A year ago today, I woke up alone in a basement room. It was a little early and all of the food and drinks I had the night before were fighting in my belly. This would be a rough day I thought. I had to shop for Christmas dinner things and then go decorate a gym, with just a couple other people who might not show…or stay. But then better dreams became real and the following story started gaining momentum. Enough momentum for me to be sitting in a tiny apartment a few feet from my sleeping wife who will celebrate this anniversary by decorating the same place, but with 17x as many people!
Here are some older words I wrote about the beginning of our story starting a year ago today. I sure am glad you stayed and helped that night, Hannah Meeks!
For almost 20 years I wandered around looking for this elusive thing called love. According to Wikipedia:
Love is an emotion of strong affection and personal attachment. Love is also a virtue representing all of human kindness, compassion, and affection; and “the unselfish loyal and benevolent concern for the good of another”. Love may also be described as actions towards others or oneself based on compassion, or as actions towards others based on affection.
Love in its various forms acts as a major facilitator of interpersonal relationships and, owing to its central psychological importance, is one of the most common themes in the creative arts.
Love may be understood as part of the survival instinct, a function to keep human beings together against menaces and to facilitate the continuation of the species.
That is all well and good but like a lot of life it was not as easy to put into practice. For me, after losing a friend and then my father to car accidents at age 19, I shut down and decided I didn’t need love. Pushing away friends and family for a period of time and just dwelling in my own world. I was still looking for things like love, but never really was able to give or receive it while being emotionally locked down. The fortress was solid, the walls high and the inner workings idling but never revving. As it turned out nineteen is an interesting age for that to happen since most guys go through that period for a few months or a year.
I was in that shut down, emotionally closed off period of life for 7 or so years until someone tried to break me out. She was great and amazing but her eventual rejection brought up all the past rejections again. It brought up a lot of pain and brokenness that did not allow me to trust.
“Do you trust anyone?”
“How about yourself? Or your family? Or God?”
-Nope. I don’t think they have my best interest and I apparently don’t either.
Those might not have been my exact words, but in 2009 I uttered something like that to a counselor…who then teared up and said he was sorry that the world was not a safe place for me. We took a couple years to get through some of those issues, but I came out the other side victorious…mostly.
In the midst of those years, I started looking more actively for love. I was pursuing what I knew as love. It wasn’t always what love is, apparently, because it hurt, stung or made me drunk for a couple hours. The dates weren’t defined, so the rejection wasn’t as harsh. The interactions and calls just ended, and was often my fault. The words and feelings were dealt with, to an extent, and laughed at by confided in friends. It was fun most of the time.
Then, it wasn’t. I realized I had fake love in 5 area codes, 3 country codes, and a couple Facebook profiles. How was I to trust anyone when I couldn’t trust myself? So I gave them all up. I let some of them go. I confessed fake, or projected, love to others and reconciled a couple more. More dudes were confided in for advice. A couple more girls entered the outer gates of the fortress but never were issued a treasure map to the hidden passage way. Eventually those who were trying to be close gave up and no more invites were given out.
It seemed like a good day to renovate. To open up a couple windows and air the place out. To dispose of some old souvenirs that held more hurt than pleasant memories. While cleaning up the corners and deep recesses I was allowed the chance to see some amazing examples of love in those around me. Love that isn’t written about but simply lived out. The examples of friends and families loving each other whether in spousal relations or in neighborhood, employment or community realms. I started noticing more and more how people made time for each other and just listened. I started taking notes and planning when I would be done with the cleaning process…figuring the fortress needed to be cleaned well before anyone would want to come in or should be invited.
The yellow caution tape was put up… and this metaphor is losing steam.
As the old adage goes, when you aren’t looking you will find what you want and need. Or something like that.
Last Christmas Eve, I was minding my own business doing what I needed to do relationally—preparing a Christmas dinner for 200+ people when circumstances set me up. Only one girl stayed more than a few minutes to decorate. Since both of us were holiday orphans and had nowhere else to be. we worked for about 3 hours together decorating significantly better than the previous year…and talking… and towards the end I started admiring her smile and joy in life.
That girl quickly became a woman and something special to me. Hannah walked past all the caution tape and somehow found the secret pathway into the fortress like she had been given the code and map by a higher power.
For almost 20 years, I had been searching for this elusive thing called love. Looking high and low, in corners and rooftops, in person and on phones. And yet that elusive thing called love simply showed up one day in a greater way than I would have ever imagined. A way that in two months has made me a better man than in the 200 months previous. The way that makes me wonder if dreams do come true and if Hollywood is writing my life story right now. In a way that things just feel right…including the timing.
The Hollywood voiceover narration would begin like this…
There I was minding my own business when we were brought together. Literally and figuratively. I wasn’t really paying attention to her when I realized there was something attractive about this girl whom fate made the only other person in the massive room that night. With whom I had to work together to string lights over a basketball court in the gym. I dismissed the thoughts quickly.
