our story


Here is the story of Brent and me: Our Story. I can't promise that it's perfect, but I promise it is as true to life as I can remember. Grab a snack, it's a doozey...enjoy! [And the text got funky in a few places, either being smaller or bigger than original, so I guess you can move your computer nearer or farther from your face!]

Part I
As a freshman in high school, boys weren't off my radar screen. I liked basketball, mesh shorts, food, and ponytails, but I also liked boys. I was a "pretend-like-I'm-not-a-girly-girl" flirt, only wearing just enough lip gloss to be allowed into testosterone circles without causing much angst. The boys at my school knew my standards though, making it difficult to find a date. I was sick of the run around, the "you're-just-like-one-of-the-guys-I-could-never-think-of-you-that-way"s, the mindless conversations with girlfriends, and I observed just enough to see there was a picture bigger than high school.

This breezy April night was not unlike so many others: stay after school and shoot around, lift weights, catch a ride or walk home, homework, supper with the family. But then it hit me, like many lonely moments before. I wanted to pick up the phone, call a him who would smile when his mom handed him the phone saying, "It's her..." But as the curtains fluttered in my little room above the kitchen I knew that phone call wouldn't be happening tonight, and since there were very few perspectives, I knew the reality was that it wouldn't be happening for a very long while.I flopped on my twin sized bed, chest down, toes dangling over the edge and, like so many evenings before, put my head in my hands and let my gaze and my thoughts drift out the open screen of the window at the head of my bed.

I don't know if it was the flowery purple spring sky, or the smell of a fresh, mid-western breeze tickling my nose, or the unrelenting weight of my barely 15 year old soul longing to be cherished, but I grabbed a notebook from a pile on my floor, and pushed aside deodorant, hair ties, yesterday's granola bar wrapper, a folded note from my friend at school with "B.F.F." scribbled on the front, my alarm clock... "Ah-ha! Finally, something to write with…" 

I dated the paper: April 26, 2001, but then put the lid back on the pen. I focused, cleared my mind, and dreamed up the man I wanted in my future. I have always had an excellent imagination, and in no time the vision of this man was in my mind's eye: Taller than me, dark head of hair, guitar strapped around his shoulder, bible in his hand, and playing peek-a-boo with a giggling child. Sigh. Perfection.

I picked up my black Bic once again, and started writing:

To: My Future Husband

I thought I would write you because I think it will be really cool to show you someday when we are married! I just want you to know how much I already care and think about you! I know you are God's send just for me... I pray for you and for our future together, for the children we are going to raise together and for the problems we will face... I have complete faith in Jesus that He is preparing your heart for me! ... I want you to know that I will fully wait for you... I know when we say "I do" it will be forever! … 

Waiting 4 you always, Kelsey

The letter was complete with exclamation points dotted with hearts. In the top right corner, just above the date, I printed "First Letter," envisioning many more love notes to be scrawled in my ever-changing handwriting. I closed the notebook, and cleared a spot for it on my cluttered nightstand. I flopped back on my bed, this time laying on my back, hands folded across my stomach, and smiled at the ceiling. I may not have been making a phone call that night, but I sure knew what I wanted.

* * *

Maybe I watched "Cinderella" one too many times when I was little, but after that first letter I could not get the vision of my Prince Charming out of my mind. The days tumbled by, as they have a way of doing, and I continued writing:

4.28.01: "I have felt God telling me to be patient. I know that every guy I date is a potential candidate to be my husband/you, so I need to be slow to get involved."

5.14.01: "One thing...I want "I Will Be Here" by Steven Curtis Chapman [at our wedding]. It's awesome."

5.30.01: "Somehow writing you makes it seem more real to me--I mean, I know you're real, but it makes it seem like somehow you're next to me."

6.25.01: "I am writing because I came across some scripture in "The Message" that made me think of you. Romans 1: "God, whom I so love to worship and serve...knows that every time I think of you in my prayers, which is practically all the time, I ask Him to clear the way for me to come see you. The longer the waiting goes on, the deeper the ache."

I wrote and I wrote. In pink pen, in green, in purple. And I rambled and I made a fool of myself, and I drew hearts, and I folded each one carefully and placed them in a box. Eventually I decoupaged the wooden box with magazine clippings and on the inside of the lid wrote in Sharpie:

To: The one I will always loveFrom: Kelsey [5.13.01]

I slid the box carefully under my bed, not quite ready to, and not sure how I would, explain the contents if it were to be found.

As the box began to fill, my longings waxed and waned like the summer moon, and little did I know that the man I was addressing in each of my letters had already shook my hand.

Part II

My freshman year ended without much ado or fanfare, and summer was greeted with open arms. Flip flops were welcomed, and the curls in my hair grew tighter as the Missouri humidity grabbed hold. If I would have kept a planner, it would have been filling up with softball and basketball games, family trips, camps of many varieties, and a mission trip.

Church camp was early that summer, and I relished in that fact. Since I had been in fourth grade, camp had captured my heart, as had the people there. The first part of June was spent preparing for, and looking forward to this year's week at camp, and so the meetings to prepare for the mission trip were but a blip on my radar screen.

The previous summer had been my first mission trip with my church's association, and we had traveled to Branson, Missouri. It had apparently been a big hit to all involved, as this year's trip would again be to Branson. At our first meeting I felt the pain of unmet expectations. The year before our group had been incredible, and many of the friends I had made were not planning on making the trip this year.

Not only that, but there was also a new group that would be going with us from Union Star. I knew their youth leader, Matt, and although I liked him I was not happy with the way his group acted like such a clique. I knew a few of them from other encounters, as those from small towns have a way of becoming interlaced with others from nearby towns; like one big, messy patchwork quilt, you're not sure how the stitches end up where they do. There was Annie, who wasrelated to a lot of people in my town and who I had played against in basketball for years. I actually played on a traveling softball team with her years before too. Then there was Holly, who I knew for the same reasons as Annie. And there were two of the guys, Derek and Brent, who looked vaguely familiar as I had met them at a church lock in in the 7th grade. My friend, Rebecca, had invited me and introduced me to Brent in the foyer of their church. I remembered awkwardly shaking his hand, him barely saying a word. I had bangs and a retainers then, and he had his hair parted down the middle. He left me standing there and played racquetball with his buddies the rest of the night, and never spoke another word to me. I looked for those buddies at the meeting, but didn't see any of them. It was probably better that way. Their group only spoke to one another, and they laughed at a lot of inside jokes, which I thought was an incredibly rude thing to do.

I was also slightly disappointed in these meetings for other reasons, though I would never admit this to anyone. The more I wrote my future husband, the more I felt certain I would "know" him when I saw or met him. Of course, the good Southern Baptist in me thought what better place to meet him than on a mission trip?! But as I sat in the small basement where we were meeting and hastily judged the crop around me, I was frustrated and defeated, my plans foiled.

On the way home I explained to my sister, Kali, who was also going on the trip, "I'm concerned about the intentions of some of the guys from Star. I just don't think they are going for the right reasons."

Like Kali always had a way of doing though, she responded, "Kels, just give them some time. Who knows, they may be awesome." And in a way that only older sisters can, she seemed to read my mind and added, "Besides some of them are kind of cute, right?"

I laughed, rolled my eyes at her, and thought, "Oh how I hope she's right..." because some of them were kind of verycute.


Church camp came and went in a flash of tank tops, water fights, worship services, and pranks. I took four rolls of film and filled up pages with addresses and emails. I was glad that some of my fellow mission trippers were there, happy to have a few solid connections and van buddies pre-selected for the trip. I left camp, finally feeling like I could adequately get excited about the trip before me.

Soon, the time came. I packed my suitcases, bought more film for my ever-ready camera, hugged my parents good-bye, promising them I would behave myself, and my sister and I headed out. All those going met in a parking lot, threw our bags in a trailer, and then circled up for a final prayer before setting off. As I listened to one of our leaders, my heart whispered a prayer of its own, "Lord, may I not focus on boys; I'm here to do your work." And we all said "Amen."

We loaded all of our vans, filling them with the smells of sweat and sunscreen and whatever snacks we had packed for the five hour drive. I wasn't surprised when all of Star's youth group got in one van together. "Do you think they're going to be like this the whole trip?" I asked my friend and van-mate, Micah."

Wouldn't surprise me. Want a fruit snack?"

Chewing on a cherry flavored smiley, I was mad that they wouldn't try harder to get to know others, but as I popped a grape smiley snack in my mouth, I knew I was mostly jealous that I wasn't in their van.

A couple of naps and license plate games later, we pulled into our hotel, and the chaotic process of unloading began. There were cramped legs and arms and pillows and trash pouring out of vans everywhere I looked. I headed over to the trailer with the luggage, stretching my lazy travel-worn arms above my head. Several guys were taking charge of hauling the luggage onto the sidewalk, and that's when I spotted it. It was in a hardback case with shiny golden clasps sealing its contents. I stepped back, pretending to stretch my legs and arms a bit more, watching to see who would claim the guitar case. And then Brent, the one who had ignored me at the lock-in, casually loped by, grabbing the guitar in his left hand. In shorts and a cut off t-shirt, he disappeared around the corner of the building. As much as I wanted to fight it, this quiet guy who owned a guitar and no longer parted his hair down the middle intrigued me.

I spotted my suitcase and, stuffing my pillow under my arm, grabbed it and headed to my room, whispering once again under my breath, "Lord, may I not focus on boys; I'm here to do your work. Amen." I flung my pillow on the flowery bed-spread, my body soon following, and waited for my roommates to show up.

Part III
After adequately making myself comfortable in my new "home," I picked up the phone and dialed Micah's room. I thought it was pretty fantastic that there were telephones in all of our rooms; this provided a connection to one another at all times in a world before cell phones.

"Hey, do you want to walk around the place before our supper meeting at six?" I asked.

Micah quickly said, "Sure-- I just want to brush my teeth quick-- van breath, you know."

"Oh, good idea," I said, cupping my hand over my mouth to test my own breath's potency. "Meet you at the picnic tables in five minutes." I hung up, opted for gum, and then checked the mirror.Five hours in a van did not look good on me and I started wondering where those Union Star boys might be at this time. I undid my ponytail and hastily put it back up a bit neater, then spritzed on some Hawaiin Ginger before heading out the door.

Micah and I walked around the hotel grounds. I made a note to myself that there was a concrete slab and basketball goals. There were both indoor and outdoor pools, a hiking trail boasting that it ended with the view of a waterfall, and a kitchen/conference room that we realized would be our meeting place for the week. Before we knew it was time for supper and our first meeting on site. We were all wearing blue shirts and it seemed like there were more of us as we said our prayers over the meal.

That first night we sat in the same groups that had formed on the van rides and talked about our anticipation for the next days. We got a final list of our assignments--we would be working at boys and girls' clubs during the day-- and I surprised myself when I felt disappointment creep over me when I saw that the Star group was again isolated, having been placed at the smaller of the two clubs. I didn't want to care.

I stole a glance at their table. They were once again laughing, as they always seemed to be doing, and I looked over as discreetly as I could at Brent-- the boy with the guitar. He was laughing too, but in a quieter manner than the rest. In fact, he seemed to do most things quietly and once I started thinking about it I realized I hadn't heard him say anything much since we left. I was about as extroverted as they came when I was a teenager, and someone like this Brent character just didn't make sense to me. I couldn't figure it out exactly. Normally silence in others frustrated or unnerved me, but for some reason in him it only intrigued me more.

