Becoming Chris Kamalski

"There's a Writer outside ourselves, plotting a better story for us" ~Don Miller

Tag: Engagement

Thursday: The Art Of Conversation.

My mom won't like that I'm reposting this photo of our Skype moments after Maxie and I got engaged, but it explains so much about the realities of life and mission half way around the world from your folks. Making memories via Macbook Pros!

Cracking my eyes open, I headed over to Joe and Natalie Reed’s house early Thursday morning for breakfast with our NieuCommunities Staff team, which is always a fun time around the table as the Reed’s have 3 children under 5! Malachi, their youngest, is in the early walking/touching everything/exploring stage, which means that he experiments with things like how to tear his bacon, egg + cheese biscuit all apart in every which way, dropping pieces of cheese all over the floor in an effort to follow his big sister Keziah around the table. Usually, I lose my shoes at least once every Thursday morning, this week being no exception, as Keziah loves playing under the table being silly (This week’s episode: Keziah as a horse, Malachi riding her by sitting on her head!).

We lingered over the breakfast table with the crisp autumn air bringing a chill into the dining room surrounding us, creating a sluggish, yet homey feel to the morning. It has been a long series of weeks for our team, from moving forward in new ministry initiatives to saying goodbye (for now) to Jody and his Rwandan fiance, Francine, to someone preparing for marriage in our team’s midst (Woo-hoo!). It seemed like no one really wanted to move forward into the morning’s activities, in which I was going to introduce some meditative reflection around the concept of God desiring connection with us, and then facilitating group spiritual direction for our team.

So we made the call: Let’s just scrap morning plans, keep chatting, and leave early! We did just that, and I must tell you, I think everyone sighed a bit, refreshed with the freedom to choose what we needed most as a team in that moment, as opposed to forcing ourselves forward. Sometimes giving yourself permission to choose what you truly need is the hardest thing, is it not?

The afternoon was spent in a flurry of wedding/my life is changing and I am becoming ‘two’ not one activities, which seem a part of each day in this season, and which I actually kind of enjoy most of the time. It truly is a revolutionary thing in our society for two people to make a willful choice to commit to each other, and then join separate lives together in a merged and growing union. I find it surreal that this is happening between Maxie and I, and yet am growing both in excitement and a settled sense of peace that this is what I want more than anything else.

Hence, a 2-hour Skype with Johnny Wilson filled most of our afternoon. Johnny is a part of the Church Resource Ministries family with me, and has served as a part of the Staff Care and Development team for several years now. Johnny has loosely coached me via Skype for this past year, and mentioned to me once Maxie and I were engaged that he had facilitated hundreds of couples in working through a marriage enrichment curriculum entitled “Prepare and Enrich.” It’s essentially an assessment that both individuals take that is scored and then expanded upon for Johnny’s eyes only, consisting of 7 or 8 topics central to most struggles within marriage (The classics: Sex, Family, Conflict, Communication Styles, Finances, Expectations, Spiritual Beliefs, etc). This was our 3rd session with him with another coming prior to our wedding and likely some followup afterwards.

It really takes some effort to get used to counseling/sharing via Skype, particularly when bandwidth limitations prevent the usage of video most of the time (Bandwidth remains expensive and not unlimited for most in South Africa). Presence with another involves focus and largely looking at someone, and when this is not present, concentration is super hard! Nonetheless, Johnny shared some valuable insights with us and continues to cheer us on as we head towards marriage from his home in North Carolina. The big insight from yesterday: Continued understanding just how much marriage is a choice of commitment and love that is something to be built into, and grown throughout the years. I was blown away when he mentioned that he has been married to Sue now for 40 years!

All in all, a tiring, but great afternoon!

(Each day this week I will post a story or reflection about some aspect of my work and life that our missional community, NieuCommunities South Africa, is currently engaged in here in Pretoria. I’ll simply attempt to answer the questions, ‘What does a week in my life look like? while framing that within the larger question of ‘What stories are you co-writing with God in South Africa, and how does this story fulfill your unique mandate to apprentice South African leaders in the way of Jesus into sustainable mission around the globe?’)

She Owns A Rock Now!

Bling Is Her New Middle Name!

(I asked Maxie to write up her take on the past few weeks leading up to our engagement as a way to introduce you to her…so, ‘Now I proudly present, in her very own words, Sarah Magdalene Van Der Merwe…the future Mrs. Kamalski!’ Happy Valentine’s Day love!)

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It’s not Hollywood, its better… it’s real!

