This is the first chapter of my in-progress memoir about the ugly-beautiful journey through which my husband and I fell in love.
Chapter 1: Meeting
January 23, 2009
I have a lot of my mind when I meet you. I have just moved to Colorado, and I find myself being set up with an old roommate of yours, mostly because I am desperate for friends — and a boyfriend, if I’m going to be honest. Which I am.
The date was Aunt Jeanne’s idea. She’s my mother’s identical twin, and even into their 50s, the resemblance is uncanny. The twins cannot even tell their own voices apart on an answering machine.
“Liz, he’s around your age, smart, Christian, and handsome! Don’t you think Ron?” she said.
My uncle answered, “Well, don’t ask me.”
“Anyway, I don’t think he’s seeing anyone,” she says.
My uncle interjects that I don’t have to do anything I don’t want to, and that I can tell my aunt what I really think. “It’d be good for her,” he says. She shoves him.
But I consent to the date. What do I have to lose? Now, the blind date is sitting beside me, a tall red-head, from whom I might hope for another date if it weren’t for the gaggle of roommates he’s brought with him: safety in numbers, you know. You can never be too careful with all these marriage-hungry Christian ladies prowling around. It is just so easy for them to get the wrong idea. They might trap you into marrying them, and then where would you be?
Anyway, he took me to a church service for young Christians, which made me cringe because the entire auditorium is filled with women who appear to have stepped straight out of an Anthropologie catalogue, the type of women who actually look attractive in winter coats. Which, by the way, I do not, which is beside the point (though not to me). Let’s just say, I would not have minded if he had taken me to any chain restaurant and bought me a plate of spaghetti. At least then, I would have felt like that extra appliance of Chapstick in the car before I walked inside had been worth it.
He sits next to me and I do not remember him asking many questions, though we must have talked.
“What are you doing here?” he might have asked.
To which I would have replied, “I have no idea. I’ve asked God that question many times without receiving a satisfactory reply.”
“No, what is your job?” would have been his rejoinder.
“Oh, that — I’m an unpaid intern twice over.”
“Where is your internship?”
“Do you really care?”
“I asked the question, didn’t I?”
“Sorry for being so surly.”
“This is exactly why these guys (gesture to the roommates) came with me.”
“I don’t blame you.”
About then, the service starts. The lights dim and then flash in reds and blues as the stage fills with smoke.
“Is that a fog machine?” I say.
This is where he smiles at me. “Let’s just say this isn’t normally my scene,” he says. I smile back, and then wish I looked like an Anthropologie model.
I can feel the bass line pounding in my chest. The room sings lazy choruses that repeat and repeat again. A guy five rows ahead of us is jumping up and down with his hands raised to the ceiling. It’s not my first time in a service like this, but for the first song, I just watch the show.
Then, a song later, I join in, air moving through my chest and throat and then escaping my open lips. I even raise my hands and close my eyes, and I feel alone again.
After a half hour, the band exits. Someone turns on the lights as a man in jeans and a polo shirt sits on a wooden stool in the center of the stage. He balances a Bible on his knees.
“Today we’re going to talk about the sin of gluttony,” he says. Apparently, he’s been preaching a series of sermons about the seven deadly sins.
“How lovely,” I say. My date smiles.
“The root of gluttony is mistrust of the Lord,” says the preacher. I know a lot about mistrust. So I reach into my purse and pull out a notebook and scribble down notes through the rest of the sermon.
At the end, the preacher says, “If you feel you need prayer about this sin of gluttony, or really anything else, we will have people up front, below the stage, who would love to pray for you after the service. Don’t hesitate to come on up.”
I feel a divine jab to the ribs. Then, my date and all his roommates stand up. They are all talking with someone at the end of our row. It is you. You are wearing those speckled rectangular glasses and that blue cap that just sits on the back of your skull so that your Johnny Bravo hair pokes out the front.
“Who’s that?” I ask my date.
“Oh, uh, sorry,” says my date. “Liz, this is Jeremy.” You look at me, and I look at you. We smile, and you stretch out your hand. I shake: our first meeting. I will marry you less than two years later. But of course, at the time, all I know is that you are blocking the end of the row, and I need to pass by, please and thank you.
