North Carolina Boy

Each year around this time, my mind goes back to such a special Christmas season.

I remember it so clearly, this week two years ago- I hope I never forget, either. The context, if you will: the Stover family moved to South Carolina + nobody at Cedarville University lived in South Carolina = Kate had no way of getting home for Christmas break. Frantic and stressed and only a week from finals, I searched the university classifieds page in search of a ride home. Literally the first or second advertisement from a boy named Andrew read, “Offering rides to or around Raleigh, NC.” Perfect. I sent an email with my phone number and received a text minutes later, agreeing to drive me as far as Winston-Salem. And also,

“So I noticed you have a PA area code… I have a bunch of family from Pennsylvania!”

I was sitting at my desk next to my roommate, and I remember rolling my eyes and showing her the text saying something like,

“Ew I hope this guy doesn’t try to be super friendly with me and try to talk to me for the whole drive. That’s the worst. I’d rather just sit in the back seat and read a book.”

In the days that followed, friends would inquire as to how I was getting home, and I would reply with: “Just a random guy I found on classifieds who lives in North Carolina!” and everyone – everyone – everyone gave me that look. That look that every single girl has probably seen at one point or another, followed by,

You’re driving home with a BOY???” and

“OOOOHHH have you stalked him on Facebook yet??” and

“Is he cute?? I bet he’s cute. I bet you’re going to fall in love!” and my favorite:

“You know my parents know some people who met giving each other rides home in college. and now they’re MARRIED!!” **wink wink**

Cue the eye-rolling and probably foot stomping and adamant quotations along the lines of: It’s JUST a ride home! We’re not even going to talk to each other. So opposed to this guy, I finally searched for him on Facebook just to make one of my friends stop talking about it and prove, “Look, he’s not even cute.”

Friends, I was so fiercely opposed to dating at this point in my life. I was an RA and I was pouring myself into 24 awesome freshman girls. I was involved in two different urban ministries in Springfield. I was working on restoring mine and my sister’s relationship. My family had just moved to South Carolina from Delaware and I was continually processing that huge upheaval. I was so busy, so involved, and I say this not to pat myself on the back or throw confetti into the air of my own self-celebration- that’s not it at all. I say all of this to emphasize how desperately I needed to be humbled. All these things in my life were so, so good- and it was certainly a rich, beautiful time, but I was so deeply flawed in so many ways (still am- always will be) and while I was invested in so many good things, I was continually building huge thick walls around my frozen heart. I would walk around campus criticizing anyone and everyone who was dating, or who would admit they wanted to date. When couples got engaged? I was horridly critical and judgmental of their choice to “throw their life away!” I thought I was doing just fine, but my pride in my own independence needed shaking and breaking. My heart of stone needed to be made flesh.

Then it was Thursday night, finals week, the night before my last final and the end of the semester. My girl Madie Grapes (!!) helped me carry all my bags down three flights of stairs to the Willetts lounge where he was waiting by the doors, his Jetta parked outside to load up my bags. We agreed to meet outside the Bible building after my last final the next day and we’d hit the road, so I needed to get all my stuff in his car the night before. Upstairs, there was a hall full of girls I loved, studying and snacking and lounging on pillows against the cinderblock walls, waiting for me to come back and report what this guy looked like. This moment I’ll never forget. It’s really really true when they say your life can change in an instant. Because I saw Andrew through the small window in the door separating me and all my bags in my hands and all my baggage in my heart and I knew this was going to turn out differently than I expected. My resolve began to crumble right then and there, in the cold lounge of my dorm building. I remember what shirt he was wearing, I remember he was texting on his phone when I opened the door and he looked up saying, “Are you Kate?”

Never mind how much of a gushing fool I acted like as he picked up my bags and loaded them into the back of his car. Never mind how stupid I felt in my shorts and moccasins and really dirty hair. Never mind the I-told-you-so’s coming from the hall full of girls when Madie & I came back upstairs and she burst out, “She thinks Andrew is cute!!” Never mind how I actually did sit in the back of the car and read a book all the way home the next day. Never mind how I tried to ignore how everything he said was really interesting. Never mind how we found out we had a number of things in common that day including loving coffee, Jesus, world missions and the outdoors.

That whole Christmas break was spent in deep, deep conversations with Jesus and close friends, asking “What the heck is going on??” Those weeks between first meeting Andrew and going back to school were some of the hardest yet best weeks because that time spent with Jesus was so, so sweet. I experienced some of the most meaningful moments with God himself as He brought to the surface things I had buried so deep within my heart that I never wanted to deal with. With gentle pressure He revealed the bleakness of where my life would be going if I continued to refuse help and submission to Him and admitting my weaknesses. C. S. Lewis put it this way,

“Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to?”

…in a way that hurt abominably, at first, but then slowly He started refining me and pouring out so much grace and mercy and filling my brokenness with all His beauty and newness and freedom… and life! So much new life filled every ounce of my soul that Christmas season. I surrendered my whole entire self and everything became so much more rich, vibrant and beautiful. My family became so much more treasured. My sister and I loved each other again. Our house in South Carolina became home. and eventually, quietly, I admitted to Jesus that I wanted to be with someone. I can still see those words on the page of my journal, and I can picture where I sat when I wrote those words and when put my pen down immediately because Andrew was in the back of my mind and I didn’t know what was happening.

But I started learning at that moment that falling into the all-sufficiency of the grace of the great wide open is the best and most beautiful place to ever be, and I didn’t know it at that time, but that moment would set me on a long, long, perhaps lifelong journey of that same surrender. C. S. Lewis also said, when we are wondering what God is up to as he wrecks and rebuilds the house of our hearts, that

“He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.”

God broke down my walls, and a few weeks later, Andrew started to help. Months went by, and I’ll spare you the rest of the details, but Andrew and I found ourselves sitting across from a table in the cafeteria when he said the words I’ll never ever forget: “You’re my girlfriend now.” Ah! I still laugh when I think of it! Such a small moment, in an insignificant place, that has set us on this crazy huge wild journey.

Andrew walked across the graduation stage exactly a month later and we started fumbling around the unknowns of a long-distance relationship. I somehow managed to trudge through my senior year of college. We both wandered through unknowns and toed the deep water of uncertainty as we faced our future. As Andrew was heading towards Guam I found out I was bound for South Korea. I moved across the globe. Andrew got fully-funded.

And in 19 days he’ll be here. Here, in a place I could have never asked or imagined for myself, or for the both of us. And I smile and sometimes still weep with the same awe and humility that I felt two years ago. When God asked, “Are you willing?” and I said “Yes” and found myself where I hoped- where I think we all hope we might stand after taking that last deep breath and falling free, out in the great wide open of grace. Too much grace and goodness for us to contain- this has been the only way I can describe the past two years. and to know there is more to come? I don’t have words to express the fullness of my heart, so here are some verses that can:

We throw open our doors to God and discover at the same moment that He has already thrown open His door to us. We find ourselves standing where we always hoped we might stand- out in the wide open spaces of God’s grace and glory, standing tall and shouting our praise. There’s more to come! We continue to shout our praise even when we’re hemmed in with troubles, because we know how troubles can develop passionate patience in us, and how that patience in turn forges the tempered steel of virtue, keeping us alert for whatever happens next… we can’t round up enough containers to hold everything God generously pours into our lives through the Holy Spirit! {Psalms, The Message

Andrew & I wear leather bracelets that have words pressed into them, words that God keeps pressing into our hearts: “Into the grace of the great wide open / Into the grace of the great unknown.” It’s the best place to be.

Happy two years of knowing you, North Carolina Boy. 

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