Wednesday, August 28, 2013

How it all began...

This is a total blog cheat.  As in it's a complete repost.  But I believe that just as it is good for us to share how God has moved in our lives so that we can encourage one another and remember what is true, it is also good for me to remember what exactly it was that happened that brought me to Sloan and have me sitting in my kitchen on our 9th anniversary a little confused as to how I have 4 kids 6 and under.

So here it is...
May 4, 2003  (Actual entry from my journal)
Lord, help me to be patient.  Forgive me for thinking it's all about me.  Thank you that it's not.  Lord, I do so want to be married—to love and be loved in a tangible way.  Forgive my constant discontent.  Forgiving me for seeing this week as a week to find a man rather than to learn more about You.  Redeem my heart and thoughts.  Thank you that even my sorry, misguided motivations are a reflection of your continued wooing of my wayward heart.
But really, God, as I pray for a husband and reflect upon the men you HAVE brought into my life, I figured it might be helpful if You I at least knew what I was looking for. 
·         Non-negotiable items:  A man after God’s own heart… (Except without the whole David adultery/murder thing)
·         Primary Desires (aka…what I’m really looking for):
o   Funny
o   Tall
o   Good looking
o   Easy Going
o   Intelligent
o   Gentle
o   Passionate (about something, anything, me)
·         While I’m asking you might as well know this is what I want, but I realize that it is not a perfect world:
o   Wealthy
o   Athletic
o   Good cook
o   Nice butt
o   Likes to travel
o   Parents still married to one another
I may have repented of viewing the week as an opportunity to meet men, but let’s be clear, I still viewed it as a way to meet men.  In light of this, signing up to take pottery and scrapbooking were a poor choice.  But there were some times we were all together to play games, worship, and just mill about.  
Lee was tall and had a mop of curly light brown hair.  And when I say he was tall, I mean T.A.L.L.  Like NBA tall.  Point and stare tall.  But he spoke with a sweet Southern twang and often talked about the kids he coached on a basketball team at the Y in Suffolk, VA.  I noted that Suffolk is about an hour’s drive from Richmond.  Completely reasonable distance.  With one glance, I noted that Lee did not wear a wedding ring, and that empty ring finger totally seemed to cancel out his giant-ness.
There was also Scott.  Scott was boyishly handsome.  He had a goatee, long brown hair (which he was growing out for locks for love---AWWW!), and played the guitar.  He was a youth pastor in Florida.  Also no wedding ring.  But Florida?  That’s a long way off.  But, Scott had the bonus of palling around with my friend from high school, Grier, and her husband, the uber handsome but wedding ringed, Rich.  Scott seemed like a possibility as I could get to know him while “reconnecting” with an old friend.  
And then there was this other guy.  I never could really catch his name.  He was tall, had dimples, wore a Gamecocks baseball hat, but didn’t seem to really be there for any reason.  From what I could gather, he wasn’t a Pastor of any kind.  He didn’t know anyone I knew, he didn’t stand up and talk about Jesus or working with kids, and I couldn’t quite tell whether the ring on his left hand was a wedding ring or a class ring.  But he seemed to work the meeting rooms with ease, gliding in and out of conversations.  He also was followed around by this dumpy, albeit busty, girl named Jamie.  Oh, and this guy had a breathtaking heiny.
 And while I’m a sucker for a guy with a good Matthew McConaughy accent, and completely a sucker for a guy who can play the guitar (and let’s be honest, were Matthew McConaughy ever to play the guitar and sing to me I’d probably explode), there was something about this guy with the dimples, nice butt, and salt and pepper hair that I just couldn’t shake.  (Or maybe that I wanted to shake?)
I followed  “the Butt” around, eavesdropping on conversations.  I was stealth.  If he was playing washers in the lobby, I brought my book to a nearby couch.  If he was playing cards at a table, once again, my trusty journal and moved.  It may have appeared that I was being very studious.  False.  I was being a spy.  
My first lesson was that the Butt was sarcastic.  And, quite possibly, a complete jerk. There were all these college aged girls who were there and they were wearing their sorority letters.  Somehow it got out that I used to be in the same sorority that they now were in and they wanted to do the handshake and all that jazz.  Apparently, they did not get the “I’m reading my Bible and learning to serve Jesus and am too cool for sorority crap now” memo.  They were also drawing way to much attention to my sleuth-ness and I didn’t want to be made.  The Butt was apparently friends with one of these Zetas.  His first words to me were, “Dude, build a bridge and get over it.  Why you gotta be a Zeta hater?”  
