They assigned us to Doug & Katie.
We were newly engaged and checking items off the to-do lists I had pulled out of the bridal magazines stashed under my bed. Pre-martial counseling was recommended in Modern Bride but the pastor at our church advised us to take a less formal route and instead sign up for a new program the church had started offering - marriage mentoring. Engaged couples and newlyweds were matched with couples who had long and healthy relationships for a season of support and encouragement.
We agreed to meet them at their home once a week for eight weeks. Our first night there was awkward, lots of long pauses, sideways glances and uncomfortable laughter. This probably should have been expected given the list of topics we were covering - sex, money, family planning, relationship histories. But Doug & Katie weren't afraid to dive in deep with us, listening to our plans, fears and insecurities and offering their own experiences and lived wisdom.
Sitting on their couch week after week, we came to love Doug's propensity to tell long semi-tangential stories and Katie's gentle prodding back to the topic at hand. We earnestly sought their advice as we grappled with the changes coming in our relationship. We did hard work on that flowery sofa, preparing ourselves for the harder work of marriage.
On our last night of formal mentoring sessions, Chris and I talked in the car about how much we'd miss seeing the Spanglers regularly, remarking about how close we'd become over the 8 weeks of meeting together. As that evening came to a close, Doug mentioned that they'd like to share a meal with us sometime, if we were interested. We made plans to do it soon after.
Our double dinner date was hysterical. Gone were the serious topics, the counseling workbooks, the personality checklists. Instead the table was set with craft brew beer and take out pizza. As we came in Doug mentioned he'd rented a movie for us to watch later on.
"It's hilarious," he told us. "I saw it with my son and I think you guys will love it. It's called The Hangover?"
Chris and I couldn't contain our laughter - here was a 70 year old man, a former pastor, who had spent the last two months mentoring us toward healthy relationships and now he wanted to sit in the dark and watch a debaucherous bachelor party gone wrong? We were in for the fun, even when it took forever to watch because Doug wanted to rewind the part where the tiger is in the bathroom and watch it again.
"You guys, there's a tiger. A tiger! In the bathtub." He giggled like a middle school boy.
Over the weeks and months that followed, Doug and Katie would become some of our closest friends, despite the fourty year age difference between us. We found ourselves sharing meals whenever we could - asking hard questions and telling good stories around the table. Doug and Chris shared a love for gourmet food which lead to a lot delicious dinners for Katie and I, including a night out at our first Michelin Star restaurant. When the server brought the first course of "vegetable ash crackers on a bed of hot stones" and walked away, leaving us with a square platter of what looked like garden variety rocks, Doug shamelessly called her back across the restaurant and demanded that she explain exactly what was on his plate.
"I'm old," he told her. "I don't know what this is, but I want to eat it, so talk slowly and tell me everything."
Classic Doug. Never afraid of the awkward encounter. Always game to try something new.
After our first pregnancy ended in miscarriage, the Spanglers were gentle, faithful friends who generously told us their own story of pregnancy loss and helped us grieve that little life we had already begun to love. When we found out we were expecting again, Katie was the first to offer to host a baby shower in celebration. After Bobby was born, they babysat for a whole day so we could have much needed couple time together in San Fransisco. Doug gave Chris a copy of a devotional book for new fathers that he wrote and Katie sewed us quilts after the birth of both boys.
With our own parents so far away, Doug and Katie became the family we needed as we started our life together in Berkeley. They shared secrets of staying on a budget and giving each other time to develop as individuals. They shepherded us through rough patches and showed us how to love each other by their example.
A world traveler who at various times served as a pastor, insurance salesman, tv and radio personality, writer and community organizer, Doug led a pretty amazing life. And he knew his time was coming to a close. Before we'd ever met the Spanglers, Doug had been diagnosed with a blood condition and given just a couple years to live. He'd already beat those odds when we first found ourselves on their flowered couch and though there were times when he struggled with weakness and fatigue, he was generally healthy these last few years while he and Katie enjoyed trips to dream destinations and time with their grandkids.
Yesterday morning Doug finished his time on earth with all of us and is at peace in the arms of Jesus.
To me, Doug's legacy is the lesson that everything is better when shared. A meal. A story. A joke. A bad movie. His gracious welcome and faithful love adopted me into his family and I am forever better for it, my marriage is better for it, my children will be better because of the time I spent with him.
Doug, I'd like to think that you're enjoying the best meal you've ever had at that gracious eternal table as you tell your long stories to those gathered near. Your life was incredible, both in what you accomplished and your example of faithfulness to us all. But I know today is purer and higher and greater than ever before - as you finally see Jesus, the One you loved and the One whose love shone so bright through you.
Thank you for using your time here to love us so well.
To God be the glory, great things He has done;
So loved He the world that He gave us His Son,
Who yielded His life an atonement for sin,
And opened the life gate that all may go in.
O perfect redemption, the purchase of blood,
To every believer the promise of God;
The vilest offender who truly believes,
That moment from Jesus a pardon receives.
Great things He has taught us, great things He has done,
And great our rejoicing through Jesus the Son;
But purer, and higher, and greater will be
Our wonder, our transport, when Jesus we see.
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord,
Let the earth hear His voice!
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord,
Let the people rejoice!
O come to the Father, through Jesus the Son,
And give Him the glory, great things He has done.
from To God Be The Glory
by Fanny Crosby