Monday, February 20, 2012

The Proposal

If you were looking for an outdated review of the Sandra Bullock movie, the following will be disappointing to you. But if you would like to know the story of my very own proposal, read on my friends! Originally, this was an e-mail to my friend, Susan. We have written back and forth to each other since our college days and she gave me the idea of writing my news to her instead of telling her on the phone. An idea I loved since it would be something I could keep and that my potential kiddos could have as a reminder of how all the wedded magic began on that enchanted November evening.

Disclaimer: The story that follows is long, and if you choose to read it all you may need a potty break or two prior to finishing. But I could not skimp on the deets for a besty -- and no one has ever accused me of not having words -- so push those decorative readers up the bridge of your nose, hunker down, and hopefully -- enjoy!

He surprised me for sure and the timing was perfect.

About 2 weeks before Thanksgiving, Livvy had her baby. She was one month early. Originally, we were not planning to go home for turkey day because I was hoping to hold out until Livvy delivered. But since Lilah was eager to arrive, I wanted to go meet her, so Stephen and I decided to head home on Wednesday, the 23rd.

A few days before we left, Stephen asked me if I wanted to do something by ourselves on the Saturday night we were home. This is not out of the ordinary as it's sometimes nice to have something in place as a little break when home. I told him sure and I didn't really think twice about it.
He asked me on Thanksgiving if maybe I would want to go see the sunset on the beach on Saturday evening. At that point, I had met Lilah and fallen instantly in love and was actually thinking I might rather hold my tiny niece. Not that I didn't want to go see a sunset or have some time alone with Stephen, I was just focused on maximizing my moments with Lilah before returning to Texas. I think I told him that was fine, but it was a more "why don't we play it by ear" kind of fine. In my mind I was thinking, "If we miss the sunset, we can catch one at Christmas, but Lilah might morph into a moody adolescent by then so I probably should hold her instead."

On Friday, Stephen reminded me again about going to see the sunset. He told me the sun set at 4:50 so we should probably leave my sister's house by 4:30 at the latest. Which in hindsight was weird. Since when did he transform into an almanac? Was he going to tell me about the tides and begin referencing knots next? But I didn't over-analyze at that point, I was happily preoccupied with my niece and eventually agreed to go see the sunset with him.

I should have known something was up when I told my family I was leaving to go with Stephen to watch the sunset and I didn't get any sort of passive aggressive push-back. No "Don't y'all see each other all the time?" type questions. In fact, they were all smiles as they told me goodbye.

When Stephen came over to my sister's that afternoon to hang out before our sunset date, I did notice he was looking really cute. He had on one of his favorite button down shirts and these light grey pants I recently picked out for him from the Gap. I, on the other hand, had been hanging with my family most of the day and knew we were going over to the beach so hadn't made a significant effort to look cute -- at all. I had on my trusty solid, v-neck tee and jeans -- crowned by my greasy, pony-tailed weave. About as lovely as a Fraggle.

So we left Livvy's house and I noticed he was driving pretty fast. And I think he possibly ran the red light right before getting on the bridge. As we were driving over, I noticed the clouds rolling in (it stormed later that night), and I thought to myself, "We really aren't going to be able to see a sunset and I could still be experiencing snugglefest 2011 with Lilah." But he was clearly hellbent on getting over to the beach so I held my tongue, silenced my inner Debbie Downer, and just rolled with it.

Looking back, I think I may have had an inkling something was about to happen. There were a few things that triggered my mind to think, "Maybe he will propose." But I also tried really hard to allow God to keep me in the moment over the last couple of months. To enjoy the day and not get too far down the romantic mind road to the point that I'm frustrated with reality. So I curbed those tiny inklings and told myself "Sarah, just be present with this man right now." And I know that some of that mentality was my self-protection kicking in, attempting to avoid potential disappointment, but I also believe much of it was God's gracious wisdom.

When we got over to the beach and started driving down Via de Luna, I noticed that he continued to drive past the typical places we usually stop. I asked him why he was driving so far and he quickly brushed me off by saying something like "I haven't been this way in a while and just thought we would come down here." Which must have satisfied my inquisition because I didn't press any further.

Eventually, we pulled up to the second public access parking lot just prior to the National Seashore. While it had been unseasonably warm that day, the clouds were rolling in and the wind was picking up in preparation for a storm arriving later that night, making it feel cooler.

We proceeded to walk across the boardwalk leading down to the Gulf. As we got to the bottom of the steps, I slipped off my raggedy circa 2006 $10 black flats, held them in my right hand, while Stephen took my left hand in his, and started leading us down the beach. About 3 minutes into our journey, he noticed I seemed a little cold and asked if I wanted him to go back and get his jacket from his car. I said yes but also didn't want to make him trudge back to which he interrupted my indecisiveness by replying, "stay right there" and darted back for the jacket.

