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Saturday, May 7, 2016

THINK AGAIN

"Now abide faith, hope, love, these three;
but the greatest of these is love.
Pursue love."
(I Corinthians 13:13, I Corinthians 14:1)

 

 

You think you have this love thing figured out?  Think again.
You think you know what it's all about?  Think again.
You think it's about roses and taking her to dinner? Think again.
You think if you treat her nice, it makes you a winner.  Think again.
You think it's just hand holding and sweet talk?  Think again.
You think it's smooching, and going for a walk?   Think again.
You think it's a big wedding, with lots of invitations and cake? Think again.
You think it's perfect with a honeymoon at a luxury island escape.  Think again.

Think of a love so big, it can't fit in your heart,
but spills out all messy-like, off the chart.
Think of a love that runs so deep, you can drown,
chest deep, over your heart, over your crown.
Think of a love that's so full, it hurts real bad,
An ache even when happy, or whether you're sad.
Think of thinking of someone all the time
Whether you fret or think stuff sublime.
Think about dirty dishes and birthing a baby,
And keeping up with the bills, barely, maybe.
Think of how love doesn't take a day off.
love's not for weaklings, believe me, don't scoff.

So you think you have this love thing figured out?  Think again.
You think you know what's it's all about?  Think again.
It's kissing, and hugging and sticking around,
It's undying faithfulness in which blessings abound.
It's more than giving compliments and going on a date.
It's a choice to commit that makes it great.
It's everything including all of the above
It's not just a part, but giving all of your love.

c.j.
 

 
Emma relished how the sun was soaking her hair, her shoulders, her back with heat.  But it was the guy on the riding lawn mower who brought heat to her face as she walked across campus.  He tipped his straw cowboy hat up until it perched jauntily on the back of his head and watched her.  It was as if  he was drinking her up to quench a thirst as she went by.  When the roar of the mower sputtered to a sudden stop, Emma braved a glance back.  He had driven it right into the bushes.  Straw hat guy dared to meet her eyes with a crooked grin and with his hand lifted to the guilty bush as if to say, "You made me do that."  She couldn't hide her laugh behind her hand.  Emma went on her way shaking her head.  Crazy guy!  He should look where he's driving.

From then on Emma could never miss him.  It was like "Where's Waldo" with a straw cowboy hat in a sea of college guys in baseball caps.  He especially stood out when she walked into her new semester class, Intro to Marriage and Family Therapy.  His straw hat stood out like a sore thumb.  There was something else she couldn't miss, his girlfriend walking him to class and kissing him on the cheek for all to see every single day. 

Men!  What right did he have to look at her the way he did while on the mower that day since he already had a girlfriend?  Emma scorched him with a look after that whenever his eyes sought her out.  Now if he glanced at her, it was only a quick stolen sideways glimpse at best.

Emma went to the big church just off campus, mainly because that's where her friends attended.  A guy from her Intro to Marriage and Family Therapy class had begun hanging around her, introducing her to his buddies.  He was a friendly type, nothing more.  However before one service, Joel encouraged her to come sit with him and his friends.  Before she knew it, she was sitting  sandwiched  between Joel and straw hat guy, minus the hat while in church, of course.  His girlfriend leaned over him and gave her best plastic smile. 

"Hi, my name is Lorna.  This is my daddy's church.  And this is my boyfriend Jed," she said while holding his arm in a death grip.  "Isn't Joel the sweetest thing to invite you to sit in our pew.  It's a good thing there is room today because it's usually far too crowded to squeeze in another soul."

"Thanks."  There wasn't anything else to be said for such veiled rudeness.  It was crowded enough, that was for sure, so crowded that her arm kept brushing straw hat cowboy's.  It was enough to make her swallow hard.  She had no idea why she had to blink tears out of her eyes as she sat stiffly between Jed and Joel.  She never heard a word the pastor said that morning, but had to admit she'd enjoyed singing next to the young men.  Their voices could rival any heard on the radio.  But then during the pastoral prayer, he let his arm rest against hers in a most disconcerting manner.  She opened her eyes to find him looking at her.  He grinned while she glared before closing her eyes in prayer again.  She could only pray, "Lord, help me!"

Emma tried never to look at him if she could help it.  That worked until the teacher started routinely breaking the class up into discussion groups alphabetically.  Of course, they were next to each other at their table.  Eventually Emma relaxed, and their group laughed together as much as they discussed marriage and family topics.  This straw hat guy Jed was really funny even about serious subjects.  But he had a sly side that unsettled her.



That's when he started passing her notes.  He would bump her knee then sneak her one under the table, put on a poker face and say, "What do you think?  Does this describe what love ought to be, you know the kind we are to understand if we are ever going to qualify to do marriage counseling?"  After that, all he said when he passed her another one was, "What about this one?"


 

At first she would crumple them in her fist, but she could not ignore them.  She had to read them.  Then she found she had to look up into his eyes.  He always held a question beneath his  arched brow and dark gaze.


 
 
She could only swallow hard and go on.  Once back at her apartment, she smoothed them back out again and slipped them into her Bible as bookmarks. 
 

 
It was too much.  She leaned over and whispered, "You should be giving these to your girlfriend, not me."
 
His breath was hot on her cheek when he whispered back, "She hates poetry.  Besides, I told her we're having a long overdue talk later today.  She knows why."
 


 
Emma was sure her cheeks were scarlet.  She had to be honest with herself.  It was wrong to have such feelings for someone else's boyfriend.  He was more than flirting with her, which he had no right to do, even if he tried to disguise the quotes as if  they pertained to the class and weren't personal. "God help me," she prayed harder every day and tried to sit beside anybody but him.  Yet, he kept saving the last chair for her where his knee would bump into hers, so he could pass another note under the table closing his hand around hers as she crushed them into a ball. 





