chapter 2: you gonna eat your tots?
now that you've read about the current situation, let me share with you our story...
i hadn't dated in quite some time. i'm not sure how long exactly, but it was a while. my brother called me up on the phone and started laying into me about this "problem." he gave me some sage big brother counsel by telling me that it was time to start "dating some chicks, and dumping some chicks." he wanted me to put myself out there to see what qualities i liked about girls. i suppose i couldn't really explain what i was looking for in a partner and that really bothered him. answers like "i hope she's pretty and nice" weren't really cutting it for him. so i decided to take him up on this advice. i was switching churches anyways, so the timing couldn't be more perfect.
i decided to start going to this church named quest. and on my first week there, i saw this really cute girl up on stage doing announcements. she was well spoken and seemed really nice, which was obviously my criteria at the time. she had strange be-jewelry on her shirt, these really large curls in her hair, and shoes that were extremely tall; all of this made me think that she was trying too hard. but all i could hear was my brother's voice in my head telling me that i should date her and then dump her.
after she was done with the announcements, i had no idea what she said because i was too busy trying to analyze how long i should date her before i dump her. she walked off stage and a clip from the CBS tv reality show, survivor, started playing. i was super confused why we were suddenly watching the torch ceremony, and even more confused that we were listening to guys talking over the clip giving play-by-play about what is going on in this particular scene.
that's when i saw that same girl run back up front and jump on the stage to quickly apologize for the goof up. there was so much hustle on her part that the curls took several moments to stop bouncing. she explained that they were trying to show a clip from the show as it aired on television, but somehow the DVD got switched over to commentary mode (for those of you too young to realize, way back in the day, we did not have DVRs or netflix, so if we wanted to watch something over again, you would have to buy the DVD boxset which cost a ton of money, but gave you sweet options that you would never dream of actually using like a commentary mode that allowed you to hear all the directors thoughts about the show you're watching). she said that she was going to give the people in the video booth a moment to correct the problem and then we would get back on track. when the guys gave her a thumbs up, she notified us that this would all make a lot more sense now, and she stepped off the stage.
well, the problem was not fixed. the first thing you hear the director say is, "shut up, you blowhard!" that's when she jumped up on stage so hard that be-jewels flew off of her shirt and hit people in the first few rows (that probably didn't happen, but her reentrance came with that much force that it could have). she apologized profusely and transitioned us all quickly back into worship time. she looked so embarrassed.
that next week, i came up to her and introduced myself. we shared a good laugh about that blowhard quote and she shared with me how she had a lady yell at her for the entirety of that service for her sinfulness in letting that kind of vulgar language be heard in church. i started to tell her that i was incredibly offended myself, but quickly decided to let her off the hook by telling her i was just joking; she was about to take me seriously. i decided to ask her about the possibility of volunteering. she saw right through my motives and told me that she wasn't sure if i could meet their exceptionally high standards. i assured her that i could, so she told me that i would have to supply her with a copy of my resume and several references.
i really hoped that she was just flirting with me; if not, this church has got the most absurdly strict policies that i had ever heard of. but i decided to go with it. within a couple days, she had my resume and 3 of the most glowing references you have ever read. when i saw her the following sunday, i went right up to her and asked her how impressed she was with my experience. she shrugged her shoulders and said that she still had some concerns, but she would probably consider interviewing me.
i really hoped that this was an invitation to ask her out, if not, i was never going to come back to this or any other church again. i went for it and asked her out, and she said yes. i thought to myself that this is either going to be amazing or awful, but either way i am going to figure out what i like about 'chicks.'
it turned out that it was amazing. our first date started off at starbucks, until they closed. i invited her over to my place where we stayed up talking until 4am. she was dressed up similarly to when she gave those disastrous announcements and i was dressed down very casually. i noted this because it seemed that was something i didn't really like about her, she was way too put together for my liking. this was the only thing that i could find about her that i was not crazy about. i was noting all of this for when i start dating the next girl.
well, there was no next girl. alisha was the real deal: we had a ton of fun together, she loved Jesus, she was super smart and driven, she liked sports, and she started to wear less be-jeweled garments as time went along. i could not believe how much i liked alisha, and she seemed to like me too. she ended up coming on a family vacation with me and got along well with my family, it was all too good to be true!
after about eight months of dating, she asked me if i wanted to go on a trip to utah to meet one of her very best friends. i said yes to her invitation, but i was feeling very conflicted about our relationship. it had gone on longer and better than i had expected, and it left me feeling strangely unsettled. there was probably a lot that went into that feeling that had nothing to do with her, but it was definitely something i felt.
