the story of Abigail Paul & Joe Westbrook
Abigail Paul & Joe Westbrook:
Two lives united in friendship,
Two friends united in love,
One love united in Christ.
“Princess Meets Knight (well, sorta)”
the humorous & slightly-less-than-accurate version of Joe & Abi’s story
which they initially shared with their friends on April Fool’s
Joe: We met at the Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs, CO in August of 2009. I was there for the five-year meeting of Sasquatch Hunters. A group of us had spent several years in the forests of Canada searching for Sasquatch and we were taking advantage of this meeting to try and drum up more financial support. My role in the expedition had me spending significant periods of time out in the wilderness, and I really had grown accustomed to that sort of life. I experienced a great deal of anxiety while at the meeting and eventually needed a break from it all. I wandered around the area for a good long while and finally stumbled upon the Garden of the Gods. While there I saw what looked to be a cave up in the cliff face and my primal urges took over. I began scaling the rock in attempt to get to an area that looked like “home” to me.
Abigail: I had traveled to Colorado with my sisters and a vanload of friends for the annual Homeschool Alumni national reunion. After spending a weekend of fun and fellowship at a camp between Denver and Colorado Springs, a bunch of us decided to visit Garden of the Gods on Sunday afternoon before heading back home. After poking around the gift shop a bit, most of us headed out on the trails. We were fascinated by the huge and unique rock formations, and some in our group tried climbing the smaller rocks.
It was then that I noticed a rough-looking fellow that I didn’t recognize. He was part way up one of the huge rocks, and as he wasn’t moving at all, I concluded he must be stuck in an area without any handholds. Although I am terrified of heights, I knew I couldn’t let this stranger remain up there without at least attempting to rescue him. Borrowing a rope from one of my fellow HSAers, I somehow managed to maneuver myself far enough up the cliffside to toss out the rope. The stranger caught it, and I was able to carefully lower him to safety.
Joe: I must admit, it was quite embarrassing to require being saved like that. I blame the fancy food at the Sasquatch Convention…I’m pretty sure it totally wrecked my “wilderness sense.” However, I was very happy to be on solid ground again, though it really surprised me that someone like Abigail would take the time to rescue someone who looked like me (I hadn’t shaved or had a haircut in a very, very long time). With my communication skills pretty much wiped out due to the time I’d spent in the wild, I wasn’t able to convey my thanks very clearly, but eventually it seems I got the point across. I was again surprised when she finally understood my request for a way to contact her later and she gave me her e-mail address.
The convention ended, and sadly the group I was a part of couldn’t get the necessary funding to continue looking for Bigfoot. With nothing else to do, I made my way back home. After I was employed and living on my own again, I came across Abigail’s e-mail address and decided I should try to reach her. It wasn’t like me to e-mail someone that I really knew nothing about, but there was something different about her and I thought it was worth the potential risk. I was very shocked when I received a response from her, and even more surprised when it became a near-daily experience.
Abigail: With Joe’s rough appearance, my sisters were very wary and warned me not to give him my email address. At first I wasn’t going to, but he kept asking and I finally decided it probably was safe enough. He was so rough-looking that I couldn’t imagine he’d know how to run a computer anyway. So we gave this strange fellow a little granola and water that we had with us, made sure he was headed back to the convention center, and then began our long drive east, all the way back home.
I’d nearly forgotten about the incident when, about 6 weeks later, I received an email from a certain Joe Westbrook. It took me quite a while to realize who that name belonged to – and I was shocked to see how well he could communicate in writing. To my further shock, we seemed to have quite a bit in common, and as we exchanged emails over the following weeks and months, we began to build a friendship that gradually became more and more meaningful.
And the rest, as they say, is history. 🙂
The Real Story
Joe: Ahem. Assuming you didn’t buy the above story, here’s how we really met. 🙂 I had been frustrated by the fact that there didn’t seem to be any single women my age anywhere I went. In May of 2008 I set up a profile on eHarmony, not sure if that’s the way I would meet someone or not, but I thought it would be worth a shot. At least 95% of the matches eHarmony’s computer system set up didn’t seem worth the effort and so I closed them immediately. I only attempted communicating with a handful of matches, and then only met two of them in person. By March of 2009 I had pretty much given up hope that anything would come out of this method, though I did renew my eHarmony membership that May.
Finally in mid- to late-August I felt that a change needed to be made. Originally I had set my profile up to only give me matches within 60 miles of Rochester. I decided to take a step of faith and opened up the system to the states of Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Iowa. While some distances would have been difficult to manage, for the right person I was more than willing to make the effort. For a few weeks, nothing really happened – I was still closing the vast majority of the matches that came my way. Finally, though, on September 26th Abigail’s profile was shown to me. In all honesty, one of the very first things to catch my eye was that she was from just a few miles south of the town where I was born. I don’t believe in signs or coincidences, but I thought it was an interesting piece of information.
