Engaged!: Brian & Amanda

 Greetings friends!  I have a special announcement to make.  Actually, my new fiance, Amanda, will share our story with you.

The date is March 27th, 2012. Brian and Amanda. Engaged! 4 months after meeting. 3 months after Brian moved across the world to begin his journey as a missionary to Thailand. 4 days after I (Amanda) traveled 36 hours to spend time and serve alongside him in Asia. So here we are. Sitting on the balcony of a hostel on Love Lane (truly!) in Penang, Malaysia staring at three brilliantly shining stars in a clear sky. I have a Thai elephant-engraved ring on my finger and we’re both donning awe-stricken grins. He had purchased the ring in Thailand in late December with the intent to – in a very gentleman-like fashion – ask me to be his girlfriend. God, as usual, was executing a loftier plan when he inspired Brian to this sweet gesture.

To appropriately illustrate our story, we’ll rewind to November 20th, 2011. Brian was in Tempe, Arizona for Ironman and happened to finish during my volunteer shift at the finish line. We had a mutual friend, Criselda, also at the race to support him. Having never met Brian myself, she described his Run:Free jersey and I promised to watch for him during my shift. Sure enough, and after a strong, jumping finish I caught Brian and walked with him down the finish line shoot. One of the first things I noticed about him was a blue stretchy bracelet on his wrist that read: “GOD IS BIG ENOUGH.” And now looking back on that moment, it’s quite telling of these last 4 months.

We didn’t have much of an opportunity to chat at the race – other than my offering him pizza and chocolate
milk as recovery food. Wow! For those of you who know him, this is pretty comical, no? And for those who don’t, Brian is a dietitian with a passion for organic, healthy eats. Pizza and chocolate milk didn’t stand a chance! Nonetheless, there was a second opportunity the following weekend for us to talk before he left town at a small get-together in Downtown Phoenix. We spent a few hours in a group setting and upon getting ready to head home, discovered that he was staying about a mile from me. I drove him home and in those 40 or so minutes, we touched on his upcoming move to Chiang Mai, Thailand. I shared a desire to do long-term mission work as well, but that it seemed unobtainable in my near future. Little did I know!

That was the last we saw of each other while in the U.S.. The same morning that he was flying to Texas I was flying to Florida for work. We were at the airport at the same time but had yet to exchange numbers to connect there. He later told me that he’d spent the time between getting through security and boarding looking for me. With no success, we connected on Facebook (as any legitimate friendship does, right?) a few days later and started messaging frequently. Facebook graduated to a “You awake?” text from him one Sunday night. That text turned into a 4-hour conversation – our first substantial conversation in which we shared our lives and the rawness of who we are and who we strive to be. And was followed by several more calls going into the wee hours of the morning that week.  Then came Skype. Skype partnered with handwritten letters and homemade cards from and to Thailand.

In all of this it’s absolutely and positively uncanny how utterly different we’ve discovered one another to be – especially in our finding our way with and in Christ – while in the same beat, so so so so very similar. When he told me he hadn’t had in years and didn’t ever want a TV in his home, I had to sit down. Be still my heart! I’d never heard those words other than in my own head. And both of our desire to invest in a younger generation – my leading in a Sunday school-esque capacity with elementary-aged kids these last 3 years and his relationship-building with kids at the Ban Pong community center in Thailand.

In our many conversations we began to unravel one another’s heart. Brian’s really amazing at asking deep, thoughtful questions. These fueled our conversations and built a solid foundation for our friendship, even despite the 14 hour time difference. That took a bit of coordinating and being flexible though! These hundreds of Facebook messages, countless hours on Skype, and dozens of letters eventually lead to a plane ticket to meet in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, where Brian planned to renew his visa in March 2012. We’d spend a few days there and then fly to Thailand for 3 weeks.

