W Publishing Group
EVANGELIST DAVE ROEVER was sharing his riveting story that Sunday night in March at First Assembly of God Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan. So many people from all over the region had flocked to the church to hear him that an overflow room had to be set up. Being late, that’s where my brother,Norm, and I ended up, sitting on folding chairs and watching the presentation on a large video screen.
A grenade had blown up in Mr. Roever’s hand when he was a young soldier, permanently disfiguring him. His testimony described how his faith in God had helped him survive not only the injuries to his body but also the injuries to his mind and his emotions in the years since the accident. His story was fascinating. But I have trouble now, twenty years later, remembering many of the details of that remarkable night. Instead I was stuck in a mindless episode of teenage-girl silliness.
Before Norm and I left home that night, I stood in front of my closet and fretted that I didn’t have anything to wear. I can close my eyes today and still see the outfit I ended up with: a funky green-and-brown sweater, a khaki skirt, cream-colored pantyhose, and some matronly brown pumps that used to be my mom’s.
At the church, I settled in beside Norm on our folding chairs, and when, during the service, the pastor invited us to “greet one another,” I turned around and found, standing behind me in the next row of folding chairs, the most gorgeous man I’d ever seen in my life. I think I even gasped at the sight of him as we automatically shook hands and said hello. He is SO cute! I thought, trying to keep my mouth from dropping open like a fish gasping for oxygen. And my next thought was, Good Lord! Look what I’m wearing. “Hi, I’m Tammy,” I managed to blurt out.
“I’m Trent,” he answered, flashing the most spectacular smile in the whole state of Michigan.
He looked older, like a man rather than a fifteen-year-old, as I was that night. And he had a girl with him. Probably his girlfriend, I thought. There goes that possibility.
He definitely stood out from the crowd in his sharp, brown blazer that fell perfectly from his broad shoulders. Beneath the blazer he wore a soft, beige pullover and khaki slacks. He had a strong, movie-star jaw line, perfect blond hair, and a smile that exuded charm and charisma. I couldn’t wait for the service to end so I could get another look at him. But when it was time to leave, he had vanished.
People had come from other churches all over the area to hear Mr. Roever, and since I hadn’t seen the cute guy before, I assumed he was from another congregation. I felt sad, thinking I probably would never see him again.
A TRIO OF MR. UNIVERSES
A few nights later, I was back at church, sitting with some girlfriends near the front of the auditorium during youth group. First Assembly was a big, enthusiastic church, and that night, as usual, we were singing “Jehova Jira” seventy-seven times in a row (or at least it seemed like it) with our hands lifted high. I happened to turn my head toward the back just in time to see, walking in the door, the three yummiest guys I had ever seen.They were big, athletic, football-type hunks—and one of them was the guy I’d seen in the overflow room. Trent. I closed my eyes and silently shouted, Thank you, Jesus!
My heart pounded as the trio of Mr. Universes found a place to sit.
Then the coolest thing happened. Trent and the other two joined right in the singing of “Jehovah Jira” with their hands lifted up as they worshiped the Lord. There was something so absolutely attractive about that moment that I just knew I had to get to know them—and Trent was the one I had my eye on.
There were more than three hundred young people in First Assembly’s youth group, so, to help the kids get acquainted, the big group would break up into fellowship groups based on the area of the city you lived in. Fortunately for me,Trent and I both lived on the north end of town.
I wanted to get to know this good-looking guy (probably like every girl in that youth group!), but when we met again in the small fellowship group, I lost my confidence as I got a closer look at what he was wearing. Trent had on all the cool labels: perfect designer clothes in the latest styles and best colors. He looked like the guy in Ralph Lauren’s Polo ad. Sizing him up, I reconsidered my prospects, knowing that my family was obviously in a different income level.While we had everything we needed, we didn’t have a lot of the things we wanted, including the coolest clothes. Thinking of my mom’s hand-me-down shoes and the other plain, store-brand outfits that hung in my closet, I thought,He’ll never go for me. My family doesn’t have the money to dress the way he does.
