Where It All Began
Let’s start at the beginning. To set the scene, we were at church camp during the summer of 2012. Now, if you know anything about being at a camp with high humidity, southern heat, no A/C, late night services, and a ton of games that get you hot and sweaty, then you may understand that I never actually looked presentable. I’m not one of those girls that gets dressed up for the services at night, though I applaud the girls who do because they are better women than I will ever be. Summer camp is also usually a place where teenagers have what I call a “Camp Fling.” A camp fling occurs when a guy and girl decide that they kind of like each other and then proceed to flirt with each other throughout the week of camp. It never escalates to more than just flirty comments or sitting together at meals and service, and by the end of the week, it is over. Thus termed a camp fling.
I had been known to have a camp fling or two over the years that never lasted beyond the last day of camp. However, that year I determined that I would focus all of my efforts on the Lord and refuse to have a camp fling. Yes, I am completely aware that this should have been my focus from my very first year at camp, it just took me a while to get there.
So there I was, seventeen years old with a heartfelt desire to serve the Lord and forsake any camp fling that was flung my way. I had literally spent hours in prayer during the months before camp praying that I would be completely focused on God and what He had planned for my life, rather than trying to find a boyfriend. (That was a big deal for me to pray considering I had never had a boyfriend before and I longed for it, despite the people who said I was better off alone.) Little did I know, the Lord had a different plan.
He allowed me to complete my week at camp without a single camp fling. After that week, however, all bets were off. I came back two weeks later to counsel at a camp for younger kids just like I had in the past. That week, the Lord placed a guy named Brandon right in the palm of my hand. Literally. There is no other way that he would have gotten to that camp.
Brandon had never been to this camp before. His friend Stephen called him the night before camp started and let Brandon know that his church would pay for him to go. His dad said yes and they left the next morning for camp.
Brandon met the director of the younger camp while he was at our camp two weeks before. No, we hadn’t actually met while we were at camp together during that first week. Well, not unless you count me almost refusing to give a random guy (who just so happened to be Brandon) a tissue because his nose was bleeding during a game of ultimate frisbee. Yes, I know I’m a terrible person. The Lord dealt with me in that moment and I did end up offering him a tissue and repenting for my bad attitude. I’m very competitive and their team was being particularly snotty during our game. But now I’m getting off topic.
The director of the younger camp asked Brandon and his friend Stephen to come back to counsel her camp and they were only barely able to. They came up the day the camp started rather than coming the night before, like the rest of the counselors did. I was already set up in a cabin and had two other guy counselors on my team with me. The following morning, however, I got moved to a new cabin which put me on a team with Brandon and Stephen, otherwise known to me as “the funny guy (Stephen) and his tall friend I don’t really know at all (Brandon)…”
The Continuing Story
Because we were on the same team we literally spent the entire week together. Our cabins did pretty much everything together, so I became very close to those two boys. About half-way through the week, one of the kids in Brandon’s cabin looked at him and said, “I think you’re starting to like those girls too much.” Little did that 7 or 8 year old know, he was speaking the absolute truth. As I started to realize that I liked Brandon, he was also starting to realize that he liked me. And apparently, everyone but us knew it. Even the kids. They kept trying to get us to hold hands at the pool, which is completely taboo if you are at a Church Camp, and the girls in my cabin continually talked about which boys they liked and how I needed to be with Mr Brandon. Even though I tried my hardest to keep myself from falling for Brandon, I did. So then I assumed it would be just like all of my other “Camp Flings.” Oh my was I was wrong!
This time, instead of us saying goodbye and parting ways forever as I had done so many times before, social media intervened. Don’t laugh at me, I’m being completely serious. The Lord is perfectly able to use social medias, such as Facebook, to accomplish His will.
At the end of the week at camp, I was semi-forced to take a picture with Stephen and Brandon. Later on that day, I made that picture my profile picture but I zoomed in so that it was only my face. I thought, “It’s my Facebook profile and I don’t want to have to answer a million questions about why I have 2 boys in my profile picture with me. So let’s just avoid that…” Remember, I was the kid who went to prom by myself and did my Senior Walk Out alone (which is apparently a big deal… I guess I was the only one who didn’t have a guy to walk out with me), so having a guy in my profile picture would have caused a huge riot on my Facebook feed and I am not a fan of being the center of attention.
So what happened? The idiot boy himself commented on my newfound profile picture and said, “Way to cut me and Stephen out!”
….. How would you react to that!? Please remember that I am a 17 year old girl at this point and the guy I like just commented on my Facebook picture. I may have had a mild panic attack and I’m pretty sure my heart stopped for a moment, but I swiftly recovered and responded with a witty, “Fine, I’ll put y’all back in. Would that make you happy?”
Are you cringing? I am. You know how you look back in life and think, “How in the world did I ever think that was a good idea?” Yeah. That’s me. Right now. About that stupid comment….
Anyways! I changed my picture and included the two of them once more and our witty (or what I thought at the time was witty) banter continued via Facebook Chat. I know, we’re the coolest people in the world!
Now, I’m sure you’re getting super bored with my story at this point, so I’ll wrap up this part swiftly.
As we continued to chat, Brandon told me that his phone was dying and he would rather text me instead of staying on Facebook because it was killing his battery faster than if he was only texting. (Yeah right!) So I told him that it would be a lot easier to do that if I had his number and so he gave it to me. What did I do next? The same thing any girl in my situation would do: I waited like five whole minutes before I texted him. I know I’m pathetic, you don’t have to tell me.
So we texted that night and it was so nice to finally have a guy that was interested in me. Who actually wanted to know what my favorite color was and what my family was like. But that isn’t what really astonished me. What surprised me the most was that even after I fell asleep while texting him that night (which has happened more times than I can count since that time), I got a text the next morning from him.
He was the very first guy who continued the conversation the next day.