I e-mailed Abigail that day, but due to her switching domains on her website a couple of months earlier, that message was bounced back to me. This led me to do the honorable thing – I looked her up on Facebook. I sent a very brief message there and waited for a response so I would feel free to send a longer e-mail that went deeper than the information given in my eHarmony profile. The first “real” message was quite long, and I was surprised to get a fairly long response. We began e-mailing pretty much every day and most of the e-mails were quite long, actually. We discussed all sorts of topics from silly to serious. I was even able to get her to send me her phone number after only a week of e-mailing, and I was able to make a few phone calls during October and November.
Abigail: God sure has a sense of humor, doesn’t He? When I signed up for an eHarmony profile back in January of 2009 it really wasn’t with the hope of finding a husband on there. For one thing, I don’t believe it’s a girl’s role to be “looking” for a guy in the first place (she can put herself in positions of appropriate availability, but it is the guy’s job to initiate and pursue). And, secondly, meeting a husband on eHarmony was about the most unromantic thing I could think of, and not what I wanted my love story to be like. 😉
But I went ahead and signed up for a profile anyway, just out of curiosity. I was quite sure I wouldn’t run across any like-minded guys that way, and I definitely didn’t think it was worth any financial investment. So I just got the free account, limited to communicating only on free weekends (every couple months or so), and I proceeded to find much amusement in the profiles that were sent my way.
By the summer of 2009, I found myself emotionally healing from some difficult experiences and earnestly seeking the direction God wanted for my life. He nudged me to step into more full-time graphic design work, and my efforts along those lines were greatly blessed. Soon I had more jobs than I could handle and there was little time for other things. I rarely even looked at the matches eHarmony was sending me, and I seriously considered shutting down my profile completely. Only a couple guys had contacted me through it, and none of them were even close to being truly like-minded. All the profiles started to look the same, and it was discouraging to see the apparent value systems of these guys who called themselves Christians. Besides, I didn’t even want to meet a guy that way…right? 😉
On September 26 I noticed that someone from Rochester, MN, had visited my personal website. For some reason, I immediately suspected that it was an eHarmony match, and I logged on to see who it might be. Sure enough, a certain Joe from Rochester had been matched with me that morning. His profile was admittedly a bit more interesting than some of the others had been, and I especially noticed the way he described himself as being very conservative-minded, wanting a girl who was willing to take a stand for Biblical truth even if it meant going against popular mindsets and lifestyles. I wondered if he might email me (since I only had a free eH profile, that was the only way I could communicate except on free communication weekends), but when no email arrived that evening I dismissed the idea, thinking little of it because the same scenario had happened several times before.
So…it was quite a surprise to check my email the next morning and find a Facebook message from Joe, saying that he’d seen my eH profile and tried to email the day before, but the email hadn’t gone through. It was just a short note, but I was admittedly impressed by his persistence in tracking me down on FB and having nerve to write. I typed out a quick reply right before heading off to church, giving him my email address. I didn’t hear any more from him that day, but Monday morning brought a surprisingly long introductory email. I immediately liked his skillful way of writing and his cheerful attitude, not to mention his heart for the Lord and the way he didn’t hesitate to take a leadership role in stating his intentions and asking straight-forward questions.
But…I was incredibly scared by the whole idea of “trying again” with a relationship. I’d been badly hurt and disappointed twice before, and I was still healing from those situations. Throughout October and November, as Joe and I continued to exchange daily emails and occasional phone calls, I found myself at a near panic point several times because of the risk involved in moving forward. I was afraid to let myself even begin to enjoy Joe’s emails or to appreciate him as a simple friend, though I could hardly help that. But I didn’t want to like him…I didn’t want to hope, only to have it all snatched away again. My emotional walls were very high.
Making this all much more confusing is the fact that Joe is, quite simply, very different from the kind of guy I thought I was waiting for. Our family backgrounds and upbringing are widely different, and in other ways he just didn’t seem to “fit” the ideal “Mr. Right” I’d created in my mind. Was I at risk of “settling” for a situation less than God’s best just because he was interested and no other guys were in sight?
And yet, as we continued talking, I found myself liking this guy more and more. I just couldn’t help it, try as I would. I threw all my weird viewpoints at him from day one, making no effort to appear more moderate and trying to scare him off…and I was shocked when he kept replying with complete agreement. He brought up a good share of the big and difficult subjects himself, always laying out a viewpoint that aligned with mine. I was impressed that he’d arrived at these conclusions through his personal Bible study – he wasn’t just repeating things he’d been taught all his life. I was also thankful to be able to contact some of Joe’s closest friends without his knowledge, getting their validation of Joe’s heart for God and his faithfulness in his Christian walk.
