“Love always move to sacrifice, which is exactly where He calls us to go. We shouldn’t be surprised, then, that to follow Christ is to abandon the luxury of safety and security. If we are to be like Him, we must always risk for love.”
–Erwin Raphael McManus
The wrenching feeling started on a beautiful, clear Sunday in October en route to a Christmas tree farm in Wisconsin.
Travis and I were in my car. My parents; younger brother, Chris; and his girlfriend, Meg, were driving somewhere behind us. We weren’t buying our Christmas tree yet though. We were going to the fall festival—the farm had a corn maze, pumpkin launcher, and a haunted forest trail. Visitors could also take hay rides and pet the billy goats and bunny rabbits. It was our 2-year-old tradition.
My older brother, Brian, had worked at the tree farm three years earlier during the winter season, cutting down tress, shaking off the loose needles with a big machine, and then loading them onto a truck. Other days, he worked at the front gate, handing out brochures and directing customers. As you can imagine, however, a Christmas tree farm in Wisconsin gets pretty cold in the winter. That was the only year Brian worked there.
As an employee, however, he got a free Christmas tree. My parents liked the tree’s quality so much, the farm became our exclusive Christmas tree provider.
This year, I was bringing my boyfriend along. Even though Travis and I had been dating since the end of April, I had been looking forward to the drive because it meant an hour and a half alone with him. Plus, he had told me the day before that he “wanted to talk” in the car. Naturally, I jumped to conclusions and thought he would want to talk about serious things, like our future and the direction we were heading. I couldn’t wait.
I can’t tell you what I expected him to say exactly. But I can tell you that he didn’t say what I had expected him to.
It wasn’t the first time that had happened.
At the end of the previous summer, nearly every time we hung out, Travis and I took walks on the paved trails down by the riverbanks in Minneapolis. We loved the feeling of the summer air at night, both cool and warm at the same time. Sometimes we got lucky and saw a few stars. Most nights, though, the city sky was an opaque orange-lavender and the wooded trails became a dark shade of grey.
One such night came after a long day of thinking and planning on my part. I had been musing over the idea of it being my last year at the University of Minnesota. I felt like I was supposed to figure out what exactly I wanted to do after graduation. I had researched different possibilities on the Internet. Maybe I would join the Peace Corps. Maybe I would move to Chicago or Colorado Springs, places where there were a lot of writing opportunities. Maybe I would go teach English abroad in some exotic new place, like Ethiopia or North Korea.
Except that now I had a boyfriend who I was falling in love with. I knew that moving after college could be hard and potentially ruin the good thing we had going. Instead of trusting the Lord’s guidance and plan for my life, I tried to devise my own. ‘If I were smart about my future,’ I thought, ‘I would begin planning sooner than later.’
So I talked to Travis. To effectively plan, I needed to know whether I should include him in my future or not. Deep down, I knew that the question I was asking was one of those typically premature ones that females love to ask. So instead of asking him straightforward, I tried to get the answer by beating around the bush.
“Where do you feel like the Lord is leading you?” I asked, acting like it was a random question and not one I had been dwelling on all day.
“To be honest, I don’t know yet. I really enjoy my major and I feel passionate about doing missions or working in a third-world country with the ground water and drinking water system,” Travis said. He wasn’t giving me the answer I wanted to hear. So I tried a different approach.
“I’ve been thinking a lot about what I want to do after college. And it’s been hard to decide what to do because I also feel called to the mission field.” I paused slightly as though I were thinking, hoping the coincidence would click in his mind. “But I also don’t want to leave Minnesota and all my friends…” and you, I added mentally.
“Yeah, that’s hard.” He still didn’t get the hint.
I was frustrated from trying to ask a question that I was too embarrassed to ask and from Travis not getting it.
The problem was that the Lord’s will and the existence of Travis weren’t united in my mind. They were two separate things—as thought God had only constructed His will for my life around the circumstance of my singleness. Now that my singleness was (hopefully) being called into question, I assumed God had to revert to Plan B, which had been adjusted for marriage. Marriage had so long seemed like my desire and not the Lord’s. I wanted to get married—He was indifferent.
Ultimately, I didn’t really want to know the Lord’s will for my life—I wanted to know whether or not Travis and I were going to end up together.
I tried a more direct approach. “And I really don’t want to base my future upon a relationship with a boy, especially when that future is uncertain.”