At that moment, I knew that I was in for a crazy new world and that Brandon was going to be a part of it. I didn’t know how long he would be a part of my life, but I knew that he held a significant place at least for that moment. It would be a crazy life, regardless of if he had texted me that next day or not, but it made me smile to know that he was even a little interested in being a part of that crazy life with me. Even just for a moment. I just didn’t know how crazy it would be…
Now, before we begin this part, I feel that it is necessary for me to define something for you. The term is “talking.” When “talking” is put in quotes in my writings, it refers to the time that a guy and girl who like each other are texting or talking to each other and getting to know each other better but they have not decided to be “boyfriend and girlfriend” yet. When that decision is made, then they are dating. And just for my purposes: if he doesn’t ask, you aren’t actually dating and he isn’t your boyfriend. But that is really just my opinion and my definition of those words.
Now back to the story!
To give you a little reminder of where our story left off, camp is over and Brandon’s comment on my profile picture sparked a conversation that lasted through to the next day. He was the very first guy to continue the conversation the next day.
So what did I do once I realized that this boy who lived 3 1/2 hours away was going to keep talking to me? I got brave. And I got stupid. How, do you ask, was I so stupidly brave? I sent him this text message after telling him that I had a couple of questions for him… Get ready to cringe.
“Ok. There may not be any questions for you, but I think you need to know a few things. I’m sorry if it’s awkward or anything like that. First, let me say that I love talking to you. You are the sweetest guy I’ve met in a really long time. I’ve never been in a relationship before and honestly I think I’m scared of what could happen after I’m not just “talking” to a guy. I don’t think I want a long distance relationship, but I also know that if it’s God’s will then He will make it work out. I don’t know if you feel the same way, but I thought you should at least know some of that… Sorry if I’m rambling. And feel free to ask me any questions you have.”
Did you cringe? I did. Many times.
Now, what you need to realize is that this text message didn’t come a week or two after we started texting. No. This happened 2 days after we started texting. Two days. That, my friends, is how I got stupidly brave.
After I hit send, I started to panic. Those few minutes between the moment I hit send and I heard my phone go off again seemed like an eternity. I was freaking out because there are about a million different ways that Brandon could have responded. I’m just happy that it paid off and I just so happened to find that one guy who didn’t read that and say, “Whoa, you’re crazy. I’m just gonna go over here and pretend I didn’t read that and never respond back to you because you’ve lost your mind.” I found that one guy who responded like this:
“I’ve been thinking about it a lot and I don’t know if I want a long distance relationship either. But I’ve also never met someone like you. I’m not a person to force someone into something or hold grudges after the fact. I really don’t know. I want to tell you that the more I’ve talked to you I’ve started to like you more. I don’t know if you feel the same. But I just want to get that off my chest now.”
Needless to say, I literally breathed a sigh of relief and my jaw probably hit the floor. Honestly, I can’t remember much about that moment other than feeling nothing but anxiety while waiting and a massive wave of relief when I realized that he felt the same way. There weren’t really any eloquent words, but then again, how many 17 year olds in today’s society are found speaking with eloquence? Not many.
The thing is, my love story is not an eloquent one. It’s just the story of how a guy and a girl met at camp and decided to give each other a chance even though they lived 249 miles away.
There are much greater love stories out there. There are couples who have loved each other from much farther distances. There are certainly more eloquently spoken exchanges. The thing is, I like my story just the way it is. Just the way the Lord wrote it.
One Word: October
So now let’s move into another one of my brilliant ideas about three months later… It’s known by only one word: October.
October actually started in September of 2012. Brandon and I continued to text each other throughout the next few months and it was wonderful. We never saw each other in person during those three months, but our relationship grew slowly as we talked to each other each day. We weren’t “dating.” We were just “talking.” Know, let me define those terms for you quickly: “talking” occurs when two people like each other and want to get to know each other better, but have not moved past the getting-to-know-you phase of their relationship; whereas “dating” occurs when the guy actually asks the girl to be his girlfriend. I am perfectly aware that there are a million different ways to define those two words, but that is what they mean to me and how I will use them in the future.
So, we were happy “talking” and texting each other every day. However, the Lord didn’t let me stay in that comfort zone for long. He wouldn’t let me have peace about our relationship at that moment because Brandon was not going to church at that time or being fed spiritually at all and it really bothered me. Why did it bother me so much? My faith is really important to me and keeping Christ first in my relationship was and is the most important thing to me. So when Brandon wasn’t living up to the “strong spiritual leader” that I thought he should be, I started to freak out.
So I did what any girl would do. I prayed and fasted for a week and asked the Lord to show me how He wanted me to handle the uneasiness. I was ready and willing to tell Brandon that we couldn’t continue talking. But that isn’t what God told me to do. Instead, the Lord asked me to take a break from Brandon and really focus on Him for a month. That month was October.
On the night of September 30th, I called Brandon. I had made lists and written out the reasons why I wanted to do this. I spent hours praying about it. I knew that I had to do it and I knew that it wasn’t going to be easy. But I also knew that the Lord would walk through each and every step with me and I knew that it would be a positive experience for both Brandon and me. I’m not the girl who dates someone just to date them. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have waited until after high school to even start “talking” to someone. My goal in dating is to find the man that God is preparing to be my husband, not sample a bunch of different people.
I had told Brandon that we needed to talk, but it had to wait until that night. He had figured out earlier that week that something was off and didn’t leave it alone until I told him that I needed to talk to him about something. That week also happened to be when he told me that he loved my laugh. Now, that may not be a big deal to many people, but I hate my laugh and I had jokingly told God that the boy who told me that he liked my laugh was going to be “the one.” Remember, I was joking.
The conversation went something like this: “Brandon, I really need a spiritual leader in my life and I’m not sure that you are that person for me right now, but I know that you can be in time. I won’t marry anyone unless Christ is first in their life and we keep Him at the center of our relationship. I’m not going to date anyone just to say that I have a boyfriend. My goals in dating are to find my future husband.”
Brandon then proceeded to talk a little about his life. He went to a private Christian school for a while, which is where he had gained the majority of his knowledge of the Bible, and then went into public school soon after. His family was not one that went to church often and he had been forced to go to a few churches that he was not a big fan of. His spiritual growth ended when he left the Christian school and did not pick back up until 2012, when he went to Chula Vista for that week of camp. He encountered God again at camp and wanted to know more about how to better his relationship with the Lord, but was not sure how to go about doing that. And that brings us to his current state on that night.
