This is my story of how I found love in myself... as I found love with my husband.
As a young girl, and even into my teen years, I LOVED imaginary play! I mean, I could BE and DO anything. I could be sought after. I could be beautiful (I didn't believe at that time that I already was). I could be famous and have to run from paparazzi. I could have children any time I wanted and then they'd disappear whenever I needed them to. I could be a ruler of a nation. I could be funny and totally myself with no criticism. In hindsight, I can see that I was often very afraid of criticism. I would conform to social norms often. I wanted so badly to be brave and do things that seemed risky, but I just never did. I imagined signing up for sports or school play auditions and even stood outside the gym doors the day of tryouts for an entire hour my freshman year and never went in.
I dated in high school, but never had a serious relationship. I never let one occur. If a guy showed interest in me, I felt so uncomfortable at the prospect of someone wanting to hang around me for romantic reasons, someone who might see all of my quirks and up and down moments and maybe decide they didn't like me after all--- it was more than I could take. I couldn't stand it and would terminate the feeling as soon as I could, however I could. Horrible. I know. The worst part, was that I was a flirt. I wanted the affection, but was afraid of rejection for who I was. I spent way too much time in my head comparing to others, finding evidence for where I lacked instead of loving myself. It was what it was.
After I graduated high school on May 28th at age 18.5 I packed up my car alongside my best friend and we drove to a resort town 3 hours away to work as many hours as we could to earn as much money as we could for our upcoming university goals.
June 2nd, we ventured to a park where we were told a gathering was taking place for Christian young adults like us.
There, I met my future husband.
To this day, I see him standing there. He wandered up to our group of girls with his younger brother in tow, and introduced himself. I remember thinking he was so tall! I'm 5' 4" and he is 6' 5". I also remember how genuine he seemed. He asked me about my future university plans and we discovered we were enrolled for the same semester at the same Christian university. He asked what I was going to major in, and I told him I hadn't settled on a major- I was aiming to do my generals until something popped up. I returned the question and he said with a smile and complete confidence, "Illustration." That took me by surprise. I said, "Interesting. So you'll draw cartoons and children's books?" He replied that he wasn't sure exactly what he'd do as a profession, but he loved to draw and paint and felt he should start there. I was jealous of his confidence. But here is where he planted a seed in me to remember him forever. As our conversation continued, he asked me about my other hobbies and I told him that I had been in an advanced placement art class my senior year, but just didn't feel I was good enough to pursue art. To which he responded, "Oh ya? If you survived an AP art class, Heck- the fact that you signed up for it, you are a better artist than you believe you are. I'd love to see some of your work sometime."
I detected NO patronizing tone in his voice. He was serious. He was paying me a compliment on something he'd never seen. He genuinely believed what I was saying. I realized that I had never told other boys I'd dated about my art talent. It just never came up. I realized that no other boy had ever ASKED me about my hobbies or talents.
I walked away from that gathering with a mild interest, mostly an appreciative feeling for this guy who had genuinely been so kind to me. No superficial flirtation or sarcasm.
Two weeks later some friends told my roommates about a bonfire that was going to happen on the top of a mountain that night around midnight. Even though we all had jobs to get to the next morning, we decided to go. (In those years of my life, the time of day had little meaning to when something could or should happen.) We arrived at the bonfire, and in my insecurity I hoped that I would know someone other than my 2 roommates who had come with me. I thought about that "tall boy" I'd met a few weeks ago. I couldn't remember his name, but looked for him anyway.
There he was.
Laughing and talking with some guys by the fire.
What is weird, is that I knew, that of all the guys that were there that night, I trusted him.
Is that crazy or what?
If something I didn't like was going to happen (and at that age and in that town, things often did go somewhere I didn't feel ok with according to my values, and I'd come with an early escape plan) I genuinely felt if I approached him and told him I was needing a ride home he would take me home.
What kind of magic did this man possess?
At the top of this mountain next to the fire ring there was a fire tower. A tall platform built of steel and wood high up above those lodgepole pines, to see over them. It was a place the forest service could come and observe the unfortunate recurring forest fire activity.
It was suggested that some of us climb the tower and star gaze from the platform. The platform was about 12x12, so only a handful of us would fit.
My Magical Man (I still didn't know his name) who somehow made me feel safe, elbowed me gently and asked if I was going up.
I replied that I was afraid of heights and I didn't know if I'd be a good match for the activity.
He said with genuine care, "You know that the platform is made of steel, right? It's a perfectly safe climb up there and the view is amazing. I'll go with you. You drove all the way up here to have fun. Let's do it!"
How could I resist?
So climb the fire tower I did.
Keenly aware of my Magic Man following right behind me.