I woke up Saturday morning with Chris coming into my room and handing me a big envelope… ‘What? What’s going on? I can’t focus on anything this early in the morning, what are you doing?’ If you know me, you’ll know I’m not the best morning person, especially anything before 7:30 and/or before a shower. So grumpily I opened the envelope and found Chris’s storyboard inside.

Wait, what? You’re not supposed to give this to me before you ask me to marry you, I thought. My confused morning person took time to try and figure out what was going on. I started to read through each page, trying to figure out where we are in the story. But it took me so long; Chris had to come get me as I just stayed in my bed, trying to figure this out. When I realized what was happening, my first response as Chris came back in was “You’re doing it in the morning?’ because all I thought was who’d really want to marry morning Maxie, she’s not always the best person.

But he decided that this was real. In the morning I am at my rawest self. And the thought of him loving me completely, even when I’m that grumpy (I’m really that bad, especially in the morning), was overwhelming…

I’ve always had this weird idea in my head that there’s really no-one out there that will ever get me, love me and want to be part of the things I’ve given my life to. I mean, who’d want someone who doesn’t want the white picket fence, can’t cook and burns rice but goes into prisons, builds shacks, hangs with dirty kids, and can’t seem to stay in one place long enough to settle.

I always used to ask God why he made me the way he did. Why was I completely and absolutely made for relationships (I’m an extreme extrovert, verbal processor with all my 3 top strengths being woo, includer and connectedness). I was made for people. 100 %. But the one relationship that epitomizes intimacy and deep connection never seemed possible to me. I always thought it would end up being God and me on some crazy adventures.  My deepest heart’s desire was to know the deepest relationship God uses to describe his love for us. Maybe I will get God’s love a little bit more if I can experience this…

Most of my closest friends over the past 10 years have wiped tears and listen to the ramblings of my lonely journey. I always remembered saying, I know God is with me, but he can’t play soccer with me…

I’m a very cheesy person. I love romantic comedies, cheesy love songs and cheesy gestures. And God always seemed to woo me with the cheesiness in friends, in movies, in songs, but God always reminded me that He does not forget. He will walk with me through whatever happens. I might not know how it will look, what will happen, but I know He is good and somehow I’ll be okay.  I really never thought it could happen for me…that I will meet someone who gets me, loves me and wants to journey with God and me into the brokenness of our world and be a force for good in restoring this beautiful world God has placed us in, loving broken people back to life.

Its been 10 years since I left high school and decided that I want to give my life for something bigger than myself, no matter what the cost would be. Choosing to follow the call I felt in my heart launched me into a 5 year journey with YWAM all across the world, starting with a year and half in Texas (the US, with a trip to Mexico), 3 and a half months in Australia, 2 months in New Zealand, 6 months in Hammanskraal (a township outside of Pretoria), and almost 2 years in Durban, South Africa. After an 8 month Sabbatical the Pure Hope journey started, and I’ve been living and working in Pretoria since 2007. I’ve hopped around the world, trying to be obedient to the still small voice inside. And it has been guiding my heart into this greater unfolding story…

It feels surreal to see the most beautiful ring on my finger as I type this, feeling a little bit like Alice in Wonderland, having to pinch me to make sure that this is real.

God never forgets.

Since May 2003, I started on a journey of no turning back. I remember writing in the front of my Bible during a teaching in Texas, ‘No matter what happens, I will not quit’. I will not quit this story God was writing. I will walk through whatever may come, how hard, how painful, how lonely that may be.

Over 18 months ago I met this intriguing red-headed American out in Pretoria North, not realizing that he will become my husband.

Walking with him through his fears, through my own fears, through the conflict of our false selves, we have gotten to know each other deeply, intimately.  We have come to find that there is life: That God loves us beyond what we deserve, that we want to give our lives to be part of God’s greater story, that His grace is enough; that His hope will not disappoint.

He asked me. He chose me. He really did. He loves me. He really loves me. He’s even more than I ever imagined…

And I can’t wait for what lies ahead!

Who would have thought that this African-American love story would be God romancing us…

Its not Hollywood – its sooooooooo much better…

She Said Yes!!! (Full Story + Photos).

One of my favorite photos EVER of us...and a great summation of the day!

Ten minutes before I walked into Maxie’s bedroom early Saturday morning, waking her up just prior to asking her to marry me, I sent my sister (another Sara, no ‘H’) a long text message spilling the beans about where I was and what was about to go down. If you know me, you know that brevity is not a character trait I possess in abundance, and thus I was unsure whether she would reply before I moved forward.

Within a minute however, my phone buzzed, and I glanced down with growing nerves, hoping for one last jolt of encouragement. Sure enough, the text said:

“OMG…resnd…this is not your sister…congrats!”

