Monday, January 26, 2015

the secret date.

His prayers were with me in Hawaii.

And I knew it.

He wanted to get together and hear all about the trip.

So he said.

But I was still skeptical.

I didn't want to get my hopes up, you know?  I had no idea whether this quiet guy whom I hardly ever actually saw in person was going to follow through with his Facebook-message-words.  Sometimes it seems like people just say that-- "Let's get together soon!"  You know?  Maybe he didn't mean it.

And then I thought about how I mean it when I say it, but I also sometimes hope the other person will do their part and bring it up again and let me know that they really meant it when they said they'd want to get together...

Ugh.  I did not want to be the one to initiate.
But he had started this whole thing.
What if he was waiting on me?
And what if I said nothing and missed out on getting to hang out with this guy that had me so intrigued? (though I dare not admit it out loud!)

Four days had passed since Daniel had sent me a little birthday message that had sparked quite a long Facebook conversation that had ended with him saying he would check his schedule and we would make a plan...

My hope had started to fade when a message popped up on my screen that Thursday afternoon.
Seeing it, I jumped to attention.

It was a message from Daniel!
My face suddenly felt very warm, and I casually got up to close my office door so no one would come in and find me blushing and giddy, trying to figure out how to reply without sounding too eager or too nonchalant.  You have to find the perfect balance of the two, right?

We both had pretty busy schedules.  Between his work schedule and a softball game, my family coming to town for Easter weekend, and me leaving for Nashville that Tuesday evening, the weekend was pretty jam-packed.  Were we going to be able to make some time?  Or was this thing going to be delayed and end up never happening?  You know what they say: timing is everything...

Well wouldn't you know it, there wasn't a softball game Sunday night after all!
He messaged me to let me know he would be free that evening and the date was set!

Now let me point out the fact that this was in no way being called a "date" at the time.
We were just getting together.
Hanging out.
This was no big thing.
No big deal.
Nothing out of the ordinary.

We knew our "when" but not the "where," so I casually suggested we make a plan.
(This makes me laugh because, at the time, I didn't know this was the beginning of a pattern.  I'm definitely the one who prefers to have a game plan set.)

His response made me smile:

"Haha.  Yeah that would be a good idea.  What do you like to do?  We could get coffee like everyone else does, or we could do something different and have fun...  The weather should be perfect to do something outside.  We could go downtown and walk around the park or something like that.  What do you think?"

How fun is he?!
Sunday evening.
Big Spring Park.
We had a plan.

The weekend came, my family arrived in town, and we had a great time together, as usual.  I don't remember exactly what we did, but I do remember sitting around in Karissa & Kyle's apartment that Easter afternoon getting all the more anxious as time passed and the family showed no signs of preparing for departure.  What was I going to do if they stayed later into the evening?!  I'd assumed they would head out around 3 or 4.  How was I going to slip out without having to answer a ton of questions?!  (Because no, I didn't happen to mention any of this to any of them at the time...)

Hey...  So what time are you guys leaving today?  Not trying to rush you, I just have plans this evening and am going to have to slip out in a little while..

"What do you have going on tonight?"

Oh no.
They asked.

Uh...... nothing.....

Which of course prompted them to press further, assuming (accurately) that this awkwardness meant there was a boy involved.
How was I going to get out of this?!

Well, I straight up lied.

In the midst of all the brainstorming of what I might be up to and all of my flustered denials, Karissa asked if I was hanging out with some people from my Sunday school class.  It was an easy out, and I took it.

Yep.  You got me.  That's what I'm doing... haha... I'm just being weird.. ha.
(insert nervous laughter and a quick subject change...)

I know.
Lying isn't good.
And I apologized later and filled them all in.
But in that moment, I needed this to be my thing.
It felt big.
It felt significant.
And I did not want to admit that out loud and set myself up to look foolish on top of all the disappointment that would come.

Because as much as failing hurts, it hurts so much more when people watch the fall.

And I don't know if you realize this, but as a single female youth minister at a really large church, there are a lot of people watching.

And that. is. terrifying.

So I kept it all to myself.

