Tim’s side of the story
When I was at the seminary in Ft. Wayne IN, I was very fired up about my faith. God had recently woken me up to how little the things of this earth really mattered compared to things that would last for eternity. In fact, I came to the point that I had decided that I would be celibate. I had read Paul’s admonitions in I Corinthians 7 and Jesus’ words in Matt 19. It seemed that God called people to celibacy but few were willing to walk that road. Well, I was ready to accept it if it would bring greater glory to God.
I did not tell many people about my decision. I didn’t think too many of those I knew would understand. I already had a reputation among some of my fellow seminarians as being what they would refer to as a pietist. One person I did tell, though, was my field work supervisor. In the second year of seminary each of us were assigned to a church where we would do field work. I was assigned to Mt. Calvary Lutheran Church just south of Ft. Wayne on Lower Huntington Rd. My supervisor was Rev. John (Jack) Struve. We got kind of close, so one day, I decided to confide in him. He told me, “Tim, I think you are making God’s decisions for him.” and went on to council me about how great a wife can be for a pastor.
So that night I thought over what he had said. I thought, “Well, maybe I am making God’s decisions for him. But, again, the Bible sure seems to expect that more people would make that decision than actually do make it. So I’m going to start with the assumption that He would want me to be celibate. If he wants me to have a wife, then he is going to have to drop her in my lap because I am not going to go out looking for one.”
So now, if one did seem to drop in my lap, I needed some qualifications or standards to be sure that this would be right. With the kind of life I planned to live she would have to be an outgoing, people person. (I was more attracted to quieter types before that.) She would also have to be interested in evangelism before I met her. As a matter of fact there would have to be evidence in her life that she is interested in missions before I met her, because, of course, a girl might fall in love with me because I am so wonderful! She would say missions would be fine and all that because she was so infatuated with me, but then she might not really be committed to that life style, and then later, when the honeymoon wore off, she might want out and want to go back.”
And she has to be able to dance. (I liked to dance.)
And she must play the guitar. (I liked the kind of people who played guitar. Everyone who seemed to feel the way I did about God and life and worship seemed to be able to play the guitar.)
So there it was – my list!
- Interest in evangelism before meeting
- Interest in missions before meeting
- Plays guitar
Still, not long after that I reconsidered. I thought to myself, “Pastor Struve is a great guy, but he is just not where I am right now. Forget this whole thing. I am committed to celibacy.”
When I talked to the mission representative on campus I asked if they permitted single missionaries to go out because I had heard that they might not send singles to the field. If that were the case, I thought I might have to search for some other sending organization. But the rep assured me that that was not the case. He dropped a slide into his projector of a single guy in Papua New Guinea with a backpack on, ready to trek into the mountains. That was it! That was my dream! Go back into the bush with nothing but my Bible and do great things for God or die!
The third year at the sem is called the vicarage year when you are sent out to work with a pastor. I had asked for inner city believing that that would be my best hope for a cross cultural experience. I was excited to hear that I was being sent to Bayside, Queens in New York City. (Unfortunately, it turned out that Bayside was about as far from the inner city as you can get in New York City and was very much more of a suburban experience.) An upper classman I knew found me and said that he was familiar with the congregation, and the present vicar had just gotten engaged to the Pastor’s daughter there. “Wow,” I thought, “that is just wonderful! Now he will be like a son of the congregation, and I will be the crud who is replacing him.” He assured me that I was not to worry. “The pastor there has three more daughters.” He said. “You can marry one of them.” I didn’t say anything out loud, but I did not believe that this would be a serious threat to my secret intended lifestyle.
Not long after I arrived in Bayside I was invited to the Pastor’s home for dinner. There on the wall was a picture of the four daughters. The oldest one looked a little dumpy. No threat there. The second one was getting married to the previous vicar in a few weeks. The third was in high school, and the fourth was still in grade school. My thoughts on the subject were now confirmed. No serious threat here.
About two weeks into my vicarage was the wedding of the previous vicar. It was to be the social event of the year at the church. On the Friday of the big event there was a dinner in the gym. Every month the church had a Friday dinner gathering called the Mr. and Mrs. Club, and this month the wedding couple was to be the guests of honor. I was quite late for the dinner as I had been assigned to visit the families of all forty youth before the first youth group meeting (such is the life of a vicar) so I was out meeting families almost every evening. When I arrived, the serious eating portion of the evening was over, but I got some food and found a place and ignored the continuing proceedings while I ate.
