Monday, December 1, 2014

The North Meets the South - part 2

Weekend Surprise

Christopher reclined on the living room couch after a full day working at a manufacturing plant. He wondered how much longer he would have his job. Refusing to work on the Sabbath, he continued to call in on the weeks when employees were expected to work Saturdays, fully aware that one day he would call in one time too many and be laid off.
Picking up his cell phone, he sent a text to his girlfriend. "What's up? :)"
"Sitting around," came the reply a few minutes later.
He could hear his mom, Tracy, pull into the garage and then enter the house. She closed the glass front door's shutter with a quiet comment "about the sun" and then disappeared as Chris remained in the living room. I wish Abigail was here.

Worn cowboy boots hit the gravel with a tiny thud as a car door closed softly.
“Good doggies,” a voice whispered in the direction of a regal Doberman and half-wild adopted stray standing at attention.
Tall bending straw thickly coated the ground of what used to be an old cotton field nearby. Song birds twittered in the forest beyond as southern sunshine seeped through the cool air and glinted across wavy hair.
A firm knock sounded at the front door and Christopher moved to open it.
"Hi," a familiar figure stood on the front steps, smiling.
“Hello,” he returned calmly, a serious look still resting across his face but making a sideways glance at his mother now in the living room and taking a step back.
“Well, I’m here." To his continued amazement, his girlfriend stepped into the living room accompanied by the knowing laughter of his mother who provided transportation from the Atlanta airport.
“So I see…” He flashed a broad grin. “I’m so glad you’re here,” warmly.
“It’s so good to be here," she replied.
“When I saw you standing there after I opened the door, my heart skipped a beat,” he said. “That doesn’t happen very often.”

Abigail was thrilled by southern hospitality and friendly faces at the church Chris's dad pastored. Together they led song service, Abigail played special music, and enjoyed nature in the afternoon with new friends. To Abigail's initial trepidation, she touched the first firearm she ever had in her life, with careful instructions from her boyfriend and photography by his mother. The weekend flew by all too quickly.

Blessing in Disguise

Chris continued to be a valuable worker at the manufacturing plant in town, often waking at 3:00 am to spend long hours switching from station to station in an environment anything but Christian.

One the occasion of a second visit from Abigail, efforts to take a single day off from work to drive her back to the airport were to no avail. Employees working at this site less than a year were not considered full time and had no option for a day off. Gingerly he clocked in at work, leaving behind a sorrowful but admiring young woman. Although she knew he wanted to spend that time with her, his sense of responsibility and dependability was keen and she respected this.

Christopher was indeed let go prior to the one-year mark, leaving him both stunned and strangely freed. It was a known practice of the company to lay off workers prior to a year in order to avoid hiring full time and paying benefits. That evening, he called a friend and church member, Rodney Golden, who owned an electrician business and had mentioned previously that he would like Chris to at one point work for him.

"We were praying that you would lose your job," he was told. "I've been wanting you to work for me."
Chris lost his job and was hired to work the next in a single day. With relief, he worked the following months side by side with a like-minded Seventh-Day Adventist, enjoying himself much more than he had in a long time and doing what came natural and easily to his hands.

Abigail's family learned of these new changes approvingly. It seemed that the Lord had a timing altogether perfect.

The South Wins

As the months passed, both Chris and Abby became more certain than ever that God was leading them to embark on a journey deeper than that of friendship. Both having finished school with jobs of their own, they were at the place of seriously looking for a life partner. Referring to an original list of qualities she desired in a husband (written years previously,) Abigail recognized that Christopher met every single one.
Chris himself knew what he was looking for in a life companion, and not being one to waste time began to plan for asking her dad, allowing Abigail to become increasingly mystified in the process with uncommonly vague replies to some of her curious questions.
In the month of June, Christopher flew to Vermont to spend time with her family and see the places familiar to her. As Abigail excitedly waited at the airport with her dad and sister, it wasn't long before she spied the plane where she knew he was.
In that moment in her excitement, another realization almost brought stinging tears to her blue eyes. A part of herself was on that plane. In that moment, she felt as if a part of herself was finally home now that he was.