Still, I wanted to give it a try. The fellowship group met at a private home, and the first time Trent attended, I poured on the charm. Suddenly I was Miss Sweetie Pie with the big servant’s heart: “Can I get you anything? Would you like something to drink?” I was serving everyone, not just Trent and his brothers (the other two good-looking guys who had first appeared with him; the girl I’d seen with Trent the first night wasn’t there). I finally sat down after taking around yet another plate of snacks, this one full of candy, and I was so excited, thinking, We just shared some SweetTarts. Oh, I am SO going to kiss him later!
Trent and his brothers were sweet but shy, and we probably hadn’t exchanged more than a few words that night (including “Like some?” and “Thank you”), so I was shocked by what happened as the meeting ended. For some reason, I needed a ride home that evening; I can’t remember why. But I spoke up as the meeting ended, asking if anyone could give me a ride, and as soon as the words were out of my mouth, Trent piped up. “We’ll take you home,” he said.
“You will? Awesome!” I practically shouted. Every head in the room turned to look at me, and every girl in the room was probably thinking, You lucky thing!
Trent didn’t drive; I was surprised to learn that he wasn’t old enough. Despite his mature, manly appearance, he was seven months younger than I was. In fact, while I was a fifteen-year-old sophomore in high school, he was a fifteen-year-old freshman at a different school. His older brothers,Tate and Troy, were with Trent that night, and one of them did the driving. Somehow (is it any surprise?) I managed things so that I just happened to end up in the backseat with Trent. Settling in beside him, I couldn’t believe my good fortune.
“Was that your girlfriend with you the other night?” I asked, holding my breath, hoping he would answer the way I wanted him to.
“Hmmm. No, I don’t have a girlfriend,” he said, sending my heart into orbit. “That was Shelley. She lives with us.”
I nodded sweetly, trying to sit still. What I wanted to do was jump out of the car and give someone somewhere a high-five.
Part of my wish came true. I did get to jump out of the car. Even though it was March, there was still snow on the ground (this was Michigan, after all).We were pulling away from the fellowship-meeting home when all of a sudden Tate shouted, “Snowball fight!”
Evidently among Trent and his brothers there was a frequent need for displays of rowdiness, and that was fine with me. I’d been a tomboy all my life, and I was sure I could hold my own in any snowball fight anywhere.
So out we jumped, and the battle began. I was laughing so hard I could hardly straighten up to take aim at anyone, and my shoes were so slick that I spent more time sprawled in the snow than I did hurling snowballs. But I gave it my best shot.
BEGINNING THE ROMANTIC ADVENTURE OF A LIFETIME
I didn’t have any gloves on, and by the time peace was declared and we had piled back into the car, my hands were nearly numb. I rubbed them together, trying to get the circulation going again.Without a word,Trent reached over and cupped my small hands in his larger ones; then he brought them to his lips and blew on them to warm them up.
My brain was racing with wild thoughts, especially one that blazed, Oh, my gosh. If this guy didn’t like me, I don’t think he would do that! By the time the car stopped in front of my house and I trotted up the walk to the door, I was feeling lightheaded. On the porch step I turned to offer a little wave of my hand then ducked inside and fell back against the door, wondering,What just happened? Is it possible he actually likes me?
I could hardly wait until the next Wednesday night church service, hoping . . . well, hoping Trent would propose and we would live happily ever after. Instead, the second-best thing happened: he asked me to sit by him during the service. That’s how this sweet love story began: two fifteen-year-old kids meeting at God’s house and setting off on the romantic adventure of a lifetime.Trent was a young man who was driven by the things of God, yet he was so much fun, so full of life. It was very important to him, not only that we grow closer to each other, but also that we grow closer to God.
The first part of our “romance” was a bit complicated. I wasn’t allowed to date until I was sixteen, so while I waited to turn sixteen I didn’t date Trent Lenderink. I dated his whole family.
There were seven of them. Besides his parents, Tom and Sally Anne Lenderink, Trent had two older brothers and two younger sisters—plus assorted “adoptees.” His godly family was forever bringing into their home a young person who had noplace else to go or who had family problems and needed a place to live until the difficult issues were resolved.The church would call them up and say, “Could you help this kid?” And for a couple of months or even a year, they accepted that young person into their home as family. Trent’s mom told me later that she thought one of the things that influenced his life was that, as he was growing up, the Lenderinks always had people living with them. So the five kids grew up having to share their rooms, their beds, their belongings. It helped them all become more aware of others’ hurts and needs. Mom Lenderink said she believed the Lenderink kids’ love for and interest in others became a ministry to the people who passed through their lives.
