Unexpected. Ben getting down on one knee, pulling out the perfect diamond ring and popping the question in his kitchen on a Sunday afternoon was unexpected. But then again, so was Ben.
When I met Ben, he had just spoken at Visionaries, our church’s business community gathering. I was taken back by how articulate and charming he was as he taught a captivated room on his expertise- digital marketing strategies. Words like “digital” and “marketing” didn’t sound all that fun to me, but Ben made the content accessible and exciting. When I introduced myself to him at the end of the night to congratulate him on a job well done, I expected a short and unmemorable exchange.
I certainly didn’t expect to go on a pseudo-date with him a couple weeks later. You know, the ones where a guy is asking you to “hang out” or “grab coffee” or “get together”? The word “date” was never used, but I found Ben interesting enough to wear a dress, put on lipstick and show up after work for. And I’m glad I did.
It was about 3 months later when we went out again, but even with our crazy travel schedules we made a second date finally happen. I didn’t expect it. I had quite frankly given up on the idea of any type of romantic future with Ben. A lot of life happens in three months’ time, and I had quickly moved on to other interests and projects and opportunities.
That second date was easily the best date I had ever been on. Conversation came easy, and we laughed a ton. Plus, he took me to a Mexican restaurant! I mean, that immediately makes the date worth my time. But there was more. It’s hard to put into words, but there was this sense that we got each other. We barely knew each other, but we were familiar friends, and kindred souls. Ben likes to say that “our crazies are compatible.” I got the glimpse that we would be compatible with each other, but also champions for each other. Already, there was a mutual love and respect developing between us.
Someone recently asked me when I knew Ben was the one. For me, it wasn’t one moment but a series of moments, all special for me in different ways. And new moments continue to reveal themselves every day. But the first moment was when I mistakenly mixed my words in a simple statement I was making. As soon as I had misspoken, we looked at each other and immediately began belly laughing. And I thought to myself, “I could spend the rest of my life laughing with this man.” It was an unexpected moment, and an unexpected thought, one that caught my heart by surprise.
It’s been over nine months, with many unexpected moments along the way. When Ben first told me that he loved me it was unexpected, not because I didn’t feel the same exact way, but because he declared his love with such boldness, sincerity, and vulnerability. I was taken back by it. We live in a world where either the word “love” gets thrown around impulsively and with an attached set of conditions or the word “love” becomes a weapon of mass heartbreak to be feared. But Ben owned the word. He didn’t avoid it. And he didn’t say it as a reaction to an emotional high. He didn’t fall into it like someone falls into a trap or falls into anything, really. He chose love and he chose the commitment that love demands. He chose love and he chose me.
When Ben held me while letting me ugly cry all over his nice shirt after my family moved across country, and I didn’t know if I could bear the thousands of miles between me and my sister, it was unexpected. Not that he wouldn’t listen to me and comfort me. I had come to expect that kind of compassion and strength from him. But the fact that I let myself so openly cry in front of him was a surprise. For various reasons, I grew up in a home with not a lot of room for my tears. Tears were a sign of weakness. Tears and the vulnerability that go with it was a dangerous game to play where you could be hurt or rejected. But Ben had become someone safe. His character and conviction had unexpectedly eroded my walls and defenses, and by the grace of God, I discovered a freedom to be me- even if that meant balling my eyes out till my mascara was everywhere but where it was supposed to be.
Fights are also unexpected. And there have been a few of those too. But there have always been unexpected treasures of truth and grace excavated as we have disagreed and conflicted and resolved. We continue to learn more about each other, about Jesus, about life in the most unexpected ways. Ben has taught me to lean into those lessons each time we butt heads, and that conflict is not something to run from but to embrace with godly maturity in the effort to become more Christ-like along the way.
One of my favorite things to do with Ben is to dream. Ben is a unique blend of dreamer and achiever. Some people talk a lot of talk. But Ben gets stuff done. He is both an idealist and a realist, if that is possible. He counts the cost, but is rarely motivated by fear. He is a man of great faith. And his hustle matches his faith. I’ve come to expect that from Ben. It’s just who he is. But what I didn’t see coming was just how much faith he has for my dreams. He’s never once been intimidated by me or in competition with me. There has always been enough room between us for all our hopes and dreams. He believes in me to such a degree that it has forced me to face my own fears and go after the things Jesus has called me to. Ben is not just a constant verbal support, but he is willing to lend practical skill and time to see the things in my heart come to pass.
The last nine months have been unexpected to say the least. And there will be plenty more in the days, weeks, months, and years to come. And in case, you were wondering, that Sunday afternoon a couple weeks back, I said, “yes.” And then started screaming. And jumping up and down. And then screaming some more.
In four months, the real adventure begins. Marriage. After 34 years of being single, I will change my name and my address and my relationship status and begin a new chapter with a man I didn’t see coming. He was unexpected because, well, he has exceeded my prayers and hopes in every possible way.
Truth be told, I’ve had a lot of unexpected thrown my way over the last couple of years. And some of it not only caught me off guard, but brought with it discouragement and pain. I can’t tell you that I understood it all when it was happening because that would be a lie. I can’t tell you that I navigated all the changes and transitions with grace. Half the time, I embraced them publicly while kicking and screaming and crying and mourning privately. But what I’ve come to learn on the other side of the unexpected is that God works wonders through the deviations from our plans. And some of the best of our Heavenly Father’s gifts come by surprise. They often appear to the naked eye as disruptions or challenges or disappointments. Or they may be disguised as small and insignificant moments. Word to the wise: don’t discount them and certainly don’t despise them. Be open. Be alert. Be present. Be hopeful. Be ready to be surprised in the most miraculously of ways. Expect the unexpected, yes. But do more. Gratefully and hopefully embrace it. Some of Heaven’s sweetest rewards are the ones we didn’t see coming.