Someone asked me recently how my husband and I met. It is always fun for me to stroll down memory lane and reminisce on the precursors to what is now a nearly 25-year marriage. My husband, Matt, and I met when we were nine years old. His family moved into my hometown of LaCygne, KS right before our fourth grade year in elementary school. My first memory of Matt is the vivid recollection of seeing him for the first time as he came into music class on the first day of school in 1979. He was actually in a different fourth grade class than I, but for music and P.E. both classes were combined. In a town as small as LaCygne, the new kids in our school stood out like sore thumbs; therefore, I noticed him right away. My first thought upon seeing him was that I felt sorry for him. By his body language, it was obvious to me that he was not only very uncomfortable being one of the few, glaring new students in our school, but he didn't look as though he'd had a very good morning. I also recall thinking that he looked like a really sweet boy. I found myself purposefully trying to make eye contact so that I could smile reassuringly at him and hopefully make him feel welcome and better. He looked very alone and fearful, and it troubled me. We exchanged a few smiles, but it was clear he was much more distracted with the new situation in which he found himself than with the stupid girl who kept smiling at him. But I didn't have to feel sorry for him for long--I had pegged him accurately. He was a nice boy, and making friends came very naturally for him once he let his guard down.
Over the course of that year and our remaining grade school years, Matt was always extremely kind to me. He would faithfully compliment me and even asked me to go with him on a chaperoned church youth group excursion in sixth grade. His youth group was going ice skating in Kansas City at a place called, "King Louie." Since it was technically a youth group outing and not a real "date," my mother approved. So I obliged him and went as his friend. He continued to show favor toward me throughout junior high and high school, always encouraging me, complimenting me, and even playing the part of "defender" when other boys would harass or disrespect me. One day in seventh grade, I got caught in the middle of an unkind, very uncomfortable discussion spurred by a few other boys in our science class. They were hashing out who they thought the prettiest girl was in our junior high. They had narrowed it down to me and another girl, who happened to be my best friend. When you are in junior high and are going through the all-too-common, "awkward years," the last thing you want, especially as a female, is to be outwardly and rudely dissected and compared to another female. You also do not appreciate boys stirring up any added insecurity (or hints of dissension due to it) between yourself and a good friend. Everyone knows that we girls do "the comparison thing" well-enough on our own--we don't need any help or encouragement with that, thank you. As I sat there humiliated and hurting from the crass words that were being uttered, I could feel my face turning red and my back beginning to sweat. Even though these boys were technically ranking me at number two on their, "most attractive girls in Prairie View Junior High" list, an insecure girl doesn't exactly recognize or feel honored by that at the time when she's being verbally picked apart in public. To add insult to injury, I had P.E. first hour that year. Talk about a middle school girl's nightmare. It wasn't much fun to shower and get ready at home each morning (because what 13-year old girl would go to school without doing so), then go sweat to death for 45 minutes, and then have to re-shower and try to look reasonably decent in a total of 10 minutes before second period. I swore our P.E. coach, who was anything but girly, purposefully made it is as difficult as possible for us "vain" girls, as she loved to label us, to feel confident about our looks at all. Starting every day of school out this way during the years when you are being ridiculed and judged constantly by peers made that year one of the worst in my life. I basically started every school day with wet hair, and if I didn't wash it after P.E., it was sweaty, which was worse. So on this day, when I was being cruelly compared to my best friend and having one of my lovely P.E. hair days, I just wanted to crawl under the desk and never come out. It didn't take long for Matt to step into the conversation and say, "Well, I think Stephanie is the best-looking girl hands-down. Plus, she's really smart and nice, too." This pattern of defending me and siding with me never ceased to be displayed by Matt--and though he didn't think so at the time, I was paying attention.
I dated a couple of other boys in high school somewhat steadily, and went on a number of random dates with various boys. Matt likes to teasingly remind me of my, "playing the field" days often, and I am quick to point out that he, too, "shopped around" plenty in his teen years to see what kind of girl he truly liked. But Matt was always the boy I would turn to if I wanted to have an intelligent conversation with someone of the opposite sex who was also supportive and kind. It was always nice to be around him--he was steady, sweet, smart, funny, relaxed, and wonderfully positive. He was also always immaculately groomed, well-dressed, and naturally handsome. I recall phoning him often during our sophomore year in high school for help in geometry. He always humbly and kindly offered to help me with homework whenever I would complain that I was struggling with some new lesson, and I took him up on it frequently. We were both in the accelerated classes together throughout high school, but Matt was one of the "gifted" smart kids. Retaining and understanding difficult material came quite naturally for him. I, on the other hand, got good grades because I was a good student and worked very hard for them. So he would generously offer to tutor me from time to time as I needed it. I always looked forward to phoning him. He was gracious, made me feel calm when I was stressed, and was just an all-around wonderful person to know. We also seemed to have a lot of mutual interests, and our personalities complimented one another well. Add to all that the fact that he always smelled divine. If you've read any of my other blogs you know how big on "smell" I am. Matt's trademark scent was, "Ralph Lauren Polo." What girl didn't love that in 1986?! But for some stupid reason, I always viewed Matt as just a good "friend." Sometimes when you begin a relationship as childhood friends, it is hard to imagine it evolving into anything else even if the sensibility of it is screaming at you.