I drove towards the park, spastically speaking all my fears out loud to the LORD.
And then HE sweetly reminded me:

Jenna, it isn't about success or failure.
It isn't about whether or not there's a medal at the end of this race, or a ring.
(HIS parallels to the marathon weren't lost on me.)
It is about stepping up to the door I lead you to and being brave enough to encounter what's on the other side, whatever that may be.


GOD had already taught me not to fear.
HE had freed me from that, and I'd just gotten back from a most incredible adventure where HE so clearly revealed what HE could do in me if I would simply trust HIM and take each step forward.

I remember turning the corner and seeing Daniel sitting on a bench outside the art museum.  I remember when he saw me.  He stood up, walked toward me, and greeted me with a hug.

I remember being so caught off guard by the tall, handsome, quiet, shy-seeming man hugging me.  And as we walked around the park talking, he continued to surprise me.

His spiritual insight.
His chattiness.
The way he'd playfully touch my arm.
Like old friends, but with an electricity to it that startled me every time.
(Isn't that how you can tell if someone likes you?!?!)
The way he heard me.
It was more than listening.
He heard me.
And when I talk about me and GOD and our adventures, I don't always feel heard.

We walked circles around that park and soon realized we'd been walking and talking for a couple of hours.

It was getting late, so Daniel walked me to my car.
He was parked further away, so I offered to drive him to his truck.
We said goodbye, and I drove off.

Before I even got home, he had messaged me.
We were going to hang out again.

Something was happening.

It was just going to take me a little while longer to fully figure it out...

Monday, January 19, 2015

speaking of Daniel.

As I tell our story, I am all the more aware that my eyes can only see most so dimly...
Maybe sometimes the fog is a covering to seal something off, keeping it safe so it can come into full bloom...

I remember sitting in the passenger seat of Robin's suburban outside of the church.  I told her how I had wrestled and prayed and pondered over whether I should consider moving.  I told her how I was confident that I needed to stay... To have faith enough that even here...

She listened, nodded, and then asked me:

"Jenna, is there anyone in Huntsville that you are interested in or that you could even somewhat picture yourself dating?"

Out of nowhere I heard myself speaking:

I've always thought Daniel Bell is real cute.

And then, startled by what I was saying, I rambled on, I mean, I don't know him at all but he seems really nice and I really like his beard but I doubt he is interested in me and I don't even know him.

Well Robin got really excited by this!  You see, she is very close friends with Daniel's sister-in-law, Lindsey, so of course she wanted to see if she could tell Lindsey what I had said.

I told her I didn't mind if she told Lindsey.  I figured they would giggle about it and maybe Lindsey would say something to Daniel and then it would be awkward because I was certain he wasn't interested in me, but I never really interacted with him anyways, so what would that even matter, right?

Go for it.

Well imagine my shock when, days later, Robin pulled me aside to tell me how Lindsey had responded.  Apparently I was a topic that had come up between Daniel and Lindsey before... Apparently Daniel thought that I was beautiful but way out of his league. What?!?

I'm not gonna lie, I felt the stirrings of crazy in me a little in that moment, especially when I thought about how we had been Facebook messaging back and forth a little bit.  The interactions were mostly about my blog and stuff, but he seemed to have been the one to initiate the little conversations, so maybe he was interested?  Maybe?  Honestly, I had gotten myself a little excited about it all.  Then Robin told me that she didn't know this for sure, but he might possibly be dating someone.  Immediately all the crazy came to a halt and the rambling began once more:

Ah, well, it doesn't really matter.  I mean, I don't even know him. I don't know if I'd really want to date him.  We probably have absolutely nothing in common and it would never work anyways.. No worries!

(Oh that resilient defense mechanism of mine...)

A very short-lived illusion of potential.

Or so I thought.
(GOD is pretty sneaky sometimes.)
And life continued on as usual.

Now when I say as usual, it makes life sound a little uneventful and mundane or something.  Quite the contrary!  I was actually in the middle of my crazy little adventure preparing for the North Shore Marathon in Hawaii.  (I wrote about my marathon experience here.)

I was all kinds of free.
All kinds of thriving.
And all kinds of distracted with all the awesome things going on!
I had no need for a guy.
Life was incredible just as it was!

