As the months wore on in this valley city I found myself falling back into the familiar. I was living with two roommates, the three of us were renting a house, which quickly became the place for the youth to hang out at once again. I returned to work at the same restaurant who’s owner had phoned down to the coastal city and provided a great reference prior to me ending up in the psych ward.
I grew restless as a young adult might, longing to figure out what I was supposed to do with my life. I knew two things only. One was I wanted to be with my girlfriend for my entire life and two was I didn’t want to have to depend on restaurant work to provide for us.
So I made a decision. I would leave this valley city once again and set out back to the coast to try and attend a different post-secondary education. This time it was a Christian college, as I had convinced myself that I should become a pastor.
In all fairness I didn’t do all the convincing myself. My girlfriend and I were the newest couple in the youth group and we soon took on a leadership role. That leadership role turned into the church wanting me to serve as an intern youth pastor. I was in this role for a few months until one day, after being particularly stressed by the work of the ministry, I read in 1 Timothy how a new believer should not be put into a place of leadership. I was struggling at the time and saw this as a good enough reason to step down from leadership and focus on learning more about God.
Shortly after I attended a meeting where the elders and the pastors were gathered. At this meeting I tendered my resignation, citing that passage, and explained my desire to seek more learning before I take on such a leadership role again. To my surprise the senior pastor refused my resignation. I told them that they had no choice but to accept my resignation. They told me that I had no choice but to continue with my internship. Unfortunately, it came to a head and I ended up having to leave the church completely, walking away from what was my close community, having had them walk through so much with me already.
I headed back down to the coast to the college, hoping to begin a four-year degree. My girlfriend stayed behind but sent a care package in the mail to meet me there.
As it turned out I was only in college long enough to receive the care package. My loan once again had been denied. In a place of familiarity, I found myself homeless, unemployed, and without any clear direction. Having run out of options, I went back to that restaurant, in that same coastal city, and had a conversation with the new owner. He hired me on the spot. I then found an apartment close to work and settled back into the restaurant industry, back in management.
I was determined to try and get myself established so I could extend an invitation for marriage, trying to figure out a way and a life that would work for the both of us. And so I pressed on. I was starting from scratch so that meant a mattress on the floor with one sheet and a blanket. I had dried soup noodle packages in my cupboard along with a few boxes of kraft dinner. In my fridge I had a container of mayo, a container of mustard, and in my freezer I had mechanically separated, pressed, breaded chicken cutlets. I can remember this so clearly because this was literally everything I had in my apartment for the several months that I lived there. When my girlfriend came down to visit, this was all I had to offer her, apart from one comic book to read while I was at work. Fortunately, by that time I had a family member donate their couch to me and I had bought myself an ivy to have something to talk to when my girlfriend wasn’t around.
Such was my routine. I would wake early and head off to work, returning after twelve hours to rest for awhile before doing it all over again. The arrangement I had with the owner was that I only got paid straight time, no overtime, but I appreciated the hours and the experience. This went on for months until the issue of a hundred dollar bill came up. After closing the restaurant one evening I found this money under a table. I presented it to the owner who explained that it would go in his safe for the next couple of weeks in order to provide the owner an opportunity to claim it. After two weeks would go by he agreed that it would be given to me.
Two weeks went by and when I brought up the hundred dollars he coldly told me that he was not going to return it. That it was now his. To me, that hundred dollars represented almost two days worth of work. He owned two restaurants and was working on opening a third one. That hundred dollars crushed me and I immediately began looking for another job.
Shortly after I found another restaurant management job in a neighboring city. I left this restaurant and left my apartment to move to the neighboring city. In this new place I ended up finding two roommates and together we rented the top level of a large home. Another city, another restaurant job, another attempt to start over and convince my girlfriend that I could provide for us.
Things were going well in this new place and after a few months had gone by, during a visit from my girlfriend, I planned a romantic evening with the intent to propose to her at the end of the evening. We went to the movie theater as I had picked out a romantic movie to watch. It was sold out so instead we ended up watching “Speed”, starring Keanu Reeves. Not the most romantic way to set the stage before asking the question but I pressed on.
Later that night, on bended knee, on the balcony of the house I shared with two others, I pulled out my piece of paper and read it to her, shaking as I read. I hadn’t secured our future and I was still stuck in the restaurant business, but I was growing tired and lonely of being apart from her any longer. To my joy she said yes. This path was unfamiliar, unknown, and scary, but what I did know was that I loved her and I wanted to spend the rest of my life with her.
Something happened that night when she said yes. It opened up a whole new world of possibilities to me. Possibilities that did not exist before or perhaps that I was too scared to dream of. She said yes. She was willing to join hers to mine and together we would make our own adventure. It was not what I knew, and I was beginning to learn how important that was for the success of our marriage.