When God Broke My Heart

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I made my way to the corner table where Pastor John had asked me to meet with him. Jeff Patterson was sitting there as well, clicking the screen on his PDA with his stylus. He didn’t look up as I approached the table and sat down. John looked excited and leaned forward as if to speak to us in confidence.

“So, we’ve been praying and would like to ask you two to come on staff with the church to serve here at the college ministry. You both have been here through your years at OSU and if you’re willing to stay, we’d love to have you.” I was stunned. This was a dream come true. I’d already sensed God closing the door on grad school for the time being, and my desire was to stay and serve these college students with Real Life, the college ministry of my local church. I’d hoped for an internship at best, but to go directly on staff was better than I’d ever imagined.

I began gushing about how honored I was and oh I couldn’t believe it and of course I’d do it and this is a dream come true. Jeff made one last click of the stylus and closed his PDA. “Sure, that’d be great.” John then left to go greet students and left us alone at the table. I waited for a minute for Jeff to speak. I really only knew him through mutual friends. He was the president of his fraternity and I had a somewhat low opinion of anyone associated at all with the Greek system.

“So . . . that sure is a big honor, huh?” I asked, with what I thought to be polite effort.

“Yeah, I expected it.” He opened his PDA back up and clicked something. I was aghast. Oh I’m so sorry I didn’t know you were God’s gift to creation, was what I wanted to say, but I didn’t. Instead I stood up and pushed my chair back noisily under the table and left him and his stylus alone.

—–

The following semester, I was surprised to see Jeff in my 8am Philosophy of Eastern Religions class. He would arrive, usually a few minutes late and out of breath, looking alternately as if he’d just crawled out of bed or just finished a basketball game. In either case, it was obvious he hadn’t agonized over his appearance, with one pant leg tucked into a sock or untied shoes and a crumpled t-shirt. A few times he’d lean forward in his chair and whisper excitedly about how he’d gotten to share the gospel with some guy at his frat, or how he’d been up until 3AM praying with Matt Dixon, the most recent convert, or how five new sorority girls showed up at the Greek Bible Study. What I realized over the weeks was that he wasn’t bragging. He was genuinely so excited about what he was seeing God doing that he wanted to tell people.

As finals rolled around, Jeff suggested we study together, as we’d both missed a few classes and needed to get notes from each other. The March day was sunny, and we met by his fraternity (though I wouldn’t step foot inside!) and walked down Monroe Street in search of a spot to sit. As we walked down the street, the sun was warm on my face. Jeff talked on his cell phone for most of the walk, but I hooked my thumbs on my backpack straps and smiled contentedly. I listened to the one-sided conversation as he talked to Pastor John. “Sure, I’ll take care of that. Yes, I got that done. No, that appointment got moved to next week. Nope. Yeah, I’ll stop by on my way to your house after my final. Sure thing. Great. Love you, man. Late.” I motioned to him to see if the outside table in front of Bagel Sphere would be ok. He hung up and smiled apologetically, dropping his bag to pull out my chair. “I’m sorry.” We studied Buddhism, Jainism and Hinduism for a few minutes but then he stopped and looked off, staring at nothing for a moment. “How do you think this all relates to our understanding of Christ and what He did on the cross?” A little taken back by the abrupt change direction, I thought for a moment before responding. Then, before I knew it, a few hours had passed and we were both late for meetings. Jeff turned his phone back on and had six voice messages so he spent the walk back listening. “I’m so sorry.” He said again as he finally hung up his phone. I just smiled and waved goodbye and veered toward my car.

A few months later, just before graduation, Pastor John requested another meeting with Jeff and me. This time we sat in his office. He was his usual animated self, and as he started talking he took a deep breath and put both palms on the tops of his thighs.

“Well, you both are graduating from college and are at that age where you’re probably looking for your future spouse, and I just want to say that you’re free to date people, just be sure to always be an example for the college students and please just communicate with me so I know what’s going on. If there’s anyone in the college ministry that you’re interested in, that’s fine, just always be above reproach and keep in mind that all the students are watching you. You are their example.”

I quickly responded, “Well, there is NO ONE that I would ever consider here at Real Life, so don’t even worry about me. I already told the Lord I won’t date anyone for 5 years anyway, and there are certainly no prospects here.” John smiled at me and then looked at Jeff.

“Ok,” was all he said.

June came and my friend Grace invited me to join her on her two-week trip home. Since her home was Maui it didn’t take long to convince me that this was a good idea. With my packed bags in the car, I swung by the church office to grab my mail give the secretary my itinerary. I greeted the other Real Life staff, completed my few tasks, and as I headed to the door, Jeff leaned out of the office.

“Have a great trip!” I turned and smiled, and for a split second I couldn’t breathe. Jeff looked so different from before. His broad smile stretched across his tan face and reached his eyes, his perfect white teeth showing, his two-day stubble dark on his chin. His blue eyes were bright under long, black eyelashes. He looked relaxed, with his arm stretched out to leaned against the door, his other hand resting on his faded jeans. I stuttered “Buh-bye,” and closed the door behind me, ready to flee to Maui.

Experiencing Maui as a local was worlds apart from experiencing Maui as a tourist. We stayed in Grace’s parents’ little ranch-style home with a carport out front set up like a living room, complete with outdoor furniture and a little TV perched high on a shelf. Clotheslines were strung around the backyard and a mound of flip-flops (called “slippers” to Hawaiians) piled outside the door. No slippers in the house. The tiny house was hot and humid, the kitchen equipped with an industrial sized rice cooker and a refrigerator filled with fresh Mahi Mahi and poi. We slept on a mattress on the floor in one of the bedrooms and Grace let me where he board shorts so I fit in a little better. Not that it helped. The first day I was there, the neighbor came over to demand of Grace’s mom, “Who’s that tall Haole girl you got in yo’ house?!” I was a head taller than everyone, including Grace’s dad, and my light blond hair certainly contrasted with Grace’s waist-length black locks. It was too hot to sleep at night, so I sat up by moonlight and memorized psalms, trying to keep my mind from wandering. Why was I thinking about Jeff Patterson, of all people?

Coincidence had it that Pastor John was in Maui at the same time, vacationing with his wife Amber and infant son. We took them Mahi Mahi sandwiches and sat by the pool at their hotel. A true islander, Grace preferred the ocean, but I was happy with the non-salty pool water, the ability to see the bottom at all times, and the distinct lack of sea creatures. We all went together to a Luau, donning thick luscious leis hand-made by Grace’s mom. We sipped virgin Pina Coladas out of a pineapple, tasted poi and passed on seconds, and laughed as John was chosen to go onstage to learn the hula. For my birthday they took me to Japanese food cooked right in front of our eyes, the sweating chef deftly tossing shrimp in the air and catching chunks of sautéed vegetables with a skewer. My first Hagan Daz experience followed. This was a vacation!

So why did I keep thinking about Jeff? I told myself it was because of John being there, and so he must naturally make me think about Jeff since they were such close friends. That had to be it. But this was strange. As I’d sit on Baby Beach or go for an early morning run in the cool salty air, I’d think of what I had thought he was like, and then how a circumstance had shown me otherwise. I thought of how he treated the Real Life girls with respect, how he didn’t flirt or treat them selfishly. I thought of how he served John and always set aside his own plans in order be of use to him. I thought of how he graduated with honors in Civil Engineering, how his Bible was torn to shreds through frequent reading, how he spoke so kindly to his mom when I heard them on the phone. Agh! I didn’t want to be thinking of this! Though my body was vacationing, my mind was in a constant battle.

About halfway through my trip, I called the church office to check in with the secretary (who also happened to be my roommate) and see if I needed to return any phone calls. We chatted briefly about how jealous she was of me, as it was raining in Oregon, then wrapped up the conversation. “Oh,” she added off-handedly, “Jeff Patterson asked how your trip was going.” No! My mind raced. Why did she say that? Why would he ask? Why would he care? Why do I care? Agh!
“Oh. That’s nice. See you in a week.” I hung up and sunk my head in my hands. Why, God? Why won’t you take this away? Help me here! I’m trying to fight this and it’s not working! Please take this distraction away!

When I got back to Oregon, the Real Life Staff were all away for the summer, raising support in our hometowns and visiting friends and family, communicating the vision for Real Life for the upcoming year. This was a relief. Out of sight, out of mind, right? The opposite was true for me. As I stopped in to the office one day, the phone rang and the secretary had stepped away from her desk. “Calvary Chapel, this is Kari.” I answered. “Kari! It’s Jeff.” My stomach flip-flopped. We talked about support raising and what it was like being home, how fun my trip to Maui was (little did he know!) and how excited we were for the upcoming year. For a girl with a severe case of phone-phobia, I was amazed by something—I was actually enjoying talking on the phone. There were no awkward pauses, and for the first time ever I wasn’t thinking to myself, how can I end this conversation politely? As I hung up the receiver, my heart ached ever so slightly. I miss him. Shaking my head and pushing away from the desk, I tried once again to push him from my thoughts.

By this time, I’d confided in Lori and Grace, but only them. Jeff’s code name, “Mr. Jeep” was employed in any written communication, just in case. This had to be top secret, and I felt like a fool to be struggling so much. August came and so did a wedding for our mutual friends. The struggle hadn’t lessened, and if anything it’d strengthened much I had to admit I was dying to see him. I wore a new white dress with flowers around the hem. I knew he’d see me right away as I stood manning the guest book and taking gifts. While smiling and greeting the guests, my eyes kept scanning the parking lot, hoping to see him arrive. Jeff showed up in a Hawaiian shirt and khaki shorts, with black ankle socks and black dress shoes. Apparently he still was not agonizing over his appearance. I tried not to look at him, painfully aware of his presence in the line and hopefully aware of his eyes on me. As I finally allowed myself to look at him, I was pleasantly surprised to find that his eyes indeed were on me. A brief exchange – Were his eyes dancing? – and I forced myself to turn to the next guest and pretend I hadn’t just almost fainted with joy.

After the ceremony, I stood with a friend and watched the dancing newlyweds. I both dreaded and anticipated that moment when they’d announce that the dance floor was open. Would he ask me? Would I crumble into tears if he asked someone else? I kept my eyes straight ahead though I knew he stood by the cake with his friend. The music changed and the announcement was made. I tried to think of something conversational to say to my friend. Just as I began, Jeff’s friend came up and asked my friend to dance, and as I watched them walk off, I heard that sound I longed for from behind my shoulder.

“Want to dance?” Jeff smiled down at me. I shrugged nonchalantly and said “sure” as calmly as possible. With a good foot between us for safety, I set my hand on his shoulder and let him take the other in his hand. I’d never actually touched him before and I felt dizzy. This is ridiculous – keep your head, Kari! I felt his should muscles through his shirt—stop that! His hand was clammy but strong and firm—think about something else! I could make out a hint of cologne, or probably deodorant in Jeff’s case—no! I couldn’t look at his face so I kept my eyes on his black shoes and socks; at least there was one thing not tempting. We talked about our summer, support raising, family, struggles and joys, and all too soon the song was over and I realized there were other people in the room.

“Thanks,” he said, and we went back to our friends.

That night Jeff called my friends’ house, where I was staying, to see if we both wanted to come hang out with a group of people and play games. This seemed too good to be true, and though we didn’t end up going, the invitation was what mattered and seemed to confirm what I suspected: he felt the same way I did.

But, nothing happened. We completed our summer of support raising, and Jeff seemed to vacillate between avoiding me, ignoring me, or appearing fond of me. I had no idea what to think and decided the best route was to get rid of my affection for him. Deny it. Kill it. This is what I would do. At the end of the summer we both traveled to Brazil on separate short-term missions trips. During my trip, I felt a little freedom. At least I was so overwhelmed with the experience of my first mission trip that I had little freedom to daydream about Jeff. I even found it possible to entertain a little crush on someone else while I was there. That was progress, right? We headed back home on September 11th and were in the air, flying west from Miami, when our planes had to emergency land due to the terrorist attacks. Jeff’s teach was stranded in Atlanta and I in Birmingham. After five days of wearing the same clothes (our luggage was not allowed off the planes), we finally arrived back in Portland. On our way to church that first Sunday back I told my roommate, “I’m over him. I’m ready to face him and be totally over him. I’m through.” I wore no makeup and was determined to not look cute because somehow that was evidence that I didn’t care about him anymore. This lasted as long as it took for him to see me and smile and ask about my adventure in Birmingham. I was hopelessly falling for him all over again.

That fall, we both were enrolled in a one-year Bible training school through our local church called the School of Ministry. This intense program consisted of 25 students meeting daily to worship, pray, journal the entire Bible and taken classes in OT survey, NT studies, hermeneutics, homiletics, missions, prayer, and church history. It was a whirlwind where the class became a tight-knit family, battling together to persevere and grow with God. During my enrollment interview at the start of the year, our Dean of Women discussed the year ahead, the dress code, the expectations, and the relationship rule adopted by the school: none were allowed. This meant no dating anyone in the school and no engagements were allowed to happen during this year. While it sounds harsh, they simply wanted to ensure that everyone kept on task and that the school was more than a sanctified meeting place for singles.

While I knew this was a good idea, it still came as a blow. Somehow in my heart I’d let myself hope that this year Jeff would pursue me. I’d graduated from college and begun to hope, despite my self-sufficient all-put-together shell, that my time for love would be coming soon. I realized then that my heart had become more involved than I ever realized. I thought this was just a surface struggle, but I now realized that I cared for Jeff, and longed for his reciprocity, more than anything. My heart was involved.

She must have been able to read my face, despite my attempt at a smile and an enthusiastic “I agree.” She smiled compassionately.