our trip to utah started off pretty great. i love the mountains and our hometown of st. louis had a collective total of zero mountain peaks to enjoy. i could see why her friend would want to live in such a beautiful place! all i wanted to do was drive around and see everything, but eventually we needed to make our way to their house. when we got there, i got to meet brandy and her husband, will, and i immediately congratulated them for living in such a beautiful place.
i started asking them all about mountain life, skiing, and what they liked the most about utah. they didn't really have an answer because they had never really explored the area much. brandy saw my confusion and began to explain that their oldest daughter, amelia, had some pretty severe special needs and limited their sense of adventure. she was quick to explain that it was alright, they weren't disappointed by this because amelia was such a great gift from God. alisha jumped in and shared a story about them being in high school together, and how one day brandy randomly told her that she would be ok if the Lord gave her a child with special needs. i asked her if she thought that God was preparing her for amelia years in advance, to which she wholeheartedly agreed to.
before that thought could completely land, i determined that we would have some adventure together while we were there. we tried to get them to come to park city with us... they declined. we tried to get them to meet us at sundance... to which they declined as well. which is too bad, because the sun literally danced at sundance! it was breathtaking.
i had one more adventure idea left, and i would not take no for an answer. we were less than 2.5 hours away from the landmark of landmarks... preston, idaho. i pitched the idea of a road trip up there, to which everyone responded that my idea was lame, because no one had heard of that town before. after i told them that they were lame, i insisted that we go there... it is the home of napoleon dynamite (and his tater tots) after all! will's dread of a road trip suddenly started to change. it did not take me long to convince everyone to get in the car.
traveling with amelia can present some challenges, so it took us longer to get there than we hoped, but we finally made it. we saw all the sights! napoleon's house, the chicken farm, and the school. actually, preston was a giant let down. the townspeople that we talked to were generally annoyed that we were there, probably quoting the whole movie didn't help. i think they were tired of being made fun of or something. but i was seriously excited to be there. maybe it was just because it felt like a victory to go explore with will and brandy, or maybe it was because the whole town smelled like llama. it was hard to tell.
we spent the majority of our short time in preston at the school playground, where napoleon dominated everyone in tetherball. alisha and i played a few intense games of tetherball and i seriously think it was the exact moment i realized that i loved her and that i needed her. that shared experience at sundance and the willingness to go on a goofy adventure just got to me. i knew at that moment that we would be amazing together. it wouldn't matter what adversity, what challenge, what struggle... we could handle life with a sense of adventure. and i knew that i could always beat her at tetherball, and that seemed important too.
at that time i did not sense that the Lord was preparing me for anything significant, like what he had prepared brandy for when she was in high school. but i knew if i was going to marry alisha someday, i had better prepare myself for the unexpected.
about a month later, my job decided to give me a promotion, which i had worked really hard for. my workplace demanded max effort and performance, but promised advancement and gigantic pay as you work up the ladder and produce high numbers. so it was exciting to get my first reward for my sacrifice! the unfortunate part of the promotion was that it required me to move an hour and a half away to a town named mt. vernon, illinois. instead of commuting over 3 hours each day, i decided to rent an apartment that i could afford. the place was so depressing: dark wood panel walls (circa 1982), no central air, a bathroom smaller than a porta-potty, and as a bonus— it was right next to the train tracks. at first, i was too excited about the promotion to care about how depressing mt. vernon was going to be, but that fact settled in real quickly.
before long though, it became obvious that God had sent me to mt. vernon for a purpose. i was growing more and more convinced that i was to ask alisha to marry me, but i did not really know how ready i was for that. i am the product of a broken marriage. i was unsure how to be a good husband, i did not have a roadmap for that sort of thing. it seriously scared me that i would fail at marriage, and i didn't handle my parents divorce well as a kid... i could not imagine enduring my own failed marriage.
i sensed that the Lord was giving me that time away from home to seek Him and to wrestle with the concept of being man enough for marriage. this was such an unbelievable gift to have this kind of solitude that i could be intentional in. this opportunity could be the difference maker in success versus failure. i remember my dad telling me as a little kid, "i want you to know something about me, i matured really late in life... i am telling you this because i fear that you might be like me in this way." that fact hung around my neck hard and stuck with me, especially that day. my mt. vernon prayers would often go like this...
