Two people… a sea apart
How on this earth did a northern California university professor pair up with a missionary serving on another continent? This is a question frequently asked of the Mahars. If you really want to know, here’s how the story goes.
There was once… a middle-aged American professor… and a missionary living on opposite sides of the Atlantic…
Dr. Franklyn Mahar, while teaching at Humboldt State University on the northern California coast, was enjoying wonderful friends and a challenging career, but he began to weary of the secular environment, the dismal coastal climate, and the absence of a life companion. Alas, too young to retire, unable to change the weather, and with high requirements for Miss Right, circumstances remained status quo. It would take a miracle of major proportions for anything to change. And then, a miracle in fact did unfold.
Due to a re-organization in the system, the University began to offer incentives to their senior faculty members for an early retirement. Amazed and thrilled, the professor eagerly seized the opportunity and moved to Redding where warm sunshine warmed his bones and snow-capped mountains dazzled his eyes.
While adjusting to his new life he now had time for hobbies including a collection of View-Master reels that he’d begun in childhood. As he came across the scenes of African wildlife, he remembered that they’d been his favorites. Little did he know that back in those days, when his child-sized fingers had flipped the reels round and round to catch every detail, a little girl named Joanne, then living in central Africa, was seeing similar animals right before her own eyes—and that she’d been tagged by the hand of Providence as the future Mrs. Mahar.
Many years would pass before the two would meet. From childhood on, it seemed as though they were playing a game of hide-and-seek as their paths from time to time—almost passed—or perhaps did. Once when the little girl had come to America with her missionary family she’d visited identical places such as Trees of Mystery, which had charmed her, just as it had little Frank. Did they perhaps stand side-by-side gazing up at Paul Bunyan’s Blue Ox? The mystery remains unsolved. Later, when both were in college, Joanne would ride a bus from Biola University to Dallas, Oregon to see her extended family there, passing right through his home town of Ashland. Did she perhaps see him in front of his home, or as he was walking to Southern Oregon College where he was then enrolled as a student, or might he have caught a glimpse of her face in the bus window? Who Knows?
Much later she’d driven a young cousin—a student of Humboldt State—right up to the entrance of the college unaware that at that very moment her future husband was there! God saw, and apparently said, “Not Yet.”
Reserved for Each Other
Frank, following his graduation from Southern Oregon College, went on to grad school at the University of Oregon in Eugene while twenty-year old Joanne, now a graduate of Biola, flew off to Belgium for missionary service. After earning his doctorate in history, Frank accepted a teaching position in American History at Humboldt State while Joanne got deeply involved in missionary activities. Thirty plus years sailed by.
During that time each had experienced closed doors on other serious relationships that came short of that special Divine sanction. Why? Could it be that God intended each to remain single or was there, of a sort, a reserved sign hanging around each of their necks?
Meanwhile Joanne, for family and health reasons, had come to Redding where a friend had offered the use of a small country cottage to finish writing Shiny Shoes. After the second book came out and had begun circulating she struggled with a sense of uneasiness about returning to Europe. Something seemed to be holding her back. The turmoil persisted until one night she lay prostate on the floor crying out in anguish, “Lord, I’ll go anywhere, do anything. Just give me that special sense of clear direction and peace of heart and mind.”
The following evening the phone rang. It was the familiar voice of a Shasta Bible College faculty member inviting her to the school’s graduation banquet. The college was familiar to Joanne, as she’d received previous invitations to share aspects of her missionary experiences with the students, so she happily accepted without any second thoughts.
Getting to know you… with Puppy Love
On the night of the banquet Joanne found herself seated in a candlelit hall at a long table opposite an intriguing gentleman introduced to her as, “Dr. Franklyn Mahar, our new American history professor.” H-m-m… history, Joanne mused. One of her favorite interests. As the meal progressed the discussion turned to pets. Dr. Mahar told about his newly adopted Egyptian Pharaoh hound mix, prompting Joanne to brag on the Yorky mix she’d recently discovered on her doorstep thanks to some scheming friends who felt she needed the protection and companionship of the little mutt.
The banquet barely over, Joanne turned around when a voice above her head addressed her name and immediately proceeded to ask, “Would you like to have dinner with me next Wednesday at the The Sailing Boat?”
Joanne gulped and stood transfixed before the same blue eyes and dark hair—now with a sprinkling of silver highlights—that she’d seen somewhere in her dreams. Beyond that, the rich baritone voice had a musical resonance like none she’d ever heard before. From a distance she jerked herself to the present as the voice continued. “May I pick you up?