Joe: We met in person for the first time on Friday, November 13th at the Pizza Hut in Viroqua, WI. Abigail and her sisters Susanna and Lydia were there for an HSA reunion in Westby, WI and I had been invited to come down for the weekend, too. Meeting at Pizza Hut before going to the house where the reunion was being hosted seemed like a great way to break the ice and make it a lot less awkward for me. Granted, it was still awkward: I was meeting a woman that I was already thinking God could be bringing into my life in a more permanent sense, as well as two of her sisters, and then an unknown number of complete strangers. And to top it off, I had hardly gotten any sleep before heading to Viroqua (I work overnight and in my excitement and nervousness over meeting Abigail I had been unable to get more than an hour or so nap all day). However, I headed down and had a great time of conversation at Pizza Hut and a great time playing games in Westby with some of the other homeschoolers Abigail knew. Not wanting to be presumptuous, I had decided that instead of taking up the offer of lodging at the house where the reunion was held, I would stay at my dad’s house in West Salem, WI (about 45 minutes away). This meant driving back down to Westby on Saturday, but I thought that extra level of safety would be more comfortable for both of us. Toward the end of the evening on Saturday, Abigail and I spent a considerable amount of time talking near the bonfire in the backyard. This was the first time during the weekend that she and I had any significant conversation by ourselves, and as we progressed it became very easy to speak freely. I was disappointed when it got late enough that I needed to head back to West Salem, but I was glad we had the time we did.
Abigail: I was somewhat nervous about meeting Joe in person, but I wasn’t set on the relationship going one way or the other and was mostly just curious to see what would happen. That first meeting was very awkward as I look back on it now, but all things considered it went quite well. I liked the way Joe conducted himself, and we had no trouble carrying on conversation. His cheerful steadiness, casual comfortableness despite not knowing anyone else at the gathering (he was the only non-homeschooler there), and infectious laughter made me smile, and I was pleased with his lack of hesitation when asked to lead the group in prayer at lunch time.
Even more surprising was the way he wanted to continue pursuing our relationship after meeting me. I’d been fairly sure he’d meet me and want to call everything off, since that had been my experience in previous “maybe” situations with guys. But no…he liked me anyway? Wow. Now I was more confused than ever! I felt a need to convey that confusion to Joe, not wanting to lead him on or make him think I was feeling things I wasn’t. I did appreciate him as a friend, but at that point I wasn’t ready for more.
Joe: The first e-mail I got from Abigail after the weekend in Westby left me initially very discouraged, but that’s mostly because I didn’t read it close enough to catch exactly what she said. At that point, she only saw me as a friend, but my skimming of that particular paragraph left me with the impression she wanted out at that time. When I went back and re-read the e-mail later that evening, it wasn’t nearly as bad as I had thought, and I was reminded by what she said that if God didn’t lead us beyond the point we were at, my trying to force it would only be harmful to both of us.
Abigail: Joe’s response to my “clarification” email meant a great deal to me. He thanked me for my honesty and said he had no intentions of pushing things any faster than I was comfortable with. His understanding and willingness to be patient made me feel a lot safer, and we agreed to continue emailing and chatting over the next three weeks – until the weekend he was planning to come down and meet the rest of my family.
I laugh a bit as I look back now because neither Joe nor I expressed any excitement about his first trip down here. We planned it all out matter-of-factly, but I think we were both a little too nervous to feel excited about the weekend. From our time together in WI and the many other exchanges we’d had, I knew Joe and I would get along just fine. But would he fit in with the rest of my family? And what would my parents think? I had kept them well-informed of how our relationship had been progressing, and they’d encouraged me to keep giving Joe a chance. But what would they think of him in person? I spent a lot of time praying about it, knowing that we all greatly needed God’s wisdom in the situation.
Joe: “Nervous” doesn’t even begin to describe how I felt. 😛 I had, of course, been hearing a good deal about the goings-on in Abi’s family over the course of our exchanges, and while I didn’t expect too much trouble getting along with them (I am generally able to get along with anyone), fitting in was something else entirely.
I headed down on a Saturday afternoon. I had worked the night before and took about a four-hour nap before leaving, and still being somewhat tired kinda helped calm my nerves. I met Abi and her sisters Susanna and Rachel at the thrift store in Marshalltown where they volunteer. I was even put to work. We were there for an hour and a half, maybe two hours, after I arrived before heading down to Abi’s house. I’m glad I was able to follow the ladies because, as easy as it is to get to their house, with my nerves where they were, I might not have made it by myself.
Abigail: The main things I remember from that first evening of Joe’s visit are the way he and my dad talked for about 3 hours after supper, about all kinds of science and Bible topics…and the way I felt as I did dishes and listened in on their conversation. Despite his very understandable nervousness, Joe was calm and collected, seemingly at ease. And he was already fitting in to our family a lot better than I’d anticipated. As I continued to observe him closely throughout the course of the weekend, I was very impressed with everything I saw.
We enjoyed several hilarious evenings of games with my siblings, a good time of fellowship on Sunday, chilly walks in the snow, and a record-breaking one-on-one conversation that lasted about 11 hours with only a short break for supper (anyone who knows how quiet I am will understand how significant that was for me!). I also was especially appreciative of Joe’s thoughtfulness in enthusiastically attending the Messiah concert Rachel and I sang in that Sunday evening – despite the fact that it’s not his favorite type of music and he was pretty sleepy by then. As we walked out to our car after the concert, we were greeting with a beautiful fresh snowfall, the perfect flakes still falling gently like glitter from heaven. It was a magical moment and I found myself especially glad to have Joe there to share it with me. I still had no idea what God might have planned for our relationship, but I was beginning to wonder if He could have something up His sleeve after all. 🙂
Joe: In the three weeks between meeting Abi in Westby and visiting her at her house this first time, I mentioned the possibility of a road trip to WI to visit some of my friends and family toward the end of January. I didn’t want to push it, but I was supposed to have vacation requests in at work less than a week after visiting Abi. I was more than willing to wait until after meeting her family for her to make a decision.
