Chapter Three: My Safe Harbor

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She walks through the screen door; it creaks the ancient spring biting into the well-worn grooves dragging it back to its familiar resting place. She’s got a hat pulled low hiding her hazel eyes. She’s wearing soccer shorts, a tank top and flipflops with a Hawaiian name I couldn’t spell right. There is no heart-stopping-our-eyes-met moment to relate. Instead, it was an introduction from one friend’s friend to another. I had been leading connections at a church’s college ministry and was preparing a feast. Every Wednesday we had people over to a house on the creek where we fellowshipped together, ate pasta and laughed. It was a temporary home to me, a man always on the run.

She stepped out of her silver crescent Honda and made her way down the hillside of a mountain town. Pink flagstone steps quarried from just a few miles away were nestled between branches of scrub oak, columbines and black-eyed susan’s on her way towards the house where I was waiting. I had always been waiting; all my life had ever been was waiting. Hoping the pain would end, the sadness could leave, or the anger would flee. But that day, that beautiful April before the sun could set, she took the stairs down the path, where she found a young man who would change the course of her future, and in her doing so would forever change mine.

She said her name was Chelsea and I smiled real wide as I introduced myself as Nate. She had flecks of green peppered through her chestnut brown eyes. She was beautiful – there was no hat big enough to hide that – and by every stretch of the imagination, this woman was entirely out of my league. She was radiance subdued, a once brilliant sapphire now lost in a in a dusty jewelry box.

Chelsea was a collegiate soccer player and a talented nurse, yet I saw sorrow in her soul that made me want to weep. In a moment I could feel the hurt, the ache, and the angst. I didn’t know her whys or her reasons for the tears waiting to be released but that would come soon.

Chelsea worked nights as a nurse at a hospital, and because of that she and I would hang out for many of the weirdest hours. As our days of summer turned into weeks and then into months, this woman always befuddled me. I saw in her the character of God, and I wanted to share my life with this woman. Chelsea and I got to know each other as friends do, but Chelsea was never a woman I wanted to be friends with. Chelsea was the kind of woman I wanted to marry and spend every day of the rest of my life with. We languished in the awkward “what are we” phase of friendship for too long until I boarded a plane and flew to Afghanistan.

It was on my trip to Afghanistan I learned that Chelsea was the woman I wanted to pursue with every bit of romance I could muster. I believe if ever a man is to court a woman he must first bring two things: words of intentions and a marvelous treasure. I needed to return to Chelsea not just with words of intentions but with a trinket in which she could forever see my affections for her. I have never been a man who could craft a beautiful welsh love spoon or afford price-fixed slave dug diamonds and though I bought Chelsea a little silver ring in a jewelry store on Chicken Street in Kabul, Afghanistan this was not the treasure I sought. I found the precious treasure in a palace guarded by fierce men with well-used and well-maintained rifles. Right then and there I decided I was willing to go to an Afghani prison to bring the woman I adored a treasury worthy of her courtship.

Some of our time in Afghanistan was spent going around Kabul and seeing the wonders of this most ancient of cities. Kabul had more history than I could comprehend and as we traveled through its streets, we crested a hill and saw the Darul Aman Palace. Once considered a marvel of the land it now lies in bomb-cratered, bullet-riddled ruins after manipulated men let loose their rage on its monumental walls. Our team unloaded our vans, and we were told the story of the Palace, the queen it was built for, and the treasure it once held in its ornate coffers. Chiefly among its wonders were the rose gardens and tiled mosaic fountains covering the grounds of the Palace. Only by the piles of rubbles marking their foundations could we see the many fountains. While we walked around, the palace guards with their rifles held at the ready patrolled the perimeter. Looking at the crumbled fragments of one of the unique fountains I saw it, I saw the treasure worth getting shot over. It was a shattered piece of a tile no larger than my thumbnail. Its handcrafted designs, and intricate styling’s had been aged, chipped, and scarred.