“A-h-h… l’ll meet you there,” Joanne managed to stutter.
It would later be revealed to her that the introduction had been arranged beforehand between the two professors. “If you don’t like what you see,” the volunteer go-between had said, “no one will ever know.” God bless go-betweens.
On the morning of that first date, Joanne wondered about taking her dog Geoffrey in the car with her, but since the weatherman had forecasted mild temperatures she answered the wagging tail and pleading eyes with, “All right, come on,” and at twelve o’clock sharp she pulled her green Nissan up beside a white Ford. After addressing a stern “be good” warning toward Geoffrey, she walked toward the restaurant where the handsome professor stood waiting. With a knowing wink from the owner—who happened to be one of the professor’s neighbors—they were led to a reserved table in a quiet corner.
The food, though attractive and well prepared, held minor interest for these two. It cooled while they looked into each other’s eyes and began to compare their past and issues important to each. As the professor told simply of his conversion, and of his efforts to live out his Christian life on a secular university campus, Joanne’s estimation of him grew to major proportions, and she would be further astonished to learn that her life as a foreign missionary only increased his interest in her.
After lunch the professor—who had now become Frank—walked her to her car where wagging-tailed Geoffrey pawed the window.
“That your dog?” he asked.
Joanne nodded and Geoffrey allowed Frank to stroke his back and scratch his ears. “Wow!” Joanne couldn’t help exclaiming. “Unusual.” The two had become buddies. Soon the green Nissan and white Ford drove off the parking lot in opposite direction; each of the driers, however, had a mysterious premonition that things were about to change. When asked by a friend the following day how things had gone she exclaimed, “I can’t get over how comfortable I feel with him. It seems like I’ve known him forever.”
Joanne’s turn to meet Frank’s dog came after a dinner date when he’d taken her to his home. Barely in the door a large eighty-pound Egyptian Pharaoh hound mix pounced upon her, setting two giant paws on her chest, and proceeded to wash her face thoroughly. Caught off guard she giggled and started stroking the sleek young body of the nine-month old puppy, unaware that she’d just passed a critical test in the mind of the professor. Later that evening, in a phone conversation with a friend, he reported, “She’ll either become a best friend or my wife.” He hadn’t yet put together the fact that she would become his best friend and his wife.
The Writing Test
While in Belgium Joanne had been involved in a publishing ministry that produced and distributed French Christian literature to many countries. The experience had thrust her into some projects that eventually led to the writing of Shiny shoes. Surprised at the response to her writing attempts she began to wonder if God was saying something.
Years later she found herself in California attending a Mount Hermon Christian Writers’ Conference, where she met experts in the field and soaked up advice. Then came that special morning when one of the speakers led an interested group on a five A.M. nature walk up a hill to a wooded area where a rustic cross stood in the muted light of the morning haze. The participants were encouraged to refrain from conversation so that each could ponder his or her own thoughts. Gazing up at the cross Joanne knew that her Savior was calling her to follow in His footstep—by using her pen. She also realized that it would involve a long hard journey that would require utmost perseverance, tedious effort, and sacrifice, but for One who had given His all for her, she was ready to commit her all to Him.
Now as the relationship progressed and deepened, Joanne wondered if Frank could accept her calling and endure living with a writer. She had not long to wait. After the very next dinner get-together they had returned to his house where they sat on the patio while the dogs romped on the lawn. Of his own accord Frank brought up the subject of writing. “I’ve read your books and am pleased about your writing,” he said. “I hope I can encourage and affirm you in your efforts.”
Joanne sat in mute amazement.
Romance without Regrets
Courting continued with long walks in the park followed by outings in the area when Joanne realized the benefits of having a historian as a tour guide. Every scene took on extra dimensions of discovery and enjoyment. Similarities between them continued to amaze and create wonder, while differences became advantages. Every mile brought added assurance of the unfolding of a divine plan to bring them together.
One evening, at the end of a day trip to Medford Oregon, and as they were descending the Siskiyou Mountains into the Lake Shasta basin, the sky took on shades of pink and purple that highlighted the mountains beneath. Conversation drifted into the delicate and critical area of previous relationships. Here, for the first time, tension mounted between them as each had strong opinions and requirements not yet expressed. First Frank, then Joanne told about a similar vow made as young teenagers to remain celibate until marriage, or forever should singleness be God’s pattern for them. Once more they sighed in relief and joy. To Frank, the conversation brought a clear sense of assurance as to where the relationship was going, while Joanne still yearned for one final sign of approval from God.
