Thursday, June 30, 2011

While I Still Can...

I've been feeling very sentimental as of late.  Suddenly in a panic, I'm realizing how quickly Levi's baby hood is passing us by.

This leads Herb and I to gaze at him when he sleeps for several minutes each night, just before we turn in.  We marvel at the different positions he finds comfortable.  Face down, folded in half.  Stretched out on his back, arms behind his head.  Fetal position.  We look at each other and say things like,  "How did we get the cutest baby in the world?"

Sometimes this gazing and hushed adoration wakes Levi up as we are exiting his room (our house is over 100 years old, it's the floor's fault).  I'm not at all ashamed to say that lately, when he cries, I go ahead and pick him up.

During nap times and actual bed time, I'm all about crying it out (which is usually under 5 minutes, if anything).

But those 10 or 11 pm wake ups are perfect cuddling time.

Sometimes I just give him a quick hug and lay him back down before he drifts off to the land of nod.

Sometimes I rock him and sing him back to sleep.  Sometimes I pray over him.  Sometimes I tell him sweet stories of how badly I wanted him, and how he is the answer to my prayers.  Other times, like tonight, I do all four.

I know I am "breaking the rules," but I can't help it. I love this kid so much and I just want to treasure every single moment he still fits in my arms and puts his head on my shoulder.

Diaper Inspired Hair

The weather was so gorgeous here yesterday.  After Levi and I were done mowing the lawn, we spent some time on the porch swing, and I made a mental note to come back later that afternoon to do his 10 month zebra shot.  I have been really bad at getting those photos done on his actual birthday, so they are typically his month 1/2 birthday.  Haha!

Anyway, I'm so glad I did.

Aren't these diapers ridiculous?  They were a gift from Jocelyn for my birthday.  In her words, "You know these diapers were made for the moms, anyway."

The cool dude diapers inspired the cool dude hair (which is done using baby lotion and only lasts about two hours).

Then Herb came home in the middle of the shoot, so he jumped in a few pics too, especially when I realized the happy accident of our coordinating outfits.

I think one of these pictures will be used for Levi's (gasp) birthday invitation.  Any guesses what the theme will be?

And finally, the score of the evening.  At Salvation Army last night, my dear mom found this Gap Genuine Leather coat for our little rock star.  The price? $2!  I see a leather coat, blue jeans diaper, and mohawk picture in our future.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Ten Months :: Top Ten

Levi celebrated his ten month birthday on the first day of our vacation.  In light of the big ten, I give you an informative top ten favorite things about this kid.

10. He has an engineer mind.  He can hold the same toy, or any object for that matter, and just inspect it for a really long time.

9. Even though he crawls well, he doesn't stray too far from wherever mom and dad.  He loves us that much.

8. He babbles all the time.  His favorite word is "Da-doo."  Lots of "mama," "dada," "baba," and "dat," but, I think they are still nondiscriminatory at this point.  Does he know I'm called "mama" and Herb is "dada?" I don't think so.

7. Levi will eat any and all food offered to him.  His favorites right now include sliced grapes and bananas, whole peas, plain pasta, and anything bread related.

6. Naps and bedtime are on a wonderful schedule right now (that is, if we're actually at home).  Wake at 8, nap from 10-12, nap from 2-3, bedtime at 7:30.  We are a little flexible give or take a half hour on either side, but it is super easy to predict what he is going to need and how to plan our day.

5. His little teeth are so cute (and good for eating).   There are two on the top, four on the bottom.  One more top one is breaking through as we speak, and today I felt a bottom molar breaking through also!  That means 8 total!  When he is really happy or excited, he opens his whole mouth to smile, like an "O."

4. He LOVES the cat.  She does not love him.  But if she puts up with him and does not pee on the carpet, I will let her stay upstairs for now.  The love of the cat is motivating Levi to learn how to crawl up steps.

3.  Levi is a water baby - just like me!  I can't wait to take him to the beach someday!

2. His skin is darkening and hair is lightening from the sun.  We recently found out he has some Italian and Indian heritage, which is what explains his beautiful olive tone.

1.  He is ours!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Chapter 10: Forced Maturity

I know good stories have a narrative hook and a climax.  I also know that my story doesn't really have either, but thanks for reading anyway.  Without further adieu...

Chapter 10: Forced Maturity

It finally happened on Christmas.  Herb wrote gave me a card and at the bottom, he penned, “I really love you.”  As fate would have it, a few family members were in the room when I read the note, and because I’m awkward and have trouble showing emotion, I just looked up, smiled, and said, “Me too.”

In January we celebrated our first dating anniversary, as if no break had ever occurred, by going to Denny’s and exchanging gifts.  There was such a security and peace in our relationship.  Because our expectations were lying out on the table and we were learning to communicate more efficiently, dating became so much more fun.  Much like the winter of the previous year, Herb and I spent the chilly months of 2005 getting to know each other even better and falling more and more in love. 