"Have you noticed that most of the married couples on campus are ministerial students?  I wonder why that is?" Emma threw it out there one afternoon as they were supposed to address the optimal  age for dating, courtship, and  how that affected marriage. 

A heated conversation ensued.  Finally, Jed said, "I'm a ministerial student, and I'm not married.  Did I miss something?  Is it a requirement for the major or something?"

"You're as good as engaged, Jed, so you still qualify," Joel, one of his friends said.

"I'm not engaged," he slunk down in his chair.

"As good as, I said.  How long have you and Lorna been going together anyway?  Didn't you start dating while you two were in kindergarten?"

"We were in high school, and we're not engaged," he groused.

Emma was sorry she had begun the subject and tried to quickly change it, but Jed's friend would not let up.

"No, really, you must be the poster boy for the longest on record for going with a girl without putting a ring on her finger.  Isn't that a sign that  maybe you're not that into her?"

Jed straightened up and glowered at his friend.  "It's none of your business, Joel, so drop it."

It got painfully quiet for a minute.

"So you're a ministerial student?"  Emma tried again to redirect the conversation.  "Is that why you are taking this course?"

He looked at her as if she was challenging him then seemed to calm down.  "I guess.  It's just something I'm interested in.  I wish someone could have counseled my parents before their divorce.  Sometimes I think I'd rather do the counseling than preaching, and all that administrative and committee stuff.  At least then I could set the hours and not be at everyone's beck and call."

"Why don't you go for your MFT?  Becoming a pastor is a calling. I don't think many would choose that vocation just for the fun of it, that's for sure.  In a certain sense, everyone is your boss.  It's not an autocratic or even a democratic system.  I mean, because of privacy laws, a parishioner can say whatever they want about you, throw dirt on you, but you can never defend yourself by revealing their dirt."  Emma's brother-in-law was a pastor having a rough time of it with slander right now, and it rankled her.  Her sister had confided that he was considering leaving the ministry.

"When did you know you were going to be a pastor?" someone else asked casually.
 
"I guess I kind of grew into it since my youth pastor, my pastor, and my girlfriend always assumed I would be one since I've been a ministry leader in our church since high school.

That's not a calling!"  Emma's mouth had dropped open, and she couldn't seem to shut it now.  "That's expectation.  It will only set you up for disappointment and dissatisfaction."

Jed leaned forward on his elbows and searched her face to see if she was ridiculing him.  "Yeah, you're probably right.  I think that's why I'm exploring a MFT instead of going on to seminary, but I haven't admitted it to myself before now." He sighed.  "It will let a lot of people down if I  change career goals."

"Better now than later, Jed," his friend said.  "But I wouldn't want to be around when you tell your girlfriend.  She has her heart set on being a little pastor's wife."

The teacher had been walking around the room listening in to the discussions and now stopped at their table.  "This is good.  This is the kind of life-changing discussion guidance that is vital.  Good work, team.  Keep going."

Jed didn't appear to be enjoying sitting in the hot seat very much though.  "I appreciate all your concern," he said sarcastically, "but can we move on to something or someone else now?"

Emma decided to let others carry the discussion forward and sat back and tried to listen, but all she could think of was Jed's misery as he had talked.  When class was over, she put her hand on his arm before he could get up.  

"I'm sorry if it seemed as if I was attacking you.  It wasn't my intention."  He had a way of searching her face that brought a warmth up from a tightness in her chest.

"There you are!  I've been waiting while two are sitting here all cozy talking."  His girlfriend had chosen to walk in at that minute and was putting on a pretty pout.

Jed, glanced up then looked back at Emma.  "No offense taken.  I think you said what I needed to hear.  Thanks."

His girlfriend bristled.  "What could she ever have said that you needed to hear, Jed?  That's ridiculous!" She glared at Emma.  Emma realized her hand was still on Jed's arm and let go.

"I'll tell you later, Lorna," he said with a grimace.

"I think not.  I demand to know what business she has saying anything to you.  You have to tell me right now."

He looked so aggrieved that it caused Emma's heart to hurt.  "Okay then, I realized I'm not called to be a pastor,  if you really want to know.  I'm not suited to be a pastor.  I don't want to be a pastor.  I'm considering going into counseling instead."

"What!" The woman practically screamed.  "Of course you're going to be a pastor.  Everyone knows that." Then she pointed a finger at Emma, "How dare she say otherwise.  She's nothing to you.  What you do is none of her business."

"Everyone seems to know what I'm supposed to do, but me.  I'm finally realizing I'd better listen to God before y'all," Jed said through gritted teeth as he stood to leave.  Emma was standing also, hesitating, not wanting to walk by the angry woman.  They were the only ones left in the classroom.

"You're going to let that hussy tell you what to think?  Think again!"  The girlfriend was practically frothing at the mouth.

"That's enough, Lorna!" Jed was trying his best to control his anger, but before he could blink, his girlfriend slapped Emma hard on the cheek.  Really hard.  The sound of flesh hitting flesh was sickening.

He grabbed his girlfriend's arm.  "You have to leave, NOW!"  He led her out the door before turning to Emma.  "I can't tell you how sorry I am about that." 

Several who had gathered outside the door poked their heads in after hearing the commotion.  It was the slap heard 'round the department.

