This is a story of boy meets girl.
But before you close out not wanting to get caught up in the sap of a love story or think it’s something you can’t relate to, let me challenge you to read on–for I think the message of this story–one of fear and faith–is one we could all use to hear. (P.S. this might be long. Sorry.)
In the fall of 2017, after serving in France for the summer, God opened a door for me to serve with Greater Europe Mission in Germany. After returning to the states for my senior year at Moody, I began talking with the Director of Communications with GEM about the potential of me serving as a missionary storyteller sharing stories of what God is doing in Europe through photojournalism. And piece by piece, God made it evidently clear this was the next step He wanted for me.
But as conversations progressed and I began the application process (a lengthy one, lemme tell ya), my soul began to be unsettled. Everything about the opportunity–serving refugees, taking photos, traveling, sharing stories–SCREAMED that this was something I should do! I felt this excitement. But I also felt a lack of peace in my soul I couldn’t pinpoint.
It wasn’t for a couple months until it finally hit me: by pursuing this opportunity, I was signing up to be a single missionary.
For several years I have anticipated moving overseas to be a missionary, but I never envisioned doing it alone. I didn’t want to go alone, yet I felt called. I felt the fear of stepping into something so big as moving overseas alone and wanted to run from the idea. So I began wrestling with God. Finally, I reluctantly relinquished my fear of going overseas single and told God, I trust you and I’ll go, even if it’s not how I want to go.
Cue Naomi Hedeen.
We met through Moody as Resident Assistants and from the beginning I had a keen interest in her. I was quickly amazed by the wisdom I witnessed and the depth she possessed and I found myself increasingly interested in knowing her more. I began to feel the inner turmoil as my feelings for her increased and my steps toward Europe with GEM progressed.
What do I do? I began to ask. How do I pursue a relationship and this opportunity with GEM? After some time, God answered through none other than my parents. I relayed the difficult tension of interest in her alongside my plans with GEM and they told me, “Grant, don’t let fear of the unknown keep you from pursuing something that might be good.”
That was it. I asked her out two days later and we went on our first date that weekend.
Now this would be the traditional point where you might expect an “and the rest was history” conclusion, but this in fact was just the start. (Sorry, I told you this would be long!)
After two dates, I felt things were going great. But then on a Thursday night in November last year, Naomi told me her feelings hadn’t progressed and that we should just be friends.
The sorrow hit right away. I battled insecurities and self-doubts. What did I do wrong? Was there something I said? Is there something wrong with me? Why didn’t her feelings increase? But the hardest part was the fear that hit me a few days after–I was back to preparing to go to Germany alone.
There was a weird paradox in my soul though–part of me felt the sadness while another part felt relief. Well, I thought, at least I don’t have to figure out what the heck to do with Germany and a relationship!
As the fall semester drew to a close, I continued the application process with GEM and scheduled my visit to Colorado to go through orientation in order to be appointed to serve. The excitement and fear for the future grew together. But in the final week before Christmas break, another curveball came my way.
Naomi asked me to get coffee before we both left for home (I probably should have suspected something was up!). And there in a coffee shop, Naomi told me that after a lot of introspection, she was interested in me and wanted to pursue a relationship.
My blank stare at her words said it all–I was pretty surprised and didn’t have an answer. I told her I’d pray about it and get back to her. I went home seeking an answer–what do I do God?
One week passed, two weeks passed, three weeks passed and I returned to Chicago. I still didn’t have an answer. I felt the fear of the future–what would dating as I prepare to move overseas look like? And I was afraid to interact with her not knowing what to say. Finally, after almost a full month, I came to an answer and scheduled a coffee date with her.
Over a crappy cup of coffee in a strange Austrian café, I told her with uneasiness I thought we should just be friends.
I felt like a dog with his tail between his legs as I awaited her response.
She asked me why and I listed my reasons–we were pretty different, I wasn’t sure our goals were the same, I didn’t see how it would work, and a few other petty reasons.
To my surprise, instead of simply accepting my answer, she responded with, “is that it?”
I didn’t know what to say.
She continued, “Look Grant, if you’re saying we should just be friends because you don’t have feelings for me, that’s fine. I’ve had a month to prepare for you to say that. But if you’re saying that because you’re afraid, that’s stupid.”