It took until around Valentine’s Day until we were both ready to actually verbalize those sacred words.  It is so rare for a couple to wait so long to use such a common word like love, but I knew without a doubt, that by the time we said it, we both really meant it.

What we didn’t know was that those few winter months would be the calm before the storm.  

What we didn’t see was that those weeks were God’s gift of normalcy to us. 

What we didn’t realize is that as we were falling in love, Herb’s body was falling apart.

He was weak and tired, and had a perpetual cough.  The flu put him in bed for a week on two occasions.  There was a constant pile of used tissues overflowing from the trash can in his bedroom.  His extreme exhaustion caused him to miss classes and fall behind on his work.  And finally, by his third encounter with a week-long couch stay, Herb sought medical help. 

What we had been witnessing was a very slow kidney rejection.  Herb’s transplanted kidney had been hanging on by only a thread for months, and the thread slicer came in the form of pneumonia.

For Herb, this was old hat.  He handled his sickness with such grace, despite his disappointment.  This was the third kidney rejection he’d suffered.  He tried his best to put a positive spin on everything and continue to be the rock of our relationship.

He stayed in the hospital for a week. The doctors worked out a diagnosis and and we waited to find out about the next step.  The words “end stage renal failure,” “dialysis,” and “transplant” were what we dreaded, but exactly what we heard.  I hated to see him so fragile in his hospital bed.  I just wanted to march out into the hallway, grab the first doctor I could find and tell them to take my kidney, here and now.

Herb said, “No way.”

He left the hospital with a shunt coming out of his neck for hemodialysis (through the blood), plans to move to peritoneal dialysis (through the stomach), and prayers for a transplant.  Herb’s brother and sister both volunteered to be tested as potential matches to be living donors, but unfortunately they had their mother’s blood, who was also not a match.  Other family members had been exhausted as well – Herb’s first two kidney transplants had come from his father and his aunt.

Hemodialysis was an awful nightmare, but it made me thankful that when you are in kidney failure, there are at least treatment options.  I kept thanking God that Herb was not in heart or lung failure, where his only hope would be a cadaver transplant.  Herb went to the transplant center three times a week for three hours at a time.  Sometimes I would go visit him, I got to know the dialysis nurses by name, and I looked for recipes that I could cook that were geared towards end stage renal failure.

We were a young couple in our twenties, on the verge of happily ever after, suddenly faced with decisions, situations, and emotions that most couples don’t deal with until retirement. 

Because of the neck shunt, Herb couldn’t shower.  He spent months giving himself a sponge bath, and then leaning over the bathtub so I could wash his hair.  He lost weight and became a skeleton of the man he was.  His exhaustion improved from dialysis, but he was still wiped out after a treatment. 

Minus the three weeks of sickness in the hospital and on his couch, Herb still managed to finish out that semester.  He had to cancel his junior recital, drop a class, and push graduation back a semester, but otherwise finished well. This was the semester that we enjoyed being study partners in physics, where his previous science major came in handy.  We had also (foolishly) signed up for an upper level art history class with two of our friends and my brother.

When the semester ended, Herb had another procedure done so that he could switch to perotenial dialysis and do it at home.  This dialysis took about twice as long to do, and he had to do it every day, rather than three times a week.  However, the dialysis could be done over night, while he was sleeping.  Herb just had to make sure he was in bed by a certain time and didn’t have to wake up too early so all the liquid would cycle through his system and do the work for his kidney.

We made plans to go to the Creation music festival again, but this time would be much different.  Herb would have to take his dialysis supplies along, and because the weather was so hot and there was potential for dehydration, he’d have to do it during the day, as well.  But Herb was a fighter, and anything he could force his body to do in order to make him feel healthy and normal, he did.

Read on, Chapter 11

Monday, June 27, 2011

How We Spent Our Pittsburgh Vacation

Because we're not taking a week long summer beach vacation, Herb doesn't have marching band camp this year, and I am no longer at the mercy of a school schedule, we decided to take a bunch of mini trips sporadically throughout the whole year.

Day 1
We drove all the way from York to Pittsburgh on ROUTE 30.  It took two extra hours (six total), but we also stopped several times and it was much more interesting to look at then the turnpike.  We made one long pit stop at the United 93 temporary memorial.  It was heart wrenching to see where the plane wreckage was (although it is cleaned up now) and see the actual victims pictures.  The official memorial will open this fall, and we hope to go back and visit then.

While we were at the memorial, Levi was was cracking us up by peeking out his stroller.  Unfortunately, a few days later when he was doing the same thing, he proceeded to go ahead and kind of jump out.  On to concrete.  And hit his head.  But, he's okay, and we've learned our lesson about letting him be unbuckled.

Day 2
Herb and I dropped Levi off at Grandma Ni-Ni's and then high tailed it up to Erie for our date day.  This year is our fifth anniversary, so this little getaway was our celebration.  We drove around Presque Isle, considered going to the beach there, but decided it was way too cold.  Instead we went to Waldameer Park and the Water World (turns out, not that much warmer).  We rounded out the night with dinner and best buy.  It was really nice to just be alone, connect, and hold hands!  Of course we talked about Levi most of the time we were gone.