In March, I wrote a blog about my preparations and prayers for the insane undertaking that was quickly approaching.  This particular blog post seemed to spark Daniel's attention because the Facebook messages got a little more frequent and a little more personal.  We started talking about how GOD was working in our lives.  He asked a lot of questions about my upcoming trip, and he told me he would be praying about it all for me.

Now remember, that crazy-girl-mind in me had been squelched pretty quickly a few weeks prior to this, so Jenna Lupo was not getting her hopes up.  I would quickly dismiss any of my curious questioning of his intentions and assumed he was being friendly for friendship's sake.

I think I could tell something was building.
But I was terrified to acknowledge it.

Then came Sunday.
I will never forget the Sunday we passed in the hallway.

I know.  That sounds awfully dramatic for such an insignificant event.  Passing in the hall?!
But it was anything but insignificant.

To everyone else, it was a normal crowded hallway after Sunday school classes.
I don't remember who he was walking with.
I don't remember who I was talking to.

I remember the bright hallway from a sunny Sunday morning.
I remember seeing him approaching from the other direction.
I remember making eye contact.
I remember smiling at him and quietly saying hey.
I remember the way we both seemed to check out of whatever conversations we were having as we walked past... heads still turned toward each other, eyes locked until turning the corner...
Everyone else had disappeared.
It was the most movie-like moment of my entire life.

I think he wanted to talk to me more....

And then I snapped back to reality.

Jenna, that is absolutely ridiculous.  
Don't be a dumb girl.

(Fears and disappointments can make us really mean to ourselves, huh?)

Funny thing:  Daniel totally remembers the Sunday we passed in the hallway too.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

knowing myself. and trusting.

To those just joining the conversation, I've been sharing the story of how my fiancé, Daniel, and I found ourselves where we are now: about 64 days away from getting married!

Check out my story of meeting Daniel and then truly seeing him.

As I think about how all of this unfolded, it makes me laugh to see how much I was noticing Daniel, yet I was completely unaware that there might be something there.  Perhaps the LORD was helping to protect me from myself a little.

What do I mean by that?

Well.... I'm going to be really honest.  I have never been super good at this whole "dating" thing.  (I know, for those of you who really know me, this is not a shocking statement.)

I've always been the girl who had crushes on boys who didn't like me, but that was okay because I really didn't expect them to be interested, and I would pride myself in my resilience as I recovered from the feelings of rejection.  Turns out, that was just a well-masked defense mechanism and maybe I was actually scared of being seen and desired.  If a guy expressed interest in me and it wasn't my idea first, I'd run.  Fast.

I was scared, but I also really wanted to find this kind of love.  If a worthy-seeming candidate would come on the scene, I'd position myself nearby, engage in conversation, and somewhat manipulate circumstances so that this thing could happen!  A couple of times it kinda worked.  But ultimately I came to see that I wasn't really trusting GOD with this, and I was truly scared out of my mind.

That's what I mean by GOD protecting me from myself.  Daniel wasn't on the forefront of my mind.  I didn't have some crazy crush that made me awkward in his presence or obsessively scheming in his absence.  I was free to be myself.

And free was absolutely what HE intended me to be.

If you remember, free was my word for 2014.

I was free from my fear of failure and free to thrive in the now. I was on the verge of something incredible.  The LORD was stirring and I could sense that HE was on the move.  HE had uprooted the deep weeds of insecurity that had been choking my heart.  HE had shown me a better view into HIS intentions when forming and creating me.  HE had given me a broader vision of how I could fulfill HIS dreams for me and use the gifts HE had given me.  I was in the midst of the most exciting time of my life.  I, in no way, needed a guy for my deep desires in the LORD to be realized in my life.
HE was already so much more than enough for me.

I guess that was the perfect place for me to be.

I imagine that was HIS intent...

So when my friend Robin and I were talking one afternoon and she asked me if I'd ever considered moving somewhere else so I could find that man that would be my husband, I was a little caught off guard.  She told me she didn't want me to move, but she so deeply wanted me to get to experience the joys of marriage and there just didn't seem to be anyone around who was right for me.  (I love her so much for loving me that much.)

And it was true.  I was having no luck finding someone who would be a good fit for me.

