Sunday, August 17, 2014

Connectedness

About a year ago I lost my footing.  It felt like a slow accumulation of Things on my to-do list, but they eventually became so great, that I lost my balance and fell into them.  I have been drowning until about a month ago.  What happened, you ask?  Something about renovating an old house, moving into a new house, then jumping into a fast and furious reelection campaign.  After the campaign drew to a close in early June, I just lay and panted on the shore of my sanity for about two months. Which brings us here.  I'm looking around and suddenly realizing that I'm *not* struggling through the pounding surf anymore ... I've got my footing on sure ground and the sun is shining overhead.

A (no longer cold nor broken) Hallelujah.

One sure sign that things are coming right in my brain again is that I've got a deep drive to clean and organize the house.  That's what I did this week.  The two Bigs were off on their first week of school, and Manasseh (2) isn't too hard to distract while I get work done.  (Side note:  This is the first time I've been alone at home with one child since Sophie was a baby.  It is so.  Much.  Easier!  I don't know if my endurance has deepened, or if he's just an easier kid than she was.  Whatever the reason, I'm not complaining.)

My meandering cleaning brought me eventually to the living room bookshelves.  Collections of books from college (Buzzed:  The straight facts about the MOST USED and ABUSED DRUGS from alcohol to ecstacy), our slowly growing inventory of classics (David Copperfield, The Count of Monte Cristo), the requisite assortment of nerdly fodder (the complete Harry Potter, CS Lewis, Tolkien, George Orwell, George RR Martin), and my childhood collection of every book ever written by L. M. Montgomery.

Also on a shelf all of their own, my dad's collection of Hardy Boys books, gathered over a few obsessed, preadolescent years.  These were sent to me by my aunt, when she found them tucked away in a box, in the corner of a closet, in my grandfather's house.  I keep them out because they make me feel connected to a past I am too young to know.  A past where a young boy in the 50's escapes into the adventures of two young brothers.




When my dad and mom came to visit recently, I came upon my dad, alone in the living room.  He was perched on the arm of the sofa, squeezed back by the end table and wall of bookshelves.  He had half of the Hardy Boys books out on the end table, and as I came upon him, was holding one in his hand, his fingers cupping the spine in an old and familiar way.  I stopped for a minute, watching.  His face was one of a man deep within himself.  Something about the way he held the book, had the others stacked out, spoke of this being an act his hands remembered.  I saw for a minute through the years to a young boy's obsession.

Turning from past to present.  Manasseh had found, as I cleaned, a stack of his brother's pogs.  He picked them carefully out from the flotsam and jetsam of their room - the Legos, Playmobil characters, blocks, race cars, clothes and puzzle pieces.  He brought them as I was working to the living room, and had them all spread out on the cushion of an armchair.  Spread out in a grid.  Each had its place.


I watched him finish up his project with a satisfied, 'now my world is safe' look on his face.  And identified that same look as the one on his grandfather's face, in that same room, a few weeks ago... and, I would guess, on the same man's, then boy's, face, sixty years ago.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

The Tension Between Hope and Faith

The wind had picked up some time during the night.  All I knew is I was awake, now, to the thundering torrent of monsoon rains on the tin roof, just feet above my head.  It would come in rolling waves of sound, each gust throwing the drops with  unchecked fury against our little house.  The mat wall at the head of my bunk gave a thin illusion of shelter from the elements outside.  The wind was angry that night.  

It had hurtled over untold leagues of ocean, to our lagoon, where it beat the friendly water into an unfamiliar beast.  It strong armed the supple palms, who tossed their heads in defeat, letting loose their coconuts with emphatic thuds onto the saturated sand.  The village huts, low and hugging the ground, hunched their shaggy shoulders as the monsoon wind bullied up and over and through them.  