I moved my glance elsewhere, being sure not to get caught looking at his dark hair or his perfect smile. But it was too late; Micah just smiled and slowly shook her head. After the meeting we were mingling around when I noticed Micah making her way towards "their" group. I stood there dumbfounded, watching her start a conversation with the other dark headed boy, Brandon. After a few minutes she casually strolled toward me, grinning.

She waited until we were on our way back to our rooms before she said, "Want to go on that hiking trail later?"

"The one that goes to the waterfall? Sure. I guess I like waterfalls."

"Yeah. I think I'm going to call it 'Trickle Trail.'" She always did this-- "this" being two things: One-giving something a unique, made-up name, and Two- stalling when she knew I wanted her to talk about something else [like what in the world had those cute boys said to her? And what had she said to them?!].

"Trickle Trail? Okay." I looked down at my feet, trying not to give away that I was dying to hear about the conversation and hiding my jealousy at her fortitude to go talk to them.

"Then go put on your tennis shoes." She said as she turned the corner to go to her room. "Oh, and those Brandon and Brent guys are going to meet us there in ten minutes." With that she ducked into her room. I wanted to throw my water bottle at the back of her head, but I also wanted to hug her.

I took a deep breath and exhaled, "Lord, I'm here to do your work. Let me not focus on boys." But the damage, I was afraid, had already been done.

I made sure my Nike's were securely tied, not wanting a trip to mess up the hike on "Trickle Trail." I debated changing my shirt, but didn't want to appear that I cared. I did slap on some more deodorant though, being prone to excessive sweating in tense situations. We met at the trail head. Micah and Brandon seemed to pick up the conversation they had left off early, and I searched for something to say to Brent.

"I think we've met before." 

I kicked a rock with my foot on the path, still not quite confident to meet his gaze.

"Maybe." He looked like he meant to say, "No. We haven't. I would have remembered your Afro hair."

I pressed on. "Yeah, at a church lock-in...seventh grade?...I went with my friend Rebecca?"

"Hmm... Maybe."

"I think you played racquetball with your friends most of the night?" 

"Oh yeah. That was pretty fun."

 "Yep." We continued walking, following the broad path that would take us to the water fall. 

"So, Kelsey, do you play basketball? I think I've seen you at games before." Brandon joined the conversation and I was thankful. We continued walking and casually chatting until we reached the "waterfall." It wasn't anything spectacular, but after all I hadn't really hiked for the nature so I wasn't disappointed. We hopped from rock to rock over shallow water for awhile, finally feeling a little more comfortable in each others company. 

* * *
The week was a blur of kids, and sweat, and crammed van rides, and skits, and lots of laughter. Our little Trickle Trail group had grown closer as the days swept by. We hiked that trail several times, once Brent even brought his guitar.My toes were fiercely tingling at that point. The hikes became a little more difficult when Brent pulled his hamstring. Some guys had been playing basketball on the concrete slab, and as I watched I began to see how competitive...and talented...Brent was. He ran after a ball down a slight hill and his right leg slid ahead of him and his hamstring popped. Micah was in physical therapy school, and helped him out, but he [very cutely] limped the rest of the week. He didn't let it stop him from our "hikes" on the trail.

Then something happened that would have me asking questions and wondering about intentions for a long time.

I walked into my room after the day's activities and the light was blinking on the base of my room phone. Thinking it was Micah, my sister Kali, or our trip leader, I went to the bathroom and washed my face first, before slowly meandering back to the phone. I plopped on the bed, then kicked off my shoes. Grabbing the phone, I stretched the spiral cord as far as it would go and laid down, cradling the phone with my shoulder."

Here is Brent I****, with a song he wrote....." I shot up. The phone fell from its resting place and, fumbling, I caught it and put it back up to my ear. Sure enough over the next two minutes I listened to Brent sing and play his guitar. I sat in shock as the dial tone range. I hit the voicemail button again...and again. One of my roommates came in and the phone was still up to my ear. Dumbfounded I just pointed at the receiver and passed it off to her.

She listened, smiled, then hanging up she said, "That was Brent, right? I was just down in Megan's room and he had left the same thing on their phone." Disappointment washed over me.

* * *

I sat down my plate of jiggling pasta salad and squirted some ketchup on my hot dog. Derek, another of the Star boys, sat down next to me. "Did you get the song on your room phone?"

"Yeah." I said between bites nonchalantly. "It was good."

"We called several people's rooms and I would hold the phone up and he would play. Yeah that Brenters can really play! He's all self-taught you know. He didn't want to do it at first but I told him he should. Pretty awesome. He lives just up the street from me and sometimes..." He continued talking and I mentally made a note of the nickname "Brenters." The other guys sat down and soon Micah and a couple of my roommates followed.

About halfway into my hot dog, one of our leaders stood up and said, "While you're eating, I want you to share your testimony with a few people at your table." I volunteered to go first, and then Micah shared, our stories being very similar. I figured every one's would be, and then quiet Brenters opened his mouth to share.

"I was raised in a Christian home, but this wasn't very evident in the way I lived. When I was in Junior High I did a lot of stupid things, but then," he rolled up the right sleeve of his t-shirt, "this happened." He pointed to a massive scar that wrapped all the way around his bicep. The skin in that area was shiny and, I assumed, dead to the touch. "I had just mowed my great aunt's yard and then climbed up a tree to wait for my sister to come get me. When I saw her, I began climbing down and my arm got caught on a broken branch, and I hung there, by my arm, before I lifted my self up and off the jagged branch…"

He continued as I grimaced in shock and my mouth hung open. He told about the ride to the hospital, the blood, and the way the doctor's told him there was a piece still in his arm resting on a major artery. They explained he was very lucky to be alive. "My dad told me, as we were walking out of the hospital, that there was a reason I was alive, and that God had a purpose for my life." It was at that moment that I realized, like many times before, my sister was right-- I had judged these guys, this one in particular, way too soon. However, I had never been happier that she was.

* * *

I put on my favorite pair of jeans and was deciding which shoes to wear. It was one of the last nights of the trip and I had decided to fix my hair for our "fun night." We were going to Dixie Stampede where, I had been told, you got an entire rotisserie chicken and ate with your fingers.

We loaded the vans, now Micah and I road with the Union Star group, as did a few others. Our Trickle Trail group had grown, but the original four called ourselves "The Quad" [another one of Micah's made-up terms). We scooted our bottoms into the vinyl seats that were hot to the touch. The 100 degree July air was getting to all of us and we passed around water bottles. I sat across the aisle from Brent, and on the way to the show he began flaunting on of his skills: he could make a very accurate fart noise with his hands. He had everyone laughing.

This is hopeless, I thought to myself. I even find THIS attractive. I tried to achieve the same noise with my own hands, but Brent noticed I was failing miserably. As a girl I had practiced combing Barbie's hair, but never tried making fart noises with any part of my body. I suddenly wished I had, thinking perchance an ole' hand under-the-armpit fart would impress him in this moment. I was caught up in my thoughts when he reached over and grabbed my right hand. I prayed my palms weren't too sweaty. He cupped his hand just so around mine; I felt the warmth immediately enclose my palm. It was just a second, but I relished in it, not wanting this moment to pass. I had only held hands with one other boy, at a super bowl party in 8th grade. And then my heart had not quickened like it was in this moment."

PHHHFFFF." The perfect fart noise had been made with his hand and mine. I was thrilled.

We arrived at Dixie Stampede and traipsed into the arena, one big moving mass of army green t-shirts. "The Quad" decided to sit together, and as Brent took his seat beside me I hid my smile behind a huge, greasy slab of chicken meat.

Part V:
Stalled Hearts

Summer hung on the trees, dripping humidity and sunshine. I frittered away my days like any normal high schooler, stopping occasionally to make sure the image of that boy was still in my mind. He had sent me a couple emails, peppered here and there with mis-punctuation and poor grammar, but even that didn't bother me.

"Who are you inviting to Worlds of Fun?" my sister asked, slurping on a popsicle. "I think you should invite Brent."

"Ha. Yeah right," I chuckled. "That would be a real great boost for my ego."

"I'm serious," she prompted. "I think you would have fun. I'm sure he'll go. He's a nice guy...he wouldn't say no."

I mulled it over...and over...and over in my brain until all that was left was mush. Kali's pep talk had given me something I had been warned about: hope. So one afternoon I brought the cordless phone up to my bedroom. Sitting on my quilted twin mattress I dialed the number-- his number. Hearing a ring in the receiver, I checked the number that was scratched on the scrap of paper in my hand.

"Hi...is Brent there by any chance?"
"Sure..." Just above the beat of my own heart I could hear his sister lay the phone down and yell for him.Please don't tell me no...please don't tell me no...please don't tell me no...this is so out of my character...please don't…
"Hello?" his voice felt funny in my ear.
"Hey! This is Kelsey," I tried to nonchalantly pipe into the receiver. "Well, my youth group is going to Worlds of Fun next Saturday and I was wondering if you'd maybe want to go with us...or something?" I saw no reason in prolonging my agony by creating small talk.
"Oh...well...I'm mowing lawns that day." Apparently neither did he.
"Hey, well. Sure. Yeah. That's fine. Totally. I understand..." Kelsey, just SHUT UP!
"Yeah. Sorry."
"Yeah. Sure. It's cool," I continued to stammer at him. "Well, I guess I'll talk to you later."
"Okay. Bye."click

It took about 1 minute and 37 seconds for me to get the point; this boy was not interested. I set the piece of paper with his number on my night stand, wondering why I ever let myself do such a foolish thing... And then I remembered why…

I shuffled down the hall, shouting, "KALIIIIIIIIII!!!!"

I hopped in my sister's car, book bag slung over my shoulder, juice precariously sloshing in one hand, folded homework papers in the other, and slammed the door behind me.

"I told you to hurry up!" she yipped, "What in the world were you doing?!" She peeled out of the driveway and I turned my arm and hand at an awkward angle to keep my jeans free of grape juice.

"I was looking for bagels," I lied. I shoved my homework into my bag, trying to conceal the truth. The truth? I had been checking my email for the second time that morning just to see if there was a new one in my inbox from m0nkey21. I sipped my grape juice carefully as we bounced down the street towards school, thinking about the boy who, even after rejecting my invitation to Worlds of Fun a year and a half before, captured my attention. A boy who, even after not really talking to me on our last summer mission trip to St. Louis, still made me feel nervous and sweaty. A boy who, even after "dating" and breaking up with someone else, did made me want to be the datee. Would he keep emailing me if he weren't interested? Is he just a nice guy? Will he ever get around to…

"Don't forget that mom needs us to clean the upstairs bathroom when we get home today," Kali interrupted my thoughts. It was just as well; I'd just ask the same questions 20 more times that day. 

"This summer we'll be heading to beautiful Colorado!" Immediately our group of mission trip goers began to murmur about how this trip was going to be so much better than the last two. We were actually going to leave the state!

"My sister actually used to live in Colorado," the boy next me said. Immediately my heart fluttered and I tried to compose myself.

Still, Kelsey? Really? You've known him for TWO YEARS now...get a clue and get over it.

Willing my knees to stop trembling and my thoughts to stop racing, I nodded my head cooly. I would NOT play the fool this time. He would have to come to ME. 

blog invasion/rebuttal

This is Brent. And this is my rebuttal to Part V.