For a lot of people, such a bold move to a new city, open to encountering whatever and whomever the LORD had for them would be an incredible act of faith.

For me, it felt like it would be disobedience.

You see, in the fall of 2013, GOD had a word for me about settling.  You may remember this blog post I'd written that November.

HE had sweetly whispered to my heart:  Jenna, settle isn't always a bad word.

And as I had surrendered my restless spirit to HIM, HE showed me that HE was ready to put me in the ground.  I could trust HIM and root myself in this place HE had me.

I kinda pictured myself as a little potted plant.  I started in a comfortable little pot in Cleveland, Tennessee with my family and my small town and my small church and my safe world.  Then GOD had transplanted me, putting me in a larger pot.  That larger pot was Montgomery, Alabama.  A bigger city, a new state, a long drive alone, and the world of college.  But it wasn't too big of a jump.  My university was small and the Christian community kept me feeling safe and secure.  Montgomery soon became home, but then GOD transplanted me again.  This time the pot felt a lot bigger.  Huntsville.  With all its engineers and rocket scientists and big, fancy houses.  This was not my world.  And I was working in a church that, when driving by, could be confused for a college campus.  A couple thousand members, a couple hundred teenagers... My world at Mayfair was overwhelming at first, but in time, it had become home.

I guess a part of me always felt like I should be ready to give it up at any moment.  I didn't know how long HE would want me at Mayfair, so I wanted to be positioned so I could transition easily if HE asked.

Turns out, maybe that was a lack of trust too...

LORD, do you really want me to root myself more deeply here?
To let go of the thought that one day you might want to move me?

Jenna, settle isn't always a bad word...
In the ground, your roots can go deeper and your branches can spread wider and bear more fruit.  Something within you has held you back from this full surrender.  Let go of the security of a pot around you.  Let ME put you in the ground.
No promises, I still may uproot you at some point.
But you can trust ME.

And I did trust HIM.  

I trusted HIM so much.  
And I had been praying for more and more and more trust.
Trust without borders.

So I decided I could trust GOD in this too.

GOD, I have no idea how YOU are going to do this.  I can't see any possibilities on the horizon, and I have no clue where I will meet a man that will be a good match for me....
But I trust YOU.
I trust that YOU will do what YOU say YOU will do.
Even here.
I can trust YOU even here.

For some, faith might look like a big move.
For me, faith was to be still.
And trust.

So I did.
And I sure am glad I did because I wouldn't have wanted to miss what was coming next!!!

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

seeing Daniel.

I guess I paid a lot more attention to Daniel than I ever realized.  Laura Bell's family photo albums were always so captivating to me, and I found myself liking every picture of Allison with her Uncle Daniel.. and then sometimes decidedly NOT "liking" a picture because that would be weird... I don't even know him... What am I even doing?! (At that point, closing out that window of my laptop and refocusing on the original task at hand.  What was I supposed to be working on again?!)  Oh Jenna...

I would see him with his family, and it was so obvious that his nieces and nephew adored him.  Sure seemed like they had good reason-- he looked like so much fun! (Wait a minute, I thought he was super quiet and shy?)

So for months I would get these little glimpses of Daniel.  Passing glances and snapshot images that seemed to capture so much.  And again and again, I'd let the thoughts pass and be tucked away in the back of my mind.

In the fall of 2013, I was randomly asked to be the campus coach for First Priority, a student-led Christian club at Grissom High School.  Each Wednesday morning I would find myself in the halls of the high school, hanging out with some students in the art room.  Once a month, the students would bring in a guest speaker for "Overcome" week, and often they would ask me for suggestions.  Allison was a part of the group, and one day her Uncle Daniel came to mind.  I didn't know a lot about him, but I knew he had a powerful redemption story and I wondered if Allison thought he might be a good speaker.  She thought it would be perfect, so we lined up a week for him to come share his story with the club.

(This picture is from an event for His Way that Daniel spoke at in the spring of 2013. I wasn't there. I stole it from Facebook.) 

The morning he came and spoke at First Priority was the first time I really got to see Daniel.  I had gone to coffee with Allison before he came to speak, and she told me a lot of the details of his story that I didn't know, but hearing him share what GOD had done in his life was incredible.  