I lay scared and still in my bed up close to the sloping roof.  Our house wasn't a village hut.  It did have mat walls, but it was built on stilts, two yards up from the ground.  The metal posts were sunk several feet into the island's sandy ground, and were attached to our floor joists with flimsy L-brackets.  With every gust of wind that pushed against the house, it swayed like a drunk man on its feet.  And with every sway, my mind's eye saw it rising up off its stilts and twirling into the gale, Wizard of Oz style, out to the waiting sea.  

I had no hope in my heart, in that moment, that things would turn out well.  Everything was dark.  Everything was loud and wet and scary, and the wind was certainly too big for me and even for the house.  So clearly could I see the inevitable unmooring of the house from its stilts, that I planned what to do when it happened.  I would flatten myself out on my bed.  I would kick a hole in the mat wall.  I would jump from the house just before it landed into the ocean.  The disaster would happen, of this I was certain.  I just didn't know which roaring gust of wind would be the one.
I did not have hope that all would be well.  But, perversely, my heart trusted.  I was certain the house would fall, but I was also certain that God was there.  I could feel Him, in the dark, in the fear, sitting with me.  My heart could hear His love in the midst of the chaos.  I knew that He was there, and that He knew what would happen, and that He loved me.  

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

This is the paradox I've been mulling over lately.  It seems to me that often in my life, I have either no hope but lots of faith, or I have lots of hope and little faith.  

For example.   

When I was 10 weeks pregnant and started bleeding heavily ... I had little hope that the baby would live.  But I had lots of trust that God was there and He cared for me.  Conversely, when we were in the process of negotiating for our current home, I had a stubborn hopefulness that refused to go away, that it would be ours, but I had very little faith that God even cared where we lived.

If you graphed hope and faith along an axis, they would look like sine waves of inverted positive and negative polarity.  

Hope waxes and wanes along the axis of life, and so does faith.  Sometimes hope is rising while faith decreases.  Sometimes hope decreases while faith gets stronger.  Sometimes, they exactly coincide and these are the moments when everything is the safest.  It feels the safest and most comfortable when your hope for the future is bright, while at the same time your faith that God is for you and loves you and that you are hearing Him clearly, is strong.  

What's hard is when either your hope or your faith wane.  Because then, there is no surety.  Then, you're not holding onto the monkey bars with both hands, but with one.  And you cling desperately with the one hand - cling either to the hope that refuses to disappoint, or to the faith that's sure of the Unseen.  

But who knows.  Maybe, as you grow and mature in your journey, the hope and faith waves begin to flatten out until finally they are coinciding most of the time.  Maybe.  But maybe that's just me being hopeful.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Taming the Wind

One thing that continues to amaze me is how you can  meet a person, who you think you probably have nothing in common with, until you begin to talk with them.  And then you realize that they speak your soul's language.  I am honored to call Shade Ardent, over at the unspared rod one of these sorts of soul sisters.  We were talking this morning about the wind, and realized that we both have very similar memories about it.  So we decided to both write our experiences, and cross link to each other's posts.  I encourage my readers to go over and browse her blog - her voice is strong and poetic and hauntingly beautiful.

Here is her post on wind ...

And here is mine ...

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

It was monsoon season.  The rain had been coming for days, driven almost sideways across the island by a ferocious wind.  It pushed incessantly through the front mat wall of our house, and our veranda floor was constantly damp.

Everything was constantly damp, for that matter.  My clothes, hung on a line strung between the stilts under our house, never got quite dry.  Little black dots of mold had appeared on all my T-shirts weeks ago, and now they smelled faintly sweet and musty after a few minute's wearing.  Even my foam mattress and pillow had that not-quite-dry feeling.

And then one morning, the sun finally came out.  It shone hot, hard diamonds on the puddles and dripping leaves.  The wind blew joyously off the lagoon and we all celebrated with it.  Onto the beach we ran to meet the wind.  It had been a hard thing, needling the rain and shaking my house on its stilts.  But now with the sun it became a wild, boundless thing that called to us a challenge.  Will you tame me?  Will you catch me?  I couldn't help but respond.

