The McMinn Courtships
From Volume 4 Issue 1 of Unless the Lord ... Magazine
INTRODUCING THE MCMINNS
Tom & Dianne McMinn live on a ranch outside of Hempstead, Texas. Tom has made his living primarily through his own oil business. Tom and Dianne celebrated their 32nd anniversary this year. They have 7 children, ranging in age from 31 down to 8. First there are 4 girls: Melissa, Maggie, Sarah & Rebekah; followed by 2 boys: Tommy (13) & Peter (11); and then a fifth girl, Molly (8). The McMinns have home schooled their children since their oldest daughter was 12. The oldest four daughters were all married through a courtship process. Now Tom and Dianne have been blessed with 9 grandchildren, plus two more are "on the way." With the McMinn family, one generation transitions smoothly into the next, with their oldest grandchild being just a year younger than their youngest child.
DECISION FOR COURTSHIP & TEACHING COURTSHIP
UTL: How and when did you learn about the concept of "courtship" and decide on this path for your family?
TOM: We really started this courtship process very early, when our older girls were 4-6 years old, before one ever heard that word. Iím not sure we actually heard the word "courtship", until well after we had purposed to practice it. We didnít necessarily read a book, the Lord just revealed to us that this was the proper thing to do, and so it would have been as early as the late 1970s that this became a part of our family culture. Then as the word "courtship" hit the scene Ė it really defined what our family philosophy was.
We initially decided that we werenít going to have our girls date in the traditional sense of dating. That was about as far as we knew at that point, but we told the girls when they were 4 or 5 and it became part of our family culture. So it wasnít a surprise to them as they got to be 9,10,11,12,13. And we also sheltered them from a lot of the traditional youth group activities that would have exposed them to one to one contact with young men.
DIANNE: I dated quite a bit through High School and college, and I am sure the Lord just placed courtship on my heart because I had never read a book, or never really thought about the issue of dating and courtship as relating to my girls until Melissa was 5 years old. She came home one Sunday and asked who her boyfriend was. She said "Mommy, Ďso and soí in my Sunday School class has a boyfriend but who is my boyfriend?" Right then is when the issue came up and I just knew in my heart that we werenít going to grow up having boyfriends and we werenít going to date.
UTL: So just how did you go about teaching them about courtship?
DIANNE: I explained to Melissa very early that we have boys that are our friends and girls that are our friends, but we donít have a boyfriend / girlfriend relationship, until we are much older. When we are ready to be a Mommy and a wife, then God will bring the right one. And of course the girls, at that young age, understood and that was fine with them. We also avoided things like boy-girl birthday parties and activities. Having four girls, a lot of the activities they were involved in were with just girls.
TOM: Iím not sure we ever had to really tell them why they wouldnít be dating. Probably that was because it was such a part of our family culture at such an early age. They grew up with that being a given. We never really sat down to say, "folks, these are the 6 reasons why we are not going to date." The general teaching of the family laid the groundwork for them to understand the need to maintain their purity.
I began using the phrase "recreational dating" for dating for entertainment value only. I had the point of view that recreational dating was hazardous to the moral health of the people involved. The girls and I would discuss that and it also became their conviction. I also continually talked to them about the importance of guarding their heart. So by the time that they were 13, 14, 15 and 16, I was preaching to the choir. From the standpoint of protecting their emotional and moral purity, we collectively didnít feel that dating was in the best interest of achieving that goal. We felt that a romantic relationship should only begin when they were of an age and a situation where any such relationship was in a position to continue into marriage.
DIANNE: Our relationship with our girls always superseded the rules. So we felt the girls trusted us and trusted our decisions and our wisdom on things. We always had our girlsí hearts from a very young age. And when they were in their teen years, what would have been at the height of the dating season for them, Tom and the girls had lots of opportunities to speak on the topic of courtship at different home school support groups and different church settings. So Tom and the girls had lots of discussions and lots of opportunities to share their convictions.
Thatís not to say that as young women they didnít struggle emotionally when they were in their later teens. Each one struggled at times with guarding her heart and her emotions, to not let them run away with her. Those are very vulnerable years of a young womanís life. So they did struggle, but never with our convictions as a family. They also saw their peers at church and other places struggling with boy/girl relationships. As they observed those relationships, it was a real confirmation that the decisions we were making were the right ones.
UTL: Were you ever concerned about how your daughters would find husbands without dating?
