only help my unbelief

And so we went there again (the proposal)
December 4, 2008, 10:00 am
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I met Christian on a spring evening in April, a little over two-and-a-half years ago. It was an almost perfect weekend: long-sleeved shirt weather, blue skies and blue jeans.

The initial moments were awkward. On the second day of my visit, we went for a long walk down a trail called Abbo’s Alley. We talked about what kinds of trees there were along the trail, turning it into a competition. Whoever spotted the tree name first got a point.

The trail led around campus. We walked up a steep hill, with Christian pointing out different dorms and telling me stories. He was like my own personal tour guide. Then we came up in front of the huge cathedral.

We went inside, and I was blown away by the stained glass windows. On the upper right wall, the entire story of the Bible was acted out, albeit with some loose interpretations.

“So, basically God only created… ferrets and rabbits?”

“Is that a Chinese fire dragon?”

I remember him standing right behind me as we both looked up and laughed at some of the more abstract pictures. That conversation whittled away at whatever awkwardness was left. At that point, I was pretty sure I liked this guy, even though I’d only met him in person for the first time the day before.

That night, after dinner out and watching a movie, he told me that he liked me, and that he would come to see me as often as he could.

When I got back home to South Carolina, I was eager to tell everyone about my new boyfriend. But my retelling was somewhat stifled by the fact that Christian and I had met over the Internet. I was ashamed of that. Two-and-a-half years later, that story isn’t much easier to tell.

But of course, most people have heard it by now, and whether or not they accepted it when I first told them, almost everyone I know has met Christian and know he wasn’t perhaps the typical “person you meet on the Internet.”

Several months ago, Christian asked me if I had any sort of dream marriage proposal.

“I don’t have anything in mind,” I said. “I just want it to be something I’m excited to tell other people.” So don’t propose over the Internet, I said. He laughed.

Last weekend we went up to Tennessee to spend Thanksgiving with his mom, stepdad and sister. He asked me if I wanted to go to Sewanee on Friday or Saturday, just to walk around. No one would be there, but we could go to some of our favorite places.

We bundled up Saturday afternoon and parked near Abbo’s Alley. We walked down the trail, holding hands, and pointed out some of the tree nameplates that we had called out two-and-a-half years before.

We went up one of the turrets near the cathedral to look out over Sewanee. There was a low cover of fog, and it was beautiful. It was dusk, and there was no one around.

I was getting tired, though. I’ve been suffering through plantar fasciitis for more than six weeks now, and walking around had aggravated it. I was getting kind of hungry, and it was really, really cold. I was ready to go.

“We don’t have to go into All Saints’ today, do we?” I asked Christian. “We can just go some other time.”

“I think we should go,” he said, though I didn’t realize quite how firmly until later. “We don’t have to stay long.”

“I bet it won’t even be unlocked,” I muttered to myself.

The door was unlocked, much to my surprise, but the lights were off on the inside, except for the very end of the building. It was gorgeous.

We walked the length of the cathedral, me snapping pictures every couple of minutes. When we got to the end, we turned around and walked back toward the door. We paused below the stained glass windows that had meant so much on that April day. It was dark outside, so it was hard to see most of them, but we picked out a few we remembered. Christian was standing just behind me.

“Hey, Chels?”

I turned around.

“I love you,” he said.

“I love you, too,” I said, feeling slightly uneasy.

And in one fell swoop, he was down on one knee with the prettiest ring I’ve ever seen opened up in front of me.

And so now, whenever I go to All Saints’ Cathedral, I can remember with fondness the first time I went there, but I’ll remember much more deeply November 29, when Christian asked me to marry him. That’s a story I’m not ashamed to tell.


From online to long distance
July 9, 2008, 6:00 am
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Note: This post is part 2 of “How I met Christian.” You can read part 1 here.

After I headed home to South Carolina on April 9, 2006, reality sank in.

Sure, I’d met an awesome guy through the Internet by the providence of God, but now I was back at school, taking 19 hours and trying to work part-time during the week. I hardly had time to be, let alone stay in touch with a boyfriend. Before it had been official, there weren’t many expectations. But now that I had met this charming young man and he had expressed interest in pursuing a relationship with me, I really wanted to talk to him!

As exciting as our relationship was, it came at an interesting time. It came at the right time, I know, because God is sovereign, but in the couple of months before I met Christian in person, I had started having sleeping problems and panic attacks. It wasn’t because of Christian initially, but once we started dating, the problems were compounded.

Even though he had remained firm in his commitment to me, I still wasn’t sure if he really meant it. And it didn’t matter how many times he told me, I still just wasn’t sure.

As you can imagine, this was a hard time for both of us. I wasn’t trusting God or Christian, and he was 400 miles away trying to do well at school and spend time with friends and still be there for me.

I wish I could say that the problem quickly subsided, but it didn’t.

Instead, the anxiety turned into dependence, which turned into some behavior that I’m pretty embarassed about and would rather not disclose completely. In short, the summer after we met, I dishonored my parents, ignored most of my friends (which really hurt them) and didn’t really resolve any of my anxiety about Christian.

And so that summer was a rocky time, and not indicative of what our relationship would become. I get really sad thinking about all the opportunities that I wasted during those months, but God is a good and loving God who redeems bad things for good. It took me a while to see any good out of those things, but if nothing else, I can see that God sustained me through a period of time when I deserved grace less than anyone.

At the end of the summer we had almost two weeks together. He stayed with some friends of mine in Columbia, and we got to see each other every day. This was good, but almost too good. When he went back to school, it was really hard for me. Over the summer we had been able to talk pretty much whenever. But now he had a schedule and so did I, and we had to fit each other in.

The first semester of my junior year was rough, because our relationship was really and truly long distance. He wasn’t just some guy I talked to through AIM who I thought was really great. This was someone who was pursuing me, who wanted to know me better, who wanted to know my family and friends, who really and truly loved me. The only thing was, he was a six-hour drive away.

We managed to visit each other fairly often. He came down for an Andrew Peterson concert. I went up for our six-month anniversary. He came down for fall break. I went up when we had a Monday off school. But the fact remained that we did not live in the same town, we didn’t get to see each other much, and it was really, really hard.

There was a light at the end of the tunnel, though it was a temporary light. After Christmas 2006, he was going to spend six weeks in Columbia… before he went to Germany.

To be continued.