"Wow, she left her handprint on your face.  You'd better get ice on that." Jed's friend Joel had come back in.  "Are you okay?  That was so uncalled for."  One of the girls in their discussion group ran off to find an ice pack.  He frowned and went on, "Frankly, Lorna is jealous because she can feel Jed pulling away and evidently took it out on you.  I guess I shouldn't have heckled him today about her, but I hope this opens his eyes now.  She's had him under her thumb for too long."

Emma's eyes were still smarting.  She blinked hard not wanting to give into tears and could still feel the tingles where she'd been slapped.

"You could file assault charges against her," the teacher said who had rushed back into the classroom after hearing of the hullabaloo and examined Emma's face.

"No, it's over.  I don't want to drag it out.  Thanks for your concern though."  Even her jaw hurt to talk.

"Well, I'll have to report it.  I can't let it go unaddressed," the professor said.  "She'll have to at least be put on probation after this."

Jed's friend appointed himself as her escort as she walked towards the parking lot.  Emma could only think about leaving the campus and retreating to her apartment.  "I'm okay.  You don't need to walk with me any further."

But he kept her talking a few minutes more before they parted ways.

Emma made the rest of the way to her car, head down with her hair falling over her cheeks hoping no one else could see the mark on her face from the slap.  When she got to her car, she finally looked up and saw him waiting.  He picked his hat up off his head and ran his other hand through his hair.






"That was a giant wake-up call for me, but sorry it was at your expense. My girlfriend and I are done, stick-a-fork-in-it done.  I just broke up with her.  I've been thinking on it long and hard and praying for God to make it clear and today made it a no-brainer.  I'd already made my decision but was just trying to figure out how to do it with the least drama, then today happened. He stepped up and stroked his finger down her cheek. "Sheesh, she hit you hard.  That's going to leave a bruise.  Are you going to report her?  I'd back you up, you know."

"Thanks, but I won't.  I don't know what the prof. will do though."  She also wouldn't tell him how good his gentle touch on her face made her feel.  

He lifted her chin so he could gaze into her eyes.  I began thinking about breaking up with her when I saw you that first time.  There was something about you that sure caught my attention.  Honestly, I'd never looked at someone else before, and got busted by that bush."

Emma laughed remembering.  "Yeah, well, when I found out you had a girlfriend, I wasn't impressed and was thinking you got what you deserved running into the hedge like that.  It was your come-up-ins.  And then your poetry started..."

His look became tender.  "I am so sorry Lorna did that to you.  I've seen her anger before, but not anything like that.  It made my decision easy, that's for sure, even though I'd been  dancing  around it for awhile."

"I bet she'd be plenty mad at you now, especially if she sees you talking to me here." 

"I don't care if she does see me, as long as she leaves you alone from now on.  I realized that day I first saw you that maybe I wasn't all that into my girlfriend after all, just like my friend said today.  He's been after me to end it for awhile now.  It's just that my ex-girlfriend and I have a long history, and I had to be sure.  Our high school crush walked out the door a long time ago, but I was too thick to realize it.  You can't imagine how relieved I am, not just about her, but about admitting God hasn't called me into pastoral ministry.  It was like God was saying, 'Think again.'"

"Wow, that's two huge steps."  Emma's heart had been beating hard since the slap, but even more so now with the way he was looking at her.

"I'd like to take one more giant step," he said as he took an obviously nervous deep breath. "I'd like to ask if I can see you, you know, get to know you better, Emma.  You don't know how hard it has been to sit by you in class and not look at you or so much as brush up against you or touch you."

She wanted so badly to say that she'd like that too, but found herself saying,  "Maybe it's too soon.   You might need a little time to be single first, you know, to hang out with your friends, do guy stuff." She was giving him a way out.

"What if I don't want more time.  What if I only want to see you."  His eyes were soaking her up.  "How about if we at least go grab something to eat?"

"Now?"

"That's what I was hoping."  He was grinning at her in a big heart-stopping manner.

But her heart sank.  "I can't.  I'm meeting someone else right now."  Emma was kicking herself for telling Joel that she'd meet at the Burger Shack."

Jed turned around and was raking his hand through his hair again.  "I didn't think," he turned  back to her again, "I mean I've never seen you with someone else.  I should have realized..."

Emma wanted to blurt out that she was just going out with his buddy, but bit her tongue knowing that wouldn't sit well.  She didn't want to come between two friends.  She'd just caused him enough problems as it was.  But it had been over a year since she had gone out on a date, and longer since she'd lost her heart.  Now when she really wanted to go out with him, she couldn't.  She kicked herself for agreeing to meeting Joel.  She was sure he was just being nice after what had happened in class, that he hadn't meant for it to mean more than that.  At least she hoped not.

"Well, I'll guess I'll see you around then." Jed just tipped his hat to her and walked away.

Jed walked away as devastated as he'd ever been since he was a kid.  He was sure Emma had felt that certain something between them like he had.  He hadn't tried to attract a girl since a junior high eighth grade dance.  Lorna actually chased him in high school and had not let go, that is until he pried her claws off him today for the last time.
  
 "Okay, God.  I'm trying to listen to you here.  I've broken up with Lorna like you made abundantly clear was the right decision.  I'm more than good with that, relieved actually.  I've let go of trying to please anyone else but you and am seeking your will for my  life.  But please, I've never wanted anything as much as I want that girl.  Emma's, she's everything I could ever imagine." 
 
Jed wiped the back of his hand across his eyes shocking himself.  He had not shed a tear since he was ten.  That was when his father had walked out on them.  A deep longing gripped him.  "Okay, God.  I know I've got to put you first.  I'm just walking by faith here trying not to make rash decisions, but could you help me out?" He looked up into a silent gray sky while he rubbed his chest wondering at the ache.

