Thursday, October 7, 2010

Exceedingly, Abundantly: The First Decade

This is the long version. I’m really not kidding. You might want to get a cup of coffee if you are going to brave reading this one.

It all started with an embarrassing moment.

We were at a college group progressive dinner. I really only knew Gil’s name, not anything else. The group was playing one of those acting games that can be very fun but finds humor at the participants’ expense. Gil and I were selected. We were given the “situation” of acting out a blind date.

Ugh. I love acting but hated this idea. Gil hates acting and therefore hated the idea even more than me. But we did it; we made people laugh, and then made no eye contact for the rest of the evening.

It was his first year at Master’s College, my second. Both of us had transferred in. Both of us had joined Faith Community Church. Later that first year, he went off to Israel for a semester and he never really crossed my mind. After Israel he traveled Europe and went on a missions trip to Spain, and his eyes were opened to the needs of the world.

The next fall, I was a student teacher and he was a senior. God had put a burden on my heart for a neighborhood right behind Master’s, mostly Spanish-speaking and mostly underprivileged. I had come from years of urban, ethnic ministry in San Jose and wanted to start something while at college. So I talked to my college group leaders, Lance and Suzanne, who were also very good friends and mentors to me. They loved the idea of starting up a Saturday kids’ club in that neighborhood, and making it a college group ministry. I agreed to lead it, but I told them I would be praying for a co-leader.

The next Sunday I passed around a sign-up sheet. (I kept it, because girls do that sort of thing.) Gil signed up, and then afterwards came up to me to talk about it more. He told me he was really excited about the idea. “I’m happy to help however I can,” he said, “Even if you need help leading it.” So God provided my co-leader.

It took me about six weeks to fall for him. And I fell pretty hard. He had a passion for God. He had started college at a state school but had transferred to Master’s because he wanted to major in Bible and go into full-time ministry. He was doing street evangelism on Friday nights. He adored kids and they had a magnetic attraction to him. He was full of life and energy and ideas. He had no ambition for money or success; only for ministry and missions. And he was very good looking.

We worked really well together. He was the dreamer; I was the organizer. We had the same philosophy of life and ministry. I began to worry that he would think I had none of my own opinions, because I agreed with him on just about everything! We saw each other all the time: college group on Friday nights, Kids’ Club on Saturdays, church on Sundays, Awana on Wednesday nights. Eventually when I got my credential and starting teaching and he graduated and started substitute teaching, he would often sub at my school and hang out with me during breaks. We were very good friends and he would often spend time with me and my housemates at our apartment.

I really liked him, more than any other guy before him. But he never asked me out. I didn’t think he was interested. But one day we talked about his philosophy of dating. Basically, that he didn’t. Date, that is. When he became a follower of Christ his freshman year of college, he was convicted that dating did nothing but pull him away from God. He hadn’t been without a girlfriend since about the third grade, so he figured it was time for a change. He knew he wanted to get married someday, and he wasn’t sure how that would happen if he didn’t date, but he decided to turn that over to God.

Meanwhile, after a year of knowing Gil, I started pursuing my lifelong dream to be a missionary teacher. I didn’t think he was interested, so I wasn’t going to sit around and hope things would change when I felt like God really wanted me in Africa. So I moved forward. I applied with our mission and was accepted. I went to candidate school. I raised all my support and got my Tanzanian visa. I was really excited about the prospect of teaching 5th grade at this little school called Haven of Peace Academy.

But then there was Gil. By this point we had been close friends for a year and a half. And I no longer could ignore my feelings for him. In fact, they were killing me. This wasn’t just a crush anymore; I knew him better than any other guy, we would spend hours on the phone, and he seemed right for me in every way.   But he had other female friends, and I thought maybe he was spending hours on the phone with them too.  I didn't think he saw me any differently than any other girl.

Finally I decided I needed to confide in someone. So I went to Suzanne, our college group leader’s wife. She had been teasing me about Gil for months, telling me that we would be perfect for each other, and I had always brushed her off. So on this particular night at the end of February 2000, I went to her house and poured my heart out. I told her that I thought I needed to pull back from my friendship with Gil because I just couldn’t handle it emotionally. By this point I was even going to his house every Saturday night so I could baby-sit the kids while he did a Bible study with his extended family. I was involved in his life in every possible way. And I just couldn’t handle it any more.

But Suzanne’s answer surprised me. “Pray about it,” she said. “If God shows you that he is the person you could marry, then continue the friendship. But if God shows you that he is not right for you, then pull back.”

So I did. For the entire month of March I prayed. And it was torture. Because over and over again, I got confirmation that he was the person I wanted to marry. Yet I didn’t think anything would come of it. And I was getting ready to move to the other side of the world in just a few months.

Meanwhile. Unbeknownst to me, Gil was having his own struggle. He had fallen for me as well. But he stuck to his plan of not dating and simply waited on God. As time went on, he too became more and more convinced that he wanted to marry me. But by the time he got to that point, he had a major problem: I was headed to Africa for two years and he didn’t want to get in the way of what he thought was God's will for my life. Plus, he really didn’t think I was interested. (I thought I was pretty obvious...but my Dad did always tell me I was never very good at flirting!)

By February of 2000 hit, he too was feeling tormented. He made an appointment to talk to Lance (our college group leader), but Lance kept him busy with so many other topics that the subject of Amy never came up. Finally Gil couldn’t stand it any longer. So on March 2, 2000, just two days after my little talk with her, Gil spilled his guts to Suzanne. She told him two things: 1) that he shouldn’t say anything to me unless he was sure he wanted to marry me, and 2) everything about her conversation with me two nights before.