He talked about who he was in high school-- at Grissom, the very place these students were.  An all-star football and basketball player: on his way to big things, and feeling good about it.  It was his identity.

And then one day he lost it all.

An injury took him out of the game and everything that, in his eyes, defined him, was gone.

He talked about the spiral of events that unfolded in his life from that point.  He talked about the darkness.  The people he found himself surrounded by.  The giving up.  The giving in.  And the pain that just wouldn't go away.  With humility, sadness, and strength, he told those teens about the dark road he traveled for nearly a decade before he found himself at His Way.  
He was a broken man at rock bottom.

And then he talked about encountering JESUS.  

He had grown up going to church, but this wasn't the same.  The way these men talked about GOD was different.  It didn't feel out of reach and unattainable for someone as broken as him.  He was shown the truth: it was for him.  All of it.  His brokenness didn't in some way disqualify him from JESUS, making him not good enough and never able to be good enough.  He didn't have to be perfect.  He just needed to have JESUS.

I watched Daniel tell those students this bold and powerful Truth.  He had finally found the solution to all that had unraveled in his life.  He had finally found relief from the pain and the strength to stand up and be the man he truly wanted to be.  He had finally found the answer to his life's desperate search.

And he found it all in JESUS.

All that we are-- the lacking and the good-- can be secure in who HE is.

That Truth changed Daniel's life.  It was obvious to me, and it was obvious to those students.  

It was a beautiful thing to watch GOD work in Daniel and in those teens that morning.  

And that morning, as I sat in a random art room at Grissom High School, I was seeing Daniel.

But I was also seeing JESUS.

Monday, January 12, 2015

meeting Daniel.

I want to introduce you to my fiancé, Daniel Bell.

He is a most wonderful man, and it's almost funny just how perfect he is for me.  It's funny in the I'm-laughing-because-my-mind-is-blown-and-if-I-really-start-telling-you-how-I-feel-I'll-probably-cry kind of way. 

When I consider Daniel and how the LORD has been seamlessly weaving our hearts together, I get a special little glimpse into how well HE knows me.  HE truly does give good gifts, and this is one HE has been preparing for quite a while.  (We just didn't know it.)

Daniel and I met almost two years ago on a ski trip with the young professional group at our church.  

I remember the official meeting moment quite clearly:  I needed someone to ride the ski lift with me.  He was behind me.  He had an awesome beard.  He seemed super nice.  And he didn't have anyone to ride with either.  Easy peasy. 

Now normally I'm really awkward around attractive guys, and I would have been intimidated, but I wasn't looking for a boyfriend, just a ski-lift buddy (I was kinda talking to someone else at the time.  Sort of.  It was complicated.), so my normally outgoing self was free to ask him to ride with me.  He was quiet.  I was chatty.  He didn't know who I was.  I was secretly a little offended by that.  He mentioned his niece, Allison, who was in the youth group.  I, as one of her youth ministers at the time, totally knew who she was and rambled some cute little story about how wonderful she is.  Then we got off the ski lift.  And I'm pretty sure we didn't speak the rest of the trip. haha! 

We may not have spoken, but I remember noticing him.  It was all so off my radar that I didn't even realize I was noticing him.  But I remember recognizing when he was around.  I remember being disappointed he didn't end up on my van for the long ride back to Huntsville.  And I remember completely and immediately disregarding such a thought.

What I didn't know is that I wasn't the only one who was faintly yet specifically aware of the other.  He tells me that, for him, the first moment of connection came before the ski lift.  I walked in the room, we made eye contact, and it was all over... Ha- okay just kidding.  It wasn't quite that dramatic for him.  But he did say that felt something when he looked in my eyes... (And now I'm blushing. Moving on.)

Our next encounter was a little over a week later.

It was a Monday afternoon, and I was getting ready to leave the office and get ready for my senior high girls to come over for our weekly Bible Study.  The night before, the young pros had put on a special dinner for the senior adults at our church, a "senior prom" of sorts.  There was a ton of food leftover and I happened to know where the extra desserts were tucked away, so I figured I would grab some out of the big fridge so that the girls could have a little treat at Bible Study.