Dizzy with a mixture of nervousness and excitement, I laughed aloud, smiling at the affirmation of some random person in the Bay Area sharing in my imminent joy. It was time to ask my South African woman to marry me…

My 2011 Storyboard...I'd say putting a deposit on an engagement ring definitely qualifies as an Inciting Incident!

My parents via Skype when I was asking for their blessing...my dad's smile says it all!

Nothing makes me laugh harder than the misadventures of Modern Family, a brilliant comedy about three blended families. Gloria, a buxom Columbian woman with a ridiculous accent, is the wife of the guy who used to play Al Bundy in Married With Children back in the 1980’s. In a recent episode where the entire family were playing characters in a haunted house for Halloween, she fought back at her families’ constant teasing of her accent by adopting an American voice for the night. As the ‘village bruja’ for the haunted house, the hilarity capped off with her saying “WELCOME TO YOUR NIGHTMARE…HA, HA, HA, HA!” in a manner that creeped out everyone, and left us wiping tears from our faces.

Maxie and I  laughed uncontrollably this past week as we realized we were living the epitome of that sentence. For almost 18 months now, Maxie has largely carried me through a flurry of fear, self-doubt, sabotage, and general malaise regarding past brokenness in my relational life. One of the major reasons that I have known for a long time that this South African is to be my wife is the fact that she has stayed with me in the face of overwhelming fear and paralyzation.

I have had years of counseling, healing prayer, and profound growth that resulted from this tumultuous season in my life over seven years ago, and yet I knew that final healing and transformation would not come until I walked into engagement and ultimately vows unto marriage with my wife. Maxie has unblinkingly journeyed with me through this junk, and quite frankly, I don’t deserve her deep goodness and amazing love for me.

Shot 3 was literally re-created, allowing us to step fully into the story of our life coming together! I do agree however that I made Max's stick figure 'disproportionate' 🙂

It is powerful to make real a story you have created...

Things began to shift much faster between us after visiting my family and friends in late October this past year, as we both realized just how much I have grown in courage and strength, moving away in freedom from the insecurity of needing others to tell me what to do. I found myself not needing the permission of my family and friends to move forward to marriage with Maxie, but rather coming to them with a surprising sense of lightness and joy, simply wanting them to meet the woman I so deeply loved. What transpired over Halloween weekend (HA! THE IRONY!) was nothing short of miraculous and God-ordained…family and friends alike meeting Maxie for a few minutes and speaking into our lives that we were deeply right, the answer to prayers years in the making. I left that experience with my head swirling, nodding in the clarity of Maxie’s statement to me on the plane back to South Africa: “Well, all that is holding us back now is our own fears.”

Moments after...with both of our morning faces!

She's a LOOKER!

My mom's smile (and check out our faces in the bottom corner) via Skype moments after our engagement when we called them from 10,000 miles away!

Two months later, the same was still true, albeit shrinking in my mind each day. Would I let my own fears of intimacy and failure in relationship, particularly concerning a coming marriage, sabotage something beautiful that was unfolding before our eyes? Nothing was holding us back except…me. Unsure of myself always, I kept stepping forward in faith, trying to hold onto whatever courage I could muster. I knew deep inside for a long time that we were right for each other, that Maxie was largely the reason that God had directed me towards South Africa for this season of my life, and that we shared a deep sense of calling for the global Church God is building. Maxie epitomizes ‘partner’ in a manner I have never before known; this desire for a partner to share life with in marriage being the deepest thing I have sought ever since first praying for my wife as a young teenage boy. She knows me, and I her, with an intimacy, honesty, and clarity that no one else ever has. I love her more than any other, which is something I never thought I’d say!

Thus, the past few weeks have been crazy…a blur of wonderful moments on holiday in Jeffrey’s Bay with her parents, meeting Afrikaner relatives I had heard stories about, kissing future relatives upon the reception of Christmas presents, and a few stolen surf sessions in between. We began looking at rings in late December, and Maxie’s taste was so hard to pin down! Finally however, in early January we went shopping at Menlyn Mall in Pretoria. After being quoted a mediocre ring at almost R400,000 (!), we stumbled into Deon le Roux, a South African designer, and Maxie tried on one more ring…

This was the one! We both gazed at it with wild smiles, the saleswoman confident enough in the look she saw in Maxie’s eyes that she simply said to me, “You’ll be back. I know it!”

