Every night you visit me. Sometimes in dreams. Sometimes in nightmares. I dream of you as I wish things to be. We go on picnics, to bible studies, praying together. Everything is as I desire. Then I dream of your loss—a nightmare of your inevitable rejection. It is deceitful, starting out as a dream as it devolves into a nightmare. You approach me with those loving eyes, your hands in mine as you begin to slip away. The nightmare worsens as I am left in darkness while you pretend I don’t exist as I suddenly grow older and older, decaying into a corpse, dying alone.
As I wake up from the nightmare, I cannot help but conclude that is my fate—to die alone after your inevitable rejection. For who in this dark world would have the audacity to love me? When I wake up from the dream, I have hopes of you loving me, but they are short-lived. I remember it is impossible for a godly beauty such as yours to be even remotely attracted to me.
“Hey Lenny, you okay?”
I look up from my laptop, slightly unfamiliar with my surroundings until I remember I’m in the college library. The sight of her beautiful face brings everything back into perspective.
“Yeah Grace, I’m fine.” I see the doubt in her face as she just looks at me. “Okay, I’m not fine.”
“What is it?”
Should I tell her? We’ve been friends for several years now. No, I cannot. I fear she wouldn’t understand. She would only pity me. I can’t open up much to her. When you tell a girl you’ve been friends with for a while that you have feelings for her, she always rejects you because she can only see nice guys as being friends, nothing more. I learn that time and time again.
“Don’t worry about it,” I tell her.
“Right.” She didn’t believe me. I didn’t expect her to. “How’s your essay coming along?”
I look up from my laptop, regathering my thoughts prior to my daydreaming. “It’s going all right. I’ll have to go back to my introduction in a bit. It’s the worst part for me—trying to come up with a clever way to make your topic and argument interesting and worth reading.”
“I know what you mean.” She closed her laptop and said, “Well, it’s almost five thirty, so I should get home.”
“All right. I’m gonna finish my essay before I head home.”
“Really? You’ve been doing homework for hours, Lenny. Give yourself a break.”
“It’s not like I have anything else better to do,” I said, reflecting on my sad loneliness and pitiful existence.
“Whatever you say. I, however, do have better things to do.”
I chuckled. “Like what?”
“Like binge watch Breaking Bad on Netflix and drink wine, that’s what.”
I laughed. “Yeah, that’s real important.”
“It is! It’s important work to give your brain a rest.”
I looked at my screen, saved my Word document, and said, “Can’t argue with that.” I closed my laptop. “In that case, I think I’ll head home too.” But truthfully, I just wanted to spend more time with her by walking her to her car.
Grace smiled. “Good. You work too hard.”
I shrugged. “Meh, sometimes I think I don’t work hard enough.”
“It’s all about perspective, Lenny. You work harder than most.”
We put the rest of our things in our backpacks, put our coats on, and started walking to the commuter’s parking lot together.
Grace was looking at her iPhone as she said, “Wow.”
“What is it?” I asked.
“Someone else on campus just got engaged.”
“Seriously? After nine months of dating?” I shook my head.
“You know how Bible college is. People get engaged here like it’s the end of the world or something.”
“Or they’re just horny and think they’re in love.”
“Also a possibility.”
We walked in silence for a bit until Grace had to bring up an awkward subject for me.
“Say, Lenny, pretty much everyone on campus has dated at least one person while they’ve been here. Heck, I’ve had three boyfriends since I’ve been here. Practically one for each year. Yet you haven’t had a single girlfriend. Why is that?”
“Well clearly nobody’s interested. It’s not like I haven’t asked anyone.”
“Which I don’t get. You’re really nice, smart, good looking, and you’re going to be a pastor! What isn’t there to like?”
“There’s plenty not to like, Grace. Look at the types of guys these women date here. I’m not the overrated Christian guy who plays guitar and sings in worship bands. I’m certainly not muscular or fit either. Neither am I extroverted”
“So? You have a lot more going for you, like your kindness, intelligence, your godly traits, and you don’t have to be fit to be attractive.”
I shrugged. “Maybe I’m just overqualified.”
She giggled. “Yeah, maybe that’s it.”
“I dunno. Sometimes I’m afraid to let anybody in. There’s multiple things to it. For one, I’m going to be a pastor, and that’s intimidating to a lot of Christian women, believe it or not. To those types, they foolishly think they’re not good enough for me or they’re afraid of people judging them as a pastor’s girlfriend or wife.”
“That’s because they’re selfish,” she cut in.
“True. There’s also the fact that there’s nobody—at least for me—who is willing to just pick up their entire life and come with me to seminary or my first call. Who the heck would do that for me? Then there’s my dark past that may scare some of them away. For one, you’re one of very few people who know I’ve killed people when I was in the army.”
