From the moment Nathan told me that he wanted to date me, he switched into another gear. I never knew that dating and falling in love could feel so safe, so good and so intentional. With every day that went by, he methodically and gently pursued my heart. Never rushing anything, never putting pressure on any situation.
And for the first time, I realized I wasn’t leading the relationship. I wasn’t emotionally ahead of the man I was dating. Instead, I was alongside, at the same pace, moving with someone toward the same awesome, exciting thing.
On some level, I knew that Nathan wouldn’t have asked me to date him if he wasn’t already thinking about marriage. I knew that, as friends, I had come to mean a lot to him, and to risk that arbitrarily wasn’t something Nathan was willing to do.
With all the joy and love and excitement I was feeling, it would’ve been easy to rush things and let my heart take off with all the possibilities that now seemed to be coming to fruition. But during the year of silence and during the year of friendship, I learned to hide my heart in Christ—in His plan, in His timing, in His care. I didn’t learn this absolutely, but I learned it well enough to be able to practice it as I stepped back and God unfolded the relationship for me.
For six months, Nathan and I dated and never once did I mention marriage. We talked generally of the future and what sort of houses we liked or how many children we wanted. We talked about perspectives on the parts of life we found most valuable—things like, if either of us had children they would have to love the Georgia Bulldogs and listen to Coldplay. We talked about what-ifs and why-nots. But never once about our (inevitable) wedding. I never left a hint. I didn’t look at rings. I didn’t talk about weddings. And I did this on purpose.
Until I heard from Nathan on any subject about our future, I didn’t let myself wander there. I stayed in the moment, in the now—hoping, for sure, but still—enjoying every sweet, thoughtful, microscopically meaningful—to me—moment . . . something I didn’t know how to do before. In this, I found God’s peace and safety, and I basked in the warmth of knowing—and feeling to the deepest core of what I wasn’t yet—that I was exactly in the point in time that God carefully and strategically designed for me and only me. I felt, more than any other time in life, that I was in the flow of God’s will for my life. To be in tune with the Lord is something most precious and only a small glimmer of what being fully restored in Him will feel like some day.
Because I was so in the moment, I didn’t see it coming when he asked me to marry him. Not even a little bit.
At the least, I figured Nathan and I would date for a year before we would talk about marriage. So, on March 15, 2012, not even six months after beginning our courtship, I was oblivious to his creation of a ruse in the form of a portrait sitting—with his sister as the photographer—at our favorite hiking spot.
Earlier that day, when my coworker, Ryan, asked what I was doing that evening, I told him that Nathan had called to ask if his sister could practice her photography on us at the waterfalls near the covered bridge on Concord Road. Upon hearing this, Ryan said, “He’s going to ask you to marry him.” To which I scoffed and said: “No, way. We’re a long way from that. It’ll probably be another six months before we talk about that.” And with that, I literally put it out of my mind. No joke, no exaggeration. I didn’t think about it again.
When I arrived at Nathan’s house, his sister was already there and was helping him find a shirt to wear. Soon enough, we loaded in my car and drove to a parking lot near the covered bridge and waterfalls. We walked down the trail, then trudged through the woods and undergrowth to find a way to the beautiful rocks around the waterfalls.
As Nathan and I got into position to begin the photography session, he insisted that I be on a rock that placed me higher than him. And I absolutely didn’t want to do it. I told him it would look weird and disproportionate and it wouldn’t make a good picture and all of the other things I said in order to prove my rightness and get my way. But he would have none of it. I think I recall he literally lifted me up on the rock. And as I protested, he started to step back. Still completely unaware of what was happening, I asked him where he was going and what he was doing . . . when I caught the movement of his hand reaching into his pocket.
I don’t remember precisely what he said as he pulled out a shiny bursting-with-meaning adornment. Something about so happy, spend the rest of our lives . . . and that’s when the graceful, beautiful, dainty, delicate-as-a-flower Jen came out and shouted: “HOLY $#!^! ARE YOU KIDDING ME?” Hands over the face, shouting, incredulous, looking at his sister, looking at him laughing at me, the ring he held out, and me shouting, “HOLY $#!^!”
I’m sorry. I know that was disgraceful. One, for using the word holy, and two, for pairing it with a curse word. But I’m just being for real here. Getting engaged on Thursday, March—beware the ides—15 was about the fourth from the last thing I ever expected. And the surprise and shock of it all brought out probably my truest, most human self.
It was maybe thirty seconds before I realized that I hadn’t said “Yes” and the Bauble Of Tremendous Meaning wasn’t yet on my finger. So, I said my most favorite “yes” to that point in my life and held out my hand. The ring went on, the kiss happened and then the most fun pictures commenced.
It was a good day. A day full of beautiful and joyful things. Another day showcasing God’s mercy, love and faithfulness.
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