What would Valentines Day be without a love story? My happily every after began twelve years ago around this time. I found myself falling fast and hard for a handsome blue-eyed young man who walked up and introduced himself to me the first day of Capernwray Bible School in the fall of 1999.
Today, that calm, cool and collected hunk has been my husband for over 10 years. But there is a story. A great one that C has agreed to help me share today........
If you care to read on, grab a glass of wine and stoke the fire and settle in for a loooooong read....
As I remember back to the first time I met Mandy I can’t help but start by reflecting on what was happening in my own heart and soul during those years. In 1998 the Lord had renewed the waywardness of my life and called me back to Himself. This renewal as I look back was a process of casting off the life I had digressed to, and drawing me back into the path He had purposed me to walk in. Part of that path was to forego pursuing a career in my major and to look instead to a much more uncertain future with respects to the things that we as individuals hold dear for our security.
In the spring of my senior year at university I decided that in the fall I would take a year to pursue Him. The best option I knew for doing that was to attend a 1 year bible college that others in my extended family had been to in the quiet secluded countryside of England. During the summer of that year I was invited to participate with a friend and his wife as they got started in Albania with the missions organization that my father had founded. This was yet another step in God preparing my heart for the things He would have for me in the years to come.
Out of this context in my life I stepped into the year at bible college a week before all of the other students were to arrive. When I recall what I was feeling at that time, I think I was overly anxious to be walking in the things that God had for me. I’ve always lived ahead of the ‘now’ and especially at this point I wanted to take hold of Him and the purpose that He had for me. I had a confidence that I remember thinking was not of myself.
On the day that everyone arrived I remember going out of my way to introduce myself to others and making conversation. (Very uncharacteristic for me.) I remember when I first saw Mandy, there was a pretty large crowd of people gathered in the foyer which was led into through two very large old gothic doors, facing a grand staircase that wound it’s way around to the second floor.
There were people moving through in all directions up and down the staircase, and I recall that I was having a conversation with someone just underneath the stairway facing the doors so I was able to see who was entering.
When she walked in she was a head taller than others standing around her and there were two guys carrying a trunk that obviously belonged to her. She looked lost and I don’t recall if it was right then or shortly there after walking up to her and introducing myself...obviously I had information that may be useful in making conversation...I had been here a week already and practically knew every square inch of this place. I don’t recall what was said but I knew or was attracted to feel that this was something I wanted.
Dating was never an option for me. I grew up in an ultra-conservative, sheltered home (which the older I get, the more grateful I am for.) Invitations from guys who asked me out we're quickly withdrawn when they understood 'permission from my dad' was required before I'd go to dinner and a movie. My daddy, a towering 6.4 ft man, had a commanding presence and an intimidating aura.
But something surged inside me when C strode up and introduced himself on my first day of college. Scoff if you want at 'love-at-first-sight'.....I'm a believer!
He was tall
Um...and gorgeous...... as in a real-life tan California surfer dude.
And his passion for the Lord permeated our very first conversation.
There was "chemistry" in our first conversation that was totally unlike any "crush" Id had before. It both thrilled and scared me.
But my guard was up. I'd had relentless teasing before I set sail for my year abroad. Everyone made wisecracks about me going to get my "Mrs." degree at Capernwray Bible/Bridal College.
Not me, I swore.
C had no shortage of admirers and was named "most eligible bachelor" beyond closed doors of the girls dorm. My heart would surge any time I caught his eye across the lecture hall. There were butterflies in my stomach every time he'd save me a seat in the lounge during tea break. And I'll confess, I took an elective Greek class against my better judgement just because he promised to help me study. A healthy dose of denial got me through the first semester with my shatterproof alibi that "we were just friends"....
Oh, that phrase we all know so well is a
The first week of school. C invited me to an early morning prayer group he started.
Ding, ding, ding....red flashing warning lights went off in my head. A wise friend had cautioned me once that guys can use "spiritual intimacy" to get close to a girl.
I was not going fall prey to those tactics.
So, I declined his invitation. I'm telling you. My guard was ridiculously high!
From the first week several of us started a prayer group that met early in the morning before breakfast and I knew that if I was going to have any chance at getting to know this girl it would have to be at meals, which were organized by last name between three dining rooms, so I had a good shot there (seeing that we both had "S" last names), or by finding common areas of interest...if she came to bible college she must be interested in prayer, right?
But she stonewalled my request to join us early, I know now that she felt I was being too forward in pursuing her.