“Is there anyone in the school that you already have feelings for?” Looking back I’m sure she knew. I couldn’t lie to her, so I told her, even though it terrified me to say it out loud. She just smiled and said she would pray for me. I needed it.
With that rule made for me, it did make it easier for me to focus. I accepted the rule as being from God. I determined that I would give this year to prayer—I would pray that if these feelings were from God, that He would make them stronger and that He would fulfill this in His timing; if they weren’t, that He’d take them away. Surrender.

Jeff and I were the only two in the school who were also on staff with Real Life. We were the two asked to lead devotions for the school, the two asked to give a radio interview discussing college ministry, the two who rushed off to staff meetings after class on Wednesday. “Jeff and Kari” this and “Jeff and Kari” that. Our names were always linked. By early winter I had been praying fervently for months about the feelings I was still having. Signs from Jeff were totally inconsequential. I would swear that he lit up when I walked in the room, and yet at times he seemed to ignore or avoid me. But as I prayed, I genuinely sensed that he was the one. It seemed strange, and I didn’t understand why God would allow me to feel this way and yet not do anything about it, but I continued to sense that the feelings I was having were from God.

I confided in my parents and found them wholly supportive. Jeff had always been their favorite anyway, despite my initial prejudice, as they had seen him often at retreats (often held at their home) and at Real Life when they’d visit. But they also helped me to stay guarded, since Jeff hadn’t really shown that he had feelings for me. They both encouraged me to guard my heart.

By December I think I had fallen in love, despite myself and my efforts. My mom, because she couldn’t help herself, bought a small linen kitchen towel, with the initial P monogrammed on it. It seemed she was struggling as much as I was to not get her hopes up.

One evening in mid-December, Lori and I had a few girls over for a game night. One of them, Whitney, was dating a friend of Jeff’s named Jay.

“Sooo. . .” she said, smiling slyly over at me, “anybody special in your life?” She looked at me knowingly and I was turned from her and looked accusingly at Lori. How could she know?

“No! Why?” It was obvious I was lying.

“No reason.” She smiled, obviously thrilled to be cherishing a secret.

“Why?!” I demanded, “Maybe there is someone.” My heartbeat quickened and my stomach did that flip flop thing again.

“Would his initials be JP?” My eyes widened and my head spun again. Was good news in store? Surely she wouldn’t have brought it up unless there was, right?

“Maybe. . .” which of course meant yes.

“Well, he told Jay told me that Jeff told him that he was praying about pursuing you because he really likes you.” Lori gasped. I gasped. I pulled my legs up and sat on my feet, crouched on the couch, leaning forward with my hands clasped over my mouth.

“No! Are you sure?!” It seemed too good to be true. She smiled and nodded, relishing the opportunity to divulge such monumental information. I knew this was not the time to pour out my heart, so I just mentally tucked the information away and tried to resume the night of games with some semblance of normality. It wasn’t until we said goodbye to the girls and closed our apartment door that Lori and I looked at each other and let ourselves go.

“Can you believe it?!” I hugged her. She was genuinely happy for me, sharing in my excitement. We agreed that it was better to not change anything and to remain really guarded, since I knew I still had six months of school left. But at least I knew, for sure, that my feelings weren’t one-sided. At least now I had the hope of the future to look to. That was all I needed.

Over Christmas break I spent two weeks at home with my parents, meeting with supporters, writing letters, and catching up on much needed rest. It was a good time to step back from life and see the bigger picture, get some perspective, and pray through details in my life. I decided that it would be smart to sit down and very objectively write a list of why I thought Jeff was really a man with whom I’d spend my life. By this time we had been on Real Life staff for six months, working closely together on retreats and outreaches, going on staff getaways and prayer and fasting days, and I’d even met his parents and stayed at his mom’s house for a getaway day with the staff. So, I sat down and wrote a list: The Top Ten Reasons I Want to Marry Jeff. They ranged from “He treats his mom with gentleness, respect, and love” to “He’s the only guy I know who has the guts to tell me what to do” to “He’s an excellent manager of finances and believes in debt-free living” to “We share the same life goals, purpose, and calling.” What the list did was helped me see that this truly was more than a crush. Though certainly not perfect, Jeff embodied the things that I’d prayed and hoped for in a husband. I kept the list to myself, hoping someday I’d be able to show him.

The first week back in Corvallis, I had a strange feeling in my stomach. Friday night, some friends got together for a movie night, and I knew Jeff was invited. Halfway through dinner he showed up, looking curiously well dressed. Everyone scooted to make room, of course, next to me for him to sit. He seemed strangely distracted distinctly less friendly toward me than ever before. I asked about his time at home and he answered politely then moved on to make conversation with someone else.

Halfway through the movie, Jeff’s cell phone rang and he went in the other room to answer it. Emerging a minute later, he absent-mindedly said he had to leave and grabbed his jacket, letting himself out the door without so much as a goodbye. I don’t remember the rest of the movie, because something was turning in my stomach and a lump had formed in my throat.

The next day on my morning run I stopped by John & Amber’s house to say hi to Amber. I noticed a car in the driveway that I didn’t recognize, and as Amber opened the door I saw another blonde head in the kitchen pouring some coffee. She turned around and I saw that it was Jessica, Amber’s best friend, a girl who’d also gone to OSU and who had moved to New York to finish college. She was prettier than I’d remembered, but then again she’d always been gorgeous. He hair fell to her waist, just like Amber’s, and for a moment, I felt a little awkward. I excused myself, explaining that I just wanted to say hi while I was out for a jog, and left them to finish their coffee together. As I began to run, something nagged at my thoughts like a stitch in my side. Was I jealous? I’d seen Jessica before, why did it bother me now for some reason. All the confidence I’d felt right before Christmas break melted away. Now, as I ran, I felt inferior and insecure. My skin was pocked from adolescent acne and my ankles were too thick. I didn’t have enough money to buy nice clothes. I wish I could lose ten pounds. I look so frumpy compared to Jessica and Amber. They both have long legs and somehow look tan even though it’s winter. Who am I kidding to think that Jeff Patterson would like me. Not me. Never me.

The next day was cold and rainy. Sunday mornings were always early, as we students were required to set up our mobile church in the cafeteria of the high school. The rain pelted my windshield as I drove through the dark morning and parked my car outside the school. I carried in my study Bible so I could do some of my Bible journaling during the break between set-up and the start of the first service. As I carried chairs and set-up tables, my fingers and body felt numb, my mind distant. I didn’t know why, but a inexplicable feeling of dread and foreboding seemed to hover over me. I had no evidence, but I knew something was wrong.

After setting up, I sat down at a table next to the coffee cart and opened my Bible, pulling the little gold ribbon that hung out the bottom of the pages so I could find my place as I journalled straight through from Genesis to Revelation. As I pulled the ribbon up and pulled the pages apart I stared down at the pages, in disbelief. I was in Job chapter one. I didn’t remember finishing Esther but apparently I had. My ribbon lay across the page and I ran my finger down its smooth gold line. Now I knew. God was breaking my heart. I put my head down and read, slowly, painfully. The voices around me faded away as the words sounded in my mind like a deep, gentle voice:

“The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; Blessed be the name of the LORD.” Tears welled up in my eyes and my hand trembled as I underlined the passage and wrote next to it, with shaky writing: “1/6/02 Take away ___?” I continued to read: “Shall we indeed accept good from God, and shall we not accept adversity?” Again, I underlined. I continued: “For the thing I greatly feared has come upon me, and what I dreaded has happened to me. I am not at ease, nor am I quiet; I have no rest for trouble comes.” Again I wrote “1/6/02.” I began to turn the page, but was broken from my concentration by a voice I knew. Jessica’s voice. She was standing in line waiting to order coffee. I kept my head down and listened.

“. . . yeah, it’s been a great weekend. Actually Jeff Patterson took me out to dinner last night. He is so sweet. . .” I had heard enough. I swallowed to keep from getting nauseated. She giggled and I blocked out the sound and turned back to my Bible, placing my hands on the pages, desperate for truth, for something to cling to, for God. I continued to read, not knowing what else to do, hoping for something that would show me why, why why why God was breaking my heart. A few pages later Amber approached the table and sat down next to me. I blinked hard to get rid of threatening tears and attempted a smile.

“Can I talk to you?” She had that tone of voice I dread, the tone that means this is a conversation neither of us want to have but we have to. I hoped she would say something to comfort me, that she would somehow know my pain and be able to soothe it. But instead she leaned forward in confidence and spoke,

“Teri asked me to talk to you. Apparently there’s a little problem. She said that at the staff Christmas party, when you took a picture of the pastors with their wives, when you lifted up your arms your stomach showed a little.” I looked at her in unbelief. “So she addressed the issue with me and asked me to talk to you about it.” I sat in absolute shock. My world was falling down around my ears and now the pastor’s wife had to confront me for indecency?! For a stupid peek of my tummy! Was I a harlot or something? I was wearing a thick, high-necked sweater for crying out loud! My heart was breaking and I was dying inside and now I’m getting rebuked for this?! I just sat and blinked back tears and managed to say the only thing I could think of.

“I’m sorry,” my voice was empty.

Amber smiled and patted my shoulder. “Don’t worry about it,” and she headed off toward Jessica.
I looked back down at my Bible, but now the words were a blur through the tears in my eyes. I was hot with sweat and felt like I couldn’t breathe. I focused on breathing so I wouldn’t burst into tears, collapsing. The shirt issue would normally have been no big deal, but on top of the mornings’ events, it felt like the whole world was against me, talking about me, disgusted with me, rejecting me. I was a problem, a problem to the staff, to the pastors, to Jeff. I was an annoyance, I was a loser. I was rejected. God, why now? Why today? Where are you? I forced myself to keep reading:

“Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him.” With this the tears I’d fought fell freely. I let a sob and managed to underline that sentence. A tear fell from my cheek and the ink ran along the margin. I had to go. I slammed close my Bible and turned toward a back door, looking down, desperately trying to avoid meeting anyone’s eye. As I burst out the back door into the cold air outside, Lori grabbed my shoulder.

“Wait!” She was out of breath. He face was filled with genuine concern. I knew her heart was breaking with mine. “ You heard?” She touched my cheek with her hand. I nodded and began to sob, choking and snorting and holding my Bible to my stomach with both arms. “Oh Kar I’m so sorry.” She pulled me to her and hugged me. I dug my face in her neck and went limp in her arms. “Do you want to talk?”

I shook my head. “I need to be alone.” She nodded and let me go. I turned away from her and still clutching my Bible walked through the cold rain out toward the track and baseball field. I don’t know how long I walked aimlessly, numb and wet with rain, but eventually I found a covered dugout and walked down into the shelter. I thought of Job’s words:

“Therefore I will not restrain my mouth; I will speak in the anguish of my spirit, I will complain in the bitterness of my soul.” And I did.

“Why?” I said, out into the sky. “Why did you trick me, God?” I waited. Silence. “Why did you put those feelings in my heart just to slash my heart to pieces? Why are you doing this to me? Why did you trick me?” I continued to sob, loud like a child. The cold was wet and my clothes were damp from the rain. I shivered and looked out at the gray sky. I felt foolish for being so upset, for letting my heart be broken over something this silly. We hadn’t even been dating so it wasn’t even that we’d broken up. Jeff had done nothing wrong. So why was I left wondering if anyone in the world would ever care for me the way that I’d cared for him? I felt that God had betrayed me. I’d prayed and prayed that He would remove my feelings if they weren’t from Him and He didn’t. I’d prayed and waited and fasted and felt that God had confirmed that Jeff was the one. Now everything I’d thought I knew to be true was gone.

I stayed in the dugout through both services, and managed to pull myself together enough to help tear down tables and chairs. Immediately after church I had to go to the church office to finish my monthly newsletter, and my best friend Elisa was dropping off her four-year-old son, Thaddeus, to stay with me for the night. Thaddeus was special to me, and had always been my favorite of her four kids. He’d asked if he could come stay the night with me so we had a slumber party date ahead. Of all days, I thought, the last thing I want is to write a newsletter pretending that life and ministry are wonderful and then play and be happy for a child all evening. As I walked into the church office my heart sank. Jeff was sitting at his desk. No, God. No. Not now. I can’t right now. I looked away from him and sat at my desk, turning on the computer with my back to him.

“Hey, Kari?” Jeff spoke cautiously.

“Yeah?” I didn’t turn around.

“Can we talk?” I let out a breath I didn’t know I’d been holding. God I need you. Please give me the strength.

“Sure.” I turned around, and miracle of all miracles, I looked him in the eye and smiled. He motioned for us to go in the other room, so I followed him in and he shut the door.

“Want a pistachio?” He held out a bag of nuts. He was nervous. I shook my head. “Ok, well, I just want to be open and honest with you.” I nodded. “I know a lot of people think that you and I will end up together and there’s kind of that pressure on us, you know?” I waited. “Well, I just want to clear things up so there’s no weirdness between us. You are a wonderful girl, but I’ve been praying a lot about it and I feel like God showed me that you and I are never going to be together. It’s just not meant to be.” By the mercy of God I made one slow emotionless nod. He continued. “And I wanted you to hear directly from me that I’ve asked Jessica out, and we went to dinner last night, and I feel like I’m supposed to pursue her.” It was out. He was through. Still, by some miracle of God’s mercy, I sat expressionless.
“Thank you for telling me.” I finally spoke with a calm, even voice. Jeff was visibly relieved and smiled.
“Wow, that’s great, Kari. You’re a great girl.” I smiled but not with my eyes and we went back to our desks.