On the white, wet sand I stood, my layered lava lavas clapping fiercely at my calves.  I felt it, pushing primal and free against all of me, impatient in its rush in to the defiant bush.  It set the palm trees bowing, lava lavas and t-shirts flapping horizontal on the lines, and snatched words from my mouth almost before I'd uttered the sounds, flinging the echo of my own voice mockingly past my ears.  The sun shone above with a blessing and a challenge.  Will you tame it?  Will you catch it?  

I unwrapped my outer lava lava, leaving the inner one still tucked around my waist.  Taking two corners of the fabric, I tied them together around my hips.  Now I had a rectangular train stretching behind me.  A little waterspout formed cheerfully out on the edge of the lagoon.  The wind pushed.  My hair pulled out in a frizzy replica of the swirling water.  The wind pushed.

I took the furthest corners of the lava lava, wrestling them to me against the flow of air.  Stretching my arms above my head, with one end of the lava lava tied around my waist and the other clenched in my upraised fists, the fabric gave a snap.  A pop.  And back it pushed, a sail holding the wind.

My body the mast, my lava lava the sail, I held the wind.  And then I ran.  Into the rush, into the flow, my sail full, I ran.  I ran, and I jumped, and for a minute the wind held me, held me up, defiant of gravity.  For a moment, I was weightless.

For a moment, I was free.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Boundaries, Violations, and Consent

I went to visit my aunt last month, in Houston.  She lives in a stately subdivision, filled with elegant two stories and wide, tree shrouded streets.  Two streets down is the bayou, ringed around with parks and a running trail.  

After dinner one night, I followed her out front to walk the dogs, and really, the scene before me almost seemed staged to my slightly-more-private, New Mexican eyes.  Everyone was out in the street.  Children rode bikes and scooters.  Neighbors met on the sidewalk and talked in little clusters.  A gaggle of junior high girls walked past with arms linked, exuding the self conscious air of new independence.  I literally saw one man watering his lawn with a hose, talking to another over the hedge.  It was a scene straight from Pleasantville.  

Flabbergasted by the connectedness and community I saw before me, I turned to my aunt.  "You guys have a very ... involved ... neighborhood, don't you?  Is it like this every night?"

She smiled happily.  "Yep.  It's a little bit of heaven."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Boundaries

I have been thinking lately, that personal boundaries are like this.  Each of us is a house, on a street, with a white picket fence (or bricks, stucco, barbed wire ... whatever your style is, really).  We meet people out on the street every day.  These are the folks we nod to in the check out line, the random person on the Internet forum, the server who brings us our food.  They are the people on the outer most fringes of our interactions.  

Then, there are some people we interact with who we invite into the yard to talk.  These are the acquaintances - people we chat with at church or social functions.  People we meet at bars, or at the playground when our kids are playing.  You might friend them on Facebook, but wouldn't really post on their wall nor would they post on yours.  

Eventually some relationships build to the point where they migrate into the living room or even kitchen of your house.  Things get a little more intimate.  Now you share experiences, hang out on a regular basis.  You know some of each other's stories.  

Very few make it into the inner room of your house.  These are the people you trust the most.  They know your fears.  They see your true self.  Sometimes they see your true self better than you can see yourself.  

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Violations

This is all assuming we live in perfect world, where we establish and clearly communicate our boundaries, and everyone else both recognizes and respects them.  The problem is, more often than not, this is not the case.  

Some people come walking down the street, see your house, and push themselves in.  They demand admittance straight to the inner room.  They see your house as a place they have a natural right to be.  You have no say in the matter.  

What does this look like in the real world?  To lay aside the metaphor for just a moment, it is ... 

