Saturday, December 6, 2014

Our engagement story

Jacob and I recently had the opportunity to share the story of how God prepared us for one another on the Boundless blog. Click here to check out the blog or see the full post below.

How the Lord prepared us

Jacob’s perspective
I recently turned 30 years old and will soon be married for the first time. As I reflect back on my journey as a single man, I can’t say it was a smooth road to holy matrimony. There was plenty of anguish in my mind, longings in my soul, and unmet desires in my heart. If God had the ability to fatigue (which He doesn’t), He was getting tired of hearing His own words from me. I would plead to Him, “The Lord God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him (Genesis 2:18),” as if my reminder to Him was going to wave the magic wand and poof, here she is, a woman I can call my wife to fulfill His Word.

Looking back, there were a few lessons God taught me along the way, and I want to share two of those lessons. The first lesson involved God revealing to me that I was acting like a boy regarding women when He desired that I become a man. Thinking back on past relationships, there is one which sticks out. There was a girl who caught my eye. She was everything I hoped for in a wife — but I never asked her out. I never asked for her number. I never pursued her boldly.

Four years went by. Someone else came along, asked her to dance, and she accepted. God gently revealed to me that I had acted like a boy because I waited for the girl to initiate. I did not act because I was waiting for her to show interest. I was waiting for her to initiate a relationship. I was waiting for her to lead.

I am thankful for the humbling lesson. No man wants to be called a boy, but God doesn’t mince truth. When He revealed to me my boyish tendency, I wanted to become a man, and a search unfolded. I asked the question, What is a man? How does a man act toward a woman? How does he speak toward a woman? How does he pursue a woman? Lord, help me put my boyish ways behind me and make me a man!

"Be strong, therefore, and show yourself a man" (1 Kings 2:2).

God revealed to me that He designed men to lead, that the man should shoulder the burden of rejection. It seems God made men a little more rough and tough when compared to a woman, placing in a man more capacity to face rejection and less vulnerability to attach emotionally early on in a relationship. God also gives men the responsibility to communicate effectively to the women in his life. If a man finds interest in a woman, he should creatively let her know and actively pursue her. It is the woman’s responsibility to accept or politely reject the man’s overture conspicuously.

The second major lesson God revealed to me while in the school of the great I AM was that marriage paints a bigger picture than a man and a woman. I was, for some reason, asking the question, “God, why did You create marriage?” It seems from reading the Scriptures that man and woman will not be married to one another in heaven, so why for a short while here on earth? Then I found Ephesians 5:25, “Husbands, love your wives just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” There is a comparison, assimilation between a husband and a wife and Jesus Christ and those He died for, His church. So is it saying God created marriage to display the self-sacrifice of Jesus Christ? Is it saying a loving husband can resemble the Gospel of Jesus Christ? That is what the Bible says.

Man, did I have it all wrong. I was looking for a girl who met my requirements. I was looking for a girl who could measure up to my list of desired qualities. I was looking for a wife for me, stated plainly. God revealed to me that marriage paints a bigger picture — a picture that reflects God himself. A picture that is self-giving, self-sacrificing, and outward-focused. Boy, did I need some work to rearrange my heart.

So I asked God for help. “God, help me see clearly why you designed marriage.” Then, I started asking the question, “God, what should I look for when evaluating a woman to marry?” You know what He revealed to me? It was as if He said, “Look for someone you delight in sacrificing for.”

This was my mindset before attending Pursuit 2014

Allyson’s perspective
The beauty of God’s providence is seen in reflection. As I look back on the past 10 years or so, I review a mental scrapbook of highlights and sorrows in my journey toward marriage. My ideas and expectations of marriage have evolved so much since I was a little girl. I grew up in a home with believing parents who faithfully attended church and walked with the Lord daily. As a little girl and on through high school, I envisioned my life playing out like Mom’s: marry at 19, finish college, have two girls, became a “domestic engineer” for our early years, and then successfully ease my way back into the workplace.

In late high school, I started to realize my dreams for marriage probably would not come true, at least not quite how I envisioned it would. The guys at school were immature, selfish, and focused on the short-term. I told myself that college would open the door to meet some “men.” Well, college opened a number of doors, but if I learned anything during my freshman year, it was that age did not necessarily determine maturity. I dated two guys during college, but they didn’t last for a number of reasons. This was the time God started really teaching me some things about myself, about guys, and about marriage.

After finishing undergrad, I moved into an apartment with my sister and continued my studies by pursuing a graduate degree. My classes were primarily online, which was convenient but also led to isolation. I realized that once I graduated and moved off campus, there were not as many opportunities to meet people. Although I spent some time in the singles group at my church, it just wasn’t the thing for me. I did find community, but there were not many singles in the group.

God continued to provide avenues of growth for me. I began listening to Focus on the Family, Boundless, and Family Life Today regularly. Podcasts and articles are very convenient mediums, and I found myself consuming the wisdom of guest speakers, authors, and marriage and family experts ravenously. I began making decisions about how I wanted to serve my husband and children. After hearing so many helpful accounts of challenges in marriage and how to deal with them, I started tucking these ideas and strategies away into my mental marriage arsenal. The theme verse for my life has been Psalm 90:12, which says, “Teach us to make the most of our time, so that we may grow in wisdom.” My aim was to make the most of my time as a single to prepare for marriage.

