Immediately following camp, having at last come to understand why disobedience to God was so devastating to one who truly desired to follow Christ, I contacted Layne to let him know how sorry I was for all that had happened between us. I wished him well in his life and pursuit of ministry, knowing he would be leaving for college in the fall, and we parted on good terms.
There was just one problem. It occurred to me that something had been noticeably absent during that spring month in April. A home test would soon confirm my suspicion. At just 16-years-old, nearing the end of my junior year of high school, I was pregnant. A quick review of the calendar, and I knew for certain that the baby had to be Layne’s. I began to prepare myself for the hardest phone call I had ever made in my young life.
Layne’s immediate reaction was to declare that we must get married. It was the only way he could ever hope to start putting the pieces of his shattered life and ministry back together again. Besides, he reasoned, it was the right thing to do, what the Lord would want him to do. But I was not convinced. I pointed out that we hardly knew each other, highlighted that most of our interactions had been negative experiences for us both, and cited the fact that I was too young to marry without parental consent. (I held back the knowledge that my parents were not big fans of his, having shared bits and pieces with them about the rocky nature of our ill-fated friendship, and knowing full well that they would likely deny us their permission to marry). No, I would just have to face this on my own, hopefully with the love and support of my mom and dad, who I had yet to inform of my situation.
Life as a pregnant teen proved complicated. My high school counselor recommended that a girl in my condition not attempt to attend senior classes with the “regular” students. Instead, she suggested summer school followed by dual enrollment in college to finish up the last of the credits needed for a diploma. Upon officially withdrawing from school, a former teacher and his wife, who had heard of my pregnancy through other staff members, approached me to inquire about adopting my baby. They had been trying to conceive for years, and though approved for adoption, had yet to be matched with a child they could call their own. My heart went out to them, and I very awkwardly promised that I would consider it.
A friend of the family let me know in no uncertain terms that anything but an abortion would be “the most selfish thing I could ever do to my parents.” Thankfully, my mom and dad were not pushing for such an outcome. While far from an ideal situation, they embraced the idea of a grandchild and began lovingly and enthusiastically helping me prepare to become a mom.
To confuse matters further, it seems that there is something about a pregnant girl that makes young men feel the need to spring into action and heroically rescue her from a lonely, presumably undesirable life as a single mom. Old boyfriends and guys from the church college group were coming out of the woodwork with offers to marry me and become a father to my unborn child. Having fully resigned myself to navigate life independently while figuring all of this out, I politely declined each overture. At this point I thought it best to just focus on the most pressing goal ahead: transitioning from adolescence to adulthood.
Thankfully, in the midst of all this, my relationship with the Lord was steadily growing. I had begun attending a college Bible study, and was grateful for the leader and other Believers who were willing to patiently walk with me in my new faith. On one particular night, the teaching was on seeking the will of God. The affirmation was that God had a plan for each of our lives, and that if we were willing to trust him and follow that plan, the result would be our best good. Suggestions on how to discern the Lord’s specific path for us included studying Scripture and praying for guidance. The knowledge that God was willing to direct my way and that he had a plan for both my life and the life of my baby (who I had recently discovered was a little girl) brought a great deal of comfort.
I went directly to my room when I arrived home, pulled out my Bible, and began searching the pages for something that could help me better understand how God viewed my situation and how he might be leading me. Having had only a cursory introduction to Scripture, I turned to what was most familiar to me, and began reading in Matthew. I read of the birth of Jesus. I noted that Mary, the mother of Christ, at one point faced the possibility of having to raise a child on her own. Were it not for the intervention of an angel of the Lord, Joseph may well have gone through with his intention to divorce her quietly. But this was the mother of Jesus. I could hardly compare my circumstances, created by my own sin and willfulness, to those of a virginal girl chosen to carry the Savior of the world. I doubted that my situation warranted a divine message of the kind sent to Joseph. I closed the Bible and sat there feeling silly, too much a beginner to have any idea how to apply Scripture to my life.
