Sunday, July 21, 2019

A love story

Twelve years ago, I was lucky enough to marry my love, Paul. We're actually celebrating our 12th wedding anniversary this weekend, and it's got me reflecting on the crazy way we got together.

I was 20 when I met Paul. We were both leaders on a Scripture Union camp that I wasn't supposed to be at. I didn't even know what Scripture Union was until my friend, Ellie, rung me up and invited me to be a camp leader with her.

Ellie and I both applied to lead on a camp at Lake Tarawera, but were told it already had enough leaders. Ellie decided to lead on a horse camp instead, and then someone got in touch with me and asked if I could lead on a camp at Lake Okataina. I said, "Sure," even though I didn't know anyone else going to the camp. It seemed like a fun way to spend a week - swimming, kayaking, tramping and playing sports.

As it turned out, I made many wonderful friends that week on camp. Friends who are still dear to me to this day.

I also met Paul.

He was the studies leader on camp, which meant he gave talks about God and had prepared the bible studies we did in our small groups that week.

Paul and I hit it off, but to me it was just friendship. The two of up stayed up too late every night, playing cards with the cook and the camp director, discussing how camp was going, figuring out how to deal with difficult situations. Having fun.

On the last day of camp, everyone wrote warm fuzzies to each other, where we told each other what we liked and appreciated about each other. We all left camp on a high and vowed to stay in touch.

A month later, I received flowers on Valentine's Day from an anonymous gift-giver. I figured out they were from Paul when I read the card and saw it said the same thing Paul had written in my warm fuzzy at camp:
Emma, you are beautiful inside and out.
I loved receiving those flowers and started to wonder whether my feelings for Paul could go beyond friendship. We had been emailing back and forth since camp and his emails always made me laugh. I looked forward to them every day. Since I didn't have the internet at my flat (it was truly the dark ages), I had to open my emails at work. My boss heard me laughing away every time, and was convinced Paul was the guy for me.

Yet, every time I hung out with Paul in person, which didn't happen very often since we lived in different cities, all I felt for him was friendship.

Meanwhile, another of my co-leaders from camp was also showing an interest in me, and I did find myself attracted to him. He ticked all the boxes. He was tall, good-looking and charming, and he was a Christian. I had dated guys who weren't Christians in the past and had vowed never do that again, because I knew it wouldn't work out longterm, once the nitty gritty decisions of life came into play.

I liked this guy, but when I asked God if he was the one for me, I got a clear, "No."

I had only received such a clear dismissal one other time, when I was 18 and had asked God about a guy from my church who I really liked. Liked so much I basically stopped eating for three months so I could fit into the guy's image of what size a girl should be. Thankfully, God showed me a clear picture of that guy marrying someone else, so I knew he wasn't for me.

I was disappointed both times God shook His head, but later learned I'd had two lucky escapes. Both men went on to be unfaithful to the women they married, and their marriages ended in divorce.

It reminds me that God doesn't tell us, "No," to hurt us, but because His ways are higher and He knows so much more than we do. It also reminds me that just because someone goes to church and says they're a Christian, doesn't necessarily mean they love God and are obedient to him. "The way is narrow and few will find it," as Jesus pointed out.

Back to Paul.

A year after meeting Paul and my other friends at Lake Okataina, we all got together to lead on the same camp again. Rinse and repeat. We had another amazing week together and, once again, I stayed up too late every night playing cards with Paul, the cook and the camp director. I loved Paul's friendship, but I wasn't attracted to him like that.

After camp, I returned to my flat in Auckland and was writing in my diary about the amazing week I'd just had, when I was flooded with the sure knowledge that Paul was the man for me. It was almost an out-of-body experience. I saw all the ways Paul and I were right for each other, and I saw a future with him that was good. I was flooded with such a peace about it that I knew the vision could only have come from God.

But then, my friend, Heather, and I travelled down to Hamilton to visit Paul and help him shop for the new bachelor pad he'd just moved into, and I completely freaked out. I still wasn't attracted to him like that, so shopping for items that might actually become mine one day through marriage was equally surreal and terrifying.

I was so distraught by my lack of feelings when it was obvious how much Paul liked me, that when I got back to Auckland, I ripped out the page in my diary where I'd written about the vision from God - the vision telling me I was going to marry Paul.

I didn't know what to do with the vision after that. It hung over me, but I did my best to ignore it.

I ignored it even when Paul sent me Valentine's Day flowers for the second year in a row and asked me on a date that I turned down. I made it clear I wasn't interested.

Fast forward another year and, instead of going to Lake Okataina, I spent my summer holidays in the South Island, visiting my brother and his family with my parents. I ended up leading on a Scripture Union camp at Lake Johnson in Queenstown and had a wonderful week there, although I discovered that Southlanders are very different to Aucklanders.

The weird thing was that while I was away from all my North Island friends, the person I missed the most was Paul. I texted him a few times while I was away, and his replies always made me smile. He never rejected me, even though I had rejected him several times.

Six months later, I decided to travel to Hamilton to visit one of the friends I had made in Queenstown, who happened to live in Hamilton. While I was there, I invited Paul to a picnic at the Hamilton Gardens. He showed up, just as enthusiastic as ever, and that was the moment I fell in love with him.

