It was pitch black, and I was exhausted – but I couldn’t stop my heart from sounding like it was playing a drum solo. I walked quickly up the hill, behind the cafeteria, and around the side to Snodgrass building (yeah, that’s the real name). I would’ve claimed that my speed was to keep my body warm in the hour before the sun came up, but had you seen me carefully slow down to catch my breath and smooth down my hair before I rounded the corner, you would’ve known otherwise. His back was to me, but when he heard my footsteps he quickly turned around and smiled. That smile – oh, that smile. I didn’t know it at the time, but that smile would see me through some of my highest highs and my lowest lows. Seven years later from that day, that smile has the capacity to make my heart feel like it’s stopped cold.
Once the spell of his smile cleared, I heard him say, “I made you some coffee,” and hand me a tumbler. So we started on our journey together, walking side by side, coffee in hand. We walked up a steep hill amidst a graveyard, through a handful of trees, to our destination. From that spot we could overlook the highway and had a perfect, uncluttered view of the impending sunrise. I took a sip of the coffee, so thoughtfully brewed at the crack of dawn, and immediately realized that this man does not joke around about his coffee! The brew was so strong, it was like drinking liquid cocaine, and I choked my sip down with a grimace. Thankfully, it didn’t take him too long after that to realize that I like a bit of coffee with my cream and sugar.
He sat down next to me, and it was either the liquid cocaine I’d just sipped or the fact that our shoulders were suddenly touching, but I found myself unable to do the simple act of taking in a breath of air. We chatted for a bit – talking about the day ahead of us, about our classes, making each other smile, and pretending we weren’t both nervous enough to pee our pants. And then he turned to face me, and took a deep breath. “Jen,” he said with a quiet seriousness I’d never heard from him. “Will you be my girlfriend?”
Five words. Underneath those five words were five thousand other words, giving it a meaning beyond the simple question that it was.
Even though only about two months had passed since Preacher Man noticed my sky blue eyes, our lives had been caught up in a crazy tornado. Just days after we sat next to each other in that church service, I realized the depth of my respect for Preacher Man. I realized that he was everything I wanted my current boyfriend to be – a leader, a man of gentle strength, a man of integrity, and most importantly – my best friend.
The fact that we suddenly had feelings for one another came as an equal shock to both of us, and truthfully, we kind of freaked out. I gently told him that I needed some space from him to sort through my head and my heart, and he respectfully complied. In that time, my heart realized that my feelings weren’t going away, and my head realized that- though flawed and imperfect – for me, Preacher Man was perfect. We balanced and supported each other well, and I knew I could trust him with my heart, my dreams, my fears, and my life. We had both been in recent relationships that we felt sure were “It.” We’d both felt the heartache of being wrong and realizing we’d invested ourselves into someone we would never see again. We realized we had a rare friendship, and neither of us felt like running the risk of ruining a perfectly great friendship unless we could enjoy that friendship forever – for better or for worse.
On top of our hesitancy to give our hearts away again unless we were sure of a future, there was the little problem that we’d both committed to ministering somewhere other than the college we attended. Preacher Man had just committed to a 14 month student ministry internship at a church in North Carolina, and I had been preparing to take a semester long mission trip to England. We found ourselves weighing the reality of a (very) long-distance relationship, and wondering if we could make it.Was it worth it? What if he, or I, or both of us found someone else while we were away? What if we had nothing in common after not living on the same campus?
In my usual list-making, OCD, entirely too planned way, I made a pro/con list. That’s right. I based my entire future on a pro/con list. To be honest, there were more things listed in the “con” category, but none of those things could outweigh one of my “pros.”
“He’s Preacher Man (except of course, I used his real name).” He’s strong, he’s committed, he’s faithful, he’s sweet, he’s forgiving, he’s hard working, and he’s sarcastic. He’s Preacher Man. He’s worth it.
So the question, “Will you be my girlfriend?” was much more than him asking me to go on dates with him, listen to his problems, and keep him company occasionally. He was asking me to spend the next two years away from him – loving him, committed to him, faithful to him, investing in him, supporting him, praying for him, advising him, and then….marrying him and continuing the same. Knowing (but at the same time not having a clue) that we were preparing to attempt the near impossible, I answered a simple, “Yes.”
And we stood up, walked back through the trees, and started down the hill. One hand clinging tightly to each other’s, and the other holding our coffee, we began our journey. Side by side, a little scared, a lot in love…and together.