In that moment I felt like Paul having scales from my eyes revealing the truth–for the past month, I had been writhing over what to do knowing my desire was to be with her but my fear of how it would work drove me to walk away. In that moment I knew I had made the wrong choice to walk away. We talked some more and I told her I needed to think and pray some more.
The whole time I had been praying for three things–peace, clarity, and wisdom. Wisdom to know what to do, clarity to know how to do it, and peace to go through with whatever God told me to do. And in one week, God showed up in small yet powerful ways to answer each of these.
God reminded me that peace isn’t the absence of fear but is the faith that God is good and is there to walk with us with whatever comes our way.
He spoke to me through a friend who reminded me that we will never have clarity about the future, but instead should pray for discernment. Of course I don’t know what my life will look like in a year so why pray for God to give me clarity on what it will look like? Instead, we should pray for discernment–is it wise? Do those I trust and look to for wisdom agree?
With the counsel I received that week and a lot of time in prayer, I took a step of faith not knowing what the future would look like, but trusting that the Lord’s leading on both of our hearts would give us peace to take the next step.
And so we started dating. Though filled with more difficulties than I could imagine and more hardships than I anticipated, the Lord has used our relationship to stretch, grow, and move us closer to Him and one another. And each step of the journey God has asked us if the same question–will we will let fear or faith guide our steps?
In August, I left Chicago and moved back to Iowa away from Naomi to begin support raising. As I left, the fear of what lie ahead of us lay heavy over both of us. How long was this long-distance going to be? Would I be leaving for Germany in 2019 by myself? Would we get married and go together? We didn’t have answers. Fear was our constant enemy.
All we knew was what was right before each of us–for me to start support raising and for Naomi to finish school. Beyond that, we were clinging with faith to the promise that God would provide peace and answers to our uncertainties. For the first month and a half of my time in Iowa, the answer was still foggy–what should we do? I knew I was called to Germany and Naomi knew she was called to go overseas. But is now the time? is GEM the group? is Germany the place? We both had our ideas and hopes of what the future would look like, but we were waiting for God to make clear and give us peace.
And to both of our great joy, the peace has come in the past two months. As most probably know by now, Naomi and I got engaged in October and the Lord made clear to Naomi that being called doesn’t always mean to a specific place but sometimes to simply say “yes” and go wherever the Lord opens a door. And the Lord has shown me that patience in His timing opposed to mine always leads to a better outcome than when I try to be God and control the future. There are still many unknowns of the future, but pieces are slowly falling in place as to what this beautiful future looks like as the Lord has richly provided and guided us toward our next step.
From the beginning to now, so much has happened that is far from what I expected yet not for a moment would I change any of it. For through this year of wrestling with fear and clinging to faith, God has proven Himself as the covenant-keeper Scripture proves Him to be.
It only took me one week of dating Naomi to know I wanted to spend the rest of my life with her, yet God knew that if she knew and told me the same early on, I would be short-handed a powerful lesson of patience and faith. Each of us have had to step into the unknowns of what the future holds and each step has been faced with a question–will we let fear or faith guide our steps?
I cannot say we have done in perfectly. There have been many moments over the past year where I’ve felt fear in my bones and my legs shaking with uncertainty as I have screamed out to God for wisdom. But through it all He has reminded me that His timing truly is far better than mine. His wisdom is infinitely higher than mine. And His goodness is unfathomably better than I could imagine.
This doesn’t mean faith is easy. To the contrary, Jesus makes it pretty clear that our journey toward Him in faith will be difficult. Yet He promises to be there with us each step of the way. Our faith journey is one of releasing control, surrendering fear, and trusting Christ. As my wise 90-year-old grandma has told me, “God does give you more than you can take. But that’s so we will rely on Him instead of ourselves.”
There’s a reason faith is at the core of the Christian faith–because without it we are left to flounder on our own. And there is a reason why Scripture says over 365 times to not be afraid–because each day is a battle to choose who will guide our steps–faith in God or fear from Satan.
God has so much more for us than fear allows us to believe. So wherever you are today, whatever choice you are faced with, and whatever emotions you are feeling, be reminded that each moment is marked by a choice to let fear or faith guide our steps. Journey in faith; not fear. God’s goodness is greater than our doubts.