Ring, Ring..."Brent! Phone. It's a giiirrrrl." 

This moment was a perfect opportunity for my sister to embarrass me in front of my friends.
"GIRL?! I bet it's Kelsey from Maysville", they taunt as I pick up the phone hiding my interest in Kelsey; the mission trip girl by which all other mission trip girls will be compared. [You see they have been with me on these mission trips when I'm around Kelsey. They know it, I know it, but as guys we play it off. By "it" I mean instead of acting like a cartoon character; jaw dropped, eyes popped; tongue hanging out while we pant...we suppress it and act cool.]

“Hello”, I said with a nonchalant look. 
“What does she want?” my friends whisper.
“Shhh. Worlds of fun.”
I’m sure they proceeded to act like “Brent” and “Kelsey” sitting next to each other on a roller coaster.
“Umm, yeah, I have to mow that day.” Making up the only excuse I had; it was the summer and that’s the only agenda I had besides having fun (worlds of fun you might say).

Why an excuse? I couldn’t go and reveal to the world I wanted to go…meaning I liked her…meaning the already awkward conversations with this girl would be even more awkward since we’d both know that I liked her. Besides, she seemed cool with it. She was so outgoing that I’m sure she could call up 5 guys cooler than me to go with her. “Ok, Bye.” The phone conversation ended and I tried continuously to convince my friends that I was too busy for ladies. 

While the truth was that I LOVED worlds of fun and being in her company; she’s got such a great personality and she’s a beautiful girl. “Man, she must like you if she wants you go to with her to worlds of fun.”

“No, it was just for a church trip…plus I have a couple of yards I’ve been putting off mowing and really need to get done this weekend.”

I had no idea that it was such a rejection to her…until about a decade later when she blogged about it!

Kelsey we should go to worlds of fun this summer, what do you say?


The situation seemed all too familiar. The vans were being loaded and I stood and watched the frantic last minute details fall into place.

"It's too bad Brandon won't be on this trip." Micah sat beside me on the yellow painted curb. "We'll have to adopt a new quad member or something."

I took a drink of the gas station coffee in my hands and shrugged my shoulders as the lukewarm liquid rushed down my throat.

"Well, I know you wish he would have come for other reasons too," she said, nudging me in the arm.

"Yeah. I guess." My voice was weak and she picked up on my hesitation. Brandon and I had gone to prom together a little over a month ago. He had opened the car door for me, worn a tux, and even smelled good. I didn't have the heart to tell him then or now that it was not him I was interested in; that maybe his proximity to the one I did like had caused some confusion. But he was cute, and his interest was flattering and so we called each other occasionally and met up once or twice. We were semi-official, and as I sat in the humid air of that June morning I tried to avoid eye contact with the one that wouldn't go to Worlds of Fun with me. And even though Brandon and I were nothing serious, the butterflies in my stomach seemed like a betrayal.

Before Micah could question my disinterest, our leader bellowed out a roll call and we formed a circle. said a prayer, and loaded the vans for the long trip across Nebraska to our destination: Colorado. I pulled my backpack over my shoulders and made my way to the second van. I knew I liked the driver, and the backseat was empty. Perfect. Micah and I had stayed up all night with the plan that we would sleep during the trip. I was making the backseat comfortable when I heard his voice.

"Hey! Guess the quad is back together!" I shot a smile and acted like my pillow placement was very important.

"We can't be a quad without four," Micah, ever the science/math brain, informed him.

"Well that's why I've got Derek here with me," Brent retorted without missing a beat. They plopped in the seat in front of us and I knew I wouldn't be getting as much sleep as I had hoped.

* * *
I arrived in Colorado exhausted and elated. I had finally been able to catch some sleep, but that was after playing cards, being nicknamed "chicken skin," and having my hair put in frizzy pigtails by Derek. I shoved all of my belongings that were scattered about the backseat into my backpack and tumbled out into the crisp mountain air. I stretched my legs, and was twisting my neck when Brent walked past me. He turned around, his shaggy, long hair brushing the bottoms of his ears, and said, "Let's make sure the quad gets to ride together for the rest of the trip."

"Yeah, that sounds great." I tried to sound nonchalant as I reached my arm over my head to stretch it out. As he walked away, I hid my smile in my shirt sleeve.

* * *
Again we were split into groups for our day camps, and again Brent and I were in opposite locations. I figured this was for the best, as I was still trying to figure out exactly what I was supposed to feel about Brandon while in Colorado with Brent. So I busied myself with the kids. We did crafts. I read them Bible stories. We sang songs that had ridiculous actions. And in their presence there was no need for Brandon or Brent. I was loved.

I saw the way the kids looked at me and I felt compassion and kindness towards them, realizing how Jesus must feel when I loved him with childlike passion. I began to remember what it felt like to be in His control, releasing everything to Him. So I got out my pen and paper and, forgetting the boys around me, I wrote once again to the one God had picked out for me:

My companion and friend,
I rest in Christ right now knowing that I don't have to write the script because it's already been written by the master playwright. I rest in Him, but I long for you. I am satisfied in Him, but I want you near me, to hold me and love me and see me with the eyes that God intended only for YOU to see me with. I am secure in Christ, but I want your protection. I am happy, but I want YOU to make me laugh. I rest in Christ: I know all my needs will be met and He will provide us with so much more than either of our wants could dream up.
At rest with my Prince of Peace, waiting for my prince,
* * *
The days passed quickly and were packed with activities. One of our last days we were told we would have the chance to go to Estes Park, a beautiful and scenic state park. So we once again loaded the vans and began driving. Over streams and through bluffs and mountains we drove. I watched the rocks, green and slimy with moss, pass by my window. I was struck with the beauty around me.

More than an hour later, we poured out of the vans like liquid and marveled at the scenery. We chomped our gum viciously, trying to pop our Midwestern ears. We were instructed simply: have an adult in your group and be back at the parking lot by four o'clock. Lucky for my group, since she was in her fourth year of college, Micah was considered an adult. The quad and a few others took off on the nearest trail. We stopped occasionally for pictures, we talked, and at one point Brent even bent down and picked a light purple flower that was growing on the edge of the path. He handed it to me, no real intentions were evident, but I placed it behind my ear wanting to save it forever. We walked on and threw clumps of snow at one another, astonished at the novelty of snow at the end of June! How high up were we?

After passing a place we came to a clearing and got our answer: very high. There was a group ahead of us, and spotting our matching green shirts, they called us over. They were all staring at a rock face to the right of the path that shot up about 50 or 60 yards.

"I'm thinking this would be real easy to climb," Brett, one of the male leaders, told those of us standing around. Before anyone could object, he leaped onto the rock and was at the top in no time. Soon others followed. Since everyone made it look easy, and since Brent was at the top, I stumbled my way up. He's already got me climbing boulders for him? Oh, great! And I'm supposed to be playing it cool right now. Come on, Kels!

I brushed my pant legs off and looked up. I was frozen by the majesty that surrounded me. I looked at the others sharing this moment with me, and realized we were all speechless. Some stood, some sat, some looked dangerously close to the edge, but we were all silent. And then someone to my left began reading from the bible they had brought along in their backpack:
"You are my lamp, O Lord; the Lord turns my darkness into light. With your help I can advance against a troop; with my God I can scale a wall…for who is God besides the Lord? And who is the Rock except our God? It is God who arms me with strength and makes my way perfect. He makes my feet like the feet of a deer; he enables me to stand on the heights…" [2 Samuel 22]

As I listened to the words the lines from the hymn, "The Wondrous Cross" sprang to my mind: Were the whole realm of nature mine, that were an offering far too small; love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all. I realized in that moment that the God that made the trees, the mountains, the lakes, the birds, the rocks, the streams--all of it!-- would rather have me to worship and love Him. Someone started singing "Amazing Love" and as others joined I realized that the God that made the masterpiece around me surely had my love life under control.

We remained upon that rock until we knew we'd be late if we lingered any longer. We crawled back into the vans, refreshed and changed forever by our unique experience. Dusk was setting over the mountains around us, and as we dipped and weaved through the hills the darkness took away my view. With no more entertainment outside the window, I turned to the boy in the seat in front of me. I didn't ask why he had rejected my invitation to Worlds of Fun two years earlier, or what he had seen in Holly last summer on our trip when he wouldn't even talk to me, or why in the world he let me say yes when one of his best friends asked me to go to prom, but instead focused on what this trip had done for our friendship.

I leaned forward onto the speckled gray seat, "Isn't your head hot with all that hair you have now?" Lame. Lame. Lame. I reached over the seat back and tousled his long, dark mane.

"Oh, scratch to the left a little bit?" He said it jokingly, but I did as he asked. Before long he was nearly drooling. We were having a real conversation and he was putty in my hands, so I kept on scratching. And scratching. And scratching. My hands were coated in his hairspray as we pulled into the church parking lot. He thanked me profusely, and I assured him it was nothing. Fear crept up my back as I thought I had maybe laid my cards on the table too soon. He had to know I was interested now. I just couldn't convince myself to worry too much though, because I had had a great conversation and gotten lots of smiles from the quiet boy whom had first intrigued me two years earlier.
* * *
I shoved my empty duffel bag under my bed. We had gotten back the night before, July 3rd. The plan for today was to head over to the small town twenty minutes away, where my new favorite guy friends resided, to watch the firework show. Afterwards we would have a bonfire. My mind raced with a multitude of scenarios-- Brandon would be there. Brent would be there. I was supposed to at least sort of like Brandon, but I hadn't even heard from him since I'd been back. And then there was the hair tousling that had left me even more twitterpatted about the possibility of Brent.

I tossed my dirty clothes in the laundry basket, praying for the clarity I had experienced on the mountain top. The phone started to ring and Mom, my own personal caller I.D., picked up downstairs. "Kels! Phone!" She hollered up at me. I grabbed the phone and plopped on the cool tiles of the bathroom floor.

"Hey, Kelsey."

Brandon. My mind froze. Was he calling because he heard I had gotten closer to Brent? Was he calling to make sure I remembered the firework show? Had he missed me? Oh, I hope he didn't miss me too much!

"You there?"
"Yeah…" I stammered. "Sorry."
"How was the trip?" Was he trying to weasel a confession out of me?
"Awesome. Really. It was great. The kids were fantastic and the mountains…oh the mountains…they were beautiful."
"Um, Kelsey?"
"Yeah?" I could feel my heart racing.
"So… um… well, while you were gone I was thinking about stuff and well, this-is-just-weird-since-you're-too-much-of-my-friend." It came out in once jumbled sentence. If he were standing in the room with me, I could have hugged him!
I exhaled the breath I had been holding and, probably too excitedly, said "I was thinking the same thing."
"Well, cool! You should definitely still come to the bonfire tonight, though."
"Oh, totally."
"Cool. See ya there."
And that was that. It was just what I needed: an easy conversation, no hard feelings, and no awkwardness between us.

I jumped in the shower. I needed to shave my legs and wash my face. I had a fireworks show to attend.