TOM: People around us were a lot more concerned than we were. I think at some times, as the girls got older, they may have been a little concerned, but they didnít verbalize it a lot. We just always felt that the Lord would bring the right young men at the right time. Dianne and I started praying at a very early age in our girlsí lives for their future mates. I personally wasnít the least bit worried. I knew the girls were mature spiritually, were attractive and well mannered and well spoken, and I knew there would be no shortage of young men out there. I was just praying for the right ones.
DIANNE: It was known among our friends and acquaintances that the McMinn girls didnít date. And some of their friends, who had gone off to college, would say, "Iím up here at college trying to find a husband and Iíve been dating since high school and I canít seem to get one, and here the McMinn girls have never dated and have the young men pursuing them!" So it was never a serious concern that God wouldnít provide.
UTL: Did you make any efforts to seek out other families having "eligible" young men?
TOM: We talked about that but never overtly did anything. We discussed that if we wanted the girls to meet godly young men it would be appropriate to be where the godly young men were, where the girls would be exposed to qualified young men, but we never put that into action.
THE FIRST TWO COURTSHIPS: MELISSA & MAGGIE
UTL: Tell us a little about the first two courtships. As I recall the first two happened about the same time and in a similar way.
TOM: Yes, and they were a little different situationally. The young man who wanted to win Melissaís hand (Andrew Humes) still had a couple years to go in college. He hadnít figuratively "built his house" and that was of some concern to me. Also Maggieís future husband (Matt Raines), though he had graduated from college, he was soon to be enrolled in seminary for a 2-year masters program. So he also had some schooling ahead of him. So the two older girls really started off a courtship where there was going to be some period of time before their husbands were going to be in their permanent jobs. That was of a concern to us. We prayed about it and considered it and felt that it was best to let the courtships move ahead.
UTL: How and where did Melissa and Maggie meet their future husbands?
TOM: You are going to hear a common theme through some of this. I am on the board of a Christian Youth Camp called Frontier Camp. Our older girls had worked at that camp, and in both cases the young men that they eventually married had worked as counselors there. Being a board member, I had a lot of visibility at the camp and it was well known that the girls didnít date. It was also known that if you wanted to talk to one of the McMinn girls, you had to talk to Mr. McMinn first. So in both cases these young men came and presented themselves to me, and I knew who they both were, having seen them in a work environment.
DIANNE: We had been pretty involved at this camp. The girls had attended this camp as young girls, and we were there quite a bit as a family, participating in their camping experience. We had also purchased a lake house close to the camp so we could be there when the girls were at camp and later when they began to work at camp. So we were very close to that situation. Additionally, the girls were able to observe the young men in a work environment at camp, under stress, and in different ministry situations.
UTL: How did the young men respond to the concept of courtship when you explained it?
TOM: They quickly took to it, at least in my presence, because they were very interested and intent upon the prize in front of them. They were respectful and eager to learn and listen and find out. I really got no argumentative points of view from them at any time. They honored my authority, which was one of the reasons that they continued on down the line. Iím sure this was all new to them and that they had some questions beyond what they asked me.
UTL: Do you know how the young menís parents reacted to this approach?
TOM: I donít really have a great feel for that. Iím sure their sons came and discussed it with them, but probably not at any great depth or length. I never got any feedback that the parents of the young men resisted what we were trying to do or counseled their sons adversely with respect to what we were doing. Early on we met the parents and developed relationships with them that were very positive. I can categorically say we never had any difficulty with any of the in-laws over the courtship issue.
THE LAST TWO COURTSHIPS: SARAH & REBEKAH
UTL: How did the last two courtships differ from the first two?
TOM: The last two were more different than similar to the first two. Sarah was the youngest to marry. We live in a rural town and attended a small country church with members numbering in the few dozens, mostly older people. There were really no candidates for marriage at the church.
One Sunday night our church was having a surprise missionary speaker, so we made it a point to go. While we were there, we noticed three or four young men sitting in the front row who werenít a part of our congregation. These young men were from Texas A&M University and had come down to Hempstead to hear this speaker (we are about 40 minutes from the Texas A&M campus).