My first attempt a failure, I decided I would try the other recommendation: prayer for guidance. I was still unclear on whether there was a proper way to pray, so I defaulted to my childhood method of just pouring out my heart. Lord, I have created quite a mess for myself. I am afraid of how the consequences of my sin might affect the life of my baby. Please let her grow up knowing that while she may not have been planned, she is loved and wanted. Please guide our lives, and help me know your will. Amen.
In the next instant, the Spirit began to speak, directly to my heart as always. “Jennie, I want you to marry Layne.”
I sat in stunned silence. Lord, please don’t ask that of me. He doesn’t love me—I’m pretty sure he doesn’t even like me!—and he made it perfectly clear that I am nothing that he wants in a wife. It will mean a life of never being cherished. No girl wants that. Please, Lord.
The Lord replied, “If you do this, I promise that I will make him a better husband for you than you could have ever imagined for yourself.”
I put in a couple more of my best arguments, but I knew that this was God’s will for me, so I made a deal with him. (Clearly, I was too new to the faith to have read about not putting the Lord your God to the test.) It had been months since I had spoken to Layne. He had gone away to a university nearby, and all I knew of him were the rumors from common friends that he was doing great, was well-liked on campus, and seemed to be developing an interest in dating one or more of his fellow freshman classmates. He had moved on. So the bargain I struck with the Lord was this: If I have truly heard you, if this is your will, then I need you to speak to Layne also. If he comes to me and claims that you are leading him in this same way and asks me again to be his wife, then I will accept and marry him, as you have said.
That same week, I received a call from the Director of Baptist Student Ministries on Layne’s campus. He said that Layne had recently told him about the baby and asked if I would be willing to come to the university and meet with him and his wife so they could hear my story, encourage, and pray for me. I accepted the invitation. Chris and Sonny Larsen were a kind, patient, and reassuring couple, and they immediately made me feel cared for and accepted. Still, I was embarrassed to meet such lovely people under these circumstances, so outside of answering their questions, I was rather quiet and reserved throughout the meeting. After learning about my life, my faith, and my concerns for the future, they prayed over me and for my daughter. As I was preparing to leave, they told me that Layne was hopeful that he could be a part of our baby’s life, and they wanted the four of us to meet to talk through the possibility of co-parenting. It was not something I had considered, and were it not for what I had heard from the Lord earlier that week, I might not have agreed. But it seemed that my plan to move forward alone and release Layne from all obligations to be involved was not in keeping with God’s plan. The meeting was set for the following week.
The reunion did not go well. It was clear that we were both still very hurt over how badly the relationship had gone, and even if we could leave all of that in the past, we were scared and unsure of how to navigate the future, knowing we would need to somehow work together if we were going to share in parenting our child. With such obvious tension between us, the Larsens advised that we only communicate with one another during the weekly meetings they would set up for us with them. We both agreed that would be best. Before we left, Sonny read Jeremiah 29:11 out loud: “For I know the plans I have for you…plans to give you a future and a hope.” There it was again, the promise that God has a plan. I would just have to wait and trust.
As we were walking out, I pulled Layne aside to let him know that the baby was a girl. He teared up a bit and thanked me for telling him. We said goodbye and parted ways.
Halloween fell the following weekend, and friends from my college group at church invited me to go with them to a haunted house. As I pulled into the parking lot, I was surprised to find Layne there with a group of his friends from school. He walked over to my car and asked if we could talk. He climbed into the passenger’s seat, sighed heavily, and asked me to please hear him out.
“I know it isn’t what you want, but I just can’t get away from the fact that I am certain God is calling me to marry you. I tried to move on and accept it as an impossible scenario, but the Lord just keeps putting it on my heart. I believe we are meant to be married, so will you?” Not exactly the proposal little girls dream of, but it was the confirmation I had asked for. There was nothing left but to say yes. I now had no doubt. This was the Lord’s will for me. Our daughter Hannah was born exactly two months later, and her daddy got to be the first to hold her.
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.”Proverbs 3:5-6