By happen chance one morning as I was walking to the prayer meeting I saw a light on in one of the old stable rooms....converted into a den, cold and separated from the main house it was typically used for hanging out in the evenings but at this time in the morning was quiet and cold. I poked my head in out of curiosity to see if the light had just been left on and low-and-behold there she was having quiet time....alone.
I remember we made small talk but I had to get to our group...she again declined. The next day I got up 15 minutes early hoping she would be there again...she was, and over the first semester that 15 minutes with her before the world was awake became my most anticipated moments of the day.
Rachel was my trusty sidekick....C would invite me to go to coffee and I'd drag her along (lest it appear to be a date.). He'd make shuttle trips to town....for the three of us. Our first real "date" was a trip to Manchester to see Les Miserables. I told him I'd go......if Rachel could too.
I look back now and wonder that C didn't shrug his shoulders and walk away from my over-the-top caution and ideals.
But he patiently persevered, gaining my trust and winning my heart. Conversation came easily with his easy-going manner. I was fascinated by his background, so different than mine. He was a man on a mission. I was so impressed by his purpose-driven passion. Because of where he'd come from, when he gave his life to the Lord, he was all in. There was no looking back for C. That resolve was so clear in his genuine heart seeking after Gods. There was no questioning what his driving force was. Christ was the consuming passion in his life.
And Ill be honest here....he was a rebel. A rebel with a cause, but to this sheltered, impressionable girl, that was wildly attractive!
My walls of resolve began to erode quickly.
I don’t remember how I came to know about her parents desire for courtship but I do remember that first semester working very intently to find ways to get time alone. Aside from that 15 minutes in the morning and a few walks across the grounds (surrounded by others) the time we had to ourselves was very infrequent. Close to Thanksgiving there was a group of us headed to Scotland to travel around while the school was on mid-term break. I asked her to join us and it was then that I started to realize how difficult this courtship thing was going to be. We talked about how to present it to her parents.
But their answer was no to her request to go.
In December as everyone was getting ready to go home for Christmas and I would be staying on to work the holidays at the college, I remember having a conversation with her about where this relationship was going. Out of respect for her I think, everyone obliged when we said we were just friends, but they and we knew it was more than that. She was going to go back to talk with her parents....what that meant I had no idea.
The conversation with C was a reality check. It was time to call it what it was and bring my parents up to speed with where my heart was. By this point, my parents had heard me drop C's name enough that it was no huge surprise when I told my parents that our relationship was developing into something special. I told my dad that C wanted to know how to pursue a relationship under his blessing. It was decided that C should call my dad if our relationship was developing into something more than "just friends".
When she returned in the New Year she said she had discussed ‘us’ with her parents and that if I wanted this to be something more I would have to talk with her dad on the phone. I remember the day I called her dad. I skipped classes because the only phones were in public areas and when class was out it was very loud. I wanted to be alone to make this call. Looking back it felt strange when you’ve never met someone and are calling to ask them if you can spend time with their daughter to see if this might lead into something. We were making a decision to move in a serious direction, a direction I had been in before but never with the weight so palatable, so early on. Her dad was concerned but conciliatory with the circumstances under which relationship was born and needed to grow. Obviously they wished to have more eyes and hands on this situation and to know better who I was, but the miles precluded all of that. He gave me some stipulations but all in all we were allowed to pursue this relationship. After that the second semester was full of afternoons walking all over the countryside together.
Mind you, this was not even "courting" yet.....just permission granted to "get to know each other better"'. Our environment was not conducive to a lot of one-on-one time. Living in close quarters with 154 other students did not provide for time to talk without the scrutiny (and banter) from other eyes and ears. So, we did a lot of walking. We hiked through the rolling hills of the Lake District....along the swan-inhabited canals....and up a mountains that overlooked the bluffs at sunset. Our conversations at this point were centered primarily on getting to know one another...vulnerably sharing our pasts...discussing our passions for missions....and, family. C let me know long before we were a "we", that his first daughter would be named "Abigail" because it means "her fathers joy". Every conversation with this guy left me reeling a bit and falling head over heels. He was genuine yet mysterious. Confident, but humble. He had a story to tell, but was an incredible listener.
Anyway we could find time to ourselves we talked about everything and anything. Our favorite topics were family, what we wanted and didn’t want to do; missions, we both had a heart for the world; and church, I diatribe all my angst about the church of today. By the time April came and school was ending, we both knew this relationship was going somewhere.