I dated some, but I learned early on that I only needed a date or two to determine whether or not there should be another date. The Lord gave me a strong discernment in these decisions, and I resolved to save as much as I could for my husband. At that time, dating was for the purpose of marriage, so I knew there was no point in recreational dating.

I struggled with the Lord because I felt I was at the point where my desires for marriage were aligned with what the Lord designed. I wanted to serve a husband, to better understand the relationship of Christ with the church, to have children and get a glimpse of God’s love for His children — why wasn’t He bringing this man into my life if my desires were in line with His Word? My prayers were filled with questions, tears, and a few fist-pounding pillow sessions, but ultimately I would surrender to the truth that it must not be God’s time yet. His timing is best, and my understanding of patiently waiting on the Lord needed some refining (Psalm 130:5).

Over the past three years, I ventured into the online community. I think it provided a good opportunity for me to learn more about myself and what I was looking for in a husband. One of the benefits of online dating is that both people are (usually) seeking a long-term relationship, so the big topics of faith and family typically come up fairly quickly. While I met a few nice guys, I just didn’t meet the right one.

When I registered for the Pursuit 2014 conference, my aim was to meet Steve and Candice, chat with some bloggers and authors, and maybe connect with a few singles in a similar stage of waiting. To be honest, as an introvert, I was a little anxious about some of the meet-and-greets and mixers planned since I was going by myself. That all changed within the first hour of the conference.

How the Lord brought us together in His time

Jacob’s perspective
On Thursday, Aug. 7, 2014, I drove to Colorado Springs to participate in Pursuit 2014, a conference administered by Boundless. The conference was designed for Christian single young adults to come together to prepare, learn, and grow for the purpose of marriage one day.

I had an invitation to the VIP meet & greet in the afternoon where we could meet the speakers and the minds behind the Boundless blog. Entering the room initially, I looked around for any available conversation mates. In an effort to help my cause, I made my way to grab a cup of water. No luck. So I went outside to regroup. Entering a second time from another entrance, looking for some conversation mates, who do I find? Allyson Livengood. Allyson was the first person I met at the conference. Game, set, match. We hit it off right from the start. We came to find out we have many of the same interests and passions and most importantly, a shared faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. We also had been reading many of the same books leading up to the conference. One of those books was Bill and Pam Farrel's The Before-You-Marry Book of Questions. I knew from the start this was a beautiful, wise, discerning woman, and I wanted to get to know her more. The weekend conference provided the perfect opportunity to ask penetrating questions in an attempt to reveal our hearts to one another at a wise pace.

I asked Allyson and her friend to dinner on Thursday night, and the more time I spent with Allyson, the more I was drawn to her. After dinner we parted ways for the night, but she had my eye. I was delighted to find her first thing Friday morning, and we sat together during the conference. I had planned a special night out on Friday night. At lunch, I asked if she would join me for dinner and a mystery event afterward. She accepted! So I took her to P.F. Chang’s for dinner, and for the mystery event, I took her swing dancing! It was so much fun, and she really impressed me with how quickly she picked it up!

Even though there were more than 300 girls at the conference, I only noticed one: Allyson Livengood. And I choose her for the rest of my days. I have come to see that this is the woman God had been preparing me for.

Allyson’s perspective
I, too, had an invitation to the VIP meet & greet Thursday afternoon. I was the first girl to arrive and found myself anxiously waiting for another girl to join me. When she did, we connected easily and chatted on a couch for about an hour before deciding we should probably mingle (this was more her decision than mine, since she was decidedly the extrovert between the two of us!). In looking for someone to join us in conversation, I noticed a really handsome guy standing on the periphery of the room. Soon after I saw him, he walked out of the room but later returned on the other side. When my new friend urged that we find someone else to talk to, I suggested Mr. Handsome because he was by himself.

We introduced ourselves to Jacob, and with each piece of information I learned about him, I found myself more and more drawn to him. I enjoyed our time together on Thursday night, but I wondered how/if we would connect again during the conference since there were so many people. Thankfully, we connected first thing on Friday morning, and he made it clear he wanted us to spend some time one-on-one when he took me aside during lunch and then when he asked me to dinner and a mystery activity that night. And let me tell you: Swing dancing was a blast! What an exhilarating time we had that night. I was very attracted to his planned spontaneity.

Throughout the rest of the conference, we were pretty inseparable. We had deep conversations, each posing probing questions that really enabled us to learn the essentials about the other person. We also had fun, taking pictures in the photo booth and exploring the Focus on the Family campus. Jacob was intentional from the beginning — something I've longed for, waited for. He initiated, and he took action — that is what a man does. By the end of the weekend, he asked if he could fly me to Kansas where he's from, and I knew this was no casual relationship. This was something different, something deeper. This was the man I'd been praying for.

Our shared perspective
The Lord worked in our lives individually to prepare us to meet each other. Looking back, we’ve been amazed to see just how God used the time alone (sometimes filled with doubt, frustration and loneliness) to do a work in our lives. Neither of us had dated for a number of years, having been on a first date or two but choosing not to prolong a relationship that did not have potential for marriage. God taught us how to be a man and a woman who will seek Him first in our marriage and seek the best for the other person. We have a lot to learn and are looking forward to years of pursuing the Lord and each other in the time we have on this earth (Psalm 14:2; Ephesians 5:21-33).