That weekend on Sabbath as friends and church members of New England asked alike, Chris and Abigail's dad, Tim, trailed behind the main group. Abigail walked with her friend Katherine and cast a quick glance behind them.
"Do you think...?" her friend's eyes grew wide with a sudden thought.
Abigail brushed it away, although she wondered. "Oh, I'm sure that's not what they're talking about."
Later she would learn that her friend was right.

Later that week, she and Chris flew down south for a visit with his family. After saying good-bye to her family, the two began their journey to visit his.
"Let Chris know we really like him," Abigail smiled as she received a text from her dad. The support and approval of her parents made a world of difference.
"Cool summers of New England are great," he texted, "but total scores have the south as the victor."
It was an interesting remark coming from her dad.

The day after they arrived, Abigail spent a lengthy time in a lonely spot by the woods listening to the chirp of the birds, the quiet rocking of a hanging chair from two tall trees, and scamper of chipmunks over brown pine needles. The intense sun of the south sent beautiful beams through the forest as she danced among the pine trees, singing as she walked and reviewing the past events leading her to this time of life. Little did she realize how memorable this day would indeed be.

"You're driving," Christopher slid a black shoulder pack from his arm to the car and helped himself to the passenger's seat.
"Alrighty then," Abby grinned. Twenty minutes later the Honda Civic pulled into an empty parking lot adjacent to Talladega National Forest for a hike up Dugger Mountain.
Abigail wiped a wisp of hair from her brow as she pressed up the single-file path, marveling at brown vines clinging to tree trunks, scattered wildflowers hidden among foliage lining the path, and the winding trail's dips and turns as it wound along the sides of the mountain. It was easy to imagine Native American Indians walking this same path many years ago.
Spotting long dips downward in the trail, she scampered ahead of Christopher, laughing as she looked back to see him grin. Conversation switched from topic to topic - they spoke of each other's families and the adoption of her two brothers, discussed the habits of snakes and insects present in the area, and recalled events of the past together as the winding trail led them far around the mountain Glimpses of a view could be seen through standing trees but the trail dipped downwards again and eventually grew overgrown with leaves and long grasses bending into the pathway.
"Are you sure we should keep going?" Abigail slowed her pace, now slightly out of breath and warm with the humidity. "It doesn't look like this part of the trail is kept up."
"We can stop if you'd like," Chris approached a nearby log and set the shoulder pack on the ground nearby.
To her pleasure, he had been carrying water bottles for such a time as this. It would have been too difficult to resist pouring trickles of cold water down the back of his shirt as he grinned and they laughed together.
Minutes passed as they spoke and rested on the large log.
"I'm so glad that you're here," he went to his knees on the ground, returning the water bottles and then looking up at her face with an expression of contentment, silent for several moments.
"I have something for you." He reached into the shoulder pack to bring out a dark gray box, opening it to reveal a watch resting inside.
An expression of surprise spread across her face, eyes widening as what he would ask began to register.
"Abby Cosgrove," he said simply, "will you marry me?"
With an expression of delight she joined him on the hard-packed earth of the path. "Oh yes - I will."
"I love you so much," Chris embraced her in his strong arms.
"What kind of person were you looking for before we met," she turned to ask him curiously.
"I was looking for you."

Christopher could not have imagined the year previously that he would be asking a girl to marry him that day, or that his joy would be so complete. Yet the Lord had a perfect, wonderful plan all along.
Surprised at the proposal Abigail had not anticipated that day and thrilled at the joy swelling in her heart, she also trembled as she reviewed the past and realized how choices against the counsel of her parents and the conviction of God's Word would have led her down a very different path. With the realization that she could have said no to this overflowing happiness if she had not chosen to have faith that the Lord's dreams were more beautiful than any of her own.

As the couple began their trip back, they marveled not only because they had begun this walk as boyfriend and girlfriend and would end it as an engaged couple, but also because their journey had only begun.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The North Meets the South (part 1)

Although I'm sure many of read this story on another website, I've thought to include it written among my journey recorded here.  It has been a long road of lessons learned - both of wisdom and trust. But I thank God for every milestone passed, every step of faith made, and every blessing He has granted me both through sorrow and joy.