I came up with a quick plan to get me under the razor wire surrounding the palace so I could snatch my treasure away. I studied the guards and learned their patterns and we readied ourselves. Just as the guard turned to make his final march, I swung into action. Diving under the rusty wire I scrambled over to the fountain, and pocketed the prize. Just as I turned and started running back, I heard the guard’s shuffling feet. Slipping back under the razor wire, I stood up on the other side of the fence as the guard rounded the corner. In my “just act natural, out of breath, sweating out of every pore” way I kept my cool. The terror in my head convinced me that any second I would be shot in the back but I was able to hold the fear down and keep my composure. It was not until our team was safely back at home did I look at my broken tile. It was unappealing in every way yet marvelous in its uniqueness. My treasure secure, I began to write the words of intention to carry home to the woman of my dreams.

Arriving back home after 35 hours of travel time, I was somewhere in-between slightly exhausted and “fall over I can’t see straight” jet-lagged. While in this perfectly screwy lovestruck state of mind, I drove to Chelsea’s apartment with my treasure and my words. We talked about my trip and as we did, I began to try to steer our conversation to the story of the palace. Every time I did, I would forget the words I’d memorized. Stumbling and bumbling in the most frustrating of fashions, I told Chelsea something like this: “Chelsea, in all my life God has shown me things of great wonder and majesty. I have seen these things in caves hundreds of feet below the surface of the earth and on the sides of mountains miles in the air. I have marveled at them in ways I thought impossible, but in all of my life, I have never seen such a marvelous treasure of worth as I have seen in you. I have seen in you a character so rare, a heart so sincere, it makes me lose all sense of understanding. In you, I have seen a graciousness that is divine. Seven days ago, I stood in the splendor of the Queen’s Palace in Afghanistan and even as I marveled at the ancient palace, I thought only of you. I thought of you because I long for you: to get to know you, to become known by you, and to share my life with you. Standing among the rubble, I found the most extraordinary piece of tile I have ever seen, and I have brought this to you. I give you this that you may know I treasure the woman I have gotten to know, and I would treasure infinitely more getting to know the woman you will become.” Handing her the tile, I asked her, “Chelsea, will you be my girlfriend?” Cue the doves, the church bells, and the choir, she replied…

“Well, I will have to pray about it and think about it.” Silence filled the void as my jet-lagged brain desperately pleaded with me to understand the words she was saying. I realized there would be no celebratory hugs or high fives waiting for me at my apartment. Driving home, I knew Chelsea was still the woman I wanted to pursue and if God were generous with me, I would do my best to treasure her every day I was entrusted to her. I passed out on my futon that night feeling crushed in parts of my heart I had not known existed. As dawn arrived so too did my friend Steve and a worn out Honda Accord to take me to Baltimore, Maryland.

Steve had invited me with him to visit his family back in Maryland and thinking 35 hours of travel time in two days wasn’t enough, I got in a car defeated and deflated for another 36 hours on the road. It was exactly what I needed as my phone received neither a call nor a text from the woman who held my affections. Hours turned into eons but then after four long days of silence my phone rang. The interrupting ring carried on its wave words that would forever end my life as a single man.

I was in the living room of Steve’s family home when the ring came and as I looked at the screen, I saw her name appear. Keeping my composure cooler than a cucumber but freaking out inside I answered it, “Hey.” Then followed the silence of awkward replies. We talked about my trip out to Maryland but when the conversation took the turn towards finality, she said, “So I have prayed about it and spent a great deal of time preparing to answer your question. My answer is this: ‘Yes, and when is our first adventure-date?!’” Squealing like a yo-yo champion, I high fived myself while jumping in place. Coming back to the phone I suavely replied with a day and time, and we agreed. Hanging up the phone in Steve’s family living room, I knew things were different, but I could never have known what the woman on the other end of that phone would ultimately mean to me.