The next day he was taking his frustrations out on the job as he was doing the campus lawn care.  After dumping the grass catcher's fullness into the dumpster, Jed had climbed up on top of his mower's seat and stepped into the huge bin of grass clippings and pruned branches to stomp it down as he was supposed to do, like he had done so many times before.  But giving vent to his feelings, he did it a little too vigorously, until the next thing he knew it had tipped over landing him sprawled out in a mess of cut grass and twigs.  He heard a giggle, and looked over to see Emma with her hand over her mouth trying her best not to laugh at him, but failing.
 
 He jumped up grinning.  If it made her laugh, he'd find another stupid trick to do any day.  "Hey there."  He tossed the grass which had landed in his hat over onto her head.  "So you think that was funny?"


 
He couldn't believe how good it was to see her.  She was still laughing as she combed  the grass out of her hair with her fingers.  Maybe they could sit by each other in class now without all the tension of yesterday, at least he hoped so.  But, of all the bad timing, Lorna walked by just then  giving them both the stink-eye before whispering something to her friends causing them to cackle like hens.  It grated on his nerves, but worse, it had wiped all the mirth from Emma's face and replaced it with a strained look.

"Guess I'll see you a little later in class then," he called as she was walking away."  At least she looked back over her shoulder and gave him a timid smile.

Back in their Intro to Marriage and Family Therapy Class, the small group discussion had been about how culture influences the dating expectations.  Emma brought up a book she'd read called, "What Our Mother's Didn't Tell  Us."


She didn't even glance at the note he gave her today, didn't even crush it, but left it lying on her lap untouched.


 

"This book is written from a secular view point but ends up with almost a Judeo-Christian understanding of how far we've strayed in society from what God intended for relationships.  The author talks about our expectations on women to go to college, to get a degree, to become settled in a career and then finally look for a relationship, marriage and family.  But what she found in her research as well as her personal life is that by then the average coed has gone through so many relationships, and sadly so many sexual partners, that by the time she's ready to settle down and find "the one," he's become elusive.    Most of the good available men her age have already been taken or are on the rebound from broken marriages. It was either that or they have found out that in the current culture, women are so easy to have without commitment that there was no need to settle down.  It's sexist I guess not to say that it goes both ways, but it really doesn't.  Then there's the whole abortion issue to throw in the mix as well."  Emma had blushed in the telling of the author's point of view but had bravely faced the issues.  He admired her spunk.

"Are you saying that women shouldn't get a degree or have a career but stay barefoot and pregnant?" someone asked. 

"Not necessarily, only if they actually want to make that choice.  Who are we to look down on women who choose differently?  We've made that sound like it's a horrible thing.  But the whole expectation, the other mold we squeeze women into may not be healthy either.  It's unrealistic to think that women can have it all, get an education,  get a career and pay for that expensive education--the tens of thousands owed--get married, start a family--by then her biological clock is ticking--and then be forced to continue to work away from the home when her desire might be to be a stay-at-home mom instead.  But it's hard to live on one income in a society with predominately two-income lifestyle expectations." 

The discussion was hot, especially from those who continued to hold tenaciously to the belief that women could have it all, regardless.   

But Emma was on a roll and kept going.  "That's another issue young couples face is the expectation when they are starting out that they should have a middle or upper middle class lifestyle like their parents.  Often it is a lifestyle that their parents had just begun to enjoy as their children became teens, so as their teens became young adults they assume that level of a lifestyle would just continue.  They forget that their parents had not always lived like that.  Living sacrificially or even simply isn't what they thought would happen to them. Then there is the unrealistic cost of weddings now in the tens of thousands of dollars to add to college debt." 

A discussion ensued whether kids were spoiled now more than in earlier times then it got derailed with talk of the cost of weddings.  The time flew by. 

Jed was quiet, just admiring Emma's bravery to express thought-provoking opinions, even unpopular ones.  It made his chest heat just to think that she was the kind of person who wanted to be a stay-at-home mom, one who wouldn't place unrealistic demands for an unsupportable   lifestyle, that she would be willing to live more simply.

It was always a worry in the back of his mind all the time that he was with Lorna, that she was used to more luxury than he would be able to afford on a pastor's salary.  Her parents were the exception, a well paid pastorate of a large church.  They spoiled her with pedicures, manicures, hair extensions and highlights, the newest phone or laptop, a huge wardrobe, nice dinners out and an expensive car to drive, expensive vacations.  Shopping was her hobby, one he knew he would not be able to support.  He had grown up in a single parent home where they had barely scraped by.  He was able to be in college because of scholarships, but mostly school loans, loans that would be hard to pay back on a tight budget.

Then there was the cost of a wedding.  Neither he nor his parents could ever afford the wedding Lorna would want.  If her family had to pay for it all, he'd never hear the end of it.  It was just one more reason he had been dragging his feet.

Then he looked at Emma as the class was over, and she was reading his note.  He watched as the blush rose from the heat on her neck up to making her cheeks as rosy as a sunburn.  She looked up at him with lips parted, lips he wanted to kiss in the worst way. 

After class he decided to go for a drive to try to settle himself down.  He'd been doing that a lot recently as everything Lorna had done over the past months had been rubbing him the wrong way.  His eyes were being opened, and it wasn't a pretty picture.  It wasn't all her fault exactly.  Jed was sure now that he wasn't in love with her and never truly had been.  She represented security.  Their relationship wasn't about passion.  He looked up to her father as a mentor, and  could see now that he had been looking for a man's approval.  Since losing his dad's, Jed was beginning to see himself as desperately trying to fill the hole, the one his father had created when he left.  His whole life, it had felt like a personal rejection even though he knew in his head it was really only between his mother and father. He was just a side casualty. 

