Falling in love with Dave was not what I had planned on, and the experience was nothing like what I expected. But I was totally unprepared for the package deal that came with him. You see, this man came with an amazing set of parents who drew me into their family—making me feel like I had always been a part of them.
While I knew that Joann and I would get along great—we’d chatted enough that past summer for me to know that she approved of our relationship and truly cared about me—Don was a bit more of an enigma to me. Before this time, he had always been on the periphery of my involvement with their family, so I’d had fewer interactions with him. But I wasn’t worried about how we would get along. In my dating experience, the mother was always the tough nut to crack, and she and I were already cool!
I was right . . . and I was wrong.
I had no idea how important my relationship with Don would come to be.
I remember thinking about something I’d read a few years back on the subject of dating—that you should watch how a man’s father treats the mother, because that’s how you will be treated someday. And so I paid attention.
This man loved this woman! I observed them as they talked and laughed and worked together, and it was like watching master ballroom dancers glide across the dance floor. Their personalities complemented one another. Their conversation was honest and laced with love and humor. But what caught my attention most of all was the tender look in Don’s eyes whenever he spoke to Joann and the way he smiled when she came into the room. They had been married for nearly 30 years, but he looked at her as if he had just fallen in love with her that week!
And then there was the way he treated me. I quickly found out that this man I’d always thought was kind of quiet actually loved to talk. I enjoyed his stories about work and about the family. I loved his corny jokes. He got a kick out of teasing me—and that’s how we began our “fight” over the jelly beans.
Let me first explain that. Every time I have visited their home, there have always been several candy bowls scattered throughout the house. They are usually filled with whatever candy is on sale, but two candies are staples: pink wintergreen lozenges and jelly beans. I love both of these, but my favorite is black jelly beans. I would pick through the bowl looking for the black ones and eating every one that I could find.
Which led to this conversation . . .
Don: “Where did all of the black jelly beans go?”
Sandi: “I’ve been eating them—they’re my favorite! And Dave hates them, so I thought I’d save him from them.”
Don: “Well, they’re my favorite, too! And now they’re all gone.”
I started to feel bad about eating all of them, but then I looked up and saw the way he was looking at me . . . and then I saw a little wink and a smile.
We continued our banter, about who got to eat all of the black jelly beans, for the rest of my first visit. And on the day that I left, I found a bag of ALL black jelly beans on the dresser top, with this note: “To the Sweet Young Thing, From the Mean Old Man”
I’d already promised to marry their son. But, in that moment, I knew I wanted to be their daughter, too. I knew that it was likely Joann who had probably bought this gift, and put it there for me. It was so much more than a gift of candy—to me it symbolized just how much they noticed the little things. I fell in love with their son a little bit more in that moment, because I began to understand what that would mean for me in the decades to come. I would experience this attention to the details so many times, as the years went by, as their house became more than just a place to visit—it became the place my heart called home.
Home is where you learn and grow. Home is where you can be yourself. Home is where you retreat when life is just a little bit too much. And Don and Joann showed me how to build a home.
I knew my relationship with my mother-in-law was unique and beautiful. Most of my friends, and hers, couldn’t believe how much we enjoyed our time together. My relationship with my father-in-law was just as incredible.
I watched Don Brewer love his wife. I watched him help his son. I watched him play with and teach his grandchildren. I’ve never encountered a more decent man, and I know I’m a better person because of him. There aren’t enough pages to share all the memories I have stored up and all the ways he taught me about unconditional love. February 17, 2007 was the saddest day of my life, so far. For 23 years I was Don Brewer’s daughter in all of the important ways; and then he was gone. In all those years, he and I never exchanged an angry word. His love wasn’t only unconditional—it was consistent. His example to his son and grandsons showed them the path to become the fine men they are today. His passionate and tender love for Joann was a beacon to Dave and to me as we navigated our own marriage.
God knew what I needed in a husband. He knew how my insecurities and wounds would tempt me to be manipulative and selfish at times. I would need a man who could look at all of my hurt and my mistakes and wave them away and teach me that new song of unconditional love. And God knew I would need these parents as role models of total acceptance. All the time I had been navigating the pain of my parents’ divorce and my own mistakes, God had been preparing this safe place for my heart to land.
It was a place where I was more than good enough—I was a perfect fit.