I sunk into the chair and pulled my journal up to my eyes.  I wanted to die.  I retreated into the anonymity of my hooded sweatshirt.  Great.  The guy with the nice butt who may or may not be married and is being chased around by that frump-a-dump  thinks I’m a total no-fun wench.  Suh-weet.
After more reconnaissance work, I garnered the following information:  his name was Sloan (a girl’s name really), he lived in Florida (boo!), he owned a Tuxedo (bonus!), he owned several pairs of cufflinks (not really helpful information in the least), had a degree in Hotel-Restaurant Management from the University of Houston (Go Cougars?),  and presently lived with his 95 year old grandmother (Awww!).  It  was also clear that this Jamie chick was smitten.  I couldn’t tell if Sloan was aware of this at all.  But there were two things I was sure about:  I wanted to get to know Sloan but I sure as heck was not about to chase him around or fight this short girl for him.  Spying in a hoody notwithstanding, I did have my dignity.
When I wasn’t spying on Sloan, I was not having the pottery experience I had envisioned.  I considered myself artsy.  So I expected to, upon my first time astride the pottery wheel, create magic.  (Perhaps I also had visions of Patrick Swayze?)  But I couldn’t even center the clay correctly.  You were supposed to slap it down in the middle of the wheel, wet your hands, then crank the wheel, all whilst holding your hands firm and still.  The swift whir of the wheel and the constant pressure of my hands were supposed to form the clay into a cone.  When it was a smooth cone, you were supposed to simply put your thumb in the middle, slowly pull up on the sides, and voila!  You have a vase! 
Um, yeah, not so much.
I couldn’t even slap my ball of mud down on the wheel correctly.  Nor could I steady my hands properly.  I was trying to steady my elbows on my knees, hunch over the wheel, and will the clay to center.  But my boobs kept getting in the way and my hair kept falling in my face.  So I would put my hair behind my ears, getting clay on my face and hair, meanwhile, my lump of clay would go all wonky and once, defying all odds and the forces of gravity, flew across the pottery porch.  (It actually was a screened in porch overlooking a lake.  Imagine if Christians went to the camp featured in Dirty Dancing.  You now have an accurate picture of Montreat.) 
My instructor Anne kept telling me to be patient.  To be willing to mess up.  To not worry about what it looked like but to risk it going wonky.  She reminded me that even once the clay was brittle, right up until it was placed in the kiln, it could be dunked back in the water and made new.  It could be reborn over and over and over. 
“Are you talking about this clay or my heart?” I asked. 
Anne laughed.  “Both, I suppose.  But either way, nothing will be made if you don’t get the wheel going.  Be brave! Be bold!  And for goodness sakes, relax.” 
By Wednesday, with half the pottery class having already finished their beautiful communion sets and me with one little puny cup, I was weary.  Sweaty, covered in clay, I forgot to take my apron off as I walked back to Assembly Inn.  As I crossed the road, my buddy Grier’s Volvo station wagon pulled up.  Her husband, Rich, was behind the wheel. 
“You look like you need a beer,” he said.
“You have no clue,” I replied.
From the passenger seat, Grier chirped, “Hop in!  We’re going to a bar in Black Mountain!” 
And so without even caring that I was smelly and literally covered in mud, I slid into their backseat.  Next to Scott.  Hmmmm…..
Over beers and games of darts, we hung out at The Watershed.   Rich, Grier, and Scott were three peas in a fundamentally Liberal pod.  While I would have been content to drink my beer discussing music or pop culture, the three began discussing their disdain for President Bush and the war in Afghanistan.  I’ll be the first to say I’ve had many a political discussion with Rich and Grier, usually over a glass of wine  and with them it is no big deal.  Yes, they are certain that George W. Bush is the second cousin of Satan and that if you don’t recycle you might burn in hell (actually, I don’t think they believe in hell…), but they also are genuinely open-minded--willing to listen to the other side of an argument, able to point out areas of agreement and the like, and actually able to laugh about our differences of opinion.  And my political leanings are far more middle of the road than theirs.  Scott was pretty certain that the genocide in Darfur and the war in Afghanistan were President Bush’s fault, and the fault of people who drive gas guzzlers.   