Day 3
We traveled back to Cranberry to spend the day with Josh, Sarah, Ellie, and Cora.  We went to Phipps Conservatory, and the kids were really entertained by the flowers and butterflies!  Later, Herb and Josh went to an Orioles game with their step-dad, Ron, and the girls went home to put the kids to bed and watch a LAME movie.  After we gave up on the movie, Sarah introduced me to my new favorite TV show on Netflix, "In Plain Sight."

Day 4
On our "way home," we swung by the Pittsburgh Zoo with Sarah and the girls.  It was really hot, but the kids had a good time.  Side note - it's really hard to get a picture of three kids, ages 0-4, where they all look at the camera, but I had fun trying.

We stopped at Guitar Center on the way home for Herb.  Then, after a recommendation from Kimba, we hunted down Thrift King, a wonderful consignment store.  I got a new pair of peep-toe shoes for $1, a basket, a shirt for Levi, and a few CDs for our roadtrip home.  Total, $12.

All in all, it was a great mini-vacay, done on the cheap, and we got to spend some quality time with our family.  The down side is that we have discovered Levi is a complete crib snob, and therefore aren't going to be trying any overnights for a while.

P.S.  Can you tell my new favorite computer toy?  I downloaded Picasa, and was delighted to figure out how to make collages and edit things using Picnik, right in the program.  Do yourself a favor and check it out.  The most free fun you can have with photos!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Chapter 9: Intentions, Expectations, and Ornaments

I'll be honest, it was a little weird drudging up the bad feelings of our break up.  I like this part MUCH better.  Anyway, catch up here (Chapters 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8), or read on!

Chapter 9: Intentions, Expectations, and Ornaments

I woke up with a grin on my face and a flicker of hope in my heart.  I had had the most exciting dream where Herb and I got back together.  I couldn’t remember the details, but the feeling of deep satisfaction and joy that comes from being loved by the one you love was still fresh in my mind. 

It was a crisp fall morning, and for once I was up a little bit earlier than I needed to be.  As the early morning sun poured in my tiny bedroom window, I cracked open my Bible to do a little reading before class, and at 
random, read Psalm 20.

            “May He grant you the desire of your heart and make all of your plans succeed.”~Psalm 20:4

Coincidence?  Maybe, but I had a feeling that God was trying to get my attention. 

Yes, Herb had recently told me about the song, “Say Sayonara,” which was the first clue he had given me that maybe we weren’t so over after all. But were we really meant to be together?  He had completely broken my heart, and I wasn’t ready to jump back into any relationship that wasn’t exactly where God wanted us to be (and where we both wanted to be too, for that matter).

With anticipation and purpose, I took my concerns and requests to the only one who could handle them.
“God, I still have feelings for Herb…if it’s your will….please let it be your will…” I begged throughout my day, but couldn’t even vocalize what it was that I actually wanted. 

A few days later, exactly two months to the day when we broke up, I found myself in Herb’s apartment.  Did he invite me over or did I just show up?  I have no idea.  What movie did we watch?  I can’t remember.  What I do remember is what began as evening on opposite ends of the couch surrounded by other people, and ended with a kiss.

Of course, things were left unsaid.

Amusingly enough, the next few days of awkward silence once again fell over Thanksgiving break.  Who would have known a year earlier, when we argued in Herb’s car, what this Thanksgiving would look like?  In hindsight, I couldn’t believe that in just one year’s time we had dated, fallen in love, fallen apart, and were now considering reconciliation.  I spent the holiday in South Carolina, but I begged my dad to drop me off at Herb’s house on our way back through York.  It was random, and a little bit of a stretch, but by this point I just needed to see him in the worst way. 

I arrived at Herb’s house late on Saturday night, slept in the guest room, and the next morning we went to church.  At the end of the service, the congregation stood up, held hands, and sang a song.  The song ended, people dispersed, and my hand was still be held by Herb’s.  He kept it there as we exited the sanctuary and walked to the car.

And yet, there was still no talk of “what” we were.

The days the followed led into finals week, and Herb accompanied me to the library several times where I worked on a research paper and he studied.  Really though, the library time was more about stolen glances and shoulder brushes in the elevator than it was studying or researching.

Finally the silence broke when we were sitting in the basement of the library, drinking coffee.  Out of the blue, Herb said, “You know, if we get back together, I’m going to marry you.”

And get back together we did!  However, not before we had several more lengthy conversations about what went wrong the first time, how we were each different now, and what our intentions and expectations were this time. 

The night we made it official (again) was December 3, 2004.  We went to “Tuba Christmas” and out for ice cream with a group of friends. While we were eating ice cream, I bought two Christmas ornaments at the gift shop.  A red, blue, and plaid one for Herb, and a pink sparkly one for me.  When I bought the ornaments, I didn’t know that later that night Herb and I would officially enter a “courting” relationship, but I am so happy 
to have those mementos which still hang on our tree today.

