Elana and I…how’d we get here?

This really started with Aiden.  I met Elana the second week I ever attended Southwest Central, but we didn’t hit it off immediately by any stretch of the imagination.  Instead, it was her son whose cute smile and shyness really caught my attention (especially when she didn’t even seem to notice me!).  Anyway, we went on seeing each other at church once in a while, and every time I noticed her and knew where she was in the auditorium, though I couldn’t get her to say hi nor could I really make anything of the group conversations we were in.  I honestly thought nothing would be possible, and in my eyes, I thought there was no chance I had at catching this beautiful extroverted spirited girl that everyone in the church loved.

Anyway, it was Aiden that kept it going.  For a couple years it seemed like nothing was happening but when I interacted with Aiden, good things happened.  I remember the first time he trusted me, and the feeling of excitement that I had.  We became friends because of a Houston Astros conversation- I saw he had an Astros shirt on and I just asked him about it and said I love the Astros too.  He was a special kid, and I remember thinking about how special his mom must be too as he was a reflection of her.  But even that moment that he trusted me took a couple years since I didn’t see him a whole lot.  But others noticed that growing relationship and noticed something else too.

Others at church noticed how well I might fit with Elana.  She thought they were crazy- from other girls who mentioned me at church to her mother to many others, she seemed to respond as though I was too clean cut for her.  For me, when Michael Bell, my best man, first told me I should think about Elana Guerra, I thought him crazy first because beautiful girls like her never choose nice guys like me.  But I also thought him crazy because nothing had happened yet.  But the moments came and went where Michael or Caleb, or someone else at church would mention how I should date this Elana girl, how she had the spunk I needed, or just that we fit so well together.  Eventually, the idea kind of caught on enough with me that I was seriously considering just asking her out of the blue.  But one friend, using his foresight or whatever other reasons, did not think it wise.  In fact, one of my good friends Steve took me to a July baseball game and in the sixth inning asked me very directly whether I was seriously considering that option of Elana, and gave me his advice to stay clear of that.  For her decision making. For where she was in her faith.  But while his advice seemed judgmental, he was very well meaning and actually persuaded me.  It might have been the wisest advice for me and Elana and actually the advice that allowed this to happen later.  From both of our accounts, we were very different people in that summer of 2011 and we were both going different directions, and we would not have worked out or even made it to the first date.  But I listened to Steve, and I am grateful I did now.  So I followed that up with moving back to California in 2011 and was there till March of 2012 when my dream job came up back in Houston.  The crazy thing was that our church had been praying for that move because, 1) they felt that God had called me to be amongst their church and to use my gifts as a chaplain in the Medical Center, and 2) they had been praying that Elana and I would get together.

Well, even when I moved back, it was as though I didn’t exist but for a few random conversations we had at our 242 (young adult) bible study on Sunday nights.  Then there was July 4 at church in 2012, last year.  Yes, that time last year when I ended up sitting with Elana, Aiden and her best friend Mikey at that Wednesday night cookout.  It was normal conversation, nothing special.  At least not for her- I certainly couldn’t impress by any stretch of the imagination.  But I knew then that I liked her.  I flew home for Jonny’s wedding shortly after that night.  And I told my brother Joe in pretty clear terms that I wanted to ask her out and that I would.  I wanted to, but in so many ways I wanted to make sure that I was ready for the commitment it would take to be a father figure- I knew dating Elana was also being significant in her sons life, and I didn’t want to do that without being ready- and knowing she was interested!!!!!!  So it went for a couple months after that July 4 event, but there was one night where things seemed to shift my way in our 242 Sunday bible study.  We were sitting at a table together, and many at our table were having conversations about the medical world as physicians, and neither of knew anything about it.  So we talked about other stuff, and made fun of those who were in the medical field.  We talked about Aiden and her pregnancy with him- I know it is super awkward conversation normally, but I work in a children’s and women’s hospital- these are normal topics of conversation.  And then we prayed that night and I got to hold her hand.  As the guy who thought he had no shot, that hand holding was about the best thing that ever happened.  And then that night we talked at the Fuller house with Dave and Amy for a long while after the group left.  It was as though there was good possibility.  But in my estimation of her thoughts on me, she still saw me as a nice guy.  And that was a maybe.

