[All photos from Unsplash]
This is a serial telling of my falling-in-love story. Read the story from the very beginning here.
It’s too late: even if you had been rehearsing the right words just this morning in the bathroom mirror so you could flawlessly ask me out after bible study, I’m leaving Colorado for awhile. My internships have ended, and I find myself driving back to my parent’s home, a thirty-hour trip, leaving behind all the promises that God made me, carefully preserved in the dusty soil. I know I’ll be back; because of you, I’ve decided to make my move to Colorado permanent, just to see what might happen.
First I have to go to my childhood home to pack up my belongings, and then after a month passes, I will travel again and walk across a stage outside of Chicago to receive my college diploma, complete with a handshake and a photo for $29.99.
But mostly I spend April at my parents’ home on the Chesapeake Bay, a dock hanging off the edge of their property. I can’t shake you from my mind. I think of you when I’m out with high school friends at Pizza Hut, and I think of you when I’m attending prayer meetings at my parents’ church. I especially think of you as I read through a stack of old journals. I read slowly through the lists of prayer requests and answers (“I got an A on that test!”), the confessions of failure (“God, it’s been three weeks since I’ve written. I’m so sorry! I don’t know what kept me away…”), the hopes for the future (see: “List of Qualities I want in a Husband”), and the loose interpretations of bible verses scrawled onto the paper. Paging through my past makes me wonder where my life will go from here. (Back to you again.)
The earliest journal I find comes from eighth grade, the summer where I attended camp in the mountains of Colorado and came home a changed person. It happened when the closing speaker at camp had shared the gospel while all of us teens had sat cross-legged and sweaty on the gym floor. From the stage, he had recited John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only son that whoever believe in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” Then he had recounted the story I already knew by heart: though Jesus was God, he became man. Though he was man, he never sinned. Though he didn’t deserve it, he died. And though he was dead, he rose. Jesus was God’s love made visible to us. And we could accept His grace today, right now, and experience God’s loving presence for now and always.
“Repeat after me,” he had said, inviting us to pray the prayer that would bring us into God’s family as we all bowed our heads, sniffling and avoiding each others’ eyes.
After the rally, the girls in my cabin and I had walked under the stars with our camp counselor, our flip-flops turning red in the Colorado dirt, when all of a sudden – what exactly had happened? We were all sobbing. I stared at the shining globes above us and I wept. I knew in an instant that God was real and that he loved me.
In my whole life of praying with my parents before bed and hearing about Jesus at church and attending Christian school, the love of God had never pierced me like that, and I couldn’t explain why or how, but now it wasn’t a thing to debate. Even though I had spent my whole seventh grade year pushing God off my shoulder, telling him I’d turn back when I was old (like 30, I decided), now it was only Him: I just wanted to be His.
Later, I’d make sense of the moment by putting it into a theological box: the Holy Spirit entered me. Some might say I’d been baptized. But it still doesn’t matter much to me what it’s called because whatever you name it, it’s the moment everything shifted. It’s the moment I chose to lay down my son on the altar of God’s mountain and to raise the knife slit his throat. And it’s the moment God provided the ram.
I came back down the mountain different, according to my aunt and uncle, who’d cooked up the crazy scheme of sending me to camp in the first place — they reported to my parents less teen sulking and more volunteering to do the dishes. (Which surely must be the proof that something real and important must have happened in the midst of the canoeing and marshmallow charring).
I also came home with a new ambition: I set my alarm a half hour earlier so I could pray and read the Bible before homeroom. And even though I only woke up half the time, for a girl who could sleep through a fire alarm, that felt like the true miracle.
Remembering all this now, sitting cross-legged on the carpet of my borrowed bedroom in my parents’ house, I marvel at God: I say, “You’ve been here the whole time, haven’t you?”
[To be continued…]
I am writing and serially publishing scenes from my falling-in-love memoir, about the anguished, beautiful, and spiritual way that my husband and I met, fell in love, and married. Read about my plans for this in-progress writing project here.
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