"Start with the first point whose coordinates you are given or can figure out. Imagine the infinite number of lines that could pass through the point. You can simulate this by thinking of the line as a spinner, anchored by the point…"

I barely look up, doodling flowers in the margin of my notes seems far more important than whatever my teacher is talking about. Besides, I think, like any of THIS is going to help me figure out how in the world I'm supposed to get over Brent.Because that's what I have to do. Get over him. OVER. DONE. The feelings need to stop existing. I am seventeen. SEVENTEEN for crying out loud. I am going to Northwestern in a year. I am going to study secondary education. I am going to move on, make friends, grow up, become more responsible, and GET OVER HIM!
Spritzing on some "Hawaiian Ginger," I slide into my tennis shoes. I take one more glance in the mirror before flinging on my coat.
"See ya, Mom. We'll be careful."
"Okay. Have fun. Be home before 10:30…and grab anumbrella, it looks like rain!"
"Eh, we'll be alright," I bound out the door as Micah pulls in the driveway.
Fastening my seat belt, I peer out the window at the incoming gray clouds. Following my gaze, Micah laughs, "What? Never watched a football game in the rain?"
I smile, adjust my seat, and try to suppress the fact that I am worried what my curly hair will DO if it rains. After all, this is the first football game I am going to get to see Brent play.

Twenty minutes later we pull up to the football field. I see the blue and gold uniforms and quickly find number 3. Oh how I want to be wearing a t-shirt with that number on the back, proclaiming that he is mine, taken, off the table, unavailable, with someone,…
"Kels, come on!" I blink my glazed over eyes and trudge forward. I am always looking forward to seeing him, but the pounding in my chest sometimes makes it nearly impossible to know how to respond to normal moments with him.

I plop onto the bleachers just as he begins huddling up his guys and calling out the play. A quarterback. Sigh. And football pants. Oh, thank you Jesus for football pants! I hardly notice the first rain drop, but by the time the next one hits it is a full on downpour. Someone comes over the loud speaker abruptly, "Sorry but we will delay the game thirty minutes. Please clear all players from the field." We high tailed it to the car, and occupy ourselves with food for a bit as the storm blows over. The next couple hours are a blur of soggy socks, muddy cleats, cheering, and him-- never taking my eyes off him.

As time expires I find myself following Micah down to the edge of the field. Wet, frizzy, and elated, I spot him at the fifty yard line, slowing making his way toward the sidelines. He has stripped himself of his pads. My toes are tingling as he walks toward me, wet hair, muddy pants, rib protector, and undershirt. He has never been more attractive. I am completely sunk. Getting over him seems impossible.
I scrub the dirt that has made its way between my fingers at softball practice. I can't help but think of number 3 from time to time…all the time. I saunter to my bedroom, grab a pen and notebook, and begin scribbling furiously.

Jesus, I can't do this anymore. I want to let him go. I want you to be in control of this situation. But, if I can't have Brent please give me someone as caring as him. Let me end up with a guy who loves his family as much, who is as good looking and sensitive as him; someone who love YOU as much as he does. I trust that you know what you're doing, and if I can't have Brent I just ask that you give me someone that has all of the qualities that he has. Jesus, I need less of me and more of you in this situation.

Rolling over on my stomach, I bury my face in my pillow.
"Happy birthday, dear Brent, happy birthday to you!" I take a side glance at the others in the room. How much can they tell about the way I am feeling about this birthday boy? 18 years old. My mind races back, picturing him at 13 standing in the foyer of the church. I stood opposite him, an awkward 13 year old myself: retainer, bangs, knee high socks. Rebecca introduced us, he reached over and shook my hand, and then was off to find his friends. And now here I was, 5 years later, watching him blow out birthday candles and completely and utterly intrigued by him.

The others meander off towards the living room to get the movie started, and I lean on the counter offering my assistance cutting and plating the cake.
"Sure. And thanks for coming. I didn't even know who all ended up being invited, but I'm glad you could come."

Has he said this to everyone, or is he glad that am here, that it is ME in the kitchen with him cutting the cake? "Yeah, of course. Besides, I hear we're going to watch "Finding Nemo" and I still haven't seen it." I throw a smile on my face but have no idea why everything I say sounds so incredibly lame.

"I think you'll like it." He plops a piece of chocolate cake onto the plate I'm holding out. "You still thinking you're going to go to Northwestern next year? I know in your last email that's what you said, but I'm still holding out hope you'll change your mind."

"Really?" REALLY!!! "Yeah, that's still the plan."

"Well, I think you need to come to Ozark." He slides his finger carefully down the plastic knife, transferring all excess icing onto his finger and into his mouth. My mind is exploding and I'm trying to hold the loaded cake plates still in my hands.

He NEEDS me to come to Ozark!? "Oh yeah, why is that? So you guys can continue to make fun of me throughout college," I say jokingly and as coolly as I can muster.

"Well that, and the fact that if I can get someone to sign up I get $100 off my tuition." He throws the knife in the sink and it clatters against the other dishes. He turns around, flashes me a smile, then picks up the other plates and heads into the living room.

Seriously? This guy has NO CLUE. I shove some cake in my mouth and force my dejected self into the other room.
I slide into the back seat of the cherry red Passat. Brent hollers at Derek, and soon the four of us take off: Derek in the passenger's seat, Brent driving, and Jon in the back with me. We stack our bibles in the middle and begin the 25 minute drive to St. Joe for youth group.

Turning on the radio, Derek leans over and engages Brent in an intense discussion. With the speaker in my ear I can barely make out what they are talking about.

"Brent?" Jon whispers over at me, indicating that he has been watching me watch Brent the past couple of miles.
"What? Huh? What do you mean, 'Brent?'" I defend myself a little too much.
He grins at me and shakes his head like an older sibling who has just caught his little sister in the middle of something he knows he can use against her for years and years.
"I mean…what do you mean? And no. It's Brent. I mean, it's Brent. He's my friend. My really good friend. I wouldn't want to…He wouldn't want to…"
"Kels." I'm still trying to whisper as passionately as I can my defense. "KELS!" We're both leaning towards each other in the back seat because I don't know if any of this is registering to the two up front. I look down at my hands. I look out the window. I have done such an excellent job of hiding all of this, how could Jon know anything? He doesn't know. He can't know. He's just making this all up.
Slowly lifting my head, I peek at Jon again. His eyes bore into me.
He knows.
He knows.
How does he know!?
As if reading my mind he simply says, "I just know." I look at him, my eyes pleading him to stop this conversation yet also begging him to give me hope.
"Please. Don't tell." It's barely audible over the front seat conversation and the music and the beating in my chest and that look in his eyes. "Please."
"I wouldn't."
"You would too."
"Shhh. Jon, I'm serious."
"Promise me."

I throw myself into the possibility that he actually won't tell, and resume watching fence posts out my window.

Part VIII:

I walk into the church and slide in next to Heather, Jon's girlfriend. It's been two weeks since the backseat conversation and I still find myself checking to make sure I'm breathing. I have managed for three years to contain, hide, and run away from my feelings for Brent, and in one moment jeopardized being exposed. I especially didn't want him to find out and feel obligated to talk to me about our feelingsyuck!

Heather glances up at me as I slide my purse under the pew. That's when I see it: a smile pulling just slightly at the corners of her lips. Unbelievable! I request one vow of secrecy and he can't even… She grabs my forearm and squeezes it, letting her smile fully blossom. "What?" I ask, trying to unclench my teeth.

"Nothing. It's nothing. I mean…" she's rambling, so clearly he's told her everything, "It's, well, it's just, it's just SO perfect!" The way she enunciates her T at the end of the word makes me want to crawl under the pew--no-- crawl inside my purse, under the pew.

But instead, chalking it up to the thing that killed the cat, I turn my head ever so slightly to the left and, feigning disinterest, ask,"Perfect?"

"I'm sorry. Jonathan told me." She hangs her head in mock shame for a second, then grabs my forearm with that joker-faced grin again.

I look at her grip on my arm, wondering why I've never understood the female need for physical touch in moments such as this. I look at her teeth staring at me in their pearly whiteness. "And what? I'm not gonna do anything…it was a mistake saying anything to Jon."

"No, it's not a mistake! He can drop some hints, see what's going on on the other side. Oh my gosh! We could double date!" she is squeaking now. Between the touch and the squeaking I'm really not sure I was supposed to be born with a uterus. "Kels, this is perfect! Why didn't you say something earlier?"

I glance over at Brent, merely 20 yards away. "Because I didn't want to make a scene."

But it was apparently too late.
* * *

Sunday evenings have meant bible study for me for nearly as long as I can remember, but I don't remember feeling the compulsion to put on perfume and lip gloss before. However, like I have so many times before, I decide to throw my hair in yet another pony tail, and leave on the jeans and tshirt I'm currently wearing. I don't want to appear to betrying to get attention, especially since at least two others know.

I jam my red Escort into park and tumble out into the parking lot. I throw my red parka over my shoulders and jog towards the door. January has just given way to February and in Missouri that means it is still frigid. Blasting cold air in with me, I walk through the basement door into the church. Several others are already there playing ping pong or sitting on the ratty couch talking. I throw my coat in the corner, continually averting my eyes from the guy in the back corner. I can't believe I used to think he was a jerk. I almost wish I could remember what it felt like to not know him, to not constantly think about him, to not shake with excitement every day when I received an email from him. Almost.

Kali couldn't believe he was still emailing me everyday. "He totally is into you. Guys don't just do that," she had told me a few months ago. But I had responded that he was just a great friend; he wouldn't want anything to get in the way of that.

"Hey, Kels." I turn to find that overly sized smile again. Heather just wasn't going to let this go. "Anything new?"

"No," I say, half statement, half question. "Why?"

"Well, I probably shouldn't tell you this but," she's touching my arm again, "Jon told me the other night that Brent came over to his house. And Brent said, 'Jon, if you were me and I knew what you know, would you want to know?' Confusing, right? But basically I think he figured out that Jon knows something. So anyway, Jon said, 'Yeah.' And then Brent said, 'Okay.'"

My stomach is in my throat, "And then what?"
"Well, and then Brent turned around and went right back home."
"Yeah. So I think he likes you."

I will never understand how girls interpret things.

At that moment Lee, our leader, hollers at us to grab a seat at the table. My mind is complete mush as I make my way to the metal chair closest to me.
"Hey, when we're done tonight I want to talk to you real quick before you leave. Okay?" I look up into his brown eyes, and my heart is beating faster than the little drummer boy.
"Okay. Yeah."
"Okay." He grabs his guitar and walks to the head of the table.

I crumble into my chair. I don't hear a single word that is sung or spoken. All I hear is Stupid, stupid, stupid! Why did you let anyone know?! He hates you now. Now he thinks you're like all the other girls that can't think of anything else but what boys they like. Stupid, stupid, stupid.

I foggily hear the last "Amen," and make a beeline for Heather. I pin her against the wall in a far corner and relay the "conversation" that I'd had with Brent.

"Okay, did he say he wanted to talk with you, or that he wanted to talk with you? Or did he want to TALK with you?"

"I don't know! I don't know!" I've never been a nail biter but in this moment wish that I had a bad, nervous habit I could rely on to distract me. "Heather, he know! He knows. And it's all because Jon knows. I'm so stupid!"

"Kels, calm down. He's probably gonna tell you he feels the same way."

"Yeah. Right. Because that's how my life works. No! He's going to say, 'Well Kels, it's been real fun, but I found out you like me or whatever, and I just don't feel that way, and so that makes our friendship really awkward now. We probably shouldn't hang out or talk anymore.' THAT is what he's going to say!"

Heather grabs my shoulders, and in her calmest voice says, "Probably not."

Probably!? I want more than probably right now, lady! "Maybe he forgot?" I suggest. "I think I'm just gonna head out. If it's that important we can talk some other time."

