It all started long before November 2004, when we got engaged; long before September, when we “officially” started courting; and long before June 2003, when he first approached my dad. It really started in Florida, when I was fifteen.
But let’s start with a little history. Eli’s parents met and married in 1977, and Eli was born a little over a year later, on December 15, 1978. He is the oldest of seven, and other than spending kindergarten through part of second grade in public school, he was taught at home for the remainder of his educational career. The decision to home school their kids came at a social cost, and his parents decided to leave the Baptist church they were attending and find another. Three years later the community church they had found split and they found themselves searching yet again. That’s when they found Reformation Covenant Church, in 1990. After graduating in 1997, Eli began looking in earnest for his vocation and God basically dropped it in his lap. His uncle announced that he was selling his fledgling book store, Exodus Books, and would take payments. Eli jumped at the chance to own his own business and signed papers to buy it in 1998. Since then he’s been faithfully running and expanding it and making it a great resource for homeschoolers in Oregon and across the country.
I was born on February 24, 1987. My parents lovingly brought me up, along with my five younger siblings. We were all home schooled all the way through and I graduated in May of 2004. When I was six we joined our church, Reformation Covenant Church, and it was then that I first met Eli. Well, actually, I’m not sure we ever officially met. He was just one of those big kids, and I was too busy running around with all my little friends pretending to be princesses to pay attention to him. After about eight years of being at the same church together, my family moved to Florida for my dad’s job. That was when I was fourteen. While we were there, Eli’s younger cousin, Arthur Mahar, who also went to RCC, was stationed at the Coast Guard base in Miami. We were all eager for fellowship so he would spend his vacations and weekends off with us. Now, my mom is a romantic woman and she started wondering what it would be like if this handsome young man who was coming to visit us was her son in law. But my mom is also a perceptive mother and she knew my personality well. She decided that I wouldn’t be happy with a husband in the Coast Guard. I needed someone more settled down and situated than that, she decided. That made her think of Arthur’s cousin, Eli. He owned a bookstore in Oregon City and therefore must be pretty settled down. Plus Amanda had aspirations towards being a writer and where better for a writer to be than at a bookstore? So she had it all decided. He was the perfect son in law.
After about sixteen months in sunny paradise we moved back to Oregon and I turned sixteen. Eli was twenty-four at this time and my parents wanted to make sure he knew that their daughter existed and that they didn’t have a problem with an eight year age difference or a relatively young marriage for her. They didn’t ever speak directly, but they had a couple of conversations talking vaguely about how many couples they could think of that had more than five years of an age difference. He would have to wait a while for her to get a little older of course, but they just wanted to make sure he knew she was there. They had nothing to worry about because Eli had this plan that he was going to see all fifty states before he got married. He had no problem waiting a couple of years. Well, that was February of 2003...
...I wasn’t particularly thinking about marriage at that point, but three things happened in a row to make me interested in Amanda. The first happened the day Amanda came into Exodus on her own. “Where’s your Mom?” I asked and Amanda replied, “She’s at home.” “Where’s your Dad?” I queried. “He’s at home too,” she answered. So, forgetting that she had turned 16 already, and unaware that she had her license, I asked how she had gotten there. She told me in a matter-of-fact tone, “I drove myself.” And like a dunce, I said, “Oh,” and went off to do something else. But I was thinking, “Wow, she’s grown up!” (I found out later that Karen had sent Amanda in on purpose – one of those “making-sure-I-knew-she-existed” ploys...)
The second thing was the dance class at RCC. One of the men there offered a ballroom class and both of us started attending. I was taking my sister at first, but very quickly found that Amanda was my favorite partner in the class. My sister soon told me that she didn’t want to go with me anymore because I wasn’t going to the class to dance with her: I had someone else on my mind. In April, I went to Poland with our pastor, and though I was eager to go, I found I was just as eager to be at home – I missed the dance class (and a certain young lady there) terribly. So much for the plans to travel!
The third thing was the idea of Amanda working at Exodus for me that summer. I was already interested in her, and when her parents approached me with the idea, I thought that it would be a great opportunity to see if she might be a good helpmeet, and I readily agreed. In late May, Amanda and another young man began training at Exodus. We hadn’t had much time to talk before that week, and interacting with her was a joy. I discovered I wasn’t just moderately interested: I was truly attracted.
Just less than two weeks later, I approached Matt at the fated Family Camp of 2003...
...The very first day, after the annual softball game, Eli asked my parents if he could talk to them. They went on a walk on the beach and were so absorbed with their “talk” that they missed dinner. Eli’s dad came up to me at dinner with a little twinkle in his eye and asked, “Where are your parents?” “I don’t know,” I replied. “I don’t know where Eli is either,” he said, smiling.
The next day, Mom and I went on a walk on the beach and Mom told me that Eli had asked if he could get to know me and Dad had said yes. It was all supposed to be very friendly and casual. Well, that day we pretty much hung around each other all day and Mom said that if I was older we would be planning a wedding by Christmas.
Wednesday Dad and I had a conversation and decided several things. Dad decided that he didn’t want me to get married until I was eighteen and he only wanted there to be a three month engagement and a three month courtship. Once two people decide they like each other, he stated, there shouldn’t be very long until the wedding. So the plan was for everything to be put on hold for a year.
