Like Those Who Dream: Chapter
12, Grandma’s Secret Surprise
-Roy Lessin, Meeting in the Meadow
As your Shepherd, the Lord is—
You are never forgotten…
And always loved!
Throughout my junior year Charlene and I dated (Once I got to know her better I started calling her Char). I found many things about her attractive, but her sensitivity to the Lord, her quiet ways, and her strength of character attracted me the most. I was falling fast!
I was still young in the Lord, and I looked upon people who sang in the choir as being closer to God than others. Since Char was in the church choir, as well as in a girl’s trio, I thought she dwelt among the angels.
There was a time, much later in our relationship, when I thought I had actually become more spiritual than she. We had attended a citywide missionary conference in downtown Minneapolis that attracted hundreds of young people in the area. The speaker that day was very dynamic and I was deeply challenged by his message. At the end, he put out a passionate plea for all young people in the audience to stand if they wanted to give their lives to missions. I immediately stood to my feet. To my shock, Char did not budge. I watched as young people from all over the auditorium rose to their feet. Char remained quiet and unresponsive in her seat.
“I don’t get it,” I thought, “why isn’t she standing? I thought she wanted to serve the Lord as much as I did.”
When the meeting ended I was still troubled by her lack of response and felt like I needed to challenge her.
“Why didn’t you stand up at the invitation,” I asked in a bewildered and disappointed tone.
“I didn’t feel like I needed to,” she confidently replied.
“What do you mean,” I challenged back.
“I settled that issue a long time ago with the Lord, and I didn’t sense it was something I needed to repeat.”
I was blown away by her calm assurance and embarrassed at my lack of trust in her commitment.
As a student working on campus, I didn’t have much money. Students received no income for the time spent at work. The school provided the student with free tuition, housing and meals. The money that got me to Bethany came as an answer to prayer, and every dime I was to receive during my school years would be provided in the same way. If I needed toothpaste, shampoo, a shirt, or a pen, I saw God meet my needs, and often in the most unusual and unexpected ways.
Most of my dates with Char were low-key and low-budget. There were no trips to the movie theater, no visits to theme parks or ballgames, no dinners at fancy restaurants, and no outings to concerts or plays. Our dates involved walks around campus, lunches at her Aunt Esther’s house on Sunday afternoons, and outings with other couples.
The more we dated, the more we were surprised by our growing love for each other. We couldn’t have come from more opposite backgrounds. I was born in New York City and raised in Los Angeles; Char was born in Northwestern Minnesota and raised in a small farming community called Rollag, population 30. I went to school with hundreds of other kids; Char went to a one-room schoolhouse through the eighth grade with only one other student in her grade. I was raised in a Jewish home that was divided by divorce; Char was Norwegian and raised in a secure Christian home. I was wild, rebellious and unruly; Char was a good girl who faithfully went to church, obeyed all the rules, and honored her father and mother. I was raised on kosher food, food to go, and canned food; Char was raised on roast beef, mashed potatoes, fresh vegetables from the garden, and milk straight from the cow. I was in a social club; Char was in her church youth group; I was outgoing; Char was reserved; I loved to do things on the spur of the moment; Char liked to think things through. I was adventuresome; Char was practical. We were truly a match made in heaven!
Things were going great for us most of the year and then we hit a major crisis. From the time she enrolled at Bethany, Char had a strong interest in going to South Korea to work in an orphanage. I had no leading from the Lord to go to Korea.
I knew I was called of God to serve Him, but I didn’t know where or what that would look like. The differences in our understanding of God’s calling became a giant barrier we could not work our way through. Char felt it was best to end our relationship.
It was hard for me to let her go. I had been so sure that God had brought us together and now it seemed as if we were going in opposite directions. I walked around campus in a fog, feeling miserable, and not knowing how to move ahead.
As a teenager I did a lot of dating, but as a believer I had only dated one girl before meeting Charlene. I met her shortly after I gave my life to Christ. She was also a new believer and we were growing in our faith together. She attended Bible studies with me at my dad’s house and we were both baptized the same night in Eagle Rock Covenant Church. We were growing close when I made the decision to attend Bethany. She was one of the reasons why it was hard for me to stay at Bethany when I first arrived. When the Lord told me to “unpack my bags” at Bethany and lay everything in my life at the foot of Cross, my relationship with the girl back in Los Angeles was a part of that surrender. Even though it was a struggle, I knew God’s answer for me in that relationship was “no”… now, here I was eighteen months later, wondering if God was saying “no” once again.
During this time I sought the council of a staff member I respected and trusted.
