Thursday, January 12, 2012

How We Came to be Engaged

Caleb and I were both members of Grace Baptist Church in Carlisle (my family joined in 2008, after Caleb had been there), but several years passed before we met each other – due to one or the other of us being away at college or Caleb’s being deployed to Iraq…and also due to my studious avoidance of Caleb when I first learned about him - the grandson of one of my favorite older ladies in church whom I had adopted as my surrogate grandmother. Of course everyone knows what grandmas like to do, and I decided that there was no way that I was going to be set up with that grandson of hers! But while Caleb was busy with army and school doings, I continued to enjoy a growing friendship with Grandma– despite those irksome, unwearying references to that eldest grandson. Caleb began to hear similar references to me from her and others and was about as uncomfortable as I was with the hints. But little words from others (like Daddy, who offhandedly mentioned one Sunday afternoon “I like Caleb Bohon”) and all the stories from Grandma began to rub off on me. Caleb did sound like a person I wouldn’t mind getting to know – he liked books, studied Latin, was a devoted Christian and soldier, and even liked flowers. Well, for goodness sake, I might as well be friendly to him the next time he is home – if Grandma thought we could be friends and he lived with them when home, there was no sense in avoiding him. I came to that conclusion while Caleb was in Iraq.  
Several months later, Caleb was home on leave and at church on a Sunday morning in May. I was hoping I could meet him and get this being friends thing on the proper footing. He came with his grandma and a cousin into our Sunday School class and I noticed him hastening to get a chair for his grandma to put her foot on – handsome is as handsome does, and I thought he was pretty handsome right about then. And then Grandma introduced us to each other before the service. I was determined to be friendly for the first time – Caleb was still determined not to be set up so didn’t say much. My first impression was that he had an amazing handshake, but was rather a misanthrop – hardly spoke a word to me when I asked about his library! But the next day, he sent me a friend request on Facebook and told me a bit more about his library and that I was free to borrow (which in retrospect is amusing, since I never took a book from his library till we were engaged and I was given the task of thinning it out in preparation for moving).

