To My Daughters: How I Met Your Father
On this the 6th anniversary of the day I met your father, I decided it would be a good idea to write down the details of the weekend that God used to introduce us to each other. I hope you are encouraged by how God rewards those who choose Him above all else, and that you will choose to keep your standards high when you start looking for love.
Our story starts a few months prior. It has to start here because I had to go through a heart change before I was ready to meet your dad. I had been living in rebellion against God. Now, anyone who was looking at me on the outside would scoff at these words. I was in college, but I didn't take up smoking or drinking or partying or sleeping around. In fact, I was an honor student, double-major, going to Bible study and church (almost) every Sunday, and doing my best to live as a Christian should live. But children, let me make something clear: rebellion is a condition of the heart. It might not always be proven by actions, although the motivations behind the actions are usually corrupt if you have a rebellious heart. Which I had. In college you're forced to start thinking about your future, what you want, and who you want to be. When you belong to Jesus, He doesn't want His to be just another opinion to consider. He knows what is best for us; He knows what we need. The plans He has for us will not only give us ultimate joy, but they will also bring glory and honor to His name. At any rate, I was not really seeking to know what His will for my life was. I was “following my heart.” This may sound noble, but following your heart more often than not leads to dissatisfaction, disappointment, and heartache because we are all easily distracted. I had decided I wanted to pursue the kind of lives my friends were all pursuing: a career that utilizes my vast array of talent, a husband who'll love me, kids who'll adore me, a house in the 'burbs – the American Dream. This life is not a bad thing, but it was also not for me. I didn't know that because I didn't ask. I tried going after it starting with dating a guy who would be a great partner for that life. We dated for 2 years, which means I spent 2 years pursuing my own goals while looking away from God. But God didn't look away from me. He wanted me completely, not just the little crumbs of me I was giving him. In fact, whenever I would try to pray and “be real” with God, He would always interrupt me and ask if we could talk about this guy and the choices I was making. And every time He'd say that I would sigh impatiently, and ask God if we could just get over that and move on. Then there'd be silence. He would remove his presence. Girls, there is little in this world more chilling than feeling the presence of God move away from you because you blew him off. Those were my loneliest years. Finally in the spring of 2003, I knew in my heart that I had to “choose that day whom I would serve:” myself or God. God, I'm unhappy and lonely. I miss the closeness we used to share. Forgive my rebellion; I choose you. “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” I wanted His plans to rule my life and give me purpose, I wanted His hands to mold my character, and I wanted Him to be my matchmaker. It was pretty obvious to me that the guy I had chosen wasn't a good fit (for me or for him). We broke up; and it tore me up inside because despite everything, I had fallen in love with him. I had a lot of pain that needed healing. But I wasn't alone anymore. It was as if a veil had been lifted! God was there with me as I cried, like he was sitting right beside me giving me comfort. He had been waiting to draw me close, and now I was ready to run the race He had set before me!
Now that I've set the stage and given you a glimpse into the state of my heart, I can get into the good stuff! I don't think God can give us our partner until we've come to that place in our lives where we totally and completely surrender our plans to Him. And even then, your spouse might not be ready yet. This story is about how God blessed your father and me by making us ready at the same time, at the same moment, essentially.
After repenting of my rebellion and submitting myself to God, I was on fire. There was nothing He could say that I wouldn't do, nothing He could teach that I wouldn't drink up. That fall began my final year at Gustavus and I was involved with a campus Bible study called Prepare Ministries. They were affiliated with a program called Niko, a five-day wilderness experience that challenges you mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. I was able to work it out in my schedule to go; I was pretty excited. My friends all had great things to say about it. Now, I had made a pact with myself that I wasn't going to flirt that weekend. Too many times in the past I had used Christian retreats as an excuse to chum up with a cute guy. Guys were the last thing on my mind. I was totally geared up to hear what the Lord wanted to say to me.
I arrived at City Hill Fellowship with all my gear: sleeping bag, warm weather clothes, hiking boots, Nalgene bottle, etc, and I loaded it onto the bus. I didn't really know anyone, so I started off introducing myself to a few people. I won't say where we arrived or what we did once we arrived (the inner workings of Niko, though on hiatus, is kept somewhat secret so you don't know what to expect) but I will say I loved soaking in the presence of the Lord during worship and the “mini sermons.”
That first night was long and cold, I didn't get much sleep, and we were up early the next morning to do a run. I ran my fastest and hardest; I was determined to make the most out of every opportunity on this weekend and to be the best I could be. It turned out I was the second girl to finish (behind my friend Jessica I think...). I wanted to wait around at the finish line for some other girls to walk back to the campfire with, but there were none in sight, so I decided to walk back with the group that had finished before me. There was one guy in the group whom I found attractive, but I instantly checked myself. No flirting, Brenda! Besides, guys that good looking are for sure already taken. He was talking to Kevin, a friend of mine, about returning from Iraq not too long ago. That caught my attention. A veteran? Dad is a veteran. I wonder how he feels about the war as a Christian... I caught up to him and introduced myself. During the walk back to the campfire I learned his name was Jon, he was a Marine and a recent veteran, he was in a Ska band back during the Ska craze, he juggled, sang, played the guitar & trumpet, wrote poetry and he loved camping and the outdoors. By the time we reached the campfire I had this weird feeling in my stomach. We had a lot in common, but I chose to ignore it. I was going to focus on God this weekend, and I wasn't going to let my emotions get in the way.