It was not easy to talk about that stuff. I see things one way because I was born and raised in church and I have volunteered in different ministries since I was ten or so. Brandon sees things a completely different way because he wasn’t raised with God always providing the answer. He never knew that he could rely solely on Christ for anything and everything. It was a major difference between the two of us and it greatly impacted our relationship.
After that little conversation, Brandon thought that was all I had to say. He told me that he was worried that I would suggest we start dating. Yeah. He really thought that. Which I guess is totally valid because I am the girl who texted him to tell him that I liked him after knowing him for a week… Anyway, I didn’t suggest that at all, but I did tell him that we had one more heavy thing to talk about… The break.
I kept my cool as I explained how the Lord had been tugging on my heart and how much I had prayed about this. My voice was steady as I explained that the break needed to last for the whole month of October and that it included no talking on the phone, texting, Facebook messages, or any other communication of any kind. I was fine as I explained how it would be beneficial to both of us: we could better focus on God, make sure that He was at the center of our life as individuals, and to show God that He was our top priority.
The moment that I stopped talking and everything had been laid out there while I awaited Brandon’s response to this impossible request, I shattered. The tears flowed steadily down my cheeks and my voice cracked from all of the tension.
Now, by this time you’re probably thinking that I’m crazy. I would definitely agree with you. I’m completely bonkers. But when the Holy Spirit nudges you to do something, you don’t just sit there and say, “No.” (Unless you like having your world fall apart because you decided to disobey God…) You get up, you put your big girl britches on and you say, “Okay, Lord, but You’re gonna have to help me through this.” And He does. He always does. And He certainly did that night.
Through the innumerable tears and the silent sound of breaking hearts, Brandon did not respond like a normal 18 year old boy would. He did not walk away from me. He did not turn his back on our relationship because it was about to get extremely difficult. He did not question my motives or try to change the parameters of the break. Instead, he admitted that he was scared. He was worried that not communicating at all for a whole month would ruin our relationship and tear us apart. He was scared of losing me and I was scared of losing him too. He was worried that at the end of the month we would find that we weren’t right for each other; that we weren’t good enough for the other.
I asked him, “What is the worst thing that could happen during this month? Even if the Lord tells us that we aren’t supposed to be together, it’ll be better to know now rather than after we’ve gotten our hearts more involved. Besides, we could still be friends. We would just need to draw a line and stay far from it.” I’m aware that those are some of the worst things that I could have said to him, but I was also saying it to help reassure myself.
His response silenced me: “That’s it. I don’t just want to be your friend.”
Of course I didn’t want to just be his friend! But above all else, I wanted the Lord’s will to be done. No matter what that was.
We set our parameters for October and talked about slightly lighter subjects until midnight. His one request was to be able to hear my laugh one more time before October started.
When midnight came, we didn’t say goodbye. Goodbye is too final, especially when a month of absolutely no communication follows that. Instead, we said, “I’ll talk to you later.”
Although the night was filled with so much dread and many tears, there was a peace that followed the sound of the phone call being disconnected. I had done what the Lord asked and I knew with every fiber of my being that He would walk with me through whatever craziness I encountered in that month. And let me just tell you, there was plenty of crazy during October…
One Month Later
October was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. It took a lot of self-control to not look back at our text messages. It took even more self-control to decide to block him on Facebook after I realized that even though we weren’t supposed to be communicating, I could still see everything he posted on social media (that was horrific by the way, especially when he posted sweet things). At one point, one of my friends was talking to him and ever so nicely came over and said, “Guess who I’m talking to!” Yes, they knew about October. Yes, it stung. Yes, it hurt. And yes, I put on a smile and laughed along with them so they didn’t feel bad about it.
You know the quote that says, “You never know what you have until it’s gone?” Whoever coined that phrase knew what they were talking about. When I woke up on October 1st, I still almost expected a good morning text from Brandon. I expected to see his name pop up on my phone at some point during the day. I expected to get a phone call that night and hear his voice before I went to sleep. I knew it shouldn’t come and it never did. But that was what I wanted, right?
I wanted Brandon to agree to not communicate with me for a whole month. I wanted him to agree to not text me, not call me, and basically vanish from my life for a month. Well, I wanted him to vanish as much as someone can when said person was constantly on my mind and seemed to come up in almost every conversation I had… The problem was, I had asked for this. I asked for the distance I didn’t want. I asked for the communication I so desired, to be cut off completely. I asked for it all. Literally. At that point I was questioning everything I thought I had heard from the Lord along with my sanity, of course.
But God is and was good and He brought many blessings and revelations through October.
When Brandon didn’t freak out about my absolutely insane request to cease communication, it was the first time I realized how serious he was about our relationship. Now, please remember that I asked all of this of a guy I had only known for three months and also hadn’t seen again in those three months. I also may or may not have mentioned to this boy that I was looking for a man worthy to marry. And he didn’t even flinch. At all. I’ve never known another 18 year old guy to react with such a calm and accepting spirit. Three months in…. I’m just praising the Lord that He has turned that 3 months into more than 3 years now. But that’s a story for another time.
October was a time that the Lord gave me to ensure that I was placing Christ at the center of my life rather than allowing myself to place a boy in His rightful place. It was a truly freeing experience, despite all of the craziness. We both learned a little more about who we were in Christ before we pursued a relationship together under the Lord’s guidance.
Now, let me just tell you that I cannot possibly express the number of different emotions that I experienced during October. It was like an emotional rollercoaster on steroids. The problem was, the highs never lasted long and the lows were lower than I had ever known them to be. However, through it all, God was right there with me. He rode with me on my crazy rollercoaster and I know that He was with Brandon as well.
The moment that we were able to talk to each other again, I got a call. November 1, 2012 at 12:01am. I know this is all about to sound like the crazy, mushy movie stuff, but I’m going to say it anyway. The moment I heard his voice, it made every single second of October worth it. The moment he said, “I missed you,” I knew that we had made the right choice. It was like that one moment made up for the month of insanity that preceded it. Hearing his voice again and knowing that he missed me and hadn’t decided that I was absolutely insane (which I definitely am) or given up on me brought so much joy. To know that October didn’t make him run screaming for the hills made me realize just how much I liked that boy.