The Lenderinks worked together in a group of innovative, familyowned businesses centered around wood products. Years earlier, Grandpa Lenderink—everyone called him Poppy—had started making specialty business cards from all kinds of wood, mostly as a hobby. He shaved the wood into slices about two-thousandth of an inch thick using machinery he had developed that would slice it, bake it, and print it.
Soon the hobby turned into a major business that eventually was passed down to Trent’s brother Tate, and the whole family worked together making, marketing, and shipping these products as well as several others.
The Lenderinks lived on property that was fondly referred to by outsiders as “the compound.” The office and manufacturing facilities were located in the midst of hundreds of acres of family-owned forests. Their large home was nearby, nestled against a big lake, and Trent’s grandparents lived on the property too.
The first time they brought me home with them, I eyed the jet ski stored in the boat dock, the four-wheelers, the trampoline, the dune buggy, the snowmobiles parked in one of the sheds, the beach volleyball pit beside the lake—all the “toys” and fun things anyone could imagine— and I thought, Happy birthday to me!
Our family dates usually followed this pattern: After Sunday night or Wednesday night church, Trent would ask me if I’d like to go with his family to Pizza Hut or Fables, another local hangout. “My parents will take you home afterward, OK?” he would say.
My heart in my throat, I hurried to ask my mom if I could go. I never wanted to ask my stepdad, Roger. He was usually the no guy. So I always went to Mom, and I held my breath, hoping she would say yes right away and not, “Go ask your dad,” as she often did.Whenever she said I could go, I skipped back to Trent, the good news lighting up my face, and off we went. All eight of us.
The Lenderinks had an extended-version minivan. It was a white Caravan with the oh-so-cool simulated-wood paneling on the sides. I remember crawling into the car the first time we went to Pizza Hut and heading for the farthest seat in the back, hoping Trent would follow me back there. He did, of course. Then I sat there, my hands in my lap, hoping, hoping, hoping that his family would like me.
Trent was a sweet, polite young man, and I noticed right away that his family was protective of him.Actually they were all protective of each other. I didn’t want to do or say anything that would give any of them a reason to think I wasn’t the perfect girlfriend for their cherished son and brother! They obviously wanted the best for Trent—and I wanted to be that best.
THE FIRST KISS
The first night we went to Pizza Hut, I fell in love with his family.We laughed and joked and ate pizza until we couldn’t hold one more slice of pepperoni. The outings became the highlight of my week. And then came the evening when, after feasting on pizza, Dad Lenderink pulled up in front of my house and said, “Trent, walk her to the door and give her a kiss.”
I’m sure we both turned beet red! Especially when Trent’s dad called to me, as we climbed out of the car, “Don’t let him forget his manners, Tammy.” Rolling his eyes, Trent walked me to the door, as usual, and with six pairs of eyes watching excitedly from the minivan, he gave me that first quick little kiss. It was nothing more than a brief tap of the lips, but it seemed to lift me right off the ground. I floated through the door and into my house then waltzed dreamily into my bedroom, thinking, Oh, my gosh! I’m SO in love! I pulled out a piece of paper and my box of felt-tipped markers and set to work creating a masterpiece of tribute to the guy who’d just stolen my heart.
“I Love Trent,” I wrote in brilliant red marker on the white construction paper. Then I pulled out the orange marker and carefully outlined the first letters: “I Love Trent.” Next the green marker came out: “I Love Trent.” I had completely filled the entire sheet of paper with a rainbow rendering of my heart’s passion when my brother walked into my room. He took one look at my artwork and sniffed. “You are so retarded,” he said.
I turned sixteen before Trent did, so I got my driver’s license first. Not that it did me any good, because I didn’t have a car. So Trent and one or both of his brothers would pick me up in the boys’ big Jimmy SUV and take me out to the Lenderinks’ home for our “dates.” Then we would all pile back into the Jimmy, and they would take me home.
