The fireworks. The realization the other was just a normal person like everyone else.
The excitement, the uniqueness that is them.
Warning: this is long-ish. This is real. Read on if you'd like.
I hope it encourages you, makes you laugh a little and maybe even helps you believe that honest love is out there.
This is my love story. Our love story.
Winter 2005. I'm a sophomore at Hope College in Holland, MI. Our liberal arts Christian school brings speaker + author Bruce Wilkenson (Prayer of Jabez) to speak at our Sunday night worship service, The Gathering.
God had been opening my eyes and exposing me to the world. As in, my 20 year-old mind could not begin to contain or fathom what was out there - the people, the stories, the suffering, the struggle.
Wilkenson talked about his new organization - Dream for Africa - that existed to irradiate HIV/AIDS in Africa through prevention education with a focus on orphan care.
He said he was asking us - the Hope student body - if we would join him for 4 weeks that summer in South Africa. Just months away.
My stomach churned in knots. My palms were sweaty.
This. This is what I had been waiting for. Longing for.
I felt glued to my seat in fear.
Who was I to go to Africa? How would I raise the funds? What about working that summer?
I peeled myself off the wooden pew, threw off my fear and joined the swarm of fellow students far braver than I that had been kneeling on the stage as indicator that, yes, they were willing. They would go.
Wilkenson mentioned he was traveling to other Christian colleges, looking for students with a heart to serve. To join him in this mission.
Didn't think any more of that. So we'll have people from around the country joining us. Cool.
Let me let you in on a little window to the Laura of Spring 2005.
This Laura was longing to be married. With a string of failed relationships (not to mention a few failed promise of relationships...you know, you're both immensely interested in each other. Flirting. Spend time together. But it just dies out? Nothing comes of it? Yeah. Had a few of those already in the bag at Hope.)
This Laura thought she was in love with a guy who was wonderful but things were not coming together. As in, most plans to spend time together didn't work out. It was as if we both really wanted a relationship with each other, but it was a struggle. Not our personalities colliding, just tension. Like we were both trying hard to make it work but our efforts always left us at failed attempts. Like we were spinning our wheels and exerting tons of energy to somehow just see each other.
So Laura of Spring 2005 boarded a plane from Grand Rapids, MI with what felt like a million other Hope College students (in reality, there were about 50 of us. Including my dear, dear friend Leslie.) While waiting to check-in, I couldn't help looking back a couple times at the airport bench. In between faces I recognized, was a cute guy that I was confused by, didn't recognize. Hope was only 3,500 students. While I may not have known every person at Hope, I did know nearly every face.
"Hmm. He must just have an opposite schedule to me." I thought.
Layover in Atlanta, GA. Cute guy I didn't recognize approaches Leslie and I.
"Hi, I'm Jason. Can I sit by you guys?"
Why, yes. Yes. You. Can.
Jason and I figured out we both needed to exchange our currency. I guess we could go do that together.
Fast forward to the plane ride from Atlanta to Johannesburg. We were on a MASSIVE plane with what must have been a thousand seats. (P.S. I never exaggerate.)
I felt an ache in my heart as new cute boy Jason was like, 20 rows in front of me. To the left. But who really knows.
The plane ride was super special.
As in, apparently, it was that time of the month, my bowels decided to act up...oh! And I puked. So, there was that.
Feeling fresh-as-a-daisy, I stepped off the plane sporting track pants, a "Frankfort, MI" t-shirt and my glasses.
Good heavens, I was serious about my commitment to be there for the kids and "not to find a guy."
Feeling the pangs of regret for not having a stitch of makeup on or putting my contacts in that day, we got on the bus that would take us to our destination city, Umtata.
We were told it would be a 13 hour bus ride from the Johannesburg airport to the rural town of Umtata.
I sat down next to Leslie in the aisle seat. Jason still hadn't gotten on the charter bus.
Butterflies exploded in my stomach as I caught a glimpse of him stepping on.
"God," I silently pleaded. "PLEASE let him sit by me! I know this is the most frivilous prayer ever! But, please let him sit by me."
Jason took the aisle seat an arms length away.
Pretty sure all breath left my body in that moment.
"Oh. My. Gosh. THANK YOU, JESUS! THANK YOU!"
That rumored 13 hour bus ride turned out to be a 16 hour bus ride, in which we sat next to each other and chatted for the majority of.
We discussed our relationships with the Lord. Our convictions on social/moral issues. How in love with God we were. What He was teaching us.
I could marry this man. He is exactly what I'm looking for in a husband.