In the next few days she read her Bible carefully searching for words of confirmation, but nothing outstanding stood out. Then early one morning, as she was having her quiet time, a storm broke out. Thunder roared and lightning cris-crossed the sky. Then as suddenly as it started the storm subsided. Stunned Joanne rose and went to the window just in time to see a faint but definite outline of a rainbow. God is saying something; she dared to think, but immediately scolded herself. Silly girl. You know better.
She turned around and prepared breakfast, and was about to sit down when she felt drawn to the window once more. There before her a more distinct and defined rainbow stretched an arc between her cottage and the neighborhood where Frank lived. This is it, she told herself, I don’t care what anyone says or thinks. She fell to her knees, ”Thank you Father,” she exclaimed with joyful assurance. There were now no further obstacles in her mind. The rest was up to Frank and God.
A tiny sense of suspicion played on Joanne’s mind when Frank proposed a trip to Mount Lassen Park—one of their favorite retreats.
The sun shone brilliantly as they left Redding, but while climbing the mountain the blue sky turned a menacing grey and a mist sprayed the windshield. Upon reaching a lookout Frank parked and allowed her and the dogs out. Unbeknown to Joanne, this was the spot Frank had hoped to pop the big question. By now the haze had cleared and the spectacular view took Joanne’s breath away. Alas, it lasted but a few minutes before a downpour forced them all back into the car. Frank began to wonder, is this a sign to back off?
By the time they reached the sulphur springs ahead the rain had stopped, allowing them to take a fascinating walk through the spewing steam fountains, then as they continued on down the mountain the sun decided to come out bright and strong. When a small coffee shop nestled into scenic incline came into view Frank suggested stopping by for some refreshment.
After ordering a coffee for Joanne and a lemonade for himself, Frank led Joanne to a table on a balcony facing a delightful view of a mountain waterfall. For a while they sat transfixed by the beauty of their surroundings. And then Frank began with a slight stutter, “Don’t you think… a-h-h… don’t you think it’s time…?” Joanne nodded encouragingly and when the amazing words poured out she happily said a strong “Oh yes Frank, I will.”
Naturally, the dogs were first to know and they seemed thrilled.
Coming further down the mountain a ways they noticed a quiet spot by the roadside and chose a solitary tree as a place to thank God for His providence, and to recommit themselves to Him. After the prayer and while still holding hands Joanne drew Frank’s attention to the
unusual tree with two trunks. “Look at that,” she exclaimed. “A perfect symbol
of our coming union.” Somehow it seemed as though all creation was singing.
Upon entering the area of Shingletown they stopped at a little restaurant where they shared their first meal as an engaged couple.
Both were almost too excited to eat and Joanne—with her head in the clouds—forgot her camera. Thankfully, the restaurant owner remembered the two lovebirds and happily returned the camera.
“Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the
things which God hath prepared for them that love him”
(I Corinthians 2:9).
The romance that had sprung to life in spring, blossomed in summer, and matured in fall, would culminate in an all white and green wedding under sparkling Christmas lights.
Whistles and wild clapping broke out when Frank announced their engagement the following day.
“We were wondering when you guys would get it,” someone shouted, “the rest of us knew right from the beginning.” From there news spread fast and cards poured in.
Then came the excitement of choosing a ring, and the special joy of wearing it for the first time. Celebrating continued with family and prayer partners in Oregon. Joanne felt humbled when a hand-made wedding ring quilt was presented to her as a gift from an older generation cousin who had been a faithful supporter all through both her parent’s missionary careers as well as her own.
Frank and Joanne learned that an engagement is the beginning of a roller coaster ride of endless planning, and work. Since neither of them had living parents the load fell upon their own shoulders, though, thankfully volunteers were also plentiful.
Wedding Theme: Perfect Praise
From a profound sense of indebtedness to God for bringing them together Frank and Joanne desired a wedding predominated by praise and worship. How does one go about doing that? As Joanne pondered the passage of Matthew 21, that included the story of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, when indignant religious leaders had lashed out at Jesus concerning the singing of the little children who had followed Him into the temple. Jesus’ defense of the children poured out in the significant words, “Out of the mouths of babes and suckling thou hast perfected praise.” There lay her answer. Children in their innocence, unquestioning faith, and enthusiasm do indeed demonstrate that perfect praise.
Parents readily offered their children for the project and rehearsing began led by dedicated musicians. Volunteer seamstresses offered to sew dresses and soon an adorable angel choir came together. Meanwhile other volunteers blended their own talents into the theme of praise.
