Natasha loves Jeremy….
She thinks he knows it…
…but she’s never said so.
Despite the 7 different kerchiefs that hang in her closet (one for each day of the week) she saves the lime green and purple paisley one- the one her best friend jokingly tells her “brings out the color of her eyes”- for church on Sunday. (She does this just to see how fast the older, prim ladies glance at her and quickly swerve away in a polite, but nevertheless disapproving, singular movement)
Despite this and her hipster glasses, you see, she’s actually a traditionalist…
She simply will not say the words until he does.
There’s just one problem- she has begun to doubt he might ever say them and was wondering if this, sometimes, “long distance relationship” was worth the sacrifice and wait.
There have been many days recently where she wasn’t:
…from breaking it off altogether, honestly…
Jeremy loved Natasha…
He figures she realizes it…
…but he’s never actually said the words.
Still, he loved her almost immediately after the moment she stepped into the coffee shop where he worked:
-drenched from the rain that had spilled out of her bent umbrella-
-and got her skirt caught on the edge of the table that held all of the condiments near the door-
– which dragged out from the wall a good foot –
-and sent an alarming screech throughout the empty shop as the metal leg scraped across the highly lacquered pine floor.
-The screech is what sent Jeremy leaping over the bar to help-
– just as Natasha’s other foot got caught around the leg of one of the barrel chairs behind her-
-and she began to wave both arms like a tightrope walker in large circles-
– which caused her back-pack to slide all at once off her shoulder-
– which pushed her weight back just enough to cause her to fall backward-
– just as Jeremy’s waiting arms arrived and caught her…
…which caused her to scream!– LOUDLY–
-and as she spun around to investigate who’s hands she was seeing now out in front of her (which, by the way, she thought was rather gentlemanly of him considering what other alternatives a more gruesome human being may have easily gotten away with in a similar situation)
– that same nuisance backpack flew in an upward motion and clocked him on the side of his head-
-which caused him to fall quickly to the floor in front of her
– which made her immediately shift from all out defense to absolute, sheer, spiritual, and compassion with lots of “Oh, I’m so sorry!”s and “Are you o.k.?”s as she gently touched him and tended to the knot that was now forming just above the line of his absolutely every-morning, labor intensive, intentional… casual, wavy hair.
This compassion was a spiritual gift he had seen in her countless times since- a gift he would not have seen had she not so awkwardly fumbled into his life in the way she did, and it was for this reason he had grown to love her so much. Well, that and, you know-
He thought she was totally hot…
But he hadn’t said the words. Not then and not in the 8 months since that day, even when she was right there with him attending grad school in Portland. Not when he dropped her off at the airport back in the beginning of November so she could fly home to her family in Pittsburgh. (The university there runs on tri-mesters so she’s on break until mid January now). And not even now when they were on the phone for probably the 53rd time since then talking about the absolute, record-breaking weirdness their relatives had displayed during Thanksgiving and contemplating their plans for Christmas.
He wanted to tell her, and even though his prayers (and hers) had healed almost all of the pain of his parent’s divorce when he was 8- it honestly wasn’t entirely complete yet. I mean, he had never said it to anyone. He had simply been too afraid.
But that was all about to change…
“And we know that God causes all things to work together for good for those who love God and are called according to His purpose.” – Romans 8:28
In God’s Kingdom, things are always moving. God’s always doing and working something out, in, through and among our lives. Sometimes this movement can seem break-necking in it’s pace forward or crawling at the rate of a snail. At other times, we may feel like we’ve regressed or lost so much ground compared to everyone around uspersonally, professionally, spiritually- that we’ll never catch up.
But these sorts of negative feelings aren’t really the thing we have to be careful of (other than maybe comparing ourselves to others). The thing we all have to watch out for is that lie we sometimes believe that tries to tell us:
“You aren’t going anywhere.”
“You’re just treading in place.”
“You are stuck.”
I believe none of this is ever true for those who love God and desire to do what pleases Him. Because- again- in His Kingdom- things are always moving, and He is always at work within us, even when we aren’t aware or can’t really ‘see’ it. If we ever find ourselves feeling like we’re “stuck,” we have to find a way to encourage our hearts to trust in Him.
One such individual who had to do this quite often was King David. David began his life with seeming success. He had displayed great courage in the famous story about his defeat of Goliath. He was recognized for his musical talent and was shown great favor with King Saul. That’s not bad for a shepherd who had spent his childhood leaving his house for days at a time-alone- with only his thoughts of God to distract him from the mix of monotony and consistent danger from wild animals like bears and lions as he moved the herd on a never ending trek throughout the mountains.
