Rachel Cobleigh (reveilles) wrote,
Rachel Cobleigh

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a little reflection

Short summary:

  • Engaged to jcobleigh on 27 December 2003
  • Wedding date: 14 August 2004, 10:00 A.M.
  • Ceremony location: First Baptist Church, Amherst, MA

Jamie Cobleigh and I have worked together in the Laboratory for Advanced Software Engineering Research (LASER) in the Computer Science Department at UMass Amherst since August 2000. Technically, he's two years ahead of me in the graduate program, but as we all know, grad school is a bit more flexible when you get to the All But Dissertation (ABD) stage. He's currently on schedule to graduate in May 2005 and I'm on schedule to graduate in May 2006. We'll see what actually happens...

In April 2001, he asked me out. ("Why?" I asked him recently. "Because I thought we'd make a good couple," he answered. Sweet and simple. :) We dated briefly but I didn't feel ready to start a relationship with anyone, so I apologized and we remained friends. He responded with a grace that I'd never experienced before in relationship situations, and he asked me to let him know if I ever changed my mind. I said I would, but dismissed the possibility. We really did remain friends and good co-workers. No weird pressure, no weird looks, no bitterness, no flirting; he took my 'no' as a no, treated me with respect as a colleague, and I was surprised to find myself still comfortable. And immensely relieved. (A bit of context: I've generally been very resistant (fear, distrust, whatever) to guys throughout my life; this only recently changed. :)

Life went on, rewarding and hard and fun and painful. But God is good, so it's more than enough to be content. :) Looking back at that time now, I recognize a subtle little pattern that was so brief and quiet as to be nearly unconscious. Often when I started to have some thought about how men in general couldn't really be trusted, were self-focused, were whatever bad, trust-squelching quality I was tacking on them at that moment, a little whisper would bring Jamie to mind as the exception... But I never gave this any thought. (Why, you may wonder? Perhaps because I was self-focused... :)

I had decided to cling to Christ when I was sixteen; I felt my need then and felt intensely that I would be foolish not to do it, and it has been the single most rewarding decision of my life. In living as a believer, I learned how to do a lot of good things, but in one area, especially, I felt really awkward and unwilling: hospitality. I took a test to find out what spiritual gifts I might have and hospitality scored at the absolute bottom of the list. I didn't know how to cook and I didn't want to make the effort to try because my few early attempts had been failures. I didn't have any interest in making small, useless conversations with strangers. I didn't like going to parties unless I could do something in the backround that didn't involve socializing. Oxymoronic, I know. For some reason, in the midst of all of this during my undergraduate days, I joined a sorority. Loved all of it except for the part about going to frat parties. :) I just thought, "Cheap beer, tight clothes, dumb guys--ugh." (Though to be fair, not ALL of them were into that stuff. :)

When I got to grad school, Jamie started inviting a handful of the grad students to his place for parties. But these parties were of a completely different sort: a potluck, some wine with dinner (wow! wine! classy!), maybe a cheese or chocolate tasting, board games or a movie. Lo and behold, I actually started enjoying socializing! The people were interesting, I could manage a small part of the meal: something simple like making garlic bread, the board games were different than the usuals so they were interesting and challenging, the humor and topics of conversation actually engaged me, and I felt like I was a part of something fun and mature. Hey, I'm not socially a lost cause! Plus, I was intrigued by the idea that it was organized by someone in my own generation.

Jamie loves cooking, baking especially, so he brings in various decadent things to fatten up everyone in the lab. He brought in some hot pickled carrots once that I fell in love with. I was in such raptures over them that, unasked, he gave me the recipe and bought me a pickling jar: my very first.