Even though our conversation only lasted a little while that night, the days, weeks, months, and years of communication that have followed October have been blessed because of our obedience to the Lord in that time.
We decided that we didn’t need to change much about our relationship, other than truly striving to keep Christ at the center of our individual lives as well as at the center of our relationship, of course. Neither of us felt like God was leading us to start a relationship right at that moment, but we also didn’t feel like He was telling us to back away from it. So, we just kind of picked up where we left off, with our minds set on doing God’s will, not our own.
October was a doozy. It was nowhere near my idea of fun, though it definitely fit my criteria for following God when He tells you to do something even when you really don’t want to. We both came out stronger in our faith and we learned more about ourselves and each other as well. It was a blessing disguised as a trial; so I’ll just keep praising the Lord and counting October as pure joy, just like James said to do in James 1:2.
A Boyfriend For Christmas
So after the silence of October, Brandon and I picked up where we left off, but through all of it, we were still “just friends.” Of course, every singe person I know tried to convince me that we were already dating. Did I listen? No. Why? Because he had not asked me to be his girlfriend yet!
You see, in my mind, we would never become anything more than friends until he manned up and asked me to be his girlfriend. Yes, I am perfectly aware that this line is not always so distinctly drawn nowadays. However, Brandon and I had previously discussed it. He and I both knew that we would stay in the friend zone until he asked me to be more and I, in turn, accepted. The thing is, he finally did…
Allow me to set the scene for you: I was visiting with my family in North Alabama and Brandon was visiting with his family in Georgia. I was sitting in the living room watching a movie with my dad and sister while everyone else in the house was asleep. Brandon was laying on the floor while his younger brother slept on the bed beside him. Christmas Eve came swiftly and soon it was around 2:oo am. Of course, Brandon and I were still texting, because that’s apparently what teenagers do…. (Note from my older self: sleep is always the better option.)
Somewhere amid the late night movie and snores of sleeping siblings, the conversation began leaning heavily toward the subject of beginning a relationship. Very nonchalant. I know. So, as I’m sure you’ve already figured out, he ever so casually asked if I would be his girlfriend and I ever so casually decided to wait 5 minutes before responding. Literally. Five whole minutes. I watched each one pass on my watch before I responded with the long awaited “yes.”
I’m sure he hated me for making him wait so long, but I have a feeling he forgave me the moment he received my reply. Or at least I hope so… He has put up with so much more from me since that moment that I am sure those five minutes of waiting pale in comparison to the month of silence in October, the six months we didn’t see each other after we first met, and the years we have spent waiting a month to see each other for a weekend.
You would think that the years of waiting would teach us a thing or two about being patient. I mean, I’m sure that it has, but in reality it has just made us appreciate the short moments we have together. It reminds us of how blessed we are to have those moments. It helps us remember that God is at the center of it all and even though it seems impossible for us to last another day in this long distance relationship, He gives us the strength and ability to carry on one more hour, one more day, one more month…
So I got a boyfriend for Christmas. It’s like a Hallmark movie title… Oh wait, it really is a Hallmark movie title. One I happen to watch almost every year at Christmas time. Who knew Hallmark movies came true!? Now, don’t go thinking that Brandon planned to ask me to be his girlfriend on Christmas Eve over text. He didn’t. He actually had something very different in mind…
New Year; New Life
It started out just like every other New Year’s Eve had over the past few years. I was getting ready to go to a friend’s house to celebrate with the girls in our youth and college group. Of course, throughout the entirety of my readying, I was texting Brandon and trying to wrap my head around the fact that I, for the first time in my life, actually had a boyfriend. What a weird word! Boyfriend. My boyfriend. Weird. Of course, I hadn’t seen him or anything like that… We do happen to live a small distance away from each other; though the distance is great enough to limit our visits to one weekend each month, except for special occasions. However, on this particular New Year’s Eve, we had yet to see each other since our first encounter, six months earlier at summer camp.
It was our one week anniversary! (I know. Gross.) However, the conversation we were having was short and seemingly one-sided. I was suspicious. It turned out that I was right to be suspicious. The boy was acting upon a plan that had been in the works for quite some time…
You see, Brandon was a tricky little booger. Well, he still is if I’m being completely honest. Remember that whole boyfriend for Christmas over text message thing? That isn’t exactly how he had planned for that conversation to go. He had talked with a few people and had already planned to come up to visit me for New Year’s Eve and that is when he had planned to ask me to be his girlfriend in person rather than over text. Which, by the way, he has apologized for profusely since that day.
So, there I am. Almost finished with the daunting task of blow drying my insanely thick hair. My sister also happens to be in the room with me, though she is standing on the edge of the bathtub to better see herself in the mirror above the sink. We also just so happened to be singing at a not so quiet volume…
There was a knock at the door. I turned the blowdryer off, we stopped singing, and I opened the door to see my mother standing there with a big grin on her face. “You have a visitor,” she trilled as she walked away.
I was in shock! There was no way that the absolutely insane boy that I had just recently agreed to start “dating” (remember that previous discussion about the difference I hold between “talking” and “dating”) actually took the time and spent the money to drive 250 miles just to see me. I walked out of the bathroom mumbling, “It better not be…”
It was. I turned the corner and there he was. He was actually there! Standing in my living room and grinning from ear to ear was the boy I hadn’t seen in half a year. Needless to say, I rushed over to him and gave him a long awaited embrace followed by a few laughs. Apparently my face was priceless or something like that.
Standing there beside him for what felt like the first time, I realized something. He was tall! I mean, I knew he was 6’4, but seeing as I hadn’t really been around him, I had honestly forgotten how much taller he was than I.
As we walked out of the house and made our way to the New Year’s Eve party, I felt every bit like an awkward teenage girl going on her very first date. I mean, it wasn’t a date. It was an ambush. But that’s beside the point. The smiles were radiant and the laughter was genuine.
When we walked into our friend’s house, everyone laughed and started talking at the same time. Brandon had brought two of his friends from home and they were waiting there for us as well. Apparently everyone had been a part of the ambush except me. I was bitter at first, but that faded away rather quickly. I guess my joy at seeing him in person and actually being there with him overshadowed my bitterness.
