He had invited me to the park for a walk after church, and something in his tone told me I should be nervous. We had been friends for several months now, working together on staff with a local church and helping run a college ministry at our alma mater. I was attracted to his passion and kindness, but had never thought beyond our ministry friendship, which was surrounded with strict standards from the "I Kissed Dating Goodbye" movement. We had spoken of future plans and families and life passions - all within the context of this strictly platonic friendship - and with the background of those conversations, I soon concluded that our park walk must be about him finally making the decision to follow his dreams and move to Africa.
We started our walk on a sunny Sunday afternoon, our flip-flopped feet soon coated with a thin layer of dust from the graveled path we walked on, which bordered the lake we were circling. I distracted myself with sites of bikers zipping past and marathon trainers loaded with fuel belts flurrying by. Something in me must have known what my conscious mind could not begin to fathom, because I became increasingly anxious about the context of our walk with every footstep. We tried our hand at casual conversation, both of our voices shaking with nerves, until finally he lead me to a park bench just yards from the water's edge.
My stomach flipped, as I heard these words come from his lips, "Noelle, I have something I need to tell you." Immediately, my mind raced back to my Africa-conclusions, but just as quickly darted to unfounded fears of sickness, until finally landing on the most unbelievable possibility of all: love. I felt my face flush and had trouble keeping eye-contact. "Ok, sure. What is it?" I mumbled, plastering on a put-together smile. And then I waited for what seemed like hours.
His next words are now forever jumbled in my memory with the intense rush of joy and exhalation I experienced as I heard them, and the incredible rosy glow of his cheeks as he spoke them. All the words and all the blushing and all the emotions said this: I want to start a journey with you that will span our whole lives.
That was May 1, 2005. Just four months later we got engaged in an old warehouse in Chiang Mai, Thailand, and just three months after that, we exchanged vows at our home church in a simple winter ceremony. December 10, 2005, with twinkling Christmas lights behind us and almost two hundred guests in front, we said "I do" to that vision of sharing our journeys forever. We kissed in commitment, ten years ago, never knowing what those shared journeys had in store for us.
Ten years of travel and adventure; ten years of arguments and apologies; ten years of first tries and thousandth attempts; ten years of holiday traditions and making a house a home; ten years of hosting international students and cramming every room with roommates; ten years of loss and love; ten years of death and divorce and devastation; ten years of devotion to that same dream: journeying together, forever.
Marriage has not been easy, and there have been whole seasons over the past ten years when I have lost sight of those early commitments altogether. I have seen hurts and hurdles, rather than "together"; I have seen disappointments and distractions, rather than "forever." I have run for the nearest exit, rather than pressing in; hidden my heart away, rather than opening it up. In so many ways, it has been my husband's commitment to that first vision of "together forever" that has been the glue of our marriage through the years (and I count that blessing often!).
This past May, I took Daniel and the kids back to the park where Daniel first asked me to start our forever journey. We told the kids the story of our walk that day, thrilling them with all the fun emotions and butterflies in our bellies, the excitement of holding hands for the first time, life before they existed. We told them about the commitment we made to each other that day, the commitment we have had to revisit time and again throughout our marriage, the commitment to love that eventually birthed them. And we marveled together at the miracle - ten years later, two kids later - of journeying together still.
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