This is a long story, much abridged: I’m engaged.
A few summers back I was working at a Gospel-driven summer camp up in the North Carolina mountains. At that camp I was up in a tree most afternoons working a pendulum swing, where people climb up high to get hooked into a couple cables, which then pull them for a wild ride out from the tree. It can be fun being the hooker-upper. Sometimes grown men panic, others times young folks are fearless. It would be a separate good story to explain to you how I came to work at this place, how I first found out about the camp, and how I was coming from Belgium. Maybe I’ll get to share that with you sometime.
On one particular slow day we had few takers at the swing. I remember being up in that tree watching the walking trail from my little platform; the local preacher-man’s daughter came walk-gliding back to visit with us workers of the Goliath Swing—across from Grandma’s Cabin before it had burned. I remember her white coat with dark stripes. Her crossing the little stream—which branches off from the creek—on the bendy bridge, before a handrail had been added. Her smile. The pep in her step. I knew who she was and she knew who I was, but we introduced ourselves to one another, formally. Through subsequent visits, and several summer months, I learned of her ability to listen as I told stories. I saw her gentle demeanor, her compassion, her love for others. And I loved her.
I remember many of our conversations from that summer. I also remember looking for the little moments where I could offer a “hello Ms. Holloway,” along with a tip of the hat, and catch a “Mr. Helms,” attached to a head nod. I remember many tears and an enormous embrace as summer came to an end. I remember a birthday gift in August, and a couple more opportunities to spend a little time together, all as friends.
I remember a longer season (for me) down in Mexico, while working at a coffee shop with other believers. Every once in a while I would receive a letter from the mountains of North Carolina. I would always respond, excitedly. I would be grateful, but my skeptical self assumed Kilby was only writing to me as she has to so many. I still had love for her in my heart, but didn’t believe anything would come from it. I also wanted to know that there was a genuine love from me to her, one that honored the Lord, before, and if, I was to share anything of it.
As I returned to North Carolina before the start of the following summer, that love for Kilby was still present. I was up in the mountains for a weekend, one of preparation, for all those who would once again be working at camp. The highlight of my short visit was reconnecting and sharing story with Kilby Lee, and hearing of her months gone by. I held a confidence that there was not someone better fit to me, a strong hope that this was God’s plan. My desire, she was.
A few weeks later, I had the opportunity to seek out conversation about this growing desire, this love, with the most intimidating Christian man I have yet to meet: Kilby’s father. He’s also one of the most devoted preachers of God’s Word that I have met. I remember approaching him; he asked if this would be a short or long conversation. I responded with, “I believe I have a Christ-like affection for your daughter, and I want to talk to you about it.” He responded with, “okay, so a longer one.”
We met at a picnic table over lunch later that week. He prayed about it, about me. He asked questions concerning plans and hopes and intentions. We talked for a long time. I remember making plans to meet throughout the summer, in order to keep the conversation going. I remember schedule challenges, but also prayers and late night talks on the tailgate of a truck in a neighbor’s yard. I remember sitting under the stars a few weeks later and responding to the question of, “what do you really hope for, and what are your intentions?” I answered that I hoped to marry Kilby Lee, God willing. Brody told the neighbor who stopped by; that man had been busy rounding up some cows that had gotten out. Neighbor-man said he felt bad for both of us, as he grinned.
I finally found the right time to sit and talk with Kilby after a night of barn-dancing, as some call it (contra dancing). We sat by a round table under the tin roof of a metal building—a special follow up to an evening of much laughter and good company. I shared a long story with Kilby, starting from the day she crossed that bridge to come visit (an experience my friend Ravi calls “the total impact of a person”), through to the conversations I had shared with her father. She had known of my care. But this was different. Here I shared all my feelings and beliefs and the fullness of my interest in her. And she smiled all the while. And you wouldn’t believe it: she had felt the same way, through and through. She had even written about it the previous summer.