I enjoyed the December visit quite a bit, and was able to relax after a short time. It was a fairly quiet visit overall, but that was quite all right. Having such a long one-on-one conversation with Abi was very special, and even though I had been thinking things might go in a more serious direction from early on in our communication, it was very reassuring to me.
I had arrived on a Saturday and didn’t leave until about noon on Tuesday. All Tuesday morning I was trying to think of a way to bring up the subject of the January trip, but was coming up short. Abi actually saved my the trouble by bringing it up an hour or so before I had to leave. That was also reassuring. I figured that since she had brought it up, she must have felt ready to begin pursuing something a bit more serious. With dates in mind for January, I said my goodbyes and made my way back home.
Abigail: The next 8 weeks formed a very important phase of our relationship. Our schedules made it such that we weren’t able to see each other in person during that time, so we focused on getting to know each other better through emails, chatting several times a week or so, a few regular mail letters, and (after the first of the year) weekly phone calls, each 2-4 hours in length. As we gradually shared more with each other, I was increasingly impressed with Joe’s honesty and humility. We were keeping our relationship on a friendship basis, yet we both knew we were heading towards marriage if God continued to lead that way.
And then, almost before I knew it, the 8 weeks had passed and Susanna and I were getting ready to travel up to MN to meet Joe and drive to WI to meet some of his friends and family. Now it was my turn to be extra nervous. 😉 For all of our communication, Joe and I had only seen each other in person twice…and now we were planning to spend 5 days together. I knew it would be a chance to learn a lot more about each other, and I prayed God would help us to know His will more clearly.
Joe: One of the things Abi and I started doing was memorizing Scripture together. This made weekly phone calls much more necessary, though I really didn’t feel like I needed an excuse to want to talk to her so much. 😉 As 2010 was fast approaching, we also began tossing ideas back and forth for daily Bible reading plans. I had been rather lax for several years in making it a habit, and I was glad for the accountability. Beyond that, though, the vast amount of written communication we exchanged really helped me get to know Abi better, and I continued to be more sure that God really had something special planned for us.
The trip to WI was a lot of fun. It started with a mid-afternoon lunch at Zorba’s Greek Restaurant in Rochester where we met up with my dad, step-mom (Roni), and sister (Sarah). Sarah was flying back to Germany the next morning, and my dad and Roni were taking her to the Cities. We had a nice meal and conversation, and then headed out of town to visit my friends, the Chaffeys. Abi was already a little familiar with them, having contacted Tim via e-mail to get a little background on me a few weeks before we met, and talking with Casey on the phone. We spent Wednesday and Thursday nights at their house, and Thursday evening we went to Janesville, WI for dinner at Texas Roadhouse, then dropped down to Rockford, IL to visit with Andy and Anne Wallman, friends of mine and the Chaffeys.
Friday we headed back up to the La Crosse area to stay at my dad and Roni’s house in West Salem. Dad was home when we arrived and we had a good time of conversation with him. Roni got home from work a few hours later, but had to leave again for a couple of hours for a coworker’s birthday party. While she was gone, Abi, Susanna and I taught Dad how to play Dutch Blitz, and Roni took over for him when she got back. Part of the evening was also spent going through several photo albums.
Saturday we spent the day at my mom’s house. My grandparents were there, too, and we went through more pictures and had a fairly laid-back day. My mom was moving soon, so it was nice to have this chance to get together.
Sunday we went to church with Dad and Roni at my home church. I was able to introduce Abi to several of my friends from there. There was a potluck after the service, and Abi and I were able to chat with a few people I knew as well as spend a bit more time together. After the potluck was over, though, we needed to head back to Rochester as I had to work that night and needed to take a nap.
Abigail: I ended up really enjoying our entire trip. Everyone we spent time with was very kind and friendly, and I quickly felt surprisingly “at home”. Of course it helped a lot having Joe there the whole time, too. 🙂 I was very thankful for the opportunity to observe him on his own turf, so to speak, with people he’d known for many years or his whole life. It confirmed to me that yes, he really is the same guy I’d been getting to know: no facades! Joe and I had the chance for several very good conversations, and I was amazed at how easily we could communicate and how comfortable we already felt with each other.
The five days passed very quickly and I was sad to say goodbye. Going back to long-distance communication after the luxury of face-to-face was not the easiest, but Joe was already planning his next trip down here in three weeks. Yay! Now, if I could just manage to evade the flu which was going around in my family…
Joe: I felt incredibly blessed to be able to see Abi again so soon after the WI trip, especially since there had been an 8-week gap before the WI trip. I was eagerly looking forward to making the drive down, though we were both a little nervous with the flu making quite a pass through her family. The day before I was supposed to go down, Abi started feeling under the weather, and I wondered if we would have to cancel. I had taken that night off from work and we chatted around midnight. She wasn’t feeling the full force of sickness, so we decided that I should call her in the morning to see if she was feeling well enough for me to make the trip. Thankfully she wasn’t feeling so bad that she would have needed to stay in bed all day, so I decided to risk going.
