The first time I met my husband, I was in a church gym surrounded by cheap lunch meat and the overpowering smell of raw onions. My “boyfriend” Jesse had invited me to a sub-making fundraiser for the youth group of his church. I must qualify the term “boyfriend” by saying that we were in junior high, and our “serious boyfriend/ girlfriend” relationship meant that we had each acknowledged that we liked each other, and on rare occasions our parents would drive us to see a movie together. This time, my parents had driven me to Jesse’s church.
It was there that Jesse introduced me to his best friend who had just coasted into the gym on a skateboard.
“Anne, this is my friend, Chris.”
And that was the first time I met him, the man of my dreams. Of course, at the time he was still an awkward teenager who simply said, “Hi,” and then skated off again.
I became very involved in Jesse’s church until it became my church as well. I went to every Wednesday night, every Sunday morning, and every special event. Chris and his brother and mother stopped going to church, so I never saw him. Jesse and I broke up, but stayed really good friends.
About two years later Chris showed up for the annual youth group retreat. During that retreat, I realized that Chris had been an integral part of my circle of church friends before they had become my circle of friends. He easily became part of the gang again. We all had a lot of fun.
We were all together again at Jesse’s birthday party when Jesse blurted out, “Chris, you should take Anne to your prom!”
This seemed like a totally bizarre outburst on Jesse’s part, but Chris answered as though he had been already thinking about it.
“Yeah, do you wanna go?”
“I guess so,” I replied. I never thought it would happen. He was a senior, I was a junior. We went to different schools. We didn’t know each other that well. The prom was three months away. He would most certainly have a girlfriend by then.
Chris started calling my house a few nights a week. Then he asked me to accompany him to pick out a tux. It was on that little date that he asked if I was his girlfriend.
I sat in stunned silence for what seemed like five full minutes. I thought that in order to be his girlfriend, he had to ask me to be his girlfriend. Perhaps I had missed something very important during our interactions the past few months.
“I don’t think I am,” I replied.
“Well, do you want to be?”
Again, silence. I hadn’t thought about it. I just didn’t know what to say.
“Could I think about it and let you know?”
We got together the following weekend to discuss our relationship. I told him that I wasn’t ready to be in a serious relationship, and when I did get into one, I wanted to be sure that it was what God wanted. Chris agreed and didn’t seem too discouraged.
Our friendship grew and deepened, and we did go to the prom together.
We spent my entire senior year just “being friends”, although everyone else knew that we were more that just friends. We would go on marathon dates that would consist of wandering around the city for 10 hours or more. We became youth leaders and had fun and wild times at church functions.
We would pray, teach, preach, and put on crazy skits. I played a party animal and heavy drinker in one skit, though in real life I had never had a drop of beer. Chris dressed up as a nerdy scientist for another drama. His entrance into the youth room was supposed to be especially dramatic as flash pots exploded behind him. Unfortunately the flash pots were poorly timed and went off right in Chris’ face. His eyes were sprayed with part of the explosion, and they were watering profusely for the entire skit. Chris didn’t miss a beat and continued to act his part perfectly.
Once, the youth group went white water rafting. It was great, except there was no white water. We were floating lazily down the river. This was ideal for Jesse and me, but Chris required more excitement. He proposed taking the bailing buckets that our raft was equipped with and using them to douse a nearby raft with water. Jesse and I insisted that such behavior would be rude and uncalled for and would ruin the peaceful boat trip we were enjoying. Chris proceeded to fill up the bucket and dump the entire load of water on my head. As I was dripping and gasping in utter disbelief of the horrendous treatment I had just endured, Chris leaned in to my soggy ear and whispered, “I love you!”
When time came for me to graduate, I had decided to spend a year doing missions with Youth With a Mission (YWAM) rather than go straight to college.
For the next year I was training in Texas and then went on outreaches to Belize, Central America and many places in the US. I would write Chris long, chatty letters almost everyday. Chris would write maybe once a month. There were no cell phones and no land lines in the girls’ dorm where I was staying. Chris and I would plan via letter weeks in advance to talk on the phone on a specific day and time. I would take my quarters and go to the pay phone in the cafeteria, praying that there was not a line.
Both of us had to answer the question our hearts kept asking, “Is this the person I will marry?”
In my training classes, there was a teaching about laying everything important in our lives on the altar before God. Being a Christian didn’t just mean believing in God. It also meant giving Him everything! I spent a good prayer time with God giving Him my dreams, ambitions, and Chris. I wasn’t sure that God would give him back.
I knew that I loved Chris. I loved his sense of humor, his incredible work ethic, and his high morals. I loved that he always respected his mom. I loved that he loved God. I loved his dark brown eyes and his single dimple that would show itself when he smiled. I truly felt that he was the most handsome man I had ever met. But perhaps he wasn’t THE ONE. Maybe God’s perfect plan for my life didn’t include marrying Chris. I was willing to do anything He told me to do.
I was talking a walk around the lake in the beautiful countryside of the rural mission base when I felt God speak to me so clearly.
“Do you think I blessed your relationship with Chris just to take it from you now?”
From that moment on, I never doubted that he would be my husband. It took Chris a little longer. He was talking classes at a community college, renting a room from a gentleman at church, working as a waiter, taking impromptu road trips with his crazy guy friends, driving fast in his sporty CRX, using his limited spending money on CDs instead of food, sporting a new bleached blond hairdo, and turning down offers from interested pretty young women. I was a bit worried about him.
He decided to fly out to Texas to visit me in May, even though he was basically a starving student. He must have gotten his answer during that trip. As soon as he returned home, he drove straight from the airport to the jewelry store to pick out an engagement ring. I had no clue. In my slow-moving fashion, I thought marriage would be years away, perhaps after college. I did have a small scholarship to Eastern College that I was planning on using to study Elementary Education. Yet I thought God might have other plans.
When my training school with YWAM was coming to an end, all the students were encouraged to ask God for our next step. I was determined to hear His voice. There were so many opportunities to be a missionary in any country in the world with YWAM. I really thought that God would tell me to take everything I owned in a backpack and go to some exotic place. His answer surprised me.
I was home only a month when I decided to plan a special picnic dinner for Chris’ birthday. I wanted it to be a special surprise. My best friend, Autumn, was over, and she helped me prepare four courses and pack them carefully into a picnic basket. When my mom heard of my plans, she offered the good china and a special table-cloth.
As I laid out the feast for Chris at our favorite date place (Negley Park), he seemed distracted and hardly ate anything. After the meal, we sat together on the swings that overlooked the Harrisburg skyline as the sun set and the lights made the city sparkle.
Chris got up and then went down on one knee.
“I had a long talk with your parents….”
He took out a tiny box and I knew what he was going to say! I gave him a huge hug and again, I was speechless! I was overjoyed to become his wife, yet I was so surprised, I could not respond.
“Is that a yes?” he asked.
Eleven months later, we became Mr. and Mrs. Brandenburg! That was 18 years ago today. So many volumes I could fill with all the adventures we have had, all the mountain tops and all the valleys, all the joys and all the sorrows, all the faith and all the doubt…but mostly all the love! Perhaps that story is being written here on this blog, one precious chapter at a time. It is my favorite story!