The week before I told a friend that meeting people and starting to date around the holidays was worthless and would never be genuine. It would be all about emotions, like spring flings and filling the need of being a holiday orphan.
Plus, the only reason I was in that gym was because no one else was willing to lead decorating on Christmas Eve. Also, I was done with girls for another few months.
But there she was. With an amazing smile. Giving up her Christmas and Christmas Eve to volunteer with a bunch of ragamuffins to a larger bunch of ragamuffins. She seemed to love people, was beautiful and goofy and sarcastic and funny.
After what might have been the most stressful day of my year being a “leader” the beautiful Hannah invited me to a friend’s place for Christmas dinner and some games.
“I was just invited to the decorating girl’s friend’s place for dinner. If I go I know emotions will be involved. Encouragements and rebukes welcome” is what I texted a buddy.
I had noticed Hannah blush a little as she wrote down her number. It seemed like there was something there, but I was exhausted, but what if this is the one chance Eminem talked about, but I’m really tired and I’m already late, but I should just go.
I went, late and with beer to celebrate making it through the largest event of the year, and for nerves. I made a short appearance, lost at Skip Bo and went on my way home.
“How was your night?” was the text I received as I got home.
“It was fun. She is really cute and funny, but not sure if she is nice to everyone”, to the same buddy.
And 20 minutes later he got another. “Well, I know now…we have a date Wednesday”
‘What am I doing?’ I thought. I just asked a girl out on Christmas…by text. I thought similar things when I invited her to my friend’s New Year’s Eve party for our second date. And when we took a 12 hour road trip two days after. But… she was different…beautiful…caring… and open.
Little did I know these emotionally open, exhausted, completely censor free interactions would influence the rest of my life less than 3 months later.
Last Sunday, having planned a super romantic and creative way, only to have it not completely work, I surprised the girl of my dreams in her house when I asked her to marry me. I was sick and Hannah was still waking up from her nap, but it was one of the most beautiful moments of my life. The timing was a surprise but the act was not.
We had talked about marriage early in the relationship as we clarified our intentions. A couple weeks before I walked out of a horrible movie with my mentee to call her mom and ask if I could marry her. Her brother also gave his blessing. My family was on board as was the inner circle. My grandmother’s ring had been restored, sized and cleaned for her…and wasn’t going to wait until our trip to majestic Crater Lake next week. And it is a good thing I didn’t wait!
We spent the weekend with friends in Bend, where it was cold and snowy and forest-y and beautiful. I had gone to retreat, pray and figure out how to take over the world. Hannah came because I was going away for the weekend. Since I had the ring, and am not an eloquent speaker…just writer…I decided to type my thoughts out. How amazing she is, has made my life better and how much I want to spend every day of the rest of my life with her. The standard things. Because I knew I would want to actually say the words, I left the last sentence unresolved and asked her to read the last few sentences aloud…
The forecast for the mountain pass coming back to Portland was treacherous at best so I found a hiking trail near Salem that we could take a short hike and then when we returned to the car I would give her the letter while I changed my shoes and shirt, leaving me time to grab the ring and listen for her cue. The pass wasn’t that bad but my cold was. It started to make me tired, stuffed up and nauseous occasionally. As we approached the turn off for the trail, the skies opened. It was not raining- even by Oregon standards. It was dumping a month’s worth of sky water in a matter of hours. So we kept driving, skipping the hike and I prayed…
God, I thought this was it. Did I miss something? Am I supposed to wait? Is there a better place or did I mistake your timing?
The negative thoughts flooded in as my perfect plan failed. I still had the letter and realized there was a better place and it would have more meaning.
After a much needed nap, we were sitting on the same loveseat we confessed love and infatuation for the other. It was where we had shared some of the largest and deepest pains and hurts in our life. It is also where we decided we were in this together and neither Hannah nor I was leaving. Now to make that official. I had called her over to the chair after finding a song that we both enjoy- and she sings to me- and handed her the letter.
As she started reading, I held her and I could feel my heart in my chest, then throat… then forehead. I waited as she read. Setting the laptop to the side so I could get up and down on one knee. I waited more. I notice she was reading parts again so pointed to the margin note to read the last part aloud.
She started, “After thinking of you in all these ways, I have made a decision that both delights me because there is no one as perfect as you and scares me as I wonder if I can protect and love you as much as you deserve, but it is with incredible certainty I ask… ”
I have to admit I teared up a little as I asked her to make me the luckiest man I know. She accepted. We hugged and stared at each other. Called family. Texted friends. Told my Portland family at Sunday night dinner. Then I went home alone to my cold now lonely bedroom, ready to start the next chapter of this thing called life.
So there is the story. And no, we are not getting rid of that chair anytime soon.