I used to think being loved was the greatest thing to think about, but now I know love is never satisfied just thinking about it.
We have a house down by the water, and there’s a little grass path where couples hold hands and walk along the bay front. My wife and I sit on the back porch and hold hands a lot too as we watch the couples meander by. We’re close enough to the water that they wave to us, and we wave back, a nostalgic snippet from another time where people waved to each other during slow walks. This is how I met Ryan.
One day, Ryan came walking down the path all alone. Ryan waved to us and we waved back like we did to everyone. But instead of moving on, Ryan just stood there on the path, waving and not moving. Because he kept waving, we kept waving. It was a little awkward, honestly. I wondered if perhaps this young man wanted to talk, so to break the tension, I made the short walk from the porch to the path to say hello.
“Hi there, how’s it going?” I said, reaching out to shake his hand and give him a break from all the waving.
“Hi, I’m Ryan and I’m in love,” he said confidently. Ryan had that glazed-over look that smitten guys get.
“Well, Ryan, that’s just great! Congratulations.”
“No, no… that’s not why I came,” Ryan stammered. “What I wanted to say is that I walk by your house all the time… and I have this girlfriend, you see… and…” He paused.
“I want to know if it would be okay…” He paused again. “. . . if I asked my girlfriend to marry me in your backyard?”
He talked like he had been holding his breath for quite some time. I was taken aback by this love-glazed kid who would approach a complete stranger and ask to use his house to stage a great caper. But that’s the way it is when you are in love, isn’t it? All he knew was that he wanted the girl and was going to do whatever it took to get her.
“Ryan, that sounds like a fantastic idea!” I said, laughing.
“Really?” Ryan answered. I guess he had expected an instant no or a gentler “I’ll think about it.”
“Sure! Go get your girl and let’s get you two engaged!” With that, Ryan went half skipping, half floating down the grassy path. I think his feet hit the path about every twenty feet or so.
He was being strategic; he was being audacious; he knew what he was going to do. He was going to get his girl.
A few days later, we were sitting on the back porch again.
Couples were walking down the path holding hands. We would wave to them and they would wave to us. Then came an animated figure bouncing and waving happily with both arms. It didn’t take long for me to figure out that it was Ryan, and I walked down to the path to greet him.
“Hi!” Ryan yelped with his wonderfully goofy, glazed-over, I’m-in-love grin.
“Hi, Ryan, what can I do for you?”
“Well, you know how I am going to propose in your backyard?”
Yes, I remembered that. “I was wondering if you think it would be possible for us…” He did another Ryan pause, so I knew whatever followed would be a whopper. “… to have dinner on your back porch before I pop the question?”
I bit my tongue to keep from laughing out loud.
I’d never even met Ryan before that week, and now he was asking if he could have a marriage proposal and dinner on my back porch?
This kid has it bad! After a short pause, I shot back to young Ryan, “What the heck, of course you can have dinner on my porch, Ryan! That’s a great idea! What can I make for you?”
I don’t think he heard the question because off went Ryan, down the path. He seemed to be levitating — he may have touched down on the grass once or twice over the next hundred yards.
Ryan was another step closer to the prize. He was all in. He was all about doing and not just dreaming. He was going to get the girl.
By now, I found myself looking forward to my afternoon encounters with young Ryan. It reminded me how fun it was to be young and in love. I even started coming home early from work to sit on the back porch waiting for him, checking my watch every five minutes or so, wondering when he would come bouncing down the path with another outlandish request for a total stranger. And sure enough, Ryan came bounding down the path again, so I went down to greet him.
“Hi, Bob. Hey, I was thinking…” And then the pregnant pause. “Would it be possible for me to have some friends of mine serve us when we are having dinner on your porch?”
“You bet,” I shot back, laughing. I was already this far in with Ryan; what could it hurt to have a few of his friends over? “What a great idea. How many would it take to serve you two dinner?”
Ryan looked up with a Cheshire cat grin and sheepishly said, “Twenty?” Did he just say he wanted twenty people inside my house to be his servers? I was wonderfully stunned by the consistently audacious, almost vertical trajectory of Ryan’s plans. He wanted twenty people to serve a dinner for two? Now that’s service.
But when loves does, love does it big.
“What a great idea, Ryan! Twenty it is!” I said without hesitation.
Ryan bounced away down the bay front. I could tell that his head was ready to explode with anticipation. He had the vision, he had the plan, he had the place, and he had the staff. He was trigger-locked on the goal, and he was going to get that girl.
A few days later, I was at my post. Almost on cue, Ryan came galloping down the path.
“Ryan, how are the plans coming?”
“Well,” he said, “I was actually wondering if it would be okay if after dinner, and after my friends leave, you could put some speakers on the porch and maybe we could dance a bit?”
Of course you want to dance on a stranger’s porch. “Speakers it is,” I told him. “Anything else?” I was trying to get all the possibilities out of him now.
“Well, I think that about covers it for now. I’ll ask her to marry me after we dance for a bit.”
“Great idea,” I said to Ryan. “Go get that girl!” Ryan skipped off.
A day or two passed with no Ryan sightings. I almost felt a low-grade depression sinking in on me. Was the planning over? Were there no more whimsical and outrageous ideas from Ryan as he planned his caper? Was the mischief done? I sat on my porch, reflecting on how contagious Ryan’s brand of love was. And then, almost on cue, Ryan came running down the pathway again.
