An Unlikely Match Made in Heaven
Chapter One: Meeting “Bumper”
I was fourteen years old, and had my first boyfriend…that would be a boy who was my friend. That was it. I did not date him, but I did write to him, as he lived far away. Occasionally, he would be at our church and we would sit in church together. It was nice to say to my friends that “Rick” (names changed to protect the innocent) was my “boyfriend”. Of course, my parents and my pastor never heard me say the word “boyfriend” in regard to Rick, well, I don’t think they did, anyway. I did not use this word because they believed I was too young and immature to handle having a “boyfriend”! Can you believe that? Me? Immature? Rick, maybe, but me?
Okay. They were right, but I was in serious denial about it then.
I remember we were about to begin our annual tent meeting for the year. My Dad drove me to church on the first weeknight of the meeting (he had to work). I got there incredibly early so I could see him. But he was not there. And when he did get there, he didn’t speak to me. He swished past me with nary a glance. See, I told you. He was immature. Well, I went on, undaunted, and tried to fit in somewhere. I’m pretty sure I just walked around trying to look busy.
Church began. The music filled the tent to the brim. The summer heat settled down upon us. My best friend, Dixie, was home! Her family was in evangelism and they were scheduled for this meeting. It was so good to see her! She had been telling me about a guy she met, who was younger than she, who had been writing to her. (We all liked to write.)
“Valerie” Dixie said after the services were over. “I want you to meet Bumper. He and his family came down from Illinois.”
“Oh. That guy you’ve been writing to.” (How could I forget a name like Bumper?)”Okay.” I followed her over to this skinny guy with dark hair and, well, rather large glasses. (Of course, I was breathtaking with my kinky, short hair and braces on my teeth.)
She ushered me outside the tent to this boy, Bumper. “Valerie, this is Bumper. Bumper, this is Valerie.” I managed a smile and an awkward fourteen- year- old hello, and that was about it. He didn’t appear any different from every other gangily, fourteen year old boy in the world. He didn’t sweep me off my feet. His greeting of “Hey” Didn’t exactly bowl me over. It was definitely not love at first site. In fact, I couldn’t believe Dixie had found the time or mustered the interest to even get acquainted with him.
I didn’t make eye contact with him again. I don’t think we had another conversation. But then, I was preoccupied with Rick, so my memory may be a little off. Actually, you never know, all of this may just be a figment of my extremely over-active imagination! But… I’m pretty sure this is all real. Anyway, I went along and talked to Rick, laughing loudly and tossing my kinky short hair about, never thinking about “Bumper” again… until Dixie let me read his latest letter to her a few weeks later. (The contents of which have permanently left my brain.)
Little did I know that this dark-haired boy would change my life forever.
Chapter Two: Bumper’s Back
I met “Bumper” when I was about fourteen. Dixie didn’t write to him for very long, so he slid off my radar for quite a while. We all heard about his terrible truck accident in which he and his brother were nearly killed. Our church was praying for them, and, while I wasn’t impressed with him at our first meeting, I was concerned for him and his brother. Hey, I had a heart! We were so relieved when they came through that okay. I later heard Evangelist Tim Green refer in a sermon to how “Bumper” took him to a great fishing spot when he had preached for his Dad. I remember being shocked that a respectable Evangelist like Bro. Green knew Bumper! Okay, I admit it, at that point I was impressed.
I didn’t see him again until I was about fifteen. We were at the teen camp that my home church hosted every summer. The Bashams came with their young people. Mrs. Kathy, Bumper’s mom, was in my dorm. She was so funny! I told her all about my latest love interest, I even showed her pictures of whomever I was writing to at the time…yes, it’s true. I only wrote to boys, I was usually never around them face to face. Now you know. Please, don’t spread that around, okay? Anyway, she oooed and aahhhed over the photos. She was genuinely interested in me and my life, and I was just a kid! It meant a lot to me then, and it still does to this day! 🙂 I also made the acquaintance of “Bumper’s” brother, Joel, his cousin, Misty, and my friend, Amanda at summer camp! I made their acquaintance at camp, but we all became friends for a lifetime. I did not, however, have any actual conversations with “Bumper”. Well, okay, there was one conversation. We were all seated in the main tabernacle after the morning preaching, waiting to be dismissed for the next activity. We were being dismissed according to our birthdays. If you were born in January, March, etc. I turned around to “Bumper”, who, by the way, always had blood shot eyes at teen camp for some reason. This bothered me. I later found out it was from the chlorine in the pool! Silly me! Anyway, I turned around to “Bumper” and said (way too cheerfully) “When is your birthday?”
“April 25th” he said, slouching.
“OH! Cool! My birthday is March 25th! Isn’t that neat?” I asked, beaming from ear to ear, braces sparkling in the sunlight. He looked at me expression-less and responded “Yeah” in cold tones.
I turned back around and thought “Note to self: do not attempt conversation with someone who was named after a car part.” And I am proud to say, that I kept that vow to myself.
Chapter Three: An Important Decision
Years had passed since that first, unforgettable conversation. Many summers had come and gone. Nearly every year, I would see “Bumper” at camp…but believe me, it was from a distance! He always seemed to have a chip on his shoulder. He seemed like there was something smoldering right beneath the surface that was about to explode any minute. I took that observation as my cue to steer clear.
I had begun a relationship during my senior year of high school with a guy that lived nearby. The only problem was this: I don’t think he really liked me. But don’t you worry, I didn’t let that bother me! In fact, I really didn’t worry about it. I felt like “Hey. He’ll come around!” (Wasn’t I mature?) I did all the talking. I chose the restaurants we ate at when we went on a chaperoned date. Since most of my friends were married, my not having even a date would be too horrible to imagine! (Yes, now you can really see how mature I was! Yes, I did make my parents proud.) Even after this guy lied to me about something, I still felt like he had to be the one. Truthfully, I wanted to get married to keep me from going away to Bible college. I didn’t want to leave home. I didn’t want to pursue a degree just to find a mate. If I wanted a degree, I wanted to go to college just for that and not be worried about meeting “Mr. Right”.
My parents and I talked things over. Here were my options: 1. Go to college. 2. Stay home, get a job, and buy a car. I chose option 2.
Literally, the very next day after choosing option two, a lady in my church called me to tell me that the receptionist at the car dealership where she worked had just left – without giving notice. Was I interested a job in which I would talk on the phone and page people over a loud speaker? Are you kidding me? That would be my dream job! I tried not to squeal into the phone and replied calmly “Yes, I would definitely be interested!” She said, “Get down here as soon as you can to fill out an application.” I drove down in my Mom’s Buick, filled out the application and ran into a man in our church who was a salesman there. He asked me what I was doing. I told him that I was on a job hunt. He stepped back into the office, then came out. Next it was my turn. I went in for my interview, which was just a brief conversation. “Our top salesman said I’d be crazy not to hire you.” She said. She asked me a few questions and said she’d be calling me.
I went home, nervous and hopeful. Was this really working out? Was I not having to go to college?My brother and sister went to Bible college. I would probably be letting the family down in the worst way by not going. Oh well. I didn’t mind being the maverick. I was always a little strange anyway. They probably weren’t surprised.
The phone rang that same day. It was Lynne, the office manager. “Valerie, we’d like to give you the job. When can you start?”
“Well, how ’bout tomorrow?” I asked.
There was silence for a moment. “Well,” Lynne said “I was hoping you could start today. Dorothy could train you on the phones this afternoon.”
“Well today sounds great!”
I headed down to Landers with my head in the clouds. “I had a job! Not just a job flipping burgers or filling tacos,(been there, done that) but a job in an office!”
I worked the phones using my most sophisticated voice, “Landers Olds GMC, how may I direct your call? Parts? Sure, just one moment.” And with all the know-how that a girl 20 minutes on the job could muster, I promptly directed their call to… Sales!! Whoops! I then had to get them back, apologize, explain I was new and then ask someone in a loud whisper “Where’s parts again?”
I had my share of complaints at first, but I didn’t care. After work, I felt like walking downtown and throwing my beret high into the air while singing the Mary Tyler Moore show theme song. Only one thing stopped me… I didn’t have a beret. I worked right beside Mr. John Landers, one of the owners. I often doubled as his secretary. It wasn’t that I was so talented or anything, it’s just he didn’t have a secretary. I remember asking him “Mr. Landers…”
He interrupted me, “Call me John. Mr. Landers is my Dad.” Now, John was 64 years old. I was 18. I felt very strange calling a 64 year old man “John”. But, hey, he was the boss. “Yes sir, Mr…I mean John.”
The September after starting my job, two things happened that changed my life. One was buying my first car. It was a 1995 teal-green, four door, 4 cylinder, power everything, Pontiac Grand Am. I know, you’re thinking “Wow, Valerie! Suh-weet!” Yes indeedy! Please, no envy. The second thing was seeing “Bumper” for the first time in about two years. He came in late to our Back to School Revival meeting. He was coming to our small Bible College. Someone said he had surrendered to preach! What? Bumper – named after the back end of an automobile guy? No way! I found it hard to believe. But sure enough, it was true. I was sitting with my boyfriend in the service, and didn’t even know “Bumper” was there until Bro. Graham mentioned it from the pulpit when he came in late. He had a flat tire on I-30 that caused his delay. I remember looking back and thinking “Bumper? That isn’t the Bumper I remember. He looks…good!” I then mentally scolded myself for thinking that someone as arrogant as he was could be good looking!
But believe me, while I was impressed with his appearance – that was all! It wouldn’t take long for me to see that Bumper Basham was going to give me trouble.
Chapter Four: Peace in my Heart
In my last post, I told about how my parents gave me two options after I finished high school. One was to go away to Bible college. The other was to stay home, get a job and buy my own car. I chose option two. There is a little more to the story that I’d like to share now.
I had dreamed of doing big, important jobs my entire childhood. I wanted to be a lawyer, because I loved history. (Lawyers have to like history. Don’t they? No. Oh. Well, I thought they did.)
After that, I wanted to be a writer, because I loved dreaming up stories. I loved trying to make my family cry when they read their birthday cards from me each year. I loved words, I loved being transported to “that other life” via a good book. I wanted to take others to the wonderful worlds I dreamed up. Writing seemed a good fit…then I thought, why not combine the two and write about history? So, that was my dream for a while.
Later, I wanted to teach. I spent many afternoons in an upstairs classroom waiting on my Mom to wrap things up for the day. I can still smell that chalky, sweaty, pencil-shaving smell that a classroom has at the end of the day, after hosting 130 students! I find comfort in that smell! (Much like I do in the smell of tobacco and funnel cakes. That smell reminds me of the sweet summer days I spent at Magic Springs when I was child. My parents owned a glass shop, called Glass Creations, for several years. I spent many happy days there. Ahhh. Precious memories. What? Oh! Sorry! Where was I? Yes, I remember!) Teaching seemed to be in my blood, because I was exposed to it. My Mother didn’t desire to merely “get through the day with all these kids” as some teachers did. She sincerely wanted to make a difference. My brother’s life’s verse is Jude 22 “And of some have compassion, making a difference.” I think he chose that consciously or sub-consciously because he saw this verse lived out by my Mother over and over with her students, and at home too, of course! :] I wanted to make a difference, too.
I also wanted to be a doctor for a while, and help the hurting that way. But, then I realized I fell faint at the sight of blood, so that was out. Oh, I’m not good at math, either, so pharmacology was out as well.
Other various dreams of mine included banking, becoming a librarian, and radio broadcasting. Motherhood would always be included along with these other occupational choices. It absolutely went without saying. I wanted to be a Mother, as 99.9% of women do.
At teen camp one year, however, I gave my life to the Lord. I surrendered total control to Him, to do whatever He wanted for me. If this meant being a missionary to Africa, I was in. Whatever He wanted.