It excited and scared the crap outta me all at the same time.
Those couple weeks in South Africa, we didn't get a lot of opportunities to talk to each other. Our large group comprised of students from across the U.S. and others from Zambia and South Africa were split. Jason went to another town 2 hours away to serve while I stayed at the Umtata base (and no, we didn't get to choose our teams. I would have given my right arm to be with Jason that week.)
There was a beautiful, serene tree that would often go to those weeks in Umtata to pray, journal and read the Word.
Here, I poured out my heart to God time and time again.
Told Him things like "God, I just want to serve You with my life. I want to love You more. I want what You want for me."
I told my Savior what He already knew: "Lord, I want to get married. I long for that. Show me, God, what You want me to do. Lead me. Give me a husband who loves You!"
Within the last couple days of the trip, I sat and listened for the voice of God. I was desperate for Him to speak to me.
There, under that tree, I heard His still, small voice "Laura, when you get home, something so great is going to happen. It's going to completely blow you away. Just wait for it."
I got excited. Really excited. I thought, okay. Things will finally work out with the boy I'm enamored with back at home.
See, although I knew Jason was exactly the type of person I wanted to marry, we didn't get to spend a lot of time together. And while our conversations were good, while I was totally falling for him, he was nice to me like he was nice to everyone.
No special signals. No signs of a mutual attraction.
So nearing the end of the trip I told myself to just get over it. Jason and I were never going to happen.
God must have been talking about the guy back in Holland, MI.
Fast forward to July 2005. We had been back at home for a month. Me living at home with my parents for the summer and Jason back in the Chicago suburbs with his parents.
I thought about Jason often. How handsome he was. How grounded he was. His faith.
It got me teary-eyed. It honestly made me mad.
Why couldn't he feel the same way I felt about him?
I knew I had a lot to offer. Was I not good enough for Jason?
Then, I felt this unshakable urge to email him.
"Really, God?" I silently whined. "I just want to be done with this. If he's not interested by now, this is ridiculous. I. Don't. Want. To."
Still, the sense persisted. So I emailed Jason.
The email was something like "How are you doing? Yadda yadda. This is what God's been teaching me....here are the Bible verses that have really spoken to me lately."
(Sidenote: Jason tells me now that those verses were exactly what he needed and the encouragement he was yearning for. Cray.)
He emailed me back.
Before we knew it, were were emailing nearly every other day.
I had made plans to visit my Hope friend Steph and Morgan in their hometown of Chicago for a weekend that month.
Again, the sense I needed to call Jason.
"Really God? Isn't HE suppose to be the one pursuing ME?! Why do I have to call??"
I called. Told him I didn't know if he was busy this weekend, but that I was going to be in Chicago visiting some girlfriends. He sounded surprisingly excited. Turns out, that weekend was the the only weekend he'd be home the entire summer.
But, we didn't make any plans.
That weekend, I was at dinner with Steph and Morgan at the Wheaton, IL Macaroni Grill.
Flip phone rings. Jason.
"Hey, I'm suppose to be at a youth group event, but can't find the place. What are you doing?"
"I'm at dinner in Wheaton with Steph and Morgan."
"No way! I'm right here! Be in in a minute."
Chances, people? Really? Really.
End of August 2005. Had just gotten settled into my apartment for my junior year at Hope.
My phone rang.
I didn't recognize the number. My heart sank. Could this be Jason?!
"Hey Laura, it's Jason!"
Shut the freaking front door! We've upgraded to phone calls.
He proceed to ask what I was doing that weekend and if he could come visit me.
My thoughts? Why yes, Jason. Yes, you CAN come visit me.
We dated for 5 months. Three hours away from each other, we'd visit pretty much whenever we could.
Both finishing college and working. We went through Bible studies together. We went through Christian books together.
We made a lot of mistakes.
We vowed to save the beautiful gift of intimacy with each other until we got married.
May 26, 2006. On bending knee on the shores of Lake Michigan in Holland, Jason asked if I would be his wife and spend forever with him.
I practically attacked him and screamed with excitement like a lunatic for 20 minutes and said YES!
We got married at Hope College's Dimnet chapel on June 9, 2007 where I grew a lot spiritually those college years.
The same place I said "yes" to going on that trip to South Africa in the first place.
We began our happily ever after.
Jason and I are two incredibly flawed, broken people.
We disagree. We annoy each other sometimes.
At the end of the day, he's my love. My best friend.
I am beyond-words, crazy-thankful I get to do life with this man.
Through Unspeakable Joy,