{Don't worry, there's not happy ending just yet....chapter 10, coming soon}

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Chapter 8: The Break Up

I'm starting to formulate a soundtrack for our life.  Haha!  I guess that's what happens when two music lovers get together - everything relates to a song.  Anyway, here's the continuation of chapter 7.  (Spoiler alert: we are married now...)

Chapter 8: The Break Up

Herb was grouchy, tired, and stressed out; I wanted to talk about our relationship all the time.  We’d argue, and then both promise to change.  Rinse and repeat.  This is how things went down for the rest of the summer.  I couldn’t believe this relationship had turned so sour, and I couldn’t put my finger on what caused it.  How could things have gone from planning our future music studio to barely speaking?  We managed to salvage anything we could from the relationship and hold on until the middle of September. 

On September 22, 2004, our relationship ended in the same way it started - on instant messenger.

I told Herb he would not be dumping me online and that he needed to man up and come do it in person. 

He arrived at my apartment wearing his Old Navy ringer tee.  I’ll never forget the feeling of sobbing on his shoulder and the stain that my tears left as he left me.  There was nothing left to hash out, no stone left unturned.  We were going in different directions (so he thought).

I spent the next few days on auto pilot.  I went to class, work, and the gym, but I was a walking zombie.  I had Dashboard Confessional on repeat in the car, so I could sob for the entire ride to work.  The song was about being nervous for a first date, but it brought me to the place of remembering our “good days” together, and then at the end of the song Chris Carrabba would wail, “And everything will be okay,” then I would weep until I couldn’t see or breathe.

In hindsight, this was probably not a good driving ritual.

Unfortunately, we still had a lot of classes together, still ate meals together, and still ran around with the same group of friends.  There was no escaping Herb’s presence.  I thought I could handle just being friends, but being around him would send me into a tailspin of disappointment and puddle of tears.

In the meantime, Herb’s brother got engaged and his grandma was diagnosed with stage four cancer.  When he went to visit her in the hospital she gave him a piece of her mind.

“You know, your daddy left your mom before they got married...I just hope you make up your mind quickly.” She continued with their happy ending and pleaded with Herb to make the right decision concerning me. 
I tried to bounce back into my former days of considering other men as Prince Charming.  I tried to focus on my education and began to look into graduate schools.  I even explored the idea of studying abroad or graduating early.  I spent time with friends who I had been putting on the back burner; I got involved in as many extracurricular activities as possible.  My brother was a freshman at the same university that year, and we spent a lot of time together, too.

Herb lived with two other music majors, so I often found any reason possible to go to their apartment.  I talked them into hosting a Halloween party, I offered their place for study groups, and I invited myself over to watch the 2004 presidential election results pour in. 

I held on to our good memories, and journaled lists about all the things I loved about him.  When we started dating, I knew there was a possibility that we would not stay together forever.  But what I really struggled with was that it appeared that God has truly brought us together, and if that was true, why was the break up so painful?

At some point, about six weeks into the break up, the clouds parted and a glimmer of hope peeked through.  Herb emailed me to say there was a song he had been listening to that made him think of me, but he needed some more time to pray about it.  He sent me the link to the song, and of course I immediately did a search for the lyrics.  My eyes welled with tears as I read these words,

            I’ve been taking the wrong way just so I won’t fall for you
            Everytime I hear your voice it just cleaves my heart in two
            Like a kamikaze strapped with fifty megatons
            You’ve been gunning my battleship, you fly the rising sun

            I’ve been walking in circles, while you wait so patiently
            I even grew out a mustache, so you wouldn’t fall for me
            But when you hit my hull, my heart will detonate
            I’ll wave the white flag as I show up two weeks late

            I can’t take it anymore
            I guess you win, but who’s keeping score?

            After the dark, the sun must rise
            Say sayonara to sad goodbyes
            See the dawn light up your somber skies
            Say sayonara to sad goodbyes

            You’re the beautiful starlight, peering through the skies
            You’re the peace that I’ve prayed for aren’t you, green eyes?

“Green eyes?!  I have green eyes!!”  I thought with excitement.  I read, reread, and shared the lyrics with anyone who would listen.

Continue to Chapter 9

Chapter 7: Only Fools Rush In

We are finally home from our mini-vacation!  Sorry for the delay in the story.  I am going to have to pick up the pace if I want to finish the story by our anniversary (which is FRIDAY!).  Maybe two posts a day?  We'll see.  In the meantime, I bring you one of the more crappy parts of the story.

Chapter 7: Only Fools Rush In

The summer quickly filled up with classes, church events, and summer jobs.  We were both so busy.  But at the end of June there was a small clearing in our schedule and we made plans to take our first road trip together.  We loaded up his dad’s pickup truck with a tent, sleeping bags, a drum set, and various food.  We were headed into the mountains to camp at a Christian music festival – Creation.  Luckily, we were meeting a friend and staying with his church, so I slept in a spacious, air conditioned RV while Herb and Brandon toughed it out in a tent.  We had fun listening to bands and getting to spend so much uninterrupted time together.  