The speaker was a man that we knew, so we invited him and his wife and the young men as well, over to our house after church for iced tea and sandwiches. Sarah had just gotten back from a missions trip and all the girls were tired, so none of them came with us to church. In fact, they had had a long day and were ready for bed. We called them from the car phone, giving them about 15 minutes notice, and said we are bringing 7 or 8 people home from church and asked them to have some soup, sandwiches and tea ready and to look presentable (they were in their pajamas getting ready to turn in).
So when we walked in, they were in their nice dresses and were smiling and had grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup on the table. It turned out that one of these young men (Drew Starnes) was the man for our daughter Sarah.
DIANNE: Dr. Martin (the speaker) had called Drew and said he was going to be speaking in Hempstead. Drew wasnít going to go, but decided to call his friend to see if he wanted to go. If the friend wanted to go, then he would also, though he was really hoping he would say no, because he was so tired. With each one of the girls when we look at the details of Godís hand in bringing them together with their mate, itís pretty miraculous.
UTL: Then how did things progress from there with Drew and Sarah?
TOM: We invited the young men over, not with a view to introduce them to our daughters, but to be sociable. While visiting with Drew we learned that he was involved in the Navigatorsí ministry at A&M and was very interested in missions. I struck up a friendship with him.
A couple of weeks later, he called to see if he and his prayer buddies could come out to the ranch and spend some time praying and then helping me work. I said yes, and they did. As they were out working in the afternoon, I remember Sarah watching the four of them walking across the pasture and she said, "You know, I donít think I could ever marry one of those guys, I donít know why."
The young man came to our home several times thereafter and I got to know him fairly well. Then one day he asked me to lunch and said he was very interested in pursuing my daughter Sarah. By that time he knew the courtship routine and so I told him I would present that idea to Sarah and see what she thought about it. And Sarah said, regretfully, that she just wasnít really interested. And so I bore that news to him, and with a considerable amount of dejection on his part, he just felt, well, "So be it." I was pretty final with him too, I pretty well said, "This is it, it is not a suggestion, it is over."
DIANNE: Sarah really wasnít interested in a serious relationship at that time. I think she just didnít want to pursue any relationship. But we wanted to continue our relationship with Drew as a brother in Christ. Our hearts were really knit to Drew from the first time we met him. He was a real precious believer in the Lord Jesus, and we had so much in common. We were excited about his life and what God was doing in his life, and his vision and goals.
TOM: He felt like this was the "death of a vision." He had just graduated from college with a civil engineering degree, so he went to Bangladesh on an engineering mission venture to help build a waste treatment plant for a missions organization. While he was over there, he corresponded a little bit with us. Dianne one day wrote secretly in her prayer journal that, "Whoever ends up marrying Sarah is really going to have to climb Mt. Everest." By some interesting "coincidence," the next morning we got a postcard in the mail from Drew Starnes from Bangladesh. It was a postcard with a vista of Mt. Everest and there was a little stick figure on top of Mt. Everest. He had an arrow pointing to it and he said, "This is me, I climbed Mt. Everest." And Dianne pondered these things in her heart Ė she didnít tell me about it for the longest time. After he came back from that mission trip, he came to see me one day and when he did, Sarahís heart was turned towards him and he felt it. He asked me to lunch again and it went from that point. And the courtship was fairly quick after that; a matter of 3 or 4 months and they were married.
DIANNE: Well, Sarahís heart turned towards him when he was doing a retreat for Worldview Academy after he returned from Bangladesh. The girl who was supposed to be in charge of the girls was not able to make it, and Worldview asked Sarah if she would be willing to come and be a girl counselor. She was involved with Worldview anyway and she said yes. It was that weekend as they ministered together at Worldview Academy that they were able to have a lot of serious conversation about spiritual matters and I believe that was when her heart was really turned towards Drew.
UTL: And what about your fourth daughter, Rebekahís courtship?
TOM: In this situation (with Rebekah), there was a young man named Lee Bertram who had seen her at this same camp (Frontier Camp) when she was younger, but really just from a distance and had asked questions about her. Lee knew our older son-in-law, Matt Raines, who was the assistant director at Frontier Camp. Lee was friends with the director of the camp and would occasionally visit the camp. Knowing Matt and Maggie, Lee felt he had some inside information, but I canít say he really knew Rebekah at all. Iím not even sure if Rebekah would have known his name.
When he came to see me, Rebekah hardly knew who he was. I donít think she had hardly spoken three words to him. Well Lee really felt like this girl Rebekah was the girl God had ordained for him to marry. So he wrote me a letter, introduced himself, and in the letter gave me his background of contact with Rebekah and indicated his desire to get to know her better. When I received the letter, I had no idea who he was, I had never heard of Lee.