I began to lose interest in my previous passions (except motherhood of course!). I no longer dreamed of becoming a lawyer, doctor, writer, or broadcaster. I even gave up the teaching idea. I basically gave up any idea that involved working outside the home. My Mother, even though she worked a secular job, encouraged me in this idea. Often I would go to my Mom and ask her to go do something and she would be unable to go due to her job. She would look at me compassionately and say “Valerie, when you get married someday, don’t work outside your home.” I knew what she meant. She was saying, “I hate having to put you behind my job. I hate that you have to be last.” Of course, I understood. I knew my Mother loved me more than anything, even if she did miss out on some things I wanted to do. (But right now I can’t remember any particular one, so they must not have been that important anyway!)
As I read my Bible, prayed and earnestly sought for God’s will, it seemed to me that I should marry a preacher. (I know, what girl doesn’t surrender to do that, right? Well, I was no exception!) I felt with all that was in me that I should be involved in ministry alongside my husband, whether he was a full-time pastor, or a secular employed layman. I hoped to have children, but after watching my sister wait for six years to have a baby, I didn’t hold my breath. I was prepared to possibly not be able to have any at all.
The time drew near for me to apply to Bible college. Most of my friends were married, or had left our church entirely. The college my brother and sister attended was wonderful. They had fire and vision and enthusiasm. But…I didn’t want to go. I had been there many times to visit them, I had loved it as a child. Now, as it was soon to be my turn to pack up and go north, I wasn’t so sure. Did I want to pursue a degree in education? Did I really want to be a teacher? Or was that just an excuse to go to a “nest” of Christian young men in search of a husband? If you want a degree, and you want a mate, then Bible college is the place for you. I, however, had to be honest with myself and admit that I only wanted a mate. I asked the Lord to please send the man he had for me to our church. I was hoping it might be the guy I was dating at that time, but I had my doubts that it would be he. In fact, I had very little faith that God would really send my man there. This lack of faith didn’t stop me from proclaiming to my friends boldly, “God could send my future husband to our church!” while inside, my faith was a mustard seed…or less!
I prayed about what to do. Do I go, or do I stay? I felt the loving pressure from my parents. They went to college. They believed strongly in being educated. I felt like I was failing them in some way, though they never once accused me of disappointing them. I had a very good relationship with my parents. I loved them, and I respected them. And they loved and respected me too, and I was just a kid! :] They respected my feelings. When I told them I wasn’t too excited about going away, they understood. My Mother told me that college was a good transition from childhood to adulthood. While you’re away at Bible college, you are “on your own”, yet still under your parents authority. This made sense. But I still didn’t have the desire to go. My Mother also told me that when God has a plan for your life, He makes you like that plan! It isn’t misery! He enables you to do the task, and to find joy in it. I didn’t have any joy about leaving home and heading to college. It was at this time that I was given the two options. This helped me so much. It helped me to know that my parents had given me some “wiggle room”. They did not slam down the iron fist of parental authority by saying “This is what Kevin and Melanie did and this is what YOU’RE doing too!”. Had they said this, I would have obeyed, because the Holy Spirit would not have let me disobey. But I would have had seeds of bitterness and hurt in my heart toward them that would linger to this day. I’m so thankful for option two! I’m so thankful my parents didn’t “kick me out”. I’m thankful that God gave me wise and loving parents! I’m thankful that they respected me, and my very unique personality, and allowed me to be… me.
I chose option two because a deacon in my church advised me to “follow my heart.” Since my parents approved of my staying home, and since this is what my heart longed for, this is what I did. I stayed.
God worked everything out in a way that only He could. I thought I was staying home to continue in a relationship with the guy I was dating. I was wrong on that point. But the Lord led me every step of the way, and I gladly followed. As the path grew darker, I clung more tightly to Him. He did not fail me. He led me toward paths of light and love and joy.
Chapter Five: Cute Guys Don’t Like Me
I had made the choice to remain home. I had told myself that it was so I could marry my boyfriend in the next year or so. And then, I told myself that I should have a “plan B” in case the boyfriend didn’t want to marry me. I told myself that if things didn’t work out within a year, I would then move on. I’d go to Bible College, somewhere. I told myself that I’d do something. I then told myself to quit telling myself so many things; people might think I was crazy!
Looking back, I realize that the need for a “plan B” should have tipped me off that something wasn’t right. I remember that deep down, I felt an unsettling pain in my heart that something was wrong. But what? I wasn’t sure. I think my parents also felt that something wasn’t quite right, but they could not put their finger on it either. Or, if they did, they never mentioned anything. I knew something wasn’t quite right in my relationship with this guy. There seemed to be some unseen shadow hanging over us. It felt exactly like a typical summer night in Arkansas when a storm is brewing. The air is hot and humid and you can’t wait for the storm to break so that the cooler air can take its place. That’s how the tension felt in our relationship. I never addressed that tension directly; I naively hoped it would all just go away. The storm, however, was indeed brewing. It needed to break so that happier days would come. But I didn’t allow that. I single handedly held back the storm. I did this by ignoring the signs that were actually red flags to end the relationship.
That night that Bumper came in late to church was the first night of Bible college at our church. We had such a loving church! (They are still loving, by the way!) They were my extended family. The music was lively, but God honoring, the people were friendly and warm. It was the place I wanted to be forever.
After church that night we had a special fellowship for the college students. I saw Bumper up close for the first time in about two years. He still had that ornery grin, with perfectly straight teeth. He was tan. He was strong. He had a scar on his left cheek that looked like a dimple when he smiled. He was *sigh* handsome. He still looked like he might say or do anything. He intrigued me. But I couldn’t tell anyone what I just told you! He had a sort of confidence that often resembled arrogance. That irritated me, but only because I wished I could be more confident. I wished I didn’t worry about what everyone thought of me. It was clear that Bumper never worried about trivial things such as others’ opinions or feelings. Everyone gathered around him like he was a rock star. Well, not me! I’d have no part of it. Even though, deep down, I was attracted to him. I refused to let him know that. Looking back, I believe that was the best decision I’ve ever made, to keep my feelings for him secret. At the fellowship, we all played “Win, Lose or Draw”. It’s a game where you have to draw a picture of a word and then your team has only so long to guess the word. If they don’t get it within the time limit, then the other team has a chance to guess. It’s a great party game.
When Bumper’s turn came, he walked over to the marker board after having looked at his word. He had on a white long-sleeved dress shirt, with the sleeves rolled up mid forearm. His tie was loosened revealing an unbuttoned top button. There was something about him that said “I’m really comfortable with myself.” He had thick, dark hair and wore glasses. In the dress shirt and tie he kind of looked like Clark Kent. I made a point to avoid eye contact with him, for fear he would look at me and read my mind. I could just see him going home laughing about me and saying to his other college cohorts,”Valerie thinks I’m handsome! Hahahahaha! I wouldn’t be caught dead with her! Hahahahaha!” I felt ugly and untalented. I never even considered dating someone that was good looking. Someone like…dare I say it? Someone like Bumper!
He waltzed up to the board and scrawled out the words Be all that you can be. His team yelled out “THE ARMY!” He pointed at them with the marker and waltzed back to his team, satisfied that he had won his points. I was disgusted. Didn’t he know you couldn’t write words in this game? Being highly competitive, I spoke up. He lost his points. Now I felt satisfied!
I don’t remember who won that game, but I do remember that that night was the beginning. The beginning of the end!
Chapter Six: He Was a Rotten Chaperon
The college term was off to a good start that fall of 1996. I was taking only part time classes. I had a full time job as a receptionist for a large car dealership in my hometown. I enjoyed it so very much! I loved working on the phone, talking all day! I looked forward to college, which at that time held evening classes, so that I could see him. He was my boyfriend. He wasn’t really good looking, but hey, I had a mirror. What could I expect? In reality, I merely wanted a good reason for staying home.
Things were not getting any more serious in our relationship, the way I had hoped. I did most of the talking, I did most of the suggesting, I made most of the plans…it all felt so very strange. We did however, date a little more that fall than we had the summer before. This was because we took full advantage of all of the college kids that were there (all six of them) and bribed them with a free meal to be our chaperons. My boyfriend’s good friend, much to my chagrin, was Bumper. To say that I loathed him would be putting it mildly. Bumper taunted me at every turn. He told me I was a “universal traveler” (his favorite term for a wacko) more times than I care to count. He mocked me, intentionally made stinging comments to me and, the worst of all, showed up at our Saturday bus meeting wearing a sleeveless flannel shirt! That’s right, he had cut the sleeves out of it! At that moment, he ceased to be even slightly attractive to me. Needless to say, I was less than thrilled to consider Bumper as a chaperon! Conversations about date plans went something like this:
Mike: “You wanna go out Friday night?” (He still did the asking, but we sort of had a standing date every Friday night.)
Me: “Sure, but I don’t know about a chaperon.” (Since it was up to me.)
Mike: “I bet I could get Bumper to go.”
Me: “Bumper? Why Bumper? Isn’t there anyone else in your dorm?”
Mike “Yeah, but I know Bumper’ll go.”
Me: “Okay. Whatever.” I’d sigh and walk away thinking “Just great” under my breath.
When Mike picked me up, there was Bumper slumping in the back seat. While we (I) tried to decide where to eat, he would lean up between the seats and say “Can you guys please make a decision! C’mon! Let’s eat ribs! Who cares! Food is food!” I would then reply “You know, you’re not even here. You just get to do what we do, so do you mind keeping quiet? THANK YOU!” Mike never said a word.
When we got to the restaurant, Mike sat beside me, and Bumper was across from me. Bumper didn’t mind talking at all. He made fun of me, laughed at me, and called me names. Then, he began telling me what he thought about a lady who worked in our college, whom he did not like. In fact, he thought she was horrible. He said so. This guy, who had only been in my church for two months, was giving an opinion of someone he barely knew- and a cruel opinion, at that. It was all I could take. I stood up at the table facing him dead on. (I wished he could read my mind now!)
“How dare you talk about a staff member at my church that way! You hardly know her! Who do you think you are, anyway?” My heart was pounding and my face was turning red. At this point, a few people were staring at me, though I wasn’t yelling. Mike sat there, doing nothing, but probably wishing he had run very far away from me when we first met. Bumper just slouched down in his seat chewing on a toothpick and grinning. He enjoyed seeing me get angry! I realized I was making a scene, so I sat down. My face felt hot. On this happy note, we left the restaurant. I vowed in my heart not to speak to him again that night, and I’m proud to say that I kept that vow. I went home, still flustered. I probably prayed that night that God would move him to another school…any other school.
Later, I asked Mike an important question that revealed a great deal about his feelings for me.
“Mike, why didn’t you stand up for me when Bumper was criticizing me and our church?”
“I just felt like you both should work it out.”
“What? Why would I want to work things out with him, Mike? I don’t care if I ever see him again!”
Bumper was our chaperon on another memorable date, only this one was at my home. We went out to eat, with no major outbursts from me, and then headed to my house to watch a movie with my parents. During a commercial, Bumper and my Dad started talking. Next thing I know, Dad is going to get his rifles to show Bumper, who happens to be a licensed gunsmith. I wished Dad would point one at him! But, Dad wasn’t getting angry, in fact, they sat there laughing and talking about guns. I made a note to tell Dad to avoid him. He was no good! They sat on the hearth in the den across from me and Mike. It was all so weird; so backwards! What was Bumper trying to do, anyway? I looked at Mike and rolled my eyes.
“What is he doing now? I can’t stand him!” I whispered to Mike.
“Well, you don’t have to worry about him bothering you much anymore.” Mike said.
“Why? Did you say something to him for me?” I asked, smiling and hopeful that Mike had finally come around.
“No. He just got a girlfriend.”
Chapter Seven: The Storm Breaks
I was shocked when Mike told me that Bumper had a girlfriend, but I was also relieved. Maybe Bumper would stop making fun of me now! Perhaps she could stand up to him, and it would actually matter to him what she thought. I knew he didn’t care about what I thought; I voiced my opinion regularly, to no avail.