Lorna's main attraction had been the way things had fallen into a comfortable rut.  Everyone seemed to make decisions for him.  They had even arranged scholarships for him that had helped him to be able to afford to go to college.  But this was no way to have a relationship.  He saw it now for the unhealthy thing it was.  It sickened him to see how weak he'd become under their strong personalities, especially as Lorna kept pushing him into a mold that made him feel trapped. 
 
Jed found himself parked in a place with a view overlooking the city, a place he liked to come to in order to think.  As it was beginning to turn dusk, lights blinked below, but cars started parking around him, mostly amorous couples who could care less about the view.  He slapped the steering wheel just thinking about someone else being with Emma. 

The look in her eyes after Lorna slapped her, the shock and hurt was seared into his brain.  It was all he could do not to shove Lorna away.  No wonder Emma needed distance from him.   He'd shown himself to have a wandering eye when he had looked at her that day.  And those poems!  He was an idiot.  But there had been an instant connection, a connection he should not have had when he already had a girlfriend, a girlfriend he had never truly desired.  He had not known what desire was until he saw Emma. 
 
But the more he drove around, the more he felt the need to see her.  Jed pulled into a parking lot and found his phone.  He'd asked Joel to get her number for him, and he had by calling the church office like the good friend he was.  Jed looked at the time.  Eight o'clock.  He was dying to know who she had been with and if she was with that person again tonight.  Only one way to find out.  He punched in her number but turned off his phone before letting it go through.  He raked his hand through his hair.  But Jed knew he would have no peace until he talked with her.  It was as if his life depended on it, so he punched her number in again and let the call go through.  It rang.  She answered.
 
Just hearing her voice took his breath away.  "Hey."
 
"Hi, Jed."  She recognized his voice!  It gave him courage.
 
"I can't quit thinking about you, and wondered if I could come over and talk for just a little while?"  He knew he sounded shaky.
 
"Now?"  She couldn't keep the surprise from her voice.
 
"Yeah.  To tell you the truth, I'm sitting out here in what I think is the parking lot to your apartments.  I overheard you tell Jill where you lived one day when she wanted to get together to study." He hurried to add,  "I'm not a stalker or anything like that."
 
"Maybe we could sit outside on the steps for a little while I guess."
 
Jed was grinning.  He was elated.  "I don't know which is your apartment number though."
 
Before Jed could think, he was sitting beside her on the cold cement stair holding a glass of soda. It was as it should be sitting close beside her, the one he couldn't get out of his mind.  Now he could look into her eyes, that is if she quit keeping them so shyly averted.  He set his glass down and tucked her hair behind her ear and tried to see the bruise on her cheek.  Even in the poor light from her porch lamp, he could still trace the outline of Lorna's hand. 
 
"Sorry, Emma.  That never should have happened to you."  They were sitting so close, his head was bent down and hers was looking up.  His breath caught.  Jed truly did intend to just kiss her on the cheek, on the bruise, but found himself kissing her mouth instead, the sweetest kiss imaginable.  His hand began to be tangled in the back of her hair while he pulled her closer. And it seemed like she responded to it like melted chocolate to soft carmel.  Finally her hands on his chest gently pushed him away.
 
"Wow.  I wasn't expecting that," she spoke as if it was hard to breathe.
 
"The kiss or the attraction behind the kiss?"
 
"Both."  She eyed him carefully.  "Unlike you, I haven't had much experience."
 
"Actually, my girlfr...I mean my ex-girlfriend and I had agreed to save most of our kisses for after we were married, and were pretty chaste in that respect, you know, the whole "I Kicked Dating Goodbye" mindset.  So I haven't had as much practice as you might have imagined.  With you though, I don't think I could live without kissing you any more than breathing.  There's something special here between us, don't you think?"
 
"I think it's called I Kissed Dating Goodbye."  Are you sure you're not just on a rebound?"
 
"My other relationship was too flat to have a rebound.  I've never felt this way before, Emma.

"Me either." 

It was just a whisper, but it made him smile from his toes to the pit of his stomach, squeezing his heart until it burned clear up to his face lighting his smile on fire. Until she kept talking... 

"Well, actually, I need to tell you that I was sort of in love before."

"How can you be sort of be in love?"

"It was the summer after I graduated from high school.  He was an older guy in my church and was obviously looking for a wife.  He kept telling me he loved me, and I think maybe I was beginning to be, I don't know,  perhaps, but I couldn't say it.  Then it was over.  He was killed instantly in a car crash, and I never had told him that I loved him.  It made me feel so badly I decided then and there, if I ever fell in love, that I would not hesitate.  I would say it.  Time doesn't wait."

He held her hand up to his lips knowing he'd better not get carried away kissing her lest he scare her away.  It was enough to know that she'd felt it too."

"Thanks for seeing me tonight.  For talking to me.  Telling me this stuff.  Does this mean you're not seeing someone else then like I feared?"

"There's no one else." She hesitated but felt she wanted him to hear it from her before Joel told him and went on to say, "I had agreed to meet with your friend Joel yesterday.  It wasn't a date or anything.  He just was concerned..."

A jolt as fierce as lightning struck him with a hot stab of jealousy.  Jed found himself crushing his hat in his hands scowling until he found her hand on his arm.  Just her touch was enough to tame him back into civility.

