Friday, December 27, 2013

Only By the Grace of God: Our Story

When one looks at all the "coincidences" that brought Brian and I together, and as they continue to pile up the further back you look, it's obvious that there are simply too many for them to be coincidence. They must have been the work of God.

It was the summer of 2010. Brian was applying for a counseling position at Riverside Bible Camp, having grown up there as a kid. I was staring at a returning staff application for Hidden Acres Christian Camp, hesitating to return after the previous year which had been enlightening, but overall very disappointing. In fact, I was quite surprised Ryan had asked me back and had already been considering detasseling instead. But, just as Hidden Acres was receiving my application, filled out and signed with a prayer that somehow this summer would be better, Brian received the surprising news that Riverside hadn't accepted his application. To this day, neither of us can figure out why, but, looking back, we're sure glad they did. Brian voiced his frustration to his friend, Ben Brown, who suggested he apply at Hidden Acres. Brian had never been to the camp (he thought it was over by Nevada), and the camp was already overstaffed, but he applied anyway. Much to his surprise, after turning in his application and being interviewed, he was accepted as a first time Junior Counselor. By this time, the Staff Retreat to get all the staff together, new and old, was already over, so Brian and I were not to meet till Staff Training.

I remember seeing Brian for the first time when he walked into the Welcome Center that first day, only in that he bounced when he walked and he seemed to see right into your soul when he looked at you (which freaked the livin' daylights outta me). Our relationship probably wouldn't have mounted to much if it hadn't been for the fact we'd been placed in the same Quad (the groups that that summer camp is split into) along with the afore-mentioned Ben Brown and others. The first thing he remembers about me is how I shared during our testimony-sharing time that I was the oldest of then 13 kids, which he thought was pretty cool. I remember being, again, freaked out by this guy who had till recently attempted to follow Messianic Law all the way down to wearing tassels (though the thought of that made me giggle).

When we came to camp, neither of us were looking for love. So, though we shared a few short greetings over the next couple weeks, neither of us "noticed" the other or anything like that. After 2 weeks of camp, someone posted a sign-up sheet for anyone who hadn't received any mail from home so that some nice ladies at a church could write us. Not only fitting into this category, but not having received any notes in my box at all, I put my name down and then decided that maybe the reason I hadn't received any mail was because I hadn't given any. So, I started writing little notes to every person in my Quad, a postcard each with a noncommital greeting and a section of encouraging Scripture. I remember feeling like it was hopeless anyway and almost quitting when I got to those with the last names starting with "K". But, realizing that I wouldn't have a good explanation for writing some and not others, I pushed through.

When Brian got my note in his box, he was a little surprised to find a note from a girl. He scrutinized it for any sign of flirtatiousness or anything else intimidating like that. But, finding it clean, he decided to write back. I was shocked and ecstatic! I had a note! Just a little one, with my name spelled incorrectly at the top of the page, a Psalm, and an encouraging promise for prayer over the next week, but I was thrilled just the same. I wrote back immediately, and was even more shocked to see a response in my box a few days later. We wrote almost exclusively Scripture, with a little theology and nonchalant encouragement thrown in here and there. I was intrigued by the archaic nuance to this guy's correspondence, and coupled with seeing him toting around a Bible big enough to knock out a donkey and finding out he was a Lutheran (of all the weird things to be), he had captured my curious attention in a similar way that a shiny unidentified object attracts the attention of a child. His theology, boldly argued in Staff Meeting, was above and beyond anything I had ever heard before. He used words that I, a former Pastor's Kid, was unfamiliar with, and stood up for beliefs that I had never heard seriously considered in my life. Infant baptism? Arguing against dispensationalism? What? I had to know...was this guy for real?!

Turns out he was. We kept writing back and forth over the summer, discussing various aspects of Scripture. I went up to him and asked him questions sometimes, but was careful only to do so very infrequently because I wasn't sure what I thought of this guy with the floppy white hat and peculiar way about him and I didn't want anyone getting the wrong idea. This continued till the last week of camp, when I noticed him standing alone in the center of the soccer field staring at the sky. Still not quite sure what made this guy tick, I was also too curious to walk right past. I asked him what he was looking at, and then realized the sky was a funky orange color and lightening bolts were shooting sideways through it. We ended up watching that crazy lightening storm together with his cabin (his counselor being another friend of mine) on top of a dirt pile by the barn. We talked about various different things, me being careful to keep up a pleasant conversation while revealing absolutely nothing of substance. A few days later, camp was over. Everyone was saying their goodbyes and consequently walking right past me. I was ready to cry when absolutely no one said they would miss me or give me a hug or anything when that guy bounced up, goofy hat flying, to say goodbye and ask me a few things. We ended up talking for a half an hour till my mom showed up to pick me up. Neither of us realized what God had in store for us, even if my mother did after only a few seconds of seeing us together.

We continued writing back forth after camp got over. My dad was hesitant to let me write a guy he'd never met, but after carefully going over Brian's latest letters, decided they were perfectly harmless and gave the okay. Although Brian was always open and honest with me, as he is with everyone, I continued to hide behind theology. I was careful not to reveal anything about myself, as I was very much afraid of being hurt, until just before Thanksgiving of that year. I had had a very rough discussion with my mom and hated the person who I was. I, without thinking, sprawled out my frustrations on paper and sent the letter. Within 12 hours, I was realized I just been open with really open, and prepared myself for heartbreak and another friend lost as had happened so many times before.

