Janeen and I met when I traveled to Iowa to visit my best friend Jason in May of 1978. I was living in Massachusetts at the time working in a large computer center for a big company. Jason and I had reunited at our 5th High School reunion, having graduated from West Boylston Jr-Sr High School in 1970. We had gone our separate ways after high school, him to the army and Vietnam and me into a full blown long-haired hippie. We were excited when we ran into each other that night.
We spent some time together while he was in town and he kept telling me I needed to get saved. He had met Jesus when over in Germany.
“What do you mean “I need to get saved?” Saved from what” I chided him
“From hell!” Jason always was a very direct and driven person. I remember him taking on an Amway business in his junior year in high school and making good money. Sure beat the caddying we did at the country club, or my paper route, or washing dishes at Franklin Manor, which was my high school job.
“Did you become a Jesus freak” over there?” This was the time when Jesus freak was a popular name for someone who went around saying Jesus saves, Jesus saves. These were the years of “Day by Day” and “Put your Hand in the Hand” being popular songs on AM radio.
Jason replied “You’re my best friend and this is the best thing that ever happened to me. I have to share it with you.”
“Well. I appreciate that, friend, but I want no part of it.”
He didn’t give up and I didn’t give in. We kept in touch after that and I traveled to Iowa to visit him for the first time in 1976. It was a spur of the moment thing. I had some vacation time coming up and Labor Day weekend was right around the corner. Thursday afternoon I gave him a call.
He picked up the phone. “This is Jason.” Short and sweet. Hard as nails.
“Hey Jason, I’m coming out for a visit!” He recognized my voice and got all excited.
“That’s great! When are you coming?”
“I’ll be there Saturday morning!” It was a 22-hour, 1,500 mile drive straight through, so I figured a couple stops along the highway to sleep and I’d be good. No hotels for me.
“Wow, that fast?” He asked. “That would be great.”
“Yup, I’m heading out first thing tomorrow morning. Me and Sophie will be just fine.” Sophie was my burnt orange Dodge Opal. She was a great car. A nice little four passenger sports coupe that god great gas mileage (not that we thought much about that In those days). I have no idea where I got the name from, but she had travelled with my many miles. This was just one more jaunt. I arrived just when I had promised and we embraced at seeing one another again.
The first night I was there we went to a southern Baptist church in Fairfield, Iowa. There was a missionary preaching that night, and all I can remember about it was that it was a hell-fire and brimstone message. The preacher had told me that it was a place I would burn forever, but never die. That I would thirst forever, but never get a drink. Hat worms would gnaw at my skin and crawl on my body and I’d feel everyone. He told me that unless I confessed my sins and asked Jesus to be my Lord, that I was headed there. He said there was no other way.
After that message I knew I was headed for hell, and I knew I did not want to go there. They gave the altar call and raised my hand to accept Jesus. When they asked if all who raised their hands would come down to the altar, I could not move. I was frozen in my seat. My body would just not get up and go there. I prayed the prayer in my seat and we left.
The night before I left Iowa, Jason’s pastor came to his trailer home and talked to me about that service. I told him why I raised my hand and he said I could receive Jesus right there in my friends living room. He asked if he should lead me in prayer and I said no, I knew what I had to say. I prayed for forgiveness, repented of my sins and asked Jesus to be Lord of my life. I got saved that night.
The next year I went out to Jason’s wedding – he married that Iowa girl. I decided to travel again to visit him in 1978, not knowing how that trip was going to change my life forever. After the long trip I walked into his house and he was on the piano playing a song.
“Do you recognize this song” he said
“Why yes, I do. It’s “You Light Up My Life”. I said. He played the chorus and we sang it together. We sang together as kids in church quite often so this was no weird thing. Then he started playing another song and asked me if I knew that one. I did not.
“It’s called Blessed Assurance. Come on over and sit down, I’ll teach it to you.” I sat down on the bench beside him.
After getting saved back in 1976, I started attending the church I grew up in, the First Congregational Church in West Boylston, Mass. My mom was the church secretary, so we were always there, Jason went to that church too. But I had never heard this song. I had been out of church since my mid-teens, so it was odd being back in that church. But I was well accepted as a lost sheep who came back to Jesus.
I was always one that was quick to pick up a tune, and this was a pretty easy one. I fell in love with the chorus right away. “This is my story, this is my song. Praising my Savior all the day long. This is my story, this is my song. Praising my Savior all the day long.” We sang together for a while then he said he would take the first verse and I should take the second. I said OK. We stopped practicing to have some lunch, and then he asked me
“Will you sing this with me in church?”
“Sure” It was Saturday so I had time to catch on.
“Well, we have to memorize it” No problem I thought. I had two verses to memorize and the chorus was a breeze. We practiced some more when he turned to me.
