Facebook friends have read this story already. For those of you who are not a part of the social networking site, I am excited to share the following story with you ...
|Claddagh Ring, Northern Ireland|
The difficulty in telling the story of Kirsten and James lies not in the lack of details to share. If anything, we suffer from an abundance of details that not only make our story interesting and memorable, but ultimately point to God’s hand drawing us together from the very beginning. And by beginning, I mean not only from our first meeting at Biola, but from our births and even further back into the glorious and infinitely creative mind of God.
When I tell people how our story has unfolded (so far), I say in one breath that if I had to write myself a love story, this – most emphatically – would not be it, and with the next I say this: I would not trade it for anything.
James and I knew each other at Biola. I came as a freshman in the fall of 1996 and I didn’t know another soul on campus. I was both excited about the fresh new beginning and deeply fearful of exactly the same thing. James was a transfer student from Central Christian College in Kansas and we knew each other through a mutual friend, Jesse. Jesse and I were in the same honors program and was James’s suitemate in the Sigma dorm.
While I would describe James as a friend in college, I probably would not describe him as a close friend. We had a class together my junior year and we both posted poetry to the online forum known as “Shred.” He came to visit one of the sessions of Torrey (the honors program) and recollects me saying something intelligent (all I remember is being so scared to death I would hardly talk). I remember having conversations at Common Grounds (the campus coffee shop), running into him periodically in the library or in other places around campus. James struck me as intelligent, devout, and serious. I remember thinking that he would make a good monk, but also being impressed with his sharp sense of humor.
I graduated in May of 2000 and moved back to Washington just a few days post-graduation. James and didn’t I exchange e-mail addresses or keep in touch, but I wondered about him from time to time. He wasn’t someone I could easily forget.
In the years the followed, I worked hard and re-established myself at my church and in my community. I went on a few dates here and there, but nothing became serious. They were few and far between.
And then came April of 2006. J asked me out and I said yes. It had seemed like forever since anyone had paid me any attention at all. The relationship was one that never should have been. He wasn’t a Christian and said he respected my views, but our time together bore out the truth that this was just lip service. Early on, he adored me and paid attention to me and held my hand. Even though I knew better, we stayed together for over a year, long after affection had waned into putting up with each other. We finally put an end to it mutually and amicably.
M came a little later and initially, seemed to be a better fit, being a person of faith. What started out as something that was fun and ripe with good conversation soon changed and became something else entirely. Though brief, the relationship hurt me bitterly. I was under constant and careful scrutiny, making me stressed and anxious. Every word I spoke, every move I made was called into question.
Between these relationships and meeting the men that I encountered in the course of my day-to-day, I became hardened and disillusioned. I almost always felt objectified and learned quickly that even the so-called “good ones” merely wanted to use me. Even when I told men explicitly I wasn’t interested, that I did not want to date them, this somehow was not understood or perceived as me offering them a challenge. One such individual asked me (after I said for the third time, “I do not want to date you,”), why I could not be clear with him. I wish I was making this up.
And so I told God I was done: I was going to stay single. I was not going to seek or pursue relationship. I never wanted to date again. Unless God intervened and made utterly and inexorably clear who the man would be I was to marry, I would spend my life as a single woman. I was content with this; I embraced it as an adventure and eagerly welcomed the possibility of what could happen when I pursued God first and wholeheartedly. I stopped looking and likewise did not care if I was looked at.
Along with my declaration to remain single, I asked God for what I would need if it ever became evident that I was to marry. If He willed it, I prayed for a love that would mirror Christ’s love for me and that the relationship would point to and glorify Him in every way. I knew that if I was to love anyone in the way I dreamed of, these are the things I would need. If I couldn’t give my heart completely, I was not going to give it at all. I knew that the things I prayed were impossible: totally, utterly, and completely impossible. My experiences had taught me that.
That was a little over a year ago.
It was on November 12, 2008 that I received James’s friend request on Facebook. I remembered who he was and accepted immediately. Having thought of him often over the previous eight and a half years, I wondered where he was and what he was up to. I learned that he had returned to Kansas. I also learned that not long before getting on Facebook, he had broken his neck. It was later that I learned that had it not been for the broken neck, a man who spent his days in farming and checking oil wells would not likely have gotten on Facebook at all.
A message thread went back and forth between us and we kept up a pace of a message a day for awhile before we arranged some phone time shortly after the Thanksgiving holiday. There was nothing remotely romantic about our Facebook e-mails, nor yet about our first couple of phone conversations. I encountered the man I remembered from Biola in those messages: someone who was deeply attuned to the spirit of God, someone who remembered some of the most finite details about our interactions from a decade or more ago, and someone who was profoundly intelligent. He was generous in his thoughts and speech, and he wanted to know the truth – the whole ugly, true, and sometimes uncomfortable truth. It was a relief to share these things with him and not to encounter judgment, but acceptance and love.
The messages continued and we arranged a second phone call. After this second conversation, I began to feel an interior shift that I did not expect. Given my resolve to remain single, given my year of telling men “no,” I didn’t expect to sense the “yes” that was rising up within me in response to James. It was profoundly inconvenient not only from my point of view, but I considered his as well. A vow he made to remain celibate – a vow only God could undo – was something I couldn’t easily forget when considering how I was going to handle this.
