I could have never planned it myself. It was too good.
The year I met Ethan, I went to three different conferences. I didn’t plan it this way, there was no way I could have known what was coming. But after 3 significant milestone moments with Ethan, God whisked me away to a conference where He spoke words to my heart that were forming our path.
Ethan first introduced himself to me one Friday afternoon. I’ll admit, I liked him more than I wanted to. He was the first person to ever effortlessly crack my code and kindle my inner fire on the first conversation. It threw me off balance a bit—this stranger who connected with the under-the-surface substance of me. Within that first conversation, as I gathered intel about his character, I concluded that he was both classic and classy, creative and driven with intentionality (my first impressions only proved more true with time). Within minutes he had me talking about the things I am most passionate about, his questions unearthing the most important aspects of me. It was much more than I had anticipated, but I didn’t let myself get carried away. I had long prided myself on how well I could keep my female mind grounded, and I wasn’t about to start getting all googly-eyed now.
I ended the conversation with Ethan, ate dinner, and left for a weekend conference that night. As the first session began, I looked around at all my friends around me, each of them married. I was 27 and single with an impressively long stretch of dateless years separating me from my last romantic encounter. A loneliness that I NEVER let myself feel began to rise up in me as the worship team began the first set. Almost immediately, I apologized to God for getting distracted. I tried to push the “reset” button on my heart. I reasoned that I had no right to feel lonely, I had God, I didn’t need a man. I knew this feeling was surfacing because of the hope my conversation with Ethan had stirred in me and I didn’t like it. I hated feeling the desire, the need, and the opportunity it presented for disappointed hopes. I didn’t want to be distracted. I wanted to focus on Jesus that weekend. I wanted to get as much out of that conference as I possibly could. But in the course of that first set, God spoke to my heart and very clearly whispered, “It’s okay. Let the longing surface.”
At His words, I exhaled a long slow breath. He was giving me permission to look at and feel that thing within me that I never let surface. And in His words, I suddenly saw that the grounded focus I was so proud of, the resistance I had let lead my mind space for the past decade was actually not born of devotion, but fear. Actually face the loneliness? Let the longing surface? It was terrifying.
“Um, thats okay. I don’t need to. Thanks though God,” I said, attempting to circumnavigate the direction He was taking this.
But I felt Him press a finger to that spot in my heart. It was a surgeon’s touch, a parent’s guiding hand. It hurt. But it was love. “That.” He said with His finger pressed to my heart, “That is what I want to get at this weekend.”
And I knew I had to let Him. If I was going to let God have full access to my heart, I had to let the longing that Ethan had stirred rise to the surface.
The second conference that year was a month later, and as it would happen, less than 24 hours after my first date with Ethan.
I entered into our first date feeling pretty cautious and guarded. And even still, Ethan felt like a shot of life. It was a simple coffee house meeting that changed my life (read more about that experience here) and only a few brief hours later, the LORD whisked me away to Colorado for a conference called Restoration of the Heart.
The conference had a strong counseling component. I had wanted to apply for a trauma counseling position with an oversees non-profit at the time and when it became clear the God was prompting me to go to this conference, I had assumed it was training for this new job opportunity. Throughout the conference I kept trying to bring this job opportunity before the Lord, asking Him to speak into it. But over and over I felt Him gently tell me no as I held my assumptions up before him with raised hands. “No” He would say with a shake of the head and the slightest hint of a smile, and then it was as if He would point to something I had hiding behind my back and say, “I want to talk about that… I want to talk about Ethan.”
Over and over this happened during the worship set before each session would start. God was inviting me to bring Ethan before Him, to talk about all that was developing in my heart with Him. And eventually I realized that if I wanted to follow where God was moving in my life, it wouldn’t be with this counseling job and the non-profit that He kept saying no to. But God’s movement in my life in the days to come might just have something to do with Ethan. Eventually I set down the job I had thought that I wanted and I reached behind my back and raised all the place in my heart where Ethan had taken up residence before the LORD at that conference. What He did in my heart there will, for now, remain between He and I, but let me just sum up by saying, I have never been the same.
And that brings me to the third and final conference of that year.
A short three months after meeting Ethan, he and I were in love. I knew he loved me, even though he had not yet said so.
Ethan had been opening up a lot, taking us to new levels of emotional and mental intimacy, but I was having trouble reciprocating. Long held patterns of keeping my guard up and protecting myself from disappointment were hard to override, even though I deeply wanted to let him in.
