I recognized him right away. He was dressed in a burgundy button down, the sleeves rolled to the elbows, his black tie made him look distinguished, his five o’clock shadow gave him a rugged edge. He had blond wavy hair, a perfect profile, and denim eyes. It would be the first time we would meet in person.
I had only seen one photo of him before that moment, but this wasn’t exactly a blind date. The stakes were already higher than that. I stood by the door a moment longer and watched him, wondering if there would be chemistry with this handsome, kindred spirit. I was already confidant that if we had met under different circumstances this dashing film teacher and I could easily have grown up as best friends. A month of long conversations shared almost daily over the phone leading up to this date had convinced me of that. I was slightly terrified that I was already in over my head.
I was wearing a blue dress that I had boughten for this very occasion. As I approached, Ethan turned and smiled when he saw me. He hugged me, and I took note of how perfect his height was. I noticed some nervous energy as he turned his full attention toward me, and somehow I found even that an adorable contrast to his otherwise authoritative and calm demeanor.
We sat outside the local coffee shop in early March. I had ordered a mint tea to calm my nerves while Ethan sipped his coffee looking entirely too debonair, his blue eyes taking me in from across the table. It took us a minute to find our footing. There is a strangeness in meeting a friend in person for the first time. I already liked him too much to maintain the nonchalance of a stranger. And yet it was like we were meeting all over again, this time face to face. But the strangeness lasted for only a moment, and then we fell into step.
There was something alluring and electric in the way Ethan’s eyes locked on mine, seeing further, taking in more. There was movement behind his eyes, the stirring of a vast world I had only begun to know, the constant turning gears of a brilliant man on the verge of something genius. Sitting across from him and meeting his bold gaze felt like watching sunlight reflect and refract off the ocean’s surface—it was mesmerizing. And every once in awhile, the light would hit just right and I could see the waters were deeper and there was even more life within them than I had imagined; my heart thrilled at the thought of diving into those depths.
But I was scared—scared of getting hurt, scared of deception, scared of loosing my objectivity, scared of what it would mean to actually be with Ethan, who by nature of simply being who he was challenged me to be wholehearted. I tried to keep a safe distance, to stay a little aloof. Ethan was being cautious too, I could tell, but still without even trying, it seemed he reached in and turned a knob to a secret door inside of me, a door most people just pass by without a second glance. Many times I had even lost the key or had forgotten the way there myself, but Ethan was inside before I realized what had happened. And he didn’t scoff at what he found inside or walk past with a dismissive shrug. He took his time, observing, enjoying, connecting. We began to talk about our favorite movies and novels and what kind of brilliance earned their spots as our favorite. We even dared to divulge some of the details of our own storytelling projects, the inspiration and the elation, the mistakes made and the lessons learned.
I found myself suddenly eager to write again. The fact that Ethan brought out this hunger to tell stories in me was unnerving, because up until then, I had felt like a failure in this category. Perhaps that why this door was locked again, and if it wasn’t for Ethan I might very well have thrown away the key forever.
I had committed several years of my life to the attempt of a novel, I wrote 400 plus pages, went through several drafts, but never completed anything that I was satisfied with. The novel had been like a beast I had never tamed. And since moving back to the desert and starting a new life here, I hadn’t told many people about this passion and failed aspiration. But here I was talking to Ethan about it—and not my frustration, but my joy in it. Ethan had swung the door wide open and without even meaning to, he was giving me permission to enjoy this side of myself, a side I often felt much disdain for.
Though I longed to create worlds and inhabit them with characters, and though I felt the constant call of God in that direction, I struggled to view novelist or filmmakers or any kind of storytellers as people with any real sense of purpose or mission in the world. I was terribly double-minded about the whole thing because I knew God often, strongly urged me toward writing, and met me there. In fact, up until I had met Ethan, the years that I had spent attempting to write a novel had been the most intimate time I had ever shared with the Lord. He had spoken tenderly and powerfully to me there, shaping my soul and showing me Himself. But still, to me writing, especially fiction, seemed so frivolous when there were real problems in the world. How could I, in good conscious, commit time and effort to sitting alone and banging out a story on a keyboard when there was a real world with real problems that I should do something about? And yet, I could never get very far away from writing, it was my own way of keeping my sanity, of praying and worshiping and understanding if there was any meaning in a thing or not.
When I was a very small child, before I could read or write, I remember filling lined paper with a repetition of connected loops pretending that I was writing a story. One time, after hours in my father’s classroom where he taught, I found myself an old cardboard box. I was in Kindergarten and had just learned my letters. I could not yet read, but I was desperate to so that I could finally write things down for myself. I took that cardboard box and scooted right up next to the one computer in the classroom and painstakingly recreated the keyboard exactly as it should be onto the flap of my box. Then I drew a square into the box to create the frame of a screen and spent many happy days after that tapping my fingers on my cardboard computer, writing whole worlds into existence that no would ever know.
By the time first grade rolled around and I had learned how to read and write, look out world! I had been unleashed. It has taken me many years to reach the honesty and natural rhythm in writing I seemed to possess in first grade.