Speaking of sensibility, I must "bunny trail" about the sensibility of dating for a moment. Honestly, my view now on all this dating stuff is that teenagers shouldn't even date. Dating, if viewed as God would want us to view it, is supposed to be about courtship--its purpose is as a preamble to marriage. It isn't something we should do for frivolous "fun," for sex, or at the expense of the feelings of others if we decide we're bored and want to move on to someone else. The world typically perceives and handles it in this way. Since I believe dating should be viewed as courtship and perceived as a stepping stone to marriage, and since teenagers aren't supposed to be worrying about marriage, I believe it is best for teens not to date. Our daughter, Allie, was not allowed to "date" until she was 18. Fortunately, she understood the reasons behind our decision, knew that our motive for it was our love and utter concern for her, and she never bucked-up against our desires to protect and shelter her. She has thanked us numerous times for guiding her life in this way. It wasn't easy though because even we, as Allie's parents, were somewhat ostracized by other parents because we were choosing to do things much differently than they were. Family and friends would always marvel that Allie never rebelled against our decision to shelter her by not allowing her to date until she was in college. We were always extremely real and honest with her about our past mistakes and dating situations that we had faced. She knew the truth of the pitfalls of dating and from what we were sheltering her. We never held a, "because-we-said-so" attitude with her. Our heart-felt conversations with her about dating and boys always came from an attitude of sincerity. We always made our reasons very transparent and she respected us for it. I never took that for granted, thanking God regularly that He gave Allie an open heart to always see the true reasons for our decisions in parenting her, and that they were based on motives of love and extreme value for her, not on cruel dominion over her. I believe this is key in parenting a teenager.
But back to my particular high school. The mentality of dating amongst the great majority of kids in our school was that there was something wrong with you if you didn't have a steady boyfriend or girlfriend at all times. It was ridiculous, and that coupled with the fact that I grew up without a father, caused me to be somewhat obsessed with boys. I wanted their respect, their approval, and their attention. Having no father figure to encourage me in my role as a female was somewhat devastating to me. Looking back on it now with more wisdom and understanding, it is easy to see why I was needy for male approval. James Dobson, the widely known and respected author and speaker on parenting, marriage, family and the like, says that girls get 90% of their identity from their father. Since I had no father, God was my father, and for that I praise Him. But still, I really needed an earthly one at times, too--all kids do.
At the start of our junior year in high school, I was enjoying playing the lead role in our school's musical, "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers." Playing the part of, "Millie," was probably my favorite role ever--that was a very memorable and special year for me in high school. Matt was also in the musical playing the part of, "Dan." So we were together a lot, and he was a big part of making that year very special for me. We spent a great deal of time together rehearsing lines, talking, having fun backstage with other friends, and just getting to know one another on a deeper level than we ever had prior to that. A few weeks into the musical rehearsals, we mutually decided to bow-out of the other dates we had each already made for Homecoming so that we could go together (tacky and rude, I know). We finally realized that true friends make the best companions--and we've been dating ever since. Matt was technically the first boy with whom I ever went out on a date, and he will be the last if I have anything to say about it.
Matt was also the first boy I ever kissed. At a coed junior high birthday party, a game of, "spin the bottle," ensued even though the party was chaperoned (obviously, the parents weren't running a very tight ship). Terrified, but bending to the dictatorial peer pressure of another girl who declared that we would all join the game or face her wrath, I timidly spun the bottle and it landed on Matt. I recall feeling utter relief. I wasn't scared to kiss him at all--he was my friend, and I knew he'd probably brushed his teeth at least twice that day already (yes, I was a germaphobe even then). I also recall liking it--maybe too much (yeah, yeah, I know--too much info). But Matt's kiss was as tender as his words had always been. I decided that everything that falls from this guy's lips was good (if our daughter reads this, she'll say, "Oh, grose! TMI!" Sorry, Allie). But again, I was paying attention.
Homecoming Day came and would mark our official first date as, "more than friends." Matt sent a dozen red roses to me at school that day and the card said, "This is just the beginning. Love, Matt." A dozen red roses in a small town was a pretty costly item. I was yet again impressed with his sentiment, his kindness, and his generosity--plus, few boys had ever spent a dime on me, let alone to this level. He wasn't speaking with flattery when he wrote those words--obviously, he really meant them. He's been bringing me flowers for over 26 years now.
Matt and I spent a great deal of time together during our dating--too much time. Long story short, we ended up married in the middle of our senior year of high school, and had our daughter six months later (you do the math). That is a story for another time. With God's help, protection, and utter mercy, we somehow made it through college while raising our little girl, and made it to this milestone of spending nearly a quarter of century together. Though I now believe I had no business dating in high school for obvious reasons, I thank God that He gave me enough wisdom to realize the type of guy I would need in my life, especially when I didn't have a good model of "father" for comparison and example. God was merciful to this needy girl, and gave me exactly what He knew I needed. As I've blogged about previously, I grew up feeling somewhat unprotected and fearful as a young girl living in a rough town in a single-parent home. But God has blessed me so richly in my life with a man who loves and fears God, protects and cares for me, thinks I'm greater than I actually am, and who loves me more than he loves himself. I am also blessed and profusely grateful to God for giving me the great gift of watching my daughter grow up with a wonderful example for a Godly father. So that's how it all began.
Jeremiah 29:11, "'For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the Lord, 'plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.'"