DIANNE: The first time Lee saw Rebekah was when she was only about 17 years old and he observed her working in the camp kitchen. He wrote in his journal that he saw this young girl Rebekah and that she was the type of girl he would really like to marry. But she was too young, so he didnít even consider her at that time.
TOM: Lee wanted to know if he could come and visit with us. It so happened that the day he could visit was the day we were hosting an evangelistic outreach at our ranch for about 350 Chinese people from Houston. He came that day and led the baseball game with the young boys and we pretty much fell in love with him - at least I did and saw a lot of promise.
Over the next year or so, it gradually went from he and I spending a lot of time together into a bona fide courtship. Lee was working out of state, so he would come into town and spend some time with me and then spend some time with Rebekah in a family environment.
Over the summer, Rebekah worked at a camp in Colorado as an assistant cook, while Lee was working at another camp about 60 miles away. The interesting thing about this situation was that neither of them knew the summer plans of the other until they had both committed. Lee had my permission to visit her from time to time while she was there.
I asked him to call and ask my permission each time he went to visit, which he did, cheerfully. Some young men might have said, well Iím 25 and sheís 20 and this is kind of ridiculous and Iím just going to go see her when I want to. This was not what he did. Additionally, the camp director where Rebekah worked was a friend of mine and he agreed to keep a close watch on the situation for me. I also authorized him to make decisions with respect to outings by Lee and Rebekah if they could not get in touch with me.
At the end of the summer she came back home and Lee also returned to his family in Austin, and the courtship continued to develop. It became clear early on that Rebekahís heart was turned towards him. He was qualified and when he asked for her hand, I consented and they were soon married.
DIANNE: I think it was several months before her heart was turned, because Rebekah had just ended a pre-courtship with another young man, and we werenít quite sure where that was going. So after coming off of that, she was hesitant to spend time with any young man. I remember Rebekah specifically saying, "Dad, I donít want to spend any time with Lee, except within our family". Lee came to the Chinese picnic in October and February the next year was the first time they really spent time together.
UTL: You alluded to an earlier courtship with your daughter Rebekah, letís talk for a minute about "false starts" where a courtship has begun that does not lead to marriage.
TOM: There were four such situations with the four girls, and they were almost identical. There was only one of them that went to much length. In all cases we knew the families and the young men were very godly and ready for courtship. In three of the cases, the fathers came and talked to me first and then the sons. But for whatever reason, after spending some amount of time - from just one or two visits to six or seven visits with the girls - it was clear that the girlsí hearts were not turned towards these young men.
DIANNE: They didnít feel comfortable in the situations. Because the girls had never dated nor been involved emotionally with anyone, they would come to me. We were looking at these young men, and saying that these are more than qualified to be wonderful sons-in-laws. So we had no qualms. But the girls would say, "Mom, what does it feel like to be in love?" I would just have to tell them that when itís the right one you will know, someone doesnít have to tell you what it feels like to be in love. We would realize fairly quickly that the girls were not comfortable in a particular situation, that they didnít bond or feel any attraction. They felt uncomfortable in the presence of the young man.
TOM: In an effort not to defraud the young men, since it was clear that it wasnít going anywhere, we pulled the plug on those. I was particularly sensitive towards the young men, of not wanting to drag them through something that wasnít going to work out.
UTL: Do you have any advice for other parents on how to avoid such false starts? Or how best to deal with them?
TOM: I donít think you can avoid false starts altogether. I would say to try to qualify the young men as soon as possible. And donít require too much of the young man in terms of his time, commitment, and effort, before the girl has had some chance to determine if she is even remotely interested in this guy.
I think a parent owes it to a young man not to drag him through a regime for 5-7 months and then finally introduce him to the daughter and she says I donít like this guy dad. So I think a father has to be sensitive to expose the young girl and young man together early enough, so it becomes clear whether she is interested or not. If she is not, then there is no sense in continuing to go on.
One of the problems for the girlís dad is to go to the young man and say that his daughter is not interested, and yet to lift up his spirits. You may have to tell him, "We love you and you are a great guy but this situation is not ordained for you."
In all cases there was some profit in the false starts for the girls. They got to see that there is both an element of a checklist for a young man and also an element of a God given attraction that He puts there for that right person.