My heart was racing.
Mostly out of fear of the height of the tower, but also because I was starting to feel chemistry with this guy. And it wasn't flirtatious superficial immature attention type energy. I'd felt plenty of that before. It was a slow rising feeling I'd never felt before. I was scared of it.
Acting from experience, I determined to distance myself from him.
But..... at the top of this 12x12 platform we were now standing on, that wasn't going to be easy.
I walked to the opposite corner from him and started a conversation with a girl pointing out constellations I knew and other small talk.
Out of the corner of my eye I could see this guy eyeing me, and wondering why I had done that.
I instantly felt dumb. But I didn't know what else to do.
He sauntered over and just put his arms on the railing and listened to our conversation. The girl I was talking with seemed instantly excited to include Magic Man in our small talk, and asked him if he knew any constellations. He said he did, and suggested that we lay down on the platform with our heads together so he could point them out more clearly.
Others had heard the suggestion and followed suit.
As the 12 or so of us started carefully choosing how to lay down on this tower platform so we would have our heads in the center, Magic Man quickly moved to my side and sat down, offering a hand to me as I was making my way down.
I had a choice.
It felt like a risk.
I decided to take the risk.
I took his hand and laid down next to him.
The chemistry I felt was making my stomach churn.
After we climbed down from the tower, to my great relief, Magic Man and I chatted a little by the fire, and I noticed for the first time that the 2 friends I had come with, my roommates, were eyeing me. Oh no. I was going to hear about this later.
To make matters more interesting, Magic Man's ride had left early due to an emergency and Magic Man was asking for a ride back to town.
I looked at my roommate who's car we had brought and she knowingly smiled at me and then piped up that she had a seat in her car and he could ride with us.
I didn't say much else to him that ride home.
I was leaving the next day for two weeks, and honestly just had to process what the heck was happening.
When I got back to my apartment and was ready to get the few hours of sleep I could before my early shift, my roommates were relating our adventure to a roommate who had had to work late and had not gone with us.
"Robyn had a fun night. Didn't you Robyn?"
"What do you mean?"
"Oh... you know what I mean."
And the unknowing roommate then asked about it and I simply said that I had talked with "that really tall guy we met that one time at the park" and she said, "Oh! You mean Chayce? He is golden! If you get the chance to actually date him for real, you better take it. I've been here for several months already and if there is a genuinely good guy here that will respect you out of all the guys here- it's him."
My brain buzzed.
Did he like me? or was he just being kind?
I didn't know.
But something was there. But I'd have to think about it later. I was leaving in the morning to vacation with my family for two weeks.
When I returned to my job after vacationing, right after I'd opened the ice cream shop I was managing, in walked Chayce. (I knew his name now. Well, his first name.)
There was a line already, as it was a hot day at the end of June.
The female owner of the ice cream shop looked up excitedly and shouted over the commotion, "Chayce! How are you buddy? I haven't seen you in here in awhile! What is new?"
She saw him eyeing my friend and I who were working and she immediately introduced us as though we hadn't met before.
I had no idea he knew my boss, but apparently they were old friends.
When he reached the cash register where I was working, he said to me,
"Where have you been? I haven't seen you around for a few weeks."
Immediately I thought, what? He's been looking for me? Noticed I was gone? Oh boy.
I told him of our vacation and he again, so genuinely said that he'd like to hear about it and catch up sometime.
After he left, my best friend gave me a knowing look and raised her eye brows, but we didn't talk about it at all and went on with our workday.
A week later I was telling a co-worker who was a few years older than I at another job (I had three jobs that summer) about my mixed feelings. She suggested I act on what I wanted to have happen.
She said just do something that let him know I was seriously interested.
Was I seriously interested? What does that even mean? How does one do that?
That Sunday I was late to Sunday school class.
I hurried and opened the door to the classroom and as I turned toward the class, with loads of eyes on me as I'd disturbed a serious discussion, my eyes darted around the room looking for a seat. As fate would have it, the only seat in the room was next to Chayce. He turned his head along with everyone else, and quickly raised his hand and motioned for me to come sit next to him.
After the lesson was over, Chayce leaned over and asked if I'd like to go with a large group up to a private property where some hot springs were and sneak in and enjoy said hot springs at 1am that night. Hesitantly I said it sounded fun... And that is when he smoothly asked for my number so he could text me updates.
My roommates roared with laughter and proclaimed my naivety when I told them about the event, invited them to come along, and that I'd given Chayce my number for updates.
"Updates? Wow. He was SO smooth on that one. I can't believe you fell for that! Easiest phone number to get EVER!"
I didn't know how to respond, but inside I was for some reason grateful that I had Chayce's number and he had mine.