At this young age, when he had so many older brothers ahead of him who would each receive wealth and privilege before him, he might have thought, “Is this all there is?” or “Will I ever have my day in the nice warm house, surrounded by people, to be given a daily meal?” He had no idea one day he would live in a palace and have the finest things available brought to him. All he could do at that time is pray- something he most likely often did.
I don’t think it was his athletic ability that enabled him to kill the bear and the lion. Bears and lions are so mightily made that they can kill great athletes as easily as any other human.. It was simply David’s complete trust and dependence on God that enabled him to overcome them. And while he did this- for the sake of his purpose-(which was at this time simply taking care of stupid, smelly sheep-the job no one else wanted to do)..he kept moving. He had no idea that he was, in fact, not “stuck” doing this in any way. He was actually being prepared-
He was being prepared for a time in his not too distant future in which he would lead rejected, seemingly incapable men vast distances on a continuous, looping journey while being hunted by a king’s army.
How did David encourage his heart?
1- An attitude of gratitude. Throughout the psalms, David expresses his heart all thew way through his most troubling times. In each and every instance, he brings his heart back to thankfulness toward and adoration of the Lord.
He maintained this attitude and discipline and character even when he moved while trying to find a place to live in peace away from Saul’s army- (74 times in a period of 8 years!) During this time, he took over cities, was betrayed by those he defended, was rejected by the king, rejected by princes- even rejected by the very people he led- all of whom were described as “Everyone who was in distress, and everyone who was in debt, and everyone who was discontented gathered to him; and he became captain over them.” Things were bad. Even though his leadership had transformed them into “Mighty men of God” and “Giant Killers,”- even though he had led them to inhabit their own city even while they were on the run- David’s men still contemplated stoning him on the day the Amalekites had kidnapped all of their wives and children. David had already received a promise to become King over the country ten years earlier yet for nearly the entire decade, he was seemingly “stuck” no closer to the throne than he was when he was alone with a bunch of stupid sheep in a remote mountain pasture.
In fact, he probably felt like he was doing the exact same thing except in the company of people slightly less fluffy. But here’s the thing David did…he kept thankful, trusting- and he never stopped moving. He was the ultimate example of how to get “unstuck.” When I study David’s life, I conclude there are three things David did within the anointing as King that eventually guided all of his days…
First– he took risks. From Goliath to the final battle with Saul to the plans and funding for the temple, he took on the largest of goals. It wasn’t that he was stupid or thought it couldn’t go badly. It was that he resolved to not care. He knew what God had called Him to do and he was simply more obedient to do it than the people around him.
Second- Though he was rejected, he kept thankful. He remained grateful even in the worst circumstances. When one begins to see rejection as opportunity to lead and to love, they are bound for reward.
Third- he kept moving. Don’t ever stop. Do something that helps move you forward- in your relationships, in your career, in your faith, in your experience- every, single day. These are the things that cause you real gain- the things no one is holding you accountable for- the things that there are no immediate consequences to not doing but you know that if you do them- you and those you care for will surely benefit greatly.
We must do all of these things because the Kingdom is moving forward around us. Our commission and obedience to God is to move along with it.
Jeremy was excited as he ran through the airport, his rolling suitcase with one flattened wheel awkwardly bouncing behind him. He was running so fast that everyone that saw him run past thought he was late for a flight even though, in actuality, he had just landed. It wasn’t until he was literally halfway through the rental car floor that he realized he had absolutely no idea where he was going.
He stopped moving and caught his breath, which was painfully frustrating as he fumbled through the pockets of the suit he never wears and tore two stitches in the pocket as he drew out his smart phone to remind him of which rental car company he had used. 15 minutes (that felt like 2 hours) later, he was through the line. At least he made good use of the time by plucking a bouquet of flowers from the stand conveniently placed next to the counter. He chose something with baby’s breath, purple cone shaped flowers and some form of miniature poinsettia. “Her favorite colors and just christmas-y enough.”
Next thing he knew he was in a plasticky smelling and cramped Nissan Versa, racing in what was (hopefully) the right direction in this new city to her home. His thoughts and excitement about seeing Natasha were interrupted for just a split second when he anticipated the “magical view” of the city of Pittsburgh she told him of so often. He remembered she said it was just on the other side of a tunnel from the airport. He saw a tunnel up ahead and thought, “That must be it.”
Just as advertised, his breath was taken away by the blast of lights and life in the twilight sky like a firework exploding in a 360 degree sphere around the Versa. It’s picturesque extravagance was emphasized by the snow that had just begun to fall and swirl around the bridge. His amazement doused quickly as his sub-conscious thoughts were invaded by an overhead collage of directions and signs and the blare of the Nav telling him to move two lanes over to his right as traffic whirred past and horns yelped on all sides.