"It was nothing like that, Jed.  Believe me.  I'm sorry if I led you to think there was someone else.  I just didn't know what to say.  He mostly talked about you and how he thought we belonged together, and then when you called..."

But then she was grinning. "Oh, and there was this one more love interest."  He jerked his head up and tried to brace himself.  She went on with a cute little smile on her face.  "His name was J.C. and was as cute as all get out.  He used to pick me to play on his empty lot baseball team.  I had a bad crush on him and vowed I'd marry him someday..."

"Wait, where did you live:

"Oh, about twenty miles South of here in that little wide spot in the road with a gas station, diner, and a Piggly Wiggly.  It was just called Junction 52."



Jed threw back his head and laughed and laughed until he was gasping.  He could barely talk he laughed so hard.  "Did I used to call you, Short Stuff?"

"Wait..."  If Emma's eyes grew any bigger, she'd need toothpicks.   Then she socked him in the arm.  "It is you!  I can't believe it.  There was something familiar about you, but I'd never guess in a million years that you were my J.C."

Jed put his arm around her waist and pulled her closer until their shoulders were touching.  He let the air held up in his chest whoosh out with relief.  "Good.  It's nice to know I won't have to beat up my best friend or somebody else named J.C.  My dad's name was Jed too, so I was called J.C. to keep us straight.  After he left, I went back to being called Jed."  I guess we have known each other for a long time, huh,"  he said teasingly lightly bumping her shoulder.  "So you thought I was cute, back then?  I was your love interest?  How about that." Her hand fit snugly in his, as their fingers became entwined together. 

"Very cute and nice too.  And you still are, but don't get a big head.  You had no idea either?  I still can't believe it's you.  You used to always wear a Giants baseball cap.  I remember your little brother too."

"Your sister was too prissy to play, and your brother was too little."

"Yep."

He decided to voice what was in his heart and mind.  "So how does this work then, when you find yourself in love and don't want to be separated?  How long do you have to wait to get married?  I don't think it's easy to feel such a wild passion, to try to keep it corralled for very long before it breaks loose."

"Are you speaking hypothetically, like we do in a class discussion?"

"Think again."  He let loose half a laugh from the tightness in his chest.  "I think you know exactly what I mean.  I know I'm not supposed to be saying these things yet, thinking these things, or feeling like this.  I just want to be truthful with you."

He'd sucked all the breath out of her.  She found herself white-knuckled squeezing the life out of his hand.  Finally Emma managed to respond.  "I think a couple like that needs at least a little time to think things through, the expectations, and to make plans on how to make it work.  A relationship takes at least a little time I'm told to work all the kinks out."

"Expectations?  Like what?  How much time?"

"Well, to figure how they can they afford to live, eat, who's going to work, how to get insurance,  and to figure how or if they can both finish school or even go on to a master's degree, like a MFT.  Who'll be the first to say they're sorry after a fight, whether to play country music or  listen to contemporary Christian music on the radio, whether to be a Giants fan or some other team..." 

"Of course you're a Giants fan."

She grinned and nodded, then blushed, "Then there's always the possibility of an unplanned pregnancy that could make the best plans in the world all fly out the window."

"Is there a chance it could work though?  Can desire grow practical legs?  Is marriage possible? 

"You hardly know me, Jed, other than the opinions I spout off in class and what I just told you.  After we moved away across the state when I was nine, my dad's construction business really took off.  You might say I grew up in an affluent happy Christian home, was homeschooled and raised by a stay-at-home mother.  My father has been so blessed in his business that he set up a generous college fund for me.  Actually, he bought this condo as an investment which doubles as my housing while at college.  By the time I graduate, it will be ready for my brother to move in.  They give me enough to budget carefully to live on.  I don't want to give you the impression that I'm anything other than what I am.  So you see, I'm a well kept woman," she joked.

"But you aren't flashy.  You drive a modest car and live in a nice, but not a rich neighborhood.  You don't dress fancy, I mean you always look great, it's not that.  But you don't look or act, I don't know, spoiled, I guess.  You're not worldly."

"My folks have raised us to know the hardships they grew up with and struggled with when they married very young.  My dad has worked hard in construction.  He gives all the glory to God for how his business  has grown.  We had to work as kids for any extras.  The last thing they wanted to do was raise spoiled kids who thought money grew on trees or was ready to fly out of daddy's wallet."

"I had a tough upbringing since my mom was our sole supporter for most of my childhood.  About the time I was in high school, she met a great guy in church, remarried, and our fortunes changed somewhat.  My stepdad isn't rich, but he works hard.  I can't complain, though I know what it is to go without."

"That's one thing I especially like about you, Jed, is that you appreciate what you have without seeming to covet more.  You are a very real, upfront person without pretension."

"Well, there is something I do want desperately.  So, is there any chance that we could get married soon, if I were to ask you?"

Emma gasped.  "Jed Carson.  You are impossible!  You better think again.  This is our first conversation since we became, I don't know, a couple.  Aren't you rushing it..."  But she was cut off.

He answered her with another kiss, one that left her head spinning even faster than the pounding of her heart.  She suddenly realized that it wasn't something she'd ever want to live without, never, ever.  Kissing him had just become as necessary as breathing.  And then again, it was something that one thing could too easily lead to another.  It wasn't something that could be put on the back burner to simmer.  The heat threatened to boil over.

When he quit kissing her, he sat holding her for a long time.  It felt just right.  Except he said as he was rubbing his thumb over her hand, "I don't think it's a good thing to be sitting outside your apartment.  It's too tempting.  I just wanted you to know tonight where I stand.  I want to be your man, Emma."