“We have to have it down for tonight”
Tonight? Why tonight” I asked
“Because we go to the television studio and record the service tonight” He said very matter-of-factly.
“Did you say television?”
“Yup, sure did. Don’t worry, you’ve got this” He said very calmly/
I said OK and we continued to practice. We were leaving in two hours and he wanted to have it down real good, He picked up his guitar and we practiced some more because he would be playing guitar that night. We got ready to go and headed to the church to meet the others who were heading down. When we got there I met the pastor, organist, a couple of church members, and few other people who were coming along for support. It was about an hour and a half drive to Kirksville, Mo where the recording studio was. We got there and the service went just fine. On the way back we stopped at a diner that was open to have a bite to eat. I sat next to the organist and her younger sister sat on the other side of her. I ordered a hamburger and fries and turned to talk to her
“Hi Joyce. Loved your piano playing tonight.” I had met her earlier so knew her name. I had not been introduced to her sister.
“Oh, thanks Peter. It is Peter, right?” She asked
Yes, but I go by Pete. What’s your sisters name? I asked, looking over at the young girl. I was guessing she was about 15.
“Her name is Jana”
“How old are you, Jana?” For the life of me, I don’t know why I asked that question, I did have a girlfriend back home and was only staying for a few days. It was not something I really needed to know. I was 26 at the time, so this girl was way too young by any standards.
“She’s 15.” Joyce said.
“You wouldn’t happen to have a sister that is a little older, would you?” Again, I didn’t know where that question came from. I just blurted it out like I had thought this whole thing out. But I had not.
“As a matter of fact, I do” Joyce said with a ring in her voice.
“Well, could you have her in church tomorrow morning?” I asked. There’s another question that came out of nowhere. It was like something had taken control of my words that night. I didn’t need a girl out here in Iowa. I was just visiting! I’d be leaving in three days. What was I thinking?
“I sure will try!” said Joyce with a smile and a clear joy in her voice. I had no idea what would happen the next morning. We all finished eating, got in our separate cars and headed home, arriving back at Jason’s at around 11.
The next morning I arrived at church and sat a few rows back from the front. It was a small country church in the heart of the small town of Batavia, Iowa. I recognized Joyce when she came in. She took her place at the organ and the young lady with her sat behind me. She had on a pretty dress on with pastel flowers in the pattern. I knew who she was, but did not turn around or say anything to her during the service. After the service I went back to sign the guest book at the back of the church. As I signed my name and wrote West Boylston, Mass, the young lady walked up beside me.
“You came a long way to go to church today” she said.
“Yes I did!” I said and I walked out of the church.
Joyce told me later her sister Janeen was furious that I had asked she come to church and yet I didn’t even acknowledge her. But Joyce was very persistent and she convinced Janeen to come back to the evening service. Jason convinced me to help him lead worship for the evening service,. He taught me a few simple choruses as we practiced nearly all afternoon. I thought I was ready for what was to come.
Jason liked to be fashionably late, so we walked in just a minute or two before the service started. When I walked in the door, Janeen turned to look at me and our eyes met. For me it was like love at second sight. Something just jumped in my heart. I had never sensed anything like that before in my life. I smiled at her and nodded my head in greeting. We went through the worship service and sat down.
After the service Jason had a get together at his house for Mother’s Day. Janeen’s Mom and Dad and sister were all there with her. Janeen and I chatted for a little while and I got buzzed with questions. Before they left it was mentioned that the next night there was a fellowship meeting with other churches the next night. Janeen and I went back and forth for a bit with the old “I’ll go if you go” routine until we finally decided we would go.
Jason convinced me to sing a solo at the meeting so we practiced Monday afternoon. I rode to the fellowship meeting with Jason while Janeen and her sister rode up separate. Jason stayed for my song but had to leave early to go to work. On the way home, I rode with Janeen, her sister and her little nephew. The nephew was so funny on the way home that Janeen and I just laughed and laughed. I hadn’t had a real laugh like that for years. When we got back to Batavia, I wanted to go over to where Jason was working. My head was spinning. So much had happened in so short a time that I really didn’t understand what was going on. I wanted to talk to my friend tonight because I had to leave the next morning to get back to work.
Janeen volunteered to drive me over there, about a 15 minute drive. She had a sweet 1965 Ford Mustang. On the way over to Fairfield, right out of the blue, she started singing “You Light Up My Life.” It was almost surreal. The same song my friend had been playing when I got there was coming out of her sweet lips. She sang beautifully and my confusion grew. We got to my friends place and I got out of the car. I walked around to her side of the car and pinched her elbow.
”She you later” I said.
She said “Okay.” She tells me she was mad for a long time I didn’t kiss her goodnight that night.