At this point, Ryan was a regular and he bounded across the lawn and up to the porch without hesitation. He was pretty winded, actually, leaning over with his hands on his knees trying to catch his breath. I wondered if I should give him a paper bag to breathe into. After a few long moments, Ryan straightened up. There was a pause while our stares met. I had learned that a pause by Ryan meant there was another whopper of an idea brewing in his head.
“Hey, Ryan, what’s up? It’s great to see you. How are the plans coming?”
“Do you…” He exhaled. “… have…” He inhaled. “… a boat?”
“A boat?!” I was belly-laughing as I asked him to repeat what I thought he’d just said.
“Yeah, do you have a boat?” Ryan asked more confidently as he straightened a bit.
“Well, actually, Ryan, I do!” I said with half enthusiasm and half awe at Ryan’s love-induced, audacious bender. He had that glazed look again as he looked me squarely in the eyes.
“Well, can I borrow it?”
Ryan was out of control. He had no idea what an outrageous thing he was asking. But you see, to Ryan, I wasn’t a total stranger — no one was. To him, the whole world was full of co-conspirators when it came to winning over his love. He was completely unaware of and unimpeded by what was proper, what was acceptable, and what was conventional. Nothing was going to get in the way of what he decided he was going to do.
“Okay, Ryan. The boat’s yours!” I said. “I’ll take you and your girlfriend out on my boat after dinner at my house, after your twenty friends finish serving you, and after you dance together on my porch. You can pop the question to your girl up on the front deck of my boat.”
Ryan floated away once again, clueless of the beautiful ridiculousness this girl was bringing out of him. Ryan was a study in focus, tenacity, and abandon. He was all gas and no brake.
What Ryan didn’t realize is that I decided to one-up him.
Why should he have all the fun? That night, I called the Coast Guard and told them about Ryan’s elaborate plan and his glazed over enthusiasm for his girl, which had swept him into a state of unparalleled whimsy. Ryan’s enthusiasm was contagious, and pretty soon the guy on the other end of the phone had caught the bug too. The Coast Guard officer and I hatched a plan of our own.
When the big night came, everything was in place. The night was balmy, the air was clear, and I think the stars even came out a few minutes early to see Ryan’s elaborate scheme unfold.
Ryan and his girl came walking down the path. When they got to the white Nantucket house on the bay, he led her up the stairs and across the lawn toward a candlelit table on the porch.
“Ryan, what are we doing? Is this okay? Whose house is this?” she whispered as she held his arm a little tighter. Ryan pulled out her chair and said this was for her as he sat her down.
The service at dinner by the twenty servers was impeccable, and the after-dinner dance was endearing as these two stood with arms around each other, slowly moving together on the porch. As they danced, they twirled and talked quietly. By now, evening had fully set in and the lights of the city mixed with the stars were starting to dominate the skyline. It was as if the early appearing stars had gone home and invited all of their friends, telling them, “You have got to see this.”
The evening was coming to its natural end, and Ryan took his girl by the hand and they headed back to the path. I’ve always wondered what was going through her head during all this. I hope it all felt like a dream.
As they got closer to the dock behind the house, Ryan gripped her hand, turned, and took her toward a boat that was tied to the end.
“Ryan, what are we doing?” she half demanded.
“C’mon,” is all he had to say as they came onto my boat. I was at the helm and they made their way to the bow. With the stars out in full view, we slowly motored out into the bay. After a short time, we approached the spot where Ryan and I agreed I would stop the boat so he could pop the question.
In a total coup de grâce, Ryan had fifty more of his friends on the shore to spell out “Will you marry me?” with candles — just in case he got tongue-tied or overwhelmed in the intensity and whimsy of the moment.
With their flickering sign as his backdrop, Ryan got on one knee.
“Will . . .” He exhaled. “. . . you . . .” He inhaled. “. . . marry . . .” He paused. “. . . me?”
There was a gasp followed by an immediate and enthusiastic yes.
In this, the most special moment of their lives, neither Ryan nor his bride-to-be noticed that the Coast Guard had pulled in behind us with their firefighting boat, just as the officer and I had planned. I gave the thumbs-up — the sign that she said yes — and he shot off every water cannon he had on the entire rig! It was a scene that belonged in New York Harbor on the Fourth of July with the Statue of Liberty in the background. But it wasn’t happening there, it was happening for Ryan because that’s the way love rolls; it multiplies. Ryan and his bride-to-be let the mist from the water cannons settle over them like a thousand small kisses.
Ryan’s love was audacious. It was whimsical. It was strategic. Most of all, it was contagious. Watching Ryan lose himself in love reminded me that being “engaged” isn’t just an event that happens when a guy gets on one knee and puts a ring on his true love’s finger. Being engaged is a way of doing life, a way of living and loving.
It’s about going to extremes and expressing the bright hope that life offers us, a hope that makes us brave and expels darkness with light. That’s what I want my life to be all about—full of abandon, whimsy, and in love. I want to be engaged to life and with life.
I enjoy those parts of the Bible where Jesus talks about how much He loves His bride. It makes me wonder if the trees and mountains and rivers are things He planned in advance, knowing they would wow us. I wonder if God returned over and over to this world He placed us in thinking what He had created was good, but it could be even better, even grander. I wonder if He thought each foggy morning, each soft rain, each field of wildflowers would be a quiet and audacious way to demonstrate His tremendous love for us.
I don’t know if God was a little bit like Ryan when He created everything, or if Ryan was a little bit like God. But what I do know is that Ryan’s audacious love is some of the best evidence I’ve found of the kind of love Jesus talked about, a love that never grows tired or is completely finished finding ways to fully express itself.