Dread consumed me, my heart pounding like the beat of an execution drum. I sensed in my bones that today would not go well. It all started about a week ago…
My best friend Kelly, the pastor’s daughter, had emailed me (oh the notorious emails! Whatever happened to face-to-face communication??) and was asking to go over something of a serious nature with me. She wanted to bring her dad with her. I asked her if I had done anything against her personally and she denied it, being very vague and saying that it was something she wanted to discuss with her parents and mine both present. Greatttt. Another drama filled “being called to the task” meeting about some stupid controversial topic, no doubt. I couldn’t fathom what it might possibly be. I dreaded the meeting because after multiple times of situations like this, both my parents and I had about had our fill. We were reaching our wits end.
Our doorbell rang and my heart jumped. There was Kelly with her dad in tow looking very serious. She held two pages full of notes in her hands. Two pages?? Oh bother. Anxiety and dread was making me sweat with nervousness.
Kelly, her father Neil, my parents, and I all took a seat at our kitchen table.
“Well Lotte, I’m sure you’re wondering what all the fuss is about?” Kelly smiled in a subtle, condescending tone.
I nodded wordlessly, wringing my hands under the table.
Kelly looked down at her two pages of typed notes and I knew I was in trouble.
For the next 2 hours, she proceeded to “lovingly” chastise me for the way I was handling my budding relationships with guys. According to her, I wasn’t “guarding my heart,” I was not submitting to my Dad’s headship enough, my Dad was not doing his job like he should, and I was being inappropriate by mentioning anything guy related to my friends. She also worried that I was more concerned about finding a wealthy/attractive guy than caring about his character and integrity. (Never mind that I had just dumped a rich guy because I found him lacking in character. We’ll just ignore that.)
My parents and I were frozen into silence at this verbal onslaught. But Kelly wasn’t finished. She continued to challenge my father regarding his handling of my guy relationships and proceeded to thrust her complex ideas of how a romantic relationship SHOULD be onto us.
Emotion roiled in the pit of my stomach. I felt sick. My hands began to shake and I gritted my teeth.
Kelly rambled on. With every sentence of condescending, opinionated correction, my anger burned hotter. How DARE she, a mere 15 year old, challenge my FATHER regarding his handling of our family affairs? It was purely her opinion, she had no Biblical reference to back up her chastisements. It was a mere difference in opinion, she believed in all her 15 years of wisdom that relationships should be handled one way and I wasn’t doing it exactly perfect. Fury, hurt, humiliation, and sadness threatened to tear me apart.
How could she know so little about me? Give me a TINY molecule of credit! We have done nothing wrong! We are so ultra conservative! I’ve even had chaperones on my dates for crying out loud! How could she think so little of me and how could she dare to sit her little self down in MY house and challenge my FATHER?!
Finally, Kelly had spilled everything she had typed up. She was met with utter silence. I looked at my parents, the shock in my eyes mirrored in theirs. I remained silent as well, for fear if I opened my mouth I would blow a verbal gasket.
Dad patiently addressed everything Kelly had accused us of in the most nutshell way he could. He was kind and gracious and I marveled at his moderate response.
When I finally could speak, I forced myself to thank Kelly for sharing her opinion and that I would consider what she had said. My parents politely wrapped up the conversation, and we escorted Neil and Kelly to the door.
Even after a week had passed, I still struggled to wrap my mind around the full implications of these astonishing presumptions. I could not believe Kelly had the audacity and pride to try to correct me for these imagined faults when I was 3 years her senior, as well as insinuate that my Dad wasn’t doing his job by allowing me to have a relationship with a guy. I was completely insulted, humiliated, and furious because of how she disrespected my Dad.
I felt like I was going to be sick. This was it. The final straw for our family’s friendship with the pastor and his family. We couldn’t take this constant micromanaging any longer. It was over. We quietly withdrew from our beloved church and began the long search for a new one.