Elisa showed up twenty minutes later. She knew Jeff and they exchanged hellos, then one look at my face told her we needed to talk. She told Thaddeus to stay in the office and the two of us walked out to her car. I didn’t even have to speak when we got inside, she just leaned over and wrapped her arms around me and I wept into her neck.
“Oh sweetie I’m so sorry.” She held me against her for a long time. “What happened?” I told her. Her eyes widened and she shook her head. “Do you want me to take Thaddeus back home with me?” I said he should stay, so she prayed for me and let me go back to the office. I returned to find Thaddeus on Jeff’s lap, playing at his computer. Jeff was teaching him a game, and Thaddeus was shrieking with joy, laughing and kicking his feet as he punched the keys. Jeff smiled up at me as I walked in and I managed to meet his gaze and smile with my eyes.

That night I stood at the stove and stirred Thaddeus’s macaroni and cheese dinner. Lori nibbled at a quesadilla and Thaddeus sat at the table eating an orange, his short fat fingers dripping with juice.

“Miss Kari?” He looked up at me.

“Yes, love?

“Are you ever gonna get married?” He smiled up at me with his huge blue eyes. I stopped stirring and Lori stopped still with her fork halfway to her mouth. I smiled down at my precious little friend, so unaware of pain and longing and hurt, so trusting and simple.

“I sure hope so, love. I sure hope so.” Lori blew me a kiss and winked.

After Thaddeus was in bed, I went through my journal and tore out any pages that spoke of Jeff. I dug out the linen kitchen towel, monogrammed with P, and stuffed it into the bottom of the kitchen trashcan. I erased several poems and my Top Ten Reasons list off my computer and finally, feeling purged, I nuzzled my face into my pillow and fell asleep.

—-

A week later, I was strangely ok. The only thing I can relate it to is a computer’s “safe mode” that runs when problems are occurring and the computer knows to only run a few things at a time in order to minimize complications. I was in emotional “safe mode.” The Real Life staff flew down to southern California to attend a Youth Worker’s Conference and chance would have it that Jeff and I were seated next to each other on the plane. As he flipped open his PDA and pulled out his stylus, I saw a post-it stuck to the opened flap: Jessica’s name and number, written in red pen in her rounded girlish writing.

A week after the conference, the staff met for a three day prayer and fasting time, to plan and prepare for the upcoming semester. On day three, during a time of waiting on the Lord in silence, Pastor John shared what He sensed God saying to us.

“We’re supposed to put on a large-scale, full-length theatrical presentation of the gospel for Easter, at the LaSells Stewart Center on campus!” I stared at him. No one on staff had any theater experience and the LaSells Stewart Center held 1,500 people. This was two and a half months away, and I knew that of all the staff members, I was the nearest one to a theater director. John looked at me with dancing eyes. “You could direct it, Kari! Wouldn’t that be amazing?! We could run it three nights and thousands of people could hear the gospel!” Panic crept in and I feared that all the tears I’d been holding back would now flood out, and everyone, including Jeff, would see me in a heap of pitiful crying.

“I’ll pray about it,” I told him.

And so I did. That afternoon, when our time was over, I went back to my apartment, threw myself on my bed and wept. This was the last thing I wanted to do. I knew nothing about theater, knew no one who knew anything about theater, and had no desire to change either of those things. Again, I laid my heart before God. “God, no! Why, after smashing me to pieces, are you requiring this of me? I want to be a wife! I want to have a family. I want to settle down and pour myself into my home and husband and children. Those are the desires of my heart—NOT to be in charge of some monstrous ministry that has no hope of succeeding.” And again, God was silent.

What followed in the coming weeks was a depression I had never experienced up to that point. Strangely, I wasn’t directly depressed about Jeff. What depressed me was that I now questioned whether I ever heard from God. It seemed that for six months straight God had been leading me toward Jeff, but then now, in what seemed to be a complete one-hundred and eighty degree turn, He had closed that door and was turning me into a theater director.

As the weeks went by, the play idea seemed more and more absurd. What would we perform? We didn’t even have a script? I knew nothing about drama. In confiding with a seasoned older couple in whom I placed great trust, they counseled me to explain to John that the idea was unfeasible and that perhaps that would happen someday, but not now. Depression was surely not a sign of following God’s will. Despite these words, in my alone time with God, I knew His voice—I had to do it. Though I told myself that I no longer knew God’s voice, and that the Jeff situation had proven that I was incapable of knowing His will, I somehow still knew, in my heart of hearts, that He was probing me to pursue this ludicrous dramatic event. As I waited and prayed, I knew His voice: I want you to take all the energy that you have, that you want to throw into loving Jeff or having a husband or raising children or making a home, and throw it into this project. I want you to marry this drama, give you heart and soul to it. I’ll be with you. I only had one choice. Yes, Lord.

In that decision, a miracles occurred. Out of the blue a guy named Chris left me a message on my cell phone, explaining that he worked with Christian theater and wanted to know if I needed some tips on how to start. I found a skeleton of a script idea online and decided to take my love for writing and put it to the test—fleshing out the gospel story into dramatic form. I’d never written a play before, but then again I’d never done any of this before. An announcement went in the church bulletin, and twenty people showed up at our first meeting. Sitting in the back, surrounded by their four young children, sat Lionel and Kristen Wilson. I had no inkling at that point how much bigger this was than I had ever imagined.

Lionel and Kristen had had significant theater experience at their previous church in the mid-west. For the past several years, they had been fervently praying that God would begin a drama ministry in this local church. The were unknown by the pastor and felt that God didn’t want them to take the matter in their own hands, but they had faithfully prayed for God to move. The announcement in the bulletin was their answer to prayer.

To their credit, they were content to stay behind the scenes and let me lead. It must have taken every ounce of their strength not to step in and explain that I was an idiot and that they had years of experience to offer. Instead they just followed my lead, prayed for me, and gratefully accepted any responsibility that I gave to them. Three months later, with Kristen and I co-Directing, The Cross Road drama was performed three nights at LaSells Stewart Center and many lives were surrendered to Christ. After the last performance, I sat on my bed and talked to God. It had happened. I had literally poured every minute and ounce of strength into that play, and the result was the most fulfilling, joy-filled, faith-building and exhilarating experience I had ever encountered.

By the summer, Jeff and I were over the weirdness and had actually become friends. His fling with Jessica had lasted less than a week, which secretly made me very satisfied, but I’d taken his words to heart: “God showed me we will never be together,” and it was so decisive and final that it made it easy to never go there with my thoughts. What I did discover was that he was a great brother. He was funny and sharp, and we played off each other in groups and had the same wit and quirks. By August I was actually dating someone else, a friend I’d known for years who’d moved back to Corvallis to be the worship leader for our church. I remember running in to the church office to tell Jeff my exciting news: “Jason and I are dating!” I exclaimed. He smiled but not with his eyes.

By the end of August Jason and I had broken up, and though I was sad about the break-up, I was more crushed by the overwhelming feeling that no one would ever love me. By this time I just felt like a fool, with my heart twice broken.

The end of the summer brought the time for summer short-term missions and Jeff and I led separate teams to different regions of Brazil. The week before we left, all the short-term teams took part in a several day Missions Training Camp where we camped in the wilderness, dug our own latrines, and butchered chickens for our meals. I was partnered with a Training Camp staff member, who, having met me on day one, decided on day two to declare his undying affection for me. During one particularly awkward situation where we were forced to hike some distance alone, he made an interesting observation.

‘That Jeff guy sure doesn’t like me.” I furrowed my brow at him, not understanding.

“What makes you say that?”

“He always glares at me and stares me down. I think it’s because I like you. Does he like you?” I looked at him in disbelief. If only he knew how much Jeff didn’t like me.

“Jeff?! No. He’s like a brother. He’s just protective. That’s all.” He grunted something in response and I looked up at the trees. Protective. My heart, though so crumpled and cracked with broken dreams, soaked up the idea of being protected like water in dry soil. I longed for that. I longed for someone to care that this schmuck at my side was constantly making sanctified advances at me. I longed for someone to take care of me, to wrap, as it were, his arms around me and guard me from the world. I knew that God did that, but my heart ached for a man to do that too. I made a point to smile at Jeff when we returned to camp, not in a flirtatious way, as I’d done those months before, but in a way that communicated respect, that communicated thank you.

That fall proved to be the darkest season I’d experienced so far. Jason had told me that perhaps there’d be a time in the future when we would be together, he just didn’t feel a peace about it at this time, so he’d thought it was better for us to stay just friends. Because of this wording, the door remained open a crack in my heart, and gave me something to cling to. To a hungry heart, even what is bitter tastes sweet. I was so hungry, I didn’t care that this was not the best. I’d placed my heart’s hopes on Jeff, my dream, my “best,” and it shattered me. Though Jason wasn’t my dream, he seemed my only hope, so I placed my hope in him. This misplaced hope however, proved destructive, as all misplaced hope is. I journaled and prayed about waiting on God. I was waiting on the Lord, I told myself. One afternoon, my childhood best friend, Dawson, was driving me home to our hometown. His old Honda shook as we drove up I-5 and the stereo blared some new off-beat album only he could name. He asked me how I was doing. How I was really doing.

“I’m just waiting on the Lord, for His timing, you know.” I said, more cheerfully than I felt. Dawson kept his eyes on the road, silent for a few moment. His eyes narrowed in thought. About once every five years or so Dawson says something profound that pierces my heart.

“Kari, just be sure you’re waiting on the Lord and not waiting on Jason.” I felt like someone had knocked the wind out of me. I hate it when Dawson’s right. He’s a clown and a goof and younger than me and I hate it when he has one of those moments. But more than hating that, I hated that he was right. I had never thought there was a difference, but now, with the light shining down in the depths of my heart, I knew there was. I’d been waiting on a man instead of waiting on God. I didn’t respond to Dawson, but when I got home I sat down with God and once again poured out my heart. I realized that by hoping in a person, I’d simply waited for my desired result. By waiting on God, I surrender the result entirely, completely relinquishing control and accepting that in God’s timing He will do His will in my life for my good and His glory. Faithful are the wounds of a friend.

In October it felt that the sun never rose. I’d surrendered my heart back to God, over and over and over again. Daily I gave him my thoughts, my dreams, my desires. My theme song, sang many a night with outstretched arms, was

I’m giving you my heart, and all that is within,
I lay it all down, For the sake of you my King.
I’m giving you my dreams, I’m laying down my rights,
I’m giving up my pride, for the promise of new life.

I surrender, all to You, all to You
I surrender, all to You, all to You.

I’m singin you this song, I’m waiting at the cross,
And all the world holds dear, I count it all as loss,
For the sake of knowing you, for the glory of Your name,
To know the lasting joy, even sharing in your pain.

It was impossible to pinpoint why exactly I was suffering such pain. It was so much deeper than a heartache over a boy or a bruised ego. My hopes, my dreams, my very being was dying inside, and I’d never experienced this sort of grief. A normally happy and joyful person, able to cheer myself up after any discouragement, I now felt like I was spiraling, father and father down and away from the light, deeper and deeper below the surface. Often at night I lay on the couch in the dark and cried for hours, or just stared at the wall, sinking in my own depressing thoughts. My mom would sometimes call and walk me through an evening. “Ten minute intervals,” she’d say, “You don’t have to be tackle the whole evening, just take on the next ten minutes.” She’d give me a task to do for ten minutes, like cleaning a cupboard or reading a chapter, then she’d call back in ten minutes and see how it went. I’d never thought I could be that weak, I’d never been a depressed person and had always thought those who were somehow just lacked the strength to brush things off. But what I was experiencing was beyond brushing off. My times in the Word and prayer went far beyond ritual or habit—God’s Word was my sustenance, His voice my source of strength, His presence my nourishment. I was desperate for Him like never before.

One dark evening I decided to stay home from mid-week church. I was depressed and discouraged and didn’t even have the courage to face people, so I curled up on the couch, turned on some worship music, and cried. Midway through a familiar song, in the darkness of my living room, in the midst of my tears, a dramatic scene became illuminated in my mind. Words flashed through my mind, and then scene rolled on. Bits and pieces of conversations, fights, cries, flew back and forth through my mind. People wracked with grief and despair, thrashing in pain. Jesus reaching to the lost. I saw a dance take place and a story line took form. I ran into my bedroom and clicked on the monitor to my computer. I frantically typed, entranced, engulfed in the conversations in my mind. I wrote for hours, breaking to listen to songs that came to mind, scribbling down music times and notes and ideas for dances. Just before going to bed, I typed “Four Lives” across the top of my paper. God had written a play, and it took the dark night of the soul for it to be born.

November was filled with football games and our Fall Retreat. We used my dad’s truck to pull the trailer packed with food, and chance would have it that Jeff had to drive it, so he and John and I rode over to Sun River together. I was miserable with cramps and a headache, so I lay in the back seat and let the men talk in the front. We stopped at A&W on the way, and over my Chile cheese fries, Jeff and John wanted to hear every last detail about the play I wrote. I shared every detail, realizing that I came alive when I spoke of drama. The very thing I’d thought I loathed, the very ministry project that I had fought with God about, I now embraced and loved like a child. It had become woven in my heart. They were both so excited to see me thriving at this, and once again I was struck by how genuinely they both cared for me. For the time being I forgot my cramps and headache, and actually felt valued.

After the retreat, John went home with his wife, so Jeff and I tried to find someone else to ride home with us, but with no success. Everyone had rides, which made it a bit awkward for the two of us.

“I’m ok with it if you are,” Jeff said shrugging.

“Fine with me.” I actually was glad. Though I didn’t like Jeff romantically any more, he was still the best company I could imagine, he was fun and I knew it’d make the long drive go by quickly.