"Whatever. You'd be fine talking to him, but go ahead."

I give her one last look, attempting to come across confident, but look more like a kitten that's been scared up a tree. I wave at a few other people and then, grabbing my coat, walk briskly for the door. I'm inches from my escape, my hand is on the chilly doorknob…

"Kels, you really need to get going or can we have that talk?"

Our Story: pictures

The first mission trip to Branson. Here is the original "quad." Brent and I were 15!
Top left to right: Brent and Brandon
And that is Micah next to me.

Summer camp-- 2003
Brent's hair was ridiculously long this summer. Derek is next to me. Can you tell this is when I lifted weights for basketball? Check out my quads! :-)

Here we are on the Colorado mission trip, summer of '03 also. This was on our hiking day in Estes.

We were just little boys and girls, but I knew what I was feeling… and boy oh boy did I like that kid with the mop of hair!

Part IX:

I slowly release the doorknob and turn around. Brent is within four feet, looking fairly determined to have this conversation, but also looking slightly different than usual. Different, but safe to talk with, so I give in.

"We can go outside," he suggests. I throw on my coat and barrel out the door. The cold immediately seeps through my outer layer and a suck in a quick, startled breath. "Wow…here…" He opens up his car door for me and I tumble in. He slides into the other side and starts the ignition.

David Crowder Band pours out of the speakers, Lift my eyes to Your sky, rid my heart of all I hide…So sweet this surrender. He fumbles with the heater and I fumble with the bible in my hands. I search my mind for small talk, anything to postpone the inevitable, "Kels, we're just friends. That's all. Okay?" But nothing pops up. Nothing. He turns the music knob to the left a hair and then looks up at me. I give him a shy smile, then he grips the wheel as if we were driving and looks out the windshield.

The February wind is howling around us but all my hopes at the moment are right in this old, red VW Passat.


I try not to move lest I look too eager, too scared, too needy.

"I've been wanting to talk to you for awhile now." He stopped.

"Okay. What's up?" I try to urge him forward to end my agony. My body is now unbelievably warm.

"Well, the thing is," he grips the steering will with both hands then sets them in his lap. He looks up at me, then back at his lap. "The thing is, I've liked you for about 3 years."

I don't know if I am supposed to respond yet, so I hold my breath, not wanting how I react in this moment to negate the past three years.

The car starts making a grating sound under the hood. "And," he continues, "I don't know what that sound is, and I don't know what all this means, and I don't know where it will lead, but I just thought you should know." He looks at me.

I want to be articulate in this moment because this moment is what I have prayed for, dreamt of, for 3 years. "Umm…okay…well…huh…I've liked you for about 3 years too." I let out a nervous giggle. And he laughs under his breath and smiles at his hands.

"Well, I just wanted to let you know and now I guess we'll see where the Lord leads us."

"Sounds awesome."

And with that he flips off the ignition. He looks over at me and I smile at him. A smile that no longer has to hide. I open the door, he says he'd email me tomorrow, and he runs back into the church as I make my way to my car. I sit inside, waiting for things to warm up, and his words echo inside, I guess we'll see where the Lord leads us. US. Us.Brent and Kelsey. An us?

I begin to replay the conversation over and over in my mind as I drive the twenty minutes home. The gravel crunches under my tires as I pull into my driveway, my cheeks nearly aching from the constant smile. I waltz into the kitchen and my dad catches a glimpse of me. I can see in his face he is wondering what is wrong with me.

"Brent said he LIKED me! ME!" I blurt out. Oh my goodness. I just told my PARENTS. Before anybody else.

"Well I could tell by that twitterpated look on your face and the little love birds floating around your head," Dad jests.

I walk upstairs and flop onto my bed. I smile up at the ceiling. Brent said he liked me. Me! Thank you, Jesus.

* * *
I roll over and hit the snooze. It's been a nearly a week since the conversation in the car, and I am still waiting for Brent to call and tell me it's a big joke. Today is Valentine's Day. I, like I always have in the past, have made plans to babysit so someone else can go out and enjoy the evening. I never thought I'd have had a conversation with a boy and been on the brink of something like a relationship.

I groggily get out of bed, pull on sweat pants and a hoody, and make my way downstairs. As I'm slowly waking up the phone rings and I grab it.

"Hey Kels, it's me."

Him. "Hey. What's up?"

"Uh, well, I know you have plans to babysit tonight, right?"

"Yeah. Avree and Rylie at about 5."

"Okay, well, what if I swing by around 4 after I get off work. It will just be for a minute but I want to bring you something."

"Oh. Okay. Yeah. That's fine. I'll be here."

"Sounds good then, I'll see you around four."

"K. Bye."

I hang up the phone, panic rising in my throat. I hadn't even thought about getting him something for Valentine's Day. Not even a card! And he wanted to drop something by? Oh great, I hope he didn't get me roses. Surely he knows me better than that!

* * *

I hear footsteps on the front porch and glance out the window. I see Brent…carrying his guitar? Opening the door I flash a smile and invite him in. This is the first time he's been to my house by himself and, though we have rarely ever been openly nervous around each other, the nerves are slightly evident to us both.

He sets his guitar down behind the couch then grabs a seat. "Are your parents here?"

"Not at the moment but they should be back any minute."

"Well, I want to be respectful of them and I didn't know if they would want me here if they weren't."

Seriously? This guy is too perfect. Although, he's probably still on just phase one of liking me whereas I'm on at least phase 53. "They normally don't, but I let them know and, like I said, they'll be back soon. And I have to be over at the house to babysit in about 40 minutes so…"

"Well, I just wanted to acknowledge that it was Valentine's Day so…" he hands me a cassette tape, "I recorded a few of the worship songs I sing on Sunday nights for you on here, since you'd mentioned something about that a while back."

I flip the tape over in my hand, cherishing it already. "Thanks. That's awesome. I didn't get you anything though…sorry."

"I didn't want you to. Don't even worry about it. Oh, and one more thing," he says as if it's an afterthought. He stands and moves to grab his guitar case. He begins to unclasp the gold hinges and I simply sit, waiting, afraid to say too much. He grips the guitar in his hands now, strums the strings lightly, making a few adjustments to the toners. "I started working on this about a month ago, and then last week after I finally had the guts to talk to you I wanted to finish it." He passes me a piece of folded notebook paper.

Taking the paper into my hands, I look at him. He cues that I may open it. As I unfold it, I can see that the lines are heavily creased, as if it's been opened and closed many times. I see his handwriting and then my mind begins to organize the fact that it appears to be a poem? No… a song…

I look up at this realization and Brent places his fingers across the frets and begins strumming. A song I've never heard before. A song, I'm slowly realizing, that was born because he met me.

When I look into your eyes, the beauty captures me like the morning skies…

Born because of our friendship.

And when you smile it makes my day, and all my pain just melts away…

Born because of the past three years of longing for one another.

You laugh with no fear of the future, when you speak your words are wise. There's kindness when you give instruction...

Born because of a cold conversation in an old, worn out car.

I hear the laundry room door open and I glance that way just in time to see my parents walking into the house. Here I am with a a guy they barely know, sitting on the couch, listening to him sing me a song he wrote. They quickly gather what is happening and walk quickly towards their bedroom. Brent barely misses a beat and sings right through the intrusion. As he finishes I find I am speechless.

"I added that to the end of the cassette tape too, in case you like it."

He is so unassuming and endearing and I can't help but get butterflies all over and I'm smiling like a fool.

"Thank you. So much. Really. Thanks."

"You're welcome. And I know you need to babysit so I'm gonna take off. Glad you liked it."

And with that, he packs up his guitar and heads back out the door. No lingering. No hug. Just a song and good bye. I run upstairs and throw the cassette tape into my player in the bathroom. I slide onto the cool tile and cling onto the lyrics in my hand. I fast forward and find the song, my song, and has his voice fills up the room I lay my head against the cabinet and let a single tear slide down my cheek.

The possibilities with this amazing guy leave me speechless.

* * *

Part X:
Prom season found its way to my school in the spring. The girls bustle with excitement, sharing hair styles and dress colors. Brent and I are still communicating, in some form, daily. Mainly I still hear from him through emails, on occasion on the phone, and at least once a week at bible study or when our friends get together. Honestly, not much as changed between us since February.

Two months have passed without so much as a hand being held. One hug has been shared. I am becoming increasingly aware of these voids in the growth of our “relationship.” After all, aren’t those things supposed to happen naturally when you start “seeing someone?” When someone knows you like them, aren’t you supposed to show, in some physical way, affirmation that you like them too? I’d been waiting for this relationship to develop for what felt like an eternity, and now that it was happening I felt like I was just allowed to smile more freely around Brent—but not express anything else through a physical touch. I knew he liked me, because there was the song, and the secret side glances, and the increasing number of questions he asked in order to know me more. But I can’t help but wonder if something is wrong that causes him to pause when he wants to reach for me hand? Have I crossed too deeply into the “friendship threshold” to make him cringe at the thought of ever hugging me—or ever leaning in for a kiss?

We are close, very close, there is no doubting that. We share secrets and intimate moments, but my goodness I want to hold his hand—to feel its warmth in mine and know we are connected in a way he has connected with few others. Am I asking too much of our 2 month relationship? I asked my friend Brandon, who was well-versed in women and relationships—if there was something I was doing wrong. His advice? “Put on the Beatles ‘I Wanna Hold Your Hand’ the next time you’re in the car together.” Eye roll.
Spring was beginning to assert itself more openly on the trees around town, and Brent was coming over for supper.After eating we move to the front porch, our feet tucked under the railing and dangling into the evening air. As we chat, we subconsciously move closer and closer together. Eventually, amidst a conversation about future careers and college choices, our swinging feet become intertwined. As my left leg interlocks with his right, the conversation does not stop. I feel no tension enter the air. My pulse quickens slightly at the rare contact happening between us. The chill of Spring quickly seeps out of the woods around us, but I am determined to stay out here, legs linked, as long as my numbing body allows.
I slide into the pew next to Brent. Wednesday night youth group in St. Joe is one of my favorite times of the week. Not only do I get to have real worship with kids my age, but I get to see him. Sigh. The thought still makes my toes tingle.

As the youth pastor begins his announcements, Brent jots me a quick note on an old bulletin left in the pew from Sunday.

What do you want to do about this whole prom thing?

Is he seriously asking me to prom via a note, in the middle of youth group? Whatever. I’m too excited at the possibility of getting dressed up and dancing with him that I don’t care how lame it is.

I don’t care. What do you think? I scribble back, caring very deeply but still trying to play it cool in case he thinks it was the worst idea ever.

I mean, if you want to, we can go… I think its April 16th.

I notice his wrong form of "its," affirming that my desire to pursue an English degree in the fall is the right one. And is he still testing me or does he really WANT to go? Okay…cool…sounds good to me. Mine is May 7th.

Okay. :)

And with that, our “conversation” was over and I had a date to prom.
April 16th came quickly. My pink, strapless tulle dress drapes my 18 year old frame. Brent pulls into the driveway and the cameras come out. He is wearing his dad’s old three piece suit as he hands me a corsage of daisies. He wraps his arm around my waist for a picture and I nearly shudder at the touch—I’m not used to feeling his body so near my own.

He holds the door open to his red Passat, the same car we shared our conversation in back in February, and as I grab the bottom of my dress and climb in I smile at him. He waves to my parents, still standing on the front porch with their cameras out, as he maneuvers around to the driver’s side. On the way out of town he nearly runs off the road. I grab the center console and he simply says, “Sorry, I just couldn’t stop looking at you.”

