I thought I would focus this part of the journey on my wife, Traci… at least the early years before she was my wife. We met during the fall semester of my senior year in college. I first met Traci when she was working in the college cafeteria, checking off meal card numbers and washing dishes. I realized I now had a greater purpose in hanging out in the cafeteria.
It all started with a trip to the store together. The trip to the grocery store led to our first date, and then to several others. We went to a Dan Fogelberg concert in Peoria, St. Louis Blues hockey games, ice fishing, movies, long drives in my little Toyota truck, and had a lot of fun together. Those were some fantastic times.
Dating in a small college can be a lot of fun. Going to the school basketball games and “studying” in the library together, along with all of the activities and parties that are planned by the school. I was 22 years old, and she was 17 when we started dating. I remember the big whip cream fight out on the lawn in front of Restoration Hall. I ambushed her, just covering her with whip cream. I had another can of whip cream for her, which she eventually found, taking her turn to squirt me with the stuff.
Traci became the new owner of my red, LCC college jacket which I had earned for playing soccer. She came to my soccer games, where I tried my best to show off for her. I scored 8 goals that year – the most in my college career.
That was almost 24 years ago now. It’s hard to remember all the times and all the details, but I remember that little else mattered except spending time with Traci. It’s amazing any studying got done at all and that I was able to pass any classes. Come to think of it, I made the dean’s list for the first time ever after I started dating Traci. Coincidence? I think not.
Something struck early on, and it is hard to describe with any scientific accuracy or measured statistical data, but I knew that I knew, I was falling in love with this now 18-year old and we had something special together. In fact, we began visiting the Helzberg Jeweler’s store at the mall in Springfield and trying on rings.
Later that school year, making our way through the holidays, and on into early spring, I accepted the opportunity to go on the internship to Zaire (from part 3 of this series). There couldn’t have been a bigger supporter of me, in following my dream, than Traci. Traci began to encourage me and help me as I began raising the financial and prayer support to go to Africa.
At the same time, Traci applied for and was accepted to work on one of the college’s camp teams to travel and speak with youth during the summer to help recruit new students for the college. The spring semester got more and more busy as I prepared for graduation and Africa, and Traci was wrapping up her first year of college and preparing for her camp team.
Most people would say it was too fast, and maybe it was under normal circumstances, but life on a small college campus can be like an incubator. We were trying on rings and there was something about the upcoming summer that led us to the point of moving toward something greater.
I left for Quincy, IL one evening to meet with Traci’s parents to ask their permission to marry their daughter. It seems so preposterous, in retrospect, to have gone to them to ask their permission to marry their youngest, 18-year old daughter… especially since I now have an 18-year old daughter. It took me nearly 3 hours to actually come up with the words and courage to ask them. They knew what I was there for, and waited patiently for me to get to the point. Once I did, and they gave me their blessing, they asked that I commit to letting Traci finish college and that I would love her and take care of her.
I went back, bought the ring from Helzberg Diamonds, and began to plan the moment.
I should remember the day, but I don’t. I know it was late April or early May. My mother left the house and after dinner, we began dancing in the living room to some songs I had recorded on my cassette player. When the Eagles song, Best of My Love, came on, I got down on one knee and asked her to marry me. She said yes… and then we took a quick trip to the hospital to take care of Traci. Let me explain.
As we were leaving Lincoln, Traci’s finger got slammed in the door of my Toyota truck. I’m pretty sure that was my fault because I would have been opening the door for her, I’m sure. As the night went on, pressure began to build under her fingernail that got hurt. By the end of the night the pain was pretty bad. We went to the emergency room to make sure nothing was broken and to relieve the pain. Nothing was broken, but they would need to drill a hole through her fingernail with a hot drill. They cleaned her hand with rubbing alcohol, and when they touched the hot drill to her fingernail, the alcohol on her hand caught fire. It was a pretty panicked moment watching my fiancee of only one hour catch on fire. But, it was just the alcohol burning. Nothing was burnt and the drill did it’s trick. She should have known then that I was nothing but trouble 🙂
On May 26th I boarded a Sabena airlines 747 to leave for Africa, leaving behind my fiancee. Due to the lack of infrastructure of Zaire, I wouldn’t be able to talk with her for 3 months. We exchanged letters and airgrams or course, but no talking the whole summer.
I returned home in August. I drove out to the camp where she was working. She wore a turquoise dress. She was tan and so beautiful to see. She ran out to meet me. We hugged. We kissed. And, we talked for the first time since May.
The fall semester at Lincoln Christian College was about to get under way. Traci was starting her sophomore year, and I was going to start graduate school. We studied and worked through the semester preparing for a December wedding.
It’s all pretty crazy to think about now. We were young and in love. Common sense would have said to wait a couple more years until I was established in a job or ministry of some kind and Traci was done with school. Maybe that is what shoulda been done, but we are now looking back about 23 years since that time, and I think we did alright.
Reflecting On Things
We had a good start. A small Christian college campus is a great place to go, grow, and have the time of your life. Lord willing, along the way, you meet someone pretty spectacular. In those early days, maybe I thought I was bringing a lot to the relationship and that I had the bull by the horns. But, one of my favorite lines from the movie Out of Africa is when Karen Blixen is about to get sick, and she says that God made the world round so we can’t see too far down the road.
I had a lot to learn and was far less mature in my thinking and life than I thought I was. I’m afraid if we had dated too much longer, Traci would have seen me for who I was. I was a guy who was head-over-heels in love with this girl, but was a ship without a rudder. I knew where I wanted to be, as you can read in part 1, 2, and 3, but without a rudder it’s hard to get to where you want and desire to go.
Sometimes love is blind. Sometimes love covers another’s faults. All I know is that from the Fall of 1987 when we met, to December of 1988 when we got married, I had found everything in Traci. If I could re-live the first few years following our wedding, I would have lived them in a way that reflected that reality, rather than seeking my own ways. That, is the next step in the Joy in the Journey.