“Bring your djembe in the front—you can play on the way home.” My djembe, the only musical instrument I play, that I absolutely adore playing, but that I’m also too shy to ever play around people. Jeff loved it when I played. He always had whoever was leading worship come and ask me to play, because he knew I’d never suggest it. He’d asked me specifically to bring it, and as we made the long drive over the pass, he blared the worship music and instructed me to play as loud and as hard as I could. And I did. My fingers were puffy and red by the time we reached Salem, and our voices horse from singing at the top of our lungs. When we’d exhausted our energy singing, we settled into conversation, intermixed with comfortable silence. We talked about our families, he asked about Jason. I turned and prodded,

“Soo. . . is there anyone you like these days?” I couldn’t remember Jeff seeming to show a liking to anyone recently.

Perhaps he’d given up, just like me.

He kept his eyes straight ahead on the road and paused, “Naw. I gave up on girls.”

“You’ll find the right one, Jeff. Hang in there.” I smiled at him with my eyes. For a moment I realized that it was remarkable that I was even able to ask that question without so much as a tinge of pain in my heart. I realized at that moment that I genuinely just wanted him to find the wife God had for him. I promised myself I’d pray for the right one to come along in His timing. The last half hour of the trip I got tired and leaned against the window. He handed me his sweatshirt and I stuffed it between my cheek and the window, relaxing my neck and falling asleep.

Finals week in early December meant that Winter Formal, where Real Life students don suits and formal gowns and take a date to a formal sit-down dinner, catered and hosted by Real Life, with the purpose of learning manners, etiquette, and the importance of treating members of the opposite sex with respect and honor. As the coordinator for the dinner, I was responsible for coupling those who signed up. I joked that I took money or cookies as bribes to anyone who had a request. As I finalized the guest list, I had a few singles left un-matched. Jeff happened to be one of them.
“Sooo, uh, Jeff . . . who do you want to take to the Winter Formal? Any suggestions? I’m doing the list,” I teased. He smiled but not with his eyes. He seemed a little pain, in fact. Perhaps I was not the only one in a dark season, I thought.

In mid-December, right after finals, the Real Life staff went away for our usual prayer and fasting time. For our final evening, we broke our fast for a special holiday dinner out to celebrate Christmas as a staff. I was happy to dress up, and brought my black dress, and even curled my long blond hair and zipped up my lips with red. It was no candlelit date, but it was fun to be fancy with the friends I loved most. After dinner, we all went to the nearby mall to do a little Christmas shopping, and laughed ourselves silly strolling the mall in our heels and ties, forgetting for the time being the weight of ministry and responsibility, and just savoring the joy of friendships that are real.

“I have to get some gummy grapefruit!” I announced and made a bee-line for the Sweet Factory, where a short line had already formed. I got in line and dug around in my wallet for change, and when I looked up, Jeff was standing next to me.

“I’ll keep you company,” he said. I said ok and we discussed what types of candy are best and laughed about the time when we were in California and he ordered sour frozen yogurt with gummy bears on top. Even though it was disgusting he’d forced himself to eat every bite so it wouldn’t be wasted. We were both laughing out loud when we came back to the group, nibbling gummy grapefruits and licking the sugar off our fingers. As we continued to walk, I kept noticing Jeff at my side. Our group would naturally divide into parts, but he always seemed to be next to me, talking or telling me something funny, or just there. He was just there.

That night we finished our time with an extended time of prayer for each other. We prayed for our families, our personal concerns, and future spouses for the three of us who were yet unattached. I chimed in and prayed for Jeff’s future wife, that God would bring her to him quickly and that He would grant Jeff the desires of his heart and would bring great joy into his life through her. It was one of those times when I knew I was praying God’s will. I sensed His favor in a distinct way, and I knew I was praying in accordance with His Spirit. I lay in bed that night exhausted and content.

We packed up the next morning and drove away in our own cars. I headed to Portland to meet my brother, and we spent the evening together and had a burrito for dinner. I couldn’t shake the feeling that something was different about Jeff. He was doing it again. He was acting as if I meant something to him. He was lighting up when I walked in the room. He was looking at me. Really looking at me. My cell phone interrupted my thoughts. It was Jeff. Startled that somehow this was the result of letting my mind wander, I answered cautiously.

“Hello? . . . Oh, hi Jeff, what’s up?”

“Uh . . . You left your djembe at the retreat. I brought it back for you, so . . . uh. . . do you want me to bring it to you or, uh, I could just bring it to the church staff Christmas party tomorrow night. Will you be there?” I said that I would and that would be great and thank you so much for grabbing it, and said goodbye. Ok, just a coincidence, he acted fine on the phone.
The next night was the church staff Christmas party, and I looked in my closet for the longest, most sufficiently body-covering outfit I could find considering the grief I incurred from last year’s party. I found a tailored jacket that went to my knees and paired with black slacks. I tried not to think about how painful last Christmas had been. This year, Jason would be there, and I wondered if they’d put us together at a table. Last year they’d put me with Jeff, and see what good that did me.

I rode with Lori and Jason, and was seated across from Jason but next to Jeff. Dinner was a spectacular array of butternut squash soup and gourmet salad, crusty bread and beef brisket. Our table was mostly the younger crowd, placed in the kitchen so we could be loud. As I sat at dinner, we laughed and told stories and reminisced about our joys and sorrows of ministry in the last year. For a moment I stopped and was lost in my thoughts. I looked at Jason, then over at Jeff. I had spent the last few months hoping and praying that Jason would want me, but as we sat at the table, it was Jeff who I laughed with, Jeff who played off my comments and joined in my jokes, Jeff who was as easy to talk to as a lifelong friend. It was Jeff who drew me out. It was Jeff. But he’s not it, I told myself. He’s already told you, Kari, we’ll never be together.

After dinner I stood by the dessert table, holding my plate and contemplating my indulgence.
“Kari?” Startled, I looked up to see Jeff standing, not only next to me, but right next to me. In my space. Way closer than our normal conversational distance. He looked down into my face and looked serious. I stared at him, a little taken back. “Can we talk after this?”

“Sure,” I said in a high-pitched voice of exaggerated casualness. Then I sat down my plate, flustered, and went to the restroom to gather my composure. Once inside I went to the sink and looked in the mirror. The same face stared back at me, ever hurt and pain so obvious and apparent. I was the same girl he’d crushed just one year before, and there was no way I was going down that road again. He’s going to do the same thing again, I thought, He’s going to say “I’m sorry that I’ve been acting like I like you, but the truth is I don’t, I just want to be open and honest and tell you again that we’ll never be together.” The words echoed in my mind from before: We’ll never be together. By now I was angry. Why did he have to do this to me. I looked in the mirror and practiced my speech in an angry whisper.

“Look!” I shouted a whisper into the mirror, “ You don’t have to keep telling me this! I’m over you! I don’t like you! You don’t have to keep telling me that you don’t like me!” After my speech I took a deep breath and smiled into the mirror but not with my eyes.

Through the gift exchange I tried my best to laugh and smile, but I was inwardly preparing myself for the speech I would give. As we grabbed our coats and said our thank yous, Jeff came up once again and leaned down toward my face, “Can I just take you home?” I nodded that that was fine, and told Lori, with confusion in my voice, that Jeff was taking me home. She raised an eyebrow but didn’t comment.

As I stepped out into the crisp air, Jeff pulled his car up to the door and hopped outside, coming quickly over to my side and opening the passenger door. I raised my eyebrows but silently got inside. He’s opening my door? Once inside he pulled onto the street and we drove several blocks in silence. Finally, he spoke.

“Kari, do you remember a talk we had a year ago?” He began. My fists clenched and my stomach turned. How could he do this to me? Of course I remembered—my world fell apart. Do we have to revisit this?

“Yes . . .” I responded, raising my voice at the end in a question.
He paused and took a deep breath. “That was the stupidest thing I’ve ever done in my life and I’ve regretted it every day since.”

—-

I gasped and jerked my head to the side to see him. He was breathing hard and now biting his lip as he looked back and forth between me and the road. I was so stunned I couldn’t breath, and I leaned back against the passenger door, as if getting space from this suffocating experience. I didn’t speak, so he took a breath and continued. “I was a fool, and I’ve been praying that God would give me a second chance with you. I don’t blame you if you can’t or won’t forgive me, but you are the most amazing girl I’ve ever met and I want to pursue finding out, together, if we’re meant to be together for life. I’m just laying it all out because I want you to know that I’m for real this time, that this isn’t just a passing thought.” I still just sat there in silence, my face looking distressed and overwhelmed at the enormity of this revelation. I leaned further and further away and stared out the front.

Jeff finally broke the silence. “Can I get a little feedback here?” He smiled and looked at me expectantly bowing down head a little to look me in the eye. In an instant I decided to be honest and tell him the truth, just as he had done.
“Well,” I said, matter-of-factly, “You broke my heart, and I got over you.” I stated the facts. Jeff shoulders dropped ever so slightly, and in a moment I made a decision and continued. “But,” Jeff looked over at me with anticipation, “I will say this. When I liked you before, I truly cared for you. It wasn’t a crush. I respected and admired the man that you were. I wasn’t infatuated. It was real. And while I have to be honest and say that I did get over you. I haven’t been daydreaming about you or praying about you. You won’t find your name in my journal and I haven’t been dreaming of this moment and planning what I would say. But, you are the same man that you were before, and I still admire you more than any other man I’ve ever met. So, with that said, I’d love to pursue this together with you. I finally smiled over at him, with my eyes, and he grinned that wide grin, his white teeth shining in the streetlight, his blue eyes dancing beneath long black eyelashes.

We drove down to the waterfront and talked for an hour. He shared the frustration of the last year and how he’d regretted his rash decision of the previous year. I sat in silence because I could scarcely believe my ears. Just hours earlier I’d had my heart set on someone else, settling because I’d never dreamed things would work out with Jeff. And after all the times I’d dreamed of having Jeff’s affection, of sitting in that very car—as dilapidated as it was (he also wasn’t overly concerned about his car’s appearance)—and here I was, and I was too surprised to even know how to feel.
“I’d like to talk to your dad and ask him permission to date you, or court you, whichever you’d like to call it,” he smiled. I nodded. With Jason I’d felt like I had to take him by the hand and tell what I wanted, how I wanted him to lead and do things, and here Jeff was literally taking the words out of my mouth, speaking my thoughts and desires and intents without me even saying a word. “And, just to be cautious, I think we should probably keep this on the down low for a few weeks. The last thing we need is to have 400 college students buzzing with gossip because we’re together. Just for a couple weeks, during Christmas break, let’s keep this our little secret.” Again, I just nodded, amazed at how he’d thought things through, amazed at his wisdom and foresight. I almost jerked it back, not because I didn’t want him to hold it, but because it was just so diametrically opposed to what I’d let myself believe for the past year. I’d convinced myself so thoroughly that Jeff Patterson was not the man I would marry that my emotions and thoughts had to catch up to this amazing revelation.

When we finally pulled up to my apartment, I was in a daze. I was strangely calm, not giddy, just calm. I felt like I was watching myself in slow motion, or like at any moment I would wake up and rub the sleep from my eyes. We agreed, since we both worked out regularly at Gold’s Gym, to meet there at 8am in the morning to work out together. I walked up the stairs and to my front door, as I looked back I could see his face leaning out of his opened car window, smiling with his eyes slightly squinted, his lips slightly pursed as if he was searching and savoring and relishing all at once. I smiled back, a real smile, a smile that reached to my toes, the first smile I’d felt like that in a very long time.

As I snuck in the front door I quickly crept into the bathroom and closed the door to wash my face. If I was quiet I thought I could sneak to bed before Lori heard me and demanded a story. I heard her come to the door and knock.
“Uh huh?” I grunted with my head down in the sink. She pushed open the door. I kept my head down in the sink with the water running although my face was already washed. I knew if I looked her in the eye it’d all come out. She leaned against the doorjamb, arms folded across her chest, eyebrows raised. I peaked up at her guiltily.
“Did Jeff Patterson just tell you he likes you?” I kept my head down then slowly turned to face her, a grin spread across my face. “Oh my gosh! No! Are you serious? Tell me everything! What did he say? What did you say?” She was giddy. I rubbed the towel on my face and stood to face her. She threw her arms around me. “Congratulations, my dear friend.” Then she grabbed my hand and pulled me into the living room, where we took our usual positions, on either side of the couch, leaning against the arm rests, with our legs pulled up to our chests, and we told her the whole story of the evening’s events.

After talking to Lori it was late. Very late. But I had to make a phone call. I dialed the familiar number.

“Hello?” My mom’s voice was scratchy and sounded anxious.

“It’s me. Can I talk to Dad?” I heard her wake my dad and tell her I was on the phone.

“Hey baby.”

“Hey Dad. Uh, someone is going to call you tomorrow and ask to date me.” Silence.

“Who?”

“Jeff Patterson.” He was quiet.

“Well, baby, I love you. I want you to tell me what you want.”

“Daddy, honestly, I just want you to decide. I’ve been so hurt and so heartbroken. I want you to say whatever you feel you’re supposed to say. I give you complete freedom to do or say whatever you think. I trust you.”

“Alright but . . . if it’s ok with me is it ok with you?”

I sat quiet for a moment before responding, with a smile, “Yeah, Daddy, it’s ok with me.”

“Alright, Baby, goodnight Sugar.”

“Goodnight, Daddy.” I hung up the phone.

My dad rolled over to go back to sleep. My mom, having heard only half the conversation, lay wide awake, wondering. Finally, she turned to Dad: “If it’s not Jeff Patterson I’ll be furious,” she said.