I’m glad I made that decision. While the entire weekend we spent most of our time quietly inside, Saturday Abi was feeling considerably better, though not quite 100%. We played a few games of Scrabble, and had a good amount of conversation.
After church on Sunday we got our first posed picture together, and looking back it was *incredibly* awkward. She and I were both thinking it would be nice to have one, but neither of us wanted to say anything for fear that the other would think we were being presumptuous or something, so it was a welcome relief for Susanna to offer to take one of us. It was funny, too, because the clothes Abi and I were wearing were matched quite well.
Abigail: Joe wasn’t busy the following weekend (the last weekend in February), so at the last minute we decided to plan a day trip on Saturday to meet each other in Mason City – roughly halfway between our places. Lydia went along for the ride, and we ended up having so much fun together. After wandering around the mall and a few other stores for a while, we went “kiwi hunting” at Walmart (long story, but HSA friends will understand the significance of kiwi, lol). Unfortunately our hunt was unsuccessful, so we posed with fake sad faces by the empty kiwi bin before dashing out of the store smothering our laughter. 😀 The rest of the afternoon we spent in the car: reciting and discussing our memory verses, reading silly stories aloud, and just talking and talking… 🙂
A meal at Perkins rounded out the day, and as we said goodbye and went our separate ways I knew something special had happened in my heart. It wasn’t anything big that had been said or done, but just a clear realization that Joe was quickly becoming one of my best friends…and that I’d be hard pressed to meet any guy with whom I’d feel more comfortable. And how many other guys would have so much fun doing almost nothing with me all day, able to be completely serious at times as well as thoroughly “getting” my off-beat sense of humor? I wasn’t completely won over yet (yes, I was very wary and slow), but I was starting to be cautiously excited about what God might have in store for us.
Joe: Part of the impromptu nature of our trip to Mason City was that I had left a pair of shoes at Abi’s house. We had a good time joking about how they might get lonely and Abi would need to take care of them for me.
As Abi said, there wasn’t anything especially big about our day in Mason City. It was a real treat to get to see her two weekends in a row like this. As time continued to pass, I was more and more glad to get an e-mail from her each day, talk to her on the phone each week, and see her when it was possible.
We didn’t get together for four more weeks after Mason City, and in that time we started seriously discussing making our relationship official. On Thursday, March 25th, I went down to spend three nights at her house. On Friday I began talking with her dad, going over some things that were especially dear to his heart, but our conversation was cut short (after three hours!) when Abi’s brother Joseph arrived from Arkansas with his wife, Ami, and daughter, Ruby. Abi’s dad and I picked up our conversation on Saturday. After we had talked for five hours, we got around to me asking him for his blessing to officially court Abi, and an hour later I had my answer…I think. 😉 Abi’s dad and I communicate in different ways, and from my perspective I hadn’t been given a clear “Yes,” and I mentioned that to Abi as she, Joseph, Ami and I stayed up chatting after everyone else had gone to bed. Abi told her dad the next morning at breakfast that I wasn’t totally sure what his answer had been, and when we pulled into the church parking lot he told me directly that it was okay. Whew!
After church we went back to the farm for lunch, and I was sad to have to leave. Abi and I had briefly discussed the issue of physical contact in January, but since we hadn’t revisited the topic, I contented myself with our usual goodbye handshake, even though I really wanted to give her a hug as I left. The next three weeks passed somewhat slowly, even though I kept myself busy, even managing a trip to see some friends in Eau Claire.
Abigail: Our communications through the month of March continued to confirm to me that Joe really was a pretty special guy, and one I would be honored to seriously consider as a future husband. When Joe mentioned the possibility of transitioning into a more “official” courtship, I agreed that the timing seemed right. I greatly appreciated Joe’s desire to honor my dad by asking his blessing, and – based on several conversations we’d had – I was pretty sure that my dad would be favorable.
So Joe came down to visit that last weekend of March, and we had a lot of fun spending time with Joseph, Ami, and Ruby. I didn’t sit in on my dad’s interrogation of Joe…and though I wasn’t really nervous that my dad would say “no,” those 9 hours sure did seem extremely l-o-n-g. 🙂
It was strange, though, because even though we were suddenly “officially” courting, nothing had really changed. We’d already been seriously pursuing a marriage-oriented friendship for 6 months, and to have an official label on it didn’t really make any difference. I found myself shrugging my shoulders more than feeling any special excitement. “Okay, we’re courting now. That’s nice…”
But the excitement definitely kicked in for real a few days later when we announced our relationship online. We decided to make it “Facebook official” on April 1, as a sort of quirky joke: a true announcement on a day when everyone would wonder if it was a prank or not. 😉 We had a great deal of fun with that, and it was very special to have all our friends rallying around with congratulations. It was then that I finally “caught up” emotionally. “We’re courting? For real?!? YAY!!” 😀
The next few weeks were a lot of fun as we added more romantic aspects into our communication and talked over more in-depth issues. Several times I just had to stop and marvel that courtship could be so much fun – I’d never imagined that I could so thoroughly enjoy spending that much time talking with a guy, or that we would be able to so easily communicate on any issue. I felt very blessed indeed, and eager to see what God had in store next.
