I wrote this story years ago … so don’t judge it too harshly! Also, I cut out the whole beginning and cut to the chase.
This how I met Lane, the handsome Egyptian-Canadian admissions rep from the east coast, while we were both at a conference in Michigan.
I’m uncertain how exactly the rest of this night unfolded, but I’m grateful just to use the vague word somehow and accept it like a gift. Lane, Emily, and I made our way from the auditorium we’d been in into the hallway outside it, where they introduced me two other admission counselors from a school in Boston. Details elude me, but I can picture the five of us visiting there as the noisy admissions crowds dwindled and disappeared around us until we finally sat down there on the hallway floor, in a more-or-less circle, talking about admissions and our goals until about 12:30am. I didn’t care if my co-worker/conference roomie was worried or not.
I talked less than I normally would that night, listened to the others, their stories and opinions and ambitions. And though the morning haziness—draped in the shadows of the years since—has softened the images of that hallway, I remember with distinct clarity the words Lane spoke before we left: he didn’t know what was coming next in his life, but he was praying about it and seeking God’s will and waiting for that – “but not waiting in the cliché sense,” he said, “not just ‘oh, I’m just waiting to see what God wants’ … I am actively waiting for word from God on what to do next.” Actively waiting.
In a way, the phrase blessed me. And after the conference was over, I sent him the first email between the two of us, thanking him for saying so.
He told me later that it was an idea from his Henri Nouwen reader. I looked it up: “waiting is never a movement from nothing to something. It is always a movement from something to something more.” I kept reading. There it was: the concept that endeared a stranger to me. “The secret of waiting is the faith that the seed has been planted, that something has begun. Active waiting means to be present fully to the moment, in the conviction that something is happening where you are and that you want to be present to it. A waiting person is someone who is present to the moment, who believes that this moment is the moment.”
The words sound lovely, but do I really believe this? To be clear, waiting is not a movement from nothing to something?
The element of trust in Nouwen’s passage is the size of a small mountain, and the longer I reflect on Nouwen’s words the bolder they seem to me, small but obvious arrows that point directly to trust – trust in the “process,” in the “system,” trust that I am not at the start, but somewhere along the path. And a charge – wake up! You are not at the beginning! Keep your eyes open because you do not know what gifts will be yours today.
However, I imagine that if we have missed the fact that we have already filled our suitcases and taken the first steps of our journey, it is rather unlikely we are looking around for the finish line – or even at the local scenery.
I want to drink moments like frothy whole milk. I am ashamed that I gulp life without tasting, my eyes searching for the next glass.
I saw Lane the next summer too, this time at at another college in Kentucky. He came up and gave me a hug and we talked a little bit, enough for him to tell me that he was going to be traveling the world for about 9 months. Incredible. I had images of him receiving a faithful string of my handwritten letters in a remote African village where naked children ran around in poverty; he would be so lonely there, and my letters would be like medicine, like company. He would realize there how special I was and how we belonged together.
But then again, it was 2006, which spilled over into 2007, and in lieu of long-awaited love letters in scrawling cursive, email was king. Email was still nice; I loved hearing from him from time to time, and he kept his blog fresh and updated, not with a log of daily activities, but his thoughts on poverty and ambition and Jesus, which acted as seeds sown casually in my chest which grew into admiration. But it wasn’t quite the way I pictured it, as he hopped from Taiwan to Malaysia to Thailand to China to the Philippines, then – after a brief trip back to home (Canada) – on to Nigeria, Kenya, Tanzania, and Egypt, the motherland (sort of). He crossed country borders faster than international mail could travel, and it seemed far too unnatural to request an address anyway. I wrote zero letters. Stupid, silly me.
While he was gone, my dear college friend Cindy convinced me it’d be a good idea to write a very important email asking his opinion on matters of great importance to me. In short, is he really worth my time? I took her advice but was very sneaky about it. It was less a blatant questionnaire, more of a “I just thought of you and realized …” take, asking strategic questions about the Bible, teenagers, and the future in a non-strategic-sounding way.
I read his reply over and over, as if it were a glass of cool water that I returned to for gulps. He wished he read more, wanted to teach or work in student development, wasn’t eager to return to Canadian winters, still wanted to travel but not with the ardent thirst he was quenching now. In 10 years, he hoped to be married, have a “munchkin” or two, and maybe a golden retriever. What about me, he asked. I left his answers in the reply and put mine beneath his, for easy comparison, you know.
When he returned to North America, I got a message: He is coming to Minnesota for a wedding. Will I be around?
I was in a panic. NO, I WILL NOT BE AROUND. I WILL BE UP AT CAMP AND THEN OFF TO WISCONSIN FOR A WEDDING RECEPTION. Since both of these activities were non-negotiable to me, this twist seemed like an ironic and cruel joke. My darling friend Cindy was actually more determined that I see him than I was: “When will he be there? How long? Could you fly back from Wisconsin to save time? Can you afford it? I could help. I’m looking up ticket prices right now ….” I thought I’d be the happiest girl if I could only get coffee with him for a little bit in the Twin Cities. I emailed, but he replied that he wasn’t sure where exactly the wedding would be taking place. But Minnesota can’t be that big, can it?
Um. Yes, it can. Boys.
I was mid-week through camp when I received the answer: he’s in the “rinky-dink” town of Wadena. WADENA?! That is 30 minutes from the camp where I sat at the computer in the “Staff Only” room I shouldn’t have been in. Will he come up and visit?
But I didn’t hear back.