Our summer adventures now turned to dating and de-light, and as Chelsea and I grew to know one another, it quickly became clear that this woman was every bit the woman of character I had perceived her to be. Soon one date turned to two, and I knew she was my treasure, my delight, my radiant maiden walking in a meadow on a starry night. Into this love-struck tale of boy meets girl would come our first taste of the shadow of death.

It was our seventh adventure date where we were about to have our first lesson as a couple of what lurked in the darkness. I had taken her to one of my favorite places: a hiking trail in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. We walked – hands clutched together – up the pitch-black path. The overgrowth was hiding the moonlight, so we decided to sit on a small bridge spanning a bubbling creek. We sat and told stories as young lovers do when I heard a pop, soft but noticeable, and then the smallest twig break and leaf crunch. I ask her to be quiet, and within a minute it moved again: soft padded feet were inching their way through the darkness. They were deliberate steps on the softest patches of earth between the predator and its prey. In the dark brush, just a few yards away crouched a lion waiting to steal away our peaceful moment of bliss and kill us before we’ve shared our first kiss.

I whispered as I stood her on her feet, “A mountain lion is coming, we need to move.” I kept facing the creature faintly more than a tan shape in the forest beyond the bridge. We made our way to a clearing that would give us enough open space to see the predator stalking us in the darkness. Peace washed over me as a scripture came to my mind: “And to Adam was given dominion over the creatures of the earth.” I wrapped her in my arms and pulled her close. I kept my eyes down the trail where death was waiting to end our future before it could begin. I prayed for the woman who would one day become my wife. I prayed against the darkness and the creature that sought our demise. I thanked Him that He will hide us under the shadow of His wings and we need not fear even when we walk through the valley of the shadow of death. The cinching cord of fear that was settling over our necks snapped under the cutting power of The Word of Truth. Incorruptible, undefeatable courage and boldness welled up from within my spirit and I knew the battle was over. In a moment the lion retreated and returned to the shadows, not defeated only turned away for a little while, waiting for a more opportune time.

The omen of that night faded from our minds as the excitement of new love bloomed in us both. While I pursued Chelsea, I spent a great deal of time writing things down, as well as “rat holing” keepsakes from our dates: things like a crushed pinecone she had turned into an otter looking creature, or the first piece of Origami she ever folded for me. Every keepsake was a memory of the first glimpses into the heart of the woman I adore.

While we grew in our dating relationship, The Lord told me Chelsea was the woman he had prepared for me and me for her. As such, I knew I needed to ask the woman I loved if she would follow me as we followed our Savior every day for the rest of our lives.

After receiving the blessing of her father and mother, I set about my grand adventure to propose to Chelsea. With weeks of planning and the help of my friends, we sprung our caper on the woman who would become my bride. Working with another couple of friends of ours, we tricked Chelsea into thinking we had an elaborate scavenger hunt for Chelsea and our friend Kelly to complete. We set up an entire (false-ish) scavenger hunt for Kelly who played her part beautifully convincing Chelsea she too was so surprised by the lengths her boyfriend had gone to plant their curious clues and treasures. While Chelsea and Kelly bounced around a snow-covered landscape, I furiously prepared the final touches back at the clues’ finish line.

The clues for Chelsea led her to places like the house where we had first met, or to the top of a hundred and thirty-year-old spiral staircase where we first held hands. Chelsea’s second to the last clue led her to a small lake where she had first whispered her words of liking to me while we were climbing kids’ play fort at three in the morning. Unfortunately, the mood was shattered when a loud-speaker screamed at us that we were trespassing in the park and the cops had been called. Our car had been parked miles away, so we ran like rascals in the night. We didn’t get far before the police arrived and we had to run into the brush to hide. When the squad cars spotlight shone around the lake, we buried our heads in the cover of four-foot tall stalks of grass. After slipping away from the heat, we spent hours laughing about the lengths I would go for a one of a kind adventure date. After finding the final clue, she made her way to the front door of our place. Stepping up to the door Kelly pushed Chelsea inside and promptly shut the door behind her.