Joe: I saw Abi 3 weeks after we started courting, and again 3 weeks later. It was great to see her a little more frequently, and I became more and more certain that our relationship would continue to progress. After seeing her the second weekend in May, one of her friends made a comment on the picture of us that we had taken. We had dutifully kept a little bit of physical space between us as we sat on the porch swing, and her friend mentioned that she had had a frustrating experience before getting married because she and her now-husband didn’t have any sort of physical contact. I mentioned this in one of my e-mails to Abi and we started discussing what we thought would be acceptable levels of physical contact before we got married (I know, it sounds so clinical 😛 ). We came up with a pretty short list and decided that it would be more special to save our list until after we’d gotten engaged. I found it very helpful to go over this so we would have specific standards set up before we got to the point of incorporating anything physical in our relationship so we wouldn’t end up doing something we’d regret.
Abigail: I was (and am) very grateful for the way Joe directly brought up issues like this and led us in prayerful discussions to clear decisions. As the weeks of our courtship passed, we learned a lot about the whole process of making decisions together and communicating more deeply…and I was increasingly amazed at Joe’s heart for God and his ability to wisely handle any situation. He’s even able to be calm, thoughtful, and fun when he’s running on basically no sleep: very impressive. 🙂
We were blessed to be able to see each other pretty much every third weekend through April and May, and each visit we was more special and more enjoyable. We made time for hiking, grilling, card games, photography, Scripture memory recitation, and a lot more – plus plenty of good discussions, of course. 😀 It was a very happy time, unmarred by anything stressful or confusing.
Joe: At the end of May Abi and Susanna came up for several days. On Wednesday, May 26th, we headed to WI to spend three nights at my dad’s house and three nights in the Black River Falls area. This was the longest amount of time we’d spent together, and it was a very enjoyable trip. I was able to introduce Abi to several of my friends (the Killoughs, Zylstras, Schmids, Matthews, and Clipners). Not only was this trip a lot of fun for me, it also helped clarify a lot of things in my mind. One thing that really stuck out to me was how the Matthews’ son Jonathan warmed right up to Abi and even fell asleep cuddled next to her. I already knew that I loved her, but seeing her looking so motherly ended up being the last thing I needed to see – now I was absolutely sure that I wanted to marry her.
We got back to Rochester on Tuesday, June 1st, and after taking pictures of each other with our cell phones, it was time for Abi and Susanna to return home. I went back down to see her that Friday (June 4th), and during the days between visits we began talking more seriously and decided the time was right for me to ask her dad to marry her.
Abigail: The trip up to MN and WI was a big deal for me. I was eager to see Joe again, of course, but was also nervous about meeting so many more of his friends and relatives. New situations aren’t my favorite thing anyway, and to think of being closely observed and interrogated for a whole week was a bit overwhelming. Of course I worried needlessly, and though it certainly was a tiring week everyone was very kind and welcoming, and I never felt too much in the spotlight. As with my other trip up there, it was very good to see Joe with these people he’s known for so many years. It was definitely fun to finally be able to meet folks I’d been hearing so much about, and be able to put more names and faces together.
Spending that much time together did clarify a lot for both of us, and we began to seriously look forward to the possibility of becoming engaged quite soon, should God open that door.
Joe: I knew that I was going to need to talk to Abi’s dad about the engagement before it happened, just as I had talked to him about courting her back in March. I was fully prepared for a very long discussion as the courtship discussion had been quite lenghty, so I was pleasantly surprised when, on June 5th, I approached her dad and, after perhaps 15 minutes of discussion and prayer, I had my answer. Right before I left for home I asked to measure Abi’s finger “just in case” I went shopping. That night while I sat at work with absolutely nothing to do, Abi and I began planning our wedding via AOL Instant Messenger before I’d officially asked her to marry me and she’d officially said yes.
One thing I did before going to work that night was to look at rings online. I found one set that I particularly liked which included the engagement ring, her band and mine. When we got to talking about it while chatting, she mentioned that if she could have one request, it would be to not have a stone that sat too high above the band. Figuring the set I had found was going to be ruled out, I sent her the link and while she said it was definitely pretty, the stone sat higher than she wanted for practicality purposes. Nuts. She sent me a link for a ring that had the stone sitting lower, and it also had a garnet instead of a diamond in the middle. Hmm…a hint? I started looking at garnets as a possibility and found a ring that was of similar design to the one she showed me, but not exactly the same so she would still be surprised. I asked her to go to Wal-Mart and try on a ring or two and make sure the ring size we’d come up with was accurate (Wal-Mart had a PDF with a ring-sizing chart on it). We had both estimated her size to be 6 1/2, but it turned out a 6 fit better.