I told him that my Jeep Grand Cherokee handed brilliantly in the snow.  
Needless to say, it was not a love connection.  (Though he did end up moving to my hometown and marrying a girl with whom I went to high school.)
But at least I now knew where the nearest bar was.  Always important.
By Thursday morning, I decided it was now or never in terms of getting to know Sloan.  There was just something about him.  I wanted to know him.  And be known by him.  I didn’t need it need it necessarily to be romantic, but I could just sense that behind his gregarious personality was a depth.  Perhaps I saw a bit of myself in him. 
That evening, there was a square dance.  (This is a church camp.  Of course there was a square dance!)  I borrowed my roommate’s blow dryer and straightened my hair.  I borrowed make up.  Why I didn’t bring a blow dryer or make up to a week where I was so obviously going to be spending my time chasing boys is beyond me.  I wore my one shirt that had a collar.  I had, in fact, packed it for the square dance.  Embarrassingly, it was a cowboy type shirt.  Pink and brown paisley, complete with pearly snap buttons on the flap pockets across my chest.  Not really a man catcher shirt, unless you counted that it DID sometimes unsnap. 
I did not see Sloan at the square dance.  I got up and went to the bathroom so I’d have reason to scan the entire barn.  If he had been there and noticed me, he would have thought I had a bladder problem.
After the disappointing square dance, there was a party.  The kind of party that churchy types throw with the intent of it being mimicked by youth groups.  There was some sort of magic carpet ride optical illusion.  It was hailed as the coolest thing I’d ever see.  
It was not.   
After exiting the ‘magic’ carpet ride, I sighed and said, not really to anyone, “Oh my gosh, I don’t think I can handle Jesus camp anymore.  Anybody want to go get a martini?”
“Dear Lord, yes,” someone behind me replied, “but I don’t have a car .”
I turned.  It was Sloan.  I tried not to pee in my pants.  I offered my Jeep, and, in fact, made him drive to The Watershed.  And in my CD player was probably the worst ever music for a guy to hear in the car of a girl he just met—Liz Phair.  And not new pop Liz Phair.  But old, folky, man-hating Liz Phair.
To add insult to injury, we arrived at the Watershed to be told that we were in a dry county.  The bar served beer, but no booze.  I would not be having a martini.  We ordered 2 draft beers. 
In the dimly lit bar, we took opposite sides in a booth.  And as I drank my liquid courage, it dawned on me that this was a date.  Not any date I would’ve planned on purpose, mind you, what with me wearing an Xrated cowboy shirt, someone else’s make-up, and in a dry county no less. 
Perhaps it was in acknowledgement of this date’s badness, but we began to spar with one another about our unfitness to actually be on a date.  I told him I hadn’t been on a date in over a year.  He confessed he was unemployed.  I just recently moved out from living with my sister and her five kids.  He lived with his elderly grandmother.  I’d fallen in love with the wrong guy and moved to Colorado to find myself and didn’t find jack.  Subsequently, I’d instated the 3 date rule.  If I didn’t know you were “the one” by date three, I was moving on.  He had been married before.  I was tired of just hooking up.  I wasn’t in middle school: I didn’t need to kiss to figure out how to do it or pass the time.  The next guy I kissed would be my husband. 
Looking back, I think the only thing that was normal about our first date conversation was that every time he smiled, I blushed.  I couldn’t help it.  My stomach was in a knot.  I felt as though I was living an episode of The Wonder Years, and I was the Kevin Arnold to his Winnie Cooper.  Had I been watching this conversation occur on television, I’d be yelling at my screen self to shut up already and button my shirt. 
I told him how I had always been best friends with the popular girls, but not really popular myself.   
He found this hard to believe. 
“No really.  I was the one who the guys came to for advice.  How can I date Meg?  Do you think I have a chance with Dana? I was always the buddy to guys, never the date.  Or if I was the date, I was the girl you could ask if no one else could go.  We’d have a blast, but I’d know you really were looking for someone else.”