His school’s prom is held in the cafeteria. We enter the room and are immediately ushered over to the photographer. “Are you a couple or just here together?”

“A couple,” Brent answers without hesitation, answering not only the photographer’s question but mine as well.

“Okay, then I need you to stand behind her and put your arms here and…here…like so…perfect. Now you, lovely lady, if you could place your hands on his…perfect. Hold that.” I hope Brent doesn’t feel my heart pounding. He has his arms wrapped around my waist and is breathing on my neck—this is by far the closest I have ever been to this guy. FLASH! “Great, thanks. NEXT!” And just like that the moment has passed.

We sit down and we eat and laugh and then the music begins. I wrap my tan arms around his slender neck and we sway back and forth as the multi-colored lights dance on the white tile floor. Our conversation hops from topic to topic with the rhythm of the music, and when I divulge the secret that I’m not ticklish, he feels the need to check. He reaches for my armpits, and though I look dainty and lady-like, I know that he’ll find a large amount of sweat if he really reaches them. My reflexes are too slow and I grimace as he notices the perspiration. I’m finished. Totally finished. Why can’t I just “glisten” like a normal girl? Why do I have to sweat SO much?! He retracts his hand, and trying to save the moment I say something like, “I may not be ticklish but I sweat.”

I wait for what seems like minutes as he wipes his fingers inconspicuously on his suit jacket before he says, “It is kind of warm in here.” Unbelievable, he’s actually not going to send me packing right now!

The dance quickly withers like a rose in the heat of July, and so we gather our shoes and other belongings that are piled along the wall. Our friends ask if we’d like to join them for bowling, but we decide to pass—after all we only get so many moments together. After going back to his house, filling his parents in briefly on the hoopla of the dance, and changing into more comfortable clothes, we drive to a near by town with no specific plans on our mind; we don’t need plans, we have one another’s company. We stop at a gas station and tumble back into the car, and then…with no revelry or fanfare… he puts the car into drive and reaches over and grabs my hand.

I expect it to be like the time I held another boy’s hand in 8th grade. We were at a super bowl party and our hands met, and we stayed like that, glued to the other, for the remainder of the game, afraid if we moved the other would let go. Two hours of sweaty palms and no movement is a strange thing. But here, in this car with Brent, it is the most natural thing to be holding his hand. I am not afraid to move, or even let go, because I know it will be there again. I caress his palm with my thumb as our conversation flows throughout the evening.
I find myself counting down the days until my school's prom—May 7th seems to be dragging her pretty little feet. Eventually though, when I wake up, it's finally here.

This prom I'm going to hold nothing back. I know he is interested. We've held hands a couple times, and I look danggood in my black and white dress. This time he has rented a tux and borrowed his sister's black Tahoe. We are riding.in.style.

We decide, in order to save a little cash, to drive through Fazoli's and take our food to a park. We order, and I set my lemonade on the dashboard, bend over to fix my shoe strap, and Brent slams on the gas to get in the correct lane of traffic. My drink flies over…all over my beautiful dress. Normally, in this situation, I would freak out. But he's so apologetic and just so cute that I can't do anything but laugh. I scrounge around and find napkins to soak up the mess, and by the time we arrive at the park I'm feeling a little put back together.

Brent says grace and we dig in to our pasta meals. My stomach has been turning with excitement all morning, and I can barely calm it down enough now to eat. This NEVER happens to me. I glance across the picnic table at Brent and in my own silent prayer thank the Lord for this blessing. I notice Brent looking at something across the pond and follow his line of vision. A wedding! I hope beyond hope it is a sign, but then focus on trying to get some food in my stomach lest I scare this poor boy away.

We finally make it to the dance, no real signs that I'm wearing my lemonade, and begin to mingle with my friends. But as the night progresses, we continually find ourselves lost in conversation. He knows better than to try to tickle my armpits now, and as we slow dance on the gym floor it is as if we are the only ones in the room. I link my arms closer around his neck, and his hands link more to embrace me closer as we dance. The DJ switches to a new song and we continue to sway in the silent embrace listening to the lyrics, One word, that's all you said/ something in your voice caused me to turn my head. Your smile, just captured me, and you were in my future as far as I could see…You had me from hello…

"That's pretty much how it went," he whispers in my ear. I don't say anything, but feel the freedom to lay my head on his chest as he begins to sing in my ear.

Lord, if this night goes on forever I'd be okay with that, I pray as the song draws to a close.
We again forego an evening with friends and head back to my house. My mom has laid out all the necessary tools for making smores and my dad has stoked the fire, a real sign that this guy is growing on them too. We pull up our lawn chairs and in the glow of the fire I realize we are becoming more than just friends. I'm so overwhelmed by the situation and the evening and our inevitable futures apart that I become very quiet.

Noticing the change, he reaches over and grabs my knee. "You know, Kels, if I have to wait for you through four years of college I will."

Part XI:

The summer rains have washed ruts into the now drying dirt beneath our feet. Graduations have come and gone, hugs have been offered more frequently, and every moment of time we can be together we are. There is one unspoken rule between us now: Don't speak of August 20th.

This rule is fairly easy to abide by for the time being. It is June and the sun is warm, the air is thick, and my tan is excellent. It is a lazy Saturday and I find myself lounging on the couch at Brent's house. His parents will be leaving soon, so we're making plans for the day, as neither his or my parents want us to be alone in their homes.

After deciding on Shrek II, we pull our lazy bones off the sofa and make our way to the car. On the porch he stops me by gently grabbing my elbow. I wheel around to face him. I am no longer afraid to look directly into his brown eyes. He doesn't say anything, but instead he wraps his long arms around my torso. I reciprocate, reaching up to wrap his neck in an embrace.

We stand for a moment, interlocked in the warm shade on the porch. I know what I am feeling now is not just excitement and butterflies and prom jitters and everything else that comes with teenage romance. I know that what I am feeling has been bubbling beneath the surface for years. Three years ago when I saw this boy grab his guitar on that mission trip, I simply wanted to get to know him more, but now that I know is thoughts and passions, his loves and dreams, I know what I am feeling for him is more than wishful teenage hopes.

I don't dare speak my mind though, after all our first kiss hasn't even been shared. Could I really love him already? I open my mouth. Because of our embrace, he can't see me and I shut my lips together once more. We slowly release our grip from one another, and he slides his hand down my arm to my hand. Before I realize what is happening my mouth is open again and almost inaudibly I whisper, "Thank you."

Late afternoon is approaching dusk as we pull into his driveway. The movie is long over, and post-movie ice cream cones have long since been devoured through laughter and more easy conversation. His parents still aren't back, and I need to get home, so we linger in the driveway putting off the inevitable, "See ya later."

I kick a piece of gravel with my sandal covered foot as he asks me what my week looks like. "Tomorrow we have a dinner after church, so I probably won't get to see ya then. When do you get off work on Monday?"

"5:30 or 6, I'll have to check."

"I may ask Mom if you can come over for supper then?"

"Sounds good." He smiles at me and then pulls me in for another hug. I lay my head on his shoulder. We hold each other in silence for several moments.

"Okay…I probably need to head out," I say as I reluctantly pull myself away from his arms. Standing face to face, we gingerly hold hands at our sides. I tilt my head sideways, smile, and say, "Okay…I probably need to head out."

"Umm…yeah…okay…" he says distantly, looking at the ground. "But…uhh…hey, what did we ever decide about, you know?…uhh." I have no idea where this is going, and no real clue about what he is talking about. "You know, I mean…what did we ever decide about the whole kissing thing?"

WHAT?! My whole body tenses as I try to keep my face relaxed and calm, lest he know what I am thinking. Am I ready for this? My first real kiss? Have I watched enough Disney movies to know how to lean in properly to get the most magical effect? "I didn't know we were deciding something? I thought…uh…it would just, ya know…whenever it's right."

"Okay." He pulls me back in for another hug.

Seriously? All that and nothing? If this fool doesn't kiss me after…

Brent leans back from our embrace and searches my face. I try to let it say, "KISS ME!" but am afraid it is coming across as, "I have to go to the bathroom." But before I can think about it much longer, his hands wrap around my face, he pulls me closer to him, and gently allows his lips to meet mine. They linger, but just for a moment, before he pulls back. As his hands leave my face, I slowly open my eyes to meet his smile.

Before either of us can say a word, we hear tires crunching gravel and see his parents who, with their impeccable timing, are pulling up the driveway.

"Of course," Brent kids, as we wave and then walk towards my car. Beyond my mortification at having possibly shared my first-kiss-moment with his parents, I'm grateful that it has provided us a transition through the awkward post-first-kiss-moment, when no one is quite sure what to do. Do we talk about the fact that we just kissed? Do we carry on like it never happened? Do we kiss again? Do I just say goodbye now? Instead, for us, we say hello to his parents as they make their way to the house.

He opens my car door and I situate myself in the driver's seat. He shuts the door and leans through the open window. "Let me know about Monday," he says, and quickly moves forward, kisses me once more, then begins walking towards the house.

The inevitable is only one moment away at all times. August 20th loomed before us, and was now only one day away. Tonight we would be saying goodbye.

I sort through and label boxes all morning, the knot growing tighter and tighter in my stomach while waiting for Brent to get off work. I eat the sandwich my mom makes me for lunch out of necessity, not because I am hungry.

Before I know it, I am at Brent's. We have three hours before that moment. We want to spend it normally, but this task seems impossible. I help him pack some stuff, as he will be leaving in a week for his own college adventure. We make it through supper with his parents in a haze. And then it is time.

We step out into the humid air that we have grown so familiar with this summer. This summer--and that thought makes my mind reel-- evenings spent by a campfire; a date to the park that turned to a vicious rain storm which forced us into the public restrooms, we laughed and kissed as the power went out and the rain poured down; dinner time conversations surrounded by family and friends; movies together while curled up on the couch, my hand in his; worshipping side by side at church; two additional songs he wrote and sang to me. Yes, this summer had been an exceptional one and I was not ready to put it into our past while being so unaware of our future.

Before he even says a word or moves to wrap me in his honey-tanned arms, I begin to cry. Slowly but surely it turns to weeping. Before long, fifteen minutes have passed and he simply holds me in his arms, whispering, "Shhh. It's okay. Shhh."

Taking a deep breath, I finally work up the nerve to look at him. A tear is streaming down his cheek. I reach up and wipe it away and hold his face in my hands. "How are we going to do this?" I question.

"We just will. I have no doubt in that."

"Really? No doubt? It's eight hours…" I trail off as I swallow the sob that is rising in my panicking throat.

"Kels, look at me." I look up as he grabs my hand. "I told you I will wait for you through this. We'll make it work. I trust you. Okay?" Through his sad eyes I see something else. There is an earnestness in them that begins to break through my panic. "There will be no one at Ozark like you. Kels, we'll make it work."

I could no longer stifle the tears. My bleary, red eyes peer at him and trust him. I simply nod my head as he wipes my cheeks clear then wraps me in his arms again. I could stand here for hours more, in this embrace that has come to mean safety and warmth, but I can't put myself through this right now. I pull away, indicating it is time, and he grabs my face and kisses me. I can taste the salt from his tears and mine as they intermingle on our lips.