Armed with that knowledge, I went to Sears on Tuesday, June 8th. I had found a ring online that I liked. According to the website it was only available in a size 7, and when I got to the store it was confirmed. Oh well, resizing shouldn’t be a big deal, right? After I’d paid for my purchases (I found a matching ring there for myself) and got the paperwork done for the resizing, I found out that the ring wasn’t going to go out until the following Monday (June 14th) and it would take one to two weeks to get back. That was a problem because I was heading back down to visit Abi and propose on the 18th. The gal at the counter said she’d try to get it out Wednesday or Thursday. I ended up back at the store on Tuesday the 15th and found out it had gone out on Sunday the 13th. I was told it would likely come in by Friday, and I asked the gal at the counter that day to see if it could be rushed along any. No such luck. I joked with my coworkers about going to one of the gumball-type machines and getting a temporary ring that way, and when I mentioned that to Abi on Wednesday night, she liked the idea, but thought it would be okay to spend a little more than a quarter. Thursday morning when I got done with work I did a little shopping, hitting Wal-Mart, then Target, and finally Shopko where I found a nice sterling silver ring. It was a simple band with two hearts intertwined, and it seemed quite fitting.
So, armed with a ring, I made my way to Abi’s after work Friday morning, June 18th. By the time I reached her house some good storm clouds were rolling in, and shortly after we got my stuff unloaded the storm hit. I was hoping it would blow over by that evening because I was planning to propose outside while on a walk. By the time I’d gotten a nap and we’d had supper, it was no longer storming out, though it was certainly quite wet. I didn’t care, though, and after we finished eating we headed out for a walk.
We went out through the fields on a path we had frequented over the course of my visits, coming to the highest point on the farm, a place Abi had told me many times was her favorite place to go and be with God, in good times and bad. When I had visited Abi for the first time in December she had shown me the spot, and even then I thought it would be a good place to propose (how’s that for planning? 😉 ). Unfortunately when we got there I couldn’t think of a single thing to say. I had been trying for two weeks to come up with something for this time, and I was completely blank. 😛
We walked a little farther on and came to the northern edge of the field where we could go either to the right or to the left. We had come to a stop and Abi asked which direction we should go, and I figured that I had nothing to lose. I took her hand in mine (a first for us) and began pouring my heart out. It was scary yet at the same time incredibly liberating to be so free with my words. I was very caught up in the moment and can’t remember too many specifics of what I said (not that I’d share a lot of them anyway 😉 ). After I slipped the ring on her finger I wrapped her in the biggest hug I could and then we spent a long while talking about the future, praying, and watching both the lightning from a storm to the southeast and countless fireflies rising out of the field as stars winked one by one into view.
Abigail: Susanna and I went up to MN and WI over Memorial Day weekend to meet a bunch more of Joe’s relatives and friends. The 6-day trip was our longest time together in person so far, and as we had expected, it clarified a lot of things for both of us. By the end of the trip he asked me if I felt timing was right for him to ask my dad’s blessing on our engagement. I’d been praying about it and was ready to agree to that. In some ways that “yes” was a more significant turning point for me than the official proposal itself. It was from that point on that I knew we would be getting married, although we just didn’t know what the timeframe might be.
When Joe came down the very weekend after Memorial Day (we were quite spoiled being able to spend 12 out of 14 consecutive days together!), we talked about it some more in person and then he approached my dad later on Saturday evening. To our surprise, my dad didn’t have any long list of further things to talk about, and the conversation/prayer time took only 15 minutes max – quite a contrast to the 9-hour interrogation Joe went through to gain permission to court me initially. 😉 We’d prepared ourselves for the possibility of further delays or at least more discussion, so we were a little in shock that the “yes” had come so easily. Yay!!
But even then, I don’t think the reality quite sunk in for me until Joe was ready to head back home the following afternoon. He said goodbye to my family and I walked out to his car with him, making small talk. As he turned to say goodbye, he said, “I suppose it wouldn’t surprise you too much if I asked to measure your finger before I go? Just in case I get in the mood to do a little shopping in the next couple weeks…” 😉 No, it didn’t surprise me at all – nor was I surprised that he had already researched online how to measure ring sizes. One thing I like so much about Joe is the way he thinks ahead in practical ways and is so good about figuring things out before I’m even aware of the need to do so. We measured my finger, said a reluctant goodbye, he headed north, and I tried to sort through everything mentally. I’m getting married? Wow. 😀
That night, during our usual AIM chat while Joe was at work (he rarely has much to keep him busy there, so I often stay up and keep him company), we started wedding planning for real. I still laugh a bit to think of how many things we covered that night, but I guess it’s pretty typical for us and the way our minds work. We do enjoy planning ahead and figuring out the logistics of how things can work out best. And we make a pretty good team in that regard if I do say so myself. 🙂 We have surprisingly similar tastes, even down to the details of things like colors and styles and every aspect of how we want the wedding to be. From that first evening on, we’ve had quite a bit of fun working on the wedding plans, even when we’d lots rather be doing something else, or when it seems like nothing is quite coming together as we’d wish. Joe has been a huge help all along: definitely not the typical guy who doesn’t care to be involved at all, he’s very helpful and supportive and full of good ideas.