DIANNE: With three of these young men, God did later bring the perfect mate into their lives. God had a perfect design for them.
UTL: What do you think about the issue of serial courtships? Do you see this as a serious problem?
TOM: It is clearly a concern, and we know of some families that had that situation. It didnít really happen to us, in the sense that we didnít let a relationship get very far down the line. And we just earnestly got on our knees and prayed that the Lord would bring the right person and that we would see that quickly. So we just really wore out our knees way before these guys ever came on the scene.
I think it is really necessary for the girlís father to be very involved early on and to have much of the time with the young man spent as family time. He needs to be tuned in to his daughterís heart, and to be sort of a referee - being prepared to either guide the courtship either further down the line, or out of existence.
DIANNE: When you have young people of a marriageable age, I think sometimes the family may focus in on that too much and make it a major issue of their life. It gets out of proportion. I think we just need to live our life every day as unto the Lord and be doing the things that God has for us to be doing at that time. With some families it may become an all consuming thing.
WORKING WITH THE YOUNG MEN & THEIR FAMILIES
UTL: Tom, just how did you work with the young men and explain courtship?
TOM: I was uncommonly bold when approaching them and would go over the basic principles that were in effect with respect to my daughters. The overriding principle was responsibility for my daughterís protection. Young girls in our culture are unprotected to a great extent. My girls were not going to be unprotected. I was going to try to carry out my responsibility as their father to afford them the protection that they ought to have and that was the purpose for this courtship.
I understood that the heart of a young girl could be easily stolen by a young man, whether he was qualified or not, or whether or not he was of really good character. Iíve seen lots of instances where the young man steals the girlís heart and then the ball game is pretty much over.
My object with these young men was to make sure I understood who they were, what their objectives were, where they had come from, and what their heart was, before I would let one of my daughters come close enough where they had an opportunity to win her heart. And right off the bat I wanted to know whether these guys were pure. If they werenít, they just basically need not apply.
Then there were a few other things. I wanted to hear their testimony. I wanted to know about their family. I wanted to know about their relationship with the Lord, with their parents, and with their siblings. I wanted to know their educational situation and what vision they had for their life Ė where they were going. I also wanted to know why my daughter had caught their eye.
I would sit down and pray with these guys. I didnít load them up with books, but I gave them some things to read, to help them understand where I was coming from. Basically it was a discipling type situation where I would spend the time and teach them as if I was teaching my own son.
Once I got over that with these young men, I developed a relationship with the young man, outside of my daughter, which was very profitable. I could communicate with him and knew where he was coming from and going. I could tell when he was upset or nervous or whatever Ė I had a sense of his baseline emotion.
It got to the point that I really enjoyed the relationships I was developing with these young men. As it turned out, all these guys are great friends of mine now. Iím convinced, that if your daughter just brings a guy home one night and says, "Dad this is John, and weíre getting married," it would be very difficult and take years for the father to build the kind of relationship that I have with my sons-in-law.
DIANNE: I kind of feel like our son-in-laws have been grafted into our family and into our convictions through Tomís relationship with each one of them during that period. Our convictions about home schooling our children and courtship and the wives being in the home, etc., are now their convictions.
UTL: Did you establish any particular guidelines for time spent together during the courtship?
TOM: Yes, but I didnít like hand them a piece of paper with a bunch of doís and doníts. The rules were that they pretty much courted our family. We wanted them to get to know us as a family and I wanted the whole family to get to know them. I wanted to see how they would treat the younger brothers and sisters and how they would honor the rules of our home. Their times together would be sitting on the front porch at our home.
We told them that there was going to be time that they spent alone with the girl, but it was going to be after we got to know and trust them pretty well. Then we would allow them to spend time together doing things, maybe even like going out to dinner or something - where they could spend time together talking about issues they needed to talk about as a couple. At that time they were mostly discussing serious issues and not going out fluttering each otherís heart.
And having a working ranch, we have a lot of work to do. So I got an opportunity to work with these guys and to see how they responded when the days were long and the work was hard and they dropped a board on their toe and hit their thumb with a hammer. We got to spend the quantity of time during which the personís true personality comes out.
DIANNE: Each one of the girls realized the seriousness of a relationship like this, so they wanted to get right to the heart of the matter. Each one had their own personal checklist of convictions and things they were looking for in a mate. So right up front when they did spend time alone, it was spent addressing these issues. So they worked through a lot of these things fairly early in the relationship, before they allowed themselves to get wooed or to develop close emotional ties.