"You had me after that man versus bush incident on the mower," she smiled up at him, "even though the bush won.  And then when that green bin chewed you up and spit you out with the grass cuttings, how could I resist?"

"Yep." He chuckled, "that's a sure fire way to catch a girl's attention.  He traced his finger over her cheek again and gave a sigh of relief.  "You don't know how happy you are making me, so happy that, I'd better leave before I do something stupid.  Just think about it, Emma.  We can talk more tomorrow, but I won't sleep much just thinking about you."

Instead, he called her as soon as he got back to his dorm and talked to her on the phone until the wee hours of the morning, getting to know her, figuring out how much it  really cost for a couple to live on love.  By the time he hung up, Jed already knew more about her than anyone else  in the universe, and she, him.



At class the next day, he slipped her another poem, then held her hand under the table.  She read it and gazed into his eyes.  He made her feel so giddy it was ridiculous.  She'd get her feet back on the ground soon enough, but for now she just enjoyed the dizzy flight of falling in love. 

Afterwards he walked her to her car.  "Want to grab something to eat?  I can't afford a fancy restaurant, but I think I can swing a burger."

She smiled.  "Tell me where to go and I'll follow."

He grinned, "I like the sound of that."

But before they could leave, a burst of cold air blew in with the storm called Lorna.

"Well, aren't you the perfect pair of lovebirds.  I just thought you ought to know, Jed, that Daddy said he's not recommending renewing your scholarship the church has been paying you.  He said you've broken the agreement he had with you that you would come work with him at the church when you graduated.  He's seeing a lawyer about making you pay them back for all the money wasted on you now that you don't plan to be a pastor anymore.  He's going back over the board minutes with a fine-toothed comb to find where it was spelled out what the scholarship was intended for."

"He knows good and well that there was nothing like that in writing."

"At the very least it's called expectations, a gentleman's agreement.  But that's probably not something you'd understand.  I'm glad that I finally saw the light.  Too bad about her, unless she's trailer park trash just like you. I always had hoped for better things from you, Jed.  You're a such great disappointment."


This time it was Jed squeezing her hand hard.  As the cruel barbs were being thrown at him, Emma found herself standing shoulder to shoulder with him shaking with a barely contained fury.

Suddenly Emma swung him around and said, "Yes, I'll marry you, Jed Carson," and pulled him down into a bold kiss right there in front of a sputtering Lorna who growled like a wounded animal and stomped off.

"Truly, Emma?  That wasn't just for show?"

"No, Jed.  I just realized what you're made of.  Gold.  Pure Gold."
 
"How long do we have to wait then?"

Emma felt her face heat with a sudden shyness.  "I don't know.   I just realized I for sure wanted to marry you, I just haven't figured out the what, when, where, or how of it yet."

"Do you want a big wedding?  If so, I guess we could wait till June.  If not, maybe we could sneak away next week at Spring break.  My stepfather has a cabin up in the mountains that isn't too far to drive to.  We could get a license this afternoon, get married at the courthouse this coming Friday, go to the cabin and later have whatever kind of small ceremony you wanted after we get back and break the news to our families."

He wasn't kidding.  He was dead serious.  After all, she'd practically proposed to him right there in front of his ex-girlfriend.  It wasn't very romantic of her, certainly not nice, but was as passionate a thing to do as she'd ever done in her life.  She just had to wipe that nasty smirk off Lorna's face somehow.  Emma realized she wanted to stand by this man's side no matter what.

"This weekend sounds good."  She heard herself say it, but could hardly believe the words that had just come out of her mouth.  It made her feel giddy, letting go of expectations and yielding completely to romance.

The joyous yell that Jed gave could be heard across the campus she was sure as he then hugged her and spun her around.  "Well, God bless my soul, the lady said, 'Yes!'"

Emma didn't know if she was light headed from spinning around or at the idea that she'd just said yes to a quick wedding.

"I won't be able to afford a fancy ring or luxurious honeymoon, Emma, but we'll be too drunk on love, I hope, for it to matter much."

"The big wedding or diamonds don't impress me, Jed.  It's a big heart that I'm after.  A heart after God's own heart and after mine.  That's all I care about."

"I think we'll set our Intro to Marriage and Family Therapy Class on its ear," he said laughing. "I know we'll have challenges, and  hardship, and I don't know exactly how it will all work out, but I've felt God's goodness all through this thing we have between us, Emma.  I was going to give you this in class tomorrow, but I'd like you to read it now."  He pulled it out of his pocket.



 

It brought tears to her eyes.  "That's beautiful." And she kissed him.  "I guess they won't understand that someone who doesn't have to have a hurried up wedding might just choose one.  Actually, my parents married young, younger than us, after a short courtship.  They've been happily married for over twenty-five years.  But you have to promise me that you'll never send love poems to any other girl on the planet." 
 
He looked sheepish.  "That was wrong of me.  I was just plain chicken to set off the fireworks I knew would happen when I broke up with Lorna. I had done so already in my mind, but still, it was wrong.  I wish she'd slapped me instead of you.  I'm the one who deserved it.  I'm sorry, Emma, though I meant every one of those poems I gave you.  Is there anything else?"
 
Once again she was feeling suddenly very shy but confessed, "I don't have any expectations other than..."

She would have said more, but was cut off with his kisses promising much, much more than she could ever express.

A few days later, their courthouse "I do's" said it all.  And it was the best Spring Break ever!


They were as happy as clams,  were a cozy pair of lovebirds, a couple of real sweethearts, but then on the next to the last day of the cabin honeymoon, they were lazing in bed when they heard a car drive up, car doors opening and shutting.
 