His girlfriend was a very sweet girl in our church. She fell madly in love with his superman-like appearance, and his confidence. That confidence thing attracted more girls that his appearance did. Especially after he wore that sleeveless flannel shirt. Trust me, I thought it then and I still think it today, it had to be his confidence. 😉
Time kept moving along. Fall gave way to winter. The crisp mornings turned into cold days. I continued working at my dream job, becoming like part of the “Landers” family. I also continued in my college classes, and in the bus ministry. I was faithful to our weekly soul winning time at church and I tried to be a better Christian in my personal devotions. I was striving for new heights in my Christian life. I was excited about the future. I wanted to believe a bright future was ahead of me. But, as I looked ahead, I couldn’t see where Mike would fit. We were no longer maintaining the status quo in our relationship. Things were now heading downhill, and fast. I was scratching and clawing all the way down. I didn’t want it to end. If it ended, then Bible College was a must. I would have to leave home, because…because…well. I just knew I’d have to leave home.
Besides the girl Bumper was dating, two other girls were head over heels for him as well, and they made no bones about it! I rolled my eyes at their display. Bumper loved every minute of it. He disgusted me. He was no longer confident, he was plain old conceited! Once while Mike and I were sweeping out our bus on Saturday, I saw Bumper coming along, looking like he had just rolled out of bed. I looked at Mike and said “Oh no! What is he doing? He’s not coming here is he?” I watched out the window anxiously. I seriously hated the thought of running into him.
One Sunday in December, however, things started changing. Bumper came to the alter during a service in tears. He stood weeping in front of our congregation. He began to speak, but I could hardly understand his words.
“I came…to ask the church…to forgive me for not living right….away from the school.”
Bro. Graham interpreted for us. “Bumper has not been living the Christian life that he knows he should. He’s been a poor testimony of our church and of our college. Well, church, all in favor of forgiving him, say ‘aye'”
In perfect unison, our church resoundingly said “aye”.
“And I’m sure there are none opposed. We forgive Bumper, don’t we, church?” Bro. Graham said.
Several men said “Amen” . My Dad was probably one of them.
“And we won’t be talking about this will we?” Bro. Graham went on. “We shouldn’t discuss this; it’s over now. When we forgive someone, we don’t bring it up over and over. If you have questions, just come and talk to me about it.”
I sat there listening in shock. I was so naive and out of the loop. I had no idea that Bumper’s sins were anything outside of the fashion police’s jurisdiction! I remember hardly breathing while he spoke. I was thinking “Whew. I’m sure glad it wasn’t Mike up there!”
Of course, I forgave Bumper for whatever he had been doing. I realized though, that he was not my type. I wanted to someone who wouldn’t get caught up in sin like that. Although, I still didn’t know what he’d done. I asked Mike about it, but he just shrugged and said he wasn’t sure. I remember telling Mike that I was so impressed that Bumper was willing to stand up before the church that way. Mike said “Yeah, I know. I could never do that.”
One mild winter day, one of my bus workers and I began cleaning out our bus. We chatted as we worked. She was Bumper’s girlfriend. However, he had just recently told her he wanted to break up. I’d seen them together, and he didn’t treat her very well. I told her she deserved better! Women everywhere deserved better than Bumper!! I wanted nothing to do with him.
“Did you see that bad scrape on his hand?” She asked me while we swept.
“Yeah, I did. That looks bad!”
“I asked him how he got it and he said he fell while he was drunk!!” She said.
“I’m not surprised! Was that before he made things right?” I asked her. I had to know if he was a phony.
“I think it was before. You know who was with him?” She asked me nonchalantly.
“No. Who?” I wasn’t even looking her in the face. I was busy trying to sweep under seats.
The words struck me like a dart. Mike? Mike? My Mike?
“No, you must be wrong. He wouldn’t do that….” my voice trailed off.
The storm had broken, and it was pouring down upon me.
Mike had gone home (about an hour away) for the weekend. I decided in a nanosecond to go home and call him. I dropped my broom, asked my friend to finish up for me and left.
I slammed the door of my car and sped out of the driveway of our church. There wasn’t much traffic, and that was a blessing. I drove about 75 to 80 most of the ten minute drive home. When I got there, the house was empty. I was angry and heartbroken. I wanted to cry and fall apart, but I didn’t do it. Not yet. Not until I knew the truth. I called him at his home, long distance. That was not something I did without permission, but seeing that my world was crumbling before my very eyes, I decided that it was worth whatever punishment I received.
Mike answered right away. My heart was pounding in my chest. I had to know the truth, and this time, he was gonna tell me the truth.
“Hey! Whats up?” (He knew I didn’t call unless something was up.)
I told him what my friend had said.
“Is it true?”
His silence spoke volumes.
“MIKE!” I yelled, “IS. IT. TRUE?” I said, emphasizing each word. “Tell me!” I wanted to hear him admit it.
“Yes.” He said on an exhale.
“WHY?” I screamed into the phone at him. “What did I ever do to you but like you and care about you? Why would you hurt me this way? You’re a liar! You’re a rotten jerk!” My face was red and my voice was at maximum volume.
I started crying. I became hysterical. He didn’t say much. He didn’t have anything to say. I don’t even remember if he said he was sorry. He just took the full brunt of my anger and then hung up.
I cried all afternoon.
When my parents got home, I was sufficiently drained of all emotion. I was numb. I calmly told my Mom that Mike had been involved in alcohol.
“I guess this means you should end it.” She said calmly and matter-of-fact.
“Yes. It does.” I replied with a sigh.
I gave Mike his letterman jacket back after Sunday night church the following week. I broke up with him in the lobby of our church. He apologized. He even shed tears. But I held on to what I knew was true. I knew I couldn’t date, or marry, a liar. I knew couldn’t date anyone involved with alcohol. I was a Christian. I was going to do right, as much as I possibly could…and it appeared I would be doing right, alone. I explained my position, this time without the hysterics, and then said goodbye. That was it, it was over.
I stepped out of our church building into a nearly vacant parking lot. It was a beautiful January night. I took my first step staring down at the concrete. I stopped and wrapped my winter coat around me tighter. I wanted to run back in and say “Wait!! It’s okay. Don’t do it again and we can stay together!” But I knew he would do it again. Didn’t I deserve better than that? I told my friend that, and it was true for her. Wasn’t it true for me, too? Yes! Yes, I did deserve better! God had something for me to do, and I would do it! In that moment, I found new resolve. I took a few more steps. I stopped and looked up at the beautiful night sky. I inhaled the cold night air, and thought about my Father who lovingly watched over me, and my little life. The stars seemed to twinkle their applause at my stand for Christ. I felt inspired to keep going. I could do it. I could keep walking. “This is the hardest part, Valerie. After this, things will be easier. You’ll see.” I told myself. “You can do it!” I kept cheering myself on.
I finally made it to my car. I pulled onto the highway and headed home. It was a lonely drive, but the Lord made His presence known. Even during my heartache, I could feel Him there. I knew He was glad that I was allowing Him back into the “pilot’s seat” of my life. However, I still had some lingering doubt.
Was the storm over? Would happier days come into my life? I wasn’t so sure.
Chapter Eight: Aftermath of Heartbreak
That cold January night, my life as a single woman, single as in “no boyfriend”, began. I went to church the next Wednesday night and sat with my parents. Mike sat with some guys. I hadn’t even taken the time to notice that Bumper wasn’t there. I found out later that he had gone to Illinois to help his parents move. We had started a prophecy conference that week, and had a special speaker for those nights. We all received some papers to follow along with the preacher as he taught us on prophecy. One thing is sure, I thought to myself, the Lord will return before I ever get married, or even get a life! It’s hopeless! I sat there, staring at the back of Mike’s head, halfway hating him, and halfway wishing he’d stand up and declare that he was going to live right and earn my love! Someone’s “Amen” shook me out of my reverie. Oh, I guess I should listen to the preacher! I thought to myself. Snap out of it, Valerie! There you go again, talking to yourself! It was very difficult to listen that night, since I was so wrapped up in myself. I set my paper down beside me and tried to concentrate on the preacher. Just then, someone sat down on my pew. He wasn’t right beside me, but on the end of the pew, about four feet from me. I turned to see it was Bumper! He had on dirty jeans, an old shirt (but with sleeves! Hallelujah!) and some work boots. Where had he been? I wondered. Who knows! He’s trouble, that’s for sure! I thought to myself. I’m afraid I can’t tell you a thing about that sermon! My mind was everywhere but there. I was thinking about the future all right but not eternity, merely my own! I saw something move out of the corner of my eye. Bumper was leaning over toward me – now what? He picked up my paper and started reading it! The nerve! I wanted to reach over and snap it out of his presumptuous little hands, but I refrained. I decided that if everyone saw me do that, it might harm my parents’ good name. So I just seethed inside at him. I held him responsible for everything that had gone wrong in my relationship with Mike. He wasn’t a friend to me or Mike or anyone. He only cared about himself! Why was here anyway? He put my paper down. I picked it up. I held it the rest of the night, my heart pounding and my mind racing with words of anger I wanted to spew at him! After the service that night, I tried to talk to Mike and “win” him back…or see if he was trying to win me back! I was sorely disappointed. He now seemed fine with the fact we were through. This hurt most of all.
Another week went by. I still talked to Mike a lot. I noticed Bumper hanging around more, but I continued to ignore him. One bright Monday morning, a lady in my church, who also worked with me, informed me that Mike had just packed his belongings and headed home. I couldn’t believe it. He was leaving our college. I was now seeing more and more of what I had gotten into. He had only come to college for me. He wasn’t called to preach! He wasn’t even interested in serving the Lord at all. He only cared about having fun. He had lasted exactly two weeks at church after our break up! I later found out he was involved in more than just alcohol. He had another girlfriend in his hometown, and he had been using drugs. The most shocking discovery for me, though, was that Bumper had not been the one to lead Mike down the wrong path. Instead, Mike led Bumper. I felt like I had been an accessory to it all after I learned Mike’s true motives for being in college. I thanked the Lord that He had ended that relationship for me! What a wonderful Savior!
Despite my joy of being spared a future with horrible mate, I still desperately hated being alone. I had to make a plan. I was not going to sit alone in my home church forever. If I was going to be single, I wanted to get a degree. At that point, I’d decided that really, men weren’t worth the trouble! I’d given up on the idea of “God sending my husband to my church!” as I’d declared before. I decided to go to my siblings’ Alma Mater after all. I filled out the application, got my references in order, and had the physical. I had officially set the college wheels in motion. But….this was January, and school didn’t start until the fall. In the meantime, I’d have to endure life alone.
The hardest part for me was after our Sunday evening services. It was then that our church family invaded the local Taco Bell! It was tradition! I used to always go with Mike. Now that he was no longer my boyfriend, I decided to forego the weekly Taco Bell excursion. I discovered that missing it wasn’t bad at all. Instead, I went home. My parents ordered Subway sandwiches most Sunday nights and I started joining them. It was so nice to come home to my own room, change clothes and then sit down with Mom and Dad over a Ham & cheese sub! Some nights, Dad started a fire in the fireplace! I loved that! We would talk about the day, laugh, talk some more, and then went to bed. Some nights, after everyone was in bed, I’d go into the den and watch the embers glow in the fireplace. It was peaceful and cozy. I was so thankful for the safe cocoon that my home was.
Nighttime was difficult. I felt forsaken! Looking back, however, I can see that I dramatized a lot of that emotion. I made it worse than it had to be. I remember feeling heartbroken. It felt very similar to when my sister left for college. I was nine years old, and we had always shared a room. The night was so dark and quiet and lonely without her. I finally adjusted to that change though, so I guessed I would adjust to this one. While my home hadn’t changed with Mike’s exit from my life, my heart had! I cried a lot to the Lord when Melanie left, and I did a lot after Mike left, too. The Lord was always there, however, to comfort me and see me through each night.
Once I had made the decision to go to college, I felt relieved. I felt as though I had regained a purpose for my life. I tried to avoid certain people at church, especially Bumper! He still had his “entourage” of girls: his ex-girlfriend still liked him, a missionary girl adored him (to the point of near subservience) and another girl flirted with him regularly. It all made me ill. He would date a girl, dump her, date another girl, dump her, so on and so forth. Were they blind to his patterns? Obviously so! Well, I wasn’t going to be caught up in it. I’d been hurt once; I wouldn’t allow that again.
