Before you get the impression that our early dating relationship was a smooth storybook journey, let me clarify that I was full of turmoil, doubt and confusion. It wasn't at all a matter of, "Oh, I've always known I would marry Steve, and here we are!" In fact, I was a bit schizophrenic. A few journal entries to illustrate my point:
April 17, 2003: "I can't exactly explain it, but I just have this sense of, this is it. Not a hugely powerful, 'He's The One, I'm in love, we're getting married'--in fact, I'm not even sure I know what love is. Just this feeling that we are going to end up together--it will be a ways down the road still, but eventually we'll end up together. Weird. I just find that I respect and admire him so much, and I can (almost) visualize the two of us working at life together..."
May 26, 2003: "I think, what if he doesn't want to date me anymore--what if, now that he's getting to know me better, he's deciding that this will never work? On and on--I have to keep reminding myself of Psalm 112:7, and that I must take this relationship one day at a time, enjoying where we are now and leaving the future in God's hands."
May 30, 2003: "I was suddenly full of doubts about this relationship, not even stuff I can articulate. Just scared, I guess--even though God has been trying to teach me over and over lately about trust in Him and letting go of fears. I don't even know what I'm afraid of...rejection? vulnerability? intimacy? disappointing Steve? failure?"
October 18, 2003: "Father, all of a sudden in my relationship with Steve I'm feeling cautious and anxious, completely uncertain and realizing I just don't have any guarantees. It's scary to me, in a sense, to think that I've opened myself up to him so much, but that it could all end tomorrow. First of all, it makes me wish I'd done a better job of guarding my heart up to this point. But I just don't know how. How do I guard my heart without putting up walls that hinder healthy growth in intimacy? I just don't know the answer. And now, Lord, I feel like my hands are tied. I don't want to continue this relationship any longer if we're not proceeding toward marriage...but if we are proceeding toward marriage, that scares me--and it means there are some things we need to discuss. I don't want to push on this--I want to continue to let him lead--but it's hard, Lord, and I'm kind of scared about what's ahead. Father, show me Your way in all of this. Help me to think about, communicate with and act toward Steve in a way that will be the most ultimately beneficial for both of us. Help me to find my security, my identity, my hope and trust in You. Calm my fears, Lord--don't let me do anything stupid because of commitment-phobia. Help me to have confidence that You are holding me in Your hand, that whatever happens, You will work out for Your glory and my ultimate good. Strengthen Steve and give him courage, Lord, that he may do whatever he needs to do in Your time. And instead of being anxious and manipulative or jumping the gun, give me the peace and the quiet strength to trust You at work in Steve's life. Oh, Lord, show me Your way."
I was a senior that fall, and I needed to begin making post-graduation plans. Steve was in a five-year program, so he wasn't facing transition, but my life was one giant question mark, and Steve was a huge variable in the equation. Where would I move? What kind of job would I pursue? And how should my relationship with Steve affect all that? Practicality demanded another Define The Relationship talk.
We met in Indianapolis on our nine-month anniversary, and I expressed my angst over soup in a bread bowl at Panera. I didn't feel the freedom to plan my life around him, but I also didn't want to move halfway across the country if we were still together. The M-word wasn't uttered, but Steve could read between the lines (now...unlike years before, haha). He knew I needed some confirmation: Was he in this for the long haul?
Steve was pretty quiet, and I felt discouraged and uncertain. Just before we said goodbye, he said, "Let me explain to you my dilemma. I am very tempted to start talking about 'the future' as though it's 'our future.' But I don't feel like I'm in a place to be able to make those decisions yet. It's hard for me to hear you talk about your future--I want to help, but all I can really do is just listen as you 'verbally process,' and pray. I feel like my hands are tied behind my back...I think you're right in saying you shouldn't plan your life around me...but I guess, just don't rule me out as an option."
Not quite the response I had hoped for! A couple of days later, I got a follow-up email in which Steve indicated it would be another year before he even made any decisions--and then nine more months after that before he would feel free to marry. "ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!" I wanted to scream. Also, I cried.
Steve drove up to see me the following weekend. In the living room of my townhouse, he gave me a foot rub and said, "After time this week spent in prayer and thinking and even fasting, I feel I should tell you exactly where I'm at. So...If it were just a matter of desire--I would marry you tomorrow." However, he went on to explain, he felt strongly convicted about not getting married while he was still in school, and he also didn't want to be engaged longer than about nine months. So we proceeded slowly, growing closer but resigned to the fact that we had to wait.
As hard as it was to do the long-distance thing, we've always said that we were so glad for it, for a host of reasons. If Steve had been at my school, I'd have wanted to spend every minute with him, and thus would have missed out on the priceless relationships and ministry opportunities God had for me at IWU. With Steve so far away, I was free to pour myself into friends, girls I was mentoring, chorale leadership and classes. Plus, the fact that we were apart meant that most of our interaction was based on talking, either in frequent emails and IM conversations or once-a-week phone calls. That laid a strong foundation for our ability to communicate with each other.
The other radical thing about the words we said (or didn't say) to each other was that we didn't say "I love you" for a long, long time. I had said those words to one other person, years before, and deeply regretted their prematurity (as soon as they carelessly came out of my mouth). Steve, too, wanted to save the expression for a time when he could put weight behind it--when it wouldn't be a string of flippant words, but a declaration of a forever kind of love.
The three little words I longed to hear came on a quiet morning in March 2004, when we'd been dating more than a year. Steve was home on spring break, and I had come home for the weekend to spend time with him. Because of my class schedule, I didn't have to go back to school until Monday morning, so Steve came out to my parents' house and we made breakfast together. Or rather, Steve made French toast and I stood around feeling completely stupid. (This was the time when I, totally inept in the kitchen, tried to add bacon grease to the pan before frying bacon.)
After breakfast we had some time to read together and then just cuddle and talk. Steve asked what I was thinking, and I really wasn't thinking much of anything, so I asked what he was thinking. Uncharacteristically, he didn't respond (usually he'd just tell me he wasn't thinking about anything--and here's where we owe a huge thank you to Bill and Pam Farrel for giving us a framework to understand our waffles-and-spaghetti communication styles and helping me believe that he really might not be thinking anything at all!). Having learned by that time to wait patiently without prodding, I sat quietly. I noticed that his heart was pounding out of his chest, and he finally said, "You want to know what I was thinking?" When I said yes, he said, "I was thinking...that I love you more right now than I ever thought possible." Sigh...
Outside my townhouse at IWU, right before my graduation in April 2004
As it turned out, I landed a summer job that ended up to be a perfect transition period, buying me some time before I had to make any long-term decisions. The nonprofit ministry where I'd interned the summer before invited me back to work on a special project, and I was thrilled to spend three more months there with people I had grown to love, doing work that was such a wonderful match to my heart and my gifts. It would put me farther away from Steve, but we were each able to buy plane tickets and space them so we'd see each other about every six weeks.
Based on Steve's timeline, I anticipated that we would probably get engaged that fall, and then get married the following summer, soon after Steve graduated. But Steve had a surprise in mind. More on that next time :)
[to be continued...]