April approached with dread. It meant that I would transfer to Austria for another semester of school and that C would return home. The would begin a lengthy phase of our long distance relationship that would test our growing love without the daily physical attraction to one another. C came home with me for a brief school break between semesters to surprise my family. Then I was off to Europe and C was looking for a job. An entire ocean lay between us.
The bible school was set up on 2 main semesters and an optional 3rd semester that could be done at a different location: Austria, Germany, Sweden, and others. Mandy had plans to head on to Austria and I had expected to stay in England. In light of what we were both feeling and the fact that everyone I was close to was leaving I decided to head back home and start getting my practical life in order if this was going to be something. I knew her dad wasn’t going to say yes to a guy with no job and no future. Mandy had planned on floating around Europe until the next semester started but before that I was able to get her a ticket to go back with me and use this opportunity to meet her very large family. I come from a family of 4 kids. I always thought we were a large family. I didn’t know very many families with 4 kids and certainly didn’t know any with more than 5 or 6. Meeting her family was difficult. I’m by nature a very quiet introverted individual. All of which were not generally characteristic, common or acceptable in a family with 11 children. When Mandy went on to Austria I made it a point to get over to Atlanta on occasion to understand this family better and build some kind of re-pore with her father. It was during this time that I formerly asked her father to court her which he agreed. Courtship was difficult. We both felt this was right but I was definitely a fish out of water in her family and trying to capture the freedom we had felt in England was something we constantly fought for.
I was absolutely giddy knowing C had gained permission to "pursue my heart", but I'll be honest, he'd pretty much won it already. If absence makes the heart grow fonder, than certainly distance breeds that all the more! We'd been careful not to talk much about "us" as a "thing" up until now; wanting our relationship to be based on really getting to know one another rather than infatuation of falling in love. But fall we did; and fall hard.
But courtship. Courtship by definition was "getting to know someone for the purpose of marriage." It was not casual dating. There was a level of commitment at this point and I had to pinch myself. This amazing guy was genuinely interested in me as a prospective wife. I honestly couldn't believe it! .
The time change between Europe and the US meant phone conversations were infrequent and expensive. Once a week maybe. But rolls of stamps were purchased and letters were penned every couple of days. Today we have a big old box brimming with written conversations between two young lovers that our kids will find someday when we're old or gone.
After England, still with no clear direction in life, I had gotten a job in retail and planned to follow where ever that was going to lead. Within a year I had moved into building homes for a general contractor and finally found a career I could see myself doing the rest of my life. Part of our courtship was having frequent meetings with her father to talk about the plans I had for my life, budget for starting a family, etc. In January of 2000 I felt I had enough trajectory in my life that it was now or never to ask her father for her hand in marriage. I asked if we could have breakfast together one morning. I had brought along the ring fully believing I had done all the right things (so how could he say possibly say no?) He said yes and the rest was a whirlwind of starting our life together.
As humbling as it was that C was having to jump impossible hoops to gain daddys blessing, I honestly felt like a million bucks. The man who had loved and protected me since I was a baby was taking care that I was giving my heart to someone who would cherish it.
The night C told me he loved me is one I'll never forget. We both knew this was it....that we would last, but a long road lay ahead of us.
Those closest to C and I had their doubts about our compatibility.
And voiced them.
The concerns were not unfounded.
We were an unlikely pair and had some stark contrasts in our upbringing. We were so wrong for each other....that we were perfect for each other! Its amazing today home imperfectly perfect we are to complete each other and bring balance to the other. God knew. And through the peace we each had in our hearts early on, we knew too.
It was far from smooth sailing. I'd say we were both ready to marry eachother when we finished school, but it took nearly a year before my parents knew him well enough to consent.
As we look back on what we went through, Mandy and I often talk about “courtship”. I now have 5 daughters of my own. In today’s day and age I understand the motivation behind courtship and I acutely worry about what I will say the day my daughter tells me she found someone. We get asked frequently if we will do the same with our daughters. Probably not, but I hope they have enough respect for their parents to take us through that journey of love and decisions with them. That part of courtship was formidable for us as a couple and for Mandy's parents, I believe, in releasing us. God had me personally at just the right place in my life and He orchestrated England for us to build a foundation. I feel overwhelmingly grateful and unworthy for what God gave me in Mandy.
Not your typical love-story, but I love how God wrote this chapter of our life bringing us together. Im forever grateful for the circumstances God orchestrated to bring our lives together and for the patient perseverance of this man I love who continues to pursue my heart!