Now, our New Year’s Eve parties aren’t really anything like, well anything. That night we sat around the room, watched Pitch Perfect, and talked about life. There was also a toast around midnight with some sparkling apple juice and perhaps a hand was held here and there, but that’s as close to a typical New Year’s Eve party as we get. I think it’s absolutely brilliant.
We left later on that night and I got another first for the New Year: my first kiss. It wasn’t anything super romantic. Actually it was rather awkward because he just so happened to miss the first time… Got me right on the side of my mouth! He’s a keeper, I know it! He redeemed himself a moment later and met his mark. Only for a short moment, but it marked the beginning of a new year with a new guy. Actually, it marked the first year with the first guy that will hopefully be the last guy. But I guess we will have to wait and see what God has planned for us.
He Loves Her. She Loves Him Not…
So 2013 started off with my first kiss. Even if Brandon did technically miss the first time. But that was just the beginning. As if the missed first kiss, in the dark, on the side of the road, with my sister waiting in the car wasn’t awkward enough, we were also in the most awkward position ever. I was carrying stuff in one arm, which ended up wedged awkwardly between us, and my other arm was slung around his super tall shoulder. It wasn’t super romantic, but it’s one of my favorite memories and I wouldn’t change it for anything.
Can you imagine that my life got more awkward than that? Not even two full days later, I found myself in one of the most awkward situations that I have ever experienced to this day. And believe me, I’ve had more than my fair share of awkward moments in my lifetime…
Allow me to set the scene for you. We were sitting in my very small, 2-door car. It was late, and even though I didn’t have a curfew, I probably should have been driving home. But I wasn’t. I was sitting in the driver’s seat across from the guy I was very quickly falling for, talking. Yes, we were actually talking, not being typical teenagers. And then it happened. The words I never dreamed I would actually hear come out of a guys mouth when they were talking to me.
“I think I love you, Gentry…”
The words hung in the air.
I knew I was supposed to respond. I knew exactly how I was supposed to respond: “I love you too, Brandon!” But I didn’t. The silence lingered. My facial expression was probably priceless. I racked my brain for an answer. This is what I found:
“I really want to say it back, Brandon. I’ve thought about saying that a million times over the last six months. I’ve prayed about it. Literally. But I can’t. I can’t say that right now because I’m not sure that I know exactly what love is. You’re the first guy I’ve ever liked this much and I want to say that it’s love, but I’m not positive. I’ve never experienced that kind of love before and I don’t want to say it and then not really mean it because I don’t understand what I’m saying. I’m sorry. I just can’t say that right now.”
I realized I was rambling and repeating myself, so I stopped talking.
If you told someone that you loved them and they gave you that response, how would you respond? Honestly.
I expected shock or silence or something other than what I got.
The look on his face was purely apologetic. He started apologizing profusely for springing it on me so suddenly and saying that he didn’t want me to say that I loved him until I really meant it. He was completely understanding and never once made me feel uncomfortable.
Now, that doesn’t mean that I wasn’t uncomfortable. I was extremely uncomfortable and felt like the most awkward person on the face of the earth.
So, I didn’t tell Brandon that I loved him that day, but I did eventually. I probably would have the next day if he wouldn’t have left to go back home. But he did go home and that wasn’t something that I wanted to say over the phone. So I waited a month until he came to visit again in February.
* * *
It was like a flashback in my mind. A month later we were sitting across from each other in my car once again. Brandon hadn’t told me that he loved me again since that first time a month ago. But this time, it was my turn.
My mind was muddled and my heart hammered in my chest. My mouth was dry, but I had to say it. I had to tell him.
“Brandon. I love you.”
The next words out of his mouth shocked me more than the first time he told me that he loved me.
“Are you sure?”
It wasn’t a movie moment where he kissed me or we had a nice romantic moment or he even said that he loved me too. Those three words, not “I love you” but “Are you sure,” through me for a loop. I questioned everything I had been thinking for the last month.
“Uh… Yeah.” I mean, I was sure, right!?
He looked worried. Not happy, but worried! (I’m literally laughing as I type this.)
“I just want to make sure that you actually want to say it. I don’t want you to say it just to make me happy.”
I had just told this boy that I loved him and he was worried about me saying it just to say it. That was why I loved him in that moment. That response is what solidified my love for him and my resolve to tell him. He never pushed me. He never tested my boundaries. He respected where I stood and stood beside me until I was ready to take the next step.
The best part? He hasn’t changed. He still stands beside me and respects my boundaries. He doesn’t push me to do anything that I’m not sure of. But he also doesn’t just let me stand still in life. He pushes me to be a better person and grow each and every day. He prays for me and with me and he supports me in my classes, work, relationships, and family. He really does love me. It wasn’t just three little words that he said one day. He lives it. He actively loves me. And that is one of the many reasons that I love him.
One Diagnosis Too Many
Skipping over all of the normal days filled with texting and phone calls and of course the monthly weekend trip, I am going to move up about a year and a half to September 17th of 2015. That is the day I was diagnosed with Vascular Ehlers Danlos Syndrome.
Brandon and I had talked about the fact that I was in the process of being tested for VEDS. (Granted, I waited a few days to tell him that my mom, sister, and I had gotten tested… He wasn’t too happy about that…) So when I called to tell him that the blood work had come back positive after six weeks of waiting, it wasn’t a big surprise. We had been planning for that.
However, no matter how much you try to prepare yourself for devastating news, you can never truly prepare yourself for it. This is especially true when the doctor walks in and gives you a million limitations. He said things like: don’t lift more than 20 pounds; don’t exercise with any repetitive motions or heavy weights; don’t run; try not to do anything that makes your blood pump harder in your veins; oh yeah, and if you ever get pregnant, it will immediately be a high risk pregnancy and you have a 50% chance of passing VEDS to your kids. Just to name a few. He even threw in a median life span around 48.
