January 29, 1983
As a chilly dusk-light settled over Chattanooga, a young couple was sitting beside “Jacob’s Well”, a fountain-and-bench quasi-alcove on the campus of the Christian college they both attended. The young man was different from every other young man at school in that he was the only male confined to a wheelchair out of a couple thousand other males. The young woman sat quietly on the cold stone bench as their conversation turned serious.
“I want to marry you,” he said without blinking.
She stared back at him, wide-eyed and measuring his words carefully, wondering if she should laugh at his little joke, or keep quiet and see where this might lead. After all, this was their first date! Curiosity got the best of her so she chose to wait. In his way of thinking, this was a good sign. That is, unless this is what a brain aneurism did to people…
He knew full well he had caught her with her guard down and though he hadn’t planned on it going quite in this manner, there it was. What to do, what to do?
“This year,” he pressed, clearly pushing the proverbial envelope closer to the precipice.
Still solid as a statue, she stared back, silently swallowing a sideways bar of awkwardness. Beads of sweat materialized on the young man’s forehead. Ironically, his watch ticked off seconds even though he felt time had instead stood still.
At long last, she spoke. “Aren’t you forgetting something?”
He checked his memory as if he were mentally patting pants and breast pockets in search of whatever ‘something’ it lacked.
“No, I don’t think so,” he managed uncomfortably. “I’m not sure I understand what you m—-”
She straightened her back and leaned toward him. “Do you love me?”
His heart, thinking itself already sentenced and heading straight for the guillotine and beating so loudly he could hear it in his ears, quickly relaxed. It realized that its target, so arrestingly in its sight, had surrendered. The damsel had been won.
He wiped his forehead with a still trembling hand, then a smile cracked free from anxiously welded lips.
“Oh, yes! YES! Of course I do!”
The overly-aggressive and slightly-touched male was, of course, yours truly. That was twenty-three years ago and the damsel who didn’t throw me into the well when she probably should have, is still the queen of my heart’s castle. Sandy and I were indeed married, and, as I had scripted, later that same year.
This month we celebrate the anniversary of that momentous milestone and I have not forgotten that meeting of the hearts at “Jacob’s Well.” I have learned my lesson, by the way; because she needs to hear the words, I still tell her “I love you” every day and more than once per day—and she rarely has to prompt me to say them! I still do not say “good bye” to her when hanging up the phone because I’d rather think of our lives as one long hello and never-ending conversation. Funny when you think of it, because neither of us even like the telephone!
Beside another body of water and many years earlier, another pair had a serious conversation (see John 21:15-17). One asked the other, “Do you love Me?” and several repeatings of it seemed to drive home the point that He would expect no less than the heart’s fullest attention and devotion.
Jesus was the insistent suitor in the story and Peter was the object of His pursuit. There were three phases in his discipleship and they run smartly similar to a phenomenon called courtship.
CURIOUS STAGE (call it ‘Dating’ or Courtship)
Peter first intersected with Christ after an invitation to follow Him. The crusty fisherman did just that and spent the ensuing months getting to know the Master of the waves, sea and heavens. He may not have been hot on His heels at first and at times coyly played hard to get, but, whether he knew it or not, from the start he was conquered. The fisherman quickly warmed and surrendered himself and any reservation fell away like a throwback fish, leaving himself wide open for the next phase.
COMMITTED STAGE (call it ‘Betrothal’)
Mind made up, heart given over and feet firmly rooted ‘til death did them part, Peter risked life and limb to stay with Jesus. His love was not yet perfect, but whenever Jesus showed up, Peter was usually jumping in water to be near him—even if it was higher than his head!
CAPTIVATED STAGE (call it ‘Consummation’)
For just a second, Peter’s head turned with one final look on the view behind him. Again, just like at the start of their affair (Matthew 4:18,19), Jesus leaves no wriggle room as he challenges Peter to follow Him—to his own death (see John 21:17-22). He hesitates. Wonders. Then turns back to the Lover of his soul and any vestige of doubt is forever erased. He has no choice now because he wants no choice. He is wholly captivated. To him, there is only one thing to do. Follow. Die. Live.
Thank you, Sandy, for a captivating love that urges me to be wholly captivated by Him, and that seeks not its own to the detriment of His way with me. Thank you for not making me choose. I hear your “Do you love me?” still today and “I do” still because He gave you to me to love. ‘Til death do us part…