My roommates and I had spent the better part of two days moving every bit of furniture out of the house. Into the void were brought hundreds of candles, and floral arrangements lining a path of lights leading her deeper into the house. As she walked deeper in, she walked through our relationship for along with the flowers, there were my journal pages of words about her, as well as photographs from our last year and a half together. Stashed alongside these were dozens of my little trinkets and keepsakes. I laid before Chelsea every memory I cherished of her and me. I did this not only for her to see what I saw when I spoke her name or thought of her hand clutched between my fingers, but I did this also to sear into my mind the relationship I had only ever dreamed of having. She was the only woman I wanted to share my life with, and I had the hope of being honored to lead her in my love and devotion to the Redeemer all the days of our life. As she wound through the house, she came around the corner where I had been hidden waiting on one knee.

When I saw her, I began to shake uncontrollably, and before I could say a word of the months-long prepared proposal speech, she did the one thing I had not prepared for. She sat on my knee and clutched my neck. She clutched around my neck weeping on my shoulder hugging me and whispering words reserved for her and me alone. I sobbed on her neck as I stuttered through my proposal of marriage to the woman I adored. She said yes to my proposal, and we celebrated with a feast at a real seafood restaurant that cost me weeks of my meager pay. But as anyone who has ever been head over ridiculous heals in love can tell you, love like that knows nothing of cost. It knows only of longing, devotion, sacrifice, and dedication.

The crazy love I have for Chelsea is but a shadow of the love our Father has for us. It is but a mere glimmer of the Great Physician’s sacrificial love for each one of His.

That seafood dinner was the best meal of my entire life, but honestly, I could not tell you a single thing I ate. I was feasting on the joy and excitement of a future life lived with Chelsea. People in love radiate such attractive joy people can’t help but smile and be filled with encouragement by their presence. We glowed in our excitement, and we could not wait for the moment we would get to know the fullness of the perceived bounty to come in our marriage.

Chelsea and I (but really just Chelsea) spent the next few months arranging everything for our day of covenant vows. Then in July, Chelsea walked with her father around a blooming rose bush in a garden meadow. I saw my bride for the first time. She was more beautiful than any woman who has graced the earth with her presence. Chelsea was dressed in white but clothed in purity. I had made a vow to her father when I had first asked to pursue his daughter that I would honor and respect Chelsea’s sexual purity in every way until he gave her away to me on our wedding day. Although I’d failed to maintain total purity in many of my previous relationships, it was a vow that by the grace of God and by biblical wisdom led boundaries I was able to keep. Chelsea and I were so thankful to be able to offer each other our bodies in purity. Though we had sinned throughout our lives, God had preserved this gift in us, and it is a miraculous testimony to God’s grace for even his wandering children.

After we made a covenant with God before our family and our friends, Chelsea and I celebrated our marriage with the people we loved. While dining on some forgotten food, I ate the second-best meal of my life while sharing my first meal with my wife. We ate, we drank, and we rejoiced at the gift of the abundant relationship we had received. We feasted that night not only on food but each other’s love, and we drank deep the blessings of marriage.

When I read over my journals from this time, I cannot help but feel the depths of joy, excitement, and explosive peace. But as our marriage progressed that first year Chelsea and I learned Jesus must be the only one we ever seek our fulfillment in. As much as Chelsea and I loved each other, we found how much we had sought from the other things that can only be seen in our relationship with the Messiah. We struggled immensely as we realized the depths of the idolization we each had for the other, as well as the depths of sin’s unwashed stain, can have on each other. However, during this time we grew into an understanding of two becoming one that has reshaped my concepts of what love is as well as how truly selfish I can be.

If the first year of our marriage had been hard, the years to come would become unbearable. Chelsea and I were about to face the impossible; that lion was stalking us once more. It was about to strike, and this time, the blow would lead to the death of a passionate, joyful man.

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