So we shake hands as strangers and I say, “Excuse me, actually, I need to go,” and I smile again. You step backward, and I walk past you toward the front of the auditorium and a women with long, brown hair, who stands waiting for me.
“Do you need prayer?” she asks, once I’m a few feet from her.
“Yes,” I say, “I really do.” I smile.
“Anything in particular?” she asks.
“Uh, just anything that comes to your mind,” I say.
“Okay,” she says and shuts her eyes. She lays her hand on my shoulder. “God, thank you for…” She looks up. “What’s your name?” she asks.
“Liz,” I say.
She nods and continues, shutting her eyes: “God, thank you for Liz…”
Then she’s quiet. I wait. And wait. I look up. Emily’s head is bowed and her lips are moving. I keep looking at her, but she stays quiet.
Then she says slowly, “Liz, I have a picture in my mind of Abraham sacrificing Isaac.”
“Who?” I say.
“The story of Abraham and Isaac is from the Bible, in the book of Exodus. Bascially, God promises Abraham a son through his wife, but he and his wife actually have a son until he’s like, 100 years old.”
“Was his wife younger?”
“I think she was 75.”
“Anyway, at some point, God tells Abraham to sacrifice Isaac as a test of his loyalty.”
“Wait, like, kill his long-awaited son?”
“Right. But God told Abraham not to kill him at the last possible second, so he didn’t die, actually.”
“Why would God do that?”
“I think the point was that Abraham had to love God first, above anything else. And, I guess loving his son was in the way of that.”
“So what’d you see for me?”
“Well, I got this picture in my mind of God telling Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, like in the story, and I felt like maybe it applied to you. Like, maybe you are holding back something God is asking you to sacrifice because you love it more than you love God. Can you think of anything like that?
“Yeah,” I say.
“What is it?” she asks.
“I don’t want to live here,” I say.
“Wait, in Colorado?” she says.
“Have you ever been to Colorado before?”
“Not to live,” I say.
“And God wants you to live here?”
“I’m not sure. But I’m here now because He brought me here, anyway,” I say.
“How did you end up here?” she asks.
“Well…” I pause. “How much time do you have?” She smiles. I look around — nobody else seems to be waiting in line to pray with her.
“So, I just graduated from college and my plans to stay in Chicago with college friends fell through at the last minute, and I ended up here because I have extended family in town who offered me free rent and free food and because I work as an unpaid intern at two nonprofits in town. Also I had an anxiety attack thinking about living through another Chicago winter. And I didn’t feel like I had a choice. Everything seemed to point here. I moved around a lot growing up, so I’d rather just stay put for awhile.” I pause. “Anyway, that’s the gist of things,” I say. “Sorry to ramble– you’re just the first person who’s asked that question since I got here.”
She nods and smiles. “Sounds like you’re going through a lot of change,” she says.
“You know,” she says, “You might not find Colorado to be so bad.”
“That’s what I’m afraid of,” I say.
We’re both quiet, and then she says, “Liz, how about you talk to God about this right now?”
I nod. “Alright,” I say.
I look down at the carpet and fold my hands. I breathe in and out. Then I say, “God…” I pause. “I’m sorry for holding back, for not being willing to sacrifice Isaac,” I say. I wipe my face. “I trust you,” I say.
Suddenly I remember a church service a month earlier. I am being prayed for at the Resurrection Church in Chicago. Father Kevin places a hand on my back while I confess that my desire for a husband and family is an idol, that I want it more than I want God, that it has kept me from God. I don’t trust my own heart, I tell Father Kevin, and I want to lay down my desire as a sacrifice to God, to show Him I love Him. I have always wanted there to be a husband and kids in my future, I say, and I just know it’s wrong to want something more than I want God.
He nods very seriously. “Well, we have a lot to pray about then,” he says.
We close our eyes and he prays, “God, give back this offering to Liz like you gave back Isaac to Abraham.” I look up in surprise.
He smiles and says, “You are young, Liz, and God has many good gifts to give you yet.”
Eventually I will learn this good truth, that my desires come from God, my good Father; but for now, Father Kevin’s prayer remains a mystery, and I come back to this moment, with Emily’s hand resting on my shoulder.
I say again to God, “I trust you,” and I try to mean it (but don’t).
© 2014 Elizabeth Charlotte Grant