There was a short silence. “And the second?”
“What?” I asked.
“You said, ‘for one.’ What’s the second?”
I saw my car in the distance. “We don’t have time for that.”
“Come on, Lenny. Why do you keep dodging?”
“Because darkness is contagious.”
“Well, some day you have to be willing to open up to people who care about you and wanna help you carry the burden.”
“That’s the thing, Grace.” We stopped at my car. “I’m afraid my burden may be too heavy for them.”
She sighed. “Well, I suppose I can’t force it out of you. Neither will I try.” She got out her keys. “I’ll see you tomorrow, okay?”
“Of course.” I said.
The following day began as each day begins. I’m walking to my first class as I see Grace’s beautiful brown hair swaying in the breeze, like a goddess who controls the wind and uses it just for the purpose of advertising her extravagant beauty. Every sight of her captivates my thoughts. As her beauty holds me prisoner, my thoughts travel nowhere. They never turn sexual, nor do I fantasise. My thoughts suddenly focus on nothing but her beauty. The way the sun makes her hair glisten, how her smooth dark skin shines all by itself, and how her hazel eyes are like tiny galaxies. It is as if her eyes are a universe in themselves in which it is easy to get lost. Then my thoughts turn to the sound of her smooth voice—how she talks gently to others and cares for them. How she offers to pray for someone and actually means it. Then she eventually sees me, forcing me to abandon all thoughts about her and say:
“Good morning, Grace.”
“Hey Lenny,” she smiled. “Ready for our exciting history class?”
“Definitely,” I said sarcastically.
After our history class we went our separate ways as I heard someone from behind me say, “You should ask her out.”
I turned around to see my best friend, Dan.
“Tch, how many times are you gonna tell me that?” I said.
“Until you finally do it.”
We started walking to lunch together. “She’s gonna say no,” I told him.
“How do you know?”
“If experience has taught me anything, it’s that women like that don’t end up with guys like me.”
“Ha, guys like you?”
“Yeah. Guys who are disabled veterans, all around average, and too much baggage with no promise of living in one place for the rest of your life since I’m going to be a pastor.”
“I can understand how that may be intimidating to some,” he said, “but they’re idiots. And honestly, not very loving as a Christian since love bears all things and endures all things. If a woman can’t get past all those things—which they really aren’t that bad—then she’s not worth it.”
“You know I know that. I’m just tired of facing rejection all the time.”
After lunch and my last few classes, I went to my usual spot in the library with Grace there. I sat and continued working on my essay from yesterday as she worked on her calculus.
After a while, Grace said, “Did you hear that U.S. forces raided Ben Mdala’s base this morning and was killed?”
Ben Mdala was dictator of Nigeria. He was an extremely violent, evil man who tortured anyone who would not subjugate to his rule. If you were Christian, he gave you the chance to recant your faith in the Lord and if you didn’t, you were crucified. The U.S. Army and Marines have been searching for his base of operations for years, and today they finally found him and killed him.
“Yeah, I heard.” I said.
“It’s amazing how America is celebrating his death, especially since America could care less about the persecution of Christians. Have you seen people’s Facebook posts?”
“Yeah. I’ve seen: ‘Rot in Hell, you bastard,’ ‘It’s about time,’ ‘Kill the rest of his family,’ and other crap. I find it quite repugnant.”
“Really?” she said. “Why’s that?”
“I realise more than anyone how evil he was. I mean, I fought in the last war; I know what evil is like. But like all human beings, he was still created in God’s image. The Scriptures say in multiple places that God’s desire is that the wicked should turn from their evil ways and live in Him. Beyond that, Jesus commands us to love our enemies and pray for them. And yet we have been wishing for his death, not praying for his repentance, and now people are rejoicing in his death. I can’t help but think of Proverbs 24:17-18.” I got out my Bible, opened to the verse, and read, “‘Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and let not your heart be glad when he stumbles, lest the LORD see it and be displeased, and turn away His anger from him.’ Sure, God’s justice has been established, yet His desire was for him to know Him, not to kill him. While it is certainly a happy day for the oppressed, it is also a sad day because this man will never get to know God. I dunno. As a future pastor, I can’t believe anything other than all death being tragic, especially if one does not know God.”
Grace just looked at me, not with judgement, but… admiration? I couldn’t tell if I said something wrong or completely unattractive. I probably completely ruined my chances with her.
Then she said, “Lenny, you have such a good heart.”
“What?” I said, astonished.
“Where others are rejoicing in this evil man’s death, including myself, you are sad because he died not knowing our Lord and Saviour.”
