“Would you like to go for a run tomorrow?” He asked me, casually, over dinner. His parents and my grandparents sat across from us, and looking out the window, I could see the outline of the Yampa Valley Flat Tops in the Rocky Mountains. We were nearing the end of our week together in-between summer work (he, at my grandparents’ ranch, me, at summer camp) and my student teaching/his return to Chicago. We hadn’t enjoyed many moments with just the two of us, so I agreed, and we set a time (early, before his irrigation chores would begin).
Running was normal for us. We’d completed two marathons (and all the training!) together and enjoyed especially the challenge presented by the altitude and hills on the ranch.
The next morning, we started our normal route, enjoying the semi-easy downhill run into the woods. Nathanael suggested we take a longer route which circled one of the lakes and ended with a long, semi-steep uphill portion. I felt confident after working all summer at Lutheran Valley Retreat’s 8,000 feet, so I agreed. Unfortunately, however, even after a summer of working and running at altitude, I was not ready for that hill. My side of the conversation lagged, as my thoughts turned to frustration that I couldn’t keep up. Nathanael, however, encouraged me, sharing his favorite memories of our relationship, and vowing to love me always, even when I’m huffing and puffing or dirty and sweaty. Me? I was thinking of other, more colorful, words to describe the cowpies littering the trail.
Finally, after what seemed like forever, we reached the top of the hill (aptly, the road adjacent bears the name “Huff and Puff”) and I took the opportunity to catch my breath. Nate knelt down to tie his shoe, so I put my hands on my head, taking deep breaths and walking in circles. Slowly I felt relief in my burning lungs… still partially irritated that Nate didn’t seem to be having a problem. But surely, it wasn’t taking him this long to tie his shoes…I turned and lost my breath for a completely different reason. There, at the top of this gorgeous hill, looking over the valley we both loved, was my 21-year-old beau holding a diamond ring and asking me to marry him. I finally spoke: “Are you serious?”
If you’ve ever been engaged or been close to someone who is, you know that many a conversation for the next 6 months or so will include two questions: “Can I see the ring?” and “What’s the story?”
Girlfriends of mine can recount fabulous tales of day-long dates visiting the couple’s favorite hangouts and ending with a party surrounded by their closest friends and family. Others have told of a ring slipped into a glass of champagne at a fancy restaurant or the simple question, “so you wanna look at rings or something?” during a ballgame. Two years ago, I had the blessing of helping my brother-in-law plan the perfect – surprise – beach sunset engagement for my sister (oh yeah, it was gorgeous). Engagement stories tend to capture us, and especially around Valentine’s Day.
The Bible tells us that we are Christ’s bride and that one day he will come back for us. Tenth Avenue North’s lead singer Mike Donehey has an excellent video describing the Hebrew betrothal process (click here) and the beautiful metaphor that Christ sets up for us when he tells us that he’s preparing a place for us.
But here’s where the beauty ends and the fall into sin rears its ugly head. See, I love my engagement story. But what I don’t usually share is that two weeks before, I’d been complaining to a friend that I wasn’t engaged yet. Despite the two years of internships and college left before we could marry, jealousy of my engaged friends overtook my heart. And do you remember the part of the story where I was thinking about cowpies? Yeah, that’s not so pretty either.
I am the bride of Christ but how often, instead of joyfully and patiently looking to the future, am I too busy looking around in jealousy? Or, instead of enjoying his presence with me through the hard, long, uphill battle of this life, am I staring down at my shoes and thinking about poop?
Side note: please don’t misunderstand me here. Sometimes hardships and pain and suffering really, really suck. I also know many beautiful and wonderful men and women who are still waiting for their spouse and aching in the process. I’m not trying to belittle either of those experiences. I’m only speaking of my own natural navel-gazing tendencies when I should instead be looking to my savior.
After the run (I did eventually say yes), Nathanael and I spoke to our closest friends and family, sharing our good news, and then Nathanael had a bottle ready of my favorite sparkling wine and a blue-raspberry ring pop (very important).
See, weeks before, while I was complaining, Nathanael was communicating long-distance with his sister, choosing the perfect ring through text message and coordinating how to secretly send it with his parents, along with the wine and ring pop, in a sealed, unmarked box. The night before, while I slept peacefully, he was up late, restlessly writing and re-writing his uphill speech. During the run, while I was thinking evil thoughts about his apparently much more well-adjusted lungs, he was carefully running with his hand next to his pocket, to make sure the precious cargo didn’t fall out.
Friends, my husband certainly isn’t perfect, but he points me to Jesus Christ, who is, and this story is an excellent example. Even when we complain that he present enough or fulfilling us, Jesus is preparing a heavenly place for us (John 14:3). Even when life is good and we’re resting peacefully and unaware, Jesus’ legion of angels is unresting in the daily spiritual battle against the devil (by the way, he already lost, but he’s looking to ruin our lives along with his). Even when life is a struggle and we’re running uphill, in a bad mood and possibly thinking about synonyms for cow pies, Jesus is pouring out his love for us, protecting his precious cargo (our hearts) (Philippians 4:7). And he’s promised to have our favorite wine waiting at his feast of feasts (Isaiah 25:6-9).
Dear friends, these words aren’t empty promises. They are real and true. I don’t know where your story is with Jesus, but I hope you know that you are so, so loved by a really rich guy with enough diamonds to make Kim Kardashian’s ring look pretty small.
Isaiah 25:6-9 “On this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine—the best of meats and the finest of wines. On this mountain he will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples, the sheet that covers all nations; he will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces; he will remove his people’s disgrace from all the earth. The Lord has spoken. In that day they will say, “Surely this is our God; we trusted in him, and he saved us. This is the Lord, we trusted in him; let us rejoice and be glad in his salvation.”
John 14:7 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.
Philippians 4:7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.