A refusal to acknowledge 'no' 

A demand to have their own opinion heard, without listening to yours

Assumption that you will do something, without asking

Speaking for you 

Expecting to be able to give 'correction' without first building trust

Dismissing or not acknowledging your experiences or feelings

Telling you how you *should* feel in a situation

Giving advice without first building trust or being asked

Treating your personhood with disrespect by talking down or condescending to you

Telling you that your voice is unimportant, less than, or silly

Violating your personal space 

Sexual assault

Rape

Some of these violations are a person tramping through your fence from the street and stomping on your yard.  Some of them are a pushing in through the front door, and pissing on your living room floor.  The very deepest violations are an abuser laying claim to your inner room, setting up a throne, and holding court in the inner sanctum of your soul.  

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Consent

There is a lot of talk about consent circling around on the interwebs.  I want to add my two cents, but first, let me make it clear.  In the case of assault - an abuser will push themselves into your house by force, no matter how fortified your fence or strong your front door.  

What I want to address here, is the shame that comes along with a boundary violation.  Many of us are raised to think that we do not have a right to assert our boundaries.  We are being 'mean', or a 'bad person', or even 'un-Christlike' if we refuse a person access to our front yard, living room, or even inner room.  When a person comes off the street and demands access, we are unloving or stubborn or uncooperative if we say no.  

This internalized shame causes us to ignore our natural red flags that get thrown up, and in the effort to be good people, we raze the fences, take the front door of its hinges, and roll out a red carpet straight to the inner room of our hearts.  Our houses get muddied from all the dirt being tracked in, and it's a constant, 24/7 block party.  There is no peace.  There is no quiet.  There is no rest.  There is no trust or sanctuary for the soul.  

The good news is, it does not have to be like this.  Shame, once identified, can be harnessed and made to work for you.  That's what I am learning to do.  Once I saw it, I and named it and made it my bitch.  Now when it rears up, I tell myself, "This is shame.  Shame is not true.  I do not have to listen to this."  It is the canary in the mine telling me that somewhere a boundary has been threatened, and I need to firm it up.  

I've also clung to the idea of 'emotional consent'.  Physical consent, obviously, is what we give when we're letting someone into the inner room sexually.  Emotional consent is what we give when we let someone into the inner room emotionally and relationally.  Someone earns our trust, invests in relationship, and if and when we feel it is appropriate, we can open the door to the inner room of our hearts.  These are the people who can bring correction.  These are the people who share the loads.  These are the people who hold for us the emotion when it becomes too great to bear.

And why are they safe?

Because they love us.  Because we know they love us.  They have proven that they love us.  Because they have invested in us and waited and not pushed and respected each boundary as they came to it, waiting for emotional consent each and every time.  And as a result of this long process of slowly connecting and gaining trust, a love builds up.  

This love never gives up.  
This love cares more for you than for self.
This love doesn't want what it doesn't have.
This love doesn't strut,
Doesn't have a swelled head,
Doesn't force itself on you,
Isn't always "me first,"
Doesn't fly off the handle,
Doesn't keep score of your sins,
Doesn't revel when you grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God for  you,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end.

This love never dies.  
(taken from The Message paraphrase)

Monday, August 26, 2013

DBAA :: {Conflict Resolution}

The other day I was on the tail end of my morning errand run, and had rounded the corner to a park I had promised to take Xander if he and Manasseh were good while we were out and about.  Psalty's If I Were A Butterfly was playing in the rear seat for the fiftieth time, and all three of us were ready to get the heck out of the car, and out into the sunny freedom of the playground.

A narrow street hugs the back side of the park, which is a mile long rectangle of gazebos, open grass, a toy train station, and the playground.  As I approached the narrow elbow curve, I saw that three vehicles had stopped right where it bent at a right angle.  They were completely blocking the way.

The drivers all hung out of their open windows, heads nodding up and down as they talked together, their arms slung out occasionally to accentuate a point.  I folded my arms over the top of my steering wheel.  They kept talking.

"Perhaps they're just finishing up the conversation..." I thought to myself, trying to be patient.  Psalty and the Kids Praise Band had switched to something blessedly slower paced, and I took a deep breath.  Waited a few minutes more.  Still, no movement from the threesome in front of me.

