Shannon here: Barbour debut author, Jennifer Rogers Spinola shares another glimpse into her real life romance. Her book, Southern-Fried Sushi releases in October and she’s promised to come back then. Comment on any post dated Feb 14 – 18 for a chance to win a copy of my book, White Pearls. Deadline Feb 19, midnight central time. Here’s Jennifer:
It started with a dream. Really. A dream—like the kind you have while sleeping.
Of course it started before that, back when I was serving as a short-term missionary in Sapporo, Japan, and nearly ran smack into that nice Brazilian foreign exchange student an acquaintance from Tokyo had mentioned. Right in the middle of a (very rare, in Buddhist Japan) Christian bookstore. Athos and I had spoken on the phone a couple of times, including one talk that lasted until around five in the morning. Never, ever in my life have I talked that long to any man. Probably to any female, for that matter. Dawn lifted, glass-blue, startling me as I hung up the phone and stumbled back to my darkened bedroom. Blinking up at the dark ceiling and wondering, to God, “What on earth was that?!”
In the bookstore, the first thing I recognized was his voice—nuances and tone familiar from our long conversations, carrying just a hint of Portuguese accent.
Our wonder and questions bloomed, over the following months, into something sparkly and nerve-tingling, always alive with the awareness that in my missionary program, crafted especially for young singles, dating was disallowed. Completely. No smooching, no make-out sessions, no getting engaged and making promises. We could meet, of course, in ministry or as friends, which we did with increasing frequency: at church, on the subway, to film my ill-fated missionary team video (we recorded it all on the wrong speed), and at local Christian events.
Never kissing, always trying to keep this budding “thing” from overwhelming my mission and Athos’ studies. All the way to the morning-cool airport, when I boarded my final flight to the U.S. And suddenly, here we were: continents apart, talking about this mystery called marriage.
I prickled with excitement, fear, and nerves. Praying into the dark hours of the night.
Which is where I dreamed of a room full of rings, glinting from under glass cases, set out in counters. In the middle sat a simple silver ring, thin-banded and delicate, topped with a small stone. The ring gleamed above all others, standing out from the rest—dazzling as if highlighted by a spotlight, and I put it on my right—not left—hand. It glowed there, luminous.
The ring was perfect. Dazzling. Small enough to fit my finger, butterfly-graceful in its curves. Flower-like in its cut, delicate in appearance.
The following morning I answered the phone and leaned back on the blankets, which smelled of fresh fabric softener and sea breeze. My grandma’s guest bedroom, and the familiar, tender pinkish walls, stood covered with her paintings and scented of oils and acrylics.
“I just got home,” Athos said, his voice tinny on the overseas line. “You’ll never guess where I just came from.”
“Where?” School? Work? It was evening now in Japan. We had spoken only loosely of marriage; I kept my lips sealed on my dream so as not to disrupt our tenuous equilibrium of plans and possibilities.
“In a jewelry store,” he said. “Looking for engagement rings. And I found one.”
I felt my heart leap into my throat, mouth too dry to speak. We had never discussed rings. Never talked about engagement. Not yet.
“It’s white gold,” he said. “Silvery. The cut is beautiful. It looks like a snowflake. Or no, maybe more like a flower.”
I am no charismatic, no prophet, no dream-chaser. And yet my mind spun, and I did the math. The time difference. While he was shopping, I was dreaming. And felt my knees grow weak, the way it did the first time he put his arm around me in the biting Sapporo wind, there at the bus stop after church, shielding me with his warm, jacketed arm.
For in Brazil, of course, an engagement ring is worn on the right hand.
We had never kissed on the lips. Even once.
Only on the cheek. Even the day he brought out that beautiful ring into the sunlight, glinting there in its box, and slipped it on my finger. In the crisp, apple-scented afternoon of a Virginia fall, grasses waving on the rolling cow pasture behind my father’s house. Not when we said good-bye at the airport one last time, me watching him head back to Japan to collect his things and prepare to take me to Brazil.
Why did we forgo kissing? I don’t know. I’m not such a wise or holy woman. I have made my share of mistakes and messes. But this time we wanted something new. Something different. Something neither of us had ever done, all fresh, like an unbroken path set out before us.
Which is what took us to the front of my Richmond, Virginia church on Valentine’s Day. February 14. Candles quivering, the sanctuary smelling of flowers. Rose petals carpeting the aisle like a thousand colorful emotions.
We had sung, prayed, joined hands, and stood before the church, presented now as a married couple in the sight of God and friends and family. A calling as glorious and heavy as the silver wedding band I slid on his finger.
“You may now,” said the pastor, “kiss the bride.”
I hushed my breath. Turned to face him, up, up, up, and…
Come back Feb 18 for the kiss and Jenny’s romantic interview.