He is the Author of dreams come true.


It began before they met.

An adventurous southern boy with a thatch of of sun-lightened hair urged his granddaddy Desmond for another story of World War II, while a thousand miles north, a little figure in a pink dress sang with the birds, weaving among waving poplars and tall pines. Curious and tender of heart, Abigail spent hours observing beetles, catching pollywogs, and stalking frogs, frantically scrubbing her face when her grandmother applied make-up for the first time, and finding great satisfaction in dressing up each Sabbath, playing piano for primary class. As the years passed, no one could deny that Christopher had a mind entirely of his own, determination to match the broad blue southern sky, and a gift with his hands as he worked with car parts, stood alongside the men as they built their church, and responded to the next door neighbor when she called due to a weekly mechanical or plumbing crisis.

A story was being written with their choices, marked with both challenges and triumphs, paved by tests of faith to encourage more faithfulness and trust. And while many busy humans on the small globe called earth worry that the Lord may neglect them, or secretly cherish their plans in place of His, some still believe that He has a treasure chest of dreams in store for those who are willing to trust that His are more beautiful than their own.

A Mother's Mistake

Christopher lived in rural Alabama where he met many people and had a close support group of friends in his life, but decided to expand his horizons through the internet and signed up on Adventist Singles. It was quickly seen how few girls were actually living by Adventist standards and sharing his same perspective in life. He had remained on the site for one and half years when far north in Vermont, one could observe a peaceful but soon-to-be-disturbed scene.

Reclining on her quilted bedspread with feet dangling in mid air, Abigail leafed through the pages of her notebook, recalling past memories. Tucking wisps of brown hair behind her ear, her mind began to wander from thoughts on the white page before her eyes to the unknown plans the Lord had for her life. My 19th year so far has been a quiet one, she thought to herself, picking up her pen to write on a fresh new page. But I feel a contentment not only born of trust, but also acceptance - knowing that He has my best interest in mind.

"Abigail!" a call from up a flight of stairs followed by muffled words

Sprinting across cold tile flooring to her doorway, she rested a hand on frame. "What?"

"Abigail..." her mother paused at the top of the stairs as a shaft of light streamed downwards, illuminating a path to where her 19 year old daughter stood. She looked sheepish. "I signed you up on a single's site by mistake."

Abigail was seated at the family's computer at the kitchen counter in seconds, choking down amazement, amusement, and bursts of horrified surprise. A girl's profile on Adventist Singles was on the screen - and it was hers.

Suzanne Cosgrove had recently caught up with a childhood friend to be married to someone met on Adventist Singles. Curious to see profiles on this site, she entered her eldest daughter's information, thinking it was for statistical purposes or determining which people to pull up in her search. "I honestly didn't know it would create a profile for you!" she assured her daughter. "You may delete it if you want."

"I certainly will," Abigail folded her arms with an astonished laugh. Meeting her match on an online single's site would have been one of her last choices. Would her friends think she was desperate to find someone? And what were the chances of actually finding one who shared her perspectives and convictions? This was difficult enough to do in person, much less over the internet where so many factors about a person could be missed.

True to her guess, there were few single young men who shared her convictions and life values. Seeing that eliminating matches would prove to be great entertainment for the rest of her family while she was at work, Abigail consented to leaving her profile on for a few days. Maybe she would even meet some friends, her mom suggested. "Just look at it like a single's retreat."

"I'll try," she looked still less than thrilled.

First Sight On a Site

“We have a few people that you could look at and decided if it’s a yes or not,” Suzanne mentioned as her daughter walked by the kitchen counter in scrubs.
Willingly she dropped into a stool by the kitchen counter and scrolled through a list of small pictures and usernames, noting with amusement how many her sister and mother had ruled out while she had been at work.

Pausing at one profile with the username of cowboycd and peering at the same picture by it, she stopped. “What about this person?” She could find nothing about him listed that would give her reason to rule him out, and he appeared very wholesome, kind, and quality. Slowly she read through his written introduction. Satisfied, she clicked "yes" to him being an interest, little realizing how far a simple click of the mouse would take her.