I also tried to avoid situations where everyone was coupled up. At those times, I felt like I was glowing with a neon sign that read “NOT TAKEN”! I saw February 14 approaching, and along with it, our annual Valentine’s Banquet. I knew I wouldn’t have a date. Even if someone asked me, I wouldn’t care to accept. I wasn’t worried about anyone asking me, though! I talked to Bro. Graham and asked if it would be all right to babysit the staff children at the church that night. That way, I wouldn’t have to go, and I would be busy. He agreed.
The Sunday night before the Valentine’s Banquet, Bumper and his friend, Terry, called me into our church office. I stood in the doorway and tried to be friendly.
“Yes?” I asked them, as they stood inside the office. Terry spoke first.
“We wanted to know if you’d like to go to the banquet with us, as friends.”
Bumper didn’t say anything. He just looked at me with a twinkle in his eye and that mischievous grin.
“Oh, I’d love to!” I said with mock sincerity. “But, I’ve already agreed to babysit the staff children that night. I’m sorry!” I said with a fake grimace and a shrug.
“Oh, that’s cool.” Terry said.
“Goodnight!” I said as I went on my way. “Whew. That was close! I’m sooo glad I had plans already!”, I thought as I walked away.
I had a good time babysitting the kids that Valentine’s night. We had about fifteen kids, so I stayed busy! I had some girls help me that were too young to go to the banquet, but old enough to assist me. I wondered what the banquet was like. I missed getting roses like the ones Mike had sent me the last Valentine’s Day, but I made it!
The next Saturday at church, Bumper hollered to me to wait as I was walking to my car. “Oh brother. What does he want now?” I thought. I kept walking and got in my car.
“Hey! Hold up!” He said, running up to me.
I hadn’t started my car yet, so I just sat there, holding the door open. He sort of squatted down in front of me to be at eye level.
“I just wanted to apologize for treating you so badly this past year. I really want to be your friend. I’m also sorry about the banquet.” He said. He actually looked sincere.
“It’s okay. I guess I haven’t been the model Christian myself! What do you mean you’re sorry about the banquet?”
“Oh, I thought you’d heard?”
“No, I guess I haven’t.” I said seriously.
“Well, Terry and I were going to take you to the banquet and just dump you there alone, after we heard what you said.”
“What did I say? Why would you do something like that?” I asked, my voice getting higher.
“Well, someone told us that you said you could have any guy in the church, and we were going to get you back for that!”
“EXCUSE ME?” I said incredulously. “Who told you I said that? I have never said that! I’ve only had four boyfriends in my entire life and they were all pen pals! Why would I assume that I could have any guy in the church? That’s crazy! I know I can’t get any guy, nor do I want any guy!” I was infuriated! He apologized again, and told me who had said it. It hurt so much to discover that others were talking about me behind my back! My face was good and red again. If Bumper got a charge out of seeing my passionate side, I certainly gave him plenty of opportunities to enjoy the “fireworks”.
I was glad Bumper cared enough to apologize to me, but should I consider someone who wanted to publicly embarrass me a friend? I didn’t know what to do. I was starting to wish that college started in the summer! The sooner I could leave, the better!
On the way home, I thanked the Lord that I hadn’t gone to that banquet!
Chapter Nine: A Bright Future…finally
After breaking up with Mike, my boyfriend for a year, I had decided that I couldn’t get out of Benton fast enough! I was headed to the frigid north, Crown Point, Indiana, to be specific, to attend Bible college. I was planning on going to the same Bible college that my brother and sister graduated from. I would begin the fall of 1997. I would be a year behind the students from my high school graduating class, but I looked at it as my being the most mature member of my freshman class! 😉 My mother purchased me two warm winter coats that were on sale. I went in to see Dr. Johnston for my physical. I had the tuberculosis test. I had my recommendations signed, sealed and in the mail. I had a plan, a purpose, and a vision of an exciting future. I wanted to sing in a summer tour group for the college. I picked up a book on sign language so I could be in the sign language ministry at First Baptist Church of Hammond, Indiana. (I thought I’d study a little in advance.) I planned on majoring in Elementary Education because, well, it sounded easier than the other majors where you had to have a prior skill. For instance, to be a marriage & motherhood major (yes, there really is a major called that) you had to have the ability to sew, or the interest in learning to sew…that wasn’t me. To be a music major, you had to actually be able to play an instrument, not just recognize a beautiful sound when you heard it – I could do that – but no, they wanted you to be able to produce a beautiful sound on an instrument! That definitely wasn’t me! I had to pick something that would be fun, but not agony. Elementary Ed. sounded perfect! The only pre-requisite was the ability to speak English fluently, and not be afraid of small people who have few manners. I could handle that one! 🙂 Also, if I ever actually became a teacher, I thought, then those elementary kids would keep me young! Yes, I had a solid plan. My Dad told me at one point that I would never go. He probably said this because of my erratic behavior up to that point in my life. I was shocked! Was he actually judging my future based on my past performance as an emotional, giddy, fun-loving teen? How unfair! I looked at him and said with confidence that I was through being emotional, giddy and fun-loving, “Dad, I’m going unless you tell me not to. You can count on that!” I meant it, too! I vowed, in Joan of Arc fashion, that I was going away – 662 miles away to be exact (gulp)- even if it killed me!
I spent the days rather nervous, to say the least. Would I be able to handle the rules about no talking after curfew? Would I like living in a room with three – and back then, it could be as many as six – other girls? What about showering in a public bathroom? Well, public as in NOT MY OWN bathroom? “Valerie! You sound so spoiled and selfish!” you are probably thinking. Well, dear readers, I hate to admit this, but I truly was! I had only one older sister that I ever shared a room with. As for bathrooms, well, there were only five of us in the family, when Kevin was home. My sister left me (heartless isn’t she?) (Just kidding!) when I was nine. I had my very own room for ten years! I was meticulous about my room, too. Just ask my Mom! I was showing signs of OCD in the cradle! How would someone like me make it up there? They had over a thousand students…where in the world would I fit in? ME! Little nineteen year old southern gal – where would I fit in such a huge place? I’d never have the chance to visit with Bro. Hyles the way we all often visited with Bro. Graham. I was so scared. Without regard to my fears, and desire to stay in my own bathroom, I forged ahead. I listened to tapes all the time to keep my spirits up. I particularly enjoyed the song “How Can I Fear?” by Ron Hamilton. I listened to it over and over and over. I willed myself to stop fearing, not to fear, to never fear. Yet, I was afraid. I didn’t want to go. But I made a promise to my Dad. I would keep that promise. Fear would encroach upon me on my way to work, I’d shoo it away. It would grasp at me with it’s spiny fingers on my way home from work, again, I’d fight it off. It would entwine around me at night and I would sing my song softly in the dark. “How can I fear? Jesus is near, He ever watches over me. Worries all cease, He gives me peace. How can I fear with Jesus?” A tear would form in the corner of my eye. I would finally drift off to sleep. The process would begin again the next morning. Would Jesus remove this horrible fear for once and for all? Was I doing something to create this anxiety myself? I needed help.
One cold February night, many weeks after Bumper had apologized to me and confessed the plans to sabotage my Valentine’s Banquet experience, Bumper’s friend, Terry, told me that Bumper wanted to talk to me after church. I met them outside on the sidewalk in front of our church’s front doors. Bumper didn’t say anything. I stood there, waiting. Terry finally spoke up. “He’s crazy about you.” Terry said for Bumper.
“Really?” I said as sarcastically and uncaring as I could muster. “I don’t believe you.” I said.
“Why not?” Bumper asked.
“Because I’m not stupid! I’ve seen the way you’ve dated girls, dumped girls, then dated some new ones, and dumped them. I don’t need that right now, I’m going to college. I’m leaving!”
With that I turned around and abruptly walked away. Inside, I was thrilled that a guy would consider me desirable enough to even approach me. That hadn’t happened before. But I refused to get involved with him. I wasn’t going to be a pawn in his quest for yet another girl to date. Besides, I couldn’t let anything, or anyone, deter me from heading to college. I had a promise to keep.
The next day, a flower delivery man came to my office. “Valerie Courtney?” He asked. “That’s me!” I said happily. I couldn’t believe someone was sending me flowers! The man handed me a red, long-stemmed rose in cellophane. I hurriedly opened the card. It said “Since you don’t believe me, I’ll convince you.” It was unsigned.
But I knew exactly who had sent it.
Chapter Ten: Answered Prayers?
I knew who had sent the rose. The car salesmen that I worked with were giving me a hard time. I grinned and shrugged. “It’s unsigned.” I told them when they asked me who my new guy was. (A girl has to keep some things to herself. Discretion is a lost art.) “OH! A secret admirer!” They all chimed in. These men reminded me of the guys I went to school with…in sixth grade! I laughed it off.
That night, I told my parents about my surprise rose.
“The card was unsigned, but I know Bumper sent it.” I told them.
“No, I bet it was Mike.” My Mom said. I think I had failed to tell her about Bumper telling me – through his friend Terry – that he liked me. (See? There are those sixth grade tendencies again!) I really didn’t think much of it. I had seen how quickly Bumper liked girls, and then all of a sudden, didn’t like them anymore. I couldn’t handle that kind of heartbreak right now, and maybe not ever. I filled Mom and Dad in at the table that night. Dad was a little miffed that Bumper would send me a rose without talking to him first.
“No, Mom, I know it’s not from Mike.”
“How do you know? It wasn’t signed.”
“I just know.”
“Well, if Bumper sent it, don’t acknowledge it. Just ignore him.” She told me. I knew what she meant. She didn’t want me fluttering over to Bumper all starry-eyed over one rose. He needed to prove himself to me, and to them. After all, he had been Mike’s friend. How did we know he would be any different from Mike.
That night was our Wednesday night service. I got to church before Bumper. He came into our auditorium as I was walking out. I was waiting on my pastor’s wife to arrive so we could practice the solo that I was singing that evening. As I passed by Bumper, he flashed me the biggest, toothiest grin I had ever seen. I did as Mom told me, I just kept walking, without a word.
When I went up to the piano to practice, Bumper was in his usual seat, with about three girls around him. I was, once again, thoroughly disgusted. Were they all blinded to how they looked, chasing after a guy like that? “Wait a minute.” I thought to myself. “Is that how I looked, when I was dating Mike?” Ewww. It was too horrible to imagine. I would never do that again!
After church, he approached me.
“Did you get something from me today, Valerie?” He asked me, smiling. He did have such a nice smile.
“Yes. I got something.” I told him, keeping a straight face.
“Well? Did you like it?”
“Yes…it was nice. Thank you.”
I headed out the door before he hounded me anymore about it.
He tried talking to me anytime he had the opportunity. He asked to sit by me. I said “No.” He asked me out. I told him that he’d have to ask my Dad about that first. I was pretty confident that Dad would tell him “NO WAY!”
Bumper kept trying to talk to me.
“Valerie, I really like you. I wish you’d give me a chance.” He would say.
“Why? What are your intentions?” I’d ask as haughtily as I could.
“My intentions? My intention is to marry you. I want to make you my wife. I want to have children someday. Three boys. The first one will be Terry Lee Basham, III- whom we’ll call ‘Buck’; the second will be James Owen and the third will be Gilbert Owen and we’ll call him ‘Gib’.”
I stood there, listening, mouth agape. For one thing, I’d never known a guy to have so much to say. For another thing, I couldn’t believe what he was saying! I couldn’t believe a man I hardly knew was declaring his love for me and telling me about our children! He was about nine steps, no nine hundred steps, ahead of me. What dream world did he live in anyway? I’d never marry him, much less raise a passel of boys with him! The nerve! This was the guy who called me a “universal traveler” and laughed me to scorn at every turn! MARRY HIM?? Fuhgettaboutit! I was headed to college!
“Furthermore,” He went on. What? There’s more? “I want to take care of you. I want to buy the food you eat, the clothes you wear, the soap you wash with…everything.” He actually looked sincere. “VALERIE! How could you think anything nice about this guy?” I told myself.
“That’s nice.” I said. “But, I don’t think so. Not now, and not ever!” I turned to leave.
