“Well, open it.”
I looked from my boyfriend to my parents. Frankly, I felt framed.
It was Christmas 2007. I wasn’t ready to be married. But there my boyfriend sat expectantly. I had just unwrapped a cherry jewelry box.
No, really, I don’t want to look inside. Please don’t make me look inside.
“Okay,” I resigned. I feigned a smile with the understanding that – if a ring was inside – I would have a choice to make. A public choice. An immediate choice. A forced choice.
The writing on the wall, however, had been revealed to me approximately nine months prior – during my first international service trip.
Nicaragua. Orphans. And a promise to give up sweets for Lent.
I remember sharing the news of my upcoming Nicaragua adventure with my sister.
“Lauren, you need to go to the beach for spring break.”
This advice, of course, was offered out of love; I take life pretty seriously. I think she always hoped I would lighten up just once before I left college. But what she didn’t understand was becoming very clear to me in that season: I need meaning. So I spent nine days away from reality with orphans in a country I couldn’t locate on a map.
In truth, I was naïve. I didn’t know the Spanish language or even a single person on the trip. I guess that was the allure for me: build relationships as you go. And, perhaps far less obviously, I was fleeing from a thought I couldn’t shake.
I don’t want to marry my boyfriend. Somehow I had become powerless in my own future.
But a little brunette named Heydi found me in a pool of sweat the morning of our day trip to la playa (the beach). Our bus was already packed with college students when we opened our doors (and laps) to the little people from her orphanage. Thank God for windows.
Heydi was five and fragile. We locked eyes, and she crawled across the seat to me. She had chosen me.
Over the course of our seven-hour road trip, we overcame a significant language barrier, as she spoke only Spanish. We taught one another songs, games, and laughter. I still remember the sound of her voice counting my moles, even after sunset.
An attachment had been made. Fortuitously, I was also able to spend my final day in Nica with Heydi. We went to a movie, ate the sweetest candy on Earth, and painted our faces with lip gloss. In our final embrace, Heydi revealed to me what my life had been missing: the Lord’s call to be “mom” one day.
I remember standing beneath a mango tree conversing via cell phone with my boyfriend just before our departure.
How can you tell a man you love that you don’t see him in your future?
So I waited. I prayed for the right timing. And I was selfish, which meant one day there would be a jewelry box…my parents…and a question.
Open it, Lauren, they’re watching you.
But there was a no ring waiting inside, only a necklace. A cheap necklace. I’ve never been so relieved in all my life. The proposal, as it turns out, never came.
Now, ten years later, I write this piece during spring break. I’m not at the beach, and I’m a professor. My sister still encourages me to loosen up. She’s probably right. I no longer give up sugar for Lent.
But when my children find a new mole, I remember Heydi and am forever grateful for the message that only she could bring.
One Year Ago: The Eyes of March