I went into that gas station and sat down on a chair.
“Jason, I’m lost” I said, almost weeping.
“What do you mean?” he asked.
“Well, I don’t know where I belong right now.” A few tears started to form as I spoke these words. “I have a great job and a great future, but I feel like I am supposed to be here in Iowa.”
“What are you going to do?” He asked me.
“I have to leave tomorrow. There’s not a choice in that. I guess I’ll just have to figure it out.”
Jason piped up. “I’m sure God will help you.”tesst
“Yes, I sure hope so!” I stayed with him at the gas station until he closed up and we went home. I went to bed and awoke the next morning to get an early start. It was a 22 hour drive. Usually I drove straight through, stopping along the way to sleep for a little while in my car. But this time I got halfway across Pennsylvania and decided to stop at a Red Roof Inn for the night. I got into my room and was still feeling dazed. Looking for any answers, I reached into the nightstand and pulled out the Gideons Bible. In the front it had some helps, and there was one reference of scriptures to read in times of decision. I tuned the Bible to Proverbs 3:5-6
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not unto your own understanding. I all your ways acknowledge Him and he will direct your paths.”
I immediately picked up some of the hotel stationary and wrote Janeen a letter. I told her if she would be my girl, I would move to Iowa. I drove back to Massachusetts and went to work the next morning. That day, before she had even received the letter, I gave my letter of resignation, giving them 2 months warning. I knew it would take that long to train someone. They offered me more money, a different position, and pother incentives to stay. They just could not figure out why I would want to leave when my career was just starting to gel. One guy asked me “So are you going to go out there and get married and have babies?” I told him I wasn’t sure – but I just might!
Janeen and I traded letters and telephone calls for the next two months before I moved out to Iowa in August. She was still in High school and worked a night waitressing job in Fairfield, so often those calls came at one or two in the morning. I loved it when she called because it was not work calling – I was on 24 hour a day call. We would talk for an hour or two whenever she called.
Janeen, Jason and Jason’s wife all came out to get me in August of 1978. Janeen and I spent some time alone when they were in Massachusetts. I remember our first kiss coming at Pinecroft Dairy, a local ice cream place. We had ordered homemade ice cream cones, Janeen had chocolate chip and I had peppermint stick. We sat out at a picnic table and ate them and after we were done I leaned over and gave her a kiss. It was wonderful to feel her soft lips. There were many more kisses after that!
With just enough stuff to fill a station wagon I left my family, home and job to start new. Everyone thought I was crazy. My mom was very supportive, as she always was, but she sure did not understand. She was the one that hired me for the job I was leaving after being there 7 years. My brother had just arrived back from college the year before and we had started to hang out together again, especially on the tennis courts. He was really sad to see me go. But I just had to leave.
At first when I moved back to Iowa, I lived with Jason. I started a job at the local Pamida store as a stock clerk. Pamida was a Midwest department store at the time. It was quite a step back from my computer programming job and it came about on a whim. I had applied for another job at Rockwell that was the exact same job description I had left in Massachusetts. They called me for an interview and were amazed that someone showed up at their door out of nowhere and applied. The church thought God had put that job there just for me.
On the way home from that job, I stopped by the Pamida store and saw they were hiring, so just for kicks I put in an application there as well. I went back to Jason’s and that night the assistant manager from the store called me. He said if I would promise to give them 6 months he would hire me. I told him I would, fully intending to leave if Rockwell played. It was then I found out God wants me to honor my word. The Rockwell job was filled internally/
After about a month I moved into Joyce’s house where Janeen was also living. We dated and got to know each other over the next couple months. In early October I asked her to go out to dinner with me. I had purchased a small diamond ring and hid it in the glovebox of the car. This was the night! We went in the restaurant and the waiter sat us down at a nice window table with a candle in the middle. The décor was a bit dark with red table cloths and curtains. It was beautiful. The waiter brought us dinner and we each enjoyed the meal. After the meal, I looked over at her, took her hand and pulled out the ring.
“Janeen, I know we haven’t known each other very long, but I love you. Will you marry me?” I opened the ring box to show her the ring. Her eyes lit up as she held out her hand.
“Yes, I sure will!” she said as I slipped the ring on her finger. We kissed and left the Pizza Hut after a great date!
“I knew you were going to ask me tonight” Janeen said.
“How did you know that?” I thought I had done a good job keeping it a secret.
“I saw the ring in the glovebox before you got in the car” she giggled. “ I was so excited”
“I/m excited too!”
We were married on November 25, 1978. We now have three daughters and five grandchildren. Like all couples we have been through good times and bad. There were times we were not sure the marriage would survive but our faith in God and belief in His word kept us together through the toughest of times.