A couple more minutes passed, nobody had moved, and there was no way my Suburban could inch around them.  I gave my horn two quick taps.

The drivers all looked up at me, continued to confer for another couple of seconds, then slowly untangled their cars.  The first to pass me drove straight by, smiling determinedly at the road ahead, and refused to look at me.  This finally tipped my frustration into anger ... I mean, an acknowledgment would have been nice, at least.

Then the second truck pulled past me.  The woman behind the wheel deliberately caught my eye, gave me a sheepish look, and mouthed, "We're sorry!".

And that's really all I needed.  Her sincere look and quickly mouthed, 'sorry' diffused my anger, and I headed on with my day, to the park, where the kids and I played.

The interaction made me think, though, of all the times we inadvertently step on each other's toes.  I've been encountering it most often in the online arena, where somebody will say something that triggers somebody else, when they really weren't meaning to.  The triggered person then gets angry, and the first person then responds one of two ways.  They either say, "I don't know why you're angry, I was just _______  (insert justifiable excuse here)."  Or they say, "I see I triggered you, and I'm sorry for that."

The first instance is like the woman who drove past me, ignoring the consequences of how her behavior affected me.  The second instance is like the woman who gave me a simple but sincere apology.  That apology leveled the field again and we were able to go along with our day.

It's inevitable that we offend and are offended by people as we go through life.  Bumping up against other personalities and behaviors is going to cause conflict.  But most of the conflict can be resolved by the simple rule - DBAA.  In other words, don't be an asshole.  You stepped on somebody's toes?  Say you're sorry!  Somebody stepped on your toes?  Accept their apology!  Don't be an asshole.

I think maybe this is what Jesus was trying to get at in his Sermon on the Mount.  He said to turn the other cheek, and resolve issues quickly with your adversary.  He said if someone asks you to walk one mile, to walk two.  He said if you remember that you offended somebody, drop what you're doing and go make it right.  Basically, it boils down to not walking through life with an attitude of easy offense.  No matter which side you fall on in conflict, the offended or the offender, cultivate an attitude of love for others ... treat others the way you would like to be treated ... and don't be an asshole.


***Before I publish, I must add that I'm not talking here about deep offenses, or cases of abuse. Sometimes boundaries have to be set in order to protect yourself from people who are toxic to you.  Running back to an abuser in the name of 'forgiveness', or pushing hurt under the rug in order to bring a surface resolution are ways these teachings from the Sermon on the Mount have been used to perpetuate the oppression of victims.***

Friday, August 23, 2013

On Modesty :: {Everyone's doing it}

It didn't take me long to shed the habit of wearing a shirt.  I remember being two days into village living, our family's first solo foray of complete immersion in island culture, and my dad telling me, "You can take your shirt off, you know.  You don't have to wear it if you don't want to."

It was a suggestion, not a command, and honestly, it weirded  me out.  My mind immediately went to the two other men who lived on the island, native Papua New Guineans with kids of their own.  I was ashamed that they would see my 9 year old chest.  But as I observed my peers, and watched how the other girls on the island ran around in shorts or lava lavas, bare chested and free, one day I peeled my hot, sticky shirt off and was struck by the thrill of air blowing across my skin.  After a few hours, I forgot I'd even taken it off.  I didn't don another one until we left the island for civilization again two months later.

After our two month stint in the village was up, we packed all our things into bags and crates, and sat waiting for the outrigger to ferry us to the mainland, and to the rumbling diesel truck that would take us back to missionary base camp.  I suddenly became aware, after nearly eight weeks of not even thinking about it, that the top half of me was unclothed.  I remember the internal conflict as my brain struggled to shift from 'village' to 'town', and considered for a while if I would even put a shirt back on once we got around other Westerners again.  But seeing the outrigger approach our island caused something to click in my brain, and I began digging for a T-shirt in our bags.  