And so now, picture me, apprehensive as I pass the city sign: “Wadena, pop. 4,107.” Entering the town feels significant and peculiar, like entering a sound-proof booth or diving underwater.
I want to slow waaaay down as I drive through the town. He could be in that Burger King or McDonalds … an AmericInn! He’s probably got a reservation there. That could be him poolside, I think as I drive by the large windows that allow me to glance in. I stop to get gas and to prolong my time in this place where I could be breathing his same air. I am giving God the perfect opportunity for a miracle.
The pump is filling up my car, and I decide to wash the windshield. Slowly, slowly … what if a group of wedding party crazies stops by the station for Combos and Diet Coke? Better get the drivers-side window too.
Wadena is quiet, and warm but comfortable. I am on edge already because I just said an early goodbye to a campground of people I love. The street seems important; anything could happen here in just 5 minutes. My tank is full, but I decide to finish all the windows. Just a little more time.
Desperation has definitely kicked in, but also a funky lethargy and irritation. I wash every window of my 2003 Dodge Stratus there in Wadena, waiting for God to “show up,” then finally put the squeegee wand back into the washer fluid, climb back into my car, turn the key in the ignition, pull out of gas station, and make the turn to leave town.
I cry – and belt out Phil Collins’ “Against All Odds,” for terrific effect. I consider Eir’s disapproval but also how she’d laugh if she knew. So dramatic. I don’t even know how else to deal with this warm Wadena air and the knowledge that he is here.
How can I just let you walk away, just let you leave without a trace/When I stand here taking every breath with you … oo-ooh. Kamikaze bugs schmuck into my windshield, destroying my work. Insult to injury.
Did I really think he’d show up? Surprise me at the pump as he stepped out of Casey’s, unwrapping a Snickers? Even now, I’m not sure what I was hoping for that evening. I certainly don’t understand why Lane’s visit to Minnesota and my drive back to St. Paul were like two orbiting moons coming close enough to touch … but not doing so. But continued absence has made my heart resilient. I cried and sang, and then listened to the audiobook I had in the CD player while I drove the rest of the way to the Twin Cities. The next morning, I woke up and drove 6 more hours to Two Rivers, Wisconsin.
Minnesota can’t be that big, Lane thinks. But oh it can, it can! The 34.5 miles between Wadena and camp itself seemed to span the continent. He may have just as well been in Toronto. Or back in the Philippines.
Today I talked to a college girlfriend named Jamie whom I haven’t seen in years. She’s in love with her boyfriend Andy, the same boy she was talking about during her second year of college. I asked, “How long did you like him before you finally started dating?”
“Four years,” she said. “For four years, I just prayed.” Since I’m an emotional train wreck I almost started crying right there at the homecoming football game. Jamie spoke of not even pursuing God’s will, but God Himself. Active. But waiting.
Actively waiting, hmm, Lane? I loved hearing the words drip off your tongue years ago; they seemed so important, so significant and weighty as they dropped to the floor and followed me outside into Michigan air. Actively waiting is exactly what I want to do with my life while you head off once again, this time to Honduras.
I’m struck again with thinking of Nouwen’s definition: “never a movement from nothing to something.” That seems very nearly what I’m doing right now. I find it hard to understand unless I couple it with the next line: “The secret of waiting is the faith that the seed has been planted, that something has begun.” I don’t want to be naïve and think that sentence has to do with a romantic spark. Rather, I imagine that “the faith that the seed has been planted” is referring to the way that I trust that the events of my life have long ago been set into motion, that they each come in and go out, occur, excite, disappoint under a canopy of sovereignty.
If there is no canopy, the value of waiting plummets; if there is no canopy, we live aimlessly, like waiting is a movement from nothing to something. I trust the canopy is there, and that the seed is planted under a watchful eye, a deposit. As Victor Hugo put it, “Have courage for the great sorrows of life and patience for the small ones; and when you have laboriously accomplished your daily task, go to sleep in peace. God is awake.”
Dr. Seuss has a book called Oh, the Places You’ll Go! with advice packed into the doggerel. The book/poem is kind of a rollercoaster, and at one of the lows, Seuss talks about “a most useless place”:
The Waiting Place…
That’s not for you!
Somehow you’ll escape
all that waiting and staying.
You’ll find the bright places
where Boom Bands are playing.
This made sense to me when I was in high school and first discovered this book. The words were like a battle cry for the young and ambitious. But now that I’m older, I don’t think that waiting and Boom Bands are allocated to separate towns. Can’t you dance while you wait, while you pray? Isn’t prayer itself sometimes a kind of dance? Conversation, often breathtaking.
Last week was a big step for me. I finally mailed a letter to Lane, to his provided address in Honduras; actually, it was less like a letter and more like a note, but on any scale, weightier than email. And this week, I sent another.
I wonder what Lane will think when he gets the bright blue envelope from the States, with my name and address scribbled in the upper left. Will he be encouraged, or will he raise an eyebrow as though he’s caught me? How many colored envelopes will need to grace his PO Box before the truth begins to settle on his chest like a slow realization? And when it does, will it be a familiar weight like home and baked potato soup, or will there be a dread, an unsolicited discovery that makes him avoid the Siguatepeque post office?
Active waiting: an unrecognizable blend, a homogenous collection, of trust and activity and lingering. Advent full of aspirations.
So then maybe that dance of prayer and trust is not a slow and graceful waltz, but something wild and unruly, enabled with abandon.
I picture myself in a forest, dressed in rich red, with music pounding, and me, dancing breathlessly and pausing every so often to glance up at the canopy and laugh.