“It is, hon,” He said, and nodded off to sleep. The next morning I woke wondering if I’d dreamt the whole thing up. I saw my clothes on the floor from the night before and thought I remembered the conversation, but still I wondered if somehow this wasn’t too good to be true, if somehow some cruel trick would be played on me again and end in grief. I remembered our work-out date, but half expected him to not be there. I through on some workout clothes and pulled back my hair in a ponytail, and at 8:03 pulled up at Gold’s Gym. For a moment I was convinced that he wouldn’t be there, that’d I’d made the whole thing up and he’d never show. But I spotted his car from across the parking lot and had to smile to myself. Jeff drove an ’84 white Honda Civic hatchback with the shade slats on the back window that made him look like a drug dealer. His car was widely known as the Albino Armadillo, or more commonly referred to as “the ‘dillo.” At times the passenger door wouldn’t open and at times the driver’s side door wouldn’t close. This meant that at different times passengers had to crawl in the driver’s side door and at times Jeff had to drive with his knee, shift with his right hand, and use his left hand to hold the driver’s side door closed. One time Jeff was driving with his best friend Benjy, while they were both eating McDonald’s cheeseburgers. On a sharp turn Benjy dropped his and it rolled under the seat. “Just leave it man, just leave it,” Jeff advised. The cheeseburger is there to this day. One headlight shown straight and one shot up and to the right, so that the tops of trees were illuminated while driving. This was excellent for spotting owls but made night driving difficult.

Jeff was lost in thought, listening to a sermon on tape in his car, when I pulled up next to him. For a moment I couldn’t breath. Would he still want me? Was last night just a whim? Would he sit me down now and explain that he was so sorry but God had shown him that we would never be together? But his smile dispelled my fears. He looked delighted to see me. Now in the daylight I could see what he had done to remedy the filthy car situation. A sheet was laid over the entire back of his car, hiding the disastrous mess of clutter and filth. He saw me looking and smiled boyishly, “I didn’t want you to see that I’m a mess,” he explained.

“I already knew you were a mess.”

Jeff went to do the weights and I got on the treadmill and started to run. From across the gym, he’d periodically look up and smile over at me. I still found myself taken back. Jeff Patterson was looking out across the gym, past dozens of other girls, and smiling at me. He was smiling at me.

Jeff had a wedding to attend that day, so he called my dad and arranged to meet in at the McDonald’s in Woodburn, which was near my parents’ house and on the way to the wedding location.

Jeff pulled in to the parking lot and spotted my dad immediately in his shiny new Dodge Ram truck. With his head down, he steered the opposite direction and pulled around to the back of the restaurant, where he parked facing the opposite street, before getting out and walking across the parking lot to my dad. You see, my dad is a car guy. He’s had almost 150 cars in his day and has somehow managed to make money on them all. He’s frugal and would be happy eating hot dogs every day and wearing the same Nike sneakers for twenty years but he usually has a new car every few months. And, he takes care of them. His cars are always shiny and clean, with a full tank of gas (“Never let your gas tank get less than ½ full in case of an emergency”), and the oil changed by him religiously every 3,000 miles. He should own stock in Amour All. Jeff, as mentioned before, would place car care at the bottom of his priority list. His car runs, most of the time, and gets him from Point A to Point B in one piece, almost always. That is sufficient for him. Plus, if he was every stranded for a week in the wilderness, he could probably survive on the foot dropped between the seats, sleep under the piles of dirty clothes tossed in the back, and built campfires with the fast food bags and post-it notes strewn throughout. It’s just a different perspective.

With that in mind, it’s easy to understand why Jeff hid his car. My dad is a tough man, with a reputation for eating potential boyfriends for lunch. As a lifelong PE Teacher and Athletic Director, he’s notorious for shouting orders such as “Drop and give me twenty!” or using motivating tactics such as comparing one’s speed to molasses in January. Knowing that, Jeff respectfully stated his intentions. He sat with my dad, in my dad’s truck, and for forty-five minutes my dad grilled him. It wasn’t until about minute forty-three, that my dad summed up:

“Jeff, I’ve lived a full life. I’ve had an amazing marriage, raised two incredible kids, and lived fully for sixty years. But I’ll tell you what, I would hesitate for a moment to go to jail for life in order to kill anyone who messed with my daughter.” He paused for emphasis, then continued on a different note. “But Jeff, I’ll tell you what and you’ll never understand it until you have a daughter of your own. For almost twenty-three years I’ve held my daughter just like this,” he held out his hand, with his palm up and fingers clenched tightly in a fist. His eyes teared up and he rubbed his other hand across his face. “And I will only open up and let her go, when I know that whoever I let have her, will take just like this,” he held out Jeff’s hand, “and hold her just as tightly as I have.” He put his hand on top of Jeff’s and closed it with his own, then looked Jeff in the eye.

Jeff nodded, “Yes sir.”

Sunday morning at church proved a challenge. Since no one, besides Lori, knew of our new relationship, we sat far apart, with other friends, and avoided each other. I’m sure I had a ridiculous smile plastered on my face all morning, cheerfully greeting every person and exclaiming, “What a beautiful day!” to anyone who’d say hello. From a distance, it appeared Jeff felt the same way. Though he kept a safe distance away, I’d catch sideways smiles and winks, then I’d widen my eyes with a scolding look and half smile. It was fun. There was something precious about the fact that only we knew about us. Rather than me sharing my new joy and secret with every friend, I shared it with Jeff alone. It communicated respect to me that he was willing to hold me at a distance in order to protect me from becoming the topic of gossip. I became “Secret Agent Number Nine” and because he knew I loved his taste in music, he’d slip burnt CDs into my Bible or tuck them in my purse, made especially for me with my favorite songs and little messages of endearment written in sharpie across the top.

Monday was our day off, so Jeff decided that if we were going to be dating, we may as well go on a date! Jeff began his ritual, that would continue through our entire courtship, of driving all the way to south town to pick me up, take me to Gold’s Gym for our workout, then drive me back to south town to get ready for the day. That Monday he picked me up and showed me his gift for our first date: a website. I loved it—some girls may get flowers but I got a website, devoted to me and complete with fun links and pictures and my favorite music. After this he took me to the Pottery Place downtown. We figured we wouldn’t run into many college students painting pottery during Christmas break. We settled on a candy dish and collaborated our ideas to create our own masterpiece. On the bottom we painted the date, 12/21/2002, with our initials. It was a leap of faith, and we both hoped we wouldn’t have to throw the dish away someday or put a sticker over the bottom. Wouldn’t you know it, as soon as I got up and went to use the restroom, one of the girls from our college group, came in and saw Jeff, sitting alone in the Pottery Place, with a pink and blue candy dish in front of him and paint brush in hand. I don’t know how she kept a straight face as she politely made conversation. Jeff casually mentioned that he was there with me, leaning over to try to block the view of the extraordinarily feminine candy dish with hearts along the edges. That was when I approached from behind her, stopping frozen, not sure whether to go back and hide in the bathroom or continue to the table and act casual. Jeff caught my eye and nodded that it was safe to continue. We managed to act as if nothing were odd, that of course Jeff Patterson and Kari Zyp were painting a candy dish together as a solely professional ministry experience. On the drive home we couldn’t stop laughing about how odd Jeff must have looked sitting there by himself with his dish. That evening we sat on my couch, leaning back against the armrests just as Lori and I did. We asked questions and probed each other’s minds for preferences, opinions, childhood memories.

Finally Jeff got more serious and said, “I want to be fair to you. I feel like I want you to know, right from the very beginning, what you’re getting into.” I looked at him a bit puzzled and he continued. “I just want to share my testimony with you, my life story, because I haven’t lived the perfect life and I want you to know me. I want you to really know me, so that you can decide, from the very beginning, if you really want to go forward with me.” I said ok and he went on and shared his story. Though I’d heard bits and pieces before as he’d shared with the college group, I’d never heard it told as I did now, with the perspective of listening to my potential husband. His life would become my life, this story would forever be intertwined with my story. I didn’t want him to see how much that shook me, how much it bothered me, how much it faced me with a monumental decision I hadn’t anticipated making. Though there was nothing alarming or surprising in it, his story reflected a life of a sinner saved by grace. He refused to allow me to pretend as though he was perfect and we’d be perfect and our life together would be perfect. He interrupted my thoughts. “Will you accept me, just the way I am?”

I swallowed and looked him straight in the eye, and nodded.

That night I laid in bed and cried. Of course I was happy, of course I was thrilled that the man of my dreams had finally fallen for me. I was thrilled that he was a man of integrity and that he was leading our relationship in the best course. But I also had to grieve. I grieved for the mistakes that we’d both made, for the imperfections in our lives, for the pain that I’d felt that year ago. By accepting Jeff, I had to not only forgive him for the hurt he’d caused me, but I was forced to rely on Jesus for my confidence. Jeff was imperfect, just as I was, and our story, if we were to be married, would forever include the chapter where Jeff broke my heart. Where God broke my heart. It was a season I just wanted to forget. It would have been so much easier if a new guy, with no history of struggle or sin or unregenerate living, would ride in and sweep me off my feet and declare that he had never even had the slightest interest in any other woman in the world. That would be so easy, so flattering. That would really help me ego. But this was different. By embracing Jeff, I was embracing the pain, the hurt, the feelings of rejection from before. I was allowing myself to feel pain in order to allow myself to feel love. And by accepting him and his past, I was acknowledging that God’s grace is real, and that I was no perfect princess, and that I needed it every bit as much as Jeff did.

I knew that I needed to decide. I prayed that night and asked God to give me the grace and strength to trust, to love, to move forward, and to accept Jeff’s offer and move forward by faith. I didn’t know exactly what that looked like, but I agreed with God, closed my eyes, and fell asleep.

During that week, we’d both work in the office, but carry on as though nothing had changed. While typing our newsletters in the company of the other staff, Jeff would send me one-line emails every few minutes. We’d rendezvous at the parking lot of Fred Meyer to nibble brown bag lunches and catch up.

After the Christmas Eve night service, I would leave with my parents to spend Christmas Break in Molalla with them while Jeff headed to Bend for the break Christmas morning. Not being able to say goodbye was a challenge, but I caught his eye and nodded toward the door, letting him know I was leaving. He followed at a safe distance, then waved as we left, immediately calling me on my cell phone to say our goodbyes.

I never knew that love could grow that fast. We’d only been officially dating for a week and I knew I’d spend the rest of my life with Jeff. This was different from any other relationship I’d ever experienced. Jeff would call me every day from Bend, sharing with me what God was showing him, insights he’d seen into our relationship, and just to tell me that he was crazy about me. It was as if he knew that I needed that extra reassurance because of the rocky past we’d had. He made sure that not a day went by that he didn’t enthusiastically express his undying devotion to me, and that he thought I was the most beautiful creature on earth. I especially liked that part.

At the end of the first week, we decided that Jeff would drive over the mountain and pick me up and take me back to Bend to visit his family. Though I’d met both of his parents before, this was the first time I’d meet them as “the girlfriend,” and I prayed I’d make a good impression. Unfortunately, I got so sick with what I thought was a head cold. We were to later discover that I was simply allergic to Jeff’s mom’s dogs, so even though I felt miserable and was constantly apologizing for sneezing all over everything, we had an amazing time. On New Year’s Eve, we drove Jeff’s dad, who was suffering from some health problems, to a New Year’s Party. After dropping him off, Jeff drove me to a lookout and we sat savoring the stillness and companionship. I decided that was as good of a time as any and shared with Jeff that just as he had wanted to be open and share his whole testimony with me, I wanted to share mine with him. He smiled and said he’d hoped that I would but didn’t want to ask, he’d wanted me to bring it up on my own. So we sat, and I talked. And talked. And talked. It was a terrifying moment. Even though he knew my whole story, my struggle with an eating disorder, my hurt and pain over relationships, it was terrifying to be sitting one-on-one with the man you hope you’re going to marry, and sharing the deep, ugly recesses of your heart. Once again I was in that place that shattered my ego and forced me to place my confidence in Christ. If God was in this, then Jeff and I were going to need to love each other, every crack and flaw and imperfection, and see that love cover the multitude of sins that we’d committed and would commit over our lifetime.

As I finished, Jeff said that I was more beautiful than he’d ever realized. He touched my face and ran the back of his fingers down my cheek. I closed my eyes and sat in wonderment that God had brought such a man into my life.

That night we drove to his mom’s house, where we were staying, and, believe it or not, we sat up and read Scripture. It may sound fake and pious, but it wasn’t. It was genuinely what we wanted to do. Jeff said that he felt strongly that in our relationship he was to constantly lead us in getting into God’s Word, not out of duty or even religious devotion, but because we would desperately need God and His truth, and he knew it was his responsibility to help me flourish as a woman of God. So we lay there and read, and afterwards he went to his room and I curled up in the soft down comforter and smashed my face down into the pillow, overcome with peace and joy, I fell asleep. That night Jeff stayed up writing me an email, sharing with me all the things he loved about me and what he hoped for our future together.

On the final day of our time in Bend, Jeff drove me around showing me childhood homes and special places he’d play as a boy. We visited Jeff’s mom and had lunch by the river, and as we drove back to the house, Jeff was quiet and thoughtful for a moment, then spoke.

“I just want you to know that I really want to kiss you.” I turned abruptly and looked at him with a pretend shocked smile.

“Uh huh. . .”

“But I want our first kiss to be on our wedding day.” He looked at me with meaning and reached over and took my hand in his. I was overwhelmed. Not only did this reveal the depth of Jeff’s intentions but he was expressing the very thing I’d asked God for in a future husband.

“I agree,” I smiled back and squeezed his hand, my heart soaring.