Meanwhile, between booking the flight in late January and actually getting on it, a whole host of God preparing was going on in Arizona. A few highlights include:

  • A message at Cornerstone, my home church, where one of the pastors illustrated finding God’s will in your life as potentially “packing your bags and moving to Thailand.” Boy, did my heart nearly beat out of my chest!
  • A series of circumstances leading to a tough decision to leave my work of 3.5 years, in which my last day was one week before leaving for Asia with no clue as to what was next for my career.
  • An opportunity for Brian and I to serve children together at a SIL conference in Chiang Mai during the same timeframe that I’d already be there. Ummmm…mind you this is an international organization and there are 365 days in a year. Hello Lord!

Not to mention the countless friends of ours who were certain I wasn’t coming home. There must have been at least 30 instances where friends and family asked, and in some cases told, one of us that I wouldn’t be coming back from Thailand.

So, to Asia I go. We’d planned to meet at Sentral Station but left a pretty big window for arrival not knowing how my series of plane transfers would go. I found him sitting in the lobby and went straight for a big hug. We’d spent the last 4 months on Skype and I was so excited to see the real him! He later told me how incredibly nerve wracking it was to wait for me as he wasn’t sure whether we would high five, side hug, chest bump (kidding!) or just say “what up, yo” and carry on. Guarded hearts aside, I felt like I knew this guy of only 4 months better than some friends of many years because of our sole reliance on communication. It’s all we had being a world apart and I was excited for a hug!

We booked an overnight train to Penang to connect with a friend of Brian’s, and sat down to wait for it to arrive. To which he wasted no time in pulling out a two-page list of questions he’d constructed for us to walk through. (Remember when I said he’s really great at asking good questions? Proof!) These 16 questions were worked toward uncovering our openness to God’s will in our lives, friendship, and future – whatever that looks like, and the life we desired to live for Him. For example, a few questions were:

  1. Is your relationship with God and your witness to others better or worse because of knowing and spending time with me?
  2. If we were to take the next step in our friendship, how do you think your relationship with God and your ministry to others would be affected?
  3. And, dare I say, if we were to get married someday, honestly, would you be drawn closer to God and be able to love and serve Him more, or would remaining single allow you to love God more and have a better relationship with Him?
  4. I intend to live every day of my life in accordance with God’s will and purpose for me and my family. This means making sacrifices and living a life that may seem “crazy” to non-believers and to some lukewarm Christians, but normal, expected and appreciated by Jesus. It means a life of many uncertainties, instability, risks, questions, and giving up of being in control. I want God to be in complete control and provide the ultimate and only certainty in life. It may be a life of many difficulties and challenges, and there may be times of having very little money and/or few friends, but it will be a truly great life filled with love, joy, contentment, gratitude, peace, and God’s blessings. Would you willingly and cheerfully, accept, appreciate and support a life like this?

As you can imagine, we spent some time discussing each of these and only got through a few before parting ways for bed the first night. Brian later explained that he’d hoped to get through all 16 in the first night so we could officially be dubbed boyfriend and girlfriend. Such a cheese he is! All in all it took us four days to get through the questions. We were busy hiking in the rainforest, discovering waterfalls and rope swings into the water and swimming in the ocean with his friend and some folks she’d met in her travels. But it wasn’t all as perfect as it sounds. There were a few important questions that were really tough for us to talk through and come to terms with. We later agreed that this moment, as hard as it was, is and will be, was pivotal in our friendship. And in it was the first time Brian said he loved me – reminding me that love is a choice not just a feeling and although we’re two broken people, he would always strive to love me as Christ loves the church.

By the fourth night I was craving for some quiet time. So much activity the last few days and I was still feeling a bit nauseous at times from my jet lag. He ventured into the street with my flip camera and let me be for about an hour. Then, around 11pm on March 27th, 2011 he pulled me away to a balcony spot we’d discovered the night before. It was overlooking a quaint side street restaurant with a clear view of a cloudy, starless sky. We had 1 question and what I call his “closing argument” to go. The final stretch! We talked through the last question and he concluded with:

“Love the lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind. If this is accomplished, everything else will follow step. Your ministry, love for others, and family life will be in line with God’s will and your joy will be complete. This is my main priority in life. To love and serve God with everything I have and am. If having a wife will help my relationship with God and allow me to know, understand, and love Him more, then I’m all in. If it will distract me and cause me not to love God 100% and seek Him and his kingdom first, and cause me to get caught up with the things of the world and place my attention, focus, energy, and devotion into temporary, earthly things and desires that will fade in time, then I want nothing to do with marriage.”