By second grade and a series of events and corresponding statements over my life, I rapidly began to feel boxed in, misunderstood, and unappreciated both as a person and as an artist. I still wrote, I don’t think I could stop even if I wanted to, but everything was tainted now by this fight to be seen and heard. Stories no longer flowed from a place of freedom and exploration, now the words seemed to fight their way into existence, born out of a cynical defiance. Never a rebellious child, I revolted against the mold and expectations handed me through a boldness found only in the written word, most often times secret written words, that no one else would ever see.
Nearly twenty years later, it was out of this toxic mix of hiding and fighting to be heard that I had attempted to compose a novel. No wonder it wasn’t right, nothing born from such a severed mind could be. And yet, God had met me there, in the words, the story, the characters, the scenes. He had met me there. And there were moments when I was profoundly and irrevocably falling in love with Him and had great hope for where my life was going and why He had invited me to write this story.
But through it all, I was also in a constant wrestling match with Him. The struggle always coming down to this one point, I was terrified that I would end up like so many writers I had heard about, disappearing from reality to create worlds where incredible things happened and love is always found and good always wins, meanwhile their actual lives are a depressing tale of tragedy and ruin. I would write, and even after the brilliant scenes, I would grow agitated and begin to wrestle God, always with a statement that went something like, “I don’t want to sit in my room and write something better than I can live. God, if you can’t write my life story to be far and above better than anything I can come up with in my own mind, then I don’t want it. I don’t want any of it!” The words coming out in the growling tones and panting befitting a wrestling match.
In the middle of all this novel-writing and God-wrestling, The film, Saving Mr. Banks came out and I went to the theater to see it. It is the story of P.L. Travers, the woman who wrote Mary Poppins. The film exposed the fact that Mary Poppins, a rather delightful childhood favorite of mine, was actually a story born out of great family distress that in reality ended quite tragically. In Saving Mr. Banks, the composers and the author are trying to figure out a satisfying ending scene for Mary Poppins, and thats when they come up with the song “Let’s Go Fly A Kite”. This is actually a very happy scene in Saving Mr. Banks, a turning point for the character of Ms. Travers, but as I sat in the theater watching that scene, I wept—a most inappropriate response to such a happy scene. I was back at the wrestling match again. You can’t just write a new ending if you don’t like yours! I was silently yelling at myself and writers everywhere. You have to face reality and it is so much harsher and colder than what we’ve imagined for ourselves. So distraught was I by this thought, that maybe writing was simply a way to escape an unbearable reality, that I struggled to finish writing my story without a great amount of turmoil.
But by the time of my first date with Ethan at the local coffee shop, all that writing and wrestling had been more than two years ago and I hadn’t touched the manuscript since. Whats more, I rarely allowed myself to think about it.
That is until Ethan.
It was like Ethan was opening the door to that place of freedom where really good stories are born, the place I used to live in before I adapted the belief that the world was much harsher and colder than I had imaged. Ethan was ready to explore any creative opportunity, and in a way, it was as if his exploration dignified my own. He connected with the thoughts I usually felt I had to fight through to be understood. And even when he disagreed with my opinions, he never shut me down, he opened me up, he wanted to hear, to understand where I was coming from, to know me deeper, experience the many facets of me. The more he got to know me, the more I seemed to come alive in multiple dimensions. He didn’t try to figure me out, sum me up, and put me in a box that was manageable. He unleashed everything about me.
It was into this that God showed up on our first date, in the cool desert breeze outside the coffee shop. Ethan was asking me questions, getting me to open up and share about my fiction. Rather than get frustrated about my failed attempts, I found myself suddenly enthralled with everything I love about the writing process, recalling the transcendent nature of writing a character’s unfolding storyline. I don’t remember everything I said, but one sentence remains very clear, for it is the line that God chose to respond to.
I looked into Ethan’s blue eyes and caught the slightest hint of a smile playing at the corner of his mouth as I said, “I love it when the characters start cooperating, taking on a life of their own, and the scenes seems to write themselves, like you are watching it happen, marveling at how its unfolding, even as you are writing it down.”
…And then in a transcendent moment unlike any I had ever experienced before, God’s presence was suddenly palpable. I believe God is always with me, but He showed up in that moment in a way that felt like He was parting time and space to do something important and personal and so tender. In a moment He was all around me like the breeze, only it was something so much more than the weather or my new feelings for Ethan, of that I was certain. My breath caught in my chest. I didn’t know why God was showing up just then, but it was stunning and beautiful. And then God reached down and caressed my face, (I have never experience anything like it before) and He spoke to my soul in that moment with more love and tenderness than I have ever experienced and He said, “Me too.”
Me too?…What did this mean? Does God loves writing stories too? Did it mean that God loves it when the characters of His story are cooperating and taking on a life of their own? Did I dare think that God actually loves writing my story and marveling at how the scenes are unfolding, just as I feel when I am writing a story? And if that were the case, then what could He accomplish with a cooperating character, for God could surely out-write anything I could think up or imagine.
That moment has stayed with me as something I have pondered and treasured countless times since that day at the coffee shop. What did He mean by it? Why choose that moment to pour such love and affection on me? What was so important about storytelling between us that He would affirm this in such a profound way? And did it have anything to do with Ethan… why did He choose this moment to make me so profoundly aware of this point of resonance between the three of us?
I packed a bag and left that night for a conference in Colorado. It was a long road trip from California to Colorado and back and I had many silent hours in the car, most of which where spent thinking about that single moment when God showed up on my first date with Ethan.