After about two and a half weeks, when we were back at Real Life and convinced that this relationship was more than a fling, we began telling people. Reactions varied. About half the people we told, exclaimed, “Well, it’s about time! I’ve known you’d end up marrying each other!” In which case we’d shake our heads and apologize for being so slow. The other half of the time, we heard, “No way! I don’t believe you. You guys are hilarious and you’re totally making that up!” In which case we’d just stand there, not knowing exactly how to convince people we weren’t just goofing off. We got that response from our missions pastor and so Jeff leaned over and kissed me on the forehead to demonstrate. His eyes got huge, “No way!” He loved it. The Real Life Staff responded in similar fashion. We decided to throw a little “welcome back” ice cream party for them. For the first half of the party we acted as though nothing were different, then we played a game called “Self Disclosure” where you have to draw cards and tell people things about yourself. Jeff pulled a card that read, “Do you have romantic feelings for anyone?” At which point he grinned and responded boldly, “Yes! Kari!” Everyone gasped, then realized that I was not surprised. We had to convince them by holding hands, and one friend of ours, Scott kept saying, over and over, “Dude that’s just too weird!” I guess a lot of people saw us as brother and sister.

Though it may seem quick, by February I knew we’d be married. We’d already discussed it, and I knew that he had already talked to my dad. Jeff and I had known each other for so long, and had become so close as friends, that now that we both felt that we were meant to be together, there seemed no reason to wait. Besides, we were eager for that kiss! In early February, Jeff suggested we spend a Sunday afternoon hiking up to the top of Bald Hill. It was a clear day, crisp and cold but the sun felt warm on our faces. When we reached the top, we sat on a small bench at the lookout point to catch our breath.

“There’s been something I’ve been wanting to tell you.” Jeff looked over at me and took my hand. I looked up at him and waited. “I’ve been wanting to tell you that I love you.” Up to this point he’d only told me he cared for me, and though we both knew that we did, we’d never exchanged that particular word.
“I love you too, Jeff.” I leaned into him and rested my head on his chest as he wrapped his arm around me and pulled me close. He kissed the top of my head as we sat, in beautiful silence, overlooking the Willamette valley and relishing the sweetness of the moment.

With that having been said, my antennae was up and the proposal radar was on. Why is it that girls are never content? I had “I love you,” did I? Why did I need a proposal as well? I wasn’t so much interested in the wedding part, but I wanted the promise, the security, of knowing that this was real, that he truly was the one. I hated the word boyfriend, it seemed straight out of jr. high and made our relationship sound so trivial. Fiancé sounds so much better, don’t you think?

Valentine’s Day rolled around and for once I had a date! The year before Lori and I had shared the chicken parmesan at Big River, and in college my brother took me to the King Tin Chinese food special at 4:15pm because it only last until 4:30pm. But this year, proposal loomed in my thoughts. I went to Border’s and found the perfect card, a tan suede journal with a place for our picture on the front, a trendy brown suede photo album, and a book called “About Us” with places to fill in info and stories about our relationship (with sections for marriage and children!). Jeff said we’d go to Big River, my favorite fancy restaurant, so I glammed up in something red and black like every other girl with a date, and even slaved over a homemade Apple Pie, his favorite dessert. I was ready.

One of the things I’d admired about Jeff was his work ethic. He did nothing half-way. Everything he put his hand to he did it with all of his might. And since he taught classes at the School of Ministry, where we’d attended the year before, and served as the Assistant Director there as well, it meant that he gave it his all. Since this was his first year teaching, it meant a race to stay one day ahead of the students, learning and preparing his curriculum and teaching notes the night before, in some cases. This meant that his usual study and sleep schedule was to study until two in the morning, crawl into bed, then sleep until five and get up, take a cold shower, and do the final touches on his notes before his class at eight.

The night before Valentine’s Day Jeff had pulled an especially late night preparing for class. With a grand total of two hours of sleep he’d taught all day, then gone home, showered, and arrived at my house with roses. He looked awful, but he was all smiles and enthusiastic for our date. Dinner was nice, though my mind was in a constant battle trying not to think about a proposal. Would he do it during dinner? Did he have something special planned for afterwards? After dinner, we walked along the waterfront.

“What would you like to do now?” He asked. What would I like to do? Don’t you have it all planned out? was what I wanted to say, but didn’t.

“Whatever.” I smiled and said in a high-pitched voice trying to convey nonchalance, as if I wasn’t keeping an eagle out for any hint of a proposal. We perused some books at a used book store, but Jeff seemed tired, so we headed back to my apartment for some apple pie. We got the apartment around 6pm as we’d had an early dinner reservation since it was so busy that night, and Jeff plopped down on the couch and yawned. I could tell her was exhausted.

“Do you mind if I just take a quick power nap, Kari?” A nap? It’s Valentine’s Day night and you want to take a nap?

“Sure!” I smiled but not with my eyes. He took off his dress shirt and pulled off his tie, lying down on the couch in his white undershirt and slacks. In minutes, he was breathing heavily through his open mouth, his face smashed against the pillow, with one arm hanging limply off the side of the couch. I stood watching him for a minute with my hands on my hips, then looked over at the pie on the counter. I guess there was no use sitting around waiting for him to wake up, so I went to my room and sat up on my bed, journaling my thoughts, writing about how much I was struggling with longing to be engaged.

Why can’t I be satisfied? I have the man of my dreams. He’s told me he loves me. Why can’t that be enough? Why do I always want more? Why do I get my hopes up, only to be disappointed. I hate that about me. I hate that cycle, and yet I fall into it again and again. Lord, help me to put my hope in You, to set my eyes on You, so that any other joy is secondary and I’m not looking for Jeff to satisfy my heart.
At 10:00pm I was livid. He’d been sleeping for hours, and he couldn’t spend the night there on the couch, so finally I went in and shook him.

“Wake up! You have to go home.” Jeff awoke with a start and looked around, trying to figure out where he was. He rubbed his eyes with both hands and sat up, then pulled me next to him on the couch. He leaned toward me to hold me in his arms.

“I love you. . .” he said groggily. I sat stick straight, and just looked at him, one eyebrow raised. He was sweaty from sleep and his baggy white undershirt was damp. He was delirious and this was the worst Valentine’s day ever. A 4pm date with my brother and King Tin had this beat hands down.

“Just go home, Jeff.” I smiled weakly and stood up, grabbing his shirt from the edge of the couch and handing it to him. He came out of his sleepy haze and realized the situation.

“I’m so sorry. I totally blew it, huh? This is probably the worst Valentine’s Day ever for you, huh?” I just looked at him. I never wanted to be the demanding girlfriend, the needy girlfriend, the whiny nagging girlfriend. So I didn’t respond. “Alright, I’ll go home. I love you.” He kissed the top of my head and tucked his shirt under his arm and said he was sorry again, then left me and my apple pie for the night.

Of course I forgave him. What I began to see about Jeff was that he had no guile. If he messed things up, it was truly an honest mistake. He would over commit, get busy, fall behind, and sometimes mess things up a bit, but at least he always went down trying. I realized, as I watched this pattern, was that more than anything he wanted to make me happy. When I was disappointed in him or hurt by him, it pained him. But above his devotion to my happiness, he was devoted to God and to my own good. Because of this, I knew I could trust him. He may let me down or do things differently than I wished, but he was always doing his best and looking out for my interest. I learned he was worthy of my trust.

Because of this, I had to trust him with our engagement. Ironically enough, a friend of mine was struggling with this same issue. The friend happened to be Whitney, the same girl who’d confided in me a year earlier that her boyfriend Jay had heard from Jeff that he liked me. They’d been dating all this time and Whitney knew that there would be a proposal anytime. And we both were struggling with trusting our men—when would they ask us? Why were they waiting? Why were we struggling with this?

One Thursday afternoon, I was in the church office copying my notes for the girls in my Bible Study, when Whitney came in and found me.
“I have to share this with you!” I looked at her hand. No ring.

“Ok, what’s up?”

“Well, I was reading 1 Samuel, about Hannah and she longed for a child and couldn’t have one. She was so desperate and pleaded with God. She cried and cried and wouldn’t eat out of grief. Then, her husband, Elkanah, says to her, ‘Hannah, who do you weep? Why do you not eat? And why is your heart grieved? Am I not better to you than ten sons?’ So even though Hannah’s desire was totally founded, and God was even going to grant her that desire, she still was hurting her husband by not appreciating what she already had—him! I mean, I was thinking it could read, ‘Whitney, why do you weep? Is Jay not better than ten diamond rings?’ It’s Jay that I love and I have him!” This took my breath away it was so true. I already had the things I wanted—Jeff! And how dare I be so focused on engagement that I wasn’t truly enjoying that very man I wanted to be engaged to!

That afternoon I went home and read the passage myself and wrote in my journal about the change of perspective God was bringing to my heart. Once again, God was more interested in the journey than that destination. I knew I’d get engaged eventually, but it was in the kindness of God to let me wait, that He could teach me these life lessons I’d remember forever.

The very next day Whitney’s name showed up on my cell phone as it rang.

I answered, “Hey Whit. What’s up?”

“We’re engaged!” She cried into the phone. I could almost see her, her huge grin lighting up her entire face, her eyes dancing.

“Oh my gosh that is awesome!” I was truly excited. I was amazed at God’s timing, how He’d showed her such an amazing life lesson, and then gone and given her the very thing she’d been desiring for so many months. I shook my head at his timing and tried not to think about my own situation . . .

The next day I was getting ready for the College Girls’ Retreat we had that weekend. Last minute sign-ups, grocery shopping and food prep, and ironing out the last minute details filled my day. Jeff came over in the afternoon to say goodbye, since he was going on the College Guys’ Retreat and would be gone all weekend as well. I was balancing my checkbook at the kitchen counter while Jeff returned a few emails on his laptop. He stood up and slowly walked over to me, then leaned down at the counter next to me.

“So . . . I’ve been thinking.” He smiled down at me. I turned from my checkbook and raised an interested eyebrow because it sounded like a promising start. “I was thinking that maybe sometime you’d like to go ring shopping with me.” My eyebrow dropped. Hm. This was, of course, wonderful news but I’d had it in my mind that he was past the point of just getting around to ring shopping. Hadn’t he already been shopping? What had he been doing all this time? Had he just now come around to thinking about planning a time to go ring shopping? With how busy we were it could be weeks before we ever even had time to go, let alone find one and then give him time to buy it and then find a way to somehow surprise me.

I took a deep breath, and with every ounce of acting ability, pretended to be surprised and thrilled. “Really? Wow, that’d be great!” I smiled a broad close-mouthed smile at him and squinted my eyes to make it look real. He seemed so proud of himself, as if he’d just done something monumental. I turned back to my checkbook to hide my frustration.
That weekend, Whitney flashed the diamond ring around to all the girls, and I finally let it go. I meditated on what God had shown us, and asked Him to give me that heart. Once again I found myself singing, “I surrender.” Even if Jeff decided we shouldn’t get married that summer, it would be ok. God realigned my compass back on Him.
Sunday night I got back to Corvallis, and Jeff called to say he wanted to come see me but was swamped with wrapping up all the retreat stuff and so he’d just pick me up the next morning at 8am for our usual work-out. That sounded fine with me; I was tired and ready for my own bed, so I went to bed early and slept a deep, dreamless sleep.
I slept so well that I didn’t even wake up to my alarm.

At 8:02 Lori knocked on my door, “Kar, Jeff’s here.” She was pretty brief in the mornings. I gasped when I looked at the clock and threw off the covers. I went to the kitchen to meet Jeff, still in my sweats and XL t-shirt, my hair still in its funky slept-on state.

I put my hand over my mouth to guard my morning breath, “Good morning,” I greeted him sheepishly.
“Good morning, my love!” He pulled me close and kissed the top of my head. I loved how he smelled in the morning before he’d showered. It was raw morning Jeff and in inhaled into his chest to fill my lungs with it.

“Sorry I look so scary,” I pulled away to head toward the bathroom, “let me just get decent.”

“You look great! Just go like you are, you don’t have to impress anybody.” Jeff insisted, nodding toward the door. I was in no hurry.

“Ok. Let me get together my stuff.” I dawdled around, at least brushing my teeth and pulling on my tennis shoes. I wandered a bit aimlessly and Jeff stood by the door waiting. “I can’t find my keys. Lor, you seen my keys?” She hadn’t. Jeff shifted feet. I looked in every bag and on every surface. No keys.

“Let’s just stop by Dawson’s apartment on our way out, he has a key to your place, right?” Jeff suggested. Dawson lived just three doors down in our same apartment complex. I agreed, so we finally headed out and swung by Dawson’s place, obviously waking him up as well, and got a spare key. Finally, twenty minutes later, we were in the car and on our way. Jeff started asking about the retreat and as I filled him in on the details, we passed Gold’s Gym.

“Where are we going?” I asked, mid-sentence.

“Oh, Scott and AJ need some stuff cleaned out of the basement of the Antioch House so I told ‘em we’d swing by since we’re already in our old clothes. Is that ok? I figured you’re ok with it.” He explained. I said it was fine by me and finished telling him about the retreat. We pulled up to the Antioch House—an old abandoned fraternity and our church had purchased and was going to remodel into a college men’s house. Right now our friends, Scott and AJ, were caretakers, living in one of the rooms and basically keeping an eye on the old place and working to clear out debris. The house had an amazing basement, used for parties, with a dance floor and huge stone fireplace. “You know, we haven’t even prayed together yet this morning. Let’s pray.” We’d made the effort to pray together and read some scripture together when we met in the mornings, so Jeff read me a psalm and we sat in the car and prayed together. Then we took the front steps by twos and Jeff punched in the code and let us in the mammoth front doors.

I felt weird walking in without knocking. “Where are they?” I asked Jeff.