My heart was broken. I lost my friendship with Kelly. I lost all my close knit church family. I was alone again in the church world. And yet, I was FREE! Free from the spiritual abuse and manipulation, free from the constant harassing emails and condescending remarks, free to be ME. Do you know that feeling of being oppressed so bad you get used to it until you’re out from under it and then you fully realize how bad it was? That was how we felt. Despite the heartbreak of leaving the church we had loved, once out from under Pastor Neil’s oppressive thumb, we began to flourish.
Every day, I woke and felt like my spirit was taking deep breaths of cleansing, purifying air. I didn’t have to worry about watching every word I said for fear of being judged or raked over the coals anymore. It was liberating. I relished my newfound freedom and with my freedom came a renewal of my self-confidence.
My steady flow of online guy attention continued. Now there was a new kid on the block, and his name was Mark. I felt solid in my bones that this was a good one. Everything about the way Mark communicated with me felt artless, inexperienced, genuine, and sincere. We exchanged messages, became Facebook friends, and set up a day to talk on the phone for the first time.
I was a little nervous as I waited for the phone to ring. First time phone conversations were always awkward. At last, the phone rang and I answered.
“Hullo Lotte!” His voice sounded young, with a subtle country drawl.
As we exchanged pleasantries and our conversation continued, it became more and more awkward. Mark stammered a few times and finally let out an embarrassed laugh.
“What is it, Mark?” I asked, giggling.
“I’m just a bit nervous is all,” he admitted. I could almost hear him ducking his head in embarrassment.
How adorable! I thought. His honesty was refreshing. “I’ll tell you a secret…I was nervous at first too.” I giggled.
He let out a sigh of relief. “Well now, that makes me feel better!”
I carried the weight of the conversation, making an effort to draw him out and filling in the silent spaces where he ran out of things to say. With awkward starts and stops, and him talking over the top of me, it made for an interesting time to say the least. After about 45 minutes, I was talked out.
I excused myself, said goodbye, and hurried into the kitchen, eager to tell Mom how my latest convo had gone.
Mom was busy making enchiladas and I jumped in to help as I filled her in on my phone conversation.
“That poor guy!” I giggled. “He was SO nervous! I was at first too, but he told me that I was the FIRST girl he’s ever talked to on the phone! Man that must have been nerve wracking!”
Mom grinned. “He was probably so flustered he could barely think straight!”
I thought back to my first phone conversation. “I’ve talked to several guys on the phone now, so it’s getting easier for me, but the first phone conversation I ever had? I was SUPER nervous. Poor Mark. He was so likeable though! I can tell he is as green as they come and it’s kind of endearing. Not that I have any room to talk…” I laughed. “Mark seems like just the kind of guy I’ve been looking for. He is solid, godly, uncomplicated, inexperienced, and respectful. Like putty in my hands.” I made a molding motion, like I was forming a pottery dish.
“Lotte!” Mom shook her head in mock disapproval, unable to keep the smile off her face at my shenanigans. “Be careful with Mark. He probably would fall for you pretty easily.”
I sobered instantly. “I will be careful. I never want to hurt anyone. I am really hopeful about Mark. He seems a lot like Dad. And you know what they say about girls marrying guys like their fathers…”
Mom rolled her eyes and smiled. “True that! Keep me posted on how it goes!”
A cool breeze gently lifted my hair, blowing loose tendrils against my face. I closed my eyes and sucked in the fresh cold air, gently rocking on the wooden swing I sat on. Back and forth I rocked, languidly swinging my legs to keep the motion going. I felt at peace. Winter was turning into spring, the ice storms transitioning into refreshing rains. Taking a deep breath, I drank in the smell of damp earth, fresh cut grass, and the sprouting hayfield which lay next to my house.
My phone vibrated in my pocket, startling me. I fumbled to pull it out of my jeans. It was Mark calling. “Hello Mark!” I said cheerily, leaning back in my wooden swing.