A few days later, I received a letter from a guy bubbly with excitement from being able to encourage me in my distress. The letter opened my eyes to God's Truth in a way they never had been before, and after sobbing my eyes out with joy, I brought the letter up to my mom who proceeded to do the same. After that, I was willing to be more open and honest with Brian and that is when our friendship really began. A few weeks later, he came to visit for the first time. He was nervous beyond all get out, as was I. The moment he walked in, my little brothers and sisters swarmed all around him like bees to honey. I was embarassed and prepared for him to leave in shock when he looked at me and said, "Why doesn't everyone have a family like this?" I grinned to high heaven and suddenly realized that I liked this man. The idea unnerved me, but we went on to have such a fun evening that Brian wore holes in his socks playing "bumper office chairs" in the basement and my little sister declared him the best man in the whole world...other than Daddy, of course. Unbeknownst to me, Brian went back home to his family jabbering about how awesome his time was and having realized he liked me too.

Both of us were too shy to say anything, but he came back to visit many times after and we kept writing back and forth until the second year of camp came around. Honestly, we both had no idea how to handle our attraction to each other and spent way too much time together that summer. But, we still were able to minister to the people around us...and we moved on.

That spring, I had applied for the internship program at camp entitled, "Launch." I was thrilled about the idea of moving out to the camp and learning how to stand on my own feet in a safe enviroment close to home. Brian find out I applied and applied himself, both because it was a good fit for him and because he thought we would be able to start a relationship and spend a lot of time together. He was shocked to find out the first day that Launch relationships are not allowed, but we were both accepted into the program and individually decided to put that on hold. Yes, it was difficult to do so, and times we could have done better, but having that barrier there enabled he and I to become best friends. We talked to each other about everything, covered for each other in sickness, encouraged each other in the Lord, and both learned a lot from the other. Additionally, we saw each other in all different types of situations: hurt, sickness, anger, and loopy exhaustion. Our relationship was tried many times, but we were determined that our relationship as friends was worth the wait.

Then, God threw us a surprising twist in January in the form of another guy asking my father's permission to court me. I was a wreck the whole week because I didn't know for sure that Brian was really interested and I didn't know enough about this guy to say yes or no. Brian had no idea what was going on, just that I was going through something I wasn't going to tell him about. By the time my dad called Brian asking to speak to him, everyone on staff except him knew what was going on and expected Brian to explode...or something. But, upon Brian receiving the news, he accepted it with such a calm attitude we started to wonder if we'd pegged him wrong. Brian and my dad had a face-to-face talk later that week, and to my joy, my father called me and after discussing the situation with me, declared that though we weren't allowed to be "together" during Launch, Brian got "first dibs" as soon as the program was over.

We finished the program and camp the next summer started. We had a better handle on how to behave around each other and the summer went well. Only a couple days after camp got over, I left for a short-term missions trip to Poland. Brian began seeking the counsel of his friends, family, and mentors as to whether or not pursuing a relationship with me was really what God had in mind. While I was off ministering to people on the other side of the world, his mom says I was the only thing he talked about for a month and a half. As soon as I got back home, I left with my family for vacation in Wisconsin at a friend's cabin. Brian got my suspicions up that week because suddenly the guy I had to convince to carry his phone on him during Launch  and had only recently gotten a Facebook account was texting me all throughout the day and private
messaging me at night. As soon as getting back from Wisconsin, I left for Des Moines for a weekend missions trip, but while I was gone, Brian met together with my Dad and asked his permission to court me, and immediately left for South Dakota. When he got back, my Dad called to say, "Yes!" and Brian came over to visit that afternoon. That night, we sang, "Be Thou My Vision" together as a family, but when stopped singing....he kept going! He had written an extra verse to the tune, asking my permission. I said, "Of course!" and for the next week and a half, we were as twitterpated as they come. Brian left for his first year of school 9 days after he asked. In October, he came to visit because I had had surgery...and as he rocked my baby brother to sleep, I realized I had fallen in love with him. I wrote him a letter for his birthday, telling him so and at Thanksgiving, he returned the sentiment.

Many different fun stories could be shared here, but this is already running long, so I will skip ahead to July of this year. Brian came with us to Wisconsin, and one night on the dock, asked my father for my hand in marriage and told him of his intention to ask me at Christmas. My father surprised him by saying, "Yes" with no hesitation. When he told his grandparents, they discussed it between themselves and then asked him if he would like to have his great-grandmother's engagement ring to give to me. I had my suspicions, but figured them foolish feminine fancy and put them aside.

Now, ever since that first song he sang me, Brian has written me songs for all the "special occasions": my birthday, Valentine's Day, etc. He wanted to do the same when asking me to marry him,  but also wanted it to be a surprise. So, he started writing me songs whenever he saw me so I would get used to it (of all the sneaky things to do). Then, he wrote me a series of 7 songs for Christmas, intending to ask me after the last one on Christmas Day. But, on account of his grandfather being in the hospital and us going to see him on Christmas Eve, he moved it up a day. I, again, had my suspicions, but expected him to ask on Christmas Day, so I was completely surprised when in the middle of his living room, in the middle of his song, he got down on one knee and pulled out (in my opinion) the most beautiful and positively perfect ring I have ever seen. I was so happy shocked, I forgot for a few seconds that I was supposed to say something. Thankfully, I remembered and said, "Yes!"

Such is "our story" up to date. Our plan is to get married sometime in June, and (after the honeymoon) move to where he's going to school (yet to be determined) so we have the summer to ease into married life and work before school starts. But, looking back at it all, God's hand is obvious in every step of the way: the rejection at Riverside, my not getting any notes, etc. It is clear to both of us that it is only by the grace of God that we have received not only the greatest gift of all: salvation through Christ, but also each other.