“Scott?” Jeff called out. No answer, but as we headed toward the basement I could hear voices. Jeff lead the way, holding my hand as we headed down the steps in the semi-darkness. I realize the voices were actually worship music playing, and I could see a slight flicker of firelight against the back wall. As we reached the bottom of the steps, Jeff looked around to the other side of the basement. “What’s that?” He asked me, smiling.

I looked around the corner and saw the fireplace lit up with dozens and dozens of candles. A red cloth lay on the hearth, covered in candles, a Bible, and roses strewn everywhere. I was lost in confusion. Oh my gosh we shouldn’t be here, Scott and AJ have something romantic going on. I backed up, thinking we were walking in on something private, but Jeff moved ahead of me and pulled me forward, then looked back at me and smiled. It all started to sink in.
“What is going on?” I demanded. He smiled and looked over at the other corner.

“What’s that?” He asked, pointing. I turned around and saw a Lite Brite, aglow in the dark with “Will U Marry Me?” shining brightly toward us. I gasped and spun around back toward Jeff. He was on one knee, smiling up at me. “Oh my gosh! Oh my gosh! Oh my gosh!” I said over and over, not able to believe that he had actually surprised me and planned this whole thing without me knowing.

“Karina Elizabeth Zyp, will you be my wife?” I pulled him up to his feet and threw myself in his arms, pressing my face into his chest, not able to speak at first. Finally he pulled me away and looked into my eyes. “Well?” He smiled, requesting a response.

“Yes, yes, yes! Of course, yes!” I laughed. I wrapped my arms around his neck and put my face against the side of his, and we danced and danced to the music, savoring the moment.

—-

I don’t know how long we danced, but I could’ve danced there forever. Jeff’s “morning smell”, the feel of his arms wrapped around me, the music, the candles, the absolute bliss of realizing that I was in the arms of the man who wanted to spend his entire life with me. I fired questions at him—How did he plan this? How did he keep it a secret? He was eager to tell me everything—how he’d thrown me by asking me about ring shopping, how he’d gone shopping during the men’s retreat and set the entire thing up last night, then lit the candles this morning before coming to get me.

“No wonder you were in a hurry to get going!” I laughed, realizing how I must have pained him with my dawdling ways that morning.

“I just kept thinking, ‘Uh, the candles are burning, can we get moving?!’” He admitted. I just marveled—I never thought I could be surprised and had totally underestimated his ability to plan the perfect proposal.

“I was so bummed when you didn’t propose at Valentine’s Day,” I admitted.

“I know. That would have been too predictable, I knew you’d expect it. I wanted to surprise you, besides, I wanted to propose to you like this, first thing in the morning, in your sweats and sweatshirt, with no make-up on, because I want you to know that this is how I love you most, the real you, the raw you. I love who you are, Karina Elizabeth Zyp.” I shook my head in wonder. How did I ever deserve a man like this?

After laughing about the horrid Valentine’s day experience and how disappointed I’d been, Jeff explained that the ring on my finger was a borrowed ring from the jeweler. Jeff had already purchased the princess-cut diamond, but we had an appointment that afternoon to go so I could personally design the ring of my dreams. I was amazed. It was perfect. It saved me the awkwardness of not knowing what size diamond he could afford, but gave me the freedom to design it exactly as I wanted. Again, I was speechless—how did he know to do it exactly like that?!

Now we realized there were a million things to discuss—the date, the location, who would be in our wedding. There were details beyond measure, so we made ourselves forget that for the moment, so could just savor this time we had. So, we sat down in front of the hearth with the candles glowing at our backs. I leaned into Jeff’s arms and we bowed our heads and Jeff prayed.

“Thank you, Lord so much for blessing me with Kari. Thank You that we get to spend the rest of our lives exploring each other and glorifying You together. Thank you for the grace . . . I’M ON FIRE! I’M ON FIRE! I’M ON FIRE!” Horrified I opened my eyes and realized he was not joking, his Nike dry-fit shirt had caught on fire and a flame was blazing on his back. Panicking, we both stood up and I began patting his back with my hands. In just a few seconds the flames were extinguished, and for a moment we just stood stock-still, unable to believe what just happened. Then we burst into laughter.

“Did that just happen?!” Jeff looked down at me.

“Did you just catch on fire?!” I was hysterical. Jeff was actually in some pain, as the fire had burned through his two-layer dry-fit shirt and the t-shirt underneath, but the hilarity of the situation took priority. Jeff decided that he had to save the shirt for the rest of our lives as a keepsake to remind us of this moment.

“I’ll wear it on every anniversary!”

photo (22)

Four months later, on June 28th, 2003, we had our first kiss. On our wedding day. It was almost a hundred degrees outside and everyone declared it was the hottest wedding in town. During our wedding dance, I thought of another slow dance two years before, at our friends’ wedding, where I’d almost fainted with joy at the touch of Jeff’s hand. I thought of the pain that had come after, of the confusion, the waiting, the depression, the difficulty, and the beauty and life that had sprung up from it all. I thought of how much I’d changed, grown, matured, and come to know God in a deeper way through it all. I thought of how it was in the loving plan of God to break my heart.

I looked up at Jeff and he was watching me, with his slightly squinted eyes and pursed lips, that searching and savoring look I’d come to know meant that he was marveling at me. I turned up my face and let him kiss me on the lips, then leaned back my head, my face upturned to the sky, my eyes closed and a smile spread across my face, lost in bliss.

Yes, I decided. He knew what He was doing when God broke my heart.

{Thanks for reading.}

Kari-453
11 years later

I am my Father's Daughter

I realized last night as I was lying in bed, that I’ve never, in all my life, heard anyone say to me, “You’re sure your mother’s daughter!” I don’t know why that struck me as surprising, or why I even noticed that it was a particular lack in my life so far, but I did take note of it and even told my husband Jeff as he crawled into bed. He thought it was hilarious. Of course he did. Of course he thought it was hilarious because he loves to joke about it. One Fall he managed to drive over his own foot with his jeep. It sounds tricky, huh? The Jeep was rolling down the driveway and he attempted to jump in it to stop it, but the short wheel base meant that while his right foot was stepping into the quickly accelerating Jeep, his left foot was still on the ground and his back left tire rolled up his Achilles. He pulled his foot out just in time, to avoid having the vehicle drive all the way up the back of his leg and possibly farther, but not in time to avoid the fracturing of his metatarsal. Crutches followed and he drove his stick shift using a cane to push in the clutch. I just shook my head.

Visiting my parents’ church shortly thereafter, we sat together, Jeff gingerly setting his foot out in front of him and leaning back in his seat. I put my arm around him and scratched his back absent-mindedly. “Nice to have the tender love of a woman to take care of you while you’re down, eh?” The man behind us smiled knowingly at us and patted Jeff on the shoulder. Jeff didn’t miss a beat. “Yeah, Kari’s mom sure is great.” I just shook my head. The mean behind tossed his head back and howled.

I have, of course, heard, plenty of times, “You’re your father’s daughter!” Mostly from my mother. She usually makes this remark after one of four things: a discussion between my dad and me about finances and investments, a humorously unsympathetic comment from me directed at someone (either present or absent) who is in some manner of physical discomfort, an expressed desire to vacation anywhere with perpetually hot weather, or an exclamation that whoever thought of the idea of domesticating animals and allowing them in homes should have been burned at the stake.

 This all sounds rather harsh.  I’m exaggerating, of course. 

The Love Nest

Starting Out
The Love Nest

“You booked our honeymoon in a place called ‘The Love Nest?!’”

Jeff just grinned back at me, anticipation sparkling in his blue eyes. I couldn’t believe it as I spun around to see the computer screen. We sat at our respective desks in the church office, both working as college campus missionaries through our local church, just three months away from our wedding day. Jeff was in charge of the honeymoon, and while our parents financed the first week of our Kauai stay at the luxurious Radisson resort, for our last nine nights he had researched some off-the-beaten-path resorts and found this little treasure, a supposed nest of love.

“It’s tucked away in a private little jungle area, within walking distance of the beach, with our own Jacuzzi. Besides, it’s called The Love Nest—how much more romantic can it get?!” Jeff was giddy with excitement and leaned toward the door, “Hey guess what, Pastor Curt?! We’re staying at The Luuuuuve Nest!” I leaned back and punched him on the shoulder. Now it was out. Every pastor had to snicker and whisper “luuuuuuve nest” as he walked by the door. Jeff couldn’t stop grinning.

The first week of our honeymoon was straight out of a movie – a luxurious Radisson resort, hours spent by the pool, afternoons splashing in the ocean. It was bliss. When week one was up we packed up our things and headed north along the western shore of Kauai, anticipating our jungle bungalow called The Love Nest.

Looking over the directions we noticed several misspelled words. The directions seemed simple enough, but as we headed farther away from the coastline I couldn’t help but feel a little unsure. The address led us up a long and windy gravel road, lined by old farms. Chickens were everywhere. I kept glancing at Jeff to watch his facial expression. A final turn found us on a narrow dirt road, lined by tall grass, where we spotted a small sign hand-written on cardboard: Heavenly Creations. This was the place.

We continued to crawl along the dusty road, leaning forward in the car and squinting through the sun and dust on the windshield. Broken down cars, rusty and abandoned, sat along the side of the road, engulfed in the grass. More chickens. A last final curve in the road and we saw a large house with three little cottages directly surrounding it. We looked at each other.

“Maybe it’s that little one over there kind of on its own,” I suggested, pointing to the cottage farthest from the main, clearly inhabited, house. We pulled up closer and got out of the car, but as we approached the house, the guests peeked out the window, clearly startled and not ready for company. We darted back to the car and drove back to the main house. By now a man was emerging and walked up to the car. He wore old jeans and a faded t-shirt.

“Can I help you?” We looked each other. Weren’t they expecting us?

“Uh, we’re here to stay in the Love Nest.”

“Oh.” Long pause. “Well, my wife DJ does all the rentals stuff, and she’s on vacation. But uh, if you rented it, then go ahead and stay. Did you pay and everything?” Jeff assured him we did. “Alright then, how long ya stayin’?” I stared at him. Jeff glanced at the house and swallowed.

“Nine nights.”

Just then a woman emerged from what I now knew to be the Love Nest—the small cottage sitting directly in the backyard of the main house, not more than 10 yards away from their back door. She glanced up at us and went back in the house.

“Looks like the cleaner’s still here. Ya mind coming back a little later?”

Jeff said that was fine, and after noticing a few boogie boards leaned up against the house, decided we’d take the boards and head to the beach for the afternoon. As we drove off I decided it was probably beautiful inside, and while it wasn’t exactly private, at least we had four walls to ourselves, right?

Four hours later, we drove back up the windy dirt road, exhausted from the sun, covered in salty sticky sand and smelling of sunscreen and sweat. Jeff began carrying in our bags and I went ahead, anticipating a cool room, an icy cold glass of something, and maybe a nap. As I walked through the entrance, I immediately noticed that lack of several somewhat significant things—specifically a fourth wall and a solid roof. This “nest” was a one-room, three-walled, open-air structure, with netting comprising the fourth wall and an open vaulted roof with sunlight streaming through the various openings and cracks. Even more alarming was the fact that the open fourth wall was the one directly facing the main house. I could see through the windows of their home. Bushes divided the yards, but waist high bushes weren’t my idea of privacy. Another wall was made of solid mirrors, which explained why the pictures on the Internet made the room appear so spacious. Along one wall was a counter, with one outlet and a micro-fridge and small sink. To my right was the enormous bed with canopy that I had seen in the photos, but in person I could see the dingy and pilled comforter. My heart sank.

Jeff was diligently making trips back and forth from the car, lugging in our bags. “There’s the hot tub.” He pointed toward the open wall where the hot-tub sat, within a few yards of the main house, topped with a vinyl cover strewn with dirt and leaves and little puddles from the last rain.

“It’s right in their backyard.” I couldn’t even think. My honeymoon, my most prized and personal experience, my dream come true was turning into a nightmare with every passing moment. I went into the bathroom and shut and door. No fan. I could hear Jeff walking around the room outside. I sat down on the lid and leaned forward on my knees. I knew he’d hear me if I cried. I looked up to keep tears from rolling over my eyelids, and hanging on the back of the door were two old bathrobes, faded maroon. My stomach turned. Taking a deep breath, I stood up and flushed the toilet for effect and turned on the water in the sink for a moment, then stopped and realized there’s no shower in here. Opening the door I commented on it to Jeff and we both just looked at each other and slowly turned toward the door. It’s outside. A shower head hung outside the front door, somehow unnoticed as we’d trudged in the first time. A makeshift stall surrounded it, yes, but random boards nailed up with plenty of space between hardly constituted my idea of privacy.

“I’ll just leave on my swimsuit. It’s fine.” And I did. Getting the sand and sweat off me felt good, and for an instant I wasn’t sweating, but then that instant was over. The room was hot and humid, the sun beating in through the “skylights” in the open barn-like roof. Dogs were barking outside, and several cars pulled in and out of the main house driveway.

“I’ll make us some thing icy to drink; I brought some juice concentrate in the cooler.” I said, sounding more cheerful than I felt. Jeff said that’d be great and he headed out, in his swim trunks, to take a shower.

Here I go. It’ll all work out. I’ll make some icy drinks in champagne glasses and it’ll be romantic and wonderful and we can take a nap because I’m exhausted. I coached myself as I took the juice concentrate, now warm, out of the cooler. I opened the micro-fridge to look for ice in the freezer section, to find out that it wasn’t on. The inside was just as warm as the room. Ok, I’ll use tap water without ice, it’s fine if it’s warm. What can I mix it in? I looked for a pitcher. Nothing. Instead I found a blender and figured that would work and I could mix it up with the touch of a button. I plugged it in and added the water and juice, then pressed the mix button to blend. Then as I picked up the pitcher from the base, the bottom fell off, spilling bright red cranberry juice all over my clothes, the counter, and the floor. I almost lost it. I closed my eyes to keep from crying. Everything’s going wrong. I can’t even fix a stupid drink. This is the worst honeymoon ever.

