Fast forward to 2003. I was 22, and my family spent a week of our summer vacation at an island off of Portland, Maine. Ryan had helped us find the spot, and then spent the week showing us around, playing tennis with Dad, and going off with my brother to do insane things like jump off piers into frigid Maine ocean water. We were all thrilled to see him, our long-lost brother. (With the exception of a couple of two-day visits here-and-there, we had not spent time with him since 1999, and so it was like a family reunion.) He and I talked and talked and talked, in between walks and ice cream and swimming and shopping. Between the ocean air, the cute house right on the shore, relaxed time with my family, biking, and a week with a favorite friend, it was decidedly one of the best times of my life.
When I got home, it was like Ryan and the family had reconnected. We began to email regularly, and soon he had, upon Dad’s invitation, planned a several-week visit to New York. During those few weeks, our friendship was rekindled, and I continued to value him as a brother. He read Scripture passages to me, and I played songs I’d written; we once again shared our love for the Lord.
But it was not without its struggle, especially at this stage of the game, now that I was no longer 15, but a young woman. Our age difference, which always seemed vast to me, was closing up, at least in the eyes of the watching world. My conscience was clear regarding our friendship, and yet, I was aware of people’s perception and torn. An excerpt from my journal:
Working out our relationship is a challenge for both of us as there is a depth of genuine love that we cherish, and at the same time a standard of distance between genders. Mostly, Lord, I don’t want to cause offense to those watching in the way we relate…”Do the hard thing”–my motto. Don’t just choose what’s lawful, but rather, what is profitable. Strive for holiness.
My relationship with Ry bears much fruit in my life in terms of passion for giving all. And yet, this life is not about relationships that benefit me. There are good things that must be given up for the sake of the gospel. Just because it’s available to us doesn’t mean it’s God’s best for us. There would be nothing hard in discipleship if we never had to make hard decisions. . .
“So death works in us, but life in you.” — 2 COR 4:12
He returned to Maine for a few months, and then in January, 2004, he moved to Potsdam. He and Dad had decided that, for the sake of the things in his heart for the future, it would be good for him to spend another season at Christian Fellowship Center, being a part of the church here before moving out to those things. I was thrilled; my best friend Lore had just left for Guatemala, and that left me friendless. I was sure that the Lord was providing for me. What a surprise was in store!
First, I should say that I had accepted an invitation to live in China for one year, starting in August. (My decision about school had freed me up to do quite a bit of travel, including a couple of weeks to China, where I fell in love with the brethren who live under such harsh persecutions of an openly antagnoistic and anti-Christian government.) I didn’t know what exactly living in China would hold, but I was eager to move on the next thing. And so between January and August, I was simply going to work at what my hands found to do, knowing I’d be out of here soon.
February 6th–maybe I won’t always remember that date, but it sure is burned in my memory right now. That’s the morning I first was told that Ryan was interested in me. Ryan Dunphey, interested in me. I remember my world suddenly spinning out of focus, my mind grabbing anywhere at anything for some sort of sense, and then crying. Crying and crying and crying. My only thought was, “How could he do this to me! He was my friend! And now it’s ruined! Now what?!”
For weeks I was as confused and undone as I’d ever been. There was frustration that this had happened; I’d hoped for “clear sailing between now and China,” (as I told Lore.) There was the daunting realization that this wasn’t just “not again,” but Ryan was a real and viable option, and I needed the word of the Lord. There was simply total shock as I tried to absorb this truth which I had had absolutely no prior indication of. And most of all, there was the exhausting struggle in my heart over whether or not I was meant to remain single. I was not the girl who had decorated her kitchen ten times over, named all sixteen of her children, and designed her vegetable garden seven different ways, all before the age of twelve. Nope, that wasn’t me, and this took me totally by surprise, knocked the wind right out of me.
I knew how to pray, and I knew how to hear from the Lord–that’s what I kept saying to myself. And so when I read Proverbs 4–“Let your eyes look directly ahead and let your gaze be fixed straight in front of you…Do not turn to the right nor to the left.”–I wrote it down, memorized it, put it on my wall, and told Dad that I would just go to China as planned and see what the Lord would do as I purposed to move forward. I was determined to not be distracted by even the question of what could be, convinced the Lord was big enough to figure my life out.
But that was much easier on paper than it was in real life. Real life was that this person I’d counted a dear friend was still a regular part of my life–only at some point I knew that he’d know that I knew, and when that happened, it wouldn’t be business as usual. Sure enough, the months following was full of awkward moments, trying to just be friends without talking about too much more than the weather. In the meantime, my heart was still in a whirlwind, a tailspin, trying to figure out what was going on in my secret place of desire.