“Rob, I think you’re for my sister, JoAnna,” said Sean as he confidently planted his 6’2″ frame in front of me after a camp worship service. I shifted my weight and felt slightly uncomfortable and awkward as he persisted, “I’ve never done this before, but when I saw you on stage leading worship, I couldn’t stop thinking, ‘He’s for JoAnna.'” I brushed his words aside with fake enthusiasm and something lame like, “Cool!… Have her facebook me sometime!”
“Facebook me sometime” is the new version of “Let’s get lunch” or “I’ll pray for you.” It ends the conversation quickly, and leaves you without plans or obligations. My ingenious conversation stopper, however, didn’t put an end to Sean’s matchmaking antics.
The highlight reel of memories that flash through my mind from that week at Quaker Haven Camp is marked by Sean’s humorous perseverance. After each morning chapel he’d say, “Hey Rob, have you facebooked JoAnna yet?” On my way to the camp cafeteria, “Hey Rob, JoAnna’s on the phone. You wanna talk with her?” After eating, “Dude, if you wanna skype with my sister, my friend, Tyler, and I can be with you, so it won’t be awkward.” Yeah. Not awkward at all.
While he kept throwing out opportunities like alley oops in a dunk competition, I kept dodging them like a geek in a dodgeball tournament. The puzzling thing about Sean was that… he wasn’t weird. Just persistent. He was like the matchmaking basketball playing version of a used car salesman. He tracked me down every chance he got just to sell me on his sister. I admit. I was secretly flattered and after competing with him on the basketball court, watching him participate enthusiastically with the campers in worship, and meeting his other beautiful sister and her baby, I secretly thought that this unknown JoAnna he spoke so highly of might actually be cool and possibly… even gorgeous.
My nagging suspicions were confirmed on one of the last days during breakfast. As we both scarfed down a gargantuan amount of cereal, eggs, and yogurt, Sean looked at me like a coach trying to motivate his player and said seriously, “Rob, you gotta meet my sister.” I laughed and tried to verbally side step the issue when he cut me off mid-sentence with, “Rob, my sister is cool. She’s so cool that she wants to go on a bike trip across America after she graduates college.” Thinking I had told Sean a story from my bike trip across America earlier in the week, I replied sarcastically, “I could teach her a thing or two about that.” “What do you mean?” Sean asked quickly with a look of confusion. I squinted my eyebrows and questioned him cynically, “We haven’t talked about this?” “About what?” was his reply.
In that instant, my world stopped. It was as if God was slapping me upside the head and yelling, “Pay attention!” What Sean didn’t know was that two years earlier, I had gone on a “bike trip across America,” and had even used those exact words when telling and retelling stories from the trip. What he also didn’t know is that Chris Lindley, a Quaker pastor from Paoli, Indiana had prophesied over me and my two friends, Pilgrim & Josh, during our coast to coast adventure. One of the specific things that he spoke over my life was, “Rob, this bike trip across America is preparing you to meet the woman that God has for you.” The third thing that Sean didn’t know was that God had asked me to pray Proverbs 31 over my future wife for 30 days. When Sean mentioned JoAnna to me the first time, I was on the 15th day of praying for the right woman.
After Sean’s “bike trip across Amerca” comment and our confusing exchange, I narrowed my focus and said, “Sean, I went on a bike trip across America two years ago.” “What?!!!” he enthusiastically yelled like he had just won the love connection lotto. “I knew you two were meant for each other! You have to meet!” I sincerely agreed. “Alright. I’ll talk with her.” Sean’s eyes got big. “Rob, she’s beautiful. I gotta show you a picture!”
With one “Okay” from me, Sean ran out of the cafeteria to grab the nearest smart phone in order to navigate through JoAnna’s facebook pictures. Unfortunately, because of lousy reception, he could only find a picture with two girls in it. I knew one of them was JoAnna, so I crossed my fingers and briefly prayed that the dark haired one with the sparkly eyes and wide smile was her. After milliseconds of mounting suspense, I breathed a sigh of relief when Sean pointed at the right girl and said, “That’s Jo!”