We spent many more of those summer nights by round tables and picnic tables and at meal tables. We talked of the days and of the Scriptures, of the world and the needs of man, and of purpose and joy and struggle. We laughed a lot. We shared burdens. We encouraged one another and shared what we were learning through time in the Word. We played a strange game called Cribbage; I excelled rapidly. We watched Secondhand Lions, sat by a fire, and ate 20 piece nuggets together. We read a book together. I thought to myself: this is love.
We spent much of early August—you guessed it—together. I was heading out at the start of September for a trip that had been in the making since January, with some detailed plans dating back over a year. Kilby was off to college: growing more in God’s Word, with a focus on international studies and teaching English to people in various places—with redemptive purpose. Kilby has a heart for the Gospel. It’s the most attractive thing I have ever found in another person.
We made it our aim to have every challenging conversation that we could. We spoke of our differences. We worked through our pasts. We spoke of what the coming months and years and decades would prayerfully look like. And we said our for-now goodbyes, after a walk through a cemetery park and a stop by a coffee shop.
That trip I had planned was to be about 7 months. I would be visiting with different mentors, and ministries, and missionaries. And Kilby Lee was not angry at me. She was sad, as I was, but also joyful. And these months apart gave us rich opportunity for conversations of depth from new interactions and experiences on each side of the ocean. Fortunately, I had phone service most places. We only had to work around the time difference and our schedules to find overlapping hours in which we were both awake and free. There were times of staying up late or waking up early, because the conversations were worth it. They still are, and they will always be. There were many challenges and many joys, and I am grateful to report to you that God’s grace is beyond sufficient.
I remember a few conversations with Kilby most specifically. I also learned how we didn’t realize there were so many conversations we had not touched on. I remember gentleness, understanding, patience, hurdles, strength, and peace woven through them all. I also vividly remember many conversations with Brody. We made it our aim to speak once a week. It was a chance to share of readings and experiences on both ends. I was really grateful for those calls, for his intentionality. I remember standing in a library in Zaventem, Belgium, asking him if he held any reservations or concerns about me marrying his daughter. He said he would talk with his wife, and pray, and get back to me. It wasn’t cold; it was an honest and good answer. I remember calling from Arua, Uganda, at the end of the hall at the Baptist Co-op, when Brody offered some counsel, shared a timeline they felt would be appropriate, and said that they would be supportive of Kilby and me: wind in the sails as we go. I remember calling to share about a friend who came to know Jesus in a desert country, from a star-covered sky in Egypt. These were all conversations of gold.
And to cut a long story short…
I visited back with the International Baptist Church in Belgium on my return to the states. I was grateful to see many brothers and sisters and share testimony with them, visit with the young adults, and meet with the pastor and elders. I have a longer story to tell you about this place another time.
I returned home on a Wednesday night, and drove over to visit Kilby at school on Thursday. We spent the majority of the weekend together. Shortly after that, she was able to drive and visit my mom and family, and my hometown and the church I have been a part of these last years. I was privileged to introduce Kilby to my best-good friend from high school, and his awesome wife and daughter. We spent time playing with each of my nieces. Kilby also met the older folks at my church who have been a true family-community to me. I showed her the houses I grew up in, the schools I attended, the places that played a role in making me who I am. And I was full of joy. And she was too. I had also introduced her to backgammon (she excelled quickly).
Just the other week we drove up for another one of those staff orientations which take place before summer camp begins. It’s just around the bend y’all; one of the most exciting times of the year. I had planned a special date for the morning which got rained out. Alternatively, we left out a little early for Asheville, in route to the truer parts of western North Carolina (though we both love Asheville). We ate Indian food of sorts, which is one of Kilby’s favorites. And now mine. We drove through some historic areas, and walked around a bit. We sat and talked about our future in a downtown parking lot. We talked, and I decided to go pick-up a ring at the local mall; it’s the only thing we were missing. I had searched for hours and hours over the previous two weeks, but had not settled on anything. Our desire, and our future plans, had us wanting to get the ball rolling. I kept that simple ring in my pocket, as we drove over to a European coffee shop. We talked to a traveling man named Tony in the parking lot, and then had a coffee while watching people through the streetside window. We decided we would bring backgammon in the next time, after seeing a couple with the same briefcase board we have.
