More than twenty one years I walked into a church in Elyria Ohio and was introduced by my cousin to a beautiful woman named Vantoria Larkins. I entered into a new season that would dramatically change the rest of my life.
Our first date was a month later. We met at MacDonald's in downtown Cleveland on Good Friday. Vantoria was in the city for an appointment and I was in between attending Good Friday services that were being held all over the city that day. I only remember snippets of the conversation we had but what I have always treasured is the joy I felt being with Vantoria for a few hours that day.
From that day on we started pursuing each other. Our time together was precious. Because she lived in Elyria and I lived in Cleveland we didn't see each other every day. But the hours on the telephone connected my heart to hers and on Fridays when I would get off of work I sped down Interstate 90 to see the woman that I had fallen in love with. I knew in twenty one days that I had discovered the woman that I would spend the rest of life with. I'd found my companion, my help and my love.
Vantoria fulfilled my vision of a wife. She was beautiful, educated and gifted. She was outspoken, brutally honest and very transparent. She introduced me to a new way of life that I had not known growing up in Cleveland.
I proposed to Vantoria one friday night as we were riding in my Camaro on interstate 90. The soulful sounds of Luther Vandross filled our space as I professed my desire to spend the rest of my life with her. And she yes she would be my wife.
On Saturday July 13, 1991 we were married in the presence of our families and our friends. I stood at the altar and watched as Vantoria walked toward me on the arm of her father. I was grateful and frightened that Vantoria was becoming my wife. Would I be able to be the kind of husband that she needed? Could I make her happy? Would she have a great life with me? I didn't know what the future held for us but on that day everything looked golden. It was a day that new beginnings were being established.
I could write a book on our twenty years together. July 13, 1991 began a life in motion for both of us. Within a year Quincy would be born, our only child. A year and a half after Quincy was born we were moving to the state of West Virginia where I was called to pastor my first church. A year after that we were moving to Danville Virginia to our second church. We would live there for over five years.
When I look back its really astonishing that we made it to year twenty. We both brought a lot of baggage into our marriage. Although Vantoria grew up in a two parent home I had not. And my view of marriage wasn't that great either. The way that I dealt with conflict was not to deal with it. It was easy for me to shut down verbally and emotionally. Vantoria had a different way of dealing with conflict and so we much conflict in those early years. Becoming a pastor and pastor's wife so early in our marriage also created a lot of tension for the both if us. We overcame many challenges in the early years with God's help.
There are two gifts that Vantoria gives me: Her love and her pride. She loves me and she is proud of me. And each day I try to live up to her expectations of me. Of course I fail. But I try to give her what she expects from me. So today I reflect on our beginning and on our continued journey. I thank God for making this unique creature to share life and love with me. My heavenly Father knew who I needed and He brought her to me. And by His grace we have walked together for the majority of our lives.
This woman that I love is Vantoria. She is the expression of God's love for me. God's grace to me and God's favor toward me. She is my helper, my motivator and encourager. She is my partner, my ally and my friend. God knew me and He knew her and He brought us together to know each other. She is the catalyst of my growth and the voice in my heart. She is the woman that I love.