I rushed into the big fridge (you know, the industrial sized ones that are the size of a room with a freezer-closet inside), and who did I run into (and maybe I mean that almost literally) but Daniel Bell.  He was being a good citizen and servant and picking up the leftover foods to bring to the guys at His Way, a Christ-centered residential recovery program, where he works.  I was stealing dessert.  (Disclaimer: it wasn't stealing.  I was completely allowed.)  I felt like an idiot.  But I played it off nicely, helping him carry all the food out to his truck.  I may have felt dumb, but he says he remembers thinking that I was so sweet to help him. 

From that point on, I'd see him at Bible class, but we never talked.  It wasn't because I didn't want to, our paths just never seemed to cross.  And again, he wasn't really on my radar.  At least not consciously.  But anytime one of the girls would mention his name, I remember saying, "Daniel Bell... he's real cute.  And he's got an awesome beard!"  And the words would always linger in my mind and I'd think to myself, "Man, I wish I knew him better..." 

where to begin.

Well, my friend, 2014 was quite a year.
One that unfolded with poor blog-documentation, and for that I apologize.
It wasn't because I wanted to keep you in the dark or out of the know.
It wasn't that at all.
(Oh how I wanted to tell you all about it!)

I just didn't know where to begin.

And honestly, I still don't.

This past year was exceedingly more than I imagined.
More lovely.
More beautiful.
More absolutely out-of-my-mind in love with the LORD.
More overwhelmed by how much HE loves me.
More peace-filled and certain.
More unpredictable.

This year was more freeing.
More passionate.
More painful.
More redemptive.
Absolutely immeasurably more.

The LORD led me into a place of promises fulfilled and hope restored.
HE opened up the path and the most wonderful man came alongside me, delighting me so fully with this deep desire of my heart.  A prayer's answer I wouldn't have expected, but upon reflection made perfect sense.

The LORD guarded me.
HE fought for me.
HE allowed me to fight for HIM.
HE taught me the art of HIS surrender and the powerful truth that the Enemy is defeated all the more with such a CHRIST-mirroring approach.
HE equipped me to do it.

Oh how I am amazed by the goodness of the LORD.

Oh how I am shocked by the power of HIS unshakable peace.

Oh how much I love HIM.

It's been quite a year.
And I have no idea how I'm going to tell you all about it.
But I'll start somewhere and we will see what happens.

HIS glory has been revealed to me in such a beautiful way, so as I enter into the newness and the space of 2015, I'm going to do my best to allow you a glimpse into it as well.

I think it will be fun.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

it's a new year.

As is the nature of this time of year, I've found myself reflecting upon years past as I dream about the year ahead.

Each year the LORD leads me into January with a new word to use as a lens for the days and life ahead.
2013 - choose better
2014 - free

What is 2015?
What has all of this been leading toward?

Learning how to say "no" so I can reach a better "yes".
Discipline.  Training.
Healthier physically, emotionally, mentally, relationally.

2013 made me stronger.
Then 2014 was a heightened playing field, putting all of that discipline, health, and strength to good use.

If 2013 was training, 2014 was the war.
It was the battle.
It was the marathon I'd have the opportunity to endure, all the while making me better and more alive for it.

And I was free.
Free to try.
Not held back by fear of failure.
Free to thrive.
Not held back by hopes of the future and all the unknowns.

I was free to say yes.
In so many beautiful ways.
Free to say yes to the scary dark places the LORD led me through.
Free to step up to opening doors.
Free to encounter all that is waiting on the other side with GOD.
Trust without borders through it all.

Now, as I turn and reflect, 2014 is behind me.
That doorway has closed.

I have stepped through.
I took the leap.
And I've entered a whole new world.

A new season.
A new space.
New situations, scenarios.
A new partner alongside me.

It truly is a new year.

All things new.

There is loss in newness.
There is grief and pain.
But the letting go is worth it.
The open hands, free, are positioned for the better.

The time has come.

All things new.

I feel those words.
Weighted with Truth.

All things new.

Blooming with the aroma of redemption and the Light of the SON.

All things new.

LORD, my hands are open.
Free.  Trained.  Ready to step further into the place YOU lead me.
The room is dark...
but a Light is dawning.

Spring, as promised, will come.

All things new.