Before I was able to walk out of that doctor’s office, it was as if moments of my future life were flashing before my eyes. The problem was, they weren’t very nice ones… *insert dramatic blur to dream vision* I was in my 30s sitting in yet another doctor’s office and he had no answers for why this was happening. I had to visit what seemed like a hundred doctors each year because of all of the problems I was having. I was being wheeled into the emergency room because a major organ had ruptured and they were going to try to save my life, but the likelihood of them being able to save me was minimal. I was slipping away while giving birth to a child, realizing that I would be leaving my husband wifeless, perhaps childless if the baby didn’t make it, and that baby may have the same disease that caused me so many problems if he or she made it… A life of pain. A life of heartache. A life of frustrations and trials and worries… *insert blur back to reality*
Needless to say, I had a lot on my mind.
I’m sure that Brandon wasn’t too thrilled when I basically told him that I thought it would be better for him if he let me go and found someone else to be with. His life would be better. He would’t have to deal with all of the doctors and medications and bills and problems. His life would be easier and probably a lot simpler without me in it. So I offered him an out. I gave him a way to leave without guilt and without any hard feelings. I didn’t want him to be stuck with me and VEDS for the rest of his life. He deserved better than that.
The problem with that whole conversation was that he didn’t agree.
That day in 2015 we were 21. Now I don’t know about you, but I don’t know many 21 year old guys who hear that their girlfriend has a progressive and chronic genetic disorder with many limitations and still decide that they would rather live that life with you than leave you for anything or anyone else.
That moment made me realize how much Brandon really did love me. It wasn’t that he felt obligated to stay with me or anything like that. He had prayed about it and thought about it deeply. He actively chose me, knowing everything that came with that choice. He chose me knowing how many sacrifices he would have to make. He loved me not only in spite of all of those things; he loved me because of them.
Here are a couple of the things he told me after I was diagnosed with VEDS:
“Let me be your leg to stand on when you can’t stand on yours. Let me be your rock when you need it. I’m here for you and I’m not going anywhere, so you better get used to it because you have a long time left with me!” and “I know that there’s a lot that I’ll have to deal with in this life if I’m with you, but who’s to say that it’ll be easier without you? No one!”
But even those two things don’t compare to how blown away I was to see these words on my phone screen right after I let him know that I did indeed have VEDS: “Ok. I’m sorry, but I sill love you and I’m still here for you!!! I’m not leaving you for any reason and I still want to be the lucky guy that gets to have you for a lifetime! I love you, Gentry, and you’re still the girl I want to marry.”
I know. My jaw hit the floor. I mean, sure we had talked kind of like that in the past. We had been dating for almost three years, so naturally the subject of marriage had come up here and there, but it had never really been explicitly stated like that. So after hearing that I had this terrible disease that limited me in almost every aspect of my life, it was nice to hear that VEDS was not so terrible a thing to steal away the man I’d come to love.
Each day and each moment that has filled the last year of life with VEDS has taught me so much. But most of all, it has made me realize how short life is and how quickly it can all change. Brandon not only loved me in that moment, he loved me for every moment after that. The good, the bad, and the ugly. He held me while I cried and suffered through an insane diagnosis. He kept telling me it would all work out and God had it under control. He worked with me through one of the roughest seasons in my life and he continues to do so each day. I guess you could say he’s a keeper.
The Lord was able to take that crazy day and turn it into a blessing. It has definitely been rough, but I have been blessed beyond measure since that day.
However, as blessed as I was and as loved as I was after that day, I went through a rather difficult time. I felt guilty for dating Brandon because I felt like I was dragging him into a terrible life. I felt bad for the people around me who had to deal with everything too. In reality, I would have preferred leaving everyone I knew and living by myself and taking care of myself so I didn’t burden anyone else. Granted, that didn’t really work. At all. But I did still slip into a short season of not understanding why this was happening to me.
A few days after I was diagnosed, as I was driving to work, I prayed that the Lord would give me something to hold onto while I grappled with living with VEDS on top of every other thing I was dealing with.
So He did.
I was sitting in my car with tears streaming down my face. I was praying. Asking God to give me something, anything to hold onto. I felt like I was drowning. I felt like this new knowledge that I did in fact have Vascular Ehlers Danlos Syndrome was going to send me into the darkest pit of despair. I needed something to cling to; to keep me from falling into the pit that threatened to ruin my life and steal every ounce of joy I had ever known.
So I pleaded with the Lord to give me something. Anything.
And then it happened. In my little two door car, trying to see past the tears that filled my eyes, hearing the cracks in my voice as I cried out for help. I saw it.
It was about five years into the future. Brandon and I were married and we were in our room getting ready to go to sleep. We walked over to the bed and he reached out his hand to me. I took his hand and we knelt down beside our bed with our clasped hands between us on the quilt. We closed our eyes and started to pray. Just like we did every night. When I opened my eyes, our clasped hands were old and wrinkled. We had the hardest time getting off of the floor with our old knees. But we still knelt beside our bed and prayed together every night. Just like we always had.
I was frozen.
That was it. That was my hope. That was my promise. That was the thing that I could cling to for the rest of my life. When my world started to crumble again, I could remember that promise that came straight from Heaven.
I had been given visions before and I’d had dreams that I knew were from the Lord, but nothing had ever compared to this. It was so vivid and I knew it was just for me in answer to my prayers. I had asked God for hope. I had asked Him to give me something to cling to; to keep me from slipping into the darkness. And He answered me. He is so good.
He gave me hope. But not just a fleeting hope. This vision that He gave me filled me with joy and hope and peace. It has continued to fill me with joy and hope and peace. Through every trial and every temptation to give up and sink into despair, this vision has been a reminder of God’s plan for me.
Just because a doctor says that my median life span is 48 years doesn’t mean that I can’t live to grow old and kneel with my husband in prayer every night. Just because a doctor says that I’m at an incredibly high risk of rupturing anything in my body at any moment doesn’t mean that I can’t live a full life. Just because a doctor says that it’s really risky for me to have kids doesn’t mean that I can’t adopt the sweet kiddos that need someone to love them. Just because a doctor says something doesn’t mean that God can’t turn what he says into a new dream, a new blessing.
Just because I have VEDS doesn’t mean that I can’t live a long life with the man of my dreams. It doesn’t mean that I have to live in fear. It doesn’t mean that God has turned His back on me and I have to walk this road alone. Actually, it means the opposite.