“How do I know if Char is the right girl for me? ‘Did I get it wrong?’ ‘What do I do now?’” were a few of the questions I asked him as I continued to struggle.
His answer was simple and straightforward, “How would you answer the following questions…
“Can you see yourself living without her?”
“Do you believe you can serve Christ more effectively with her or without her?”
As I thought about his questions the answers became very clear.
“No, I couldn’t see myself living without her, and yes, I believed I could serve the Lord more effectively with her.”
My answers didn’t change anything in my circumstances. Char and I were still separated and I knew I had to wait on her as she waited on God. Thankfully, I did not have to wait a long time…
A week later we agreed to talk. I was nervous when I arrived for our meeting. I knew she had heard from God, but I didn’t know the answer. On the one hand, I was wrestling with anxiety at the thought of her telling me she would be going to Korea…on the other hand I was excited at the possibility that our relationship could be restored.
I got right to the point. “What has the Lord shown you about our relationship?”
“I don’t see Korea as being a part of my future,” she said, “for me, it’s you or it’s no one!”
I was elated! It was the best news I could have heard.
I don’t recall what else was said that day—the fact that we were back together was all I needed to know. From that day on, our relationship moved along at a faster and deeper pace. We started talking about marriage and our future together…
“I want you to be my wife,” I said, as we sat outside a restaurant in downtown Minneapolis. “I don’t have anything materially I can promise you. I have no money. I can’t promise you a house, a car, or fine things, but I can promise you my love. I can’t even afford to buy you an engagement ring.”
“Yes,” she said without hesitation, “I don’t need anything else but you.”
A short time after our unofficial engagement, I returned to Los Angeles for two weeks of vacation. I made the usual rounds, seeing old friends, greeting people at Eagle Rock Covenant Church, and visiting family. Wherever I went I shared the good news about my love for Char. While visiting my grandmother, she got me aside and asked, “Roy, this girl you have met in school, are you sure she is the right one for you?”
“Yes, grandma, I am very sure.”
“Since you are sure, I want you to come back tomorrow. I have something I want to tell you.”
“Okay, grandma, I will be here tomorrow.”
My grandfather, on the other hand was not so gracious. I could feel the coldness from his heart as he spoke.
“This girl you want to marry, is she Jewish?”
“No Grandpa, she is not Jewish. She is Norwegian.”
“I do not want you to marry her,” he firmly replied.
“I’ll tell you what I will do. Promise me that you will not marry this girl and will wait until you find a Jewish girl to marry. If you make this promise, I will go to the bank today and put $1000 into an account in your name. It will be my wedding gift to you.”
“No Grandpa, I cannot do that. I love Charlene and I want to marry her.” My grandfather had nothing else to say to me.
The following day I returned to my grandparent’s house and sat down for a visit with my grandmother. During our conversation she got up and left the room for a few minutes. Upon her return she approached me with something in her hand.
“Ever since you and Don were little boys I set aside these two diamonds, one for each of you, to give to your future brides at the time of your engagements. I want you to go with me to the jewelry store and pick out a setting for this diamond. I also want you to pick out a wedding ring to match.”
I was overwhelmed by her offer and had no idea this gift was a part of my inheritance. I knew that if it had been up to my grandfather, I never would have received the diamond engagement ring and matching wedding band my Grandmother gifted me with that day.
I returned to Minneapolis with the rings burning a hole in my pocket. I couldn’t wait for the moment when I could show them to Char.
There was a school rule stating that students could not become engaged until the completion of their senior year. Char had graduated that spring, but I still had another year of classes before graduating. I went to the Dean of Woman to ask for special permission to become engaged. When I arrived in her office I told her the story of my grandmother’s gift and my desire to give the engagement ring to Char before she left campus. The Dean’s heart quickly melted and I was given permission to become engaged.
On a sunny, warm afternoon I asked Char to take a walk. We followed the country road in front of the campus until we came to a dirt pathway that led to a high bluff overlooking the Minnesota River. We sat down at the edge of the bluff, enjoying the view, and the pleasure of being together.
Slowly, I put my hand in my pocket and took out a little box that held the engagement/wedding ring set. I took out the engagement ring and put it on her finger. We sat there for a long time, enjoying the moment, and being overcome with wonder as I retold Char the story of my grandma’s secret surprise.
Sadly, six months after my visit to California my grandmother died. She never had the opportunity to meet the bride I would bring home to meet my family after our wedding in the summer of ’64.
(Join us next week as we continue this journey of Roy's memoir, Like Those Who Dream. The book is available through DaySpring and Christian retailers everywhere.)
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