So for the entire month of March, both of us were praying. The only difference was that Gil had the major advantage of already knowing what I felt. 

March 26, 2000, everything in my life changed. It was a Saturday night, at his parents’ house, after his Bible study. We were watching “I Love Lucy” and that’s when he told me. He started the conversation with, “I’m as sure as I can be that you are the person I want to marry.” And my entire world tipped and swirled.

Things got pretty crazy pretty quickly after that. After all, I was still supposed to leave in three months to go to Tanzania for two years, yet everything had been turned upside down. Neither of us knew what to do. Except that we knew we loved each other, that God had brought us together, and that we wanted to get married. We got engaged on April 30, 2000—almost exactly a month after we had started dating, almost two years after we had become friends. He set up a candle light dinner on the beach and proposed to me in the moonlight.

But nothing else was very clear. I knew that HOPAC needed me and that it would be really hard—if not impossible-- for them to find a replacement. I had a very strong sense of responsibility to them. We asked advice from many, many trusted friends and everyone had a different opinion. Three times I made the decision to not go to Tanzania and three times I changed my mind and decided to go after all. It was probably one of the hardest times of my life. Gil worked with me in the process but ultimately we knew that it had to be my decision.

Finally, I was convinced that God wanted me to stay in California and marry Gil, and not go to HOPAC that year. By this point it was May of 2000, and it was absolutely agonizing to tell the school. I knew they didn’t have a replacement; I knew that I was leaving them in the lurch. But since Gil wanted to be a missionary too, and we wanted to serve together, it seemed to make a whole lot more sense to get married and go together than to wait a year or two and serve alone.

It was probably one of the biggest steps of faith I ever made. But within a month after making the final decision, I found out that HOPAC had indeed found a replacement teacher. My intended roommate had found someone else to live with. The landlord of the house where I was to stay had found another occupant. Everything—Everything had worked out perfectly.

We were married on October 7, 2000. Nine months later, we were on a plane to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Me to teach 5th grade at Haven of Peace Academy, and Gil to work on a church planting team in the city (his call to HOPAC came later).

I love how God wrote our story. I had never been a big fan of dating; I always saw it as a necessary evil that was required if I wanted to get married. I remember telling my friend Anne in high school, “I don’t want a boyfriend; I want a best friend and then a fiancé.” Little did I dream that it would actually happen that way. Gil and I were able to get to know each other with none of the pretentions or pitfalls that come with dating. Our relationship was, and is, still based on friendship and ministry partnership. We got to know each other in a thousand different situations so there were very few surprises our first year of marriage.

When we became “official” and God was bringing us together, Ephesians 3:20 kept popping up in our lives. “Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think…unto him be the glory.” Because that’s what it felt like. Exceedingly, abundant grace, lavished on both of us. Ephesians 3:20 is inscribed in our rings. And today it has been 10 years.


Shelley Johansen Vinson said...

I LOVE that story, Amy...because God wrote it! :-) I remember you telling me about Gil while you were still working with him in kid's club. He sounded like such a perfect match for you even then when you had no idea! The next time I saw you was on your wedding day. I fought tears the whole time because it was such an amazing testimony of God's blessing on your obedience and willingness to leave your hearts' desires on the alter. I hope to share this story with my boys someday. I would be one happy mamma if they followed Gil's example of following Christ and trusting Him for a wife! Happy anniversary!!! 10 time has flown!

Alison H said...

Precious! Mine and brad's is similar! Our verse is Ecclesiastes 3:11, He has made everything beautiful in it's time. You and Gil are a testimony to that! Happy happy anniversary!!!

Carley said...

Oh, Amy! What an exciting story. I'm so happy for you both, especially that God's brought you here so I could be friends with you!

emily said...

What a beautiful story, Amy. I think you should write a book♥ I'm actually sniffling a little bit! I LOVE love stories.

Kevin & Robin McGee said...

What a beautiful story of God's perfect and loving plan for bringing you two together!! LOVED reading it!! Long versions of things are ALWAYS better, I think!! Thanks for writing it out and sharing it!!
Robin (Shea) McGee

Alyssa D said...

Ah, thanks for sharing this today. What a blessing to read. May Eph 3:20 continue throughout your lives.

Sarah Kompelien said...

I took your advice and grabbed a cup of coffee :) Didn't need it, though! Praising God today for the way He has and continues to work out His perfect plan in your lives!! You are one dynamic duo. Happy Anniversary!

Jen said...

I thoroughly enjoyed reading that! I hope my own kids can have the same kind of "non-dating" experience as well. Thank you for sharing your story! Happy Anniversary!

Anonymous said...

Wow! You guys have a beautiful story. I loved loved loved reading the whole thing!

Amanda said...

Excellent job telling a beautiful story! You'll be so glad you recorded all that. Now you just need to print it up in a blog book!

I need to do a similar blog post sometime to get Titus's and my story recorded for the kids. Thanks for the edification and encouragement on so many levels.

Melodie Monberg said...

Wow. What a story. Loved reading it today!

Jayme Solomon said...

Ahhh! I love your story! Congrats on 10 years together. It's amazing what the Lord can do!

Unknown said...

What a beautiful story! I didn't know that you got married on the day I met my husband. Happy anniversary!

Marisa B said...

Ah, Amy. Your account made me cry, at the sweetness of waiting on God (through the torture!) to discovering what God has for you. I love you both and am thankful for the impact you guys had on me while we were at FCC. Keep serving-- it's such a testimony of God's grace. :)