Every time our paths crossed – at college, at church, at bus meeting, it was more of the same! Trying to talk to me, trying to apologize for being a jerk, telling me how I was the one for him. He seemed oblivious to my lack of interest, and even my disgust for him.
Bro. Graham started to tease me about it all. “I think he’s probably the one for you, Valerie. You better not say “never”, cause it could happen.” He would say with a grin.
Finally, he wore me down enough that I agreed to let him sit with me in church. I started being polite to him, and hey, that was a big step for me! We had regular conversations about what I would do at college, about my family, my perceptions of him during our camp years, and so forth. We actually became friends, but no more! I wasn’t dating him, I was just being nice.
It was March now. I couldn’t believe how in just a few short months we had gone from mortal enemies, to friends. Later, I found out why. One day, I stumbled upon Bumpers’ prayer list in the church auditorium. You couldn’t mistake his handwriting! I found out that Bumper and his friend, Terry, got up early each day and went to our church auditorium. There they both prayed. I’m not sure what Terry prayed about, but Bumper was praying for me, and for my Dad, to like him. The list had Valerie Courtney written at the top, and Ron Courtney beneath that, and then many other names. Perhaps my change in feelings were the work of the Lord.
Was the Lord answering his prayers, or mine?
Chapter Eleven: High Noon
It was clear to me that my feelings for Bumper were changing. It seemed that Bumper was changing! Or was I? Someone was changing, that was certain. I began sitting with him in church, and talking with him after church. I even ventured out to Taco Bell with a him and some other friends after Sunday night services a few times. My Pastor enjoyed teasing me about marrying Bumper. Others commented that we “looked good together”. My pastor’s wife, who is a very quiet lady, even said to me once “Valerie, it’s so good to see you with a guy who does some of the talking.” I guess she was right! Mike never said anything, he let me talk, plan, lead…you get the point. To be honest, I was enjoying the attention. I had lived my entire life of almost nineteen years, and never really had a guy interested in me enough to approach me. I had never been on a date – save for a few Valentine Banquets or group activities- that I hadn’t organized. This was such a nice change.
One Saturday, Bumper invited me to go hear him preach at a local nursing home on the following Sunday afternoon. I agreed, but I had serious doubts. What if this is another one of his jokes? What if I get there, and they tell me there’s no service conducted by Victory Baptist Church that day, and then I see Bumper and his cohorts hiding out, laughing at me. Well, I wouldn’t fall for that! No sirree! I did a little checking. First, I called our church secretary. She said she was pretty sure there was a scheduled nursing home service for that day. I then called our Dean of Men to see if Bumper was supposed to preach that day. He confirmed that Bumper was, in fact, preaching that Sunday. I decided I’d go. I almost called the nursing home to triple check, but I didn’t. I went to the service and I actually had a good time. I enjoyed visiting with the elderly folks and hearing Bumper preach. He did very well. I was relieved that is was no joke!
Bumper asked me out on a date, again. I was still a little scared to date him. I told him I’d think about it.
“Even if I say yes, you’ll have to check with my Dad.” I told him.
“That’s okay, I’m not afraid.” He said with a smile.
That really impressed me. Most guys were a little intimidated by my Dad. He was 6 feet, 2.5 inches tall (he always got that half inch in there when he told someone his height!) and weighed over 200 lbs. Whenever he got a serious expression, well, he really looked frightening! I’d wait and see if Bumper was really gonna ask my Dad for permission or not.
One Wednesday evening in mid-March, Bumper told me after church that he was planning on talking to my Dad that night. I was very impressed. I couldn’t believe that he was really doing this. I was suddenly very nervous about what my Dad would say. I had not mentioned dating or Bumper – or the idea ofdating Bumper – to my parents. I became worried that maybe I was growing more fond of Bumper, but my parents weren’t!
I stood in the lobby with Bumper. He had walked away briefly, so I stood there waiting on him. I saw my Dad come out of the auditorium and shake Bro. Graham’s hand. As he shook his hand, Dad said to him “Bro. Graham, I’d like to talk to you about my daughter and Bumper Basham.” He had that frightening look on his face! My heart started pounding. What in the world was Dad upset about? I hadn’t told them anything negative about anything. Had someone else? What was wrong?
Now, this will tell you how afraid my Dad could make me. I went up to Bro. Graham, because I was too scared of my Dad, after Dad left. I asked him what my Dad was talking about. “I don’t know; go ask him.” Bro. Graham snapped. Oh no! Now they both looked unhappy! I guess the date with Bumper would never happen after all.
I headed out the back door of our church, to where my parents were parked. I wanted to find out what was making Dad so upset. As I headed out the door, however, I saw Bumper and Dad’s silhouettes. Bumper had already caught up to him, and they were talking. It was getting dark, so I couldn’t make out their faces to see if they were angry or yelling. I just stood there, wringing my hands and wearing an anxious expression. What in the world was going on out there? Was this the end of the most exciting relationship a girl could ever have? Or was there still hope? I had to admit to myself, that Bumper was definitely someone I was interested in. He had courage – look! He’s talking to my angry Father! He had a great sense of humor. He was always sharing some funny story, or relating things to me in a way that made me smile. He had a unique personality. I thought he was good looking, but not in a “showy” way; he had very rugged good looks. He enjoyed manly pursuits – hunting, fishing and gunsmithing. He knew about car engines, and so did my Dad. I liked it when a man could do “man” things well! 😉 He told me how he had tried to get into the Navy, but having kidney surgery kept him out. I’d always wanted to marry a Navy man, if I married someone in the military! (I didn’t dare tell him this, though.) He was highly imperfect, and so was I. We seemed to have lots in common.
I nearly pressed my nose against the glass of our church lobby to see what was going on. Soon, Bro. Graham joined me by the window and asked me what was going on.
“I have no idea, Bro. Graham. All I know is that Dad is mad, and Bumper’s out there trying to get permission to take me out on a date! This is horrible!”
“Aww, I’m sure it’ll turn out okay.” Bro. Graham tried to assure me.
I waited to see what Bumper had to say. I was too afraid to head home and talk to Dad about it.
Finally, Dad and Bumper went their separate ways. They hadn’t come to blows! What a relief! Bumper came inside.
“What in the world happened?” I asked him.
“Well, I went up to him and asked him if I could please ask him permission to date you. He said he couldn’t really talk about it right now because he was upset over another situation.”
Bumper proceeded to tell me that Dad had gotten some information from my ex-boyfriend (before he was an “ex”) about a situation concerning one of our church leaders. Dad had gotten only half the story. Fortunately, Bumper knew the other half and was able to set Dad straight on the matter.
“Was he mad at you for telling him that?” I asked nervously.
“I don’t think so. He seemed a little irritated about it all in general, but he wasn’t mad.”
I held Bumper in very high esteem that night. While Dad hadn’t given his permission for him to date me, I still felt happy. Bumper had earned some respect that night, from my whole family.
When I got home that night, I talked to Dad about his talk with Bumper.
“Dad! I thought you and Bumper were going to get into a fist fight tonight! You had me worried!” I told him.
“Me, too, Ron!” My Mom chimed in.
“Nah, I wasn’t going to hit him! My goodness! Thanks for your faith in me, girls! I told Bumper about that situation, and he told me I had it wrong. He told me what really happened.” Dad explained.
“You know, ” Dad continued, “My opinion of him shot up a hundred points when I saw he was man enough to stand up to me.”
At that moment, I knew whose prayers God was answering. He was answering his… and mine.
Chapter Twelve: The Birthday Party
Things moved along much more quickly now that Bumper had approached my father. The visit didn’t go as well as Bumper had planned, but the door of conversation with my Dad now had a crack in it. It was a start. We talked at church, at bus meeting and I went to Taco Bell after church sometimes to visit with him. It was now the end of March, and that means birthday time for me!! I was hoping to get together with Bumper, but I wasn’t sure how. I didn’t want him to think it was a date.
I discussed my upcoming birthday with my parents. I was turning nineteen, and I wanted to have some sort of party. Most of my girlfriends were married or gone, so that didn’t leave anyone to invite to a party. Mom and Dad said I could invite a few friends, and Bumper could be one of them. Hmmm. Who else was there? The only people that were my friends at church were Bumper (but only recently), my Pastor’s son, Ben and a guy I’d gone to school with since kindergarten, Bobby. Well, I had a few other friends that were single girls, but (clears throat) they were all Bumper’s former girlfriends and wouldn’t feel comfortable at a small party if he was there. There was one poor girl that approached me one day as I was leaving the auditorium to get on my bus. “Congratulations.” She said, as she reached to shake my hand. “Um. Congratulations for what?” I asked her. “I heard you and Bumper like each other.” “OH!” I said, tossing my head back in laughter. “You heard wrong! No, I don’t like Bumper! He says he likes me, but I’m not fallin’ for it.” I said with a wink. Yes, it was strange how many gals went for him. You can see that this limited my guest list quite a bit. So, I did it. I invited all boys to my birthday party. I hadn’t given much thought, however, to the fact that I had invited all boys until they had all arrived at my house! Yes, folks, I’m a little slow.
It was me, my Mom and Dad, Bumper, Ben and Bobby for the big event. I also worked to be sure the names of my guests were alliterated. I seated everyone alphabetically, too! (Just kidding everyone! I’m weird, but even I have my limits.)
When the party (which was just eating good food and visiting) began, I suddenly felt a little strange having all boys there. What if word got around that I was a flirt? What if word was already out that I was a flirt?? I mean, that girlfriend of mine had lied and quoted me as saying I could have any guy in the church…was this why?! Because these guys were my friends??? I was friends with everybody, it’s just that the girls left me. I had friends of all shapes and sizes. I had a Down Syndrome girl on my church bus route that clung to me at every service! Surely they didn’t really think that I was a flirt?! As this was racing through my mind, I felt my pulse increasing. Sweat was forming on my back. Should I stand up and scream “WAIT! WE CAN’T HAVE THIS PARTY!” and make them all leave? Or, should I forget about it and not care what everyone else thought. These guys knew I wasn’t a flirt. That’s all that mattered. I decided not to care. Boy, that was a relief.
We all sat around the table. Mom made a delicious meal and I helped serve. Bumper came and sat across from me. Ben sat to my left and Bobby was beside Bumper. Bobby and Ben knew my parents very well. They were just extensions of our family. But Bumper was an “outsider.” He sat there, squinting. He didn’t say anything unless someone asked him a question. In the course of conversation, we found out that he had been repairing the washer in the boy’s dorm when some water – containing bleach – had squirted into his eye. He went to the ER and they had given him eye drops, but the pain was still severe. He could barely keep his eyes open. “Great.” I thought, “this is just what I need!” This party was sort of a test run for Bumper. This was his big chance to impress my parents. It was his opportunity to show them his wit, his intellect, his ability to communicate. So far, he was failing miserably. I looked over at his slumped form, at how he had to rub his eyes constantly and how he squinted at everyone that was talking to him. I felt sorry for him. I was also a little disappointed that his “big chance” was overshadowed by this accident.
My Mom made a wonderful dessert cake for my birthday. It was a regular sheet cake with a layer of vanilla pudding, a layer of cherry pie filling on top of the pudding and a layer of cool whip over that. There is only one word for it: DIVINE. Mom served the cake. As she placed a piece in front of Bumper, he said, while looking down because of his eyes, “I hate cake.” He said it monotone. No inflection in the voice. No “no thank you”, just “I hate cake.” WHAT? Had his eye injury now bled into his brain?? How could he say something so rude to a hostess? My birthday was turning into a nightmare. My Mother felt terrible (she didn’t tell me, but I know my Mom). She quickly removed the cake and apologized to him!!! I glared at him from across the table. Unfortunately, he couldn’t see me glaring because he was temporarily blind.
At this point, the evening could not get over with fast enough. We all finished dessert and I bid my guests good night. I thanked my parents for the party. As I headed to bed, all I could think was “Hyles-Anderson College…you are calling my name!!!” It was nice to have a guy interested in me, but I could see that it would take a miracle for this relationship to work. I had to acknowledge that there was absolutely no way – humanly speaking – that this was gonna happen.
The only thing I did not consider, however, was that I know Someone who is in the miracle working business.
