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Love Stories for October: The End of 400-Mile Drives

This post is part of Owlhaven’s Love Stories for October. You can click here to see the last three installments.

The signs for I-75. Heavy traffic that predicted nearness to Atlanta. Two hours of mundane East Georgia scenery. Counting down 58 exits in South Carolina.

These were all things that normally brought bittersweet feelings. My mind would be filled with memories of a weekend with Christian in the Tennessee mountains, and my heart would well up within me. Then I would remember the tests I had coming up that week. How I needed to go to the grocery store. My bathroom was really dirty.

This time, though, the 400 miles went by in a heartbeat, because just in front of me was a ramshackle black Toyota Camry, and I could see Christian’s head bobbing to his music.

We were in separate cars, yes.

But for the first time, I wasn’t leaving Tennessee alone, and there would be no more long goodbyes when Christian left South Carolina.

In the last week, we had both graduated from our respective colleges. My life would change very little, but Christian had packed up all his worldly possessions and loaded them into our cars.

We drove, and drove, and drove.

There were several glorious days when neither of us had started working. The weather wasn’t too hot yet. We went for long runs together. Cooked together. Watched movies. Hung out with friends.

I remember the first time I felt like I had a boyfriend. For real.

It was his first day of work. I had free movie passes I wanted to watch. Christian came by after he got done with work and picked me up at my apartment. We went to dinner and to the movies, then he dropped me off and he went home.

So mundane. So trivial. So normal.

It took most of the summer for it to really hit me that he was here. For good. And we’d never have to be apart for such a long time again. We didn’t see each other every day, and we still don’t now, but we’re looking ahead to marriage, and we’re so excited about the future.

As I write this, I’m on his computer in the living room of his apartment. I just got done eating dinner with friends, and he’s in the kitchen heating up leftovers. When he comes back, we will watch a movie together. And then I will go home, go to bed, and go to work tomorrow. And he’ll still be in the same town as me.

God is really, really good. Great is His faithfulness

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Without Words: The South Carolina State Fair

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Love Stories for October: A Truly Long-Distance Relationship

This post is part of Owlhaven’s Love Stories for October. Two weeks I wrote about stained glass windows, and last week I wrote about a difficult period in my relationship with Christian.

By at the end of 2006, God was slowly transforming my heart as well as my relationship with Christian. After Christian’s last final exam that semester, he came to South Carolina to stay and (hopefully) work until he left for Germany the following February. God gifted him with a couple with whom to stay and with a temporary job at the landscaping company of a man from my church, and so after a few weeks of vacation, he started earning some money to put aside while he was out of the country.

We had known about Germany since before we were even dating. As the fall semester ended, though, it became more real. I was thrilled that he would be in my city for two months. Before we had seen each other every 5-6 weeks; now we could see each other every day if we wanted to (and we did).

The last few weeks before he left were difficult. I was glad to have him there, but I knew he would be leaving. I had a hard time living in the moment.

But he did leave. On a cold February evening after church, we said goodbye. He left the next morning.

Strangely enough, the anticipation of him leaving was far worse than when he actually left. I thought I would cry. I felt numb for several weeks, but we discovered Skype. In a matter of moments we could actually see each other, which was more than we did when he was in Tennessee and I was here.

Things settled into a routine. For the first month, he was in Munich at language school, living with a host family that didn’t have Internet. He was six hours ahead and got out of class around noon, which allowed him access to the school’s wireless Internet. I had classes only on Tuesdays and Thursdays, so on the other days of the week, I would wake up at 6 or 7 to talk to him through Skype.

Toward the end of March, he went to Bamberg to attend the university there. He had his own apartment, which included spotty wireless Internet, but it was enough. We reverted back to the days of talking on instant messenger, as the connection wasn’t good enough to try Skype. Somehow we got through weeks and weeks of this.

Phone calls were few. There was one on Valentine’s Day. He sent flowers on my birthday.

In March my uncle, who works for an airline, arranged for a cheap standby ticket for me that would take me to Frankfurt. Without knowing what I would do for a job that summer, I set aside two weeks after school got out to go and visit Christian.

As one could imagine, the last days of school were long, but finally, May 12 was there. Amid fears and threats of overbooked planes, I made it to Frankfurt safely after being awake for more than 24 hours.

It was 8 a.m. in Germany, but it was 2 a.m. for me. I fumbled through the airport, trying to find a bus that would take me to the train station where Christian was. I was so scared I wouldn’t be able to find it. And what if I did find it, but he wasn’t there?

My fears were unfounded. I walked down a long corridor of kiosks selling German tourist junk, and as I came around the last one, there he was, leaning up against a railing.

I dropped my suitcase and my purse on the ground, stood where I was and wept.

The next two weeks were filled with German gelato, schnitzel (just like from the Sound of Music song), wandering around Bamberg looking for a place that sold an outlet adapter, a train ride to a beautiful castle near the Alps and sweet and precious time with Christian.

I think it was during that time when I finally realized that this was the real thing. Christian cared about me – loved me, even. He kept saying thank you to me for coming to visit; after all, while I had been without him, he had been without everything. I didn’t know why he was thanking me; I was so blessed to be able to go.

And then, almost as quickly as it had come, it was over. Another long flight back to South Carolina, and then two months until Christian came back.

The time after I went to Germany was much harder than the time before, even though it was a countdown until he came back. But I had seen him, and had been reminded of how much I loved being with him, and suddenly it was the real world. Friends, church, family, babysitting – but no Christian.

It was God who held me up through those last two months. Looking back, it’s hard to believe it’s been close to a year and a half since he got back, but at the time, the hours dragged on.