When everyone arrived back at the fire, we were asked to be seated for the next talk. I sat where I could see the speaker clearly. She spoke of surrendering everything in life to God: your future, your career, your relationships, your desires, your everything. She challenged us to take a few minutes and really seek God. “Ask Him to reveal something in your life that you need to surrender to Him. Then come back to the fire with something to symbolize what you're surrendering. Then we'll throw those things in the fire.” We all dispersed to find lonely spots where we could think and pray. As I sat down in a patch of tall grass, I was almost smiling. I couldn't think of a thing that I needed to surrender! “God, I've given up my future to you and I gave up this relationship that meant so much to me because I knew I wasn't surrendered to you. Is there ANYthing that I am holding back?” I asked, fully expecting God's answer to be, “No, Brenda, you are holding nothing back from me, you're doing AWESOME!” But instead, the Lord lowered the boom. “Brenda, since you broke up with that guy, you've been expecting to be blessed for that sacrifice. You're expecting me to bless you with a great husband and family. Well, what would you say if I didn't give you a husband? Would you still choose me if it were just you and me for the rest of your life?” I'm not joking. Those were the very words God spoke to my heart that day in October. It was like the wind was knocked out of me. But even as I felt those words spoken to me, I knew my answer. There was no doubt in me as I answered, “Of course, God. I remember what it was like to not have you near me. And I can't ever live like that again. I need you more than anything.” So that was it. God wanted me to surrender my desire to be a wife and a mother to Him. “God you are in control. I trust you to do what's best for me.” I opened up my Bible and the page it opened to held half a dozen rose petals. Petals from roses given to me from my ex-boyfriend. As I walked back to the campfire, I held the petals in my hand. The speaker asked if anyone wanted to share what they were surrendering to God. I knew I had to share, and I told the group what had just transpired in my heart. I was surrendering my desire to be a wife and mom. “These petals are from the only flowers I ever received from a guy. They're my symbol of what I'm surrendering.” I let them flitter into the fire. As the group applauded my decision, I sat down. The man sitting next to me nudged my arm. He had tears in his eyes as he said, “I just surrendered the same thing,” and showed me a stick with the words “I DO” carved on it, his written promise to God. That man turned out to be Jon.
It turns out he was one of the staff members assigned to my team. We had lots of opportunities to talk and get to know each other as the days rolled by. It was rapidly becoming apparent that we were going to be fast friends; we just seemed to click! It was also becoming apparent that I was falling for him. This greatly confused me because it seemed I had taken great pains to avoid this kind of situation. The more I learned about him, the stranger I felt. It was as if someone had taken my “list” of dream qualities in a man and put them all together into one amazing guy, and then thought of a few extras that I forgot to include. God what is this? I JUST surrendered to you my desire to be in love. Now you introduce me to Jon, who apparently is the man of my dreams. What am I supposed to do? I didn't get a definitive answer, but I could almost feel God smiling at me.
I dared not read too much into what was happening. Who knew if I would even see him again after this weekend? But as Niko was wrapping up Jon asked if he could sit with me on the bus on the way back to civilization. Sure, I agreed. I remember feeling really nervous all of a sudden. Like I was back in elementary school and the boy I had a crush on chose to sit by me on the way to the field trip. Okay, so that NEVER happened. Maybe that's why I was so nervous! “Smile!” my friend Jessica pops up from behind a seat and snapped a picture of us. At least now when I go home, I'll have proof that this guy truly existed, I thought to myself. “What are you involved in at Gustavus?” Jon asked at one point on the drive home. “I'm really getting into a Bible study there called Prepare. They meet on Thursday nights. Have you heard of it? I think they meet at the U of M, too,” I answered. “Yeah! Actually, I've been meaning to get involved with them, but they meet on Wednesdays and I have church Wednesday nights. Maybe I can meet with your group at Gustavus on Thursdays,” he mused. Butterflies in my stomach!! We were beginning to get close to the Cities; Jon asked if I had some paper. I handed him a little notebook and he began writing. Just before we reached the church he handed me a note. It read:
Brenda, I am truly blessed and amazed at what a beautiful spirit you have. I find plenty of people that have gone through relationships in much the same way that I have struggled through mine, but rarely do I find a truly kindred spirit. I must tell you that a heart for the Lord, a passion for worship, and a reckless abandon for His will are the absolute most attractive qualities in a woman to a true man of God. Settle for nothing less than those things and you will (if it is the Lord's will) be rewarded with nothing less than a true man of God. I love your fragrance, and the odor of God's magnificence about you! Put it on every day. Your sweetness (and your spice) was put there first for God's pleasure. He just lets some of us enjoy it at times, too. And I'm glad he does. I hope that we can continue to encourage each other in our spirits and souls! The last time I met someone as much like me as you are, we were best friends for four years (but we'll let God figure that future out). It is a privilege to be your brother in our marvelous Lord Jesus. Agape, Jon
As I read that note, I fought to hold back tears. He understands me. He really, really understands what makes me tick. I knew I'd never be the same. And just like that, I was in love.
Epilogue: A few weeks later my friend Jessica handed me the picture she took of Jon and I sitting together on the bus. It was rather cute: I had a nervous, cheesy grin and Jon was making a goofy face. Jess smiled as I took the picture and said to me, “You know Brenda, as I took that picture, I got a little vision of you two. You were kissing at the altar.”
Like Jon said in his note, “We'll let God figure this future out.”