He requested my honesty and I could not hide it: on January 6, I told him how our conversations had changed me. I sensed in myself a healing I was not even aware I needed, I had experienced a love and embraced an altered and beautiful reality that I did not even know existed. My distrust of men subsided and eventually, disappeared. I saw in him someone who was not selfish, but only desired to know for sure that I was loved. I also told him of how sensed the “yes” in me; how I had become aware that my heart was not available to anyone else. To say this was humbling for me is as understated as it gets. Reminding me of his vow, he told me that any vow made to me would be worthless if he could so easily abandon a vow to God.
After that, I thought it was done. How could we speak as friends after that? But oddly, sharing the whole truth enabled me to let go. I could entrust James and our friendship to God, I could release it, take a deep breath, and move on. I prayed after that conversation and felt a burden lifted: I had spoken the truth, I had humbled myself, and now I could pick up where I had left off. I had the highest respect for him and did not seek to trespass upon any commitment he had made before God.
But I was surprised when our conversations continued. They resumed the friendly tone and the frequency we had had before. Things were back to normal, or so I thought. I had no idea at the time the intensity of tears and prayers that had followed that conversation for him. I was just relieved (from what I could see) to have things return to normal. In my prayers, I continued to thank God for him and his friendship, and I continued to release him into the care of the Father. So much beauty and healing continued to come from our friendship, and I was exceedingly thankful.
On the 15th of the month, I received a message from him in which he had shared with me the following:
And yet now I long to give myself to you completely and utterly, without fear. I long to have that hardness completely removed so that I can love you with the “epic” love I feel is longing to escape that softening heart.
I responded to him in kind, sharing that I wanted the same thing, but I did not understand fully at the time the kind of love he was speaking about. A week later, I learned the weight of it.
On January 22, I was sitting at my desk getting ready to lead a one-on-one training session at my desk in just half an hour. It was 7:30 in the morning. My phone buzzed and delighted, I opened the message I had received from James. I was not the least bit prepared for what I would receive:
I know you keep hearing about the love “you deserve”. In the end, I really don’t care about what you *deserve*--I love you the way God does: not according to what you *deserve*, but what you *need*. And I know that if you are anything like me, what you *need* will always *far exceed* what you *deserve*. Because there is no “what you deserve” in my love, there is no famed “deal-breaker”. You are My Love. Period. I love you. Period. My commitment to God on your behalf is total and complete—“unto the utter spending of my very self”.
I believe and know that who you are, at your very core, is perfect for me. I believe in our ability to connect at the deepest levels … I have been able to say to many people, “I love you—I would give my life *for* you.” But I have never before been able to say, to anyone else, “I love you—I would give my life *to* you.” This is the essential difference between “love” and “being in love”. I can not only say to you that “I love you”—but you are my unique one, the only one I have ever known to whom I can say “I am in love with you—I long to give myself to you … completely, utterly, and without fear. That is my heart.”
And that’s only some of what was written. I started hyperventilating. My heart was racing, my body shaking. A woman who sat in the neighboring desk asked repeatedly if I was alright. All I could manage was something like: "yeah ... yeah ...
And love began to grow from there.
We were speaking late in the evening on February 3 when his cell phone died and I couldn’t get a hold of him again. I left him a message on his phone telling him I loved him, sent him another via Facebook, and attempted to return to sleep. Before I fell asleep, I received this message from him in response:
I like you... a lot... and by like I mean adore... and by adore I mean adore completely... and by adore completely I mean I love you... and by I love you I mean I'm in love with you... and by I'm in love with you I mean I would give my life to you... and by I would give my life to you I mean if you don't marry me then please throw a 4-wheeler back on top of me and leave it there. :^\
And then he called, asking first if I was able to sleep (would you be able to?) and next when I wanted to get married. About an hour and a half of the next two hours we were on the phone were, for the most part, silent. We basked in the wonder of it, periodically laughing and only intermittently able to get any words out.
All this, still less than three months from the date we had initially reconnected on Facebook. Impossible, right? Less than three months. Two people who had committed to remain single and celibate. Two people who, somehow, were of the same mind and heart, who had embraced the same reality. Two people who hadn’t seen each other in nearly nine years, who had never touched or kissed. Two people who had come to realize that they were, in fact, made for and perfect for one another. Two people whose story is impossible, whose story points to a God who is insanely and ridiculously lavish in His love. Two people who have no fears, no doubts, and no hesitations on the matter.
We know this is crazy from a worldly point of view. “Crazy” is a word that is used frequently in our conversations. And we understand those who express concern and urge caution. But seen through the eyes of faith, seeing the width and breadth and depth of the truth we’re living in, all we can do is embrace it with humility and thank God for what He’s given to us both.
Given the length of this note, it may be difficult to believe that I’ve left out quite a bit of detail and several things that have stunned us and those around us. It is extraordinary to recall our time together at Biola and to be reminded of things that in retrospect point to the love we’ve embraced. It’s beautiful to experience a growing oneness between us, to find that even separated, our prayers are the same. It is our desire to continue in obedience and to see our lives point to the One who made our impossible love possible.
Hmm. I love that man something ridiculous.