Following Creation, I planned to go to West Virginia for a week to help out with a work camp.  When Herb and I started dating and I realized what a packed summer I would have with classes, I stepped down from the position I held the previous summer at the camp and decided to commit to a week rather than three months.  I had a ride lined up to leave right from Creation to West Virginia first thing on Sunday morning.

On Saturday night of the music festival, I was beginning to dread my week away from Herb.  Going from nonstop time together to nothing was going to kill me.  Herb was sitting in a chair and I was leaning on his legs during the final concert as I pondered our upcoming separation. 

Just then, he put his hands on my shoulders, leaned down and whispered, “I love you.”

The music was loud and the night was dark, but I turned around and smiled at him.  It took me a few minutes to realize what he had just said, but then couldn’t wait until later that night when it was quieter and I could tell him I was in love, too.  What a perfect way to part, I was so delighted.

We never got to have that reciprocating love conversation.  Just before the concert was over, my ride to camp found me in the sea of people.  Plans had changed, and instead of the next morning, she wanted to leave immediately.  As I left, I battled with whether or not to confess my undying love to Herb, but I decided to wait and see if he said it during our last embrace after I threw my suitcase in the car.  But he didn’t, so neither did I.

The whole next week, I had no cell phone reception and no internet access. I wrote Herb a letter every day telling him how much I missed him (of course, those letters wouldn’t arrive until after I was home anyway).  Boldy, I signed each letter with the word love.  I couldn’t stop thinking about that night at the concert and the sound of his voice when he said, “I love you.” 

The week apart came to an end, and I had never been more ready to come home.  It was great to see my old friends at camp, but it didn’t help that two of them had gotten engaged.  I was jealous that I hadn’t even gotten a chance to say, “I love you,” to my boyfriend before I left.

Because of Herb’s long hours at work, we hardly got to see each other when I got home.  In the few moments we shared, I was just dying to hear that special word again, but was determined that I would not be the one to initiate it.  After a few days of no luck, I came up with a perfect solution.  Herb and I were going to a church leadership retreat the following weekend.  I knew this would be just enough alone time for Herb to profess his love. 

As I walked around the camp and enjoyed some moments of peace, waiting for Herb to arrive, I saw two people standing on a bridge.  It was another couple from our church, and I was about to witness something really special.  He got down on one knee and she shouted, “Yes!”

When I finally met up with Herb, he was exhausted from work and just wanted to sleep.  I just wanted to take a romantic walk through the woods.  Herb obliged, but not cheerfully.  As I excitedly told him all about the engagement story, he was unimpressed.   

“I hope you don’t think we’re getting engaged anytime soon,” Herb said with a huff.  “You’re getting a little ahead of yourself.  I just want to take it easy and enjoy this dating time. Plus I’m really busy and stressed out right now.”
“Oh, no, I just thought it was really neat,” I lied.  I really was hoping this would be a special day for us, too.  And to be honest, I was starting to think about marriage.  I could see a few years into the future when we would graduate college and begin our careers. It was in that conversation that I realized Herb and I were not on the same page.

Not only did we not exchange “I love yous” that weekend, but there was also a feeling of disconnect coming between us.   I was starting to wonder if I misheard him on the night of the concert.  Surely he had said the word love, right?  I tried to act like nothing had happened, but my confidence and hope was shot. The days and weeks that followed were not filled with love letters and “thinking of you” text messages.  In fact, as our conversations became more forced; Herb seemed bothered every time I called him.

One night after work, Herb came over to my new apartment.  It was the end of July and it was hot outside.  I didn’t have air conditioning, and the polyester couch stuck to our legs.

“Herb,” I shared, fighting tears, “I feel like our relationship is like a tape player.  Based on the conversation we had the night we started dating, the tape player should be on PLAY, right?”

“Yeah, well you are rushing things.  You have the tape player set to FAST FORWARD.  I’m not ready for all of that yet.”

“No I don’t.  If you feel like I’m rushing things – it’s because you gave me a card that said you looked forward to growing old with me.  You told me you loved me one night at Creation.  I don’t think I’m taking things any more seriously than you have led me to believe they are,” I argued.

“First of all, I didn’t say I love you at Creation.  I am not sure what I heard, but I’m not ready to say that.  We’re not there yet.”  Herb answered.

“Oh,” I said.  How could I have misheard that? 

“Secondly, I gave you that card at Valentine’s Day because SOMEDAY I want to grow old with you.  Someday doesn’t have to be right now though.  You need to stop getting ahead of yourself.” 

In a huff, I retorted, “If you think I’m set on FAST FORWARD, then you are set on REWIND.”

The problem with the tape player analogy was that I hadn’t considered the other buttons.