So we were friends on Facebook and Caleb returned to Iraq. We didn’t communicate until Caleb’s birthday in September. It happened on Facebook – I posted a happy birthday wish to my dad (who shares a birthday with Caleb) and Grandma commented on it that Caleb (whom she did not refer to by name) was now 25 and was studying Latin on his birthday. Since it is customary for everyone’s Facebook friends to post greetings to them on their birthday, I decided to wish Caleb a happy birthday - in Latin. I was pleasantly surprised that he responded quite warmly and graciously – in Latin – and ran to the basement to dig out my Latin-English dictionary. Not long after that, Caleb was on his way home from Iraq, and I found myself surprisingly excited at the prospect. The Sunday after he arrived home, he came to church with his grandparents.  I remember seeing them walking down the hall in church towards us and many people stopping to give Caleb greetings. I busied myself with my errand of putting several items in the church mail cubbyholes, wishing I could make contact with this stranger-friend, but trying to mind my own business. As the group of people passed behind me, I was again pleasantly surprised to see out of the corner of my eye the familiar figure of a young man wearing a blue gray suit and a close crew cut standing silently facing me at the end of the mailboxes. I turned toward him briefly and said “Welcome back” before returning to my mail posting. He took a step towards me, and with a sudden, “Salve`”, he walked on by, leaving me mildly amused and curious what that Latin word meant. We had some brief contacts online, but my parents sought to help me keep these brief. I was torn between wanting to just be friends and not have to treat him as a potential suitor to be handled with caution, and realizing that for two in our situation, this might not be possible. One morning after church, I was nearly blown over by Caleb walking directly up to me and greeting me, “Hi Alyssa. How are you doing?” and then, to my dismay, walking beside me out of the church sanctuary, talking as we walked.  “Everyone is looking at us, everyone is looking at us”  is all I could think inside – too many people wanted us to get together, and how smug they must feel observing us and smirking and nodding to themselves. Well, let them look – that’s how it has to be in a church family. These brief contacts in church continued, facilitated at times by Grandma, and I attended church with baited breath these days, wondering if he would approach to talk to me or if we would be otherwise encountering each other. After I mentioned once on Facebook missing my brother with his Greek New Testament beside me in church, Caleb gave me a Greek New Testament that had belonged to his dad. How I treasured that book! September was passing into October, and when the fall semester was over, Caleb would be returning to Virginia to resume his college studies on campus at Patrick Henry College. I don’t know how far our friendship would have gone if it hadn’t been for a new intervention of providence to bring us closer together.  Daddy was on staff at church during that time, and during the weekly meeting with the pastors in which they were discussing people to visit/encourage, Daddy mentioned Caleb who was briefly here between deployment and school – a young man who might appreciate a discipling relationship during this window of time. Pastor David’s reply was “Why don’t you do that, John?”  
Caleb was agreeable to the proposal. Although Daddy had an office at church, they decided to meet at our home for their weekly book study, timing it to precede the college student Bible study at our home so that Caleb could attend that also. The first week they were to meet on Thursday evening at 6:45, Caleb’s grandparents, whom he lived with, were away in Canada and he was home by himself. I thought that it would be rather silly to invite a single young man who was home alone to our house immediately after supper, and not invite him to join us for our meal, so I suggested this to my parents and Caleb was invited. During this time, I was the only child at home with my parents, and missing my brothers very much, so I was especially glad to have Caleb with us.  The next week, Caleb’s grandparents were home again, but the precedent had been set and everyone liked it – he came for supper again, and then the book study in the basement with Daddy, and then the college student Bible study in our living room. A few times, another college student came, but most of the 8pm Bible studies ended up being just us four – Daddy, Mother, Caleb and me. They were wonderful studies – Tim Keller’s studies in Genesis. I was learning and thinking about a lot, and also learning to appreciate Caleb as someone who cared about God’s word as deeply as I did. It almost seems so clear and almost amusing to look back on it now – how cleverly we were ‘set up’ by the hands of providence – but much was unclear then. Caleb and I were both interested in one another but unsure of where our undefined friendship would lead. I thought about Caleb distractedly day in and day out. When we studied the passage in Genesis about Abraham offering up Isaac, and discussed idols that God calls us to lay down for him, Caleb asked, “How do you know if something has become an idol?” and I felt cut to the heart to hear those words coming from my own idol’s mouth, but I do remember discussing it together, quoting Augustine’s “He loves Thee too little who loves anything together with Thee which he loves not for Thy sake”. The next time I saw Caleb in church on Sunday, he was keeping a distance from me that I could not understand but pained me deeply – his every little look and word and attention had become a solace, a hope to me, and they were removed without explanation – well, not altogether without. I wondered if he had been idolizing our friendship as I had done, and decided that I would follow his silent lead, even if it hurt, and wait to see what the outcome would be.  