UTL: At what point did you get to know the parents of these young men?
TOM: We did not know any of the parents beforehand. We purposed to try and meet the parents as early as was appropriate. In all cases the parents lived out of town but none more than 3 Ĺ hours away from us. We made an effort to meet the parents at the earliest opportunity and several times in a social, non-threatening situation. But Iím sure they were looking at us, just as we were looking at them. In all four cases we have developed a good relationship with the parents, and were able to see qualities of the parents that led to the qualities we saw in the children. We have been blessed with really good in-laws. They are all different, just like we are different. Some we are closer to than others, but we have a good relationship with all of them.
UTL: Did your daughters have opportunity to get to know the young menís parents and siblings?
TOM: When we saw that the relationship was probably going to go somewhere, we encouraged the daughter to not only meet but to spend some time at the future in-lawsí house, as early as was practical. In all cases the in-laws were extremely taken in with the girls and took them under their wings. They loved them, made them a part of their family and were excited about them being grafted into their family from the very earliest meeting. We told our girls, "You donít just marry a person, you marry the whole family." "So you need to at the earliest possible time develop a relationship with the brothers, sisters, mother and father. Assuming this goes all the way to marriage, these people are going to be your family and you are going to be spending a lot of time with them. So if there are issues that you donít think you can deal with, this is the time to find out."
TIMING OF COURTSHIP & PREPARATION
UTL: What about the question of age? At what ages were your daughters courted and married? How old were the young men?
TOM: Melissa was about 17 or 18 when she had her first courtship situation, and it terminated at a "precourtship" stage. Then when she was 21, she began the courtship that ended in marriage when she was 23. Our second daughter Maggie, also had a false start when she was about 17 or 18. She began the courtship that led to marriage when she was 20 and married at 22. When Sarah was 18, she had her first courtship situation Ė again ended very quickly. Sarahís courtship with Drew began at age 19 and she was married at 20. Rebekah was married at 22 and the time from when she met the young man until she was married was probably 18 months. She probably had the longest courtship, because the young man was clearly very interested in her from the beginning but she didnít know him, so he and I spent a lot of time together over perhaps 6 months, before he spent much time with her in private.
DIANNE: We never put an age on the courtship. We just told them at a very early age that when they were ready for marriage, God would bring the right man for them. That could have been at 17 or at 30 or anywhere in between. With the girls having been home schooled most of their lives, I had trained them to be wives and mothers so that at a fairly young age at 17 or 18 years old, I knew they were prepared for caring for a home and that sort of thing. It wasnít until a few years later when the right young man came.
TOM: Andrew is about 1 year younger than Melissa. In Maggieís situation, Matt was about two years older than her. In Sarahís Ė Drew was 26 and she was 20, about 6 years older. With Rebekahís situation, Lee was 26 and Rebekah was 22. So with the last two, the young men were somewhat older.
DIANNE: There again, we didnít put an age criteria on the young man coming along. A lot of other things were considered - his maturity level and his walk with the Lord, etc. But we were real thankful that our sons-in-law for our younger daughters were older. We felt a lot of confidence in a young man that was older and more mature and settled.
UTL: What about the issue of the young manís preparation for supporting a family? How did things work out in this regard?
TOM: My criteria is that before the marriage, the man must have a workable plan to properly support his wife. Now does that mean they have to be making a lot of money, own a home and have two cars? No, it doesnít. But they must have a workable plan that makes sense, and preferably one already in place in terms of a job and the means to support a wife and the children that are apt to come.
The young manís preparedness to support a family may vary widely. With our sons-in-law, it varied all the way from barely acceptable to over the top. That was a consideration we had to deal with in terms of timing.
In the situations where their husbands were more prepared - had their jobs right there and were ready to get on to their professional life - I think they didnít struggle as much with the issues of finance as those who had a little way to go in their education or their job training. But every situation is different and you have to weigh everything in perspective. Thereís not a box that fits everybody perfectly.