Frustrated and annoyed, Herb’s quick reply was, “Well, then maybe we need to be set on PAUSE…”

Up next...Chapter 8: The Break Up

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Chapter 6: Doce de Enero

Catch up here first: Chapter 1Chapter 2Chapter 3Chapter 4Chapter 5

Chapter 6: Doce de Enero

“What is this?” I asked with a laugh.

“Just read it,” Herb instructed.

Fresh off the printer, the arial font read, “Points to ponder when considering starting a relationship with Michelle.”

The first Roman numeral was a list of sixteen of my assets (Herb’s wording, not mine).  I was on a cloud.  Did Herb just give me a list of all the things he likes about me?  Seriously?  How cute!  He touched on my faith, my love of God, and what he perceived to be a teachable spirit.  He listed aspects of our friendship, my family, my upbringing, and different qualities about my character and personality.  And for whatever reason, when I read number fifteen, I knew our relationship was definitely going somewhere.

            15.  She is adorable.

The second Roman numeral explained Herb’s shortcomings.  He wondered how I would feel concerning his past failed relationships, his own relationship with God, and his future career plans.

The final section of the outline explored the exact same questions I was dealing with, too, especially considering the conversation I had with God on New Year’s day.

1.       Is this truly from God or am I being selfish?
2.      Am I ready for a serious, God-focused relationship?
3.      Am I giving this to God or am I trying to run my life?
4.      Am I ready to lead a relationship spiritually and monetarily?
5.      Would a relationship benefit Michelle right now and bring her closer to God?

We spent the next hour or so discussing the questions which he had posed at the bottom of the page.  We talked about the fact that if we were being led into a dating relationship, the purpose and intention of the relationship had to be to get married (eventually).  We decided that as we grew to know each other better and spend time together, if we realized that marriage was not the best option for either of us, then we should go our separate ways.

I felt like the conversation was straight out of a cheesy Christian romance novel, yet it was the most romantic thing that had ever happened to me.  Here was a man who I was attracted to physically, emotionally, and spiritually.  He was talented and interested in ME.  And his number one goal was to protect my heart.

As the conversation was drawing to a close I said, “Does this mean you’re my boyfriend?”

Herb chuckled and said, “I guess so!”

We paid and made a quick walk in the frigid weather out to the car.  It was just a few minutes before midnight before we pulled out of the Denny’s parking lot, and I asked Herb if we could pray about our relationship.

“Right now?” he asked.

“Oh, sure, why not?”  I said.

Herb bowed his head and thanked God for a great evening together.  He asked for guidance.  He invited God to be the center of or relationship.  He thanked God for bringing me into his life.

The next few days were a delightful whirlwind of sharing our news with friends.  I couldn’t believe I had a boyfriend.  I was so excited to email my girlfriends from high school and share my exciting status change.  I called my mom (who wasn’t surprised, she had noticed a blooming romance) and happily informed my favorite professors.

I looked forward to sitting beside him in conducting class, and the five minute car ride after lunch when he would drop me off across campus.  We would eat lunch and dinner together every day (with the rest of the music crowd), and most nights he would come over to my dorm room and we would watch Iron Chef or Japanese MXC.

And as I continued to pray about our relationship, I realized that what God really wanted from me back on that mountain in the middle of nowhere was complete surrender.  He wanted to satisfy the desires of my heart with good things, but he wanted me to trust him and not try to satisfy those desires on my own.

Two weeks into our relationship, we found ourselves sharing a fancy dinner of Taco Bell and watching the Eagles try to make their way to the Super Bowl.  We were sitting on a futon in a room full of about ten other  Eagles fan.  Honestly, I had no interest in football, but I was open to any social gathering that included sitting four people on a couch and being squished up next to Herb for three hours.

By accident our hands brushed.  When they brushed, Herb didn’t move his away.  We sat there for several minutes touching back hand to back hand before Herb nonchalantly took my hand into his.  We didn’t even look at each other – I couldn’t bear to make eye contact out of fear my face would turn three shades of red.  The rest of the crowd and the football game became a blur.  My focus was on the warmth and comfort of his fingers entwined with mine.   

As we grew more comfortable with the hand holding aspect of our relationship, several nights later we hugged just before Herb went home.   Somehow it still felt awkward that my best buddy Herb wanted to hold my hand and give me hugs.  The evolution of a friend into a boyfriend was what I had always hoped for, but took a little adjustment.  However, it was a transition I was happy to make!

We were poor, stressed out, and busy college kids, so our dates always consisted of dining hall meals, free movies in the student center, and romantic choral music analyzations that took place in a well light practice room.  I would find reasons to walk the large windowed module during his drum lesson just to catch a glimpse of him at work.  He would wait for me outside of my classrooms just to escort me down a flight of stairs and three feet down the hall.  Anything we could do to steal five minutes of hand holding together we did.  I looked forward to Sunday mornings when we would sit hip to hip in a pew and Herb would put his arm around my shoulders and leave it there for half an hour.