About twenty minutes later he was parked on a darkening street in a place called ‘Squirrel Hill.’ From Natasha’s description of her home neighborhood, he always thought of it as smaller and more stodgy because of the big, old houses she mentioned. But, this place was much more crowded and confusing and, seemingly, as young and nervous as he felt tonight. He checked his hair in the rearview- ‘a little too wavy, but what are you gonna do?’– and headed up the staircase in front of “2723 Darlington Rd” as a strange feeling of destiny washed over him.
He quickly wondered if he might ever forget this night.
As he hit the doorbell, he at once wished he hadn’t since he was still out of breath from running up the steps. He was about to learn he wouldn’t… …forget this night that is…But not for the reason he expected.
The bells on the wreath jingled slightly as it began to draw away from him and an attractive woman with a Milano complexion in her 50’s poked her head out of the doorway.
“May I help you?,” the woman asked, somewhere in between holiday politeness and incredulity. I mean, it was an odd time to receive a visitor- but he was dressed nicely. And he was holding some nice flowers. Is he lost or..umm.. a christmas caroler who lost the rest of his choir? The sight would be a little confusing for anyone.
Jeremy cleared his throat and spoke up, “Hi Mrs. Watson, I’m Jeremy. We’ve spoken on the phone a few times. I hope it’s o.k. that I am here. I came to surprise Natasha.”
Mrs. Watson’s eyes grew wide and spoke two words that were among the least expected Jeremy would ever have guessed to be among the first Natalie’s mom would have said to him…
“Oh…crap*!.”, she said.
Honestly… most of the other people Natasha was running by must have thought she was late for her flight when in actuality she had just landed. She was never more excited to be back in Portland. She was back to her school based home town ready to surprise Jeremy. She wanted them be together for Christmas and she finally decided to move forward with all of the plans that she had been contemplating for weeks. She simply had never been more nervous.
To top it all off, she- frustratingly and for a reason she simply couldn’t explain- couldn’t help replaying this one moment in her mind when Jeremy kept giggling in their last phone conversation. He was hiding/hinting at something. She just didn’t know what. ‘Come on, Nat..stop thinking about that. Nothing he had planned for the holidays could compare to this surprise…tonight’s a night he will never forget!’
So, it was 11 p.m. and Jeremy was sitting in his suit pants and shirt with loosened tie sipping his fourth mug of egg nog as Mrs. Watson dropped off even more holiday treats to his living room perch.
Each time she came in and dropped something off, she paused- looked at him and took him in, laughed out loud, and left, shaking her head to herself. She unabashedly eavesdropped from the kitchen as Jeremy spoke on the phone with equal measure of laughter and frustration, hashing out the events of the last few hours with her daughter.
Natasha had originally suggested back at the airport- ( This was after she answered his call, listened to him explain where he was, screamed, and dropped the phone while nearly fainting all while fumbling with her Uber App..), that she get in to some temporary campus housing they set up for students during the holidays. But since (so very regrettably)- Jeremy wasn’t in Portland anymore- he pointed out there wasn’t any harm in staying in his apartment instead.
She was now sitting in her fuzzy, Dr. Seuss Grinch pajamas- phone pressed too hard against her ear, as if squishing her lobe could bring him closer somehow. Hours of tears and laughter passed and both of them needed to dig through their luggage to find their chargers and create a comfortable spot near an outlet to plug in.
It was a frustrating night….It was an hysterical night… It was a ‘tale for all time- if it all works out we’ll tell our grandkids about it one day’- kind of night. And that made the night a gift. It was a night, as they both had suspected and prayed for…that they would never, ever forget-
As the hour became so late and the yawns became so frequent and the words became so much longer to say- even a little redundant, perhaps- as the events of the amazing day kept rehashing as they attempted to help each other work through the disbelief it actually turned out the way it did…. Jeremy- sensing the opportunity to follow through on the promise he had made himself was waning, swallowed and said,
“Natasha- I need you to know. I mean, I should have told you a long time ago and I’m sorr- it’s just… I love you…I- I- I’ve always loved you. It’s so whacked, but I think I might actually have loved you before we even met. I’ve never loved anyone as much as I love you and, though I don’t know where all of this might lead…somehow I think.. I might just end up loving you for the rest of my life.”
He was only half way through as the tears began for both of them. Natasha almost couldn’t say it back because of her gasps for air …almost …but she did say it back.
In the many years they had together after, Natasha and Jeremy would often say of their journey that if that night hadn’t have happened- probably exactly as it did- their relationship might not have lasted past that holiday break. It certainly wasn’t how they had planned, but God did manage to get them unstuck-and the greatest joy in their lives outside of their faith in Christ had come upon them in the life they now shared together. And it was all because they did a simple thing once they realized they were very much in love.
In their case it involved a plane and a cross country trip- …”but the distance didn’t matter”, they would say…
“The important thing,” according to Natasha was:
“We just… …moved.”