"Good grief!  I think it's my family," Jed said stuffing his legs into his jeans, hoping out to the living room, barefoot and bare-chested when he went to open the door. 
 
Emma grabbed a pair of shorts and a tee shirt off the chair, whipped them on and went to stand behind him.  Her hair was probably a crazy mess.
 
"Jed!  What are you doing here?"  And then his mother gasped. "And what is she doing here?  Jed, I can't believe it..."
 
"Mom, Dad, I want to introduce you to my wife Emma."  He pulled her forward keeping his hands on her shoulders.
 
"What?  I am so confused.  Astounded.  What about Lorna?"
 
"Lorna and I broke up.  I fell in love with Emma, and she agreed to marry me, last Friday in fact.  We were  having our honeymoon here during Spring break, but I had no idea you'd show up."  He let out a burst of air.  "We were going to tell everybody when we got back.  Her parents don't know either.  I can show you our license..."
 
His step-dad put his arm around his wife but stuck out his hand to Emma, "Nice to meet you, Emma.  You are a shock, but I'd have to say a right pleasing shock."
 
"Mom, remember when we lived behind the Piggly Wiggly and I'd go play baseball in the vacant lot?  Emma was there.  On my team.  We realized that after we fell in love."
 
"Well,  isn't that somethun?  I hardly know what to say."  His mom turned red, but said, "Is there a reason you needed to marry in a hurry?"
 
"No, mom, nothing like that.  We just realized there was no reason not to get married right away."
 
"But where will you live?  How can you go to school and support yourself and her?"
 
"We thought it through and planned it out..." he was raking his hand through his hair until it stood on end.
 
"My dad owns the condo I live in, and I get a modest income too, plus we'll have what Jake makes working on campus and his student loans, so we think we can make it.  We have a plan B if we have to adjust,"  Emma tried to sound confident.
 
"I see.  This is just such a surprise, Jed."
 
His brother had pushed his gangly self  through the doorway and took in Emma from head to toe.  "You sure got a looker, bro.  Good job."
 
Jed punched him in the arm, "Watch it there, buddy.  Hey, do you need help bringing things in?"
 
"Well, I don't know what to do now that we find out we are interrupting your honeymoon."
 
His stepdad pulled his wallet out.  "I feel real bad busting in on you like this.  Tell you what, how about I give you this as a wedding gift.  There are a couple of real nice hotels down the road.  Why don't you two go luxuriate in one of them, a treat on us."
 
Jed was just staring at the cash.  Then he pulled the man into a bear hug.  "That is downright thoughtful of you, Dad."  He realized he'd been calling his stepdad "Dad" for the first time ever.  The man had tears in his eyes.
 
Jed turned to Emma.  "Are you okay with that or should we stay and crowd ourselves in with these honeymoon crashers?"  He was grinning.
 
"I'll go pack our things," Emma said blushing.  "That is really nice of you.  Thank you.  I'm glad I got to meet you.  We will probably have a really small ceremony at my home after school gets out.  We have the license, but want to sanctify it as holy before God as well.  We'll let you know when it will be.  I'll be talking to my parents in a couple of days.  They will be more shocked than you, probably."  She couldn't help chewing on her nails a little bit.
 
When they were ready to leave, Jed's mom crushed her in a teary hug.  "You got a good man, and to tell you the truth, I can already tell you are a thousand times better than that Lorna.  Thank God he found you in time and grabbed hold like he has.  Congratulations on your marriage, sweetheart.  You have our blessings."
 
"So, I finally have a sister," his brother pulled her pony tail just like he had done when he was a pesky little kid.  "I always figured mom and dad here would give me one after they got married, but she said she was too old.  So it was up to Jed to find me one.  And there you are.  The best shortstop from back in our Piggly Wiggly days.  Welcome to the family, sis."  He gave her a side hug and Jed playfully wrestled him away.
 
Jed hugged his mom and said, "Thanks for accepting her, mom.  I truly love her more than I can express."
 
"She's just what we prayed for, baby boy.  You done real well.  Just take good care of your wife or you'll answer to me, ya hear?"
 
Jed grinned, and they were off to a soft bed, Egyptian cotton sheets and privacy.  Being married wasn't bad at all.  He looked over at his bride and smiled.  She was a sweet thing alright.  No matter what the future held, he knew side by side they could face it together with God's blessing.
It was enough to make him want to write his own poem which he did staying up after she fell asleep.  He tucked it in her Bible along with the others but made sure it stuck out enough for her to notice.

 
A Poem for Emma.
 
You surprised my heart,
took hold of my soul
And shook it until
all my love fell out
at your feet.
 
I'm so glad you picked it up
Glanced down my page,
and gripped it tightly
Like a crushed poem
in your hand.
 
 
But you did not throw it away.
You kept me, so there you are,
You smoothed me out, so here I am,
complete and completely in love,
Emma, with you.

c.j.
 
This idea for this story was inspired by a young college couple we heard of at our small Christian college who did not want to wait to get married, but kept it a secret, staying in separate dorms, with his friends smuggling her into his room from time to time.  It was all because of the big wedding that was being planned.  Not wanting to short circuit those plans, they tried to circumvent the usual channels, so to speak.  But the school and family blew a fuse when they were discovered and had to disclose the shameful truth, that they indeed were already married.  Was it a shame to be married or a shame to make a sham of the marriage?  Silly kids.  Is it about a wedding or about a marriage?  Oh the pressures we put on them sometimes.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 


 











   
 
 





  







 
 

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