Ten years ago today Jelani and I decided to be more than just friends. Ten years ago today, I made the best decision I have ever made, seriously. My dad always told me, when dating and thinking of marriage, look for someone who has the qualities and character you'd most like to see in your children. So on July 19th, 2003 I struck gold.
Over the years, the most frequently asked question I've received is, "How did you two meet?" I think our obvious physical differences are what usually prompts the curiosity. Really, I don't think people are nearly as curious about two similar people from similar backgrounds, but this little white girl, from a 99% white, small town, literally fell in love with a tall, dark, and handsome fellow, and no one would have ever imagined how "dark."
Similarly, I don't think any of Jelani's family and childhood friends would have imagined him marrying the whitest girl he had ever met. I know his mom was thinking, "Blond and blue eyed? Couldn't she at least be Italian with some darker skin and hair?" Joke's on her. I am part Italian and Native American even. Genetics are a crazy science, I tell ya.
Anyway, here's the story, as I know it. ;-)
In the spring of 2003 I had newly given my life to Christ. I was excited about all that I was learning, and as an English major who needed to take some summer courses since I was on campus for basketball anyway, I decided to enroll in Bible as a Literature for the summer. I could knock out some English credits and learn more about God's word with this class. Meanwhile, I had gotten a job in Alumni Arena as a monitor. I had to check student IDs as people entered the building, and was allowed to study and read at my post.
Jelani had just graduated and was an intern for Recreation and Intramural services, as well as a supervisor to the monitors. We had seen each other around during his internship in the varsity weight room that spring. In fact, I even thought he had a crush on me due to a mix up with a friend. She was telling me about someone else wanting to hang out with me, but when she pointed in his direction, I only saw the guy that someone else was talking to, which was Jelani. So for about a month I thought he was some guy with a different name, who had a crush on me, but was too shy to talk to me. (Really glad I didn't embarrass myself by making the first move there!)
The end of May, when I met my supervisors, I realized my mistake. As supervisor, Jelani had to make the rounds, checking in on all the monitors throughout the day. One day, he stopped and sat down across from me. Noticing I was reading the Bible, he began to interrogate me about what I believed. When I say interrogate, I mean that literally. He seemed angry and acted as though the Bible was foolish. I stumbled and stuttered, and didn't quite know how to respond. It was just two months earlier that I had given my life to Christ. I was so new at this, and had never really shared my faith with anyone, let alone an angry unbeliever. I panicked. I was thinking, Dang it! Here's this guy, searching, asking, and questioning, and I'm too new at this! I don't know what I'm doing! I finally just blurted out, as fast as I could, "I believe Jesus Christ died on the cross for our sins, and rose from the dead! Why? What do you believe?" Way to just rattle off what everyone knows Christians believe. Sheesh.
His eyes lost their intensity, and a smirk played on his face. "I believe the same thing. I just wanted to see where you were at," and he walked away, leaving me very confused and embarrassed. Now, instead of flubbing up and getting flustered in front of a skeptic, I did it in front of a peer who likely knew more about this stuff than I did.
After that, he would stop and talk with me for a while each time he made his rounds. Then he began coming in on his days off to work out, purposely during my shift, and he would often visit with me after his work out for extended periods of time. I knew very early that he was someone I wanted to spend a lot more time with. A mutual friend of ours invited a bunch of us over to her apartment to hang out and watch a movie. When Harry Met Sally was on the agenda, and happens to be one of my favorites. I called Jelani to find out if he was going, secretly thinking I would only go if he went too.
"Are you going tonight?" I asked him.
"Only if you are," was his perfect response, filled with what I later learned was a ton of false confidence.
We went, we laughed, and had fun in a large, safe group of people, and we all dispersed. After that night, Jelani and I began hanging out as friends outside of work. I looked for excuses for us to get together, usually involving a get together with multiple people. I had my first ankle surgery on June 27th that summer. He often helped me do my grocery shopping while I was on crutches. His smile lit up a room. I loved his smile so much I began calling him Sunshine. In fact, up until recently (silly, smart phone), he was Sunshine in my phone address book. :) We talked a lot, about things we wanted. We both wanted to be married by 25 and start a family young. 20 and 22 at the time, we joked that at the age of 25, if we didn't have anyone else (there was never going to be anyone else), we should just go ahead and marry each other.
The days leading up to July 19, Jelani was at an Exercise Science conference in Indianapolis. It was only a few days, but I missed him more than a person would miss a friend. On the 19th a few of us decided to head up to Canada to Crystal Beach for some swimming. With a bum ankle, I mostly sat in the sand, anxious for Jelani's return that afternoon. As we crossed the border back, after a long day of sun, I helped plan a trip out to eat for later, knowing it would give me a good reason to call Jelani (I'm so sneaky). So we all planned on going home, getting cleaned up, and then meeting up at the Outback Steakhouse.
I called Jelani to let him know of the plans, and ask if he'd like to meet up with us for dinner. He was just getting into town when I called. He said he might come, secretly very excited that I had called him.
I wore my cutest outfit (you've gotta rock something cute when lugging around crutches). And a group of about 6 or 7 of us went out to eat at Outback. We then moved the party to Anderson's for ice cream. As the evening was coming to an end, ice cream cones were disappearing, and everyone else was planning on going to a party somewhere I knew I'd be uncomfortable on crutches, I bowed out. Knowing Jelani was not the party type anyway, I casually mentioned I was just going to be watching movies at the apartment, and he was welcome to just hang out with me.
He took the bait, came over, and pretended to really like Lilo and Stitch, just to hang out with me. As the credits rolled, we again joked about our hypothetical marriage. He confessed to me that he had never really dated anyone before.
"You can't just marry me, having never dated anyone before!" I told him. "How could you possibly have any idea what you want?"
"I know what I want," he answered simply.
"Well, maybe we should date a little first, to see if it would work," I said, half joking, looking for a reaction.
He thought for a minute. "Ok," he said.
And he kissed me.
We never really talked about that night again. It was months before either one of us was comfortable referring to the other as their boyfriend/girlfriend for fear that the relationship was never really defined and we might offend the other.
Better yet, it was years before we ever mentioned that night again, and could laugh at how outrageous his response was, and how we swooped into a serious relationship relatively quickly based on an, "Ok."
But we already knew we wanted to marry each other. We wouldn't have bothered dating if we didn't. There was no real definition needed. Ok seemed perfectly legit and reasonable, and the best place to start what had already begun.
So, here's to the dating years, the funny pictures, the stories we have to tell, and the investment we made. Because on July 19th, 2003, I know I made an investment, paying handsomely into my future. God placed Jelani in my life at the most perfect time, and I couldn't have even prayed for all those awesome qualities I am finding in our children daily. I don't think anyone in either of our families could imagine life any differently, and no one cares that he's not white and I'm not black (or look Italian ;-)). Happy 10 years together, Sunshine!
p.s. No one has ever had a clue what was going on in that middle, right picture above. Don't bother asking. That is why it's one of my favorites. :)