I have a story to tell you.
Last year, when my body showed hopeful signs of healing, I made a promise to myself: I would not date anyone for at least a year so I could heal. I also promised myself I would never, ever, ever, EVER do online dating again. Ever.
I had tried online dating during a short-lived period of healing a few years back, and it never failed to cause anxiety, depression, and general weeping and gnashing of teeth: ARE THERE ANY SINGLE GUYS LEFT ON THE PLANET WHO LOVE JESUS AND WHO DO NOT POST PILLOW SELFIES, OR MIRROR SELFIES, OR PHOTOS OF THEMSELVES SHIRTLESS AND FLEXING ON YACHTS???
It seemed there were not, and my decision to avoid online dating gave me great peace. Enough peace, it turned out, that I discovered it was actually fun to reactivate a dating app every now and then with the purpose of flipping through the profiles for entertainment and cultural analysis. Because you guys: psychoanalyzing dating profiles is better than watching reality TV. The Bachelor ain't got nothin' on online dating profiles, Jack!
So one quiet day last year, I decided to reactivate an app instead of watch my evening TV show. I must have flipped through hundreds of entertaining profiles. Swipe left, left, left, left (all you older folks: swiping left means NO WAY JOSE; swiping right means: yes, I am willing to be connected with you), before coming to a profile unlike any I had ever seen.
It featured a handsome man with blue eyes and blond hair, and a bio that used most of the allotted 300 characters to express his love for Jesus and his desire to find a woman whose love for Jesus was compatible with his.
Other notable information: he worked with foster children in Orange County, had just retired from a professional ski career after nine years on the U.S. ski team, owned a puppy pitbull named Ryder, played beach volleyball, and rode a motorcycle. He was looking for a woman who was thoughtful and loved to laugh.
For the first time ever, I found myself pausing thoughtfully before swiping left. I felt torn between my practical desire to not date and a sneaking suspicion that I would regret it if I did not swipe right.
After a few moments of consideration, I swiped right; and the next morning, I got a notification that he had swiped right on me and we were connected. We started chatting, and I promptly started "researching" hot Christian skier guy.
I already knew three important bits of information:
1. His name was Jay.
2. He was a professional athlete, and professional athletes have a large online presence.
3. You should never go out with someone you meet online without first sleuthing him out (Hello, Google) to discover A) does he seem like the real deal?; and B) how does he walk and talk? I had discovered the hard way that initial attraction has little to do with looks and lots to do with body language, so I needed to find videos before I was willing to go out on a date with Jay.
My counselor advised me not to research too much, so I only researched as much as I needed, which was, incidentally: information on his family, hometown, and career; videos of him walking, talking, skiing, skateboarding, boating, and public speaking; and various websites linked to his ministry with foster youth. Before long, I had pieced together a timeline of his adult life, just for good measure.
Basically, I could have written his biography before our first date.
My years of teaching and practicing research methods have been nothing if not helpful in the dating realm.
(Dear former college students: SEE, you will use the research skills I taught you in the real world!)
Eventually, the verdict was in: there was attraction potential, so I agreed to go on a date with Jay at a dog park in Orange county.
Prior to our first date, I developed a set of assumptions about Jay that I hoped would protect me from getting too excited about a guy I hadn't yet met:
I assumed he would be flaky — he would be late to our first date and lack follow-through afterwards. He would be bad at asking questions, he wouldn't be inclined toward abstract thinking (I do love an abstract thinker), he would be a poor manager of his money, and he would be too laid back to be interested in a planner like me.
Armed with my assumptions, I pulled on a pair of white jeans, a grey t-shirt, and my new grey tennis, and I drove to the dog park. Ten minutes before I arrived, Jay texted me: "I'm here!"
Well, well, weeeell: hot skier guy is punctual after all.
What other surprises might the afternoon hold?
When I arrived, Jay gave me a hug, and I noticed three things: 1) His eyebrows were much blonder in person; 2) He was cool. Like way, majorly Cool with a capital C (Am I too nerdy for this guy?!); and 3) He was dog-less.
"Ryder just got neutered and is wearing a cone so he couldn't come," he explained. "But I figured an afternoon at the dog park could still be fun!"
So we sat on a bench in the sunshine and began to chat.
And oh my: I have never met such a good conversationalist. He asked incisive questions and leaned in when he listened. He thought deeply (and abstractly!), communicated clearly, and was refreshingly honest and intentional. He shared his Christian testimony and explained his dating hopes, and you guys: I've gotten pretty good about stifling hope over the years, but I couldn't help it — as we sat on that bench, surrounded by small dogs that weren't ours, a tiny sprout of hope wiggled its way up through my heart-soil and tipped its head toward the sunshine.
That evening Jay texted me, inviting me to accompany him to a worship evening the following night.
NOTED: Hot skier guy has follow-through after all. . .
That second date at the worship night was full. Early in the evening, we met a homeless woman named Mary who was looking for a place to shower so she could "hook up" with the "hottest man on the block."
"He won't have me if I'm dirty," she said.
I watched as Jay invited Mary to join our worship event and then offered to take her back to his apartment, where he, his mom, and brother had been living and doing foster ministry together. He said she could shower there, and they could give her new clothes; and I knew his hope was twofold: he wanted to show Mary God's love, and he wanted to protect her from any men who would take advantage of her.
Mary joined our event, and later, when Jay and his brother discovered Mary had a daughter in the area, they took her to her house.
The next day I spent hours talking to my college roommate, Rachel, as I processed my evening with a man whose generosity and kindness were radical expressions of God's love to the outcasts.
