So, when we were all sitting in Taco Bell late one night after a jazz band gig, after all the instruments were put away and we were spending our spoils on the cheapest food around, Die-Hard Atheist and his agnostic and open-minded (read: indecisive) friends sitting around him had some questions for me.
I had tried to stay out of it…unsolicited Christian input (not any OTHER religious input) is typically pushed away in those conversations. Nevertheless, I found myself sitting in front of a panel of non-believers, being grilled with all the classic questions. “What about the starving kids in Africa? How can a God of love let them suffer?” “What about the people who have never heard about your religion? Why are they condemned to hell?” And all the common criticisms and misconceptions that go along with it. The Crusades. Legalism. Hatred of homosexuals.
Die-Hard Atheist was surprisingly silent as the conversation wore on. He loved talking about this stuff, poking holes in opposing arguments and debating with logic. I tried not to think too much about it. In my mind, there were a spectrum of people sitting before me. One was on the fence between Christianity and everything else. One wasn’t going to budge, but he still wanted to listen and ask questions and explore. One was so “open-minded” that he was just a lost cause. He’d never decide on anything. And I knew Die-Hard Atheist wasn’t gonna budge and wasn’t even listening.
I was wrong about that. He later told me that he thought, “She’s pretty, and nice, and smart even though she believes these things…” And he told me that I brought up some points he’d never heard before. But…for the first time, he heard someone who was not debating in the face of criticism, but loving and asking questions in return. Offering explanations that were delicate mixtures of logic and the supernatural without stuffing it down anyone’s throat. For the first time, he saw someone who was living what they believed. It was different, and for the first time, he wanted to hear and experience it.
Of course, I didn’t know all of this at the time. I started giving Die-Hard Atheist a ride to and from our combo gigs and we actually started to have some one-on-one conversations. Not really all about Jesus all the time, but just, you know, normal life conversations.
“Hey…could I come to church with you sometime?”
Here I was, dropping him off at his house after a combo gig. And Die-Hard Atheist was asking to come to church with me.
Of course, I was much obliged, and he accompanied me to a Wednesday night youth service. He even came with me to our worship band rehearsal beforehand. I was nervous; I sang that night. I remember checking in with him every now and then, making sure he wasn’t bored–or, more importantly, thinking that I was a terrible musician and singer and that our band sounded terrible. You see, Die-Hard Atheist was kind of a legend at our high school for being an amazing jazz guitarist…at least in my mind. He knew a TON more about music than I did. And I was pretty intimidated.
At the end of the night, when I was dropping him off at home, he pulled me into an embrace and nervously stated his request (so much so that I had to finish his question)–that we should “make it official”.
I saw it coming. I knew he’d be wondering. But I knew too much–I had learned too much in the past. We would only crash and burn. Just like all those other guys. And I knew better.
So I told him to wait. I couldn’t say no…I loved being with him; he made me laugh and think and actually offered some worthwhile conversation. And I definitely couldn’t pull the God card. No, not again. And especially not for him, at this stage of his life. That could only lead to destruction with any progress that had been made to soften his heart toward Christ.
But then…the following Friday night, he persisted. After we got done performing at a jazz combo gig, he whisked me off to a little bench that overlooked the still, calm water underneath the Roosevelt Bridge. All the sailboats were home for the night, quietly tugging at their ropes. The lights from the docks skipped across the water, highlighting every ripple and splash from the little fishies below.
My heart was so happy that night. I mean, I certainly hadn’t been searching for Romance, but here it was, asking for me. Here he was. Pursuing me.
I was simply charmed. And I kind of thought about it, but I kind of didn’t. And so I kissed him, and that was the start of it. That was another one of those intuitive urges. I really never make decisions based on those…
You see, I’ve been stuck with this whole part of the story right here. I’ve suffered this terrible writer’s block. But tonight I realized that I always have some way of making the circumstances in my life seem good and right when I write about them–but, you see, I can’t make this part all “right”. Because it was…wrong? I guess I’m still not certain about it. Was it wrong? Uh. Was it particularly right? Ah, no. In fact, I suffered a great deal of guilt and shame for having fallen into the “same old trap” once again. Seriously. Who does that? I thought that I was bad and God was mad.