Suddenly the entire gym was on its feet clapping and cheering! Something was happening, but I had missed what. Someone had just come in the door of the gym. Who could it be? The wedding couple was already in place. I turned to the double doors to my left and had to lean a bit to see past the people seated down the table from me. A girl had just come in. Her smile was shining like none I had ever seen. It lit the whole room. Her eyes sparkled, and she was radiant. I knew at once that she must be the eldest daughter who must have just arrived from Alexandria Va. where she was a teacher. But this girl was not dumpy like the picture, she was warm and glowing, and it was obvious that the congregation here loved her. It was also obvious that she was an outgoing, people person. Suddenly all my previous considerations on this whole subject were thrown into a bit of a tailspin. I remember immediately thinking, “It’s a good thing that I’m not going to the wedding reception, otherwise, I might have to ask this girl to dance.” (There would be a large reception on the church lawn for the congregation, but later, there would be a true reception by invitation only at a reception hall. I was not on that list.)
The Wedding was on Sunday after church. Being the vicar, it was my job to move hundreds of tables and thousands of chairs out on to the church lawn for the congregational reception of cake and punch. After the lawn reception, it was once again the job of the vicar to move the hundreds of tables and thousands of chairs back into the gym. Near the end of the job, a hand reached in to help me with the table that I was starting to lift. It was the pastor himself. As we put the table in place against the gym wall he said, “Hey, Tim, you have been working really hard on this wedding. We would like to have you come to the reception.”
Uh oh! At a reception I might be vulnerable to this girl’s charms. “I don’t know. I have a lot to do to get ready for this coming week.” I replied.
“No, we would really like you to come” he said. “Come on.”
Finally I agreed. “What could be the problem?” I thought. She was in the wedding party and would be seated up there at the head table, paired with some guy. So I accepted.
At the reception hall I felt like I had been set up. I was at a table right across from her. The guy that walked her down the aisle got up and left and sat with his family (he was married). The guy next to me at my table was the boyfriend of the high school daughter, and he was opposite her just like I was opposite the elder daughter. When the time came for dancing there was nothing for it. It was obvious that we had to ask the two girls to dance. What can I say? It was obvious. What else could I do? There was no choice. That’s just the way it was…Alright! I wanted to!
As we danced I got to know this Beth Pflug a bit. It turned out that since she was a couple years younger, the same guys that had been doing pre-ministerial undergrad work with her at Concordia, River Forest, were now the same guys who were in my class at the sem. It also happened that one of her friends, Randy Lett, was one of the most on-fire evangelism guys that I knew. He would drag some of us to evangelism events and stuff. One of those events was an All Concordia Evangelism Gathering in Chicago. Well, it turned out that Beth had been at that gathering. Not only that, but I remembered that Randy had taken us to a house one night after the events of the day were over where there was a party going on. Well, Beth also remembered being at that party. And she remembered that Randy had been there with some seminary friends playing ping pong in the basement. I had been playing ping pong in the basement that night!
Some things in my head started to click. She was obviously, from the first, an out-going people person. She was interested in Evangelism before I met her. Obviously she could dance. We were dancing at the moment. I decided to drop the BIG ONE!
“I am going to be a missionary.”
Well, it turned out that she had a few bombs of her own to drop on my well-constructed lines of resistance. When she graduated from Concordia she had applied to be a teacher in a mission school in Nigeria! But in those days they did not like to send single females to the field. She and her friends had also started a mission group on campus to witness to Muslim students that were there to learn English!
As I drove home that night I was flying a little higher than I wanted to be flying, but still, I kept saying to myself, “She probably doesn’t play guitar! She probably doesn’t play guitar!”
The next day Beth returned to Alexandria, and I returned to my role as vicar. I reviewed my responsibilities and saw that I was responsible for Vacation Bible School. (Vicars love that.) So I wandered into the church secretary’s office and asked, “What did you do for music last year for VBS?” I don’t even know what made me ask that question with so much time before I had to even think about that, but the answer blew my socks off. “Beth Pflug played her guitar.”