I kept holding on to that ring. I had decided we would stop at a place with a view of the mountains. This particular stop was special to us because we had stopped there during a bus trip headed to visit with a youth group facing a heart-wrenching situation. On that bus ride, and on the return to camp, I heard a lot more of Kilby’s story—her life and testimony of God’s grace—and shared much more of mine. It was distinct, as I look back. This time, I laid out a colorful, regal-looking Turkish rug I had purchased in Chad for Kilby and I to picnic on. We have regularly used it for board games in the park on sunny days. We sat by some yellow flowers; she could tell you what kind they were. A little white dog barked at us as we played backgammon.
After I won my last game of un-engaged backgammon, we read from Ephesians 5 together. I shared of my desire to engage Kilby: heart, mind, and soul. To be one with her, before the Lord and before man, in the not-so-distant future. I shared my prayer, my deep desire, that our love for one another would be a clear evidence of the Gospel before a lost and broken, watching world. I shared my longing to show extravagant, sacrificial love towards her, to serve her, in the same way Christ has shown His love for the Church. Kilby and I prayed together for wisdom to make best use of the time, this life, to please the Lord in all things, to committedly and faithfully love and serve one another, submitted to one another. We prayed for sanctification; we prayed for growth in joy, strength, patience, and endurance for the days ahead. And I gently shared with Kilby that I desired for her to be my wife, for me to be her husband, until the end. Nothing withheld, nothing taken back. Her hair was blowing gently as she nodded and smile-sobbed. With tears in our eyes, and tenderness in our hearts, I put a ring on the finger that had always been bare.
That night we sang praise among friends—so many brothers and sisters—to our once-and-for-always God and King: Jesus, our Lord. That Friday was special, memorable, one I will never forget. And the whole of the weekend was a glorious blur of sharing good news of what is to come, with friends left and right. I am full of gratitude. For the Lord has shown an extravagant grace towards me, one that has overwhelmed me in past months, but specifically, and all-the-more, these last few weeks. Kilby Lee will be my wife.
Today Kilby found a beautiful dress to wear while walking down a grassy aisle. I was going to stitch something together from some tablecloth and curtain patterns I had found, but she gave me the soft-no.
Kilby and I will be joined together on a special day in the month of September.
We have been preparing to serve the Church in Belgium, filling a missionary station as an apprentice couple. We will be a consistent presence with the youth, with a strong desire to disciple, while learning from and growing with the international community. Kilby will continue with her classes online. I will be learning from the pastor who is a good friend, and an even better brother, about preparation from and presentation of, God’s Word. This man speaks truth in love, with gentle boldness and respect, in a culture that does not largely love God. Kilby and I are currently in the process of fundraising in order to see this unfold. The Lord has shown His hand on each step so far, and we both trust that He will continue to provide a firm place for our steps to land, and bring many to partner with us to see every need met.
If paperwork and funding allow, we will be in Belgium in January 2020.
Please join us as we rejoice in what is, and what is to come.
Please pray; consider partnering with us on this journey.
We trust God will support us through His people—and if you are His, if you have followed this journey at all, please consider that He may desire to work in our lives through you, and through us in the lives of many—in a place with little Gospel presence.
Much love in Christ, Greg
If you would like to know more, please ask. Please message or call me. I’m still looking to share story and Scripture a few more places through the start of May. We are looking for opportunities to share locally in August; also, for small groups of mission-minded believers, churches, and youth groups throughout the United States, interested in partnering, from late September-early November.
To follow along with updates, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org!