He readjusted his baseball cap and tilted his head.  “Hmmm…I’m pretty sure I’d look for you first.”
I shook my head.  “You’ve never seen Meg, Kate, Dana, or Beth.” 
“I don’t need to,” he said.  “I see you.” 
Wait,  What?  Was I the Winnie Cooper here?
I excused myself and went to the bathroom.  Resting my hands on either side of the small sink, I looked in the mirror to see if I could see what Sloan was talking about.  Sweat was beading on my forehead.  I pulled my shirt away from my body, trying to fan myself.  Of course, all my snaps busted.  It made no sense.  This guy lived 600 miles way.  What was I doing?  What was he doing?   
What in the freaking world was God doing?
I returned to the booth and I’m fairly certain I just sat there staring at him.  His blue-green eyes, his wasted on a man super-long eye lashes, his dimples. I watched his lips moving and I imagined shutting him up by leaning across the table to kiss him. 
“Elizabeth,” he said again.  “What is that look?”
Um, it’s my please shut up and kiss me look.  “What are you talking about?”
“I don’t know.  It’s nothing.  Just no one has ever looked at me like that before.  It’s not a bad thing.”
“Well, I don’t know what you’re talking about.”  The bartender warned us it was last call.  We’d been sitting in that booth 5 hours.
He drove us back to Assembly Inn, listening to more man hating, foul mouthed Liz Phair.  I knew it was late, but I didn’t want to go inside.  I didn’t want the night to be over and for tomorrow to go back to normal, me chasing him around while he chatted with that Jamie chick.  I wanted to keep looking at him.  He held my hand as we walked across the parking lot and back to the Inn.  It was all I could do to not skip from excitement, pee in my pants, vomit from nervousness and pounce on him all at the same time.   About 10 feet from the door I declared, “I’m not tired.  I’m not ready to go in yet.”  
Praise God he received this invitation as it was intended.  He leaned down to kiss me.  I was self-conscious because I’d been drinking and was cotton mouthed.  In addition, it had been awhile since I’d kissed anyone.  My legs shook and I laughed.
“That’s not the response I was hoping for,” he said.
I felt horrible.  “No, no.  It’s not you.  I’m just nervous.  None of this makes any sense to me.”  Didn’t I just tell this guy that the next guy I kiss is going to be my husband?  Argh.
We walked from the brightly lit parking lot to a picturesque gazebo next to the pond.  Yes; there was a gazebo, by a pond.  Complete with swans swimming.  It was idyllic and romantic, save for every few minutes the swans would make these strange noises and water would shoot up behind them.
“What is that?” Sloan asked.
Giggling, I said, “I think the swans are farting.”
“I don’t think swans do that,” he replied.
“No, I’m pretty sure all animals fart.  I mean, all animals poop.”  Dear God, Elizabeth!  What is your problem?  I’m pretty sure you’re not supposed to talk about farts and poop on a date! 
I was cold and he gave me his shirt, leaving him just in an undershirt.  He shoved his hands deep into the pockets of his jeans.  I could tell he was cold as well, so I put my arms around him.  We kissed again and once again, I laughed. 
I apologized.  “No, really.  It’s not you.  I’m a nervous laugher.  When I get too much of any one emotion, my body’s response is to laugh.  I’ve laughed at a funeral before.  It’s just a release I guess.”
“Oh-kay?”  He didn’t sound convinced.  But he didn’t stop kissing me either.
I told him that my biggest fear was that he’d tell me “we’d always have Montreat.”  That this night, with its nervous confessions and gazebo kissing, would just be some romantic summer camp moment.  But that I sensed it meant more. However, I also was aware that he lived in Florida and I lived in Virginia. 
He didn’t say much, except as the sky began to pink with dawn, he told me he’d look for me.  “I’ll look for you at breakfast.  Or really, whenever I enter a room, I’ll look for you first.”
I made certain to be at breakfast first.  I didn’t want to have to awkwardly want to sit next to him only there be no room.  And what if he didn’t save a seat for me?  I saw Grier and Rich in the breakfast line.
“Hey,” Grier said.  “I looked for you last night.  Where did you run off to?”
