16 years and three months ago I was an 18 year old woman/girl taking off on a flight to the Philippines to live there for several months. I had been there before, so I was not surprised by the long flight that makes you want to die, the heat that hits you like a wall when you step out of the airport, the smells, the sounds. But one thing did surprise me. As I rode in the back of a vehicle to the small row of apartments that would be my home for the next while, we pulled up and I saw this white guy that I was instantly attracted to. There he was….ball cap, tank top, flip flops, really baggy cargo shorts - we technically still had one day left in the 90s -, standing on top of a garbage pile. In the Philippines at that time, a row of houses will often just throw all the garbage on a pile and then someone has to work at shovelling it together and burning it to make room for more garbage. So of course, his “servant’s heart” was shinning brightly for me to see! I knew who this guy was. I booked his flights, arranged his stay, I probably knew his passport number. We had gone to camp and student convention together. But I never hung out with him. You see, I was one of the those girls who had just enough spirituality to make her obnoxious and not hang out with people like him who didn’t know what they were doing with their life. But now? Now he was shovelling garbage in the third world country and helping to build an orphanage. Now he was marriage material! And I had never noticed that he was good looking too! Now it made sense that Pastor and Mrs. McClain had both told me that I would marry him. Without the other even knowing it. Well, with that memory, jet lag, and exhaustion, it was obvious to me what God’s will was. And also it was only two months until my 19th birthday. And I grew up independent baptist. So I was almost an old maid. So it was obvious right from the start of that trip. I only had one problem.
The guy wouldn’t even look at me let alone talk to me. Yup. Quietest guy on the planet. I tried to make sure I sat beside him at meals and car rides. One of the older women who was on the trip with us taught me how to cut hair, so I practiced on him. Still, not a word. I started to do his laundry. I did his roommates’ too so that I wouldn’t look too obvious. And when I was hanging his laundry on the line I would sometimes smell his shirts. Oh yes people. It was that bad. People told me he liked me, that we were destined to be together, but that means nothing when the only thing he’s ever said to you is hi.
Enter my Pastor. My Pastor showed up, saw what was going on, thought we should get married and work for him in the Philippines. So he went to work towards that goal. I’m not entirely certain if he really wanted us together or just felt so sorry for me that he tried! He even offered to wave our trip’s no dating rule for us. As bizzarre as it sounds, we started communicating through my Pastor. He would talk to Michael about our future, which apparently Michael was quite excited about, and then he would talk to me. Assuring each of us that the other was wanting a relationship. Sometimes when I talk about our dating days, I feel like I’m reciting the plot to a super weird novel. But it gets weirder…..
This had been going on for a month. Messages passed back and forth, sitting beside each other all the time, looking for ways to be together, finding out later that we had both decided to marry each other, and yet still not one real face to face conversation. Fast forward to the day before my Pastor was going home. We had had the big opening of the building, many people from Canada had come and gone, and we were about to go back to the daily business of building an orphanage without all the fireworks. I started freaking out thinking that I was actually going to die an old maid because this guy couldn’t even talk to me without Pastor around. The very next morning my life was about to end with my Pastor flying home. I was freaked out enough to go talk to my Pastor about it. There may have been tears. And near hysterics. So my Pastor said, “follow me”. “Where?” I asked. “We’re going to go talk to Michael” “I didn’t want you to talk to him with me right there!!!” “If you want me to talk to him, this is how we’re doing it.” By this point I was desperate enough to agree. He called Michael into the court yard, grabbed three lawn chairs. He set them up two beside each other with his facing them. He told us where to sit and then asked bluntly, “Michael, do you like Jennifer?” I was very relieved when he said yes. Then horrors, he asked me, “Jennifer, do you like Michael?” With an incredibly red face I answered yes. Pastor then stood up and said, “Then do something about it!” and walked away. Oh yes, it was as terrible as it sounds. But it was effective. We stayed there talking in those chairs for a long time. One week later, we set our wedding date for April 7, 2001. 15 years ago today. 15. That’s a long time. 10 made me feel like we made it, but 15 is making me feel like we’re starting in on being an old married couple.
Just a disclaimer, I’m not entirely certain that this was the optimal way to pick a mate and if my daughter ever goes to a foreign country at 18 and comes back with a story like this, I may kill her. No, I will definitely kill her. And lock her up. But its our story and its worked pretty well for us so far. Things haven’t always been easy and some days I bang my head against the wall and realize that maybe the no talking for three months might have been an indication of our different love of communication….but I’m still in love with that boy in the 90s cargo shorts. And I wasn’t wrong about the servant’s heart. We’ve had this weird, adventurous, hard, wonderful life and I hope we have more weird adventures in the years to come.