19. My New Life
After arriving home, I quickly found a job with a tax agency where I had worked throughout college. It was easy for me to jump right in to the working world again and I was revved up about showing all my friends and family how much I had changed. I wish I could say that I was able to stay on that spiritual high but all highs eventually come down. I was happy to be home, happy to rejoin ministry at my home church, happy to be home with my family. But I missed Mario. The stresses of being back in the “real world” at home weren’t overwhelming but my health hadn’t changed much and once again I would have to start paying my own bills with regularity.
During the months at the tax agency I was able to calmly look for a more permanent job and found one with an attorney in the same office building. I worked for him for another six months and then my cousin called with good news. “There is an opening for a sales administrator where I work. Do you want me to give them your resume?”, he asked. “Of course,” I answered. After one interview, I received the news that I got the job. And I was on my way to fulfilling my dream of being the “ultimate corporate chic”.
Meanwhile, Mario was in California working any and all jobs that he could find. We talked on the phone and even tried this new-fangled thing called chatting online. He was determined to save up his money and move to Michigan by June 1998. And he succeeded. When we finally knew that he was really going to come, I rustled up an apartment for him and lined up a few job interviews. Once he arrived, he moved in to his tiny little place and got a job at a sports equipment store within one week.
We were so excited to be together again and I knew that I knew that I knew that he was “the one”. I figured if he had the guts to move all the way out here for me, he was definitely the real deal! We did not anticipate that it would be five more years until we could get married nor we did we realize the lessons we would learn together about faith in God, patience and just plain old common sense. Through those five years though, we committed to remain sexually pure before the Lord and we did. It wasn’t easy and temptation was always right there in our faces, but we did honor God in that way. Mario and I also committed from the very beginning that we would not play emotional games with each other. If either of us ever felt that we shouldn’t be together we would be honest about it and would let go. But it never came to that.
Soon after Mario arrived, my sister and her long-time boyfriend got engaged. I was so excited for them. They were married in January 1999 and on the day of their wedding it snowed seventeen inches!! I felt so bad for them because half of their guests couldn’t come to the ceremony or the reception. But those of us who braved the roads had a blast. Mario and another young friend of ours ran the music for their reception and we danced until they kicked us out. Which didn’t take very long due to the weather conditions.
It was a very memorable time in our lives and I loved how easily Mario fit into my circle of friends. Over the next years we worked, we ministered and we played. We grew together and became the kind of couple around whom anyone could be themselves. Mario and I decided early on that we would live honestly before the Lord; we would be honest about our struggles, our victories, our stories. People would watch us and know that they were welcome in our circle. They would be accepted and loved even while being challenged to pursue God even more. We have kept that goal ever before us and still live that way today. My family and friends loved Mario the moment they met him. Everyone did and still does. Well, except for my parents. Don’t get me wrong. They totally love him now but at first, well maybe not so much.
I will not go into detail about our courtship because mostly that’s a story for Mario or my parents to tell. Suffice it to say, we waited for five years to get married because we wanted my parents’ blessing and did not exactly receive that. But time passed and things changed greatly in my life, in all of our lives. My paternal grandfather (you remember, the one who lived next door to us while I was growing up) had remarried and was building a home up in the Soo near the place where I was born. He was unwilling to sell the house at the time and rather than have it sit empty, we agreed that I should rent it from him. Thus began another set of adventures that I will not bore you with involving roommates, Christian young adult parties, and just general growing-up sorts of lessons.
I enjoyed my job as a sales administrator at the automotive company. I worked there for nearly three years until it was bought out by a larger company and moved its headquarters an hour away from my home. But I was never satisfied with what I had and what I was doing. I always wanted to be moving up, to be accomplishing something, changing the way things were done. I regret my attitude because I failed to see a good thing when I had it. But I’ve learned from every situation and my lesson while a lowly sales administrator was about being content in the little things. You know, finding the silver lining. It was a great job with fantastic benefits and incredible pay. When I needed laparoscopic surgery in 2000, I was able to take medical leave without any problems. When I wanted to go on a ten-day mission trip to Romania just a month later, the company gave me leave with pay. I increased my computer skills, my marketing and database knowledge and sales experience.
But I still struggled with panic attacks, endometriosis (discovered during the laporascopic surgery) and random I.B.S. episodes. I was torn between wanting to minister and be a Godly example and wanting to live the life my worldly colleagues led. When the company moved out to Farmington Hills, I knew I would not be going with it. I said, “unless they make me vice president of something, I’m not driving an hour each way to be a glorified secretary for the rest of my life.” And so I found another job in the newspaper, went for an interview, was hired and gave my two-week’s notice.
In retrospect, perhaps I should have kept the job I had and found another way to “move up the corporate ladder.” The new job was at a local, family-owned manufacturing company that had nothing whatsoever to do with the automotive industry. I felt that I could really go places with this job even though it, too, started low on the totem-pole as a sales administrator. The first year with this company was like a honeymoon in paradise. Everything was going so well. Mario and I had been together for nearly four years, I had my own place and a good roommate that I had met while on the mission trip in Romania, and I was feeling good.
I was well-liked at the new job and got along well with my boss as well as the other directors and workers. The division I was working with had a simple structure. I reported to my supervisor as did four sales people “out in the field”. My guys, as I soon began to label them, were located in Illinois, Georgia and New York. I developed an amazing relationship with each of them and with the plant personnel. Among other tasks, each month I took data from the different plants in the eastern United States, generated reports and gave them to my director.
Sales goals and marketing plans were based off of my reports and I began to feel like I was part of something important. Soon my supervisor began to rely on me for all kinds of tasks and projects. I began to write operating procedures for our division which was growing by leaps and bounds. He hired another assistant and I trained her. I was the only administrator who went to the meetings with the other managers while he was out on the road meeting with customers. I was feeling.....and acting....mighty important.
Meanwhile, outside of work, things were great with Mario. But time was beginning to strain our relationship. Where was it going? It had been four years since he moved here and yet we were no closer to becoming engaged than before. I was hanging on to the hope that my parents would have an epiphany and realize that he was the amazing, wonderful, superb, perfect one for me and would shower their blessings on us. In June of 2001, I finally realized that I was a grown woman with my own rented home who had traveled the world and who had wonderful parents that taught me how to hear the voice of God in my life. I told Mario I was ready to move on in our relationship if that’s what he wanted regardless of any familial consequences. It was a heart-wrenching decision for me but the time had come to grow up and away from my family, if that was necessary.
But Mario didn’t ask me to marry him right then. In fact, several weeks passed and I began to think he wouldn’t. And then, on the 4th of July at the fireworks in a local town Mario knelt on both knees (he said he was too nervous and thought he’d fall over if he only knelt on one knee) and asked me to be his wife. With hands shaking, thoughts swirling, eyes sparkling and a huge grin I answered, “yes, of course I will!!” And just like that, I was engaged.
And I was terrified. How would I tell my parents? The people I trusted most in my life, the ones who prayed me through thick and thin - I was going against their advice and wishes. My heart broke for myself, for Mario and for them.