I looked up from the front desk of Amstutz Hall at the coeds and frat guys funneling through the glass doors into the glare of the lobby lights. The scents of bonfire and beer drifted toward me as I reached for the girls’ keys in the mailboxes behind me.

Photo by Chelsea Francis

They hovered around the elevators—an arm thrown over a shoulder, fingers laced, a hand slid into someone else’s pocket. They jostled a sleeping giant I didn’t want disturbed.

Yearning yawned and shifted inside me. I willed it back to its dozing state and focused on my Spanish 201 vocab sheets.

I’d been boy crazy since puberty and my journals were crammed with pining for the missing part of me. But, perversely, when I transferred to Ashland College at the beginning of the month, I grabbed all the weekend desk shifts so I’d have an excuse to say no if a boy asked me out. I wanted love and I feared it.

I thought I didn’t need a man, that I’d never be one of those girls who went to college for her MRS.

Ethel Hamilton, Summer 1978

I blamed Mrs. Hamilton for making me face the truth. She’d supervised me and four other girls while we cleaned hotel rooms at Ridgecrest Baptist Conference Center all summer. With the same determination she got after us to dust light bulbs—a task that had never previously crossed our minds—she got after God to deliver each of us godly husbands like her dearly departed Mr. Hamilton. I adored Mrs. Hamilton, but not her wrecking my hopes of becoming a hermit writer.

By the end of September, I’d slipped into a solid friendship with Sam (not his real name). He leaned across the lunch table, shot me his endearing smile. “Would you go to the Ashland County Fair with me Friday night?”

My mind reeled back through our friendship. I should have seen this coming, but I didn’t.

“I work Friday night.”

“Thursday, then.”

“I’m sort of seeing this guy long distance.” I told him the long version.

Photo by Ryan Tauss

When I finished, Sam said, “But you guys decided it was okay to date other people.”

I nodded. “But I still have like a major crush on him.”

“We’re just going to go look at a bunch of pigs and cows. I’ll tell you farm stories. Not a big deal.”

I stared at Sam. He was funny, had faith and possibly a few more IQ points than I had. He was good for me in an Ivory soap, fresh air kind of way. “Okay, sure.”

A couple of chaste kisses later I knew I’d made the wrong decision. All my romances seemed to spin out and die like tops that ran out of momentum. But returning to friendship wasn’t Sam’s plan.

He stopped me outside my dorm.

Fall sun filtered through my eyelashes as I squinted at him.

“God told me I’m supposed to marry you.”

Shock ricocheted around my brain. No! echoed in its wake. I opened my mouth, scrambling for a coherent response.

Before I could spit out that I hadn’t gotten the divine memo, would never get it, Sam said, “I think you should pray and ask God what He thinks.”

I blinked at him. Okay, that much I could do.

Photo by Autumn Mott

The next afternoon, I climbed the narrow stairs to the musty attic of the Alpha Theta House where the Christian campus groups met. I hunkered down on the bare boards with my journal and Bible, grateful for a place to be alone.

A bowling ball of dread settled in my stomach. I sighed. “So, am I supposed to marry Sam?”

Outside the window, leaves drifted down through tepid sun—lazy, like God answering my question.

I ran through my friendship with Sam and the two week romance portion, cataloging his character, kindnesses, and all the other qualities that made him a good candidate for husband. I couldn’t come up with an item for the minus column.

In my brief experience with God, He usually talked through words written down in the Bible, sometimes through an impression or idea. He’d never spoken out loud to me—nor since. But on this day He said nothing at all.

I could almost hear the leaves decaying on the ground outside.

Hours later, I schlepped down the attic stairs and into crisp gray air, deciding God spoke through kisses. Sam’s felt like kissing my brother. I wouldn’t be marrying him.

Within a few months Sam proposed to the girl he’d marry. He must have heard wrong—God was telling him it was time to get married and I happened to be hanging on his horizon.

Hardly one to learn from my mistakes, I dated Dave over the Christmas holidays at home in New Smyrna Beach—an instant replay of Sam’s story and my kaleidoscope of keeled over tops. His kisses didn’t wow me either.

Guys think kissing is all about technique and expertise. But for girls the emotional connection ramps up the “wow” of attraction.

I knew this because of Andy Kelley. I’d been gaga about him since I met him at Ridgecrest in the middle of the summer. With every call or letter Andy lit smudge pots beneath my infatuation, much like Florida orange growers did on frosty nights beneath their trees. I couldn’t judge whether he was a good kisser, only that heat sizzled between us on the two occasions we managed to be in the same town at the same time. But smudge pots eventually cool when untended.

Three quarters of the way through fall semester I plunked down in Jim Miller’s office in Founder’s Hall for Andy advice. Jim attended Ashland Theological Seminary six blocks away and served as assistant to the director of religious affairs on the undergrad campus. As I’d reported to him about the Bible study I led in Amstutz Hall and interacted with him at Christian events, he’d earned my respect. I knew I could count on him for common sense and spiritual guidance.

I glanced through the wall of windows at the grass, stubbornly green through chilly weather, like my crush on Andy.

Jim lifted his brows behind his glasses and waited. His eyes, the same color as the blue sweater he wore, focused on me like he had all the time in the world to listen to my troubles.

Me, Fall 1978

I cleared my throat and spilled my frustration with Andy. He called Georgia home and worked on his masters in Alabama. He wouldn’t commit to visiting me in Ohio or Florida.

Jim encouraged me to trust God, assured me He had a good future mapped out for me.

I blew out a breath. “Ug. I hate waiting.” But Jim was right. I walked out of the room resolving to buck up and be patient. God would get around to giving me that good future sooner or later.

All the angst over my love life haywired my system and I needed—according to Registered Nurse Mom—to make my first visit to a gynecologist. The only person I could think of with a car was Sam. Somehow, we’d waded through the drama and remained friends.

When I asked for a ride, Sam brushed off my mortification. “No big deal. I grew up on a farm. I know all about this stuff.” Still, he opted to sit in the frigid car to wait instead of the gynecologist’s warm lobby.

Dr. Sherman, a middle-aged Jewish guy, said, “What, a virgin? You, me, my three daughters, and God are the only ones left.”

I grimaced. Medical humor. At this rate I’d be a virgin forever.

Photo by Chris Sardegna

The package of birth control pills he placed in my palm to regulate my cycle might have tempted another girl’s morality. But not a girl with trust issues icing her love life. Later I’d see whole ice burgs Dad had built beneath the surface. At twenty, only the smallest bits were visible: I’d bonded emotionally with James Knox, but literally ran away when he tried to touch me. I’d connected with Sam and Dave on a spiritual level, but not in an emotional or physical way. My physical attraction to Andy had fueled six months of infatuation, but we didn’t talk about spiritual things and the emotional part atrophied a little more between each phone call.

What I didn’t know was that God had listened to Mrs. Hamilton. And He’d listened to the deep down me.

I’d already met the guy who would win my heart, body and soul. But so far, he’d only won my respect.