The woman who would become my sister in law was a legend in my mind before I ever met her. She graduated from the literature department of my small Kansas college the year before I arrived, and from my very first course professors were invoking her name as star Christian college student, the embodiment of rare literary acumen combined with authentic religious devotion. My flirtation with her little sister seemed to actually bolster my academic credentials.
I didn’t meet her until the very end of that first year. She came back to campus with her parents for a worship service commissioning her brother for summer service in a traveling evangelistic rock band. I sat next to her in the front row and recall being too intimidated to speak. What could I say that wouldn’t sound ignorant or fake? The only interaction we had in that meeting was near the end of the service, when worshipers were urged to leave their seats and surround the band members, laying their hands on them in prayer. This kind of public expression of piety was new to me, but I was eager to participate (and to be seen participating, especially by the missionary family of the girl I was in love with). But my future sister in law didn’t move. As her parents and little sister strode to the front, she stayed in her seat.
I gave her a look like, “We should go, right?” She looked back at me only long enough to say, “You can go up there. I’m not,” and then she turned away and looked into the empty space in front of her.
I wobbled to the front. The legend was real, but also different.