There was a time, a long time ago, when I was 20 years old. I was going through a time then of trying to figure out who I was. I had already lost touch with my high school friends. I had been surrounding myself with less-than-savory people. I was feeling lost. I felt like something was missing. I started going to church with my mom. We went to Life Center Church in Tacoma. We went consistently every Sunday morning for about a month.
One day the pastor announced that they had a college-aged youth group on Friday nights called “The XChange.” I had never been to anything like that. I usually made fun of church youth groups, what with growing up in the Catholic realm. Catholics don’t have youth groups. We have confession.
But after a break-up with an atheist, I wanted to surround myself with like-minded people. Like attracts like. I went to The XChange the following Friday night. All by myself. It started at 9 p.m. I wasn’t a party-going girl, even at 20, so going out at 9 p.m. even for church seemed pretty late to me. I met some really nice people. The youth pastors were welcoming. It was a great time of singing and fellowship, something that was pretty foreign to me. I decided I would come back the next Friday.
By the third week, the shininess of my new group was already starting to wear off. At the time I wore acrylic nails that I hadn’t had filled for a while and they were looking pretty ridiculous. I still lived at home with my parents then, and I decided that I would go to Fred Meyer after work, pick up some solution to pop my nails off on my own, and THAT is how I would spend my Friday night.
And I did just that. I sat in front of the TV in my bedroom and popped off those nails, one by one. It was at about 8:30 that I suddenly had a change of heart about going to the XChange that night. It was an undeniable pull. I needed to go. I changed my clothes quickly and was out the door. When I walked into the room at the church, there were only two people in the room. One was a regular I had seen before; he had brought a friend that night. I’d never seen him the previous two weeks. The extent of my observations of him was that he had really skinny legs.
I took a seat at a table in the back and waited for some of the regular girls to arrive. The evening started and progressed as usual. Then the pastor made an announcement that they had cards in the back for new people to fill out. I realized I had never filled one out before, so at the end of the evening, I made my way to the back. There were three of us newbies in the back. Another girl, the guy with the skinny legs, and me. We were all filling out our cards when the other girl turned to me and asked if I knew where to put the cards when we were finished. There wasn’t any kind of box to put them in. I said, “I don’t know. I’m just going to set mine here on the table.” The guy with the skinny legs, whose face I had yet to see before this moment, looked up at me from filling out his card, smiled, and said, “Well, I’ll just set mine by yours, then.”
At that moment, I no longer noticed his skinny legs, but was intently focused on what was truly the sincerest, most beautiful smile I had ever seen. I couldn’t even move after that. They had cake and ice cream for one of the pastor’s birthday, and as we all stood around waiting – most mingling – me, standing by myself like a fool, I wanted so much to go say hi to the guy with the nice smile, but I was so shy, and I didn’t go up to guys, ever. So instead I just waited a few minutes and then ducked out. And that was that.
The following Sunday morning, my mom decided not to go to church, but I wanted to keep my momentum going, so I went by myself. I dropped my sister off at the mall first so she could shop and I would pick her up after church. I sat by myself at church, listening to the pastor’s sermon. Life Center is a huge church, and as the pastor spoke, I caught myself glancing around the audience, people watching. Suddenly, my eyes darted to the right, and I saw the guy from Friday night with the nice smile and the skinny legs sitting next to his friend and his friend’s wife. I couldn’t believe I was seeing him again. After that moment, everything that pastor said was lost on me.
But after church, just like everyone else, I filed out of the sanctuary into the main lobby towards the door. I was almost to my car when I heard a voice inside my head say to me, “Turn around and go back. Turn around and go back. You’re not going to get this chance again.”
So I did what I was told. I turned around and walked back towards the sanctuary. But as I got closer, I started frantically thinking, “Okay, Kellie, what now? What are you doing? What are you going to do? Are you going to say something? You are nuts!” But I went anyway, like I was in a trance. I walked down the aisle of the church, past the guy with the nice smile, who was still in the pew with his friends. I saw the youth pastor speaking with some people, and I went to go say hi to him, I guess to buy myself some time since I had no clue what I was supposed to be doing. I told the pastor how much I loved the church. We had a pleasant conversation; meanwhile, I turned around to see if nice-smile was still there. When I turned around, he was smiling at me. I think I actually turned around to the other side to see if there was someone else he could’ve been smiling at. But there wasn’t. I turned back to the pastor for a few moments, then looked again. Still smiling.
Like most forced conversations, the conversation with the pastor reached far past the point of awkwardness, so I curtsied and said, “Good day, sir,” (not so much; it was 1999.) and excused myself. When I turned around to walk back up the aisle, nice-smile and his friends were still in the same spot. I reached the point where, if we had hash tags and spoke in acronyms back then, I thought something like #yolo and stopped right smack dab in front of where they all stood. I had never met his friends. The three of them looked at me. What came out of my mouth next was an earth-shattering, mind-blowing “Hi!” Nice-smile immediately responded with his own, “Hi!” Then just like “Meeting People for Dummies” told me, I cleverly came back with, “I’m Kellie!” He said, “I’m Dustin.” I asked him if he liked church. He said that yes, he did. I asked him if he would be at the XChange the next Friday. He said he would. And then I said, “Nice to meet you,” and I walked away.
I knew my sister was waiting for me at the mall still, so I went to pick her up. When I saw her, I said, “Michelle! Michelle! You’re not going to believe it! I just met the man I’m going to marry!” She looked at me like I was nuts and said, “Whatever. Shut up.”
The next Friday I showed up at the XChange, and Dustin’s friend’s wife, Linda, spotted me right away and said, “Hey! Are you the girl who talked to Dustin last Sunday?” I said, “Yes,” a little warily. She said, “Well, he’s here! He’s here! He went to get a coffee with my husband. Sit down at our table.” So I did, knowing they all must’ve been talking about me. Dustin did eventually show up with his friend Josh, but this time they were both wearing military BDU’s. I thought, “Oh, nooooooo, a military guy?” I had sworn not to date another military guy after a bad experience. They sat down at the table, but the night’s events got underway and there wasn’t any chance to talk. When there was, I was mostly observing him talking to his friend and his wife. His friend’s wife said, ‘You know what, Dustin? You’re not hanging out with Josh anymore because you’re a bad influence on him. Now all he ever says when I ask him a question is ‘Don’t worry about it.'” Dustin quickly replied, “Well, you shouldn’t worry about it.” I thought, “Oh no, is this guy a jerk?” I didn’t get much time to make more observations because not 20 minutes into the evening, he and Josh got up from the table to go to work the night shift. I wondered why he would even come if he had to work. I was disappointed that I didn’t get to talk to him at all and was starting to doubt my judgment. Before he left, the pastor made an announcement that the following week there would be a special event at the XChange that we had to participate in. It would be something he promised we’d never done before.
The following Friday I showed up and sat down at a table. Josh and Linda were already there sitting at another table, but Dustin wasn’t there. I thought, “Well, that’s that.” I figured I’d probably never see him again. Then a voice came from over my left shoulder. “Is this seat taken?” It was him. He sat down and he told me he drove himself there that night. We just started talking. Before we knew it, it was time for the main event. The thing we’d all never done before. A Spam carving contest. Really. We were Spam carving partners. I don’t think we carved anything recognizable as we were talking through the whole thing. It was one of the best moments of my life.
Why do I type all of this out now, you might be asking? Well, I’ve told many people our story, as it’s a story very close to my heart. I’ve never gotten tired of telling it, and anyone who is unfortunate enough to ask me how we met will get this earful. I just thought it was time it was put in writing.
The night of the Spam carving contest was February 5, 1999. And the rest is history.