’ hearts! (Proverbs 21:1) Talk about courtship with your parents–make sure you know what their standards are and how they want you to do things, even before a likely suitor comes along. Last, but not least, leave it in the Lord’s hands. Don’t spend your single years wondering and dreaming about how things could be, instead be thankful for what you have. Life changes so quickly. Courtship is a whirlwind of activity and before you know it you’re married with a family of your own!
Ruth blogs at Skirted Blues
My favorite love stories are true ones. In fact, I’ve probably read or heard the stories of nearly 150 Christian couples, each one as unique as a fingerprint. Some couples called it “courtship,” some called it “dating,” and some met and married long before the terms acquired their present meanings. God’s kindness is evident in them all.
(Elisabeth in “His Love Stories” at Boundless.org)