“Hullo Lotte!” I could hear the smile in his voice. “What’re you up to?”
“Oh I’m just outside sitting on the swing. What’s up?”
“Actually, I had a question for you…” His voice trailed off and I could tell he was nervous.
“What is it, Mark? Shoot!”
My encouragement seemed to fortify him. “I have news, actually! My Dad and I are making a road trip to visit some family and we have some friends in Missouri we’d like to see too. Our friend Debi actually lives in the city so we will be nearby. Would you like it if I came and saw you while we’re there?”
Surprise coursed through me. “Why yes!” I exclaimed excitedly. “I would love to meet you, Mark! It would be great to spend some time with you in person. When will you be coming?”
As we worked out the details of the upcoming visit, an idea formulated. It would be cool if Mark and his dad could stay with us! It would save them a lot of money too. Just need to get the okay from my parents. I bid Mark good bye and within the hour had an answer from my parents. They had no problem with Mark and his dad staying with us over the weekend.
When I told Mark, he was thrilled. We were two excited teenagers, hopeful our budding friendship would turn into something more. I marked my calendar, crossed my fingers, and prayed that the visit would turn out well.
It was warm and humid, the air sticky and making my clothes cling to my skin. There wasn’t a cloud in the bright blue sky. I took a deep breath, savoring the scent of fresh hay in the field nearby. I dangled my feet on the wooden swing, slowly rocking while I waited for my phone to ring.
Today was the day! Mark and his dad Terry would be arriving any minute. I looked my best, wearing a long flowing skirt and a white ruffled blouse with sandals, exposing my pink toenails. My face looked fresh and my hair softly curled around my shoulders. Luckily, I had been blessed with clear skin, a gift from my Portuguese mother.
My phone buzzed and I jumped. It was Mark.
“Lotte! We just got here! We are parked in the Sonic parking lot.”
“Perfect, let me have my mom give your dad directions.”
I couldn’t help but be slightly embarrassed that I was unable to give the directions myself. Being directional had never been my strong suit. The fact was, I could get lost in a paper bag. I was known for getting turned around easily. Everyone, and I repeat, EVERYONE had tried to help me become more directional. Despite my best efforts, there was no fixing me. I was like Jack Sparrow from Pirates of the Caribbean with his compass that wouldn’t point north. My internal compass would point at things, it just wasn’t north and south! Chances were, if I was asked which direction I was going, and I guessed the exact opposite of my original instinct, I stood a pretty good chance of being right. Yeah, it was that bad.
Mom hung up the phone and turned to face me. “They should be here any minute! They’re probably on the driveway now.”
I was nervous. I have absolutely no idea how this is going to go. Mark seems like the perfect guy, but we don’t have much chemistry on the phone. Still, a lot of people are awkward on the phone. Maybe he will be better in person. I fidgeted on the couch. Patience was not my strong suit either.
A forest green Nissan truck pulled into our driveway and I jumped up, excited. “They’re here!”
My heart pounded as Mom opened the door and I saw Mark and his dad for the first time. Mark was on the short side, the same height as my dad, but without his broad shoulders. He was thin, his buzz cut military hair covered by a white cowboy hat. He wore classic blue Wranglers and cowboy boots and a well-worn T-shirt. I looked deep into his eyes, smiling welcomingly.
Mark’s eyes were hazel like mine. He smiled back, and a small dimple appeared. How cute! He smiled a little half smile, quirked up in the corner. I immediately liked him. Words sprang to my mind as I looked into his eyes. Country, clean, kind, conservative, straightforward, shy. Mark impressed me. I gave him a hug and we welcomed the pair into our home.
Terry, Mark’s dad, was loud and opinionated. It was quickly established that he knew everything and to challenge his opinion as being flawed was utterly futile. As he went off about politics and how President Bush was ruining America, Mark and I exchanged amused smirks. My phone vibrated in my pocket and I pulled it out.