On our first Valentine’s Day, just a month after we began dating, we scored incredibly cheap tickets to the symphony.  He put on his suit and I donned my little black dress. We ate French fries in his car from McDonald’s before the concert.  When he picked me up, he gave me a stuffed kitten and a beautiful card.    

     Whenever I see an older couple holding hands, I pause.
     I imagine all they have experienced – jobs, maybe children, worries, vacations, homes, disappointments, tragedies, joys.       
     I see their entwined fingers.       
     I see them waling in perfect cadence, comfortable in being quiet.       
     I see in them the gentle joy that a lifetime of loving can give…
     And I look forward to the privilege of growing old and hold hands with you.
     Happy Valentine's Day!”

Some nights after we’d finish practicing or doing homework, we would find ourselves in deep conversations about the future.  We dreamed of opening a music store or studio where we could both teach lessons.  We talked about whether York or Lancaster was a better place to live.  

On spring break, we spent a solid week together.  I went to his parents’ house for several days, and then he came home with me.  He showed me around York, I introduced him to the Amish. We went out to dinner, did some shopping, and took walks in the park.  We watched movie after movie and found any excuse possible to snuggle on the couch.  It was just a enough time for us to enjoy each other's presence, get geared up for the end of semester, and desperately long for what our future might hold.

Continue to chapter 7...

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Chapter 5: New Year's Revelation

Okay, I said chapter 4 was my favorite, now this one is my new favorite, but I'm REALLY looking forward to chapter 6!  Ahh, God, thanks for a great story.  It is so fun to re-live!  In case you are lost, start at chapter 1!

Chapter 5: New Year's Revelation

The car door slammed, and the innocent bystander, who had just witnessed the most awkward moment of my life, scurried to her dorm room.  Herb and I sat in silence for a few moments before he asked me where I would like to be dropped off.  And because we both suffer from emotional deficiencies, that yelling match was officially the end of the conversation about whether or not Herb was the kind of guy I should marry and whether or not I wanted to date him.  

Finals week came and went, we went our separate ways for Christmas vacation.  The fight in the car was never discussed, and any feelings I had for Herb were repressed out of humiliation.  As I packed up my dorm room for a four week hiatus, Herb began to be out of sight, and therefore out of mind.

After Christmas, Herb came to visit me one day, which was about an hour and a half from his parents’ house.  We played guitar together, talked theology, and somehow got on the topic of adoption.  I shared with Herb that I felt like anyone who was pro-life should be willing to adopt. Herb couldn’t believe I wanted to adopt someday because he knew he would never be able to biologically father children and would probably do the same someday, too.  We laughed at the irony and then decided to watch a movie.

Even after spending the day together (and talking about family planning) I still wasn’t sure if I actually liked him, or just the idea of him.  But I definitely didn’t get any vibe that he liked me.

A week later it was New Year’s Day 2004, and I was sitting on top of a mountain in the middle of nowhere.  A fun filled young adult weekend retreat had turned into a meditative, white flag waving, time of submission for me.  Tired and broken, I reflected on all the empty pursuits and dead ends that had culminated with a shouting match in a car several weeks prior.

“God, I’m done…” I whispered as I thought back on all the men I tried pursuing on my own in the last several months, from the athlete, to the super spiritual guys, to the party dudes.

“…If you want me to be single, fine, I’ll deal with that, but please take away my desires…” I meekly requested, remembering all the feelings of rejection and embarrassment.

“…I surrender.  I will stop being so focused on finding myself a husband and put it in Your hands….” I firmly told myself and my Creator.

I began 2004 with a new outlook on a life; a new commitment to seek the will of God for my life’s direction.  I had finally poured my heart out to Him, and I had such an amazing peace about it, too.

A few days later, with joyous excitement, I shared my New Year’s Resolution with Jocelyn.  I knew this was a complete change in my frame of mind, and I needed all the support and accountability I could get.

Clearly I was confused when, as I finished the long version of the story, Jocelyn’s face fell.

“So you’re telling me you are not interested in anybody?” Jocelyn asked me, curious.

“Nope.  Not at all,” I said with satisfaction.

Discouraged, Jocelyn replied, “Not even Herb?”

“No, I’m good!”  I was so proud of myself, but where was this conversation going?

“Wait,” I asked, “Why?”

“Oh, that’s too bad, because he likes you,” Jocelyn reported with disappointment.

My face began to burn and my mind raced as other customers passed us buying their coffee, milk, and cigarettes at the 24 hour truck stop.  Jocelyn went on to tell me that (in true middle school fashion) Herb confessed his adulation for me, using the wonders of technology, also known as AIM.  And because nothing ever came of our Thanksgiving fight, and the fact that I didn’t know how I really felt about Herb because of the stress of finals week, Jocelyn obviously didn’t know what to tell him, either.

The bittersweet irony almost killed me.  Just two days after I found peace in my singleness, there was a door trying to pry its way open.  Was this a sign? 

My exact response to Jocelyn was, “Oh no.”

