The other day, when I was writing about leaving my job, I mentioned that my watch stopped the day I started freelance work. I referred to it as one of God's little practical jokes.
Several commenters enjoyed that part of the story, so I decided to tell you about another one of God's practical jokes on me. The incident I wrote about Friday—the retreat where I met T Bone Burnett—was not the end of my infatuation with Don. I was a very slow learner when it came to that man. As I explained, I was trying to prove I was lovable by convincing a cold, ambivalent man to love me. That pattern was deeply, deeply rooted in unhealthy family dynamics, and it was going to take more than one rebuff from Don to uproot the self-hatred that caused me to act so destructively.
Don and I had a painful, on-again, off-again, never-quite-official relationship for more than three years. During the last six months, we were seeing each other at least once a week. (I thought we were dating; Don thought we were just "spending a lot of time together.") I believed that with enough time, he would realize that I wasn't the scary man-eater he'd imagined (if that was what he imagined—I was never quite sure).
In August, after this unofficial, weekly, non-dating dating had been going on for four months, I impulsively bought myself an ankle bracelet. I put it on and swore to myself that I would never take it off until Don kissed me. (I know it must seem strange that we never kissed, but I was raised in an extremely conservative Christian subculture. It was not unusual for people I knew to wait until they were engaged to kiss each other. In fact, I did once receive a proposal of marriage from someone who had never kissed me. I turned him down, but for a different reason.)
Anyway, in late summer, Don got the idea for us to go on a camping trip in September. We would go with two other friends. I would share a tent with the other woman. The two guys would sleep separately. I was convinced that it was some kind of test for our relationship, and I hoped with all my heart that this trip would be the breakthrough to show Don I wasn't so bad to be around on a daily basis.
The four of us who were going made prayer part of our planning meetings for the camping trip. And one evening as we were praying in a circle, I felt a very strong message from the Lord. He promised me that he had a plan for the trip and that he would bring the plan to fruition . . . but he refused to tell me what the plan was.
The weekend didn't turn out the way I expected, but God was true to his word. For the three days of the camping trip, I was in so much emotional pain that I finally realized I couldn't go on hoping that things would work out with Don. After we returned home, I confronted him about our relationship, and when he gave me no hope of change, I told him I wasn't going to see him anymore.
So what was God's little practical joke? Well, he actually played two jokes on me during the camping trip. The first came when the four of us were clambering over some boulders along the Lake Michigan shore. The ankle bracelet that I had sworn I would wear till I received Don's kiss broke and fell off, just as I was internally beginning to cast off the shackles of that relationship.
The second joke had to do with God answering my prayer that Don would come to realize I wasn't so scary to be with every day. The other guy on the trip, the one I haven't named, sat in his tent one afternoon and realized he liked being around me on an everyday basis. He decided he wanted to date me if I ever got over Don. His name was Michael, and I married him 20 months later.