I love telling stories. I especially love telling true stories about love and such… but I’m not sure how to begin this one. I’m not sure how much backstory my readers will tolerate… but I’ll try to keep it entertaining. Some people say their fiction is personal; all stories are personal. Some say their stories are “based on a true story.” Every story is, at least the good ones. This one is true. And personal.
Jumonville, Summer 2010
Training had started. Life was breathless. I’d moved out of my apartment in Greensburg and taken the long exciting ride down south to Uniontown and driven up Jumonville road for the third time in my life and moved into Ree Enlow’s house about a week earlier. I’d shared a room with James Moran, one of my closest friends from before I had ever once visited Jumonville. Ree loved on us like we were the last people in the world she could love. For the second time in my life, I felt like I was breathing fresh mountain air after breathing deisel exhaust all my life. (The first time was Alaska with my Uncle John and Aunt Linda.) The lies about my value were fighting with everything they had, and for the first time since the breakup, the lies were facing violent opposition.
I eventually grew to love everyone on staff that summer… but this story is about something different then brotherly and sisterly love. In fact, the first time I told Kristen “I love you” was probably less than a few weeks after I met her. (I said the words “I love you” to everyone at Jumonville often.) Kristen asked me not to because those were words she only wanted to hear from her husband. I worried about that, prayed about it… and opted to explain that way I meant it wasn’t a romantic way and keep saying it.
I think the first time I knew there was something special about her was when I was facilitating the zip line multi-level. She didn’t seem scared; she just said “I love You, Jesus!” and slid off the platform. It made me pause and wonder. I knew then that her relationship with God was real. Her Jesus was a friend, not someone she believed in like some kids believe in Santa Claus.
One time, too, after we went prayer-walking, she came back especially crushed. (The whole story is here.) There was a woman Nate had seen in the spirit who had been raped, and Kristen had prayed for her. In that moment and in many others, I saw grace in her. I could tell that she got grace.
And then there were the Bible studies. I went along to them and was a brat. I mean, I tried to honestly answer the questions people asked, but there were legitimately times when I just hijacked the conversation and took it down a rabbit trail for no good reason. It was a biblical rabbit-trail, but a rabbit-trail nonetheless. But as the summer progressed, our conversations got deeper. We ended up talking about God for as much as an hour after everyone else left. I spoke passionately about how God loves us all the time no matter what, and when we don’t feel His love it’s because we’ve put up defenses against Him. I preached. And I left that night with a smile on my face because I had spent an hour alone with a girl and (1) there was nothing romantic going on, and (2) no one would suspect that there was! We were brother-and-sister.
I spent the whole summer telling myself lies like that. I believed it, for sure. And every time the urge to wonder if she was “the one” came up, I stifled it vengefully. There were so many reasons why it wouldn’t work. For one, Kristen is deaf. She explained to the rest of the staff, at Ree’s urging, how, though she is completely deaf, she can still hear with the help of a cochlear implant, but like all science, it’s not perfect. I figured I’d never be rich enough to afford to pay for all the medical expenses she could end up with, and I’d just as soon she marry someone else who could take care of her better. That was the main one. I met her parents, too, and, though they seemed very nice, I just knew they were waiting to rip my heart to shreds if I dared to love Kristen. (The strange things the devil whispers in our ears that we choose to believe!) Still, I saw something in her. I saw that she got grace.
And so we remained friends.
Questions and Flashbacks
It was Sunday, July 5, 2009. Kristen, like me, believed that just because we worked at a church camp didn’t mean we should skip church. We both believed that we still needed God just as much here as anywhere else. So we had taken to watching sermon videos in the upper room. Today, she had run out of sermon DVDs and was looking for some online. I went downstairs to use the bathroom and was going to suggest Mark Driscoll and point her to marshillchurch.org – but when I came back up, she was already at marshillchurch.org! What a happy coincidence! But I decided it didn’t mean anything. I’d seen stuff like that before.