DIANNE: With Melissa and Andrew, we had to weigh: Do we let them get married now? Or wait until he completes his education? It was a struggle for us and with Andrewís parents. Melissa, looking back, has shared that those early years of struggle in their marriage with the work situation brought them closer together. And she would have much rather been with Andrew than being separated for a period of 2 or more years
TOM: It shows you that every situation is different, and you need to be willing to look at every situation. You donít compromise basic biblical principles. But often times, I find that even when there is a biblical base for my conviction, it is sometimes not an absolute. So I have to be willing to evaluate that conviction in light of whether it is a biblical absolute or just my preference, and maybe be willing to lay down some of my preferences when they are overridden by other issues.
SUMMARY / CONCLUSION
UTL: Tom, how would you summarize your role as the father of the young woman?
TOM: My overriding concern is one of protection. As their father, I was obligated to protect them until I gave the rein of protection to their husband. Therefore I had to educate myself on where they needed protection and what were the vulnerable areas of a young girlís life at her various stages. It was also my responsibility to qualify the young men. I wanted to hand her over to a young man who would provide equal or better protection than I did. I wanted to see that he had the knowledge, wisdom, desire and depth of character needed. I also wanted to see a young man who would provide that kind of protection for his own daughters and sons.
UTL: Dianne, how would you describe your role in all of this?
DIANNE: The most important thing for me with each one of my girls was my relationship with them. As they got into the teen years, I wanted to make sure our relationship was close and that they could come to me with things they were struggling with and things in their heart. I wanted to be sure our relationship was such that we could talk through these things and pray together and go to Godís Word and see what God says. I was more of a counselor and a guide and an encourager. I would pray with them as they struggled, and we would read Godís word together and share books together (we read a lot of Elisabeth Elliotís books Ė Passion & Purity and some others).
UTL: What would be your best advice for other parents concerning courtship?
TOM: If I could give a young parent any particular advice, it would be to not delay thinking about these things until your child is 13 or 14. Start teaching these things early. I canít stress enough that courtship is not just an island. It is an outgrowth of your whole family culture. It comes naturally as your family develops convictions and talks about things, about what is Godís best for your family. My advice is to start these things off at a very early age.
I would also recommend that you spend a lot of time with your children and just enjoy and love them. So that over the years, by your love and sacrifice, you have "earned" their trust and respect to provide this most important direction. You just canít drop this on a 23 year old girl, youíve got to earn the right over the years.
DIANNE: As you get into the later teens and twenties, when you take something away like dating, and everybody else is dating and thatís a big part of the culture, you have to replace it with something. You canít leave a vacuum. The girlsí social life revolved around our family. Since we didnít want them to have a social life of dating, we had to come up with their social life. So we had to go the extra mile and we chose to do that through ministry, which was hospitality out of our home. I wanted the girls to learn how to prepare meals and how to entertain. So we did quite a bit of hospitality, inviting families home from church, having dinners and different things. That became a big part of their social life. And they were also involved in a lot of mission work, traveling quite a bit on mission trips.
You have to prayerfully consider what their gift is, what is our familyís gift or calling, and how can we incorporate this into our family environment to get them through these years. Try to plug into some type of ministry where they donít feel like they are just sitting and waiting, but that they have a purpose and a calling.
Also, our courtship stories may be different from many. With each one of the girls there was a very qualified young man, friends of our family, young men we knew, that would perfectly fit your checklist for a son-in-law. We didnít linger on those relationships once we saw our girlsí hearts werenít turned Ė we didnít want to defraud the young men in any way. So those courtships never really got off and running.
All four of the young men who courted and married our daughters came from Christian homes, were all saved at an early age and loved and served the Lord. But they were not home schooled like our girls were and had not been taught about courtship. We really had to put aside our prejudices, to not put God in a box. It is almost as if God has engrafted these young men and their extended families into our family. We just had to trust God as we prayed and ask for wisdom.
UTL: Well now that you have four daughters married through courtship, would you recommend it to others?
TOM: Well Dianne says itís the only way. But certainly itís not really the only way - we only have to look at our neighbors to prove that. We think itís the best way. Anytime you are adhering to Godís principles it is the best way. It has paid great dividends in our family, and I would never consider doing anything but what weíve done.
Sometimes I think people get a little lost with the word "courtship." Iím not even sure I really like that word a lot. You can use the word "courtship" or not, but it is basically a principle of applying Godís character, commandments and holiness, and His command for a father to protect his children, to helping your daughter find her life partner. You could call it courtship or call it something else. But somebody would have to chain me up and drag me away to get me to think about doing anything different with my 5th daughter Ė probably shoot me I guess.V