"I think I like him," I told her.
"I think you do, too," she responded.
I excitedly awaited Jay's next text, with the hope that he would initiate another date soon.
But he didn't text me the next day, and though he texted me the day after that, his text was brief and unrelated to planning that beach date he'd mentioned toward the end of our first date.
I know now that Jay gets upwards of 200 texts a day for work, and since he didn't know me well that first week, he responded to work texts before working his way down to mine. At the time, however, his delayed texting made me anxious.
When you are dating in your early twenties, you are an impressive stallion or mare, pulsing with dating vitality and stamina. But by the time you hit your thirties, you become a tired ol' workhorse, who happens to be very skittish. It's at this point that dating begins to feel like a desperately exhausting vetting mission.
So I was tempted to try to instigate more regular texting, so we could hurry up and plan our beach date, so we could have more time together, so I could better assess his character and intentions, so I could hurry up and figure out if we had marriage potential, so I could protect myself from as much pain as possible should Jay and I not work out.
Several times I picked up my phone to text Jay, but each time, I remembered the experiment I started six months earlier: I had decided to let God's goodness and mercy pursue me, the way Psalm 23 describes. I'd gotten really good at chasing goodness and mercy, but it turns out the chase is exhausting and unnecessary. I would let them pursue me in my relationship with Jay.
So I waited and trusted God's involvement and timing. Or I tried, anyway. (Really though, God: WHY WON'T THIS GUY TEXT ME BACK PROMPTLY?!!!)
A few times I prayed: "God, I would really like to get to know Jay consistently and productively, and I am tempted to try to force this process; but I'd much rather your hand guide it than mine. Would you please plan a date for us that I could not have planned myself?"
And then, the next day, I made plans to meet a friend at the beach for a morning walk. My friend ended up cancelling that morning, but I had a strong urge to head to the beach we'd planned to meet at anyway.
I was perplexed at my urge. I hadn't visited this beach in a decade because there are many nicer beaches in my area. In fact, I typically dreaded trips to this beach. But it had a mysterious, magnetic pull that morning, so I hopped in my car and headed westward. As I drove, Jay texted me. "Hey!" I responded. "I'm heading to the beach for a walk if you want to join me."
"No way!" he texted. "I'm at that beach right now! I'm playing volleyball. You should come watch."
So I did. And we spent the whole day together. We spent time with his friends, and went candle shopping, and shared pant-pooping stories, and had a dance party in the kitchen, and it was a glorious 17-hour date. And then, because we'd had so much fun on Saturday, we spent Sunday together, too.
Well, THANK YOU, JESUS!!
That weekend marked a shift in our week-old relationship. Jay started texting me before responding to all those work texts, and then he started calling, and then we started logging dozens of hours together each week, during which I learned he is consistent, intentional, and reliable.
I learned he is prone to burst into spontaneous prayer throughout the day; he is both very laid back and very responsible; he flosses daily; he's a saver, not a spender; he's three inches taller than I am in bare feet — that makes him 5'11; he is extravagantly generous with everything he has; he is sensitive and obedient to the Spirit of God; he would rather go barefoot than wear shoes; he's ticklish and playful; and he is the guy people call when they need help moving, or when they've been kicked out of their home, or when they're going to court and need moral support. He is strong, loyal, and kind; and his fiercest desire is love and obey Jesus. And also: I learned I am not too nerdy for him, after all.
It did not take long for me to realize that Jay was the kind of guy I might want to marry, so I started praying that we would have the opportunity to weather something hard together. I hoped for confirmation that he was who I thought he was, and I wanted to see how we would navigate a storm together.
And then I had a really hard health flare-up. And then I began to keenly feel the effects of malnourishment from the last several years' health challenges. And then I had another flare-up. And another one. Even the better health days were still fraught with challenges, and as the semester wore on, my physical and mental stamina waned. And I realized we were navigating lots of hard things.
And all along Jay was good and kind and patient. He cooked for me, ran errands, rubbed my back, and spent hours sitting next to my bed while I rested. I've never let anyone be as close to me in a flare-up as Jay was, and it felt vulnerable. I wondered if my challenges might chase him away. But one day, during a particularly hard flare-up, he pulled me into a hug and said,
"Sarah, I'm not deterred by these days in bed. Everything I like about you fits in a bed. And I'm not going anywhere. I know you are going to heal completely, but if your health deteriorated, I would rather spend my life with you in bed than spend my life without you. You are the best woman I've ever known."
And then, not long after that, we were in the car, headed to watch a track meet, and I was flooded with knowing: he was my best guy, and I wanted to spend the rest of my life with him.
A few months later, on June 21st, he proposed in my hometown, just down the street from my parents' house.
And this where this story ends — or begins, I suppose: I am getting married!
Come end of summer I will be Sarah Christine Panther.
And oh, God is gloriously kind to drench my life with all this grace — to send goodness and mercy chasing after me in the most unexpected ways. I am so very thankful.
And there's this: remember how my whole adult life I have dreamed of finding a man with a ponytail?
And then there's this entry in my second grade diary I that recently found when going through a box of mementos:
God is an icing on the cake kind of God, isn't he?
Thank you for praying me through the Valley of the Shadow of Death these last several years, my friends. I am delighted to now be able to celebrate this glorious, mountaintop gift with you.
I love you all,
P.S. How do you feel about the name Cathwean? Cathwean Panther. Has kind of a nice ring to it, doesn't it?
© by scj