Filipe and I met in my hometown of Charleston, South Carolina, when we were partnered together to lead a small group on our college campus.
I had just transferred to Charleston Southern University (CSU) after a two-year stint in Orange County, CA, which also included a semester in Oxford, England. God radically changed my life during those two years and shifted my plan for a life in law and politics, and began leading me toward a life in ministry.
Charleston is where I grew up and committed my life to Jesus. Orange County is where I found healing from past hurts and regrets, and started learning how to live out my faith. Oxford is where I sensed God calling me to full-time ministry. I’m grateful for what I discovered in each of those places- even when I felt scattered and all over the map sometimes.
I didn’t have a clear idea of what ministry was at first, and had you told me I would marry a pastor and have five kids one day, I would have run for the hills. I lacked clarity about much, but one thing was clear- God wanted me to move back to Charleston and serve at the church where I grew up. I couldn’t ignore it. I was also crazy enough to risk moving back and forth from coast-to-coast not knowing what awaited me on the other side.
Charleston was the last place I expected to live again; CSU the last college in America I ever wanted to attend. An easy test to know if you’re completely submitted to God is when He asks you to go where you swore you’d never go and you get excited about it. It was humbling, but it was also one of the best moves I made.
Within weeks of unpacking from another cross-country trek, I was standing in front of my future husband. Neither of us had a clue of course. Filipe and I both had blinders on when it came to relationships, but for good reasons. Our past relationships we were involved in up to that point resulted in heartbreak. I didn’t want to entertain the idea of a relationship at that point in time; I’m sure he’d say the same. I risked too much to allow distractions to knock me off course.
Soon after moving back, my college pastor gave me the task of leading a co-ed small group on my college campus. But, I didn’t know anyone. I felt nervous and scared not sure what I got myself into. But after spending so many years running from God, I just wanted to be obedient to whatever He asked- even if no one responded. I needed help and gladly welcomed anyone willing to lend a helping hand.
One night during a Friday night college gathering at our church, our pastor brought Filipe over to me and introduced us. Our pastor suggested to Filipe that he help out with the group and Filipe responded, “I’ll pray about it and get back to you”. I figured it was a cop-out and didn’t expect anything to come of it. I just knew he wanted to get as far away from me as he could.
The next Sunday Filipe showed up at my church. He came over to me, and said, “I prayed about it, and I think God wants me to help you lead that group.”
“Really, that’s great!” I said in shock. Who is this guy?, I thought. He actually says he’ll pray about something and actually means it. Who does that? I had so much more to learn about living this Christian life. We arranged to meet in the school lounge the following week.
Sparks and starry eyes were not present during that first meeting a few days later. We were two college students with a job to do. We sat across from each other in Little John Parlor at CSU, shared our testimony with one another, and made a basic plan for the group. It was strictly business, or I guess you could say, ministry. Nowadays, because of Filipe’s position, I like to point out that I was his leader first; he was my co-leader. Haha
A week later we sat in a circle surrounded by dozens of college students studying the topic of prayer. Each week we discussed different aspects of prayer, what it meant, and how to apply it to our lives. We spent a lot of time collectively and individually on our knees implementing what we learned.
Leading that group was a fast track for Filipe and I to get to know each other, and as we studied each week in preparation for our group, a friendship developed.
A few months into the group, word began to spread around campus about the things happening on Sunday nights during our prayer group. God stories were being written every week. During some of my classes, I began getting questions from girls around campus asking if we were more than friends. I would shrug it off and respond, “Oh no, we’re just leading that small group together”.
Over time, the questions increased and I found myself wondering if there could be more to this friendship. I didn’t dwell on it long though. I convinced myself it wouldn’t be appropriate for us to date while leading the group. That group meant everything to me. I felt closer to God than I ever had and didn’t want to mess anything up. Unfortunately, when it came to dating, my track record proved that whenever my feelings got involved things fell apart.
I experienced enough heartache in my past and struggled to take another risk. It wasn’t worth it. I was striving to follow Jesus, and was desperate to figure out where my life was going. I couldn’t get sidetracked by another relationship gone wrong.