Well, there was no longer any doubt that something was going on here, but what? Was this of God or of Satan?!!!!!
Why would God do this? It was obvious that some are called to be given totally to God. But so few are willing for that now-a-days. Why then, when someone was willing, would God torpedo it? It must be Satan. But she too was obviously highly committed to God. How could Satan use someone like her? Why would God lead me to someone like her who was everything that I had first laid out in prayer to Him if the purpose was not His? With these questions I struggled throughout the fall of 1982. She came home a few times for weekend visits, and I enjoyed it immensely when she was around, but I did not know what to do. I did not want to ask her out and raise her hopes, and then dash them if I did not intend to pursue a relationship. Obviously she would be devastated and heartbroken if a wonderful guy like me asked her out and then did not follow up. In my mind I already knew that if I asked this girl out, I was going to marry her. If I was going to continue to pursue celibacy, I should not be doing things like asking a girl out. I spent many hours wrestling in prayer, seeking some kind of answer.
As winter approached I became convinced of one thing. If I was going to ask her out, it had to be at Christmas. It had to be like that because then we could date each other for the rest of my vicarage. I would have to ask her to marry me before I finished my vicarage so that we could get married at thanksgiving and spend some married life together in America before we would ship out and have to adjust to one another with the added difficulty of having to adjust to life in a mud hut in Africa on top of it. If I did not ask her by Christmas it was over. I would put this out of my mind and forget it. The timetable would then be too steep to let things work out as they must. So there it was! The interesting part of all this is that to Beth I was still just a casual acquaintance. She had no idea that her life was being laid out in such detail.
As Christmas neared, the window of opportunity became more defined. The church was allowing me to go home during Christmas break. I would leave the 27th for Michigan. Beth would surely spend Christmas with her family, so our date needed to be on the 26th. That left Christmas Eve as the last possible day that I could ask her out and still have everything work out according to plan. I prayed and debated with myself day after day. I could not settle the thing in my mind. Christmas Eve was now just days away.
Now, when I was in high school I went one day to see Disney’s Cinderella at the theater. That was well before videos, and you did not get many opportunities to see the classics. I went because I liked drawing and animation and this was a chance to see some of the best. I did not expect to be charmed by the story itself. But I loved it, and I thought to myself then, “This would be the perfect first date! I would like a girl who liked this show. The perfect first date would be to take a girl to see Disney’s Cinderella and then go out for dinner.”
A day or two before Beth’s arrival home for Christmas I was walking up Bell Boulevard in Bayside. I was completely at my wit’s end. I had to make this huge decision in a day or two, and I just had no idea what I should do. I told God I really needed a sign. I lifted up my eyes, and there before me was the marquee of the Bayside Theater…and… written across it in bright light were the words “Walt Disney’s CINDERELLA!” “A sign” I had said. And God had written it right across the ever lovin’ Theater Marquee!
Well, that settled that question. Now only one thing remained. Would I get the chance to ask her in time? Things started to work well in that direction. I was invited to the Pflug house for a little party between services on Christmas Eve. So that was it. If I got the chance, I would ask her out at that party, and everything else would follow according to plan. If I did not get the chance, it was finished, and I would go back to the life I had planned. It was all laid out now. No more debate. I would soon know the answer one way or the other.
Christmas Eve came. The first early service was the Children’s program. Later there would be a midnight service that began at eleven. I was preaching for that service. I arrived at the Pflug house between services, but there were several other families there, and Beth and I just never seemed to be alone in a situation in which I could ask her out. Finally, I looked at the clock. It was time for me to leave. I thought, “Well, this is it. I put it before God, but it just did not happen. It is over now. I have my direction!”
I stood, reached for my coat, and said, “I need to get going now. I have to preach at the late service.”
Immediately, Beth stood up across the room and said, “Oh, I’m singing in the choir and need to be their early too. Could you give me a ride?”
So there it is. In the car on the way to church I asked Beth Ellen Pflug to go with me on the 26th to see Disney’s Cinderella.
I did ask her to marry me before the end of vicarage, but an operation on her back goofed up the Thanksgiving wedding. We got married right after I graduated from the sem, and we went right from the wedding to mission orientation, But, of course, that series of events is another story.
Let us give thanks so the LORD for his unfailing Love and his wonderful deeds for men. Ps 107:8