I carry the eight hours from Orange City to Joplin with me everywhere I go. In the cafeteria as I meet new faces it weighs heavy on my shoulders. As I travel from class to class, I wish I could remove it from my backpack as easily as a book. Not only am I trying to figure out this new college thing, but I'm trying to figure out how to be me, be involved, be HERE, without Brent. I try by reminding myself that I am only 18 years old. I have so much life before me. I try to remind myself that I'm no good to him if I don't know who I am first.

But the ache and the distance seems insurmountable. Four more years of this? Are we kidding ourselves to think that we are capable.

I grab my friend's cell phone, since she has free nights starting at seven instead of nine, and dial Ozark's number from memory. "You have reached the residence directory of Ozark Christian College," the recorded, yet chipper voice informs me. "If you know the four digit num…." I hit the keys quickly and Brent picks up on the first ring.

"Hey there beautiful, I've been waiting by the phone." Since he doesn't have a cell phone, we pre-plan all of our phone calls so I don't call an empty room. "How are you doing today?"

I burst into tears. It hasn't been a good day and the sound of his voice is simply too much. I suck back tears and snot, and though he isn't looking at me I'm sure he can tell it's not a pretty sight. "It's been…tough…Brent…I miss you…."

And so our conversation goes. I suggest, again, the possibility of transferring to Ozark, and getting a joint teaching degree through the other local college. He assures me we just need to give it some more time.

Time. I hate time right now.

* * *
As I make my bottom bunk for my sophomore year, I think back to 12 months earlier. Saying goodbye this time was certainly no easier, but understanding the cyclical nature of my grieving helps. I know I will feel the ache physically for nearly two weeks, craving to be back with him. The next weeks I will begin to feel like I can handle it, for however long the Lord calls us to do this; I can handle the distance because Brent is worth it. Then the next week or two will bring with them more discomfort and anxiousness as I count down to the next time we'll see one another. Understanding this helps a little, but knowing I am in the beginning stages of this cycle leave me feeling sorry for myself.

I crawl into my yellow sheets and pull the lime green comforter around my shoulders. I now carry with me his "I love you" that he finally relinquished to me last fall. He had been at my school visiting and after a movie we sat laughing and talking and then he got quiet. I, like all teenage girls, instinctively asked what he was thinking. Almost before I was ready for it he said, "Oh, thinking about a lot of stuff. Like how ridiculous that movie was, how much I like laughing with you… and how I love you."

I've returned his sentiments many times over now, never doubting his sincerity in response. But now I think of beginning another year of this-- of this constant departure, of this constant aching, of this constant pull of wanting to be somewhere else yet knowing I'm where I'm supposed to be-- and the tears spill from behind my eye lids as I try to fall asleep before another new year of classes begins.
* * *

As I make my way back from class, trudging through the freshly fallen snow, my mind wanders to another campus hours away. What would it be like to walk across campus with him? To share the same groups of friends with him? To talk about professors we both have? I plop my bag on the loveseat in the corner of my little dorm room and flip on my computer.

New email from m0nkey21. The sensation I feel is still the same as when I first started getting these emails 4 years before. I click open the new message and can't help but smile. This message is written in a poem format:

you make me smile every day
for your heart i'll aways pray
your more beautiful than i could dream
your so hot that you almost steam.

i like writing you these dudes
escpecially when im in a "i love kelsey" mood…'s
your probably like awww, my boyfriends the best
and im like yeah, i aced this test.

i better keep rolling, man this is good
i wonder what i would be like living in the hood
i need to do laundry i have few cloths left
if i go any longer ill probably commit theft

your so nice your cute when your upset
i've never disliked you since we've met
you even like me when i cant read
or spell or mess up a deed
ok i love you so much, and i hope you like the poem, you have to cuz your my girlfriend. ok i love you ill talk to you later. by smoochums :)Brent

Sigh. Yes, I can do this. I can wait for man who makes me laugh, and giggle, and feel cherished. Yes, the ache due to distance is worth this.

* * *
I scribble in my notebook as Prof Carl informs our class on the importance of having a clear vision of what you want to accomplish with each lesson. I look around at the faces of other students in my "Teaching Literature to Adolescents" class. Do they realize that most of us only have 3 semesters of college left after this? Do they even realize that I refer to this as "the downhill"? We get our journal assignment for next Thursday and bundle up before barreling across campus again.

While my nose suffers from the frigid air, my mind wanders to the letters I have been saving and accumulating since my sophomore year of high school five years ago. I still allow myself the giddy excitement of scrawling "to my future husband" across the tops of letters before stuffing them into the box.

When I get back to my room, I slowly remove the layers of clothing and the stress of the morning. I don't have a roommate this semester, as I'm a resident assistant, so I breathe in the quietness of my little corner of the world. I curl up on the love seat and grab the nearest notebook:

"My love, I am currently working on a unit of lessons for my someday students: a descriptive essay describing one of their favorite places. So I wanted to share a few of mine-- at my old house there were two spots outside that I loved, and both involved lilac bushes. One was by itself at the edge of our front yard. It was almost hollow in the center and so I would crawl through the branches and sit in there and read. I eventually found an old seat cushion…"

I continued to let my hand dance across the page. Though Brent and I had discussed marriage, I still tried to keep my mind open to the possibility that I was writing someone else.

"… An old wicker basket worked as a makeshift mailbox, hanging from the handle of the propane take. Eventually I found a broken road reflector and used it as a welcome sign. Many hours were spent in this 'house', the smell of lilacs constantly wafting over my body and bursting through my senses. Over the years I outgrew the small space, but it will always remain tucked away in my memory. Maybe someday I could take you there…"

How many more of these letters will I write before I know exactly, without a doubt who I am writing to, I wonder as stretch my fingers.

"… Right now in my life, God is challenging me to be fully faithful and fully present in all that I do. Like Job, God is showing me to put my hand over my mouth and be still before the Creator of everything. I love you, and I can't wait for the day I get to give you this, and every other, letter."

I sign my name in the orange pen and carefully crease the paper, folding it into a neat square. I lay it in the box and look down at my left hand. It's been nearly three years since Brent and I started dating. Three years of conversations and dates and laughter and tears. Three years of growing with one another, enduring the distance for one another, and learning about and how to love one another. Three years worth of knowing that this is the man I want to give these letters to.

But I still look at my left ring finger and wonder when it will no longer be empty.
The actual box of letters:

Part XIII:


My phone rings and I look at the caller ID: Jared. My roommates’ boyfriend of seven years.


“Hey Kels…is ‘Nae around because if not I need to talk to you?”

“Uh, no. What’s up?”

“Okay….I’m gonna do it. I have the ring and I’m gonna do it!” He sounds like a little kid.

“Really?! That’s awesome! When? How? Does she have any clue?”

He dives into his plan, the details, the ring--everything.

“Well that sounds perfect, Jared. Are you calling for my permission or something?” I joke.

“No…actually, okay, this might be weird but I need you to figure out a way to get her to move her purity ring from her ring finger.”


“I don’t want to have to take off that ring to put on this one…I don’t know…”

“Actually I totally understand.”

“Yeah, and she’s used to your weird ideas so she won’t think anything of it. Just make something up. She won’t have a clue!”

The next day I tell Renae that we are going to have a dinner date and then a “moving of the rings ceremony.” She stares at me blankly. “Come on! It will be fun. We’ll play music, or something…I don’t know the details yet…and then you and I will move our purity rings from our left finger to our right hand. I think it’s time. I mean, I don’t know about you but I don’t want Brent to have to stumble around and figure out the logistics of all that while he’s proposing. And who knows…that could be any time….” I keep rambling.

“Okay! You’re weird, and whatever, but okay.” Excellent. She has no clue.

* * *

I look out the window at the whiteness. The wind howls through the cracks and the snow piles up in drifts. I can’t even see down to the sidewalk below my second story dorm window. I let out a sigh and sit down at my computer, pulling up Southwest Airlines’ website. There is no way I’m going to be leaving Northwest Iowa anytime soon, let alone make it to airport in Kansas City to fly to Nashville. My trip to visit my sister will just have to be postponed. I make the appropriate clicks on the screen before calling and letting her know.

So much for SPRING break, I think as I bring the phone to my ear.
* * *
I throw my bag into the backseat of my blue GrandAm. It has been packed for three days, ready to make the trip home, but the interstates have been closed. I have gotten sick of consoling my stir-crazy wingmates since I, though their RA, have also been going a bit crazy sitting in a dorm that was supposed to be emptied for a week long break.

But now I have checked all the girls out of their rooms, have double checked that the interstates are passable, and talked to my dad to see what he thinks about the roads. I look at the clock on the dash as I start up the car: 9:42. I should have already been in Nashville for over a day. I throw my shoulders back, determined to still make the most of my time off from school. I have called about subbing to make a little extra cash, and Brent has decided to come up for the weekend, so it will only be three and half more days until I get to see him again. I can’t be upset about that!

I glance at my left hand. It has been empty since Renae and I shared our silly “ring-moving-ceremony.” Hers filled up quickly after that with a beautiful diamond from Jared’s grandma that had been put in a new setting, just for her. But here was my empty hand, four months since our silly ceremony, two and half years since he’d said, “I love you,” and over three years since our initial conversation in that cold car in February. Sigh. I pop in a CD and ease my car onto the still-snow-packed local streets, sinking into my seat a bit to get comfortable for the five hour drive home.

* * *
Standing before the band students while substitute teaching, my mind wanders to this afternoon. Brent will finally be here and, since I haven’t seen him for over a month and a half, I can’t help but imagine the feeling and warmth of his arms around me. Even after three years, the sound of his voice still sends tingles to my toes.

My lunch of leftovers warms my throat as I dial his number. He picks up and I take a sip of water to clear my throat. “Hey you, I’ve got some good news.”

“Hey, beautiful! What’s the news?

“Apparently I’m done subbing at 1:30 today instead of 3:00. Which means…I’ll get to see you a whole hour and a half earlier than we thought!”

“Oh. Great. Um. You can go home and change though. Take your time. You don’t need to rush around.”

What? Weirdo. What is he talking about? Of COURSE I’m going to rush around if it means more time with him, and furthermore how dare he………GASP!! Oh my gosh…he’s acting weird which can only mean one thing…he’s going to propose! Why us women tend to go there at these points in time is beyond me, but now I have to feel him out.

“Really? Cause I could be at your house by two?”

“Yeah, I’m still getting around anyway and doing laundry and stuff. Don’t rush. Spend some time with your mom or something.”

“She’ll be at work still…but okay. I’ll take my time. I’ll probably be there by 3 or 3:30 though, is that okay?”

“Ugh…sure. Just give me a call before you head over.”

“Okay. Love you. Can’t wait to kiss you!”

“I know, Squeeze, it’s been awhile.” I smile at the nickname he’s randomly assigned me over the past couple years. I’m still unsure of how he came up with it or why it’s stuck around. “Love you. See you soon.”

Immediately after hanging up, I dial my sister. “Kali! What-do-I-do-I-think-Brent-is-going-to-propose-to-me-tonight-how-do-I-act-what-do-I-wear…”

As I take a pause to gasp for breath, she cuts in, “Woah, Kels. Why do you think he’s going to propose?”

“I don’t know he’s just acting strange and doesn’t want me to rush over which is just SO weird, right? I mean, right?”

