Every time the roads are icy, I think about my second date with Steve--the one I never should have gone on. We had officially been dating for only two weeks, and my hopes were high that our second date would be on Valentine's Day.
Early that week Steve sent me a letter, with an inner envelope marked "This one you can't open till the 14th! No peeking." In it, he shared why he was willing to "take this very new and challenging step." He explained how he saw in me the top two qualities he was looking for in a mate: my walk with God/spiritual maturity, and my intellect. Of course I melted.
But Friday, February 14, 2003, found me sitting at my computer, totally exasperated. I finally had a valentine for the first time in my life, and I was spending Valentine's Day alone?!?! Yet even though Steve hadn't sent me flowers or made any plans to see me, I still couldn't be mad at him--I'd never been able to be mad at him. We chatted on Instant Messenger, and ended up deciding to meet the next night for dinner in Richmond, Indiana (halfway between our schools).
By the time I left campus, the roads were already pretty snowy. I briefly considered calling Steve to say, "Forget it, this is not smart." But...what can I say? I really wanted to see him :) By the time I was past halfway, it didn't make sense to turn around--but then it got awful. I can still feel the tension in my neck and shoulders, the terror with which I gripped the steering wheel when I couldn't really tell for sure where the road was. By the time I fell into Steve's waiting arms, much later than we'd planned to meet, I was practically shaking and in tears.
Once we were seated, Steve told me to forget about what was going on outside and we enjoyed dinner together at O'Charleys. Looking back, I probably should have paid for a hotel room in Richmond that night, but instead I took the interstate back, which I thought would be safer even though it was a longer trip. Those were among the most terrifying three hours of my life--at one point I encountered a sign saying "WINTER STORM WARNING FOR CENTRAL INDIANA: NEAR BLIZZARD CONDITIONS NORTH OF INDIANAPOLIS." That was where I was headed! The roads were so bad that church, and the chorale concert I thought I had to be back for, was canceled the next day. Pretty stupid to have risked my life to see my boyfriend of two weeks...but it WAS an amazing date, and I lived to tell about it :)
Oh, the things we do for love...
We proceeded slowly, cautiously. In March I got a letter in the mail from Steve:
...Almost two months ago, when I came up to see you and we decided to jump off the ship of easiness into the sea of what-in-the-world-are-we-doing, I must admit that the main reason I was willing to “chase you” is because I felt led to do so. Honestly, in my heart I was questioning God all over the place, wondering why He would have me do such a thing.
Now I can see His picture with a little more clarity. I understand now that up until these last few months, I still considered you to be the same Amy I knew in high school. Whenever I think of the changes our Lord has made in you, I can’t help but praise Him for them. These very qualities that you now have are the very ones I would have missed would I not have “jumped off the ship” with you.
...I find myself being drawn closer to you, and yet I am afraid of how close we might become. I want our relationship to grow, but I also want to be very cautious with speed and areas within which we might grow. And so I am confused. We talked about fears over the weekend and one that I thought of but was reluctant to bring up was the fear of hurting you. All of a sudden I see I have this amazing young woman in front of me and I feel so unprepared.
I do take lots of comfort from the fact that there are many praying for us. I have made it a point to take my concerns to a certain number of guys, including but not limited to my Saturday morning gents. On a daily basis men of faith take you and I before our Lord, that we might make this exciting and new walk with purity and God’s will in mind.
So as for me I just want you to have some sort of an idea about my struggles. Remember that they are good simply because that means I’ve gotten more than I counted on. You are much more than I figured you would be, and now I have to go pick myself off the ground and catch up. The only things I ask from you is prayer and understanding. I know I’ve gotten lots of them so far.
What he didn't tell me until later was how his feelings for me developed. Here are some more of Steve's own words, looking back:
While not your typical fairy tale beginning, my perspective is that starting our relationship before I had romantic feelings for Amy ended up being beneficial long-term. Perhaps one of the most obvious reasons is that any relationship goes through emotional ups and downs, and if you start on the up, whenever you experience a down, you wonder if you made a mistake...
For me, I started from a neutral position, though I knew I couldn't remain there forever. In fact, I distinctly recall walking to campus one morning, praying that if God wanted me to continue to pursuing Amy, he would have to give me feelings for her that were beyond the standard friendship feelings. I knew I couldn't marry just a good friend. I wanted to marry someone whom I could adore at a deeper level.
Fast forward a few weeks, and I was letting God know that he could let up on the gift of feelings a little. I'm a rather levelheaded person who isn't known for emotional swings, and therefore was not accustomed to having to deal with the onslaught of romantic feelings flooding my mind and heart.
God showed me that He is able and willing to provide his children with an increased love for one's spouse (or girlfriend as it was in this case) if we would simply ask. When times are low between loved ones, we need not feel like we are hopeless, or helpless, but rather remember that God would love to create in our marriages a better reflection of how Christ loves his church. Often, however, He seems to wait until we ask for help from positions of complete poverty before moving. Perhaps that's because we are too quick to boast in ourselves and too slow to credit God with all good gifts.
While Steve was developing actual feelings for me, my feelings were increasing, too. I was desperately trying to "guard my heart," but it was proving more and more difficult as I got closer to this guy who was more amazing than I had dreamed.
Our relationship was wonderful, but entirely long-distance: Steve was in Cincinnati; I was in Marion, Indiana; Denver, Colorado; and even, for a short time, Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia! Each of us was growing more confident that we wanted to marry the other, but this was totally unspoken. Marriage was, by silent agreement, a forbidden word between us. We never, ever talked about "our future" or operated on the expectation that we would one day be married.
And though that put me in a confusing and difficult spot that fall, I'm glad we handled it that way. All around me I saw couples prematurely planning their lives together, and I think that can lead to all kinds of pitfalls and heartbreak. By no means did Steve and I do everything right in our dating relationship, but I think it was wise for us to live in the present, build our relationship with caution, and quietly evaluate the future separately, without running ahead with the assumption that a wedding was inevitable.
We each visited the other at school a couple of times; here, when I was in Cincy for a basketball game, Steve and I stopped for a photo inside an upholstered breast on rockers. Yes, you read that right. Snuggle right on up inside a purple-velvet-lined mammary gland. The other side had a giant nipple. File this one under "differences between our two schools"...
But as I began my last year of college, I found myself in the exact place I had always said would be the hardest. Over and over I had remarked that at graduation, it would be best to be completely single and unattached, or to have a sparkly diamond on your left hand. The uncertainty of the in-between seemed, to me, like a sticky, tricky place to be. Yet that's where I was in the fall of 2003.
[to be continued...]