This started a dual standard of modesty for me.  In the village, I would go topless and sometimes even strip naked to swim, until I reached puberty.  In town, I would cover up.  In the village, I became used to all the women around me baring their breasts to the sun, and wrapping their lava lavas (cloth sarongs) tightly around their waists.  In town, nobody wore lava lavas in public because they were considered akin to nightgowns.  In the village I went barefoot, even over where the reef was made jagged and treacherous from the surf.  In town, I wore flip flops.  It was no big deal, switching from one standard to the other.

One evening, I wrapped a clean lava lava around my waist in preparation for church.  I was experimenting with a new style of wrapping it, with the cloth gathered until it hit right above my knees, and then tucked in jauntily at my waist to create a bright waterfall of fabric down the side.  I liked the shortness, because I had discovered that just bringing the hemline up two inches, going from hitting just below the knee to just above it, made it much easier to move around, and my lava lava didn't get tangled up in my legs.  Shirtless, shoeless, and prayer book in hand, I set off to evening service.  

I wasn't five yards from my front door when an older girl stopped me.

"Don't wear your lava lava like that!"  she scolded.  "It's indecent!  Especially at church!!!   Lower it down so it covers your knees."  Appropriately chastised, I lowered my hemline and she moved on, shaking her head at my indiscretion.  

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Lately, I've been in a lot of discussions online around the topic of modesty.  They're usually on religious (read:  Christian) blogs, since it seems that other people really don't care about the issue as much as we do.  I think that, of course, everyone's entitled to their own opinion about the issue.  And really, it has to come down to personal opinion.  After all, even Webster defines 'modesty' as "Observing the proprieties of the sex; not unwomanly in act or bearing; free from undue familiarity, indecency, or lewdness; decent in speech and demeanor".  Who (or what), then, gets to define this propriety?  I think that each culture sets its own general standard, which probably evolves through time based mainly on climate and social anthropology.  And then that general standard becomes narrowly defined by each individual person, or people group (family, religious group, clan, etc).  

Like I said, this is all very well and good.  The problem comes in, I think, when people start equating modesty with Godly righteousness.  They use the term, 'biblical modesty', and quote Scriptures to support their assertions that women should cover their bodies in a certain way.  

I have a big problem with this.  I think these people, although well-intentioned, are completely misreading those infamous 'modesty passages'.  What passages am I talking about here?  The favorite seems to be: 

Likewise, I want women to adorn themselves with proper clothing, modestly and discreetly, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly garments, but rather by means of good works, as is proper for women making a claim to godliness.  1 Timothy 2: 9 - 10

I would add the sister verses 1 Peter 3:3 - 4, in which the apostle Peter addresses the same type of issues that Paul did in his letter to Timothy.  Peter says:

Your adornment must not be merely external - braiding the hair, and wearing gold jewelry, or putting on dresses; but let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God.

What both apostles are talking about here is not hemlines, or how tightly clothing clings to a woman's form ... they're talking about good works, flowing from a heart submitted to God.  This supports what did Christ Himself taught (as it should - Scripture should agree with Scripture)  He didn't lay down lists of rules.  Instead, He reiterated time and again that it's not what's on the outside that matters to God - it's what's on the inside.  

"You think you're OK if you don't commit murder?"  Jesus asked.  "I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to the judgement."  

"You think you've fulfilled the requirements of the law by not committing adultery?  .... But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart."  

This is something I'm finding to be true time and again as I study the Scriptures.  Man looks at the outward appearance.  But the Lord looks at the heart. 

Going back to 'modesty'.  I find it interesting that the definition I quoted above from Webster is actually the secondary definition for the word.  The first definition is, "Restraining within due limits of propriety; not forward, bold, boastful, or presumptuous; rather retiring than pushing one's self forward; not obstructive".

Interesting, right?  Sounds like what both Peter and Paul were getting at when describing the behavior of a Godly woman.  