Being diagnosed with VEDS has opened my eyes to just how near God is every single moment of every day. The vision He gave me has reminded me of that more times than I care to count. Chronic pain and a different issue every day makes life a little more insane. But it also makes me a little more thankful for each day I see and each moment I get to live. It makes me realize how incredibly blessed I am to have a man like Brandon who is more than just willing to walk through this insane life with me. He wants it. He is actively choosing me, with all of the crazy complications that come with a life entangled by VEDS.
He chooses to stay with me instead of walking away like most rational people would. He chooses to help me through the nights that I’m plagued with negativity. He chooses to hold me when the tears overwhelm my joy. He chooses to pray for me when I don’t know how to pray for myself anymore. He chooses to pray with me and help me to see the good all around me. He chooses to point out the positives and remind me of all of the blessings the Lord has given me. He chooses to walk with me through each of the painful moments, letting the Lord lead us on this crazy path that we call life. He chooses to love me, in the rare good moments and the frequent bad ones.
So, Brandon, it means the world to me that you actively and presently choose me, regardless of every problem we have faced and all of the craziness I’m sure we will face. You are my sunshine. Truly. When skies are gray and all I can see is the negativity, you help me to see the sun hiding just behind the clouds. You remind me that the Lord is still there and He is ready and willing to carry my burden and give me joy. You’ll never know, dear, how much I love you. And I pray the Lord never takes you from me.
Are You Sure?
A couple of months after I was diagnosed with VEDS, my friend, Katie, and I went to Chic-fil-a after prayer. We started talking about different things and somehow we got on the subject of my relationship with Brandon. Things went South quickly…
I questioned everything. I mean, it’s not like I hadn’t done that before. I had. I’ve had many conversations with the Lord, asking whether He was sure that Brandon was the right guy. (Don’t judge me. Every girl has their doubts. Even girls who are blessed with young men who don’t tuck tale and run when their girlfriend is diagnosed with an insane genetic disorder with more problems and future complications than could ever be noted… I know. I’m insane.)
Allow me to describe myself while in this type of mindset. I worry that I haven’t heard the Lord correctly and I question every decision I’ve made concerning Brandon. I worry that I have fabricated God’s blessing for our relationship over the last years. I worry. I doubt. I don’t trust. In other words, I allow Satan to whisper lies in my ears and I choose to believe them over what I know the Lord has told me.
So, there we were: Katie and I were sitting across the table from one another in Chic-fil-a. A few others were seated in various places around the restaurant, but we were far enough away to have a conversation without worrying that we would be overheard by our nearest neighbors. Because of that, our conversation flowed for a while and then moved on to the terrible subject of long distance relationships and my doubts.
I didn’t know what the cause of this incredible and sudden onslaught of doubt was. I couldn’t pinpoint where the overwhelming feeling that I had to break up with Brandon came from. All I knew, is that after spending an hour or so in prayer with our prayer group, I felt this burden and I felt that it was from the Lord. It terrified me. I felt as though the Lord was telling me that I needed to break up with Brandon. No reason given. Just a heavy burden that weighed heavier with each passing moment.
Of course, we had problems. Every couple has problems. Our main struggles consist of distance and a love language barrier (on top of me being an overly emotional person), but it isn’t like we wallow in our struggles and allow them to consume our every thought. We had difficulties. We still do. But in that moment, it seemed as though every trial we had ever faced rose up before me and would not allow me to ignore them or pray them away. Instead, the mountain of never-ending trials threatened to overshadow everything and plunge me into a despair so strong that I would never be freed from it.
However, the most peculiar aspect of it all, is that it seemed to come from God! It didn’t feel like a temptation. It didn’t feel like doubt. Actually, if I’m being completely honest, it felt like a test.
Talking with Katie, I came to the conclusion that God was asking me to break up with Brandon to prove that I loved God more than I loved Brandon. But this wasn’t just a ‘break up with you today and date you again tomorrow’ kind of feeling. It more along the lines of a ‘break up with you and never see you again’ kind of thing. So, with a heavy heart and tear-stained face, I walked to my car and sobbed a prayer on my drive home. I begged God to show me what His will was. I begged Him to ease the weight I felt in my soul…
He didn’t. The weight clung heavily all the way home. It worsened as I texted Brandon the most dreaded words: “we need to talk.”
Later that night, when Brandon got off of work, he called me. My heart hammered and I was crying before I was even able to say, “hello.” I must have said, “I don’t want to do this” and “I love you” a million times in that conversation…
I told him that I felt like God wanted me to break up with him. I told him that I had felt unloved and unwanted by him because he still didn’t speak my love language, even after multitudes of conversations about what that means and how to do so. I told him about my doubts and worries that I had heard the Lord wrong when He gave me the blessing to date him. I told him all of it. Let me rephrase that: I sobbed my way through attempting to explain everything that was chaotically clanging about in my thoughts. I’m pretty sure the whole, “let’s be friends” thing was even stated and explored for a while.
When I finally gave him time to speak, he was calm. (That freaked me out more than anything.) His voice was quiet. He listened to each word I said and simply replied in a manner of acceptance. He didn’t seek to change my mind. He never once raised his voice, he simply said, “if you feel like this is what you need to do, then I understand.”
There was no fight, no anger, no frustration. There was simply an acceptance of the inevitable end.
And in that moment, I couldn’t do it.
I couldn’t bring myself to hurt this young man I loved so completely. That was the thing, I still loved him! It wasn’t like I was fed up with him and he had frustrated me to the point that I couldn’t take it anymore. I simply felt like the Lord was calling me to do the one thing I never wanted to do. So, regardless of my feelings and desires, I was determined to do what God asked of me.
I have never identified so completely with Abraham than I did in that moment.
There is a man in Genesis, named Abraham, who was told by God to sacrifice his son as an offering to the Lord. Not like, give him up, but sacrifice, as in kill on an altar. Abraham obediently took his son, Isaac, up a mountain with everything needed for the sacrifice except an animal. Once they reached their destination, Abraham tied Isaac to the altar. Then, just as the knife in Abraham’s hand, poised to kill, came slashing down, and angel of the Lord stopped him. The angel called out to him and showed him that the Lord had provided a ram stuck in a thicket for the sacrifice so that Isaac didn’t have to die. The hard part is, if Abraham wouldn’t have tied Isaac up and raised the knife to sacrifice his beloved son, he never would have been shown the ram.