So I started pickling carrots. And then I'd get a recipe for something else. I decided to make a lasagna for the lab's New Year's party my first year of grad school. I did it, I enjoyed the day-long cooking process, and everyone complimented me on it! I noticed that he always had some kind of interesting dish for lunch; I started making casseroles and things, and just taking a portion of them for lunch for a week. Last year, I got a book on good nutrition and improved my diet and cooking possibilities. Little things. Now making a lasagna for New Year's has become a four-year tradition with me. At some point, I started thinking that I wanted to have a party. So I did, based on Jamie's example. A potluck, so I didn't have to do everything. Then another one. Then I started inviting other people outside of the lab social circle over. I started developing my own easy, tasty recipes. Then the third New Year's was at my place. So the cooking thing just crept up on me. Most recently, I actually found myself teaching Jamie how to do stir-fry... :)

I'm house-sitting for a friend until I graduate. (GREAT gift from God!) It seemed a shame to keep the whole place to myself; the space just cries out to be used by whomever needs it. Giving passing friends a place to stay was easy. One of these friends said, "You have the gift of hospitality! I've been making little mental notes about the things you've done for us for when I have guests!" as she was leaving. I was stunned and I felt unworthy of such a comment. She had no idea about that spiritual gifts test from so long ago, but God did. I felt a like He'd given me a little love note through her words, and had only shown me in retrospect how He had been working quietly in my life to change me.

Sometimes it just feels like God's got me in a silver furnace (Psalm 66:10), sort of slow-cooking, and He turns up the heat at various intervals. When the heat initially gets turned up, I bubble and froth and panic and whatever else...but then I get used to the new (and higher) temperature by the time He's skimmed more of my impurities off the top. So I simmer along mostly comfortable and learning to be okay with my newer self, and then He turns up the heat again. The cool thing about silver is that the silversmith knows he's done when he can see his reflection clearly in it... :)

A couple of noteworthy things happened to me in the two years between April 2001 and August 2003. About a year after Jamie had first asked me out, I was sitting in my cubicle at work one day, eating lunch. Our lab is sort of a perpetual social hour; we get work done, but people regularly get up and wander about, do a public crossword puzzle, fiddle with a game, debate religion and politics, etc. This particular day, Jamie decided to pick up a Rubik's Cube that was making the rounds and solve it. He sat on a low filing cabinet across from my cubicle and started doing it with a kind of absentminded air, quickly and with ease. I thought, "He really turns me on when he does that!"

I recall pressing my lips together and gripping the arms of my chair to prevent myself from voicing the thought, I was so surprised by it. Where did that come from? I don't make a habit of mentally commenting on people's attractiveness, and I thought my attraction to him was long since over. Guess not. Still, I dismissed any significance and just took personal amusement in knowing I was attracted to intelligent men.

Last summer, I had invited some friends over that I had met through the UMass grad Bible study. Two of them are a Ghanian couple; the wife had just come to the States, the husband had been in grad school for the previous school year. The party was to celebrate his wife's arrival. During the school year, he had inadvertantly run up against my customary bristling fear-of-men response and instead of politely backing away, he'd challenged my bad attitudes and had encouraged me by praying for me throughout the year. God used his strong faith to get at me from the most unexpected quarter--and I started to heal. God convicted my heart through this brother's words: if I am unwilling to trust my brothers in Christ, I'm not in the right place.

First step: acknowledge I'm wrong. For a strong-minded, independent woman (girl?) like me, it was hard to concede that my natural instinct for self-preservation (the exclusion of men in general from my heart) was wrong. It went against every fear and every wall that I had built within me. I'd wrestled with God about this stuff before and He'd gradually eroded at my walls and defenses before this challenge came at me, leaving me with fewer and fewer layers of Rachel-built defenses. By this point, I couldn't a) blame men for my own issues, b) get angry at men for being nice to me (that meant I had to be nice back, and I resented that obligation), or c) be inhospitable because I'm an antisocial introvert--because I have by this point learned that I am what I choose to be. Go Jane Austen! :) (Sorry, digression... :)

Second step: realize that if I refuse to trust God's men, what it really boils down to is that I'm not trusting God to take good care of me with respect to them. It's not blind faith, it's just...being willing to theoretically let someone in, to trust them, to let them be human and fail, to make myself vulnerable and let myself fail because I inevitably will. And that's okay. I'm not alone; Someone is taking good care of me, if I'll let Him.