But that night something happened that I couldn’t ignore. I was sitting in the girls’ staff cabin talking when Kristen came upstairs. I was caught off-guard by what she was wearing. It wasn’t the way it looked on her – it was what it was, and that it was on her.
Rewind more than a year to May 10, 2008. I was still wishing my relationship with my ex-girlfriend would come back, but slowly realizing that it was over. Sometimes I was stronger, sometimes weaker. The sunshine hadn’t yet peeked through the window of my room at my grandparents’ house as the best dream I’d ever had in my life faded into the reality that was Monday. I rolled out of bed onto the soft blue carpet and fumbled for my prayer journal and a pen. I started writing in a barely-awake scrawl about how I’d been laying on a bed next to a woman in a blue silk nightgown, with a child about four years old, in a small, modest house. The words fought their way through my fingers and out of my pen: “I woke up so utterly safe. So comfortable. Who is the woman in the night[gown]?” The dream was a promise for the future. It was a promise that one day, I would be married. And I wouldn’t have to worry about my motivations, or doing things to make her love me – but that I was loved for who I was. My heart would be safe with her. And even months later, clinging to the hope from that dream still pried me out of at least one dark, depressing day.
Flash forward to July 25, 2009, and, you guessed it, there Kristen was, large as life, wearing blue silk pajama bottoms. To say I was caught off-guard would be like saying Lake Michigan is a big puddle. I recovered quickly and did my best not to react, but those stories found their way into my prayer journal, followed by this: “And she has high standards. We haven’t talked about what that means yet. But I’m pretty sure it excludes guys like me. Still, it made me think. And wonder.”
And I kept an eye on these things – though I ignored them, usually. Kristen and I remained friends. Sometimes we were just goofy together, like the time in the snack shop during family week when we played Go Fish! – using charades – and no cards! Or when she sent me a text message that read “Don’t read this. You’re supposed to be working!” Or the time we were sitting next to each other in the office having a conversation on facebook messenger, MSN messenger, via text message, and in person. Simultaneously. For no other reason than the fact that we could and it was funny.
On the last night of family week, I went up to the cross to help with some sound equipment and ended up staying there until after everyone else had left talking to Jaye Beatty. If one person besides Kristen could be blamed for what ultimately happened between us, it would be Jaye Beatty. But i didn’t know that then. Jaye and I ended up talking up there for a very long time and becoming friends. But the caveat to being friends with Jaye Beatty is that once that happens, she will tell you the truth. It was maybe a week later when I was sitting in the office talking to her and she brought up Kristen. She had seen us hanging out a lot and laughing and enjoying each other’s company and was curious how I felt about her. It caught me off-guard again. I’d spent the whole summer building defenses and making excuses about why a relationship with Kristen Sneller would never work out. I don’t really even remember what I said. I was probably honest and said I wasn’t sure.
The best summer of my life so far was creeping to a close. I wrote about it, and Kristen commented on the facebook note and said it was good. It made my day.
And then it was over, just like that. I was unemployed and living with my parents. I’d never been more confused in my life about what to do next. I was planning my life out and considered moving to an apartment in New Stanton and working for FedEx Ground a while. New Stanton was fairly central to a lot of places – but what made it central was Washington, PA, where Kristen and Carrie Sneller lived. If not for that, New Stanton was a bit out of the way for everything and everyone else in my life. She was already in my thought process; I just didn’t recognize it and extinguish it.
But the New Stanton apartment was not to be. I ended up calling (then visiting) Huntington University. I even included being able to see Kristen in the “Pros” list for staying in Pennsylvania in my decision about whether to attend Huntington, WCCC, or just get a job! When my financial aid package turned out to be exactly what I needed and I realized I could actually attend Huntington, I was running at Twin Lakes State Park. I sent off a text message to tell Kristen the exciting news. I think she was the first person I told. This never struck me as odd. It seemed perfectly normal and natural. She sent me back a picture message of her smiling and giving me a thumbs-up.
Thus began the next chapter of my life.