Chapter Thirteen: The First Date
Spring time had arrived in Arkansas! The grass was green, the air was cool, birds were singing and flowers were blooming! I had forgotten most of the pain and heartache of letting go of Mike way back in January. I was even starting to enjoy being “single” again! I could dream up all kinds of exciting things for my future. I was no longer tied down by a guy. I no longer had the guilt of tying a guy down to me, either! I had a fantastic future ahead of me. I would be leaving to go Hyles-Anderson College in five short months and then I would make a difference for the cause of Christ! I had dreams and plans…and this guy. What would I do about him?
We held our annual tent revival in the spring that year. It was now the end of April. Bumper and I were still just sitting at church together and talking. That was it. We’d never had any kind of date that wasn’t a group outing. Well, except for that birthday party of mine…I shudder. Let’s just forget about that one, okay? Well, Terry walked to my car along with me and my Dad after the meeting was over one night.
“Mr. Courtney, would it be okay if Valerie went with me and my Grandparents out to eat for my birthday next Friday?” He sounded nervous, but he was trying to hide it. He was nice looking…but I had a plan…I wouldn’t notice things like that.
“Who would be going with you?” Dad asked him.
“My Grandparents, Jim and Betty Basham. They’re coming down from Mattoon, Illinois, to see me next Friday.”
“Oh.” Dad was thoughtful for a moment. Those few seconds felt like an hour! Finally his verdict:
“I guess that would be okay.” He said. Bumper looked at me and smiled. We both let out a silent sigh of relief.
“Thank you!” Bumper said to Dad. He was so much nicer when he wasn’t blind and wincing in pain.
“I’ll pick you up at 7.” He said happily.
“OoooK. I’ll be ready.” I said with a laugh.
I turned to go home, deep in thought. WHAT was I doing??? He was NOT the guy for me? Was I just leading him on? That would be a first for him, to be lead on, instead of doing the leading on! Or did I like him??? Oh my goodness! I LIKED him!
Well, the work week dragged by. I was really nervous about this date with Bumper. What a dumb name, I thought to myself. It sounds so, so juvenile. “Hi, I’m Valerie, and I’d like you to meet my boyfriend, Bumper.” Nu-uh. It’s not going to happen. I will not seriously date this guy. This is the guy who made fun of me at camp. This is the guy who used to date most of my friends. I cannot believe I’m going out with him.
Even though I felt like I was contradicting myself, I was happy. I was excited to be going out with him. Being with him was like having someone take my hand (figuratively, of course!) and say “Let me show you the world.” He had been so many different places, and his outlook about church was so different. He had seen things from “behind the scenes” as a PK (preacher’s kid), whereas I had always been on the outside looking in. He was smart, and witty. He had boldness. All of this was very attractive to me, but the most attractive thing about him, was that he liked me…a lot. I couldn’t figure that out. I had never had a guy really interested in me. I was just never considered ‘popular’. In fact, in ninth grade I had the crushing disappointment of being the only girl in my class who wasn’t nominated for the homecoming court. That’s right, with a whopping total of four girls in my ninth grade class, only the other three were chosen. I remember having to go to the Benton Courier newspaper office and stand to the side as I watched them all get their picture taken for the paper. Yes, this was a neon sign in my adolescence: You don’t have what it takes to be liked, Valerie! Another tip off had been the fact that I’d had only three boyfriends prior to Mike, and they had all been pen pals. So, Bumper made my second real boyfriend. What did he see in me that was so wonderful? Did my fairy godmother come in the night to him and sprinkle a love potion over him? Maybe the Lord had done it. This had to be it! Whatever it was, I hoped it wouldn’t wear off before our date.
I carefully selected my outfit for that night. I wore a white eyelet shirt and a light blue A-line skirt. My Mom ironed them perfectly for me. I’m sure she was happy that I had something to do! I hot-rolled my shoulder length hair and made sure my make-up hid all of my blemishes. I wanted to look as perfect as I could.
I heard a car door slam. He was here. “Okay, here goes nothin’.” I whispered to myself as I looked in the mirror. “You’ve done all you can do.”
Bumper was at the door. He looked so handsome standing there on our front porch.
“Hello.” I said with a smile.
“Hi. You look beautiful.” He said as he walked me to the car.
“Thank you. You look very nice yourself.”
He introduced me to his grandparents. He had warned me ahead of time that his Grandfather, affectionately called “Paw”, wore false teeth and often set them on the table during a meal. I really appreciated the warning!
Bumper drove his grandparents’ car, as he only had a truck, and I sat next to him. His poor grandparents had to sit in the back. His Paw immediately started teasing him about how long he had taken to get ready for tonight. He reached up from behind Bumper to muss his hair. “Don’t mess his hair up! He worked so hard on it!” Gramma said to Paw. I silently chuckled and stared out the window to save Bumper from further embarrassment.
“Where do you want to eat? he asked me.
“You mean I get a choice? It’s your birthday! Besides, aren’t you the chaperon that used to go on dates with me and get upset over indecision?” I said smiling.
“Ok. Let’s go to the Lone Star Steak House in North Little Rock.”. He said confidently.
“Fine!” I said with a sly grin.
Now, Bumper had only lived in Arkansas for almost a YEAR, so I thought he knew his way around well enough. I realized that was a mistaken idea on my part when we headed to Conway, instead of North Little Rock. I didn’t know how to break the news to him. After all, he was the guy, he was driving, and this was our first date. I decided to just say it, as nicely as possible.
“Um. Bumper? Did you say you wanted to go to North Little Rock?” I asked him as sweetly as I could.
“Weeeell…..we’re headed to Conway.”
“Yeah, I’m sorry. I didn’t know how to tell you…”
“Oh, man! Where should I have gone?”
“Well, you should’ve have just stayed on I-30 and not taken the bypass. See, we are now on I-40 heading west.”
“I can’t believe that.” He pulled off the Interstate because his Gramma wanted to be sure the tank was filled!
As Bumper gassed up, we saw a very long-haired, tattooed biker guy pull up to the pump. His grandparents teased me about going out with that guy.
“OOO yeah, he’s my type!” I said jokingly. When Bumper got back in the car, we told him about my “new date.”
“No, you’re not going with him. You’re right where you belong.” He said with a smile.
“Yes, I am.” I thought to myself. I can’t explain it very well, because feelings are hard to put into words. I did know that I was right where I belonged. I belonged with him. It was as though our hearts were knit. Of course, I never shared this with him. I don’t know if he knows it now! (I guess he will when he reads this!)
We pulled away from there and headed back to North Little Rock. We found the Lone Star Steak House. As we entered we were greeted by piles and piles of peanut shells on the floor and blaring country music. He didn’t say so, but I think this wasn’t exactly the atmosphere he was looking for because he asked me if I wanted to go to the Olive Garden instead. “Fine with me!” I said. (In my heart I was rejoicing!!! The Hallelujah Chorus was ringing in my ears! I loved that place!)
We headed next door to the Olive Garden. We didn’t have to wait for a table and our food came right away. I am happy to report that Paw did not put his teeth on the table. Even though we were both nervous, we managed to have make some conversation.
“So, why are you called “Bumper”?” I finally had the courage to ask.
“I, um, used to bump into things with my walker when I was a baby, so Dad called me ‘his little Bumper’.”
“Oh, I see.” I said. “Would you mind if I called you ‘Terry’? Every time I say ‘Bumper’ I’m reminded of all the tricks you’ve played on me. Plus, I think ‘Terry” fits you better.”
“No, I don’t mind.” He said.
As we finished up our meal, the servers at Olive Garden surrounded our table. Gramma had told them that Bumper’s birthday was that day. They brought him some delicious Black Tie chocolate pie!! Bumper dove into it. Of course, I was dying for a piece of pie, but it was our first date! What would he think of me? First impressions are important!
Bumper finally leaned over with a piece of pie on his fork, “Wanna bite?” he asked me.
“No thank you,” I said, looking down.
“Well, what if I eat that, and wake up feeling sick in the morning?” I said.
“Or what if you eat it, and wake up feelin’ like a million bucks?” He said confidently.
I smiled…and took the bite.
Yes, I liked him, and it was time that I just admitted it. I didn’t know how or when, but I knew he was the one for me.
Chapter Fourteen: “Did You Just Call Me a Dog?”
I had taken the plunge with Bumper..um, I mean Terry, as I was now calling him. I had actually gone on a date with him. Things had already been progressing swiftly in our relationship, but now…well, things were really heating up! He all but proposed to me during the aftermath of that first date. Wait a minute, now that I think about it, I believe he did propose to me!
One conversation, that flattered me and at the same time scared me a little, took place after church one Sunday night. Terry and I and several of our friends were chatting after church on the sidewalk. Somehow, the conversation shifted to how much Terry liked me.
“I’d crawl across two miles of broken glass just to kiss her feet.” He said proudly. What? What did he say? I turned a deep shade of crimson. I’m sure you see what I mean. Flattering? Almost too flattering. I started shifting back and forth from one foot to the other. Everyone laughed. It was a joke. I was a joke! This guy was either trying to dupe me, or he was a little off his rocker. Some would say both! I wanted to make a quick exit, but there was no discreet opportunity for me to take my leave. Finally, the laughter and guffawing died down and my friends left. Terry walked me to my car.
“Maybe we could go out again sometime soon.” He said, with emphasis on “soon”.
“Uh, yeah, maybe.” I said.
“I think you’re wonderful, Valerie. I love your passion, your spunk. You remind me of my favorite dog.” He said. And yes, he was being serious.
“Your favorite dog?” I asked in amazement. “Okay, Terry, what’s the joke now? Because I’m not stupid. I’m not like some of the girls from your past, okay? I don’t care how suave you are or how smart or handsome you are…”
“You think I’m handsome?” He interrupted me, grinning from ear to ear.
“I..I didn’t say that. I just meant IF you were handsome, it wouldn’t matter to me. Looks are not the most important thing.” I said, trying to regain my serious tone.
“Well, I like your looks.” He said raising his eyebrows and smiling.
“Thank you. But as I was saying, I don’t care what you think. I don’t wanna be like any one’s DOG! Goodnight!” I said abruptly. I began getting into my car.
“Well you didn’t let me finish! I wasn’t calling you a dog. I was just saying you had spunk.” He said while pulling me by the arm back out of my car. I jerked away from him and stood up on my own.
“HUH? What does a dog have to do with “spunk”? ”
“When I was a kid I had a dog named Belle. She was a beautiful dog. I wanted to hunt with her. I’d take her out, and she would walk along beside me, like a bird dog. She wouldn’t run after the scent. She was just along for the ride. And then, later on, I got a dog named Boots. Boots wasn’t an ugly dog, but she wasn’t as pretty as Belle. Boots would run as hard as she could looking for the scent. She’d dive in holes and she wouldn’t quit until she’d gotten what she was after.”
I stood listening with my arms crossed and a smug expression. I could not believe my ears.
“What are you saying? That I’m like the uglier of your two hunting dogs? You’re telling me that I’m like a dog! I heard you with my own ears!” I said. If he wanted fire, he was gettin’ it now!
“I’m telling you that you have passion. You’re a go-getter. You’re smart and funny and you have drive. That’s what I’m telling you. But here you go gettin’ up on your hind legs.. wait a minute! I DIDN’T MEAN THAT! ” He said trying to prevent my having another outburst. “You know what I mean, don’t you? You’re more than just good looks. And looks do matter to me.” He said with a wink.
“Yes, you’ve mentioned that.” I said, turning away from him. “I’m really glad you like my “passion” and my “spunk”. I’m glad I remind you of Babs.” I said with a sigh.
“Boots.” He corrected me.
“Whatever. But I really need to get home now. Thanks for….the compliment?” I said questioningly.
The next morning I found a small bunch of pink carnations and a card on the windshield of my car. He had written more of the same from the night before: he liked me, he enjoyed being with me, and so forth. He hadn’t actually said “I love you” but he might as well have.
He began calling me at work on every break. That would be three times a day. He saw me at church. Every time I saw him, he began showering me with compliments and kind words.
I started to feel smothered. And I’m sure you’re getting a little sick of it, too, right? Well, I understand! That makes two of us!