My eyes grew wide.  “Oh my gosh, I need to tell someone.  Sloan and I went to the Watershed and I felt like I was in middle school and I was so nervous and I made him listen to Liz Phair and then we kissed in the Gazebo and I laughed and there were farting swans and he said he’d look for me first and I think I might be in love with him.”  I breathed. 
Wait.  What did I just say?  Did I just say I was in love with him?
“Really?” Rich asked.  “Sloan?” 
I was still in shock with what I’d just admitted.  We sat at a table.  Within minutes, Sloan entered the room.  “Oh dear God,” I said.  “Grier, pretend we are deep in conversation.  We are deep in conversation…”
“We are deep in conversation, “ she said back to me without missing a beat.
Still looking at Grier, I said, “Now, Rich, tell me, without actually looking at him, what is he doing?”
“He’s looking around.  Well, actually, I think he was looking for you because he’s walking over here.”
Oh. Dear. God.
That afternoon’s pottery class everyone else was oohing and ahhing over their beautiful things they’d sculpted, caressed, and created.  We were sifting through things that had been fired.  I had made a sad little communion set—the chalice about the size of shot glass atop a poorly constructed stem, and a platter large enough for a dinner roll.  It looked like something a 5th grader would make for Mother’s Day. 
Anne encouraged me to sit at the wheel again.  But my mind was everywhere.  I was upset about my stupid communion set.  I was confused about Sloan.  I was scared about Sloan.  Scared that what I’d said to Rich and Grier was true.  I’d already fallen in love with the wrong guy before and had sworn to myself that wouldn’t happen again.  I was too old.  I didn’t have it in me.  Hence, the three date rule.
Anne and I sat across from one another at a pottery wheel.  “Okay, Elizabeth.  I’m not going to let you leave my studio so downhearted.  We’re beginning again.  Let’s throw some clay down onto the bat.  Now close your eyes.”
I hesitated.  “If I can’t center it with my eyes opened, how am I supposed to do it with my eyes closed?” 
“YOU aren’t going to center it.  You can’t.  You are going to remain still.  The wheel is going to center it.” 
I put my clay on the bat.  I closed my eyes.  I felt Anne’s hands atop mine.  “OK, Elizabeth, with your foot, start the wheel.”
This is ridiculous.  It’s just pottery.  Who cares if I can’t throw a pot?  I pressed the pedal.  Barely.
Anne, said, “That’s it.  But we need more speed.  And more water.  You crank up the speed, I’ll get the water.  Don’t move your hands.  Just rest.  Let the wheel do the work.  Don’t be afraid of messing up.  Don’t be afraid of the what if?  You must have faith that the wheel will do its work.  You must have faith that my hands will not leave yours.  And for goodness sake, crank the wheel.  If you do nothing, nothing will happen.”
Through my closed eyes, I began to cry.  I could feel the clay beneath my hands.  Wet.  Firm.  Centered.  From time to time, I’d feel more water flow down my fingers. 
“Okay, Elizabeth.  We are going to begin to pull up.  Slowly.  Allow my hands to lead your hands, and yet, above all, you needn’t move much.  Once again, let the wheel do the work.”
I felt her fingers gently press down on my fingers, slowly turning my centered ball into something.  I opened my eyes.  My eyelashes were stuck together.  Through tears I looked at Anne. She was smiling, intently looking at what we were creating.   I don’t think I even thought to look down at what we were making.
And I knew. 
I knew it was risky to love Sloan, but that without a doubt I did.  It made absolutely no sense, except for the fact I was certain God had His hands on mine.  If I just sat there, doing nothing, nothing would happen.  But if I trusted.  If I trusted.  Perhaps Sloan wasn’t the one, but he really wasn’t the One I was being asked to give my heart to. 
“Look,” Anne said.  “Look at what you made because you trusted the wheel do its work.”
I looked down.  It was lovely.  A vase.  It had a wide bottom and thin sides that fluted ever so slightly at the top.  The perfect size for pencils, or kitchen utensils, or a loose bouquet of yard flowers.
“But I won’t be able to finish it myself.  It’s the last day,” I said, crestfallen.
“Let me finish it.  I’ll glaze it for you and you can get it the next time you come to Montreat.”
I would come back to Montreat.  If only to pick up this pottery.  My little monument to trusting God, and subsequently Sloan, with my heart.