That evening I got into my swimsuit (and yes, I was very self conscious about my body- this was going to be a big deal to go along with this idea!) and bravely walked out into the living room around midnight as confidently as I could, only to find that the group was now talking about not going. And my cell phone was dinging that Chayce was almost to my door.
He walked in and found me standing there alone in my swimsuit. My roommates had determined to go elsewhere- a place I didn't want to go, and were changing their clothes in their rooms.
I was mortified.
Looking around, he saw what was happening and he related to me that his group had also decided to do something else.
He casually suggested that since we both had set aside time to have fun, that we "go for a drive up the mountain in his convertible car."
Was he serious? He wanted to hang out with just me? In my swimsuit when I just been dumped by my friends? Before my brain could find more evidence, I blurted, "Sure!"
I saw a moment's hesitation on his face, but he recovered quickly and said, "Ok, great. I'm parked right outside. Let's go before it gets too insanely late."
I said, "Shouldn't I change my clothes first?"
To which he responded by looking me up and down with no change in expression, and said, "If you want. You look just fine to me." And he turned and walked to the door.
Again. I felt the twinge of a risk. The risk was believing this guy didn't care about my appearance. The risk was believing that he really wanted to spend time with just me.
But decided to take it. I walked right outside with him. In my swimsuit.
That drive was like the fire tower.
It was just magical.
Chayce never talked himself down like other guys I'd dated who would apologize for their car or their choice of music, always assuming I wouldn't approve or like it. Chayce just did what he did with complete confidence and asked if I had other preferences of destination or music choice. Whatever I said, he would positively respond being just kind and friendly. He told me about the road we were on and why he chose it and at the end of the road we simply turned around and he drove me back to my apartment claiming that he'd enjoyed the evening with me and hoped we'd have time to get together again. (If you ask my husband, this was when he first started forming a serious interest in me. I always joke it was the swim suit, but he never says whether that was true or not. ;) )
A few days later I saw him talking and laughing with another gal from our church group. Jealously surprisingly came to the surface. I realized that I had to know if this friendship was going to go somewhere. Despite all my fears. Despite all my imaginary days of what love would be like for me. Despite others telling me I was naive and should be careful. I determined that I was going to walk into his place of work, just a few shops down from where I was working that morning and was going to start up a conversation with him and ask if he'd like to go out with me.
That was my brilliant action plan.
There was a lull in our shop, so I marched up the boardwalk and stopped dead in my tracks when I saw HIM. Right there on the boardwalk washing windows with his back to me.
But----- I hadn't had time to form the words yet. What if he saw me?
I was a mess.
I turned around as fast as I could and ran back into my shop.
I took deep breaths and decided that I HAD to do this. I prepared myself for rejection and determined that whatever the outcome, I would live.
Awkwardly I approached the point of sale desk at his work and with my heart racing and my brain screaming at me that this was NOT a safe thing to do- I blurted "Is Chayce here?"
To which he responded right next to me, "Yes. I'm here. What can I do for you?" I hadn't seen him stacking t-shirts right there. GAH! I felt so dumb.
I looked at his face and he had an expectant look.
Oh ya! I had asked for him.... and he responded.....
More waiting and awkwardness. What was I DOING????
"So um, the other night you said you'd like to hang out another time. So here I am, asking when that might be."
Oh my heck I am such a nerd.
What did I just say????? (When you ask my hubby about this, he says he WAS surprised, but thought it was SO awesome that I would take that initiative and really admired me for it.)
He looked at me and cocked his head to one side and said,
"Oh- ya, Sure. My schedule is pretty crazy, what time were you thinking? I can mostly get away late at night or sometimes before 8am." He looked sheepishly at me, and added, "I'm kind of a weirdo and I get up early. I kind of like the quietness of the morning."
I was shaking my head inside thinking, "well as least thats something we have in common- better run with it!"
"Thats great! I can do early morning! How about tomorrow?"
Goodness I was getting either more stupid or more brave by the minute.
He replied, "I have to work at 8am, but I know a really pretty spot to watch the sunrise. Are you up for like a 5:30am adventure?"
Sunrise? with Magic Man?
"That sounds fun. Let's eat breakfast too. I'll bring cold cereal and bowls and stuff."
"Ok. Cool. I'll pick you up around 5:30am tomorrow."
I turned on my heel and went right back to work.
Did I just ask out Magic Man?
Am I really doing this????????? And at 5:30am with cold cereal? He was either thinking I was awesome... or I was REALLY odd.
Either way, the sunrise date happened.
The chemistry was thick. (When you ask my hubby when he knew "I was the one" he says this sunrise morning on the mountain was when he knew he was going to pursue me seriously.)