We agreed that our desire for our relationship, if to proceed at all, was nothing more, nothing less, and nothing other than God’s will. That we’d always strive for this – to keep God as our linchpin and the focus and cornerstone of our lives and friendship. However, it’s not always easy to discern His will, especially for something as momentous as marriage. We then talked about the lack of burning bushes and bright lights on the road to Damascus to so clearly guide our paths. No fair, Moses and Paul! We prayed together, asking God’s direction for the progression of our relationship. Brian then looked up at the sky and said something to the tune of “God, give us a sign – like a star.” (He later told me that while saying this out loud he was pointedly asking God “Is this the girl you want me to marry?”) And up in the sky we looked. Nothing. Still full of clouds and not a star in sight. I eventually looked away but Brian kept his eyes upward, and moments later I heard him gasp and slowly ask “What is that?” I looked up to find a small patch of clear sky where the clouds had parted and a brightly shining stare was glaring at us. Breathless and speechless we sat there, staring and expecting it to fly away as if we’d mistaken it for a plane. When it stayed put, Brian reached into his backpack and pulled out a card that he’d already prepared. He had me read it out loud as he wrote on a pink heart-shaped piece of paper that he’d also had on hand. (Did I mention that he’s a total cheese of a romanticist? I love it so!) The card ended with “So…I have a question for you!” Reminding you, this was all intended to be working toward boyfriend/girlfriend-ness until God showed up in the stars. But instead, Brian jumped down off the ledge we were sitting on, grabbed me and pulled me down and proceeded to get on one knee. He handed me the pink heart paper that read “I love you so much! Will you marry me?” I can’t say I remember much else with 100% accuracy but I do know I was able to say “yes” through tears and wound up with this elephant ring on my finger.

Hearts still pounding and heads spinning, we looked back up at the sky as if to confirm that this was really happening. Our one star had multiplied. One. Two. Three. Three twinkling stars in a now clear sky. Can’t believe it? Us either. It was so surreal. Only hours before we were talking about the significance of March 27th – or 3/27 – and that the 3 represented God, Brian and Amanda. Now these three stars signified that same – a chord of three strands not easily broken. And, for whatever reason, the number 27 has always been a favorite of mine and has showed up all over my life. But until now it didn’t really have significance. Within an hour, the sky clouded up again and the stars were gone. That was it! God revealed himself and was on to the next miracle. I imagine He was grinning all the while. We certainly were.

This means a lot of things, but the big ones are: 1) We’re engaged, of course! 2) We have some real ring shopping to do! 3) A 2012 wedding is in order, and it’ll likely be in the States. 4) I’ll be moving to Thailand with Brian later this year to continue serving the Ban Pong community in Chiang Mai.

Our hope is that this not just be our story but an example of the incredibly loving Father we serve. God. Is. Big. Enough. Big enough to overcome the myriad obstacles and brokenness of two people getting to know one another millions of miles and dozens of hours apart. He has revealed this truth in every step of our friendship and we’re elated for what He has in store down the road. Our prayer for this marriage is that Christ’s perfect love will flow through us two imperfect people, all of our days in every step, stumble and leap so that from and through us it will flow to others – shining Jesus and drawing them closer to Him. We super hope you’ll join us in that prayer and we promise to keep you updated throughout our journey.

Questions? We’re happy to answer ‘em! Just let us know. And stay tuned for more updates!

Brian & Amanda

P.S. If you haven’t seen our vid, enjoy it now! https://vimeo.com/39609470

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