My mom told me recently that she wanted to strangle me when I told her that I was once again dating a non-Christian. Well…I guess that’s all I have to say about that.
Die-Hard Atheist came to church with me. Recently, he told me that he was willing to explore it because I had presented Christianity and Jesus in a way that he hadn’t heard before. I was constantly wary that he was only doing it for me–but at the same time I knew that he’d never sacrifice his pride for me like that. Not then.
Without a budge, he and we continued together for two weeks. He came to church with me, and we discussed the message afterwards and talked about it. I didn’t direct him…I just engaged him.
But I knew better. And so, when I was dropping him off after church, about two weeks after we “became official”, I tried to get out of it. You know…break up with him. But not with the God card. The reason is this: it’s pretty vague. Sure, God doesn’t want us to be “unequally yoked”–that’s how he made us to be–but it makes NO sense to someone who doesn’t believe in Him. Sometimes, when you talk to someone, you have to put things in different words in order for them to understand it.
“I know how this ends…there’s no use in us getting all emotionally involved only to crash and burn later. We can’t continue together like this for long.” (I laugh at God’s sense of humor here. How does He always make me eat my words? He’s awesome. You’ll see why.)
“Just give me more time. I just need a little more time. And I need this,“ motioning, implying the two of us.
Of course, it was much longer and more drawn out than that. He understood my reasoning–we were both very passionate about our worldviews, and I’m sure I drove him nuts at times. But he persuaded me (I still can’t help but be charmed by him) and we continued.
Two weeks later, I felt that urge again. To break it off. I felt my heart growing fonder, and I was getting kind of scared. No, Sam. This isn’t going to be an every-two-weeks kind of thing. You’re not going to start out a relationship like this.
And so I didn’t.
Little did I know…around that point of time, he could have jumped headlong into Christianity. But he was being careful. I had warned him not to do it for me several times, because that wasn’t what I wanted for him. Why would I want him to do something like that for me? It would be so pointless. It’s about Jesus, and the amazing redemption He offers. I wouldn’t stand for that to be muddled by some perceived pressure that I place on him to “convert”. And so he was waiting and evaluating. Searching his heart.
Two weeks later, we were driving home from church. Atheist (for by now, I could tell that his heart had softened–not so much “Die-Hard” about him) had been in our youth pastor’s office following the service that day. I knew he had taken a liking to Pastor Jose, so I figured that maybe they were just having some light conversation. With the door closed, and I wasn’t permitted? No way! So what I was expecting to hear, when I asked him what he and Jose talked about, was that he was just bouncing some questions off Jose and searching for more answers.
“I was talking to Jose about being baptized in a couple of weeks.”
Mm…there aren’t very many words for what I experienced at this point. You’d think I’d be glad because I’d feel a sense of justification for dating him–but I was not, because I didn’t.
Instead, I was overjoyed that he had truly chosen to accept Jesus’ love. His heart was changed. And he would only find more and more fulfillment.
I had to pull the car over, for the tears in my eyes. I got out and gave him a giant hug. I blubbered about “Why didn’t you tell me that you got saved” and I think I said something cheesy, like “Welcome to the family.” Way to ruin a moment, Sam.
And that was how Matthew and I met and hit it off.
That was such a miracle for me. I talked to God about it a lot, too. I wondered what He was doing. Why He was doing it. Because I knew all the things I’d been told before.
And I remembered the last part of advice that all of those wise Christians had given me: if he gets saved, he still can’t be your spiritual leader.
Well, that’s why you still have to stay tuned for Part 4, because I’m wearing on into 1800 words. This is quite a read; I just couldn’t find a way to break it down into more than one post. YOU’RE AWESOME!
I think this “mini-series” is turning into a full-fledged series. OH WELL!