She talks me through my excited anxiety, and helps me think of something to wear that is still casual enough in case my rampaging imagination has deceived me and he is, in fact, NOT proposing. The bell rings and I tell her I’ll keep her informed as students trickle back into the classroom.
* * *
I sit in my parked car in Brent’s driveway. Breathe in. Breathe out. Look normal. I expect to walk in to a room full of daisies and Brent on one knee or…something! Instead, as I make my way into the living room, I find him in sweatpants…and a tshirt…folding laundry!! WHAT?!

He jumps up and I bury my face in his neck. Though I’m disappointed by the lack of proposal material that is happening in the room, I feel my body relax as his scent fills my nose and the warmth of his body embraces me. I feel safe, protected, and loved, even without a silly ring on my left hand. I guess I can wait a little longer if he wants to drag this out.

* * *
After visiting three of our nephews in town, we make our way to Fazzolis. Ever since prom, we’ve decided that cheap Italian food is the way to go. I sit across from him in the small booth. As I suck down my fettuccini noodles, he smiles at me. I begin to wonder how we have made the past three years work. It’s as if being in his presence reminds me of his absence in an even stronger capacity than when we’re away. We munch on breadsticks in silence. He reaches across the table and quietly grabs my hand. I don’t need a ring to understand his commitment in this moment.

On the way home we laugh about old memories, and comfortably sit side by side. I’m so completely happy in sharing this car ride with him that I hardly notice him miss the turn that will bring us back to his house. Before I can say anything he is turning into the church parking lot just a block past the missed road. I assume he is going to turn around, but he throws the car into park. Kissing in parking lots is not above us; after all we are college students in love, but in a church parking lot? I mean, I have my standards!

Before I can begin my rebuttal, Brent steps out of the car. I stare at him through the windshield, trying to figure out what is happening as he opens my door. And then I realize it is a good thing I wore a top that I liked because what I thought may be happening this evening may just be happening right now. I tell myself to mentally hold onto every moment, and grab my purse in which I happened to throw my camera before leaving home.

He leads me to a door on the side and before I notice the note stuck to it, I remember that this is the church where my friend introduced me—braces, bangs, awkwardness, and all—to that quiet seventh grade boy eight years ago. I look at the note, then at Brent, who urges me with his gentle, brown eyes to take it.

“Kels, look inside the 1st book in the 3rd pew on the left side.”

He pushes the door open for me and I remind myself not to run. As I locate the proper pew and hymnal, he disappears momentarily into a side room. I peel off the note, which instructs me to turn to hymn #221, off the top of the blue book. 221. Our high school basketball numbers combined. He has thought of everything.

Just as I reach the page number, an envelope falls out. I don’t even notice Brent slide into the pew next to me with his guitar. I tear into it, open the card, and then open the note that is inside:

“...I wanted to tell you how much I have enjoyed the past 3 years, 1 month, and 1 day. It is amazing to see how God was working internally in our own lives and externally in the events leading up to us being “brentandkelsey”. I have learned so much in the past 3 years about you, love, myself, and God.

...I have been able to study you: how heavy your head is after it has fallen asleep on my arm, how your eyes peek open as you slip into a nap just to see me watch you fall asleep, how your hand rests into mine, how you look at me when I’ve said something that is just like my father, how you love me even though I have sometimes disappointed or failed you, how competitive you get at card games, how your smile can take my heart and create peace within the deepest part of my being, how excited you are to have children, how much you adore your parents, how much you hate dogs, vomit, storms, the feel of jeans, and being away from me, how you love kids, cheese, home, hearing how much I know about you, hearing that you’re beautiful to me, kisses on the forehead, and our Father God, and finally how you look at and adore me.

...I also wanted to thank you for giving me a chance and for believing in me to fulfill that dream guy you have prayed for and thought about since you were little.

...I care so much about you, and can’t wait until I can devote my life to serving you. I want to sing you the first and last songs that I wrote for you to show you how much you mean to me. It has been a blessing being with you for so long and sharing all the memories, laughs, cries, and frustrations with you. I hope you know my love for you and my desire to always pursue you.”

I look up and see that while I have been reading his words through now glistening eyes, he has gotten out his guitar. I reach over and place my fingers on the side of his face, tilting my head and smiling. He begins strumming and I hear the chords of a song that I have cherished now for three years...when I look into your eyes...and soon he is beginning the latest one he has written. Knowing now what is about to happen, I cherish the lyrics even more: There’s a day, and I can’t wait...no more tears as I drive away, and all you want is for me to stay. But today, I wouldn’t trade today, for any day no... There’s a day, and I can’t wait, when a little girl calls me daddy. And her hair, curly brown, and all she wants is to have me around. And there’s a day...when our tired eyes tell you a story of a love old in age, but as fresh as the dawn of day. But today, I wouldn’t trade today...

The tears that have been resting just behind my lids now spill down my cheeks. I make no attempt to wipe them away as I am caught up in the moment. As he finishes the last chord, I lean over and wrap my arms around his neck. He holds me for a moment, kisses my wet cheek, and then hands me another note.

“By the front door, where we 1st met, look behind the picture of the old couple.”

I immediately know the picture he is referring to. It is a photograph I have always loved of an elderly couple that used to attend the church. They are walking away from the camera, and it is almost indecipherable which one is holding up the other as they make their way down the sidewalk. I jump up from the pew and walk the long aisle to the foyer. I see the picture resting in the corner of the shelf and, reaching on my tiptoes, I move it to the side. There, resting in the shadows of the room, is a small, wooden ring box. I pick it up, unsure if I am supposed to open it. I spin around to ask Brent.

He is down on one knee, smiling bigger than I’ve ever seen him smile. I reciprocate and hand him the box. He opens it, and reaches for my hand. “I want to grow old with you, Kels. Will you marry me?” He slides the ring on my finger. It is a beautiful, princess cut on a simple, wide band. It’s perfect. This is all too perfect.

“Yes! Yes!”
* * *

Grinning and foolish, we tumble back into the car. I want to say something, to thank him, to form some words worthy of this moment he has just given me, but I can’t seem to get my mouth to function with my brain. So I simply reach over and grab his hand. He smiles and then pulls the car out onto the road...in the wrong direction yet again.

He glances in my direction with a mischievous grin. “I have a couple other things in store for you.” I then realize why he panicked when I said I could come over sooner today-- he had a lot of things to get in order.

As the night progresses I find out what “a couple other things” means. First is a starlit dance on a dirt road that boasts the last name we will soon be sharing. Brent has created a mix CD of some of my favorite love songs, and as we dance in the moonlight he whispers in my ear, “I can’t wait to give you my last name.” Before we leave he pulls out a huge bouquet of daisies that has been hidden in the trunk until this moment.

“A couple other things” also means a trip out to my grandparents’ land. As we pull the car into park, Brent explains that he is excited to marry me here, where I’ve always dreamed of creating an outdoor wedding. As I look out at the landscape and begin to envision the aisle and chairs in the yard of my childhood memories, he hands me a gift bag. I’m too curious to be patient and soon I am holding its contents in my lap: a pink newborn outfit saying, “Daddy’s Little Lovebug” and a blue one reading, “Daddy’s Allstar.” Slightly confused I look over to my new fiance in the driver’s seat and he smiles and says, “I'm so happy you'll one day be the mother of my children and happy that I get to raise a family with you.”

We sit in the silence for a moment, letting the dashboard lights dance on our ecstatic faces, holding this moment in our hands like sunshine on the first day of Spring.

Part XIV:

I had waited two years for him to notice me, and three years after that for him to ask me out. Then began three more years of long distance waiting for him to ask me the question, and now I only had to wait 1 year and 2 months longer to be called his wife. 

I had prayed that the Lord would help me keep my focus away from boys and on Him. Then I prayed that if I couldn't have Brent, that God would grant me a man like him. And then I prayed that God would give me the patience and trust to endure 4 years of distance from the boy I now loved. And now I prayed that God would empower us both in our final stretch; I prayed He would give us the strength to continue to wait for our wedding night. 

Throughout my final year of college I was a bag of mixed emotions. I planned a wedding from a distance, I student taught, I relished time with friends I would be leaving soon, I watched my dad go through hell with his job, and I fought, and prayed, and struggled with where we would be moving after the wedding. 

Graduation came and went in a flurry of square caps and fluttering gowns, and then I rushed off to Wisconsin to stand up in Renae's wedding. I sobbed through her entire ceremony at I thought of leaving her and at the rush of emotions that came as I thought of my own wedding in just three short weeks. 

The waiting was over. I was going to be Brent's bride.

*  *  *

I watch out the window as the clouds disintegrate and the city lights come into view. Louisville, Kentucky. Lord, I'm still so unsure about this place, please give me peace in this decision while I'm here interviewing. And Lord, may my time with Brent be refreshing and peace-giving. 

A short two days later, after rushing around, having an anxiety attack while driving through city traffic, interviewing and securing a job at a middle school, and checking out what Brent had been up to at his new internship, we hold one another close at the airport gate. 

"You know this is the last time we ever have to say goodbye like this?" I say as I secure my grip around his waist even tighter. 

His sigh and kiss on my forehead told me he knew. 

* * *

"Kels? Kelsey. Wake up, sweetie. It's your wedding day!" I groggily throw the covers back and look up at my mom. I had slept like a rock as nerves and anxiety were no where to be found in my excitement for today. I had never been so sure about something.  "Go jump through the shower. I have breakfast waiting for you." As mom leaves my room, I lay my hand on the empty pillow next to mine and smile-- tonight it would not be empty. Today I would become Brent's wife. 

The rest of the morning and afternoon is a madhouse of hairspray, dresses, makeup, pictures, family, cakes falling over, humidity and wind. However, nothing could mess up this day. As we snap photos I look around at what my grandparents' backyard has become. The space where I used to decorate their landscape with peony petals is now decorated with folding chairs; the lawn where my grandpa used to let me ride on his lap while mowing is now scattered with tables for the reception. My childhood dream is becoming a reality. Our photographer is giving us directions and Brent comes up behind me and scoops me into his arms. We already shared a special "first moment" with one another, and now we are just enjoying one another's company before the ceremony commences. Earlier he had given me a journal he had kept since our engagement. The last entry was just for me, and had been written this morning: I want to be so good to you, always. I want to be a good husband. I want to always care for you and love and protect you. Today, at the end of the day, I want you to fall asleep in my arms knowing that you are loved, cherished, and safe.

And then, in what seems like a matter of moments, I am standing beside my dad. Though he keeps asking me if he has time to go to the bathroom before we walk down the aisle, I am so thankful that this is the man that raised me. I know he is proud to give me away, but I also know that, though unspoken, we are both a little emotional about that moment. And finally the change in music is our cue, my aunt waves us around the corner and there, in an orange setting sun, Brent waits for me at the end of the aisle. He is waiting for me, as he has waited for me for many years. We trusted the Lord would bring us to this day if we remained faithful, and now I walk down the aisle that will forever bring our waiting to an end. 

I look at Brent and see in his face the perseverance that has ensured this day would come. I look at Brent and I see in his face how he beholds me in a way no man ever has or ever will. I looked at Brent and I see in his face the unknown journey we are about to embark. I look at Brent and I see in his face the love of our Heavenly Father, and I know that no matter where that unknown journey takes us-- for richer or for poorer, in sickness or in health-- that Brent will love, cherish, and protect me until death. 

As my white dress trails down the aisle, I look at Brent and I see home. 

1 comment:

Pink Pamalamma said...

Oh this was just beautiful! It reads like a wonderful book!