That afternoon, I came upon a quotation in Spurgeon’s sermons that I felt I just had to share with Caleb, to let him know that I was also willing to put God before our relationship – “Let nothing hide from our hearts even a single beam of the glorious sun of righteousness”. I didn’t want to be forward about it, but just to make sure he had the quote in his hands, so I wrote it on an unassuming scrap of paper and left it on the bench where I sat for choir practice – the same bench where he would sit for the service. Looking back, I think it was more distracting to him than helpful at the time to get a mysterious note, but I’m still glad that I shared it with him. The next day, Caleb posted a note on Facebook about giving up anything for Jesus – anything – and the thought came back to me of giving him up and I spent much of that day crying, and also praying for Caleb. The next Wednesday in church, Caleb continued to not look at me – I remember walking past him and seeing him look the other way – I almost sobbed aloud, but somehow kept it all inside as I smiled and talked with the other ladies going to pray. I saw Caleb talk to Daddy and found out from Mother that he was asking to talk to him soon before the Thursday night study. Oh why? He is going to say he cannot come anymore…or, I don’t know… I remember having a good time of talking and then praying with Mother sometime during that week, and also being on pins and needles all day on Thursday, seeking to trust God who would make “the clouds you so much dread, big with mercy, break in blessing on your head”. The time of Caleb’s meeting with Daddy at the office before supper came, and I sat in my room and read psalms and William Cowper’s poems, and prayed and wrote in my journal. The phone rang – Mother told me, “They’re coming home for supper.” I was so pleased, relieved. I remember reading from Psalm 116 as I waited: “Preserve me, O God, for in you I take refuge. I say to the LORD, ‘You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you – “ and they were arriving; I read one more verse – “as for the saints in the land, they are the excellent ones, in whom is all my delight” and I went to get the door. Caleb came in as if everything was normal, and we all had a very nice supper and study together as usual. I went to sleep that night, relieved that all was well and there had been nothing to worry about. While I was still in bed that cold November morning, there was a knock at my door and Mother and Daddy both came in to talk to me. Now what was this? Something about Caleb, I wonder. It was indeed – news that in Caleb’s conversation with Daddy, he had asked permission to court me !!! and that Daddy had promised an answer in a week’s time. (They had waited till morning to tell me so that I would sleep that night – how kind of them!) It was what I had wanted to happen – what no other young man had ever done on my behalf, but what I thought was the only proper way to go about a relationship. That dear boy. As soon as Mother and Daddy left, I fell to the floor and praised the Lord. But I did have to think and pray about it, and not be rash. So I thought, I prayed, and knew that I wanted to say Yes! if Daddy and Mother’s answer was the same.  I told Daddy that I did not want to see an unanswered man on Sunday and he told Caleb our answer between Sunday School and church – I hope that helped him to be more focused during the service! I was not at Sunday School because (for some strange reason) I felt suddenly very ill that morning, but revived in time to go to church. I was so excited to see Caleb and be allowed to really look at him and smile at him with a confirmed understanding of our mutual friendship – no more wonderings, stolen glances, hiding of feelings – but face-to-face friends.  We still hardly knew each other, it seems looking back now, there was so much getting-to-know to do, and so much commonality to happily discover. The Thursday nights expanded into Thursday afternoon walks before dinner and reading Precious Remedies together. On our first walk together, Caleb started laying out his thoughts on boundaries – I was surprised – I had scarcely thought of holding hands with or even less kissing this person whom I was just so happy to talk to and be friends with. But he was wise to do so at this very point, so that we could decide our physical boundaries before the inevitable growth of affection would make it harder to lay them down as strictly as we did: he would not be in a building with me alone, would not hug me except when leaving for or returning from long absences, would not hold my hand or put his arm around me unless we came to the point of being engaged, would not kiss me unless we came to marriage…these decisions were very helpful guides as our relationship progressed.
After about two months of happy courtship and Christmas holiday together, Caleb returned to college. We sent email back and forth daily, and I got to see him about once a month if he came home after army drill or had break. We talked about everything it seemed over emails. Summer came and Caleb was still on campus working in Virginia, but I was able to visit him for a week, staying with a lovely family from his church. I remember Caleb coming to see me at their home after work in the evenings. After working on our respective homework for summer classes, we would walk out in the meltingly hot June evenings, quoting Bible memory to each other - John 16 and Psalm 127. In June, we switched from regular email correspondence to phone calls and Caleb decided that these nightly phone calls should have regular prayer and Bible reading together – a decision that I deeply value and that we have so far maintained. In October Caleb took me to Canada along with his cousin Elizabeth to attend his cousin Sarah’s wedding.  It was the most beautiful weekend for the wedding and the trip….I remember arriving at his aunt and uncle’s little home in the country and loving it all, the young cousins inviting me to jump on the trampoline with them, the horse farm across the lane, the glorious Indian summer with its sunsets and romps through the tall grass and farm lanes with Caleb and the cousins, sleeping in the popup camper in the yard with Abby, watching the sunrise with Caleb and one of the cats on our last morning there. By the time we headed home, I was decidedly in love with Caleb. (I didn’t know at the time that he asked my father for permission to propose to me before we left on that trip and was told to wait.)