A few tense days with my bank account later, I sat one afternoon gazing out over Pretoria as a summer rain washed the streets with a fresh cleanse, knowing that I was about to purchase an engagement ring for my wife. Stunned at the symmetry of God’s work, I realized that almost seven years had passed since this journey of relational brokenness, healing, and a slow, almost agonizing coming back to life had taken place. I stood up, walked inside, and spent all the money I had. The ring was perfect!

Our wedding day and climactic scene for the year for sure!

Fast forward a few more days…sweet Maxie was simply done waiting! Overwhelmed by the length of our journey and how hard we have had to fight for what we both so deeply want, she was simply tired…and tired of not knowing what was coming! This culminated Friday night as I pretended that Ryan Ikeda, one of my oldest friends, had shoehorned me into speaking via Skype to a few of his English classes as they worked through Cry, The Beloved Country, an amazing South African novel. While Maxie grew in (fake) frustration at Ryan, I was having dinner with her parents, seeking their blessing over a wonderful few hours of open sharing and heartfelt affirmation that although I was far different from the man they pictured in their mind, they clearly knew I was the right one, sent from God to love their only daughter. I fight back tears even now thinking about how deeply I felt welcomed into their family this past Friday night, wide smiles on all our faces and a shake of our heads for Maxie’s sake, knowing everything would change in a few hours!

We went for a long drive to check out a potential wedding venue in an old barn! Pretty epic I think, even though our venue is even better!

One more teary evening later, and the early morning arrived. I filled Maxie’s living room with candles and fresh flowers, literally re-creating a shot from my own storyboard, merging reality with story in a way that still chills me to the bone. Nervously, I looked at the ring one more time…shaking my head, I marveled out how different this week had played out, in many ways a microcosm of our entire relationship.

The Hollywood score for this story, our story, has struck quite a different note than I was expecting all these years. It is a score quite different from the stale romantic comedies lighting up the theater each week. Yet I know deep within me it is better…deeper…more realistic…more intimate…more transparent…more loving…more courageous…more God-bathed…than anything I could expect or hope for in my wildest dreams.

God has united Maxie and I while simultaneously carving out our deepest fears and insecurities, our paralyzation and falsest of selves. Such a deep work of heart and life transformation has taken place in us both as we have chosen each other steadily over these past 18 months, moving forward towards marriage and a life we both eagerly want. It has happened in spite of fears and in the midst of fleeting courage…and yet it has been the deepest work of transformation I have walked through in my 31 years of life.

I cannot imagine a better life partner than Maxie. She is everything I want, and so much more than I need…beautiful, sexy, sweet, compassionate, fearless, wanting to spend her life restoring hope and dignity to those our world has discarded. She is my wife!

Even the heavens were smiling on Saturday!

And so I paused one last moment at her bedroom door, my hand hovering over her door knob as I shook out the nerves, knowing that this moment was the culmination of the greatest inciting incident of my life. As James Scott Bell writes, “An inciting incident is a doorway through which a protagonist cannot return.” I grabbed hold of the door knob, turned the handle, and walked inside.

“You’re doing this in the morning?!?” Maxie cried a few moments later, realizing what was about to take place. I smiled and waited for her in the next room, literally in the midst of the story God and I were writing.

Of course I’m doing this in the morning! Joy comes most unexpectedly in the morning, doesn’t it?

She walked out into the living room, reality merging with story in a manner I have never before known. Tears streaming down both of our faces, I mumbled a few things, dropped to my knee, asked her to marry me, and SHE SAID YES!!!

A perfect day unfolded…the start of a grand new chapter in the life of the future Mr. and Mrs. Kamalski…

Capped off the day with a surprise party at Corne and Janet's house + a bunch of our friends...complete with champagne toasts, dancing, amazing food, and the busting out of flag dances! I think our reception is gonna hum!

Releasing in 2012: 'Preferring Paralyzation,' my book on this crazy season of life God has walked me through...

Days later, I shake my head…is this real? Of course…nothing could be better! There is a joy that is settling deep between us that we have never before known, and certainly feared to even hope for. What we have is real, right, and the best possible thing we could ever dream for. We have grown so much, are open to each other in profound ways, and desire to choose a life that God is unfolding before us. I pen this simple reflection as a source of reminding myself that dreams do come true…that the deepest things you long for yet think will never come do actually come alive in reality. God redeems the most buried of desires in our lives…often in the craziest of ways!

So, enjoy a glimpse into the swirl that is our lives…knowing that God is working even now in your life as well. We are so excited to move forward in marriage, and know that God is writing a grand story with our lives! He wants the same for yours…

More to come… The Future Mr. + Mrs. Kamalski 🙂

The giant chalkboard in the Prinsloo casa says it all...Brangelina, watch out! A new celebrity couple is coming your way!