One day I was sitting at work shredding papers, when I began praying about the date Ethan and I had planned for the evening.
“LORD, help me take my guard down” I had prayed, “show me how to be unguarded with Ethan,” I paused a beat before continuing my prayer, “…I hate that,” I admitted to the LORD after a moment’s reflection, “I hate that word, unguarded.”
In my mind unguarded looked like dropping my shield and being suddenly and irrevocably exposed. What’s more, it felt like a duty, like something I was expected to do to earn his love. I kept picturing a dejected soldier, shoulders slumped forward, a gray oppressive sky overheard, and a resigned shield-drop that meant certain death. “I do care for him, LORD, I just don’t want to be exposed like that. Isn’t there way for me to open my heart to him and still feel protected?”
And as I sat there shredding papers, the LORD spoke to my heart, and I heard the words “How about unveiled?”
Unveiled. The word hit me in a completely different way than unguarded. Instantly, as soon as He had suggested this new word, I thought of the verse that says, “We all with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord…” (2 Corinthians 3:18).
No longer did I see myself as the defeated solider standing in the carnage of battle. With the Word unveiled, my spirit was transported to the secret chamber, the most holy place. The light shifted from oppressive gray to a honey-gold glow. I imagined unveiling my myself, not just to Ethan, but to God too—giving both of them my heart, not as a duty, but as a gift. To see and be seen. To know and be known. All that I am, all that I kept veiled, was mine to give, not in order to earn love, but because I loved. I trusted Ethan with my heart, he would handle it well. And now that the Lord had exchanged my shoulder-slumped-solider-stance-of-one-resigned-to-die for the posture of a lover, inviting my beloved further into greater joy and love and intimacy, I finally had the courage I needed to open my heart and let him in.
On our date that night, in an evening the provided more fun than I knew a human being could have, and following a valiantly unveiled conversation, Ethan held me close and told me he loved me for the first time. And I loved him back. I might not have known how if it hadn’t been for the picture God had given my earlier in the day, a picture that took my broken inner world and rearranged it into something right.
Yes, my God is brilliant in all realms of life, and romance is no exception. The Holy Spirit makes an amazing dating coach–His brand of love puts all others to shame.
And as was true to our pattern, God had scheduled me for a conference immediately following every new level of intimacy Ethan would lead me into. First the introduction, and then the first date, and now this. Less than 24 hours after Ethan had first said, “I love you,” I was on the road for a rendezvous with my God, this time, I was sure that He was planning on speaking to my heart about Ethan.
I didn’t know what the theme of this conference would be—no one knew until we got there and the speaker walked out and said, “the word God gave me for this gathering is ‘covering’,” my interest was piqued. Covering… sounded a bit like a veil. Could this conference possibly unpack this idea of unveiling a bit more.
As the speaker went on, my heart accelerated into thrilled palpitations—I could barely stay in my seat as she began to explain this theology of covering and uncovering or veiling and unveiling that is seen throughout Scripture from beginning to end. She explained that God wants to cover us, to dignify and to shield, but we can only be covered by Him for that which we have uncovered before Him. Like God clothing Adam and Eve in the aftermath of the Fall, He wanted to clothe me with love and Christ and a garment of praise. Like God being Abraham’s shield, He wanted to protect me, if only I would trust Him enough to get under His covering.
Throughout that conference God began to show me that this idea of unveiling my heart before someone trusted who loved me wasn’t just intimacy, but it actually would put me in position to best be protected. I began to see that dynamic that God wrote into the male-female story was indeed a picture of His own heart.
I thought again of 2 Corinthians 3:13 ” we all with unveiled face beholding the glory of the Lord”, if I did not unveil myself to God, I would not be able to see Him with clarity—to behold His glory. And it followed, if I did not unveil my heart to my earthly man, I would always see him through a sheen of fear and shame. I needed to behold him unveiled, brave, vulnerable to one day get under his covering in loving, trusting submission.
God was just getting started. Each of these defining moments with Ethan, and each of the three weekend getaways with God that followed were working together to shape our story, to form my heart into one that God could entrust a very certain calling to.
“The kingdom of God is like this,” He said. “A man scatters seed on the ground; he sleeps and rises—night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows—he doesn’t know how. The soil produces a crop by itself—first the blade, then the head, and then the ripe grain on the head. But as soon as the crop is ready, he sends for the sickle, because the harvest has come.”
-Jesus Christ, the Gospel of Mark, Chapter 4