So…we planned our wedding and our honeymoon and dreamed about our future for the next 12 days, and all without being officially engaged, lol. That’s not a normal order of events, but it was just perfect for us. And I’m so thankful for that time God gave because I needed a chance to adjust to it all emotionally. Even when I realize a fact mentally, I tend to be very slow to catch up emotionally: takes a while for my excitement to fully kick in. Those 12 days gave me plenty of time for that, and by the time he came down again on June 18 I was more than eager for the proposal. I couldn’t wait to having things truly “official” and to shout the news to the world. 😀
Joe got here about 10:00 a.m. on Friday, June 18. Because he’d been up working all night, we only visited for an hour or so before he headed upstairs for a nap. I caught a bit of a nap myself and also did a little design work, trying to stay occupied. 😉 By 4:00 Joe was up and around again, but it was raining…and then it was suppertime. He’d told me he planned to propose to me while we took a walk, and we sure wondered if the weather would cooperate or not.
By the time we finished supper, the skies were clearing off and we agreed it’d be a perfect evening for taking a walk, except it’d still be rather wet and muddy. By unspoken mutual agreement we headed out to the highest point on our farm, a spot that has been very special to me over the years. I have met with God there countless times, in joy and in tears, in confusion and in hopefulness. For years I’d been thinking that spot would be perfect for a proposal, but of course I’d never mentioned it to Joe.
I made a bit of small talk as we walked, and then grew quiet, wanting to give him opportunity to change the subject as he felt best. Reaching the highest point, we stood there and looked around a bit, silently enjoying the beautiful view. Still he said nothing…so we slowly walked on down the other side of the hill, slipping in the wet alfalfa. I figured it wouldn’t hurt to walk around some more first anyway, and I was genuinely enjoying the time.
It was when we reached the end of the field and I asked if he wanted to turn to the left or the right that he reached for my left hand and said, “No, let’s just stay here for now.” Up until that point we’d had no physical contact except for hand-shaking at the beginning and end of each visit, so just the fact that he was then suddenly holding my hand was pretty significant – besides the fact that he was down on his knee in the wet grass. 🙂 And then…well, only Joe and I will know what he said next. 🙂 His awkwardness wore off after the first couple sentences, and even though he said he “wasn’t inspired” I quite disagree because it was all very beautiful and just perfect. 🙂 He stated, for the first time, that he loved me, and said he would be honored if I would not only be his best friend and his princess, but also his wife. I could only say, “It would be my privilege…” and then he was putting the ring on my finger and we gave each other what must have been the world’s longest, tightest hug. 🙂
After a while we took turns praying aloud, thanking God for all He had done and committing our future to Him. I wish I could remember more precisely all that Joe included in his prayer because it was very special. We were quiet for a while, just enjoying being together…and then words began to come: words of appreciation for each other, marveling in God’s ability to surprise us, snippets of dreams for our future, joyful laughter. It seemed as though we were alone in the universe, especially as the sun dipped below the horizon and all the sky was painted with the most incredible sunset I have ever seen. From east to west was a dome of puffy clouds all colors of the rainbow, and off in the far south-east remnants of the afternoon thunderstorm gave us a beautiful lightning show. As the colors slowly faded, the sky cleared off and the evening stars began to twinkle. And from the fields surrounding us, a million little fireflies rose up and began to dance and twirl around us in time to the birds’ bedtime songs, like little sparkles of heaven’s glory within arm’s reach.
As I look back, there is no way the evening could have possibly been more perfect – save, perhaps, for the grass to not be so wet that we had to stand the whole time. But it was absolutely incredible, and I could not have imagined a more special proposal evening. No, it wasn’t anything elaborate, and it wasn’t even a surprise. But it was exactly what I had dreamed of for years, only much, much better. There’s something far nicer about a real guy than an imaginary one, y’know. 😉
By the time we finally, very reluctantly walked back to the house, we were surprised to see that it was nearly 11:00. Hadn’t seemed like half that long. 🙂 We had nuts, mulberry pie and ice cream with my family to celebrate, and then took a few pictures. And I tried to get used to the feel of a ring on my finger. 😉
As time goes on, I continue to be amazed at this man God has given me – or, rather, surprised me with. I’m so thankful God gave me courage to give Joe a chance, and that He changed my mind. 🙂 As Joe and I continue to build our relationship, I am realizing more fully just how perfect we are for each other. Our personalities, beliefs, preferences, and communication styles mesh together beautifully. I can’t imagine any guy being kinder, wiser, gentler, or more loyal, and I truly count it a privilege to be able to serve as his helpmeet.
God is good. 😀
Be careful that your efforts to “be prepared” for whenever God brings you into a courtship don’t leave you with a narrow view of how He will work. Be careful not to construct a formula in your head as to how a courtship should look. And above all, be careful to submit every aspect of future romantic relationships to our Father…including how you think they’ll look and play out. Because as many courtship books remind us, God really does write the best love stories.
-Jessica Telian in "Real life isn't always like the courtship books"
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Gilbert Keith Chesterton was a romantic, a writer of detective tales, and a teller of the truth. His own story and the stories he told are becoming better and better known. But what has remained unknown is the story of the most important person in his life: his wife Frances. (description from Amazon.com)Find on Amazon