“Yes, SHE IS GORGEOUS! Hook a brotha up!” I could’ve yelled. Instead I chose the less desperate route. “Wow. She is really pretty,” I said in a hushed yet genuine tone. Later that day, Sean forcefully handed me his phone like a blazing hot potato and said, “It’s JoAnna.” “JoAnna? Hi…” was my brilliant opening line. An electric spark of interest resonated in our conversation as I asked her questions and briefly skimmed over some of my bike trip stories. I quickly recognized I was letting my heart jump in a little too fast, so I ended the conversation with a rushed excuse for saying, “Goodbye.”
After the week of camp was finished, I found out Sean was not. He blew up my new iphone with text messages, calls, and voicemails until I reluctantly facebooked JoAnna this message:
I think this might be you… Anyway, Sean really thinks the world of ya and was talkin’ ya up the whole time I was at camp with him. I look forward to chattin’ with you some more…
She replied, and we were off to the races. Our facebook messages grew like well-watered Chia Pets until I “finally,” as she put it, asked for her number. On July 4, I called her from Minnesota where me and my family were spending the weekend celebrating my Grandma Kowalik’s 90th birthday. The birthday celebration was supposed to start that night at 6 or 7. When I called, it was only 4:30, so I figured I’d be good. Four hours later, everybody came lookin’ for me and rudely interrupted my conversation. That night as I tried to spot fireworks over rooftops and trees God told me, “This will be your last Independence Day alone.”
Eleven days later, after my second week of camp at Quaker Haven that summer, Jo & I met in Wabash, IN at her sister’s house. As the brakes on my 1990 grey Buick Lesabre squeaked to a slow stop, I saw her for the first time waiting on the sidewalk of Maple Street. “This is it,” repeated over and over in my head like an echo that never loses volume.
I handed her a bouquet of flowers and greeted her with a hug and a smiley, “Hey! It’s good to finally meet you.” She sported short denim shorts, a casual black t-shirt, dressy sandalish sort of shoes, and scrunched hair gathered into a pony tail. It’s hard to remember anything else besides thinking, “This is it. She’s beautiful.”
Rewind with me. I’ve spent the last year working toward one goal: a record deal. After all, the name of my blog, “Door to door. 1 Year. 1 City. 1 Songwriter” sounds like a title for a full-length documentary. I didn’t set out to find love this year. I set out to love God, follow my heart, and get that record deal.
In the process, I failed many times. I tried out for American Idol and botched the audition by starting out in the wrong key. I set a goal to sell 10,000 cd’s. I sold 2,000. I filmed numerous videos for youtube. None of them went big. I tried winning a Folger’s Jingle Contest. My friends and I thought we’d win. We didn’t even place in the top ten.
Too many “What the heck?’s” and “Why God?’s” litter the timeline of the last 365 days of my life. But last Saturday, as my parents and Jo’s family raised their glasses in Wabash, IN, while Sean toasted to our engagement, God’s work through all of my failures was confirmed.
If I would’ve competed on American Idol, won the Folger’s Jingle Contest, or gotten famous on youtube, I probably would’ve never led worship at Quaker Haven Youth Camp. I would’ve never met Sean. He would’ve never introduced me to his sister, JoAnna. We would’ve never gone on a first date. And I would’ve never been engaged to the most beautiful woman in the world.
When Sean toasted, he said, “Rob, I knew you two were meant for each other. There’s no one more perfect for Jo, and there’s no one more perfect for you.” After raising our champagne glasses and paper cups, I gazed into Jo’s sparkly bluish green eyes. We kissed and both smiled as we caught a glance of the diamonds and white gold on her finger. I never expected what God would bring me this year. But I do know one thing. She’s way better than a record deal.
Below are 4 pictures of a hilarious card JoAnna got from one of her students at the elementary school where she student teaches.