Lord, why am i so immature? how will i know when i'll be mature? what is it about me that prevents me from getting it, from getting 'there'? i know that i really struggle with handling conflict and grief well, is that what will make me mature? i feel like a kid though. i have no idea what i am doing. i know how to work hard, but is that enough? can i ever be enough? You have given me an unbelievable gift in alisha, but i think our brokenness is too much. at least mine is. she is great. why does she love me? have You shown her how broken i am? i should tell her. she needs to know. i don't want to ruin her life. God, all this feels too hard, can You help me? can You guide me? can You just tell me if i am capable of this... any of this? amen.
i shared all this with alisha and she was very supportive of me and the effort i was putting in. she committed to praying and processing herself, as she was keenly aware of the brokenness in her family as well. this made mt. vernon tolerable for me, because i felt like i had a significant purpose for this season that i was in. i read books, prayed, and journaled through this time. it really was a growing period for me.
occasionally, alisha would drive out for the evening to have dinner with me. i always looked forward to those days! it gave me a chance to verbally process some of the stuff that I was hearing from God with her. there was one particular day that she came out to visit pretty early in the evening because she had taken the day off work. when she arrived, i asked her about her day spent with one of her closest friends. she gave me a laundry list of errands and activities that they had done together, and hidden somewhere in that list of grabbing coffee, getting a manicure, and shopping at the mall, etc... was the factoid that she looked at a reception hall.
i asked her to repeat that one part, and she played coy about which part i was referring to. she quickly admitted that she messed up and got talked into looking at a reception hall for when we get married. i stayed cool for a moment, at least until she apologized and fessed up that she caved to the sales tactics of the guy showing them the venue. she had actually put a deposit down on this place!
i can say all this now, because everything has worked out and i forgave her. but i completely freaked out when she told me about this. she could understand why i was upset and tried to diffuse the situation by telling me that the date is movable, but she did not want to lose this place because it was "perfect." i tried to stay calm, but i couldn't. she knew that i was taking this time to pursue God in this matter of marriage, and i could not see this action as anything but pressure.
i didn't know how to respond. i tried to pretend that everything was ok, but it wasn't. she could tell that i was bothered by it, but because i am absolutely terrible at conflict, i just tried to avoid it. over the next few weeks my avoidance grew from avoiding the issue, to just straight up avoiding her. she could tell that i was upset and would constantly try to talk with me about it, but i got real good about giving her the heisman stiff arm (she would tell you that i was just mean about all this, but we'll save that for her tell-all book). she finally insisted that we talk about this issue because she was very remorseful and wanted get it all out on the table, but i just couldn't. i needed time. i told her that i needed a break... like a real break. we could meet up after a week to try to figure things out, but i just wasn't sure how to resolve this.
that was a long week for me. there was lots of anger, confusion and emo rock. i cried out to the Lord, but He felt silent to me. i was not sure how to process or respond to all this. toward the end of that week, i decided that i just could not handle this kind of pressure from her... i was going to break up with her.
i set up a time to meet with alisha at her church office and i was going to dump her. i was still mad when i sat down across from her and i was honestly excited to share why i had made this decision. but when i opened my mouth to say those words i had planned on, i froze. we maybe sat in silence for 10-15 minutes while i tried to tell her that we were done. but i just couldn't. she was super patient to wait for me to talk. when i finally did start to put words together, they were honest and vulnerable about why i was upset, but also why i forgave her. the whole time we talked, i kept asking myself what i was doing. i ended the conversation by asking her to please not put any pressure on me for marriage... i needed this time to really know that i had what it took to be man enough to marry her.
she agreed and apologized. and that was that.
looking back, it is so obvious what God was preparing me for. just like He prepared brandy for being amelia's mom, i know He put me in mt. vernon for a definite purpose. i am so thankful! without that season, i highly doubt our marriage would have survived the stress. on top of that, i am thankful for my parents failed marriage that caused me to be sensitive to this need for preparedness.
one of the things that i felt that God reveled to me in mt. vernon was that i would never be mature enough to be a married man, regardless of how easy or hard the circumstances of marriage would be. it wasn't an issue of maturing late, it was an issue of where i sought maturity. for the first time in my life, i wasn't seeking it in my own strength or skill... i looked to the Lord for it.
i've heard people say that God won't give you more than you can handle. i think that isn't true, let alone that this isn't found in scripture. this puts way too much focus on us, when the focus should be on Him. there are plenty of situations that feel like they are more than we can handle, when they arise, this mantra only accomplishes to shame us into doing better or trying harder.
paul apparently took 3 years in his own personal mt. vernon to prepare for a life of christian ministry. in 2 corinthians 12 he talks about a "thorn in his flesh" that tormented him so much that he begged the Lord to take it away. each time He said "my grace is all you need. my power works best in weakness."
preparedness does not always equate to readiness. i am convinced that God prepared me for what was coming next, but i certainly wasn't ready for it. instead of just trying to handle it better, i learned that i needed to own my weakness and lean into His grace.
but seriously, i wasn't ready for it...