One last definition to throw out, and this is, I think, the most important of all.  It is the definition of the original Greek word, translated in our English bibles as 'modest', that Paul used when he wrote his letter to Timothy - 'aidos'.  It means, "a sense of shame or honour, modesty, bashfulness, reverence, regard for others, respect".  (If you're interested in where I found this, or in doing further study on your own, check out www.blueletterbible.org.  It's a wonderful resource for bible study.)

Peter and Paul weren't talking about women dressing their bodies in such a way as to cause the men around them to think lustful thoughts.  They were describing to new Christians, who were living during the infancy of Christianity, what defines a Godly woman.  Should it surprise anyone that the majority of women back then were much the same as the majority of women today?  We love our elaborate hair styles, and cute jewelry, and hard-to-get handbags, and status phones.  But the apostles said, in their letters to the churches, that Christian women weren't supposed to be about that.  We're supposed to be about good works, flowing out of submissive hearts that aren't proud, but are rather humble.  

Go ahead and read all the passages the purity advocates throw out to back up their positions on hemlines and bathing suits, and this time, read them with a new lens.  Read them with the lens of grace and truth that Christ brought to the Jews' strict interpretation of the Law, remembering that always, man may care about the outward appearance, but the Lord cares about the heart.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

A Love Worth Waiting For

It was my first semester at Texas Tech.  I was fresh out of high school, and intoxicated with the freedom of dorm living.

I found a church easily, because my roommate, someone I knew from our high school youth group back home, suggested the Baptist church with the big college service.  I loved it from the get go, with its edgy preacher who talked about sex from the pulpit, and the loud praise and worship band.  One of the girls who sang in the band lived a floor below me in my dorm.  We struck up a friendship over a couple of meals shared at a little corner table in the dining hall, and soon Tamera became my ride to church.  

One Sunday, as we met in the lobby and walked out under the stately arch that framed the dorm's heavy front doors, she said to me, "Hey, I'm going to pick up an RA from Sneed Hall.  He asked me at work the other day if I would give him a ride to church this Sunday."  Tamera worked in the office at another dorm, this one all male.  

Of course, I perked up.  Being 18 and new on campus, boys were never far from my mind.  And this one was an RA, implying that he was at least a year above me.  Oh yeah, baby.  

We pulled up in front of Sneed.  The three story dorm is set back a quarter of an acre from the road.  It has a long, winding pathway of red brick leading through grass and around elm trees towards its corniced entryway, which is twin to our, all female, dorm.  A young man was leaning against one of the square, stone columns that flanked the doors, and as we came to a stop at the curb, he pushed himself off and headed towards us across the green.

From my place riding shotgun, I straightened my back and gave my curls a preparatory scrunch.  He opened the passenger door, and as he slid onto the seat behind me, I turned slightly and cast a coquettish look over my shoulder at him.  This look, I knew from experience, was as effective as tossing a baited hook into a koi pond.  

Except that he ignored me.  I watched, a little insulted, as he settled his wide frame into the seat and placed his bible beside him.  His eyes were deep set and long lashed, and they were turned on my friend.  "Thanks for the ride," he said quietly.  

"Oh, you're welcome!  This is Danica, by the way.  She's from my dorm."

I settled my face again and gave him a smile.  He glanced at me. 

"Hey."

Um, that was it?  Really?  Whatever, I thought to myself.  There are plenty of fish in the sea.  Miffed, I turned myself around and focused on chatting with my friend for the rest of the ride.  

The quiet young man became part of our circle of friends, and soon he, Tamera and I would go to football games, or ride together to meet everyone at Chili's after church.  He didn't really say much, but was very earnest, and seemed to spend most of his time inside himself, watching the world from within an impenetrable psychic shell.  We became friends.  

When December rolled around, Tamera began to talk excitedly about the university's annual Carol of Lights.  Apparently, all the architecture would be outlined in red, yellow and orange Christmas lights (and in fact, I had already observed crews on scaffolding busy around campus doing just that), and then there would be a big ceremony, on a Friday night, with lots of singing, with the grand finale being all the lights turning on at once.  