Sorry about my Dad, I know he’s rather vocal about things. The green text bubble flashed across my phone.
I stifled a giggle. It’s ok. Want to go outside or play a board game or something?
Board game sounds fun. Or how about you play some piano for me? I’ve been wanting to hear you play.
I blushed and smiled shyly up at him. We excused ourselves from the table and went into my brother’s room. A Yamaha piano sat before us, and the games were all stored in containers under Derek’s bed.
“Play some piano for me, please Lotte?” Mark smiled, that adorable dimple appearing, and I couldn’t resist.
Shyly, I asked, “What shall I play for you?” I named several popular movie themes and Christian songs.
“Play whatever you like!”
My heart pounded as I picked the theme from Pride and Prejudice and settled onto the bench to play. My hands shook with nervousness as I creased the music sheets in front of me. I closed my eyes, and took a slow deep breath. As I let it out, I began to play.
The world around me faded away, my shaking hands steadied, and I lost myself in the lilting enchantment of the music.
As I played the last chord softly and the sound faded away, I eased my fingers off the keys to turn and look at Mark. His face was the picture of ecstasy. I sighed with relief.
“Oh Lotte, I don’t know how you do that!” Mark grinned. “You are AMAZING! I’ve never heard anyone play like that!”
“Really?” I blushed. “Thanks Mark!” His words made my day. I rarely received compliments on my playing, other than from my family, and somehow those didn’t quite count as much. Biased opinion and all.
Derek tugged out a box of games and we chose Life. Sitting on the floor in the living room, we were soon engrossed in the game. The day ended pleasantly, and we all retired to our rooms.
The next day we made plans to spend the afternoon in the city. My Grandma was in the hospital again due to dehydration. She was elderly and her diet was poor by her own choice. Unfortunately, this had happened before. Mom was going to visit her and she had given me permission to drive around with Mark in the city while she visited Grandma. I was elated with the opportunity to hang out with Mark alone and unescorted. Mark had made such a good impression on both my parents, they said they were comfortable with us being alone.
We hopped in Mark’s little green truck and stopped at the gas station to fill up. I studied Mark as he pumped gas. His white cowboy hat was tipped down over his face. His scrawny frame was unimpressive, and yet there was understated strength in his hands. He had worked hard on his parents’ ranch before joining the Navy. His hands were callused and work roughened, his face and arms showing a clear farmer’s tan.
I leaned against the vehicle and smiled as Mark looked up at me.
“So Lotte, what kind of engagement rings do you like?”
The question came out of the clear blue. I froze, so startled I was speechless.
Mark flushed bright red. “I-em-you don’t have to answer that. Sorry.”
I giggled. “Uh, it’s ok. I can tell you if you want to know.”
The tips of Mark’s ears even were red. “I-uh-well, I was just thinking and the question popped into my head. See, back home I have a jar with money in it and I wrote on the jar “My wife’s ring.” I was thinking about that and was curious what you might like.”
I grinned at his boyish youthfulness. As green and inexperienced as he was, there was something endearing about it. I felt very sisterly towards him. Sisterly? That isn’t exactly romantic! My inner skeptic chided. “It’s ok, Mark,” I said, smiling at him. We climbed back into his truck and headed to the city.
We reached to the hospital and quietly made our way to the room where my Grandma was. She was much improved, to our relief. Mark was the perfect picture of respect and good manners. My Grandma took to him instantly.
“You come back now and see me soon, ya hear?” She smiled at us and waved as we left.
Mark and I decided to explore the nearby grounds of the school campus which were beautiful and green this time of year.
As we walked, time dragged by. I tried to make conversation but Mark was quiet. Though he responded to my questions, it failed to spark the flowing conversation I desired. Our talking started and stopped and he interrupted me constantly. This is painful. My inner skeptic tapped her foot impatiently. To be honest, despite my appreciation and fondness for Mark, as far as romantic attraction was concerned, he was striking out.