Later I would discover that his cousin, Daniel, and his cousin's new wife, Laura, met him at the beach earlier that day, where they received supplies and detailed instructions from my industrial designer fiance' and helped set-up while he drove back into town, changed in the car into his snazzy outfit, held my tiny niece, and then collected me for operation "watch the sunset." So when he dashed back to the car for the jacket, he passed Daniel and Laura who were hiding in anticipation of the "sunset", and casually told them to "Standby, she's cold."

I did notice that Stephen got back to where I was pretty quickly, considering he had to run through the sand, and was slightly out of breath. I think I thought his quick antics were a little strange but he very smoothly put his jacket on me, turned me towards the diminishing sunset and continued our walk with his right arm around my shoulder and my left arm at his waist.

As we were walking, I noticed he kept pushing me up closer to the dunes. And as I was just about to go complainy smurf on him ask if we could walk closer to the water on the packed sand because my calves were getting tired, he looked to his right, toward the dunes, and said, "Hey, what is that?" I glanced toward the direction he was referring and noticed white Christmas lights stung between four wooden posts making a square canopy. It looked like a cozy outdoor room. This is when I turned quickly back towards him and said "What is happening?" Which I continued to repeat as he said "Why don't we go see what is up there?"

So as I began stumbling around in confusion and disbelief, Stephen patiently led his increasingly overstimulated girlfriend towards a path leading up to the canopy of lights in the dunes. When we got up to the pathway, there were mason jars lining either side with twinkling white tea lights within casting a simple glow toward our destination. As we got closer to the outdoor room, I realized there were pictures from our times together adhered with clothespins hanging from the lights. I think there were probably at least 20 pictures displayed from the lights but I'm pretty sure I only saw maybe 2 or 3. When I realized the pictures were of us, I just blurted out "Hey, that's us!!", with dumbfounded disbelief. And Stephen just replied very calmly, "Yep, it sure is" as he chuckled and I'm sure thought, "When is she going to get it?"

To be honest, I'm not sure if I fully got it until a couple of days later when I was back in Texas and had some time to sit before the Lord and let it all just settle. During the moments of the proposal and the night following and even the next day in the car driving back to Dallas, both my mind and mouth were all systems firing and nothing was real yet. I was a pile of elation and disbelief topped off with some girly squeals here and there.

Back to the story.

Underneath the strung lights and pictures was a card table covered in a table cloth with two beach chairs set at the table. On top of the table, there was a beautiful flower arrangement (no potted mums in sight) tucked into a mason jar, his Bible, a small, black, electronic looking rectangular device, and a large white box tied with a light blue ribbon. After giving Angela Lansbury a run for her money and declaring the pictures were indeed of us, Stephen asked me to sit down at the table with him.

He would tell me later that it was at this point he began feeling a little nervous, but I was as overstimulated as Maddy in an m&m store and didn't notice in the least. Stephen reached for his Bible and told me he wanted to read me a few verses. All I could hear in my mind was "FOCUS SARAH, FOCUS!!". But of course I failed and heard only portions of what he was reading. But my inner Angela Lansbury did kick in again and I was able to deduct that he was reading mainly about marriage.

Which normal folks would obviously rationalize this was all part of a proposal -- but not me. In those moments, I traded Lansbury for idiot girl and my raggedy, self-protecting mind was thinking, "I think I know what might happen here but what if there is just dinner in that big white box?" In spite of my unfounded doubts, I listened to my man as he read life to me. Even though I didn't hear everything, and thoughts of a boxed dinner paraded around, my heart was warming well past the typical snuggly temperature it usually is when I'm with Stephen.

After he finished reading, he asked me to open the large white box. As I untied the blue ribbon, I noticed there was a card he designed and printed underneath the ribbon. It said "To my beautiful girlfriend, Sarah Mullins." And underneath the ribbon was Ephesians 5:25 "Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her." Which I thought was a pretty solid indication I would leave the beach engaged, and that feeling was HUGE.

I'm not sure if men can fully understand that emotion. A proposal is something most of us have thought about since we were little girls watching Cinderella and Ariel. But we have little to no control over when and how it will happen. For all we know, we could be hunched over a furry beast kissing life back into him just as the magic last rose petal cascades to the ground. So when the time finally presents itself, it's a big, surreal, magically spiritual deal.

I would later discover that this box I was opening was specifically designed and created by Stephen for the proposal. The box was split into three different levels of surprises separated by cardboard dividers. As I slid off the top of the box, the contents of the first level greeted me.