"But I can't go with you to watch,"  she informed me over our chicken lo mein (it was Chinese night in the dining hall).  "I sing in the choir, so I'll be up on the platform.  But I told him that you were going, so he wouldn't have to go alone.  Can you just meet him here, and then you guys can walk over to where the Carol will be?"  'Him' being Mr. Psychic Shell.  

"Sure,"  I replied, and she let me know the exact time and place she had already discussed with him.  

On the night of the Carol of Lights, my friend Maren, Maren's boyfriend Chad, and I, waited in our dorm's lobby.  At the last minute, Maren remembered she needed something from her room.  "I'll just be a second!"  she called over her shoulder as she leaped back up the stairs, taking them two at a time.  Chad and I chatted until cold air wafting towards us made us aware that the outside door had been opened, and someone had come into the room.

"Oh, hey!"  His broad shoulders were hunched against the bite in the air, and I noticed that his nose was red at its tip.  He thrust his hands into his pockets and as his gaze swung from me, to Chad, and then back to me again, I had a sudden, intense desire to explain.  "Oh, uh, hey, this is Chad.  Have you met Chad?  Chad is Maren's ... boyfriend.  Chad, meet ... "

The guys shook hands as Maren appeared in the doorway.  "Ready?"  she said brightly.  

The Carol of Lights was absolutely magical.  Most memorable, was the rendition of O Holy Night, sung in soul shuddering tenor by one of the university's music professors.  After many Christmas carols, Feliz Navidad, and a procession by the school's male spirit squad led by Raider Red himself, a hush grew over the crowd.  When it had reached its deepest, there was a sudden fanfare, and on cue, thousands of tiny lights leaped into existence.  

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It was as if we were suddenly transported from a college campus, into an exquisite fairy land.  Every artifice, moulding, window, door and tower was outlined in yellow, red and orange pin pricks.  The crowd drew a collective gasp.  I was speechless.  It was a moment I will remember for the rest of my life.

Maren and Chad had wandered away some time after the Mariachi band started playing, so the two of us made our way slowly through the dispersing crowd.  I wasn't ready to go home.

"There's supposed to be a parade after the ceremony.  You want to go watch it?"  The thousands of Christmas lights cast a dim glow that reached us even where we stood, and looking up at his face, I could see how the cut of his jaw brushed his upturned coat collar.  

"Sure.  I'd like that,"  I answered.  We meandered back across the commons, and found a spot on the curb right outside of his dorm, almost the same spot Tamera and I had parked that first Sunday morning I met him, months ago.  

My sweater, which had seemed almost too warm back in the dorm, was by now testifying to my inexperience at dressing for cold weather.  As we stood waiting for the parade to start, I shivered and pulled my arms around myself.  

He noticed right away.  "Are you cold?"

"Oh, I'm OK.  It's just, I didn't think to wear my jacket, and ..."

He was already shrugging out of his coat.  "Here, wear mine."

"Are you sure?  I'll really be OK, I just - "

"No, it's fine.  Look, I can run up to my room real quick and get another one for myself."  

"Oh, OK, well, thanks ... "  I took the coat and he turned toward the lit up dorm behind us.  As I slid my arms into the over sized sleeves, already toasty from his body heat, I watched him sprint up the walk towards Sneed Hall.  

This man wasn't walking, or even hurrying towards the building - he was running.  Sprinting.  Like he didn't want to miss a second.  Like the most important thing in the world was for him to get his coat, and then get back to me.  

And as I stood there on the dark curb, my hands tucked into the borrowed coat's sleeves, Christmas lights glittering in a fairy land around me, something warm sparked in my heart, and I decided that any man in that much of a hurry to get back to me, was worth waiting for. 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

A year and a half later, I married that man.  And last Sunday, we celebrated our 12th wedding anniversary.  Happy Anniversary, Scott.  You're the love of my life.