I think the best part about it was that when he got back, a long distance relationship of 400 miles suddenly didn’t seem so long anymore.

And God healed me of a lot of my fears and worries while Christian was gone. I couldn’t call him whenever I wanted to, and much of the time, there was no way for me to make contact at all. Several times he had said he would be online to talk and something had held him up, and I went into a panic. But at the end of the day, there was nothing I could do. I had to trust the Lord.

And even when I was faithless, He was faithful.

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Love Stories for October: The Dark Days

It had started with brightly colored stained glass windows in the Tennessee mountains, but in a matter of months, nothing in my life – including my relationship with Christian – would have reminded anyone of that beautiful April day.

When I remember the late summer and fall of 2006, my memories are not specific. I vaguely remember what classes I had, special events, occasional trips up to see Christian. But most of that time is covered in my memory with dark clouds. Appropriately so, for those were dark days.

Looking back, it all started right around the time I met Christian. I was taking 19 hours in college and working about 15 hours a week. Although my grades were fine and there was nothing inherently stressful, I started having panic attacks. I would try to go to sleep, when all of a sudden my heart would start racing.

I remember telling Christian about these early in our relationship. He didn’t seem fazed. He was really encouraging, in fact, always reminding me that God was in control.

Once we were dating, though, everything got worse. I had only been in one serious relationship before meeting him, and it had ended badly. I didn’t trust myself not to be dependent on Christian, and I didn’t really think he meant anything he said.

As you can imagine, this was a burdensome time for him, because I became increasingly dependent on him. By the time the summer was over, if I hadn’t heard from him in a certain amount of time, I would go into a panic. At one point he was planning to go on a weekend retreat with the guys from church, but it was out where he wouldn’t get cell phone reception. He almost decided not to go because he was afraid of leaving me all weekend.

It’s hard for me to think about all that, let alone to write it. But this is healthy, I think, because it reminds me of how faithful God has been in all of it.

The fall didn’t get much better. I would want to talk to him several times a day, and he normally obliged, but by this time he was trying to juggle a life at school with me, and a girlfriend that got scared any time he left his room was not exactly conducive to having a social life. I wasn’t jealous; I wasn’t really afraid something would happen to him. I just had a hard time believing he actually cared about me like he said he did, and it didn’t matter what he said otherwise.

I eventually went to a Christian counselor for most of the fall semester, and God used that greatly to teach me about the deeper issues and sins in my heart. I also started taking medication for anxiety and depression, which wasn’t what I wanted, but God used to clear my mind so I could think better about what He was trying to teach me.

It was the hardest five months of my life. At times I told Christian he would be better off without me, and I often wondered if I would be better off without him – not because I didn’t love him, but because it seemed like with him in my life, things were just harder. And sometimes they were so hard I wasn’t sure if it was worth it.

But Christian was faithful, and God was even more faithful. Because God gave Christian the patience and strength to stick by me, even though there was little he could do from 400 miles away, I was forced to deal with my sins and anxieties and sorrows. And even though I didn’t think I would ever be any different, every once in a while God would provide me with a glimmer of hope.

And yet, in the midst of all of that, a dark cloud loomed in the future. In February, Christian would be going to Germany for six months. We’d known that since we started dating, but as it got closer and closer to Christmas, it began to hit both of us that it was really going to happen.

Tune in next week for the German edition of Love Stories for October.

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Love Stories for October: Stained Glass Windows

Mary over at Owlhaven is spending the month of October re-capping her and her husband’s love story. I’m not married, but Christian and I have had a fairly unique relationship. I’ve described how we met at length, but on Thursdays in October, I hope to take little snapshots of our relationship over the past two-and-a-half-years and flesh them out.

The evening before, I had met for the first time in person someone who up until I had only ever talked to online.

So far, it had been awkward. We had gone to breakfast before his Greek test, and then while he was in class, I talked to my best friend on the phone. I was excited for him to come back, but I wondered what we would do.

He went back to his dorm to change, and then suggested we go for a walk. I welcomed the idea, mostly because you aren’t necessarily expected to talk while you’re walking.

He talked the whole time. He told me about all the old buildings on campus, and reminisced about his freshman year.

We kept walking and eventually made it to the Episcopal chapel on campus. We climbed rickety stairs to the top and looked out onto the quad, where students were milling about. Then he went to the bathroom. I later found out that he was so nervous about the entire experience that his stomach was giving him some trouble.

But I had no idea, and spent the entire time while he was in the bathroom wondering if we would run out of things to talk about. We had a nice time on the walk, but we had a whole weekend left to kill.

His next idea was to go into the chapel, because he said there were beautiful stained glass windows.

And there were. They were brilliantly designed and started with the story of creation on one side of the huge building, then continuing to Revelation on the other side.

But some of the depictions of Biblical stories left a little to be desired, and so we started to poke fun at them.

“Is that a Chinese fire dragon next to Moses?”

“Were ferrets and rabbits really the most important animals created?”

“What is that one big eye in the middle? Is that supposed to be God?”

We spent the better part of an hour pointing out Bible events we recognized and laughing at the ones we didn’t. We were cracking each other up, which I think we had both thought we were capable of, but hadn’t experienced until then.

And so last night, when I asked Christian what one of his favorite memories was from the beginning of our relationship, I wasn’t too surprised when he said “looking at stained glass windows with you.”

You can enjoy the same foods as people, and you can like reading the same books, but that moment when you laugh heartily, together, at things that you’ve just said is the moment when you realize there’s something special about that person.

C.S. Lewis said it best in The Four Loves:

Friendship arises out of a mere Companionship when two or more of the companions discover that they have in common some insight or interest or even taste which the others do not share and which, till that moment, each believed to be his own unique treasure (or burden).

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