Enclosed were several items he had saved from our very first all day long date in October of 2010. The pumpkin patch fliers from the patch we visited to pick a pumpkin to carve, the stencil he drew for our jack-o-lantern, parking stubs from the bluegrass festival we attended -- all fun memories from a great day. In fact, I remember thinking after that date how much I enjoyed the entire day with him. Which he would proceed to tell me, as I rifled through our memories in disbelief that he purposefully kept those things, the reason why he held onto them for over a year was because he knew then that I was the one for him.

Over the next couple of days when I had time to actually process our proposal, I remember thinking how much I loved when he told me that he had known for over a year that he would end up proposing to me. And while that would have been sweet to hear months ago and perhaps even something I thought I should hear, I respect so much more the restraint he showed in not telling me those words until he was ready to make good on it. A great reminder of how he intentionally tried to protect my heart and mind from our earliest moments together. Which gives me an added measure of confidence in his commitment to lead well as we begin our journey together.

On to the second level of the box!

After being sufficiently wooed by the contents on top, Stephen instructed me to open the second level of the box. As I peeled away the divider, I discovered two cards, two pens and two envelopes surrounded by rose petals. He looked at me and said, "How about we write cards to each other that we will open five years from now?" To which I happily agreed. I mean I was in such a cloud of romance that if there had been two sets of toenail clippers in the box and he had said "How about we cut each others toenails and make a heart with our clippings?", I would have been euphorically compliant.

Now mind you, at this juncture, Stephen has yet to officially propose, so as I begin writing my card I'm thinking, "How should I start? Should I write Dear Husband or Dear Ex-boyfriend? Because it will certainly be one or the other!" And then I think I giggled to myself as I began writing, imagining a pizza at the bottom of the elaborate box and what a terrible trick that would be, yet finally choosing to confidently pen my card to Stephen like he was indeed my man to have and to hold from this day forward.

During our card writing session, we both felt a couple of drops of rain fall from the gathering clouds. Not having any clue what still might be in store, I wasn't worried and proceeded to happily write. Stephen told me later that when he felt the drops, he freaked out because he knew what he still wanted to accomplish and was fearful of a storm. He said he has no idea what he wrote on the last half of the card because he was intent on speeding the process along to avoid a downpour. I look forward to reading a half sweet, half frantic card five years from now.

Once we finished the cards, Stephen suggested we take a couple of pictures of ourselves with his phone. So we smooshed our cheeks together while he held out his phone in front of us and we cheesed it up. I'm so glad Stephen did not base his willingness to propose on how I looked in those moments -- wind blown, greasy bangs mixed with a healthy dose of humidity unfortunately do not spell hot, or pretty, or even cute for me. It's more in the homely range. But who cares, I was a deliriously happy homely gal which is arguably the best kind of hot.

After we took the pics, Stephen sent them to the black rectangular box on the table which lo and behold was a tiny wireless printer. A couple of minutes later, the printer ejected the little photos and I got a good gander at my greasy bangs and tired ponytail snugged up next to my handsome boyfriend. I didn't even care that I looked like I'd been in the back of an airplane for 3 days and my overstimulated self happily awaited what was next.

Reaching behind him in the sand, Stephen pulled out a clear tube that was partially submerged. It was a time capsule. Yep, a time capsule. In all his spare time, he designed and built a time capsule and then he led me down to the nuclear fall out shelter he created under the earth and proposed there. I kid, I kid...but not about the capsule part! He looked at me and said, "I thought we could put our cards and pictures in here and bury it. Then we could come back here five years from now and dig it up."

I mean I knew my man was creative, but he was pulling out all the stops for the proposal. And I loved every single element. He was wooing me and it was working. Even though Stephen probably knew I would have said yes to his proposal if he had dropped to a knee over a frozen pizza and an office episode, I loved that he took time to think, create, and prepare. An intentionality that bends my heart towards his even more so and makes me excited to trust him with our future together.

When we were discussing the time capsule part of his proposal later that night, he said, "We might need to go dig that up at Christmas and take it with us because I'm not sure it will still be there in five years." But I told him that while I would love to read our cards and reflect on this time together in five years, it would be pretty cool if a stranger found the capsule too. I know if I did, it would be so fun and encouraging. So no matter if we get the capsule or a stranger happens upon it, it was cool for us to do together.

Post capsuling, Stephen sat me down again and told me he wanted to read me something. He got out his journal and began reading to me a list he had written describing all the reasons he loved me. And while that would be amazing by itself, it was even more special because we had yet to tell one another that we loved each other. This never really made me nervous in the 13+ months of our dating relationship. I knew he would tell me when he was ready and I had feeling it wouldn't be until he proposed and could put action to his words. So hearing not only that he did in fact love me for the very first time, but also why he loved me, was incredible. And I'm thankful it is all written down because my ability to focus was basically non-existent from the moment I saw the lights twinkling in the dunes. I liken myself to a baby distracted by a busy mobile not sure what to look at or grab first.