Then, along came VBS that year and Aiden and I connected so well.  It went so well that I thought to myself, you know, I wouldn’t mind being someone special in this guys life.  And so that’s how the interest really got started.  I felt like I had an in to Elana now and I had gotten hooked with her special kid, so I was really in it.

But the circumstances didn’t quite work out until late September.  I went out on a trip to Chicago, and knew this was a strong possibility.  In fact, I decided on that trip that I had to ask Elana out to the couple of events I had coming up- the Lifeline Chaplaincy benefit Gala and then to a golf tournament banquet.  So I texted her, because I thought a text would be a safe way to ask her out, and the events were not just us, so it was a safe place to make for a fun date without lots of pressure.  But, and Elana knows this, I asked out a second girl just in case because I really thought Elana would say no.  But, she said yes, and that she might only be able to go to one Thursday night event- the lifeline gala.  But the situation was ready.  We went to the Lifeline Gala and our conversation was so normal, so easy, and the night was so relaxing, that it was quite amazing.  I knew she was a special one when  on the finale for the gala evening, a trip to a wine bar with another couple, we went into theological conversation and she seemed not just okay with it, but interested. The following Sunday, it was movie night at church and after that event, as we were walking out, the moment came where it officially started.  I asked her what she was doing on the next Friday night, after the Thursday night banquet (that she suddenly could come to after our first date!).  She asked what she should be doing next Friday, and I said she should be letting me take her out to dinner and a date.  And she said yes with a reluctant but beautiful smile.  That following week we spent the better part of three days together, and they were super wonderful.  It was special.  Although I have to say, she did initiate the first kiss on our second date to a movie, Taken 2, after the golf banquet!  So our first date was October 11, our second date and first kiss on October 18, and our true solo date came on October 19.

That night of October 19 sealed the fate for me and her.  That night was special because the conversation was normal- I didn’t feel like either of us was trying to impress but we just made a connection- I liked her flair and inappropriateness- her desire to think through issues and that nothing seemed off the table for her.  And she had confidence.  She had lots and lots of confidence.  That night I fell in love because I saw someone whose life had taken very interesting turns, and she too had had her lows albeit different ones, but she was confidently independent, and wanted more in her life.  She was content but still wanted more for her, for her child, for her life.  And boy was she beautiful.  After that night, and over the next two months, I fell in love with her because had a similar zest in life and extroversion that I have, and because I saw as a good mother, and because I saw in her what she often didn’t think she had: compassion, faith, and a genuinely good and beautiful person.  Truly I had been taken aback by her passion for life, whether it was being with people or taking care of her son- whatever she was involved in she gave herself over to.  Really, in all of this, I fell in love with her because I saw God in her in ways that I could not find elsewhere.  The God I found in her was unique, and the way God showed love through her was unique and beautiful.  And to take it a step further, I fell in love with her because it was through her that God was doing something so special in my life, changing me for the better, making me more faithful through her faith and perspective, making me more transparent and compassionate and considerate.  She was the one who brought the best out of me and brought me true joy in my faith and my life.  Truly, those who knew me saw in me a different life, a joy that I did not have before and it was her that brought it to me (though it was truly God’s work).  With her, I didn’t have to be straightedge, I didn’t have to pretend to be perfect (she already knew that anyway!), didn’t have to try to be something I wasn’t.  She freed me in some ways that made me helpless to loving her.  Her encouragement and support of me as a chaplain, as a preacher, as a participant and leader in the children’s ministry team- her support and encouragement were exactly what I needed. And her son Aiden made it ever easier to fall in love with both of them.  It was all too easy, even after just two months, to want more than just a girlfriend out of Elana.