Engagement

In November, a bomb dropped. The end of daylight savings time brought the dreaded advent of dark evenings, but that was not as sad as the other darkness that came to us that first Sunday of November. Caleb was home with us after church on Sunday evening – he had come in late from drill just in time to join us for communion after the service, which was a comfort to me. After church, he had to respond to a phone call from his captain and walked into the living room, where I overheard him saying, “Is that January or March?...” and I knew that the dreaded happening was happening – he was being deployed. He came back to the dining room where I was sitting and said, “Do you want me tell you?-“ – “No” I said…I already knew. He could ask for a replacement but there was little chance of anyone wanting to replace him. Our boundaries were hard to keep about then – I wanted to hold onto him and never let go. The nights after that were dreadful and sparse in rest. We had a few more precious days together with him home before he had to leave…he came the next day to the church where I was watching the little children outside and gave me a dozen roses to mark our soon-to-be year of courtship…after he left they became the cheering adornment of my sick room where I spent much of the next month fighting illness and sadness at once. The Lord enabled me to see the light of his love in all that He was doing in our lives and I was able to “trust Him wholly all for us to do” even though I was still not well.  Caleb had asked me, in light of his coming deployment, to accompany him to drill the first weekend of December, which was a special family weekend. I was unsure if I would be well enough to go, but made plans to stay with dear friends in the area and tried hard to get better! Caleb wanted me to meet good friends of his who would be at the drill also. He would come home on Friday night and we would leave together on Saturday morning. That Friday night, he arrived around 8 and said he wanted to talk to my dad (his customary practice when home) but before eating. That gave me plenty of time to prepare his dinner – they talked longer than usual. I had it all nearly ready, including candles and cookies before they came out of Daddy’s study. The candles being lit and Caleb and I praying before he ate, he reached into his suit pocket and pulled out a thick folded stack of paper –
“I have a letter for you to read” 
“Right now – while you eat?” – “Yes.” I was excited, and became more so as I read, starting to wish that we were more alone than we were with my parents in the next room. There was only one place this letter could be leading. He was telling me that he wanted me in his life – I knew that, but, well, he wouldn’t say it like that unless he was going to ask to marry me, and then I turned the page over and read, “I love you” – which he had decided to never say to me unless he asked me to marry him, and then the question came – from the letter and from his lips, “Will you marry me?”
“ah-I– I sure will!!” I managed to stammer out. (So much for planning what I was going to say). And then there came out of the suit pocket a little box with a beautiful ring inside, which he put on my finger, and then I squealed and ran to my mother in the next room. And then I realized that Caleb and I could hold hands (and not pull away as we had while romping with the little cousins in Canada who were ever for holding our hands and we had both unconsciously reached for one another’s hands when one had run from between us). The next morning, Caleb took not his girlfriend, but his fiancĂ©e to the Tobyhanna Army Depot for the drill weekend. So much happiness – but we still had a weight on our minds – the deployment. Should we have a swift and sweet wedding in 6 weeks before he was deployed (I would not be able to go with him to where he was deployed) or wait it out for the whole year of separation until he returned? We asked his Christian friends, the Barshingers for their advice and after thought and prayer decided it would be best to wait until after he returned from deployment. A hurried marriage beforehand would only make the long separation harder. We decided that within the same Saturday. That evening at the formal Army dining out, Caleb introduced me to the captain who he had called about his deployment. She warmly congratulated us on our engagement, and I told her that I had been there when he called about the deployment and that it was nice to meet her in person. “You know”, she said, “it’s looking like it’s not going to happen” (Finding a replacement? I thought) “They’re weakening the force”….I don’t remember all else she said, but after she gave us further best wishes and moved on to greet another table, we both realized that Caleb’s deployment had changed in our understanding from nearly inevitable to nearly unlikely with a few words dropped from high places. Soon afterwards we were talking about a summer wedding. I was afraid to let my hopes up, but as time went on, I began to believe that we could plan for it. God has so clearly led us together thus far, it was no longer reasonable for us to be apart unless providentially hindered. If he is to be deployed, so be it. We are engaged to be married – someday. We hope that will be the 19th of May, 2012. Come quickly! Even more, come quickly, Prince of Peace who will make wars cease to the end of the earth – sad wars that tear beloved men from the arms of those who love them. I am so proud of my soldier, but I will be happy when the day comes when his brave services are not needed.  When that day comes, when He, our Savior, comes, He will not only bring an end to war, but bring all those who love and serve Him here into that everlasting love of which earthly marriage is but a feeble picture. Maranatha!

8 comments:

Sarah said...

What a great, romantic story! I love reading how you trusted God through all of it, as hard as it was. Thanks!

Unknown said...

Thank you for sharing this beautiful story!

Amanda Bennett said...

Oh, what a wonderful story!! Thank you for sharing!

Mrs.B said...

HIS wonders performed in the lives of Caleb and Alyssa---mysteriously and wonderfully! Congratulations, and thank you for sharing!

Rachel said...

Lovely to hear what the Lord has done in your lives. Warmest congratulations! :)

Nana Mary : ) said...

A very romantic story which should be required reading of all today's Christian teens! :)

The Holy Spirit's work in your lives is truly alive and well! May He faithfully continue as He has promised until the day of Jesus Christ in your life as you come together!

My husband and I were college classmates of Grandma and Grandpa and were married on their wedding day -- June 13, 1959. :)

Aunt Karen said...

Praise God for His leading in your life. God keeps his promise of leading step by step "You will show me the path of life." Ps. 16:11. God honors those who love Him and make Him #1 in their relationships.

Tabitha said...

I almost cried at the end while reading this out loud! Such a sweet yet poignant story. May God always keep your love for each other strong and unmoved by external circumstances! He will give you the strength you need. :)