Just then Jeff walked in and saw me staring at the mess. I hadn’t even moved to clean it up.

“I’ll clean it up! I’m sorry sweetie – you go lie on the bed. Why don’t we just take a nap; we’re tired and hot and we just need to sleep.” I just nodded up at him like a little child and went to pull back the covers. As I did I couldn’t help but lean down and sniff. Mildew. You know the smell – you forgot to transfer the wet clothes to the dryer and they sat overnight. That smell. Before I could say anything I heard a radio and voices coming from the main house. Just normal conversation – they weren’t yelling or blaring their radio. We were so close I could hear their normal daily conversation. I looked back down at the bed. Is that a hair? Just ignore it, Kari. I pulled the covers all the way back and lay down, trying to make as little skin contact with the sheets as possible, laying my head gingerly down on the pillow. Jeff came and lay next to me and put his arm, clammy with sweat, across my stomach.

“Are you ok, hon?” I nodded and raised my eyebrows for emphasis, biting my lip to keep from crying. “Ok, let’s just go to sleep.” I looked up at the TV/VCR sitting on a shelf above the bed. Next to it were unrated movies of all kinds, and games sat on the shelf below. The Sin Game? I felt sick. Below that sat a shelf with half-full bottles of massage oil, lotions . . . I couldn’t believe my eyes. We had guarded our purity, we had waited even to kiss until we were married, we’d honored God and strove to keep our marriage upright and pure from the start, and here we were staying in this filthy pit. My mind raced. How could I complain? We’re missionaries; we hardly have enough money to pay our rent when we get back , let along stay in some nice resort for our honeymoon. Some missionaries are off giving their lives for the gospel and here I am crying over musty sheets? What is wrong with me? I’ve only been Jeff’s wife for a few days and I’m already falling apart? What will he think of me if I tell him how grossed out I am? He thinks I’m godly and sacrificial and really I’m just shallow and weak. Oh Jesus, help me. What do I do?

“What are you thinkin’ about, hon?” Jeff leaned back over me and kissed my forehead.

“Oh nothin’. Just trying to sleep.” I turned from his gaze.

“You sure you’re ok?” This time I couldn’t answer. I closed my eyes to feign fatigue and fight off tears. “You’re pretty quiet. Nothing’s wrong?” I just shook my head with my eyes closed, and pulled my lips in to keep them still. He waited. Then I broke.

Tears spilled through my closed eyes. “I want to be a good wife . . . I’m so sorry . . . I can’t . . . I can’t . . . The neighbors can see in here and the shower’s outside and there are creepy gross games up there and porn movies and this place is filthy and everything’s wrong . . .” I looked over at his face. “I want to be a good wife . . . I want to be grateful . . . some people are dying and I can’t even handle a bad honeymoon . . . I’m so sorry.” I rolled toward him and buried my face in his chest, weeping. He pressed his face down against my hair and rubbed my back. He said nothing, just laid there and held me close to him, rubbing my back and kissing the top of my head. When I’d finished my cry he gently pulled my head away from his chest and brushed my hair away from my tear soaked face. My head throbbed and my eyes stung from tears. I wiped my nose with the back of my hand. Jeff just cupped my chin in his hand and smiled into my puffy eyes then kissed me on the forehead.

“Come with me.” He stood up and held out his hand and led me out of the Love Nest and up to the main house. The owner came to the door, and my tear-stained face clued him in.

“Is something wrong?” Jeff respectfully informed him of our disappointment with the cottage, and explained that we’d be leaving within the hour. Though relieved, I thought of the almost $900 we’d spent to pay for our nine nights in advance. I knew we didn’t have enough to find a hotel for the rest of our stay.

“Ok. Well, I’m sorry for that. I need to have $100 to pay for the cleaners, do you remember how much you paid?” I told him the dollar amount to the penny. “Well, let me write you a check for $800. That ok?” I couldn’t believe my ears. He left us on the porch for a moment and returned with a checkbook. “I’m sorry; I don’t even know your names.” Jeff spelled it out for him and he handed us a check. We thanked him for being so kind and looked at each other in disbelief. As we turned to go back to the cottage, an old three-legged dog came limping around the corner of the house. It caught sight of us and stood, staring at us, teetering on its three legs. We stared back, speechless. Finally, we looked at each other and broke into laughter.

“Unbelievable.” Jeff shook his head, a smile stretched across his face, his white teeth showing against his tanned skin and dark two-day beard. I held up the check like a trophy and pulled myself under his arm, wrapping my arms around his waist. As we walked back to the cottage, a thought occurred to me.

“We had to book our hotel months in advance. It’s late June and there’s no way there is anything still available on this island and we don’t fly back for nine more nights. Are we gonna sleep in our car?” Surprisingly this didn’t alarm me. At this point I was so happy to leave, and so happy to have our money back and so happy to be married to the most wonderful, tender, and protective man in the world, I’d have slept on the beach for nine nights for all I cared.

Again, Jeff just smiled at me. “I’ll take care of it.” Like a man with a plan, he opened his laptop bag and pulled out his computer, unplugging the phone line and connecting to the Internet. Within minutes he looked up at me and grinned. “Let’s load the car.” Denying my urge to demand what was going on, I grabbed my purse and let him carry the suitcases. It wasn’t until we got to the end of the dusty road lined with broken down cars that Jeff finally revealed his thoughts.

“Can you believe that place? What a nightmare!” I jerked me head around toward him. He shook his head and grinned with his eyes still on the road.

“You thought so too?! Why didn’t you say something?” I punched his leg.

“You seemed fine with it so I didn’t want to say anything.” He shrugged. I laughed and began to tell him my inner struggle, the thoughts and battle in my mind, and all the gruesome details that he hadn’t even noticed.

“The three-legged dog was the perfect end! I mean how could it get any more bizarre?” By this time we were both enjoying ourselves, going back and forth with “Can you believe . . . ?” and “What about . . . ?” and “When I saw . . . !” Before I knew it we were back in Kapa’a and Jeff was turning left into the Radisson parking lot.

“What. . . ?” Jeff smiled at me.

“I got online and they had a last-minute Internet special for $100/night. We just have to hope they have a room available for nine nights.” I couldn’t believe my ears. It’d cost almost three times that regularly. I sat and prayed in the car while Jeff went to the front desk. I could see him through the glass doors, talking to the clerk. She looked down at her computer, clicked a few times, and smiled up at him, nodding her head. He beamed back at her and looked out the door at me. I leaned back on the head rest and closed my eyes. I’d never felt happier.

For the last four and a half years, we’ve revisited The Love Nest story over and over. Now, I wouldn’t trade it for anything. For one, it makes a great story to tell at parties and to young couples anticipating their honeymoon. But it’s about more than a sketchy cottage and a three-legged dog. It taught us, from the very first week of marriage, that it’s safe to communicate with each other. While of course I don’t want to be a nagging, complaining wife, it’s a necessary part of intimacy to be able to share struggles, weaknesses, and disappointments with each other. I learned that Jeff delights in blessing me. He loved that I allowed myself to be weak with him and that I let him take care of me. By letting him handle the situation, I communicated to him that he was worthy of my trust and capable as a man. By making the effort to get a different hotel, even before he was certain that we’d get our money back, he communicated to me that I was worth losing money over, that he was willing to bless me at any cost. By crying in his arms and being vulnerable, I communicated that I trusted him with my feelings. By being patient and tender and gentle with my tears, he communicated that it’s safe for me to do so, and communicated that my emotions and feelings are valuable to him.

The Love Nest cost us $100, but has proved invaluable to starting our marriage out right. We’ve been told that pressures can either push us together, tighter and tighter, or push us apart, further and further. Our prayer is that The Love Nest would just be a little example for us to follow, that we would work through the difficulties and step back, pray, and laugh. A three-legged dog may be just around the corner.

Journal of a House Enjoyed

Journal of a house enjoyed: Gig Harbor getaway 6/29-7/1

By 10am Saturday morning we’ve decided this is our ideal vacation. No dinners out, no exchanged pleasantries with other guests or hotel staff, no need to dress up or shave or for that matter shower. The weather is perfect. Weather.com was wrong on this one—no rain, hardly any clouds other than beautiful puffy white billows lit up all along the edges from the sun. The sky is brilliant blue, and the morning is cool but the sun is warm on my face and arms and on my calves where I’ve rolled up my jeans to my knees. We slept in until 8 (!) and awoke to the cooing of our little son, happily playing with his hands around the corner in his portable crib. The bed is firm but soft on top—perfect—and the house is cool. A cool morning is perfect for sleeping in, the warm bed luring me to stay, the crisp fresh air filling my lungs and waking me up. Jeff sneaks away and brings Dutch to join us in bed. He cuddles with Daddy, reaching up and grabbing Jeff’s cheeks and chin and goatee. His face is full of light, smiling his trademark grin, his upper lip sticking out in wonder and delight.

After breakfast, we three go for a walk. The tide is fully out and the wet pebbles sparkle with the sunlight. The rocks and mud are slushy, but we take Dutch out to examine rocks and shells and algae. I hold lavender up for him to smell and tickle his nose. He rubs it with both little fists and hides his face in Daddy’s chest. Dutch’s morning naptime comes and it is now time for our favorite pastime—reading. Jeff waters the tomatoes, and I gather a bouquet of daisies, various roses, lavender—colorful and fragrant. Our bouquet makes the house ours, lived in, ready for life. It graces the porch table and Jeff and I sink into lawn chairs with our Bibles and a glass of water, leaning back to bask in the sun, savoring the silence, the view, the shared moment. Only a few birds chirping and an occasional dog punctuate the delicious silence. The stillness permeates our minds and souls and relaxation comes. It’s only 10:45.

I discover the iced tea bags and make a full pitcher of icy refreshing tea. Lunch is big spinach salads and soup for Jeff that Nan made. M&Ms top it off and Dutch is happy with mashed bananas and Gerber green beans. The sun is beckoning us outside again. We have an hour before Dutch’s afternoon nap at 2, so we unfold the stroller and head out to circle the island. The sun shines warmly through the welcomed dappled shade, and the stroller rattles along the bumpy road. Glimpses of crystal blue water peak through the trees as we walk – Jeff and I stop periodically to look at For Sale flyers, shaking our heads at the prices. I decide that this is the absolute perfect place to live. The 1.5 mile loop has numerous arms and I envision morning runs around the island before settling down with my tea and Bible on the porch overlooking the Sound. I decide that I’m ready to sell all that we own to buy a lot for ½ million and live in a tent. Jeff thinks I’m ridiculous. Our walk makes us thirsty for more iced tea, and having put Dutch down for his nap, we resume our favorite spot—on the deck with our books.

Dinner is all the bell peppers I brought, sautéed with garlic and spread between two tortillas topped with salsa and a fresh tomato. Mmm. We eat outside and Dutch feeds himself banana, which ends up on his clothes, on the floor, in his nose and in his hair. We decide that it’s bath night. M&Ms once again follow dinner and we’re thrilled to find just enough Cookie Dough ice cream to top off our tummies. Cookie Dough ice cream happens to be my favorite—was this all planned? It’s too perfect. After Dutch is clean and fresh and in his bed bug jammies, we head out again for a Raft Island walk, this time weaving through inland streets and hiking up hills—I find more beautiful homes and upon discovering the island private tennis courts and basketball hoops, announce again that this is paradise, the perfect place to live. After reading more (surprised?) and nursing Dutch, he is snuggled into bed and we sneak downstairs. Jeff pops You’ve Got Mail into the DVD player and we settle in for an evening watching other book-lovers fall in love as we have done. Our first four years have been sweet. The house is quiet, the hum of the refrigerator peacefully filling the kitchen, the single recessed light on above my computer. I can see houselights reflecting off the surface of the Sound, flickering slightly from the ripple of the water. The rest is all black outside. The clock on the microwave reads 10:36. Time for bed and the end of a perfect day.

Sunday was, as usual, less restful (isn’t that ironic that the day of rest is often the least restful), but still sweet. Still awaking on our own accord, without the aid of an alarm (glorious!), we quickly gathered up our things, fed Dutch, gobbled down some cereal, stripped the bed, packed the crib, and headed out to church to meet Anne and the family and Grandma Ruthe. In our haste we didn’t have time to write a note, saying thank you so much for the wonderful Raft Island vacation, so this journal will have to suffice. The rest of the day was full – worshipping with family was sweet. Dutch chewed on Nan’s Kleenex travel pack through the church service, attacking the plastic wrapping as if it were a ferocious animal to be wrestled into submission. We shared communion and received the message on the Lord’s Prayer. After church we met briefly at Dave & Anne’s, to gather Nan’s things and snap a few pictures of the kids together with Nan.

Now sitting here at home I hear a few cars. The sprinklers are watering a thirsty lawn that is happy we are home. Jeff’s fingers moved quickly over his keyboard. It’s calm and twilight, but there is much to do. I’m thankful for the reminder of the beauty of rest. I’m thankful for a house enjoyed. As I look around my house, which is in a shambles of boxes and piles (we move in 2 days!), I’m thankful to be able to sit here, with my water glass and my feet up on the ottoman, savoring a summer evening. To my left our large picture window displays the roses blooming brightly in pinks and yellows. There is no Sound—no sparkling water or boats bobbing in the water—but this is home. For two more days this is home. After that a new place will be home, but it will still be home. Dutch is asleep and Jeff is here. Raft Island may be my little paradise, but home is wherever my boys are. I like home best.