Then, it happened. One day, as I was in my car about to pull away from church he stopped me. I rolled down my window.
“I just wanted to tell you something.” He said. There was a pause. I gave him the “I’m waiting” look.
“I love you.”
There was a pause again. What should I do? I wasn’t ready to commit to loving him! I liked him fine, but love? No. I just wasn’t there yet.
“Thank you.” I said smiling.
“You’re not gonna say it back, are you?” He said with a knowing look. “I didn’t think you would. But that’s okay. I don’t care if you say it or not.”
I smiled a coy smile and rolled up my window. I left him standing there. He watched me drive away. What was I going to do? We had only been “dating” for about two months. This guy was really serious.
I was no longer smothered. Now I was suffocating. If we were meant to be together, then why did I feel this way? I finally decided that I had been wrong in feeling that our hearts were knit. I was so glad I’d never expressed these feelings to him before. I was so glad I hadn’t uttered those three precious words to him. I would ask him if we could just be friends. Surely we could slow things down and just be friends. Surely.
After church on a Sunday evening, I decided to tell him how I felt. He was standing in our church lobby. Summer had just begun so it was still daylight after our evening service.
“Terry, I think it would be best if we were just friends.” I just spit the words out as quickly as I could. I thought that if I said them nonchalantly, it would make it seem more friendly; less like an official “break up”. His eyes widened, but he didn’t say anything. I guess it was sinking in.
“Can we just be friends?” I asked as nicely as I could.
“No.” He said flatly.
“Oh. I’m sorry. I guess this is it, then. Well. See ya later.” I said as I backed away from him.
I chatted with a few friends for a while, but suddenly, I didn’t feel like talking. I decided to just go home. No Taco Bell. Just Mom, Dad and Subway sandwiches. I longed for the sweet security of 2*1* Karen Drive.
As I got into my car, I saw Terry out in our ball field, playing catch with a guy. He seemed really angry. I felt bad at first, but then I remembered that it really would have never worked. I was sure I had done the right thing.
Chapter Fifteen: We’re Just Friends...
I had ended my “relationship” with Terry. It was over. I enjoyed being pursued, for the first time in my life, and I enjoyed the distraction from the pain of ending things with Mike. BUT…I couldn’t seriously consider marrying this man! I had spent my entire life of nineteen years in either Hot Springs or Benton, Arkansas, which happened to be only 20 minutes from Little Rock! I was a city girl in every sense of the word! He was raised in the country. He was a preacher’s kid, my parents’ both worked in the secular world. He hunted deer, and ate them. He fished, and ate them, too. He loved four-wheel-dive vehicles, guns, and boats. I knew nothing about deer, fish, trucks, guns or boats. I only knew about malls, subdivisions – like the one I grew up in- and going to beauty salons. (Not that it did much good, but I always felt better for trying.) For fun, I would go with my Mom on Saturdays to the school where she taught and helped her decorate her bulletin boards. We would eat hamburgers right in her classroom!! (I know! Can you think of anything more fun?) When she became a principal, I would type things for her and roam the halls. It was a very wild life! I realized one night, as I was second guessing my decision, that I had, in fact, done the right thing. I knew opposites attracted, but we were just too opposite! As I looked at him in his black wranglers and his very brightly colored western shirt, all doubt vanished from my mind. I just wasn’t a western girl. His Mom told me that he’d always wanted a girl with a pickup truck and a bass boat. That wasn’t I!
Terry called me at work the day after our “break up”.
“Valerie, why do you think we should just be friends? Did I do something?” He asked me. He didn’t sound angry, like he had been the night before.
“No, Terry, you didn’t do anything. I just feel….well….”(I hated having this conversation! Didn’t he know I had made plans for the next forty years of my life, and he wasn’t in them?) “I just feel smothered!” I finally blurted out. “You call me all the time, you leave notes and flowers on my car, and you’ve already said you loved me! I’m just not ready for that!” I said, with the fire in my voice that he loved.
There was silence.
“I feel like I’ve just been re-paid for all the girls that I stood up, or broke up with after leading them on.” He said. He actually sounded…humble!
“Look, I wasn’t leading you on. I really liked you, I still do, but we are so very different! I just don’t think it will work. And besides, I’m leaving for college in about two months. There’s no way it will work.”
We said our goodbyes, and hung up.
Something inside of me said “You might be making a mistake, Valerie.” But I ignored it. I knew I’d done the right thing. I’d been making a list of qualities to look for in a future mate since I was twelve years old. He wasn’t measuring up to most of them.
He just wasn’t my type…right?
Chapter Sixteen: Second Chances
During the time after I broke up with Terry, I expected to see him “on the rebound” and get another girlfriend. Two girls made their cases to him in one way or another. I just held my head high and pretended that I was sure of myself.
He didn’t sit with anyone else. He didn’t even flirt with anyone else! Now, that was something! In the past, he would flash that toothy grin of his in all directions when eligible girls were around. But not now. Whenever I was around him at church, I could feel him watching me.
A week or so passed. I noticed he started dressing better! He actually stopped wearing jeans and western shirts to every church service. He bought regular dress shoes instead of always wearing cowboy boots (and nothing against cowboy boots, I was just pleased to see the variety!). I noticed he ignored the girls who tried to flirt with him. I noticed that now I was watching him. Oh dear.
I started to miss being able to talk to him; to laugh with him. I missed his making fun of me, now that he was good natured about it. I missed his confidence. Okay, I’ll admit it, I also missed that “butterfly” feeling I had whenever he was around me. One day, he had me so nervous that after we talked at my car, I pulled away from him in first gear. He leaned back in my window just as I moved forward, and said “Hey, Val, you’re in the wrong gear.” He then tapped my car and walked away. I looked down, and yep, he was right. He gave me the feeling that if I fell, he’d be there to catch me. I missed that security.
Deep down, I wanted give him another chance. I wasn’t sure if I should, though. I talked to my Mom. She didn’t know what to do, either. Now, let me just say that this was a new thing to me. My Mom always knew what to do. She had always been able to advise me from some past experience of her own, or tell me some Scripture that would apply. This time, she had nothing. She was stumped! I quickly ran to my room to record this moment in my journal. Okay, I didn’t do that! I was just checking to see if you were awake!
“Valerie,” Mom said to me while we prepared supper one night, (Translation: Mom made supper while I poured my heart out to her. I think I set the table or something.)”I think you should go talk to Bro. Graham about it. He knows Terry, and his family. Bro. Graham will know what you should do.”
“Mom, Bro. Graham will just tell me to do what you say to do! He knows you and Dad are wise people, and he wouldn’t want to take a chance on giving me advice that you wouldn’t agree with or something.” I explained.
“Okay,” Mom said, thoughtfully. “Then go to him and say ‘My parents don’t know what I should do. They told me to do what you say to do.'”
“Okay. I guess it can’t hurt to try.”
As soon as I could, I cornered Bro. Graham to see if I could get some counsel. He was always so gracious by allowing young, dumb nineteen year olds to corner him! I explained that I had broken it off with Terry, aka, Bumper, and that now I was having second thoughts. I asked him if he thought Terry was sincere in his feelings for me. Bro. Graham said yes, he felt sure that Terry really did care for me.
“What should I do now?” I said, rather desperately. “I ended things with him! My parents said to tell you that they didn’t know how to advise me, so whatever you say, goes.”
“Well,” Bro. Graham said, “Why don’t you just talk to him? Or write him a letter?”
“You don’t think that would be forward?” I asked. (Remember, I had vowed to never be forward again!)
“No, I don’t.” He said.
“Okay! I will! I’ll write him!” I left his office feeling as though a load had been lifted.
I went home and penned a note to Terry, explaining that I did want to date him, but things had to slow down. I apologized for being so wishy-washy.I told him that I just needed to withdraw for a while and think things through. Basically, I did everything except beg. I left it in his mailbox at the college.
He made a bee-line for me after church one night, after he’d read my note.
“Valerie. I got your note.” He said to me. “Are you sure you want me, Terry Lee Basham, II?” He asked me boldly.
“Yes! I’m sure. I like you! I just need things to slow down for a bit.” I told him.
He smiled at me and gave me a wink, but he never made any promises.
Chapter Seventeen: A Change in Plans
Terry and I had now started dating, officially. I no longer tried to be just friends. I was no longer placing an invisible barrier around my heart. I had given it to him, at least in part, and I was now vulnerable. To break up now would be very difficult. It would be an “emotional divorce”, just like my break up with Mike had been. It was all or nothing for me, now. I was proud for everyone to know that we were a couple. Everyone seemed happy for us. A few folks had their doubts about Terry. Would he remain faithful to the Lord? Was he sincere, or just using me? They’re doubts were understandable. After all, it was now June. That meant that only six months earlier Terry had stood before our church to apologize for living a life that was not Christ like. He had been known to date girls and then dump them as a teenager. I knew this because I had known him as a teen. Well, I knew more of his reputation than I knew of him. But, wasn’t it the same thing? Was I so naïve to believe that in such a short time he had developed new habits and knew ideas? I knew it was a risk, but loving anyone is a risk. A man that has never even dated a girl before has the potential to do wrong to her. A man is, after all, still just flesh and bone. I suppose that life is mostly a series of calculated risks. With the Lord leading us, however, the percentages for success go way up! I had my parents’ and my pastor’s blessing on our relationship. But what was even better, was that I had found peace from the Lord myself, on my own. I had read my Bible and prayed and I found peace.
I cannot fully describe to you how I felt about Terry. It was so much more than just good chemistry. It was more than that “mushy” feeling you get in your stomach when a handsome guy comes along. It was a feeling of peace and security that I had never felt with anyone outside of my own family before. Perhaps some of this was due in part to the fact that I had done a lot of soul searching and decision making in the seven months after I ended things with Mike. I had decided that I would be single, if that was what God wanted for me. I suppose I hadn’t surrendered myself to that possibility until then. I had always had the very immature assumption that a Christian lady could not be happy unless she married. My eyes had been opened to the reality of what a poor relationship would be like by my experience with Mike. I realized that a life as a single lady would be far better than life in a bad marriage. As the days and weeks and months came between me and that final moment with Mike, the more relieved I felt. I found myself feeling like someone who swerved at the last minute to avoid a head-on collision. There I sat, parked in the median of my life, shaking and breathless. I was in total shock and amazement. Since that moment, I had day dreamed about what my life with Mike would have looked like – I shudder to even think of it now. I would describe for you what type of person Mike has since become, but there is no good in that. Let’s just say that my very best Friend came through for me, as always. I am even more thankful today than I ever was then. I wasn’t going to “settle” again. Terry was so very different than any guy I had known. He was so confident in his choices. He had walked on the wild side and had suffered for it. He had a family that was firmly grounded in the Bible, whereas Mike did not. Terry also had some great men of God who had been praying for him during those turbulent teen years – Dr. Ken Graham (my pastor) and Bro. Tim Green, to name two. He’d also had to work and pray very hard to even get my attention. In my heart, I thought that counted for something.
Terry, once again, was leaving flowers and notes on my car. He called me often, too. The notes and calls were not as frequent. That was good for both of us. We both needed some breathing room. Terry had stayed in our college dorm during the entire month of June. Many folks, including his parents, were expecting him to go home, to Indiana, where his Dad was pastoring.
“So, you’re not going home for the summer?” I asked him one balmy June night.
“Nope, I’m stayin’ here.” He replied.
“Why? Aren’t you sick of living in that terrible dorm? It doesn’t even have a window! And you’ve had to do so much work on it! Didn’t you install your own lavatory?”
“Yeah, but it’s not so bad, especially now that everyone else has gone home for the summer. I don’t care what it’s like. I’m staying here for you. I decided a long time ago that I wasn’t leaving without you.” He said.
At that moment, my heart lept inside of me and I turned to mush. But I didn’t dare let him see that!
“You sure are determined, aren’t you?” I said with a laugh, trying to hide the fact that my knees were about to buckle. He looked at me so intently. It felt as though he could read my mind. I seemed to always be blushing when he was around. He still enjoyed getting my back up, by saying something that he knew would light a fire in me, but it was okay. I realized now that it was all in good fun. I had also decided that if I couldn’t laugh at myself, then who could I laugh at?