When I remember all the nights Troy and Tate waited in the truck, watching Trent walk me to the door and kiss me good-bye, I think it’s a wonder they didn’t die of nausea! When Trent finally turned sixteen, he was away on a mission trip, so the driver’s license had to wait. Even after he returned from the trip, there was no time to enroll in regular driver’s ed and then take the test, because he was carrying a full load in high school and worked in the family business. But without my knowing it, he took weekly driver’s ed classes at night for two or three months. Meanwhile Troy and Tate continued to be our constant dating companions and chauffeurs. It was tough for all of us.
Then one night, I opened the door and found Trent standing on the porch alone—and behind him, I could see that the Jimmy was empty.
“Trent, you are going to get in so much trouble!” I scolded him. “I can’t believe you’re driving and you don’t have your license.”
“I know, I know,” he admitted, always a little embarrassed that I was older than he was and had had my license for months already. He took me to a popular place called Robinette’s about a mile from my house, and I thought, OK, he’s not gonna drive too far. Maybe it’ll be OK.
He disappeared inside the building and came out carrying donuts and cider. Then, as we sat there in the Jimmy, enjoying the treats, he reached into his back pocket, pulled out his wallet, and flipped it open, a huge grin plastered over his face. I turned the wallet so the light wouldn’t glare on it and saw . . . his license.
“Trent! When did you get this? This is great! Why didn’t you tell me?” I was so excited, thinking we could finally have a real “car date.”
“I wanted to surprise you,” he said, flashing that smile. It was the first of many years of sweet surprises. Trent loved to give me little gifts or cards, always unexpectedly. Out of the blue would come a little bunch of flowers or a card or something he had made from wood. I loved getting the gifts. But most of all, I loved being with Trent.
On one of our dates,Trent brought me to his house. It was the middle of winter, and he led me out to the shed where the snowmobiles were parked. He helped me into one of his sisters’ snowsuits then lifted a helmet off the rack and set it gently onto my head. I watched through the plastic face shield as he pulled on a snowsuit and helmet himself. Then we climbed onto the snowmobile and took off.
The Lenderinks owned a lot of land. Much of it was forested and hilly, and we zoomed over the trails that night, loving the way the snow glistened in the moonlight. At the top of the biggest hill, Trent eased to a stop and switched off the key.
We sat there on the snowmobile, our helmets tilted back as we took in the vast expanse of stars twinkling in the cold, winter sky. In fact, I tilted my head back so far that, overbalanced by the huge helmet, I tumbled backward off the snowmobile, pulling Trent off with me! We laughed, sitting in the snow and enjoying the moment. And then Trent grew quiet and reached up a thick-gloved hand to touch my shoulder.
We sat there, quietly staring into each other’s eyes in the moonlight, looking like big-headed space aliens, and each of us thinking, If I didn’t have this darn helmet and snowsuit on . . .
And the moment was gone. But summertime came, and the helmets stayed off, and the romantic moments continued. Sometimes I would come back home with the Lenderinks after an evening church service, and when everyone else got out of the van and went into the house, we acted like we were going into the house too. But instead, we sneaked back into the van to make out!
I loved kissing Trent. It was my favorite thing to do, and we did that every chance we got. I was so in love with Trent. This went on for four years, and as we gained physical maturity (and additional hormone surges) I wanted more. Our church’s youth group was big on maintaining purity before marriage, and the “true-love-waits” message had been drilled into me since I was too young to even know what true love was waiting for. But despite this background, by the time Trent and I were eighteen or so, my spirit was longing to be strong, but my flesh was weak.
I might have given in if Trent had asked. But in every instance,Trent was the stronger one. Every single time. Isn’t that amazing? On those nights when our lips were chapped from hours of kissing and our hearts were pounding and our bodies were pushing us toward the next step, Trent was the one who would push me back ever so gently and show restraint.
“Baby, you are such a gift from God to me,” he would say. “God’s got a plan for us together. And I know a big part of that plan is remaining pure in our minds and in our hearts. It’s going to be worth the wait, girl. I promise you. It’ll be worth the wait.”
Trent was the one who would say, “Stop.”
I was the one who would answer, “I can’t take any more waiting! What’s the big deal?”
“Trust me, girl. It is a big deal,” Trent would say. “You’ll be so happy we waited. Trust me.”
But for me, because of my background, trust didn’t come easy.