“Yeah, but my heart’s not all that good.”
“Stop being humble for a moment,” she said. “You know that I don’t mean you’re good like God is good, since no one can be good. But you do have a godly heart. You have a heart after God. That’s the kind of man I want.”
“Ah, well, I hope you find him.”
“Dang it Lenny, I have to say this.”
Uh oh, this can’t be good, I thought.
“I think I have found him,” she said. “I think he’s you.”
Am I dreaming? Is this a dream where she accepts me? Or is this a nightmare where she pretends to accept me, but later rejects me?
All I could say was, “Seriously?”
“Yes. Look at the facts. We’re both confessional Lutherans, so we agree on doctrine and virtually every point in politics. We have the same sense of humour. We get along very well, even when we’re mad at each other. We’re intellectually compatible… Every time we’re together, everything just flows so easily. There’s never any tension. I can always just be myself around you. I just don’t know if you feel the same and I feel like an idiot for saying all this.”
Is this seriously happening right now? I never thought she was even attracted to me, let alone be the one to open up about it. Even though she just confessed her feelings to me, I’m still afraid to open up to her about my own. But this is what I want, so I have to.
“Yes, Grace,” I finally admitted. “I’ve felt the same about you for a long time.”
“Really?” she said.
“You have no idea.”
We sat in silence for a moment until she said, “Well, what do we do now?”
“I guess this means we go on a date.”
She laughed and said, “I suppose that would be logical, wouldn’t it?”
The following night we went on our first date. It was literally a dream come true. It was so surreal that I felt I was in a dream within a dream. I have long desired to hold her soft hand, and tonight I got to do that as we walked into Applebee’s.
After we ordered our drinks, she said, “So, after all this time, you never thought to tell me how you felt?”
“Oh I thought about it a lot,” I said. “I was just always afraid to.”
“I’ve been rejected a lot, so I assumed from past experience that you’d just do the same. After all, rejection is all I have ever known.”
“Well, for one I’m glad you were rejected, otherwise we wouldn’t be here.”
I laughed. “I suppose you’re right.”
She took a sip of her lemonade and said, “Still, though, it seems as if something is still holding you back. What is it?”
She was right. There was still one thing.
“Okay,” I said. “There is something. I’m very selective about whom I share this with. Although upon further reflection, it’s not as bad as killing people in the army, yet it hurts more. And if we’re going to be together, it’s best I be honest with you.”
“I’m listening.” She said patiently.
“I got engaged seven years ago.” She looked surprised. “Several months after being engaged, I left for basic training, which she had known about before we got engaged. While I was at basic training, she married another guy I don’t even know and got pregnant with his kid. I didn’t find out until a month after I graduated basic training when her best friend called me and told me what was going on.”
“Oh my gosh,” she said, heartbroken on my behalf. “That’s horrible!”
“Yeah. I guess from that experience I’m just always afraid that’ll happen again. I mean, she actually did love me, but her fear about my military service overcame her and somehow thought it plausible to marry some guy without even telling me. Her actions aren’t logical or plausible in any way… I’m just afraid that even though I may be loved again, I may never be loved enough for someone to stay, especially as I continue along my path towards becoming a pastor.”
Grace grabbed my hands. “Lenny, it is absolutely horrible what she did to you, but I’m not her.”
I looked down at the table. Of course she’s not her, but how do I know she won’t be like her?
“Look, Lenny,” she continued. “I know the burdens that come with you being a pastor and even the burdens as a pastor’s girlfriend or wife. It doesn’t scare me. I can’t tell you what your ex-fiancé was thinking, but maybe she had some unresolved issues with you enlisting. If so, that’s her fault for not communicating with you. Maybe that’s why the fear got the best of her. But I’m telling you, I don’t have any unresolved issues with you becoming a pastor. In fact, that’s the most attractive thing to me about you. Your heart for God will only make you a better pastor. And I understand you have baggage. We all do. But Lenny, as a future pastor you should know that love bears all things. I will bear everything with you. You will never have to bear your burdens alone.”
Two and a half years after that night, I left for seminary. We got engaged after a year and a half of dating and got married two months before leaving for seminary. Grace kept her promise. She bore all my burdens with me—a truly remarkable, strong woman of God. We went through the stress of moving to St. Louis together for seminary, I bore her burdens when her father died, and she bore mine when my mother died. After I was called to my first church, the Lord blessed us with two beautiful children—our son Josiah and our daughter Sophia. Grace never left, neither did she ever think about leaving. We bore everything together, and we endured through all things together. Next to God’s infinite love and grace, there is no love greater for a man than the love of a godly woman, whose name for me was Grace.