After he finished reading the list he looked up at me and said, "Now how about you open the last level of the box." As I willingly obliged and took off the final divider, I peered down into the box and saw the iconic, little blue Tiffany's cube tied with a white satin ribbon ever so daintily displayed.

Let me be clear, I am not a girl who knows jewelry. About as bedazzled as I get is wrapping some beads made out of paper by my Ugandan sisters around my wrist. Yet despite my jewelry ignorance, I would tell Stephen later, "Every girl knows the blue box."

Which in hindsight was a cool parallel God showed me regarding his pursuit of his church. If Stephen had asked me to go ring shopping with him prior to our engagement, I would have never suggested we go to Tiffany's. I'm imaging myself talking in a valley girl voice: "You better get my ring at Tiffany's because Tiffany's is the best you dummy."

Ewwww, how ridiculously trolllish of me to do that! I probably would have said something like, "Now where is a Service Merchandise when you need one?" Or "How about we ring shop at Sears or Kohl's and use a coupon?"

Not that I wouldn't have secretly wanted a really nice ring, but I would never have known how to ask for it or even think I needed it. Yet just like Stephen wanted to give me the best, how like God to surprise us with his best when we do not even know how to ask for it.

To be sure, I would have loved ANY ring Stephen presented me, but how sweet of God to show me even in this early phase of the marriage process that He is the ultimate gift giver. Reminds me of the following verse that is a favorite of my friend, Kay:

"Instead of bronze I will bring you gold, and silver in place of iron. Instead of wood I will bring you bronze, and iron in place of stones. I will make peace your governor and well being your ruler."

Isaiah 60:17

I am thankful through the grace, wisdom, and discipline of God, he helped me wait for the man that was his best gift for me. And then would be so kind to affirm this throughout the details of the proposal. Even in Stephen's ring shopping process and purchase, my heart would notice the evidence of God's timing, generosity, and graciousness.

After seeing the Tiffany's box, I stared at it, still not fully believing or grasping what was happening. I think I even asked him jokingly, yet with a twinge of blasted self preservation, "Is there a cupcake in that box?" Still preparing myself to not be totally devastated if this was just an elaborate dessert scheme instead of a proposal. Exhausting I indeed am. Stephen very kindly but purposefully looked at me and said "Go ahead and open it." He probably wanted to follow it with "you crazy girl" but instead patiently waited for me to untie the box and let my timid faith become sight.

As I untied the blue box, a little black box was tucked inside. I took it out, opened it and I think just started rambling about sparkliness. Stephen took the box from me and told me when he asked my dad's permission earlier in the week to do this, he told him that the main reason why he wanted to marry me was so he could marry his best friend. To which my dad responded "We've been waiting for you to ask her since we met you."

At that moment, he got down on his knee, looked up at me with ring in hand and asked me to marry him. And I ecstatically agreed. Soon after, Daniel and Laura bounded up from their hiding place with excited hugs and congratulations. They took some pictures of us and then we left to head back to my sister's house where both our families were waiting to celebrate the news.

I couldn't be more honored and humbled to begin life together with this man. A man of integrity, patience, creativity, and purpose. A man who leads with both determination and tenderness. A man who strives to honor God in his decisions and disciplines. An imperfect man but one who is committed to humility, repentance, and growth. A leader, soon to be lover, and friend.

There were many times along the way to Stephen, I felt like God was withholding from me, or even being a tad bit mean. I felt like I was doomed to learn the same tired lesson on repeat. That men may try but no one would fully commit to the challenge of leading me. Looking back, I see God kindly teaching me that He was enough.

While I do not know if I will consistently arrive in that place this side of heaven, it took that beginning of wisdom for me to be able to fully receive and appreciate the gift that is Stephen. My confidence needed to be rooted and established in God, not man. A twisted yet kindly redemptive process.

And one that will no doubt continue as we enter into marriage. How thankful I am for the foundation, though. Gives clarity to the wait, paints a picture of the greater reconciliation narrative, and makes this gift of one another sweeter.

God's best is always worth the wait. Trite in phrasing but assuredly true.

Feel free to remind me of that truth when I'm undoubtedly bratting it up about something else in the near future.

I mean what if?

"...and the two will become one..."

Matthew 19:5


Anonymous said...

What a beautiful story, Sarah! Thank you for sharing and congratulations! I am truly thrilled and happy for you!

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...


You have always been such a beautiful person, inside and out. It is so wonderful to hear of the great news and to see that you have found your partner in this life. Thank you for sharing your beautiful story, it is truly amazing what God does provide for us in his time and not our so rushed journey of life and time. For the rest of us girls, well, we will be secretly jealous of you and long to find the man that fills our hearts as yours does for you ;). Always with my love and wishes for your happiness!

Your Cuz,