A Story Rooted in Love
Conviction Before Romance
“Never date anyone you wouldn’t marry,” Karla says. “My high school Bible teacher told us that in class and it always stuck with me.” The love story that almost didn’t happen was rooted in friendship and Karla’s conviction to date for marriage.
Karla Lopez grew up in San Diego, California in a big Mexican family full of musicians and active members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. In Houston, James Dechavez had a similar upbringing. Part of a large Filipino family, he began singing in church when he was two years old. This Texas boy came to know this West Coast girl at Southwestern Adventist University.
Their sophomore year, Karla joined Crossway, a singing recruitment group that James was a member of. The group travelled together visiting churches and schools across Texas and the young students became friends. Over time, the two found they had many things in common, from their love of music and ministry, to big family gatherings after church and on holidays. Their friendship grew and the pair remained in contact over the summer. James had family in San Diego, and on a trip to visit his cousins, he reached out to Karla. Unbeknownst to them, their extended families had met in church many years ago. “I went to Sabbath school with his cousins!” Karla remembers.
Although they admired each other, they were strictly friends. “I didn’t want to just date anyone. I had so many friends that dated guys they knew they wouldn’t marry and that just didn’t make sense to me,” Karla recalls. “James was a great guy, but he was not ready to settle down. He had too many things going on. So, dating him was not an option.”
James comes from a family of medical professionals. His mother is a nurse, as are some aunts, uncles, and cousins. So, he knew he was destined for nursing. However, he wasn’t ready for the commitment and challenges of nursing school. He graduated with an Associate’s degree in General Studies, and then received a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Psychology the following year. That same year, Karla graduated with a communication degree and began working full time at the Advancement Office at Southwestern Adventist University.
“Being involved in church wasn't that important to me in college. I had graduated, but was in a dead-end job, running from what God had for me. After realizing what I needed, I went back to what I knew—a great and loving God,” says James. “I went back to my DNA. I went back to what my parents taught me from watching them in ministry, and being part of a great community of believers who valued their young people.”
James and Karla served as leaders at YG Church, the young adult ministry of the Arlington Seventh-day Adventist Church. They were very active in different areas of ministry, yet their strongest connection was leading worship together. Another area of recalibration in James’ life included going back to school to pursue his nursing degree. He was very fond of Karla, but needed to focus on his career path and goals before engaging in a serious relationship.
Their friendship changed a bit though when Karla began dating a young man who was looking to settle down. Although he was a good Christian prospect, the relationship did not materialize. That incident set off warning alarms for James. He was a year away from graduating with his Associate’s degree in Nursing and knew that Karla was the girl he wanted to marry. She wouldn’t wait for him forever, and he couldn’t lose her in his life. He finally asked her out on a proper date and the two discussed their feelings and their future. They would date intentionally; their goal was marriage and they would undertake the relationship with that in mind. They would seek out God’s guidance in their relationship and Christian counsel. They were married two years later in a big, beautiful ceremony surrounded by countless friends and family.
James and Karla recently celebrated their eighth wedding anniversary. The first chapter of their love story set the groundwork for starting a family rooted in God. Their son, Eli, is a sweet, friendly, truck-obsessed toddler who turns three in December. “Having a kid is the most difficult and challenging thing I've ever done emotionally,” says Karla. “Eli's formative years are in our hands. What I teach Eli now is what he's going to take into the rest of his life. So, I pray harder than I've ever prayed before.”
Although their ministry schedules are a bit calmer now that they are parents, James and Karla know that ministry is engrained in their being. It was a seed that was planted in their hearts by both of their parents and they seek to do the same for Eli. In order to do so, their relationship with Jesus and with each other must continuously be nurtured. “I see Jesus in James every single day,” Karla says. “The way James treats me and the way he treats others inspires me to seek Him.”
“I think there comes a time in your life when you take your stand for Christ,” says James. “In committing to that, I told Him whatever you have for me—I'm in.” This year, through sacrifice, dedication, and the love of his family, James obtained his Master’s of Science degree in Nursing, and will soon practice as a Family Nurse Practitioner.
As the family grows, they are taking cues from Scripture and their youngest member. “Eli gives us insight into the character that Jesus inspires us to have. I had never understood the true meaning of Jesus's words, ‘unless you become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of Heaven’ until I had a child of my own. Eli knows no hate. He loves everyone, even the little girl who bites him at school. He hugs her and gives her stickers. That makes my heart happy,” Karla says. “It allows me to understand that we should have that same love towards others.”
James, Karla, and Eli Dechavez attend the Arlington Seventh-day Adventist Church and live in Fort Worth, Texas.