Not long after, a 22-year-old with chestnut brown hair and blue eyes sat at the kitchen table of his Alabama home, and logged onto Adventist Singles after a long day of work. He only checked the website periodically, and although he had been hoping to find a young woman to get to know and spend the rest of his life with, sometimes he wondered if he would. Stopping at one profile in particular with the username of abbysue, he clicked to see more. He liked the way she described herself, noted their similar interests, and thought she was pretty.

The following morning, each received an email stating, "You Both Said Yes!" Abigail was astounded, Christopher was pleased. Both paid for a month's subscription to the website to enable communication and he messaged her later that evening, beginning a habit of both parties frequently checking for message notifications.

What is this person like, and why have I never seen or heard of him before? Abigail mused. Rummaging through storage, she emerged with a brown clipboard which became the stabilizer of multiple papers listed under the title, "The Analysis of Christopher Duman."

“This is crazy,” Abigail murmured aloud, placing her cell phone away and pacing the bedroom floor after an evening of texting questions and answers. I wasn’t expecting this, I wasn’t looking for this, I wasn’t asking for this. Lord, is this just another distraction? Is this actually something ordained by Your hand? I’m confused now that I’ve met someone who has the potential to be an interest, because I didn’t expect to meet someone for years in the future. My heart feels a spark while there are still so many unanswered questions and things I don’t know about this young man. But if you’re leading for us to get to know each other, please make it crystal clear. I don’t want to hurt either of us.

Christopher had been hoping to find a young woman who loved God and shared his same interests, but sometimes he wondered if he ever would. As communication progressed with Abigail, he liked both her and what he saw, but did not jump to conclusions or assume a false certainty of God's leading. We will see how things work out by and by, he thought to himself.

On Thanksgiving Day as Abigail and the women folk of her family prepared for the big meal, Christopher texted her, continuing to ask questions about her life. When evening finally came and Abigail settled into a lonely chair at the end of her family's dining room table, an unusual text came in.
"So what are you looking for?" it simply stated. Chris was purposeful in his question.
She immediately understood what he meant, but decided to flip the question back. "What are you looking for?"
"Someone that loves the Lord to spend the rest of my life with. And you?"
Abigail leaned forward, amazed at his clarity and forthrightness. "That is what I am looking for too," she replied slowly. "Someone who loves God and can work together with me for Him."
Eagerly she awaited his reply. Christopher texted back. "Well it sounds like we might be a good match."
Abigail clung to this thought, fascinated by it's possibilities. Could it be?

That evening they had their first conversation on the phone. Abigail's mind raced with a thousand questions as she bit her lip through 5-second silences over the phone, marveling at his southern way of talking and straightforward answers, while Chris asked her every question that came to mind in the space of one hour, from what her favorite hobbies were to whether she enjoyed "crawdad fishing."
"Why yes, I do," she replied slowly with a peculiar expression, looking up at her mother and sister sitting anxiously on her bed nearby. "Just so long as they don't pinch me."

From the days onward, Christopher called nightly. Both asked every question they could think of, and then sometimes waited in silence as seconds ticked past and neither could think of what to say. Abigail was pleased to learn that Chris loved kids, and enjoyed being involved at his local church. They shared the same convictions on issues including music, dancing, women's ordination, abortion, and diet. She appreciated his sense of humor. Chris liked it that Abigail was a feminine girl but also caught frogs and hiked mountains.
I think we will have a pretty good idea after we meet, Christopher thought to himself, sinking into the couch after a long day of work. Though I already think we will make a good match.

As the days passed and the two talked each evening while on the phone, Abigail would scamper upstairs and Christopher would wander into the kitchen, both to update their parents on how each conversation went and what topics were discussed. Both were very close to their families, and would only proceed with the blessing of their godly parents if this friendship was meant to blossom into something more.

The North Meets the South

The Generation of Youth For Christ conference held in Orlando, Florida, proved to be an unforgettable one for the Cosgrove family, barely arriving in their hotel room when Christopher texted Abigail to let her know that he was on his way to the lobby to meet her.

