“Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” 1 John 4:8
How do I even begin to describe the events of the past week, past months, and past three years of my life? As I’ve been pondering this question, one starting point involves the title of a book (I know you’re shocked that I’m using book references, right?!) Although I have not read this book, the title alone is so descriptive of our testimony; it’s called, “When God Writes Your Love Story.” The story is far too grand not to share, and Courtney did such a wonderful job of sharing her end. Now I face the daunting task of trying to interweave my own account – an account that only God Himself could have conceived that spans two years of selfishness, spiritual pride, blind eyes, and an 11,000 mile journey away from home before I could clearly see it.
As I begin, I confess that words truly fail to aptly contain all the meanings associated with our account. So many of the ways that I have interpreted to be the Holy Spirit’s whispers can easily be seen as other emotions and circumstances; however, the purpose of this writing is not one of justification – that task alone falls in the hands of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Still, I want to make that clarification from the outset. Without further ado, let me try to start from the beginning.
Courtney and I met three years ago at Tennessee Tech University. She was moving into the dorms as a freshman, and I was there as a sophomore. You could say that she left me speechless on our first meeting (quite literally – I was sick with a virus and my voice was not functioning at all; I could barely get any sounds out!) It did not take long into the semester for me to see that this was someone I wanted to get to know on a much deeper basis, and that was quite a big deal considering that I had never dated anyone before. What’s amazing from the beginning is that God used death to create the life of our relationship. You see, one of the events that caused us to spend a lot of time together and brought us closer was the death of a friend Courtney had from church. As she went through her grieving process, I tried to be there for her in prayer and support. Not long after, things became official between us.
All was well for many months, and both of us began to sense that God could have marriage in our future. As a symbol of commitment to that, I gave her a “promise ring,” or “pre-engagement ring” as some people call it. It probably doesn’t make much sense, then, when I say next that I decided to break up with Courtney the fall of my junior year. This begs the question of, “why,” and to be honest it took me at least a year and a half to really work through that answer. Initially I would have told you that it was personality clashes, frustrations coming from her, an inability to meet the expectations I thought she had… Courtney this… and Courtney that… and then BAM! God used many different circumstances in my life long after the fact to show me how foolish I had been. Really, so many of the root problems had to do with ME. In my selfish pride, I didn’t understand the idea of preparing myself to give my life for a future spouse as Christ did for the church. I thought I was ready for marriage, but in no way was I actually in a position to assume spiritual leadership for a new family. And, honestly, I think there was a bit of fear mixed into that as well. Oh how clearly the night that I broke up with her is emblazoned in my mind as I felt a heart-wrenching mix of smug self-justification and deep pain at how much I hurt Courtney. The worst part of it all was when she handed the promise ring back to me, but… well, I’ll get to that in a minute.
Naturally things were rough between us for a little while, and this is where the praises to God really start to ring out. Courtney could have so easily been broken by that experience, and yet, God gave her the strength to stand up and grow into an identity as His daughter that radiates to all who know her. Don’t believe for a second that I wasn’t taking note of the woman of God that I saw her becoming, and as time progressed Courtney and I were able to mend our relationship into a strong, strong friendship.
So, with that said it may surprise you to hear that when I entered my last year of college, I was honestly thinking that God’s plan was for me to serve as a lifelong single. The reasoning behind this is a story all unto itself and beyond the scope of this particular account, but it’s important to know that that’s where I was. How our God weaves a beautiful tapestry of our lives when we seek Him, for Scripture promises that when we do so He WILL be found by us (1 Chron 28:9). Even though I thought I had my whole life planned out – a grand life of serving God in Cookeville, TN – God so quickly intervened this past February. To summarize the next steps: my plans of attending graduate school were dashed, that same night I learned about the Network of International Christian Schools, and a month later God finished orchestrating the plan to send a boy who had never been on an airplane or out of the country to Indonesia to teach music! Throughout all of this, Courtney walked every step with me, sharing in my excitement and praying for me… and I definitely took notice. Yet, I thought God wanted me to stay single.
Obviously God has used my journey to the opposite end of the world to shred my thinking. Throughout the orientation process with NICS, and upon arriving to Indonesia, I immediately began to observe of all the married couples. Sure, there are many singles here as well, but for some reason I kept being drawn to the God-honoring marriages that I was seeing around me. I tried to tell myself, “You just need to fill this gap with more of Jesus,” which is certainly true and very spiritual, but at the same time God just wouldn’t let me be satisfied with that answer. Then, as God has such a powerful way of doing in this overseas setting, He exposed my thinking for what it really was – spiritual pride. I heard another single staff member share in a devotion that God had strongly dealt with her on her thinking that marriage is just for weak people who can’t handle being single, and I had been in the same place. She sees differently now. I see differently now.