After that, I was a mess.
I could feel his attraction to me.
This was what I wanted, RIGHT???
I decided to force myself to date a few other guys whom I'd felt mild interest in spending time with. I decided to..... again..... distance myself from the attachment I felt. It was scary!
As I accepted dates and flirted with other guys I thought about Chayce at every single moment. Where I felt the other guy throwing hints or showing interest, I was comparing how they acted with Him. It was totally unfair to Chayce and the other guy and really dumb for me to do, but I did it regardless. I came to realize that the only one I wanted was Chayce. I loved how he treated me. I loved how he treated himself. I admired his strong Faith and love for his family. I admired his work ethic and honesty.
Ultimately, Chayce asked me out again and again and again and made it clear with other guys in my company that he was there for me and expected them to back off.
By August we were an "item" and everyone knew it.
My identity was screaming. I was not the one who had boyfriends. I was not that girl who was desired and sought after. I wasn't anything special. Was I?
One night Chayce and I were laying out on the grass, yet again, star gazing.
(To this day it is a favorite activity for both of us.)
I said something along the lines of "I don't know why you like me. I am so weird and don't do anything special. You make me feel so different than I believe to be true about myself. But it's for the better. I want to be better... I want to believe that I deserve to be cared for in the way you care for me. Am I so crazy?"
I thought he'd respond with some words to the contrary like, "What? You aren't weird. You are awesome and pretty and totally deserving of everything....."
That is NOT what he said.
He responded, "You make me feel the same way. You make me want to be better and do better. I really appreciate that. Other girls I've been attracted to and spent time with always seemed to expect me to behave a certain way or do certain things for them but you never do. You just let me be me and I really like that. I think we are both finally in a relationship where we are appreciated for who we are- not only because of attraction or the situation or flattering words or just for the fun of it. We are really just friends more than romantic desire."
Were we just vulnerable with each other?
Can I share that neither of us had kissed romantically before? It's true. We were each other's "first". First boyfriend. First girlfriend. We both had virgin lips.
But that changed the day after that vulnerable conversation.
We were looking over a bridge with the water sparkling in the moonlight. (Yes. At night again. Our jobs just had us always available at night.)
And he turned to me and said, "So.... since we are together, like officially girlfriend and boyfriend, can I kiss you?"
I admit I was scared. But the overall feeling was that I was SO SO SO grateful to find a man who wanted my permission to kiss me. I felt honored to have a man who desired to touch me in that way and wait until I wanted it genuinely in return.
We continued to meet up at all hours of the night whenever our schedules allowed and deepened our relationship over nightly talks and many long walks hand in hand learning all of our struggles and hopes and being vulnerable and becoming each other's cheerleader while we figured out that first semester of university.
He asked me to marry him after I turned 19 that October. One day after class he met me at the door like he usually did to walk me home, and I noticed he was acting really antsy. I asked him if he was alright, and he just grabbed my hand and quickly headed out the side door of the building towards the university horticulture gardens. He said he needed to talk to me.
We meandered through the gardens and I was wondering what was going on- he seemed to be looking for something. I was honestly thinking about how I was going to have time for lunch before my next class.
All of a sudden he stopped near a small pond and looked around, and then he got down on one knee.
I blinked a few times just realizing what was happening.
Feeling my breath go out of me.
I said YES!
It was a beautiful moment, in a beautiful place.
I cried my eyes out the next day wondering what the heck I was doing. I had had PLANS before I met him! I was going to travel and get several degrees. I wasn't looking for a partner. I wasn't looking for a life-long commitment right now. And yet..... there he was. Loving me, asking me to go through life alongside him. To take all our adventures together.
My brain was rejecting ALL the evidence before me. My brain was struggling with this new identity I was advocating for. This woman who was loved deeply. This woman who had a man of such high caliber desiring to spend the rest of his life with her. This woman who had SO MANY Flaws was..... loved anyway. They say you attract who you are. Was I a high caliber woman?
For the first time in my life this idea entered my head.
For the first time in my life I allowed my brain to search for evidence that I was as amazing as my now fiance. Magic Man was MY fiance!
What followed was an intense self discovery session that I needed to have.
I saw my 4.0 grade average and scholarship letters and departmental awards. I saw photo after photo in my mind of all these smiling people surrounding me that were my friends. I saw my family and parents who all praised me and cared for me. I saw teachers and extra curricular instructors for art and music praising me time and time again and telling me I had a gift- not only academically or in the arts but for leadership. I saw my church awards for leadership with the youth and volunteer hour gratitude letters from the local hospital. For the first time in my life, I felt proud of myself. For the first time in my life I was finding evidence for my value in the world. Not my LACK.