Abigail frantically ran between her suitcase and the wall mirror, holding back both nervous and excitement. "Mamma, what is this person like?"
"We don't have long to find out," she commented.
"Eat a granola bar Abby," her dad urged. "You haven't had supper."
"I can't eat anything!" she exclaimed. "I'm too excited." Choking down a quarter of the bar nevertheless, she finally hustled her family out of the door and down to the lobby.
Everything seemed to be in a blur when her mother verbally exclaimed, "that's him," followed by a murmur from Amy who felt the statement was spoken too loud. Christopher leaned his broad shoulders against a lobby pillar, a grin slowly forming around the corners of his mouth. He immediately spied Abigail out of the little group, noticing her 5'2 stature and thinking that she was pretty. Although quiet at first, she was very polite and kind. He liked her.

Together the group made their way to the registration booth and ambled through the crowds of people. Christopher led the procession with long strides while Abigail's mother silently urged her to keep pace with him and think of something to say.
Shyly glancing to the young man walking nearby, she marveled that this was the person she had been talking to long distance, now in real life.

Along the way, the Duman parents recognized their tall son making his way through the crowd and stopped the little group, full of smiles as they in turn met the Cosgrove parents. After spending an evening strolling around the exhibit hall and through the conference center, Abigail reluctantly waved good-bye to Christopher as she and her sister Amy closed the hotel room door behind them. It was difficult to explain the growing excitement within her each night at GYC as she would give a report to her parents of the day's events. Observing and spending time with each other in person, a mutual respect and care was beginning to form between the two young people as parents supported and most importantly, God blessed.

They soon learned many things about each other. Chris was a tease. Abigail loved floating through crowds of strangers. His calm, steady, and confidant bearing gave her assurance with several challenges that arose during the conference. Her happy laughter seemed to make every day sunshiny.

They went on outreach together, spent time with each other's families, and continued to observe each other in person, but Abigail began to feel suspense. She appreciated it that Chris respected that they were friends getting to know each other for the specific purpose of deciding whether a relationship would begin, and had refrained from giving any verbal indications of affection. But now as each day passed, she wondered what he was thinking and tried to wait patiently for him to say something about their friendship.

One evening, Chris did ask the question.
"So what do you think of me so far?”
Abigail stood still, unsure of where to begin. “What do you think of me?”
He gave a little nod and a smile. “I like what I see.”
She replied shyly. “I can say the same."

Boyfriend and Girlfriend

Ensuring that neither parents had concerns and sure of his choice, Christopher asked Abigail to be his girlfriend. "I found what I was looking for," he told her gently.
She said yes. It was difficult to contain her excitement that evening - shocked at the change of events since November, amazed at the sweetness of being dear to one who had become so special to her, and praising God for leading in ways that she never could have imagined or dreamed.
“You know, it was a mistake that I ended up on the single’s site," she told him with a twinkle, "but it was the best mistake ever.”

Continuing their relationship long distance, they braced themselves for time when communication would be limited to the cell phone.

"I know that I have much more to learn about Chris," Abigail wrote in her journal as moonlight sparkled over millions of pure white snowflakes resting outside of her snug log cabin. "In the months ahead, our friendship will grow and mature, and become fruitful for God’s glory – I have no doubt. But for now I remain here in awe that the Lord made a simple mistake of my mother’s into a supposedly chance meeting and beginning of a friendship that would lead to a relationship that would change my life forever."

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Healer of The Heart

The two story farmhouse with faded paint breathes of memories and history from the old New England days, situated at the top of a winding driveway where cell phone service is nonexistent. Beyond stands a barn no longer standing and a weary lawn beginning to flair with green.

“There are a lot of people here,” my friend approached our car window in surprise at the number of cars parked on the gravel driveway. “She might not be doing very well.”

Cautiously we entered the house, slipping off shoes at the entry and walking single file down a near-silent hallway into the living room where a small child sat with his mother, shuffling matchbox cars across the dark wood floor.

The woman looks up after placing a finger to her lips and glancing down at the tousled mop of hair. “She’s in her bedroom.”