“Well, you know, you’ll have to decide yourself what to do. I’m not in the same place as you are,” he told me. “You have to choose what to do after this year but I have a whole other year. I don’t know what I’ll do in the future yet.”
I was perplexed and extremely disappointed. Where were the reassuring words? When was he going to say that he’d been thinking a lot about us and knew he wanted us to have a future? How was I supposed to plan for my future if I didn’t know where we stood?
As we continued walking, the tension grew between us. I wanted answers but Travis wasn’t coming through—because he didn’t have any answers to come through with. Travis was a man of deep conviction and he wouldn’t say anything unless he was absolutely certain of its truth. We suspended our walk and sat on the long staircase that winded down from Coffman Union to the riverbanks, not talking.
“What did you expect me to say?” Travis finally asked me.
I mentally searched for a response. What had I expected? Nothing offered itself. “Honestly, I don’t know what I expected you to say,” I replied. “But I didn’t expect you to say what you said.”
We sat there in silence and I looked at the indirect lights that illuminated the staircase. Our conversation hung in the air, limp and weak, supported by no reasons and no responses. Silently, we resumed our walk up the steep hill in front of the medical center.
I was angry, angry that I was left with uncertainty, angry that Travis didn’t reassure me, angry that I had made an idiot of myself. Travis put his arm around me in consolation. But I couldn’t stand being by him at that moment—I needed my space. I wanted to fling his arm off my shoulder and shove him away from me. I wanted to scream and yell, “If you’re not sure, then we’re through!” But I stomached my anger. I let him walk with his arm around me, my body stiff and rigid, pretending I was okay.
As we were walking down the block in front of the dorms, though, I finally couldn’t take it any longer. I shrugged him arm off me and crossed to the other side of the street. He was confused and frustrated as he followed me across the street. I had expected and almost hoped that he would walk off in a huff. But he didn’t.
“I don’t know why you’re doing this. And I don’t know why, but I’m still going to walk you home,” he said as he caught up with me.
His voice and his chivalry crumbled my cold exterior and I hooked my arm around his. He stiffened at the contact but then relaxed.
“I’m sorry, Travis. I don’t know why I acted like that. I just didn’t want to be next to you and I don’t know why. I’m sorry,” I apologized, stumbling back into my high school role.
We talked through what had happened and he forgave me.
The future remained opaque.
The October day in my car was a replica of that summer night: I still didn’t know what I wanted him to say. I couldn’t put into words the thoughts and feelings that I wanted Travis to have but I knew how they would make my heart feel: lightly elated and desperately hopeful.
Instead, what Travis said in the car made my lungs contract as my heart panicked.
“I’ve been thinking a lot lately about my past relationships, mostly my one with Melissa,” he started. My heart wrenched and my breaths collapsed into short, silent gasps. It wasn’t the mention of Melissa but the other things he might say—the things coming up—that terrified me.
I waited for the dreaded words, “I’ve been thinking and this relationship isn’t what I need right now.” My mind recognized that the fear was unfounded but my body was ready to go numb at the first sign of a breakup. No matter how much the former tried to convince the latter that there was nothing to be scared of, my body was still thick with fear.
“Our relationship ended up being really physical,” Travis was saying. “And I just feel like I need to deal with those issues before we—you and me—can move forward.”
I rubbed the steering wheel roughly with the tip of my thumb and concentrated on blinking. I felt dizzy, probably from lack of oxygen.
I tried to calm myself but couldn’t.
I could see out of the corner of my eye that Travis was looking over at me. I didn’t look at him. All I could do and all I wanted to do was stare straight ahead, not thinking, not feeling. My mind raced, fuller than usual with endless possibilities of what could happen between us. It didn’t bother me the most that he had a sexual past. It didn’t bother me that he hadn’t dealt with it yet. All I cared about was where we stood. Was he ever going to dump me?
The uncertainty stretched my heart open like silly putty. The only thing that could fill the growing void was God. I reminded myself to live in light of certainty. I reminded myself that God was everything I ever needed. But my heart could only scoff in disbelief.
Travis reached for my hand to reassure me. “If I didn’t want us to move forward, Kathy, I wouldn’t be dealing with these issues now and I wouldn’t be talking about them with you.”
His reassurance made my mind feel better but my body remained stiff and tense.