Yes, it was just two months, but we clicked.  Aiden and I clicked.  It all felt so natural, so much easier and so much better than life alone and life with anyone else I had ever dated.  I didn’t care that it was fast and I felt like I had the blessing of God to move forward.  So I set up a grand proposal.  I worked with two of her best friends and almost our entire 242 young adult group at church to get a sweet proposal.  The plan was to use her best friend who was a photographer to do couples photos at a place called the Japanese Garden in Hermann Park in Houston, a great place for sunset photos.  So I worked with Elana’s boss, a friend at church, by asking him to give her a half day for some reason because I wanted to propose to her.  He obliged by giving her a half day off on the designated day, December 7, because of all her extra work on the work Christmas party.  Well, setting up the plan was going really well.  Well, almost too well.  Elana called immediately after getting the half day and told m she wanted to do couples photos with her best friend on that half day.  Elana set up the groundwork for her own proposal, as her friend was already going to ask that afternoon if she could do couples photos.  So, it went forward, couple’s photos at the park at sunset.  Just to make sure that Elana knew nothing about it, even though we had talked about a wedding date and getting married, I used some couples at church to come up with other activities that she thought we would need to be at right after the couples photos.  I asked the Bells to ask her about babysitting, and the Parkers (both in our wedding party) asked a card/game night that night a little late.  I then went to work planning all the photos with the photographer and chose all the locations for photos, what photos I would like, and basically told Mikey (maid of honor) and Tiffany (photographer) what to say when Elana asked about the event or suggested something.

So we went to the park, and I met her there after I worked that day.  On Facebook I wrote “Game time” to which she thought was nothing but excitement about photos.  But when we got there, she was exactly as I expected- she looked beautiful, but she was stressed, didn’t think she looked good, looked uncomfortable taking pictures (she doesn’t like to)- she clearly did not think something special was happening, and from the outset I knew that she wanted a private place for a proposal and a really big surprise- so I knew I nailed it.  So we went through a bunch of photos, sitting down, cuddling, talking from afar, laying down, on bridges…many pictures all to set up for the final two pictures as the park emptied just for us and sunset arrived.  The second to last picture was the one wherein the ring got delivered to me.  Elana stood far off, maybe 15 paces, while I stood in a military pose and according to the photographer, she would be taking a picture through my arm hole of Elana.  Obviously Elana was perplexed but played along anyway.  While the photographer closed in on my arm she gave me the ring box (by the way, I came with it in a jacket on a 90 degree day- Elana wondered why I brought a jacket!).  Then, the finale- Elana and I were to a closed eyes kiss picture, and then a closed eyes almost kissing picture.  The first picture went well.  Elana and I leaned towards one another while we both had our arms behind each other (so I could keep the ringbox hidden).  Elana thought it was strange but she went along and it was a cute picture.  Then, the photographer asked us to step just a couple inches away so that there was a tiny space between our faces.  Elana stepped back and wanted to open her eyes, she asked a couple of times of course.  As soon as we knew her eyes were closed, I got down on my knee on the Japanese bridge, pulled the ringbox open, looked up and asked her to open her eyes.  She looked out at first wondering where I had gone, but then looked down and saw me with my ring- she immediately seemed to go silent, tear up, and put her hand over her mouth.  I then told her, “Elana, you are the joy of my life.  I love you and I always will.  Will you marry me?!”  Though it took a while for her to speak, she said yes and we hugged and it was a remarkable night.  But the surprise wasn’t over.

After a wonderful walk back to the car, I told Elana that I actually had reservations for the two of us at a nice Italian restaurant in the Rice Village, called Prego.  I told her that the Bells and Parkers were not actually planning on us coming, which made her smile as I had used so many to pull this off.  When we got to the Rice Village, I stalled for a while and at one point got a little too nervous because I had something else planned.  When we finally arrived, we walked in to Prego where I had actually made reservations for 16, where Elana’s mother, father, stepmom, brothers, two best friends, and of course the Bells (who were supposed to need babysitting that night) and a couple from church that had been very close to her.  When we walked in, the table stood and shouted and cheered and Elana was super surprised.  We got to celebrate our night with her closest people, the people whom she would have chosen to have this special night with.  It was incredible!

So there is most of it.  It obviously is a lot, but in this story I see something of why I am marrying this girl, and I said it when I proposed.  She is the joy of my life.  Whatever I do with her, there is more joy in it because of her.  My life is full of happiness I could not get in other ways.  Her smile, her laugh, her humor, her inappropriateness (like mine), her care for others, her practicality, her life, her son- it all brings me such incredible joy that I often feel closer to God and closer to true life to the fullest.  God indeed has given me a great gift in this wonderful woman!