The Bride Prepares Her Garments
The groom-to-be graciously offered to purchase the gown for his bride -to-be who in turn managed to find a Loralie original from an outlet store for a fraction of the going cost of most gowns, while family in Belgium offered to bring pieces of Brussels lace along to add a touch of European drama to the skirt. Joanne was thrilled when a Christian florist lent her talents for decorating the church and in making a gorgeous bouquet threaded with ribbons that had once highlighted her mother’s wedding bouquet way back in 1930.
Marriage Made in Heaven
Evergreen trees were cut on friends’ properties, and brought to the church in a neighbor’s boat where they would soon sparkle with tiny white lights creating the feel of a sea of stars. It was Joanne’s desire to typify that special marriage of the Lamb symbolizing Christ and the Church that will take place in heaven.
Guests are Invited
With Joanne’s friends scattered in distant places not all, she knew, would be able to come. Others she’d hoped to have present—like Frank’s and her parents—had already gone to heaven, but she reminded herself that the church—including saints above and saints on earth—join together in worship and praise. The thought comforted her.
Not Enough Food!
As wedding preparations were nearing completion, Joanne checked into a motel, and was finishing last minute details when she and Frank learned that the guest list had soared to almost double. Food purchases had already been made. When could she shop for more? By then guests were beginning to arrive at the motel where a special family-and-loved ones get-together had been planned. Time had run out. What was she to do? Pray was all she could do and pray she did—most of the night. She would learn later that her heavenly Father— who loves weddings— had put in motion a special providence. Long-time friends from the Chicago area, who it seemed, were unable to come and who also happened to be wedding organizers, flew in just in time to take over.
Meanwhile a special lady had lovingly made the wedding cake.
Oh No! The Bride is late. That was the reality facing Joanne on that morning of November 28, 1998. A mix-up at the hairdressers had forced her to wait. Sinking wearily into a seat she fell fast asleep. An hour later a hand on her shoulder wakened her and led her to a styling booth. The nap had not been on Joanne’s agenda, but a loving heavenly Father knew that His daughter needed a to recharge her batteries and had thoughtfully squeezed in the necessary rest. With the help of her bridesmaids she readied herself in minutes, and with the final placement of her veil she turned toward the vestibule where the smiling angel-choir enthusiastically joined her.
Meanwhile soothing melodies such as “Morning Has Broken” and “Joyful, Joyful we adore Thee” floated through the air as the procession began with brother and sister candle-lighters, the flower girl and ring-bearer, and then the attendants.
Joanne stepped forward to peek through the glass windows in the double doors and caught a glimpse of her beloved taking his place beside his best men. The wedding hostess nodded for her to go forward. Her heart skipped a beat as she took her brother’s arm and stepped through the doors that now stood wide open. Meanwhile the male vocalist began to sing—with the angels behind the bride echoing each line after him.
All creatures of our God and King,
Lift up your voice and with us sing,
O praise Him! Alleluia,
Thou burning sun with golden beam,
Thou silver moon with softer gleam!
O praise Him, Alleluia!
Singing continued all the way down the aisle and upon reaching the front the children took their designated seats. When the brother had given his sister away the bride and groom advanced toward the altar.
The angel choir sang a few more sweet songs of praise that were followed by a message. Then solemn vows were made before God and rings are exchanged. As the coupled knelt to receive God’s blessing in a time of prayer, the soloist sang out clearly, “I fell on my feet and cried Holy.”
All went exactly as planned apart from a knot on the ring-bearer’s cushion that refused to be untied, but with the help of a military knife in the pocket of one of the groomsmen, the problem was quickly solved. The angels up front behaved admirably.
Dr. and Mrs. Franklyn Mahar … shed tears of joy.
The Joyful Reunion
Friends and family from near and far connect. Some devoted Christian workers including several retired missionaries who were nearing their departure for the heavenly shores, gave some last touching tributes.
Where might one better experience an avant-gout or foretaste of heaven than at a wedding reception? Faces are smiling all around. It’s time to celebrate amid hugs, the chitchat of catching up, speeches, music—and food in ample supply. Joanne now thrilled to see that her prayers of the night before were answered beyond all imagination. Wedding are, after all, God’s idea. He takes delight in putting couples together and performing wedding miracles. He did many for the Mahars.
The Mahars owe deep gratitude to all their loved ones who honored them with their presence and helped make their wedding a rich memory of praise to God.
As time moves on the Mahars keep growing in their love for each other and especially in their love for God. Each morning their shared Bible studies add deeper dimensions of understanding and increases their awe of God’s Word and love for the Savior.
“Sweeter as the years go by, (repeat)
Richer, fuller, deeper,
Jesus love is sweeter,
Sweeter as the years go by.”