It was also somewhere in there that I dreamed that I had long hair and was enjoying running my fingers through it. I'd had very short hair for two years (it's so easy! :); I figured my unconscious was trying to tell me something. For my birthday, my mother and sisters took me out to buy a make-up kit. I don't use it much now, but I tried it for a little while. I know how to put make-up on if I ever want to. One less thing to be afraid of. One of those days I got in a new mood: I put on a little make-up, stuck my short hair out (it unexpectedly looked cute), wore a "cute" outfit to church (i.e., a dress instead of pants), and wiggled happily at the surprised new me looking back at me from the mirror. That's not to say that I had one of those movie-transformation make-overs; I still wear jeans and sweatshirts and shlep around in whatever I feel comfortable in...but now I know I can dress up if I want to. It's a choice instead of a fear.

Summer (2003) came; Jamie left for a ten-week internship with NASA in California, just like he'd done the previous summer. Somewhere in mid-July, the Ghanian couple came over to my place for the party. It was a wonderful, fun evening. At the end of the party, we all prayed before parting. That unabashed Ghanian brother in Christ started praying (out loud!) that the Lord would give me a husband. I had a moment of embarassment (Do I look desperate or something? I thought I was doing a pretty good job as a healthy, active, not-looking single person! :), but then I smiled and just decided to be grateful that this brother wasn't hiding behind the white elephant; he wasn't ashamed to pray for this thing for me, something I'd never asked God for myself, because I felt it would have been presumptuous and I didn't even know if I really wanted a husband (they're more trouble than they're worth, aren't they? :)

In the midst of prayer I looked around the kitchen and suddenly felt so strongly, "The next time you invite these people over, Jamie will be preparing the meal with you."

What?! Whoa--where'd that come from? Huh? I quickly pushed the thought back, dismissed it as (confused?) wishful thinking, and finished the evening with them.

But (::poke poke::) God wasn't finished. Over the next month and a half, I started to realize that I missed Jamie a whole lot more than I would normally miss a friend. I looked forward to his return at the end of the summer. It wasn't a lightning strike; it was just a quiet, gradual sort of realization, as I looked at the previous three years of friendship and professional collaboration, that there was this extraordinary person standing beside me. His effect on my life hadn't been obvious, but it was unmistakeable. I was a better person for having known him. He never tried to change me, he just lived. Oh, and that's right--he'd treated me with a unique respect, unlike nearly every other guy I'd had a potential-romance interaction with.

And...I'm not afraid of him. Every bit of evidence indicates that I can trust him. But trust him with what? What am I asking myself/You, God? Should I be paying any attention to all of this?


But, but--what about his faith? He's a Catholic...I'm used to thinking of a relationship with You in terms of what I know...but I don't know Catholicism...

Will you trust Me?


Then tell him.

Oh, that's right. I had promised him I would tell him if I ever changed my mind. Like Elizabeth Bennett in Pride and Prejudice, I was feeling quite the opposite of what I had at first. But I'm so scared! I've never done this before! How could I bring it up! What will he do? What if he says he's not interested? (That would be a relief; I wouldn't have to hurl myself off this cliff for the longer term. But...I want to?)

Just tell him.


::laugh:: You'll be more scared after</i> you tell him.

I will? Huh? Why?

No answer.

Um. Okay. Yes. It's the honest (BUT SCARY! SCARY!) thing to do.

The first week of September, after the first night of H.M.S. Pinafore rehearsals (Oh, I didn't mention that, did I? Yes, Jamie pestered (politely encouraged) me for two years to join Valley Light Opera. I finally ran out of excuses and decided to try out. I had intended to be rejected--who knew I could sing opera?--and then he wouldn't be able to ask me anymore. The plan backfired spectacularly and I got a part. Spent three months with him nearly every single day. :) We walked out to the parking lot together that first night, and without any warning, preamble, or romantic whatever, I told him I'd realized I missed him a lot over the summer and I'd changed my mind.

He literally staggered two steps backward and clamped his hand over his mouth, basically speechless for the next several minutes, until we parted. He needed time to process it. God was right, I did start to freak out afterwards and wonder what I had just gotten myself into. By the time that Jamie had processed sufficiently, I had also had the time to process sufficiently, and we started dating the first weekend of October.

Much, MUCH better than I ever expected--but far too much story to add right now. :)

I spent Christmas with him and his family down in New Jersey (we spent Friday walking around NYC together! Never thought I'd be kissing someone on a subway train! :), and Saturday, back up in Massachusetts, I asked him to marry me and he said yes.

That's another story too. :)

Sighing off for the night. God bless!

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