That evening, we had our final worship service.  I’d looked for Sloan everywhere, but once again couldn’t find him.  Someone told me he’d gone to Black Mountain for dinner with one of the people from his youth team.  The speaker was discussing how everyone always pictured Jesus as a”nice guy”, but that Jesus was more.  That He often entered into people’s temples, meaning their hearts, and tossed the tables around.  That Jesus walked alongside us when we were blind, and opened our eyes to His mercy and grace.  We were asked to pair up and walk around the room, then come take communion.  We were to discuss with our communion partner what tables had been turned and how our eyes had been opened during the week.  I felt someone behind me grab my hand. 
I turned.  It was Sloan.
We walked in silence, staring at each other.  I remembered what I had prayed for earlier in the week and recognized, in shock, that God had actually heard my prayers.  It was too much.  We approached the celebrant reverently.  We were before the youth pastor that had encouraged Sloan to come on this trip as a preamble to his helping out with the Youth at his church. 
“Come and see that the Lord is good, “she said. 
The Lord is good, indeed.
It was the last night of the conference.  Some people had packed up already and were leaving.  Everyone was in the common room, laughing, playing washers.  Rich and Scott were playing their guitars and people were singing.
“I need to talk to you,” Sloan said to me.  It sounded ominous.  If he told me “we’d always have Montreat” like I was some summer camp girlfriend I was going to throw up. 
I had much to say as well, and so we meandered around the Inn, hand in hand, looking for somewhere quiet.   Along a corridor, we saw an empty room.  Its occupants had left the conference early.
“I know it’s a bit inappropriate, but I really don’t see anywhere else.  You wanna just go in there?”  Sloan timidly motioned to the door.
“No, it’s fine,” I said.  It seemed like the most natural thing in the world to be doing.
We each sat on one of the double beds, facing each other.
“I need to tell you something,” I blurted out.  “I think you’re the person I’ve been praying for.”
His eyebrows furrowed.  “What?” 
“And I think you’re the person my parents have been praying for my entire life.”  This seemed safer than just confessing that I’d fallen love with him and was pretty certain he was the man I was going to marry. 
“Ummm, what?”
Perhaps not actually safer.  Perhaps a little creepy.  I jostled my knees up and down as I sat on the edge of the bed.  “Ummm, I think you are the man my parents have been praying for?”
“I don’t follow,” Sloan responded.
Dear God, this isn’t better.  “Well, my parents have been praying for me to meet the right guy since I was born.”  Please do not make me explain it any more clearly.  I will probably explode.  As it is, I might pee myself. 
“Oh-kaaay?  That’s.  Kind of.  Weird?” 
“You have no idea,” I countered. 
He sat next to me.  He took one of my hands in his and placed his other hand on my knee.  Dear God, please don’t let me pee myself when his hand is on my leg!  He leaned in to kiss me, and as his face was inches from mine, he whispered, “I know this makes no sense, but I am in love with you.  Hopelessly.”
I began to cry.  I was unexpectedly aware of God’s love for me as when Sloan’s lips touched mine.  All those years whining about being single.  Those countless prayer requests to friends, “Please bring me a boyfriend!”  The laundry list of things I wanted in a mate.  And God had heard my prayers and dreams and had, in Sloan, said to me, “You have not dreamed big enough.  You have sold my love for you short.”  God had not simply brought me someone.  He had, in fact, created each of us with the other in mind. 
And here we were, in a dimly lit room, nervous knees touching, kissing. 
Sloan pulled back, and looked at me.  He was waiting for me to say something in response.  I wanted to shout at him, “Yes!  I love you too!  I have loved you since you first called me a Zeta hater, but I was scared and then God gave me courage!”  But I did not want him to think I was telling him I loved him simply because he said it to me.  So instead, perhaps because I’m an idiot, I said, “Thank you.”
He sighed, falling back onto the bed. I turned to look at him.  His eyes were closed and he’d taken off his ball cap.  It rested in his fingertips then fell to the floor.  I curled up in the crook of his chest and arm.  I could hear his heart quickly beating.  I traced his face gently with my finger—his eyebrow, his nose, his lips.  He opened his eyes and looked at me.
“I love you,” I whispered.  “And not I love you, too.  Just  I.  Love.  You.”                        
He closed his eyes again, smiling. 

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