“Well, I am honored that you would stay here, in Arkansas, just for me, but I’m leaving in a few months for college.” The words hung in the air. Suddenly, our time together seemed shrouded in sadness. The thought of being away from him – even though we’d only even been friends for six months – seemed 100 times worse than the thought of being away from Mike had been. How would I manage? I wondered if he would find someone else, or if I would. I was actually more afraid of the latter. Since meeting Terry, I felt pretty. I was more sure of myself. I no longer felt the need to apologize for breathing. I had gained a confidence that I had longed for my entire teenage life. I’m not sure if it was my relationship with Terry that changed me, or having to trust God through heartbreak that made the difference. Perhaps it was both.
After a long silence, Terry smiled. He gave me a wink and said, “Well, I’m praying about that.”
“Really?” I said with a smile “Well then I guess I don’t need to worry.” We both laughed and once again forgot the inevitable separation that loomed ahead.
Terry and I dated every week that summer, sometimes more than once a week, but always chaperoned. We discussed life, ministry, family and the future. He continued writing me, calling me and giving me small tokens of his ever growing admiration.
I decided it was now time to return his affection. I had planned to tell him that I loved him sometime when he would least expect it. I didn’t want him to think it was a response to his love for me, but a decision that I had made on my own. On July 31, as we sat across from each other at our local church hang out – Taco Bell- I looked at him and said “Terry,” He looked into my eyes. That always gave me pause. Maybe he will just be able to read my mind? I thought.
“Terry,” I began again, “I love you.”
He smiled, letting the words sink in.
“Wow. I wasn’t expecting that! You do? Really?” He asked me, beaming.
“Yes, really. I wanted to pick the right time to tell you.”
“Valerie, you’ve made me so happy. I love you, too.”
Soon, August was upon us. Four short weeks before the new school year began there in Arkansas and in Indiana, where I would be going. If I didn’t want to leave before I met Terry, I sure didn’t want to leave now that I’d decided to love him! If I did leave, I wanted to leave as Mrs. Terry Basham, II and be going with Terry Basham, II! But, I had given Dad my word. My Grandfather had taught me that a lady is only as good as her word. I would go.
I had my application and references for college ready. I had gotten my physical. I had done everything but pack and pay! Things were moving toward moving day. Then, all at once, everything changed. Due to a chain of events that I will not go into, my Dad came to me one afternoon in early August and told me that I was not going to that particular college. This college where my brother and sister attended is still loved by my family. My Dad just felt that the Lord did not want me to go there. God’s plan is very specific for each one of us. Through the authority of my parents, I found that God did not want me to attend this school. I was so happy! I had told my Dad that unless he told me not to go to college, I would be going. Once again, I have only appreciated this decision more and more as the days have passed. I have taken the path that the Lord wanted me to take. I once heard my Pastor tell us that David prayed for a “plain path” from the Lord (Psalm 27:11). He didn’t ask for an easy path or a fun path, but a plain or clear path. I, too, have prayed that prayer many times since hearing that sermon. God has truly answered my prayer. He has always made clear the path I should take.
I could hardly contain my joy! I wasn’t in the habit of calling boys, even one whom I was dating, so I didn’t call Terry to tell him. The next day was Sunday. I would tell him before I left on the bus route.
As soon as I saw him, I ran over, my face beaming with joy. I couldn’t smile big enough!
“Terry, guess what!” I said. It looked as though it was still early for him. I don’t think he’d had his coffee yet.
“What?” He asked.
“I’m not going to college!” I exclaimed. “My Dad told me yesterday that I’m not going!” I told him the story.
“Can you believe it?”
“No, I can’t.” He said. “I feel like my heart is going to explode!” Now we were both beaming! I was so happy to be staying near him, though I didn’t tell him. I still tried to keep some mystique in the relationship.
I had no idea how quickly things would be changing for me. Would I be ready?
Well…ready or not, here they came.
Chapter Eighteen: Opposites Finally Attract
The morning of September 11, 1997, was no different from any other autumn morning in Arkansas. The air was crisp. The leaves were just beginning their metamorphosis from green and lush to gold, red and yellow. I left for work at my usual time, 7:45 AM. I drove down Janet Street, then onto Cody Street, and then to Military Road where I merged onto I-30. I would exit and drive into my parking space at the Baptist church next door to Landers. We were in the midst of a re-model at Landers, so all of the parking spaces were taken by new and used…er, I mean, previously owned vehicles or construction. During my drive, I enjoyed my Cathedrals tape and sang along. I remembered how in the previous months, I had driven this same path and sung along with those same tapes, but I did it to console myself. I was sad about having to end things with Mike, and I was frightened about what my future held.
Today, however, everything looked bright. I sang for joy! I enjoyed my job at Landers. We had recently sold our Oldsmobile line and purchased the Pontiac line. John Landers, my beloved boss and friend, had retired on April 15 of that year. I remember crying as I hugged him goodbye that day. My desk was positioned outside of his office, almost facing his door. I used to look in and see him busy at his desk, making notes, or phone calls. He would often glance up and make a joke or two throughout the day. When he would go get a cup of coffee, he would tease me about drinking cocoa. He was 64 years old, yet he treated me, a mere 19 year old, as though I were mature! Those of you who know me know that “mature” was not a good description of me then! Still, John overlooked my immaturity and managed to make me feel important. But, he did that for all of us ladies. I will never forget the day he met my older brother, Kevin. He shook his hand and told Kevin that I was the most consistently upbeat person he’d ever employed. I was so thrilled! It made my year to hear my boss, the owner of a huge auto company, compliment me to my older brother! I don’t know if Kevin thought much of the remark, but I did. I guess that’s pretty obvious since I still remember it some eleven years later. Now, his office was bleak. The furniture was there, but the knick-knacks that made it John’s were gone. The darkened office was a constant reminder that in fact, John was gone.
I admired and missed John greatly, but at least I still had George! George Newcomb was our General Manager. He was the guy who had the final say on what someone’s trade-in was worth. Another of his jobs was to sell the aforementioned trade-ins to wholesalers. He was in his mid-40s. He loved to rodeo and duck hunt. He, too, was very considerate of me and all the office ladies. Looking back, I think that my youth evoked a sort of “protection response” from everyone.
I often felt underestimated because I only answered a phone, all day, every day. The switchboard was more complex now that we had gone from 12 salesmen to 22. I also answered all parts and service calls which brought the grand total of calls to around 800 calls a day. But I longed to do more with computers, to use my brain more, but alas, I was good talker! George wanted me up front to greet customers and deal with irate ones on the phone (oh thanks!). The Lord knew where I would be best suited, so I stayed up front, doing the menial jobs.
I did the menial jobs until today, however. This day, Thursday, September 11, would be the most exciting day of my life! I got to my desk, as usual, and got started on the day. It was a regular day – parts calls, sales calls, service calls, paging, paging, and more paging. Watching lights on the switchboard to see if they were picked up, trying to beat the “ring backs” (when a call was on hold too long it would ring back to me, and that usually meant an unhappy person on the other end!). I had to apologize for keeping people on hold too long, and listen to them gripe about the hold message. They often tried to tell me what the matter was, hoping that I, a lowly receptionist, could solve the problem. I had to make excuses for lazy salesmen or for a very overworked parts and service department. I had to learn to be calm when others were angry and to be cheerful to someone who had just cussed me out, since his salesman was on another line. I had a good relationship with the salesmen and our parts and service people. I didn’t mind “going to bat” for them. I really liked the service folks. They did the dirty work – literally – and I tried to help them all I could. I suppose that’s why George thought of me when the job for Customer Relations Manager came open.
He called me into his office at the end of the day.
“Valerie, we have a new position opening up soon.” He said. “We need a customer relations manager. You would have to work with the all the unhappy people that come through our service department. Your job would be to work with them and the service department to get them happy, and to keep their business. You would get a raise, your own office and a demo vehicle.”
I was in shock. I was nineteen years old. This had been my first real job. I had worked for three months at Taco Bell when I was sixteen, but did that count? I had never been to even a community college and here I was being offered a job in management? I couldn’t believe it. My mind immediately raced back to my first days on the job. I remembered Proverbs 22: 29 Seest thou a man diligent in his business? he shall stand before kings; he shall not stand before mean men. I had claimed that verse when I started working at Landers. My mother had claimed Proverbs 16:7 when she faced opposition after becoming an elementary principal. I thought I should have a verse in Proverbs to claim, too. The Lord had truly blessed my work at Landers, and I give Him all the praise. My mother taught me, by her example, that we can trust God’s word. It may not happen exactly the way we plan or on our time table, but God will keep His word!
I came back to the present. George was looking at me from across his desk. I didn’t know what to say. Part of me wanted to stand up, shake his hand, and say “I accept!” But, the other part of me said to wait. I waited.
“George, I really appreciate your considering me. In fact, I can’t believe you are considering me. Are you sure you know what you’re doing?” I asked laughing. He laughed and said that he did.
“Um, well, can I think about it?” I asked meekly, hoping he wouldn’t be offended.
“Sure! Let me know as soon as you can.” He said.
That evening, I arrived home at 5:30, my usual time. My Dad was home, but Mom wasn’t.
“DAD!! DAD!! GUESS WHAT??” I exclaimed as I burst through the kitchen door.
“What?” He asked.
“You’re never going to believe it!” I said, trying to catch my breath. “I got a promotion!! I was offered a job as customer relations manager!! I get a DEMO!! Can you believe it? I asked George if he knew what he was doing, and he said he did!” I continued my excited chatter for a while longer. Dad listened intently, soaking up each word. I could see he was happy for me.
“Valerie, I’m so proud of you.” He said after my motor mouth ran down. “You’ve worked really hard and I’m happy for you.” Those were the sweetest words I’d ever heard. To make my “partner” proud of me, like I was of him, what more could a girl want?
“Thank you, Dad. I don’t know if I’m going to take it. I wanted to see what you and Mom thought first. I told George I’d let him know soon.”
As soon as I arrived at church that night for my college class, I raced over to tell Terry the good news. He smiled and seemed okay about it, but he certainly wasn’t as thrilled as I was.
After class was over, he asked his Mom to go with us to get some ice cream at TCBY. We got our ice cream and sat down at one of the tables that were outside. We chatted for a while, and then I looked down to see Terry on one knee.
“Valerie,” he said. (Oh my! Was this what I thought it was?) “I talked with your Dad today, and said I had his permission to do this. I love you and only you. I want to spend the rest of my life with you.” He said looking up at me with that intensity of his. “Will you marry me?” He reached up to take my hand and place a ring on my finger.
I could only gaze at the ring on my finger! I couldn’t believe this was happening! His mother had tears in her eyes as she finally said, smiling, “Is that a yes?”
“OH! Yes! It’s a yes!” I was glowing!
We went to my house to tell my parents the good news and show them the ring. It wasn’t a huge diamond, but it was mine. Terry had sold one of his guns to get the money to buy it for me. You see, it wasn’t purchased on credit or from the excess of a large bank account, but with love and sacrifice. A four caret diamond wouldn’t be nearly as beautiful in my opinion.
We set the date for our wedding for four months later – January 2, 1998.
Oh, and the job? I didn’t take it. I stayed on as receptionist for a little over a year after that. What can I say? I was born to talk!
Through all of these events, and so many more since then, there has been one common thread. That thread is Jesus. He has led me, each and every step. I have begged for His leading. I have had to work, at times, to see His light when the path would grow dark, but I didn’t have to look for long! His light was there, bright and constant. The God that led Joseph and Moses and Joshua and Rahab and Esther and Ruth and Mary and Samuel and David…is the God that has led me.
I’m sure there are some folks, possibly even some Christians who think that God doesn’t do for people today what He did for those Bible time Christians. True, His methods might be slightly different, but His work is still the same. Go ahead, read His word, talk to Him, trust Him. Yes, it requires faith and some sacrifice. But it will never be more than you can handle. Just take that first step of faith. You will never be sorry.