It's one month and one day from my wedding and love is on my mind. Yesterday was one of those amazing days where God lifts the blinders from our eyes and allows us to see the beautiful tapestry He has made of the loose ends of our life.
I woke up and found an email from a good friend of mine. She's had a rough year, coming up on the one year anniversary of her father's death, which comes shortly after his birthday. Niels and I made plans to spend the weekend following the 4th visiting her and her family. She hasn't met Niels yet, and anticipating the anniversary, I thought it might be a good time to be there for her. Everyone needs someone like Ang in their life, but sometimes, more importantly, Ang needs someone like Ang in her life. In many ways, even before her dad died, Ang has become the backbone of her family. On the outside, she's a strong, independent woman. She's the one everyone else leans on because when they lean on her, she'll support them. At the same time, she is a compassionate, tender-hearted soul. She has used her training as an OB-GYN more than once to meet the medical and spiritual needs of women in Africa. When her father's health quickly declined, she moved her parents and sisters to a new home close to her so she could care from them and oversee their medical care (her sisters also have health conditions).
I didn't know Ang's dad well, but his funeral changed my life. A year ago, I was at a complete loss. The vision I had--and thought God gave me--for my life was dimmed and I was lost in the dark. I lost my job, had to sell my house, my boyfriend had just broken up with me, my best friends and adopted family were moving out of the country, my book was out of print and I received some discouraging medical news. I was not well.
When we heard Ang's dad died, a few of us decided to surprise her by roadtripping to the funeral. The look on her face was worth the long hours in the car that day, but the service was an appointment with God. I learned that Ang's dad had sustained a head injury and he had to give up his dream job as a church planter. He became a truck driver to support his family, but even as a truck driver, God used the pastor in him to minister to people on the road. As I heard people share how this man had influenced their lives, both pre and post head injury, it was as if God was speaking directly to me, "I haven't forgotten you, Jen. I know about the head injury. I understand your hurt and anger and confusion. The vision is still there for you. I still have a plan for you, a plan to prosper you and not to harm you. I still have hope for you. Hang on. You may not be who you were, but you are still valuable to Me, still needed by Me, still loved by Me. Will you let me show you?"
Sitting in that chapel the darkness lifted. I still didn't have any answers. But I had hope again.
My heart breaks for my friend as she acknowledges a difficult anniversary and I pray that God will use me to show her how valuable she is, how needed, how loved, not only by God, and me, but so many others in her life. Because that's what love is. Being consistant. Being there. Rolling up your sleeves and digging in when life isn't easy or fun. Ang has modeled loyalty and love to me. And I want to be more like her.
After getting dressed, I made my way over to Niels' house to hang out with Bailey before taking her to the vet. Part of my "job" at this point in my life is finding new doctors, dentists, vets and all the other important people we need in our lives. I received a note in the mail that Bailey was due for a new rabies shot. So finding a new vet was on this week's "to do" list. We sniffed around, found one close by and made an appointment. Today was Bailey's lucky day.
Bailey isn't particularly fond of the vet, and seeing what they do to her each year, I can't say I blame her. And yet, each year she gamely follows me into the vet's office, leans into me while the vet examines her and looks to me to comfort her after shots and very close examinations. Today was no different. If I moved a tiny bit, Bailey would scoot right with me. As I held her today in the vet's office, God reminded me of how similar my dog and I really are. I trust God. Even when I think He's hurting me, even when I don't understand why He allows me into a certain situation, I still look to him for answers and comfort. I still trust that He's going to take care of me.
As we drove home, Bailey sat on my lap, still striving to be as close to me as she possibly could. When we arrived home, she hopped out and ran circles around me until I led her to yard to take care of business. The whole time, her eyes were fixed on me. We came inside and I gave her a treat to reward her for her obedience. I filled up her dog dish and refreshed her water. She looks me to fulfill her every need, and even extra thing she wants. We went downstairs and after a quick run around the house, she came back to me, jumped in my lap and fell asleep. A bit later, she stretched out, all four paws in the air, completely submitted, in a position of absolute trust. Bailey trusts me and loves me unconditionally.
It was my mom's idea for me to adopt Bailey six years ago. At the time I was intimitated by the responsibility of caring for someone, and being the sole provider and caretaker. In short time, I grew accustomed to constantly thinking of her welfare--where is she?, does she need to go out?, does she have food and water? And I looked forward to the way she greeted me each day and each time I came home. I couldn't sleep as well if I didn't feel a little ball of warmth on the bed. No matter how I was feeling, Bailey would cuddle with me. She needed me, and soon, I needed her. She expanded my heart to learn to love unconditionally. I called her my "heart on training wheels." And she trained me well.
With Bailey next to me, I checked my email. A couple nights ago, I checked an old email account and found a message from a good friend from long ago asking for my current contact info. I replied with a short message and news of my upcoming wedding. He replied with a not-so-mini missive of his own. Rather than write him back, I called him and we enjoyed a fun stroll down memory lane. I don't mention Mark by name in my book, but his influence--as well as that of his family--is felt throughout.
Mark and I met when we both in our early 20s. We had the same circle of friends, enjoyed the same activities, especially volleyball and watching football, and were part of the same Bible study. Mark was one of my first close male friends and we spent many, many hours together together discussing all the hypotheticals of love, life and marriage. Mark has one of the most amazing families I've ever met, and many of the snapshots of marriage and family I mention in my book come from his family. It was wonderful catching up with him, and after a break for dinner, it was wonderful to put him on speaker and let him and the man I'll marry talk together.
After we got of the phone, Niels and I talked a bit about Mark's influence of my life. We talked about how I am slow to fall in love, and even slower to fall out. I love rarely, but deeply. And though Mark and I never dated, I realize that I have loved three men in my life, and all three will be there to share my wedding day: my first love, the love of my life, and the love that led me to Niels. Niels is the most secure man I've ever known, and hearing him and Mark talk on the phone, I can see how Niels embodies the best of all the men I've loved. (And how frighteningly well Niels and Mark will get along when they meet next month). As my male friends have married, I've seen my primary affection transfer from husband to wife, and now I can see how my old friendship with Mark could be renewed through a friendship between him and my husband to be.
I fell asleep last night with a smile on my face. When I reflect on all I've learned about love in my life, I admit I haven't loved a lot, but I am learning to love well. Ang has taught me to love in the tough times, to be consistent in the uncertainties of life, and how to keep a soft heart even when one hurts, and to love others, even when, especially when, it's inconvenient. Bailey has taught me to love unconditionally, day in and day out. She's taught me to look at the line of love, not the dot. A bad day today is only a bad day, not a bad dog (or human). She's taught me to take time to laugh and cuddle and just "be." Bailey's taught me how to love with constant consideration for another. Mark taught me about the love of family, of the important of tradition and ritual, of celebrating the silly and substantial. Mark taught me how to talk through the tough topics and helped me develop so many of the views and habits and perspectives that are utterly engrained into my being: on living out my faith, on being a steward of all God entrusts to me, on love and marriage and family.
And then there's Niels. The one my heart loves, who is all these things and more. Yesterday, together, I was with the one the I loved, the one who loved me, and one I longed to meet. Life is good, and God is better.