I didn't want to leave Hamilton after that. I ended up delaying my departure as long as possible, going to the Sunday night service at Paul's church, and then heading out for dessert with him and some of his church friends.

Sadly, I did eventually have to drive back to Auckland since I had work on Monday morning, but I wasn't sure what to do about my sudden feelings for Paul. You see, now the tables had turned. He had moved on from me. After two years of pursuing me to no avail, he had given up and was off on an overseas adventure. I wouldn't see him for another six months.

When I finally did meet up with him again, it came about in an unexpected way, just like our first meeting had.

Instead of signing up to lead on the Lake Okataina camp, I decided to venture out and do a camp at Ponui Island - seeing more of my beautiful country. Sadly, one of the male leaders died just before the camp was set to begin.

I had never met the leader, but many of the other leaders had and were completely devastated by his death. I rang Paul and asked if he could come and lead on the camp with us, since we had an urgent gap to fill.

As always, Paul was keen to help, but wasn't able to because he had already committed to leading on the camp at Lake Okataina, which started halfway through the Ponui Island camp. However, while I was on the phone to him, he told me that Okataina was short of female leaders, and asked if I'd consider coming for the second half of that camp after Ponui. I agreed.

It was hard work going from one camp straight into another. Camps are awesome, but exhausting.

When I arrived at the Lake Okataina campground, I walked out onto the sports field and saw Paul leading a game of Touch Rugby with the campers. And just like that, all the feelings for him I'd set aside for six months came flooding back. I joined in on the opposing team to Paul with all the other leaders, but watched Paul the whole time. He was equal parts fun and patient with his team of campers, teaching them how to play and encouraging them even when they fumbled the ball. He did such a good job teaching them that they beat our team of more experienced leaders.

I slotted into camp that week just fine, and found myself constantly drawn to Paul. Yet, I wasn't sure if I had a chance with him anymore. I shed more than one tear washing dishes in the kitchen after meals, thinking I'd lost my chance with him. If only I had said, "Yes!" when he'd asked me out.

When camp wrapped up, I didn't want to head back to Auckland without knowing one way or another if I had a chance with Paul. A bunch of us drove into Rotorua and wandered around, eating food at various food places and talking all afternoon. I refused to leave, so Paul also stayed because he can never leave a party. Another leader, Mike, also decided to stick around, so the three of us hung out until about 10pm at night. Mike wouldn't leave until we did, and I couldn't say anything to Paul while Mike was there.

I was beside myself.

By 10pm, the two back-to-back camps I'd done had fully caught up with me and I had no idea how I was going to safely make the drive back to Auckland. I said as much to Paul, and he offered to drive in convoy with me as far as Hamilton, so he could make sure I was safe.

We arrived at Paul's flat in Hamilton, which was basically empty since he'd just moved into it. His parents were there, measuring up the kitchen, because they owned the house and were planning to renovate it.

It was very surreal getting to meet Paul's parents, not knowing if they were going to be a part of my future or not. They seemed to be night owls just like their son, so we ended up playing cards together until about midnight. They eventually toddled off to bed and it was agreed that I was in no fit state to drive to Auckland, so I grabbed my sleeping bag and pillow out of my car and rolled them out in Paul's lounge.

Paul didn't actually go to bed though. Instead, he climbed into a sleeping bag of his own and sat in the lounge with me all night. We talked and talked. The only reason I was able to keep my eyes open was because I had constant surges of adrenaline racing through my body, while I agonised over the age-old question, "Does he like me, or doesn't he?"

By 5am, I was completely done for and decided to just say something to Paul. I figured that if by some miracle he did still like me, maybe he was hesitant to tell me so because I had rejected him in the past.

Holding onto courage with both hands, I said the words, "I like you."

Immediately, Paul said, "I like you too."

The angels sang, "Hallelujah!"

I smiled and fell asleep, my equilibrium restored.

Poor Paul had to get up and go to work the next morning, basically two hours later, but he gave me a hug before he left and asked me to come and meet him for lunch. I happily did. We ate sushi together in a cute little spot in Hamilton's CBD and I was full of joy.

A year and a half later, we got married.

Twelve years and three children later, I love that husband of mine more than ever.
Sometimes I wonder why God showed me I was going to marry Paul, when all it seemed to do was terrify me and slow down the process of Paul and I actually getting together. Yet, it didn't slow things down that much, and it meant I got to know Paul over many different seasons, instead of rushing into a relationship with him. During those seasons, I got to see that Paul is consistently kind, faithful and generous with his love. I got to see that he doesn't hold onto anger or offence.

He never let bitterness at being rejected drive a wedge between us, even though he had many chances to.

In the hard times during our marriage (which, of course, we've had our fair share of), I've always known that Paul is the man God set aside for me. I've never had to wonder for too long if I made a mistake by tying my life to Paul's. I know I didn't, and I continue to have hope for our future together.

Happy anniversary, Paul! Thank you for marrying me. I love you to the university and back (as our adorable eldest daughter once said).


  1. Replies
    1. Thanks, Liz. It was so nice for me to look back on it and remember it all. It's easy to forget in the busyness of life.

  2. Awesome! a beautiful story of love, friendship and life. ❤ may God continue to lead and guide your love story. X


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