We have permission to enter. It is strange to be so near to a personal space of a stranger, etched with memories from decades, warm with the heartbeat of a still small figure dressed in a nightgown, and bathed with the tears of those who love her.

I can remember her face so clearly - resting on a white pillow, eyes closed, lips slightly parted, and breathing mildly labored.

Beginning to realize that in my 20th year of life I have barely touched on what it means to know pain and loss, I stand by the bed of the dying for the first time in my life and my voice blends with the others in my group to sing words that become deeper and richer with every moment: 

Healer of my heart, Lover of my soul
Keeper of the stars, the earth, the sky – come and make me whole
Savior of this world, my voice praises You alone
Healer of my heart, Lover of my soul

I see the young boy propped against a window sill, staring into thin air and wiping his blurring eyes. I see the daughter of the dying sitting nearby, eyes never far from the still figure in the bed. And I cry with them.

“I will see you on the other side, Helen,” one leans over the bed, a catch in her voice. Eyelids flutter as she opens her eyes. She knows we are there.

I am crying for a stranger. And I love her though today was the first and would be the last I saw her.


Tracing back the years, I leaf through the pages of my Bible to the beginning of time for our planet.

Lofty trees, branches bending with the weight of scented fruit shade the gentle form of a deer as she softly treads winding paths. Flowers dot a golden field nearby, and tall grass sways with the breath of the cool wind. Sturdy, but graceful vines grow upright, their trainable branches drooping with foliage and varied colors of fruit as the setting sun floods surrounding hills with orange glory.

I can see Him kneeling on a soft bed of moss, letting sweet water fresh from the river wash through His fingers and moisten the rich earth below.

This garden – it is for them. 

It is yet another token of His love, and meant to be their home for always. His thoughtful and purposeful heart made no mistake, and missed no opportunity to write beauty over the Eden landscape.

This home was made beautiful by the hand of God Himself. Holding unspoken dreams for the destiny of humanity in His heart, He welcomes man to the loveliness of this new earth.

And then a simple act of blatant disobedience blots over this beautiful dream in the heart of God. In humility and sadness the young couple take the last steps out of their garden home of innocence and joy. Adam turns to look back one last time as his eyes flood with blinding tears, shocked at the enormity of sin, the utter grief of death, and deep sorrow to leave his garden home.  

We can identify with Adam and Eve. We know what the ugliness of sin looks like. We have shed bitter tears, and experienced both pain and loss at some point in our lives. We beg of the Lord, “how long?” and urge Him to rescue us from the sorrow below.

But sometimes I believe we get so caught up in our grief that we neglect to consider the feelings of _His_ heart. What of this Creator Who tenderly formed mankind from the dust of the ground with His bare hands, and breathed into man's nostrils His very own breath?

He did not create us to know sin or the consequences of separation from Himself. Could His loss have been any less than that of His creation? What sort of sorrow did He feel in His heart when the time of the day came when He customarily walked and talked in the garden with Adam and Eve? Did He walk along its silent pathways still, grieving for a lost world? I wonder.

He created us to know only love, joy, and peace. He wanted our children to play in safety, love enduringly, and never know the pain of falling or thorns. He desired youth to find satisfaction through service and unselfishness, recognizing their worth in His eyes without ever watching them try to pick up the leftover pieces of their broken hearts. He designed the family to be united in love, unshakable in conviction, and never tears of parting or sharp words of anger. The ceaseless ages of eternity would roll past, and every day would reveal continual wonder and increased knowledge to children of the Heavenly Father.

We weren’t created to die. The Creator never wanted to see sad tears fall. (Yet I’m sure He cried before man ever did.) He did not purpose for us to feel one ounce of pain. (Though He felt every particle of it for us.) He didn’t breathe life into our systems for it to be snuffed out. (Yet He suffered death that we can live so that the grave can hold hope, not just bones.)

He may see fit to allow pain and sorrow. At times it may seem that He overlooks many a tearful moment marked with loss. We were never assured that we wouldn't have questions, but I can promise you this - He may not heal the body until resurrection day dawns, but He continues to be a healer of hearts.

And someday He will wipe away our tears forever.