After my arrival to Indonesia, several things became so readily apparent in just 2 ½ months’ time. The main realization was that I can’t do this work alone, and although I know we’re never away from God’s presence, I began to see that maybe His plan was to express His love through another person in my life. God also put on my heart that I have been seeking love for SO long. How embarrassing, I thought, to say that I’ve been following Jesus since I was 7 years old, am fully aware that “God is love,” yet don’t feel like I have a clue what love is. Of course, how convenient of God to work it out that this whole past month my church in Indonesia has been preaching out Ephesians 5 about families (don’t think I didn’t see that initially as frustrating irony of God which quickly turned into gut-wrenching conviction). Now, this is the part where words especially fail. This account could easily be interpreted as me just being lonely in a new country or having a lot of cultural stress, and I confess that those are small factors. But they’re factors that I think God used to open my eyes up to the Love Story He had been writing all along.
I can’t necessarily tell you the exact trigger, but sometime over last weekend (October 1-3), it was like a light bulb went off. The thought literally went something like this: “You fool!” God had brought me to the realization that maybe single life wasn’t the ultimate plan for me. Next, I honestly thought maybe He would have someone for me here in Indonesia. And that’s when the entire puzzle fell into place. Again, the thoughts went something like: “You have someone back home who has been your friend all this time who, by all rights based on the way we broke up, shouldn’t even be your friend. And you have listened to her talk for a year now about her complete desire to follow God where He would have her, and she has been anxiously waiting for the revelation of that plan. She is getting ready to graduate with an education degree (although not necessarily thinking classroom teacher), and is 100% pure educator just like you are. She has talked about giving her life to serve God, possibly even in M work, which is funny since you JUST GAVE your life to God to do M work. She loves kids and works so well with them. And as complete bonus, she understands your music side, being a musician herself, and loves spending the early morning hours with God just like you do.” WOW! How could I have missed it for so long? The conviction absolutely would not escape my mind, and by Sunday my thoughts were frantically racing.
Here’s probably a good opportunity to use a couple of other factors that God used to speak to me. First, do you remember the promise ring I talked about? Well, despite half-hearted attempts for two years to sell it or get rid of it, I never did. I couldn’t help but wonder if God was calling me to keep the promise I had made (Courtney now has the ring back, by the way!) Second, I was speaking to my mother and ended up mentioning the idea that I was thinking about a certain relationship. She easily guessed who, and her next response left me reeling. I expected to total shock from her that I was even considering the possibility. Oh how wrong I was! The first words out of her mouth were, “I’ve been praying for this for three years.” May we never underestimate the power of prayer and the sovereignty of God’s plan. Since last week, I can’t tell you how many people I’ve heard from back home say that they have been waiting for this for a long time!
I continued to pray on Sunday and sought advice from some mentor figures here in Bandung. Finally, Sunday evening, I had made the decision to step out on faith. Although the two of us hadn’t dated for two years, I sat down and spent hours writing Courtney an e-mail that essentially asked, “Have you ever thought it could be in God’s plan for you to come and do M work in Indonesia… at BAIS… with me?” Implicit in that statement was, “Will you marry me?” and she took the hint! And to be quite honest, despite my nerves, I wasn’t the least surprised to read the first line of her response to me: “You have no clue how long I have waited to hear you say this.”
So, where does that leave things a week later? One way to describe it could be, “whirlwind.” As I have openly confessed to Courtney, I’m still prideful, selfish, and clueless about love… but whereas before I could not see those things, I’m painfully aware of them now, and God is daily conforming me to Christ’s image. Although the path isn’t going to be without difficulties and bumps, I am ready to start the journey of learning what it means to sacrificially love my future wife and become a spiritual leader of our family – shining Christ’s love in a way that reflects His unbelievable sacrifice for us. After all, the world will know that we are Christians by our love for one another, and I praise Him that His faithful plan all along has been for me to experience that in the intimate relationship that comes between husband and wife.
Final conclusions? I would love to read the book sometime, but I can already tell you that “when God writes your love story,” it certainly is not bound by our notions of convention. It also may not follow a logical, linear path that our Western heritage so cherishes. In fact, it can even come from a past of hurt, sin, and blindness. But it most certainly can be bold. It can be shocking. It can be joyful and overwhelming. It can be a total leap of faith. Why? I can’t answer that and pretend to understand the thoughts of God, but I can tell you this… As I marvel in the testimony and daily try to let God prepare me to be a husband, I understand more clearly than ever that I grow in my love for you as my family in Christ, that I grow in my love for Courtney as my fiancé and soon-to-be wife all because of this: God is love.