Thoughts flooded my mind, and some of them spilled out of my mouth.

“I don’t think I’m supposed to date right now.”

“What if I’m just interested in Herb because he’s actually interested in me?   No one has really ever been interested before, do I really have room to say, “No?””

“What am I supposed to do now?”

“Tell me again exactly what Herb said to you…”

After she relived the conversation, play by play, we laughed hysterically at God’s sense of humor.  I committed to pray about what to do next and Jocelyn promised to pray with me and for me.  As the next few days of winter break unfolded, my heart was so confused.  Was this thing with Herb what God wanted for me, or was it just a test to see if I was really ready to follow through with my New Year’s commitment?  Of course, Herb knew that Jocelyn told me about his feelings, so then I was really self conscious every time we talked over the next few days.

During that two week period, Herb started blogging.  Back then, we were all using Xanga, and every night I would stay awake just to read what Herb would post about his day.  I found myself interested to see what books he was reading, what music he was listening to, and whether or not he would mention me and whatever interaction we had had that day. 

There were only five days left until the spring semester started, and one day we both made plans to meet in Millersville for lunch.  To smooth over the potential risk of identifying whether or not it was a date, I offered to take Herb out for lunch using a gift card I had for a coffee shop and bistro.  Hours before the lunch “date,” I bought a brand new pea coat and got a haircut. 

While I sat in the bistro, waiting for what may or may not have been my date to show up, I thought I was going to pass out.  Who was I kidding?  This was not a date.  This was just another dead end.  Herb probably doesn’t want to see me, and is just coming for a free lunch.  But on the other hand, I thought if he does truly want to see me, how do I act on a date?  I have never really been on an actual date!  What were we going to talk about? 

The door jingled, and I looked up from my perfectly selected seat which had a full view of the entire restaurant and every entrance.  And just as the bile began to rise and burn my throat, I saw him there in the door way.

It was Herb.

It was just Herb.

Calmness overtook me like a gentle cool wave on a hot humid day.

Here was Herb. 

My friend. 

The great talker.

The even better listener.

The fabulous beard.

The delicious cologne.

Herb was familiar.  Herb was comfort.  Herb was stability.

And, in that moment, I happily realized I was kind of on a date with Herb, the most amazing guy I knew.

Sarah McLachlan had just released a song called “Push,” and the moment I laid eyes on Herb, these lyrics came to mind:
“Every time I look at you, my world just melts away
All my troubles, all my fears dissolve in your affections
You see me at my weakest and you take me as I am
When I fall you offer me a softer place to land
You stay the course, you hold the line, you keep it all together
You’re the one true thing I know I can believe in
You’re all the things that I desire
You save me, you complete me
You’re the one true thing I know I can believe in”

Le sigh. 

Lunch was so easy and really just a great afternoon.  Lunch led to plans for the next evening which included a birthday dinner for Herb followed by a midnight trip to Wal-Mart. 

The time we spent together was so comfortable and fun, but we avoided any conversation which would have defined our relationship like the plague.  No, no, we couldn’t dare talk about this in person.  A D-T-R, or “Defining the Relationship” conversation must happen behind the safety of a computer screen, right?

Finally, on the eve of move-in day for the spring semester (again on lame AIM), Herb acknowledged that we both knew something was going on.  He told me he was really praying about what to do, however, he said this was not a conversation to have on the computer, so it would have to wait till we saw each other in person.  And by this point the next meeting would be the first day of school.

On the first day of school, between classes, meals, and band rehearsal, Herb and I must have crossed paths at LEAST ten times that day.  And yet, at 8:00 pm, I found myself back in my dorm getting ready for bed, still without a definition of our budding relationship.

I pulled on my pajama bottoms, brushed my teeth, and as I crawled into bed with a text book to study, my cell phone rang.

“Did you want to go grab a bite to eat at Denny’s?”  Herb asked.  I could hear his car running in the background.  “I’ll pick you up in five minutes.”

As I quickly changed and brushed my hair, my dear roommate, Steph said with a squeal, “When you get back you are going to have a boyfriend!!!!”

Still, I couldn’t believe that this was my reality.

For the next two hours, Herb and I sat in the corner booth at Denny’s.  Sick to my stomach with nervousness, I only ordered water, but had it refilled seven times (and made just as many trips to the bathroom).  Herb ordered French fries loaded with cheddar cheese, bacon, and sour cream.  We talked about the first day of classes, and our goals for the semester.  We caught up on who did what over Christmas, and music department drama. 

I noticed the clock at 11:00 pm and realized, no, we were probably not even going to address the reason for our visit.  Doubts entered my mind, and my hopes began to deflate.  

Just then, Herb pulled out a piece of white paper folded four times.  He unfolded it, laid it flat on the table, and I noticed it was a bulleted outline.

“Well, I guess I can’t beat around the bush much longer.  I’m not really good at this, but I do have something really important to talk to you about.”

He slid the white sheet across the table and said, “Let’s start here, read this...”

Read on... Chapter 6