I suggested we head back home to get some food Mom had waiting for us. The drive back to my house was painfully awkward. The silence felt deafening. It’s not like I need constant conversation, but SOMETHING would be nice! Just a few words here and there! My inner skeptic rolled her eyes.
I was relieved to pull into my driveway.
Dinner was a Tex-Mex casserole that was delicious. We all bowed our heads as Dad said grace and then dug into the food eagerly. Conversation flowed comfortably around the table with my parents, my brother, Mark, and his dad.
“I met someone with a funny name today!” Derek smirked with amusement, rolling his eyes.
“What was his name?” I asked.
“Branch! Of all things! Can you imagine being called Branch?” Derek shook his head.
“How about brick?” I giggled. “Brick, branch, bridge, they’re all about the same! Weird!”
“Yeah, remember Gwyneth Paltrow or some movie star named their kid Apple?” Mom grinned.
“Yeah and I heard someone in our homeschooling group named their kid Arwin recently,” I raised my eyebrows. “Granted, they get points for originality, but how would you like to be called Arwin?” I pointed to Mark and giggled.
“I would hate it!” Mark said adamantly. “What names do you like, Lotte?”
“Oh, I have lots of names I like, but if I have kids I want to name them original names. Not so original they get made fun of like Branch or Arwin, but something cool and unique. I always liked the name Boaz in the Bible, maybe Bo for short. Nobody ever names their kid that.”
Nods went round the table.
“So Mark,” Mom asked, “What kind of names do you like?”
Without missing a beat, Mark replied, “Well, I guess if I had a son I would name him Boaz.”
Both Mark and I simultaneously turned beet red.
Laughter echoed around the table before Mom artfully turned the conversation elsewhere to not prolong our embarrassment. I was more amused than embarrassed to be sure. Mark tended to speak his mind, even if sometimes it came out in a forward manner. It made me feel like I could trust him.
Another day passed filled with awkward silences and random comments. Though Mark didn’t exactly annoy me, as the weekend came to a close, I was disappointed to realize that I was ready for him to go. Despite how much I WANTED to like him in a romantic way, my feelings were very sisterly towards him at best.
The time arrived for us to say goodbye. I walked Mark outside to sit on the swing for a minute and talk. I knew he would be wanting to know how I was feeling about him. I dreaded having to tell him.
We slowly swung back and forth on the swing. “So Mark, I’m sure you’re wondering about what I think of you and about us?”
He nodded, soft hazel eyes fixed to mine.
“I have never been so impressed with a guy, Mark. You seem like everything I’m looking for. You are godly, kind, have a good sense of humor, and we are very similar in our convictions. The problem is—” I wrang my hands. “Despite how much I WANT to be, I’m just not attracted to you in a romantic way, you know? I really like you in a sisterly way and I respect you, but at this time I’m not romantically interested in you, I’m sad to say.”
His face fell. “Oh.”
I reached up to squeeze his shoulder. “Mark, I’m sorry. I’m not saying it will never happen. I am saying that in this time that you’ve been here, I’m not interested in you in “that” way. Still, it doesn’t mean it will never happen. I want you to go on with other girls, don’t wait for me. By and by, if my feelings change, and I hope that they do–” I smiled at him, “I will tell you.”
He sat silently for a long moment. “I’m sorry to hear that, Lotte, but I understand. You pay me a great compliment in what you said.” He shrugged. “Who knows! Maybe in time, I will be that dashing cowboy you can’t resist!” A tentative smile quirked the corner of his mouth.
Ugh, screw my flighty romantic inclinations! I wish I liked this one! My inner romantic sighed with disappointment. Still, I had to follow my gut, and my gut said no to romantic attraction.
We bade Mark and his dad goodbye.
Watching that green Nissan truck roll down our gravel driveway, my heart hoped against all hope that someday, I could learn to love that sweet, scrawny cowboy. Time would tell.
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