When you’ve been in and out of relationships a few too many times, knowing how to do it right gets confusing. We were both smack dab in the middle of confusion. Avoiding the subject was a lot easier than facing it…for a little while.
Finally after months of ignoring people’s questions and pushing away the thoughts of whether this friendship could be something more, I began to pray about it. After all, we were leading a group on prayer. What a concept.
I started by praying against it. I assumed having feelings for Filipe was wrong, so my prayers went along the lines of, “God, forgive me for getting distracted. Please take away these feelings I have for him so I can be more effective for you.”
I was so scared of disappointing God.
But the feelings didn’t go away, they were only growing. God wasn’t answering my prayers. I was simultaneously annoyed and curious. Could it be that God approves of us being together?, I wondered as a spark of hope began growing in my heart. Does He want us to be together?
So the next month I shifted my prayers from praying against it to praying for it. “God, if there is a reason these feelings aren’t going away, would you make it clear? Will you somehow show me if this is from you? Could Filipe be my future husband?”
Filipe and I had a great friendship, and I didn’t want to mess it up if he wasn’t interested. I was past the point of dating just to date. I wanted a relationship that could go somewhere.
Normally when I liked a guy, I flirted enough to test the waters, and if it was reciprocated, I’d come out and say something to make it clear. My motto was, How is he going to know unless I tell him? But my normal wasn’t working, so I wanted to do things different this time. The only thing I could think of and made a decision about was not to be the one to make the first move. So I committed not to say or do anything that would intentionally communicate my feelings. But if he said something or made any hints, then I would reciprocate. This was new territory for me and required a great deal of self-control and patience.
After what felt like a lifetime (only a few weeks), Filipe made a comment. We were studying together and he wondered aloud if there would ever be something more to our friendship. But he quickly followed it with, “But it’s probably just because we’re spending so much time together leading the small group.”
I sat stunned. This was my moment, but I didn’t want to manipulate anything. If this was not something he wanted, I wasn’t going to convince him. I was still reaping those kinds of consequences.
God, what do I say?, I asked silently.
Be honest, I heard.
One word came to mind so I broke the silence, “Maybe”. I didn’t know what else to say.
The awkward silence was followed by a very objective conversation about how spending a lot time together- especially praying together- will naturally bring two people closer emotionally. Did it mean we should move beyond friendship? We didn’t know, but we agreed to pray about it and left it at that.
A month went by with no follow-up, but my feelings grew stronger. I didn’t know which direction to let my heart go. Do I hope for something? Do I close the door of possibility? I avoided the subject, afraid he wasn’t on the same page.
The next month I fasted. Fasting and prayer went hand-in-hand. We were studying it that semester and challenging our group to practice it. I began a seven-day fast the week leading up to Easter asking God to give me more clarity about my relationship with Filipe.
I remember as clear as yesterday the day before the fast ended. I drove Filipe to Columbia to pick up his cousin from the airport. During our drive we began discussing our individual dreams for our future. Filipe began sharing his vision for ministry after college. He didn’t share specific places or positions, he shared a perspective. The same perspective I shared.
I didn’t say much in the moment, and he probably doesn’t remember that conversation like I do, but it was enough. After that day, I was confident Filipe would be a part of my future, as confident a person can be before the fact. I wasn’t sure how the details would pan out, but it just made sense. We were both heading in the same direction, and it seemed like we could be more effective if we partnered together.
I still couldn’t say much at this point. Filipe had his own battles to overcome and I didn’t want to force anything before the right time. He wrestled with whether God was calling him to a life of singleness, and if that was a call from God, I didn’t want to get in the way. I joked about how often girls would compete with one another for a guy. I was just trying not to compete with God for a guy. I had to give him time; rushing him would do more harm than good. I kept waiting- some days more patiently than others.
From Easter 2001 to August 2001 my heart was in a holding pattern. Filipe went home to Brazil for the summer, and before he left we committed to pray about what a relationship meant for us and what it would look like. Our friendship grew because we spent time together, but what would happen when we were apart?
We didn’t know. We were still so cautious.
Come back next week for the next chapter of our story, “More Than Friends”.