The willingness to sacrifice our own desires has to come before the Lord’s provision and blessing.
That’s what I learned while on the phone with Brandon that night. Only after I had come to the point of being willing to end my relationship with Brandon and had actually attempted to do so, was I able to see the provision. As soon as I had told him that I had to break up with him because I honored and loved God more than I loved him, the weight seemed to lift.
This simply confused me even more. First, I felt as though God wanted me to break up with Brandon. Then, only a short while later, I felt as though God was saying that I didn’t actually have to break up with him, I just had to be willing to do so. I had to show where my loyalties lie. I had to prove who I loved more and who I truly served.
As the weight lifted, and the confusion set in, I had to talk it out with Brandon: the one person who was completely fine with me breaking up with him… (I personally think that is a whole other problem we should probably address…)
In the end, through every sob and change in thinking, we ended up staying together and promising to pray it through to determine what exactly the Lord wanted us to do and then reevaluate where we were and whether to continue our relationship or end it when he visited almost a month later. Praise the good Lord in Heaven above that the final decision was to stay put, together, and really strive to focus on Christ, keep Him at the center of everything, and listen to how He wants us to live our lives and then obey.
So here we are, still together, and still waiting to see where He takes us next.
On the third day of August, 2016, I was minding my own business when I felt the Lord nudge me to find a quiet place and do the Bible study I was working through, Believing God by Beth Moore. So, after a moment of soul searching, I knew that I needed to obey and I needed to do so right then. So I did. I’ve learned over the years that if the Lord tells me to do something and I don’t listen right away, or at least as soon as I can, then I’m in big trouble.
I settled down with my Bible, markers, and study in hand and opened the page to see that the topic of the day’s lesson was Joshua and Jericho. “Okay,” I thought, “I know this story. It’s a great story and I’m sure God has awesome stuff to tell me today.” Little did I know that what He had to tell me that day wasn’t something that I could shrug off. In fact, it took me 3 whole weeks to complete the task He set before me that day…
As I read through the lesson, I realized that the reason Joshua and the Israelites were faced with Jericho was because it was directly in the path of their Promised Land. To get to the Promised Land, they first had to get through Jericho. At the end of the study that day, I was prompted to take a moment and ask God what my Jericho was. So that’s exactly what I did.
I put the Bible study aside, closed my eyes, and took a deep breath. Then I saw it. I was standing high upon a cliff overlooking a vast, desolate wasteland. I searched the desert for a city surrounded by a round wall (because that’s how I envision Jericho must have looked). I looked, but saw nothing. I even tried squinting my eyes, but again saw nothing.
Then, suddenly, the Lord was standing on the cliff by my side. I asked Him to show me where my Jericho was; to point out the city and then name it for me. I knew my Jericho wasn’t actually a city that I needed to walk around. Instead, I figured the city I would find in the desert would be a symbol of something else and the Lord would name the city with what it was that I needed to pray circles around.
The Lord stretched out His hand and pointed into the distance. I looked, but I saw nothing but the desert laid out before me. He continued to point and said, “Look right down My arm to the point of My index finger and see what I see.” I leaned over; so close that I could see straight down His arm. He was pointing into the distance, beyond the vast desert before us. I could see mountains in the distance, but that was all. “No, Gentry, not with eyes of man” He said, “Look with eyes of faith! See? See it My way!”
Then I finally saw it.
The mountains weren’t just mountains, they were my promised land! Those mountains represented a previous vision the Lord had given me: when Brandon and I kneeled to pray, closed our eyes, and then arose from our prayer as an elderly couple, years into our marriage. “That is your promised land,” the Lord said. “This vast, desolate desert you see before you is your Jericho.”
Yes. the entire desert. As in all of it. As in a wasteland.
“Lord, how in the world am I supposed to circle the entire desert?” I asked.
I opened my eyes. I knew exactly how to circle a vast desert.
I found a piece of cardboard, a sharpie, a ruler, and a box cutter and I went to work. I measured the piece of cardboard and cut it into a 250mm x 250mm square. Then, I labeled it, “Jericho: a vast distance: 250 miles.”
That desert in my vision was indeed a vast, desolate wasteland, but that wasteland represented the vast distance between myself and the man I love. The distance which has been in place for more than four years and seemed to desire to stay that way for many more years, that was my desert. It had plagued me. That distance of 250 miles caused me so many days of worry and anxiety and stress and even depression at times. It was the source of so many problems, and yet I knew the Lord had that distance in place for a purpose. But I had gotten to the point of being so completely done with the distance between us and I was more than happy to circle that distance in the hopes of it crumbling.
I had grown so tired of the distance. So tired of only seeing Brandon for one weekend out of each month, save those nice times when we were at camp or able to visit after three weeks or even two at times. I had prayed so many prayers outlining just how tired I was of the distance and asking God to lessen it. And it seemed in that moment that He may have finally heard all of my prayers and finally decided it was time to let the distance crumble.
I was dedicated. For three weeks I laid that piece of cardboard on the floor and silently walked around it as I prayed in my mind for six days and on the seventh, I walked around it seven times while praying aloud and claiming the victory of my promised land even in the face of my Jericho.
During that time, God gave me a very specific prayer to pray, which aided in my circling. That prayer had to do with asking the Lord to hasten the day that Brandon and I would finally be able to be together. At the time, it looked as if we would have to wait another three to four years to be together because of school and work and the insanity of life. So I gladly prayed the hastening prayer that the Lord gave me.
At the end of those three weeks, the Lord answered my prayer for hastening and cut the projected time we would have apart in half. Praise Jesus! He opened doors and opened our minds to see His plan for us. He opened our eyes to see with eyes of faith, rather than simply seeing what was placed before me in this life with the eyes of man.
I found my Jericho. I circled my Jericho. In reality, I still am circling my Jericho, but victory is already mine and I can see my promised land looming on the horizon.