After last week you know that Mark spent the spring semester of his junior year galavanting around Europe. I, on the other hand, settled into life in the midwest shedding the old and embracing the new. God was clearly at work in my soul, helping me discern what was stupid in my life.
Lest you think Mark was a perfect, sinless specimen of a young Christian man at this time I want you to know that while he may have been sharing the Gospel with all of his international classmates, he also completed a test in gangsta rap lyrics in an effort to overwhelm an Econ prof whose second language was English. The written out rap answers indeed worked and he got an A. His peers with greater integrity suffered failing grades when they submitted their tests in perfect English. Mark can be sneaky.
While Mark spouted “Ain’t Nothin but a ‘G’ Thing Baby” on his exams in Prague, I splashed around in the shallow end of the pool with other Christ followers. I started going to bible studies with my roommates, attending church, and--most importantly--standing around at frat parties with an empty red cup instead of filling it at the keg. Yes, this was truly a spiritual issue waging war within me. I was committed to ditching drunkenness but I didn’t know what to do with my hands at parties. How insecure can you be!? So I would hold an empty cup. That’s sanctification in action, people!
While I grew in my knowledge and experience of Christ, Mark and I grew in our friendship via telnet and snail mail. It was a valuable way to get to know one another--no surfacey chit-chat, just the exchange of things that really matter. Outside of our movie-esque letter-writing lives, Mark was living it up in Europe and I was living it up in college. He even kissed some French bleeppity-bleep, which I am totally not bitter about anymore. I may have also dated one or two or six different guys, as well, but that’s besides the point.
During that semester and the following summer God used Mark to implement two huge changes in my worldview. The first was coming to an understanding that the Gospel is humanity’s greatest need. I was pretty sure it was clean drinking water or anything else the Peace Corps could provide. Through a series of emails, he compelled me to see that God’s highest priority was to quench the thirst of the spiritually lost above all and that a Christian’s highest joy was to preach Christ through whatever means available. The second paradigm shift came in person. The issue of abortion surfaced and I mindlessly repeated the ever-popular soundbite, “The government has no right to control a woman’s body.” All Mark said was, “The baby isn’t the woman’s body.” In both issues the Holy Spirit brought clarity and conviction and since that season they have been my highest passions.
We spent much of that summer together. I thought Mark was especially hot, as he had lifted weights and eaten fried cheese for months in the Czech Republic--apparently a good combo for a 21 year old guy. I was still convinced, though, that a serious romantic relationship was a bad idea. Even though we were totally hitting it off and spending most of our free time together, I made it painfully clear to Mark that we were “just friends.” His response was, “Okay. That’s fine. But if you ever want that to change, you’re going to have to tell me.” Don’t you know that came back to bite me...
As I headed into my sophomore year and Mark his senior year, things were getting kinda squirrelly between us and I knew I was falling for him. I went so far as to ask him to fly out to Indiana to be my date for my sorority fall formal. I can’t believe I did that. I can’t believe he sad yes. So here he came, my preacher-man “friend” to my sorority dance and we had a blast. The following night we made our way to St. Louis for a U2 concert. How awesome is that? My roommate’s parents lived in St. Louis and she was going to the concert too, so Mark and I were able to stay in her parent’s home.
As you might guess, the formal dance and the concert provided perfect venues for Mark and me to be especially flirty and our intentions to become pretty obvious. Nevertheless, his words “If you ever want our relationship to change, you’re going to have to tell me” tormented me.
Here’s how the DTR went down (that’s Define the Relationship talk, FYI): anxiety ridden, after the U2 concert, I labored over how to broach the topic with my roommate in her childhood bedroom as Mark slept in the basement below. I was extremely nervous--I mean I had done a lot to this poor guy--he had every reason to tell me, “Too late. We’re just friends now and forevermore.” But his very presence in the midwest that weekend made me think he might just be willing to be my boyfriend after all.
I walked down my friend’s parents‘ stairs no less than seven times. I could not bring myself to knock on his door. I was too freaked out, too nervous, too unfamiliar with how to have a mature conversation (and without a red cup in my hand!). Knowing he would fly home the next day and this was my only chance, the fear of regret ruled over the fear of rejection and I finally lightly rapped on his guest room door. I’ve actually blocked the painful conversation out of my mind and cannot recall what I said. Mark says I hemmed and hawed an awful lot. He somehow got the picture and we were--finally--boyfriend and girlfriend for reals.