The next year was spent not talking, not spending time together, and not being presumptuous – at least that was the goal... I don’t think my poor dad would recommend ever making sure someone knows your daughter exists. The whole plan was nicely organized into four Phases. Phase One was the wait, while things were put on hold. Phase Two was Dad’s time to drill Eli and then give his okay. It ended in September when Phase Three began. Phase Three was our courtship and it was supposed to last until December, three months before March. In December Eli could ask the big question and our engagement, Phase Four, could begin. It was scheduled to end on March 12 when forever would begin. I think, I hope anyway, that we both have a better understanding about the virtue Patience.
Finally, at long last, we started officially courting. That was on September 12, 2004 (six months before March 12). Finally we could talk on Sundays and do stuff together! I started going over to his parent’s house every Monday night for dinner and “family home evening.” We went out to dinner a couple of times and we went to a couple of movies. The funny thing is that after all that waiting to spend time together, Eli took his sister Leah on a three-week trip to the East Coast in October. It was actually nice though, because we talked on the phone for a couple hours almost every night.
Well, I was expecting the courtship to continue until about December 12 because that was three months before March. . .
. . .but I had other ideas. One of the difficulties about the Phases was their lack of spontaneity, so I made an appeal for an adjustment. About six weeks after we started courting (just after returning from the East Coast), I asked Matt if I could propose early, so that I’d have some chance to surprise Amanda with the question. Matt agreed, so I began to hunt in earnest for the ring. My mother and sister helped with that, and then I spent an evening with Karen and actually found the “one ring.” On the morning of November 6th, I bought the ring and eagerly went to spend the day with Amanda, hoping to have some chance to pop the question. My chance, I thought, would be that evening, and I anxiously awaited the right opportunity. That chance never came and I went home that night a very disappointed guy. (When I got home, I turned on the movie Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and watched the end credits because I wanted to hear music that could match my mood – the cello music there is beautiful, but kind of depressing...)
The next morning, a Sunday, dawned bright. I was responsible to pick up a friend from church and take him to the worship service that morning, and though I arrived at his house almost twenty minutes early, he was ready for me. I had planned to pick up Amanda as well, since the Lyons home was very nearly on the way to church from there, but since I had so much spare time, I decided to actually drop him off at church and then go back to pick her up alone. An opportunity!...
...It was about 9:20, I was all ready to go, and I was just waiting for Eli to show up. There was a soft knock on the door that told me he had arrived. I opened the door and let him in while I pulled on my coat. As we walked out to the car he said he had already dropped off Mr. Drinkwater at church. I thought it was rather silly that he drove all the way to church and back to our house, just for about twenty minutes of visiting in the car, but I didn’t think much of it. I got in the car and we headed toward church.
There are two exits to take to church and a couple weeks before we had had this whole discussion about which way is faster. He thought one way is faster but I disagreed. At the time we went my way so I wasn’t surprised when he went his way this time. I just thought he was experimenting about which way actually was faster. But really he was headed toward a special place where he wanted to propose.
So there we were driving along. He asked if I slept well and I said I had. He asked if my hands were cold and said that his were. Suddenly he realized that he’d forgotten his Bible. I said he didn’t really need it, but he wanted to run up to his apartment, which is close to church, and get it anyway. Later I found out that he told me that because he needed a reason to take a detour to get to this special place he had in mind. He wanted to propose somewhere pretty and some place where we could go back to in the future. So we headed toward his apartment. I was sitting there unknowingly looking out the window at the construction work that was going on while he was counting down the seconds till the right time. Then he said that he was going to be very distracted during church that day and I asked why. Suddenly my heart jumped. “Are you sure you want to know?” he asked. “Umm, I don’t know. Why?” I repeated, but at this point I knew what was going on. He pulled the car over in front of the Carnegie Building in Oregon City and got out. My heart was pounding, my face was all hot, and I was thinking, “Oh my gosh, this is it! What do I do? What do I say? I wasn’t expecting this until December! I can’t believe this is real!” Everything was going in slow motion and yet it was over so quickly. He opened my car door, pulled the ring out of his pocket, and got down on one knee. His hands were shaking. My hands were shaking. He asked the question, I said yes, he put the ring (which was exactly what I wanted) on my finger, and that was it. We were engaged.
Only a few minutes later we were at church and everything was a big blur. All my friends and everyone else were saying “Congratulations! We’re so happy for you! Can I see the ring?” And I was saying, “Thank you! Thank you! I know, isn’t it beautiful!” Finally, about halfway through the sermon, my heart stopped beating so fast, my hands stopped shaking, and I settled down a little bit.
Since then we’ve been enjoying Phase Four and making lots of wedding plans. The projected date of March 12th was only an estimate and it turns out the March 19th will work better so that’s the day we’re counting down to. Three days after we got engaged I went to David’s Bridal and bought my dress. The next weekend we looked into a beautiful room above the Oregon Historical Society Museum for the reception and found out that the only day they had open all spring was March 19th. So we put our names down right away and got that reserved. One by one, things have been falling into place and the wedding of my dreams is getting closer every day.
It seems kind of funny to make all this fuss about one day in our lives; we would be just as married if we went to the church office with a couple of witnesses and had the preacher marry us there. But this one day is an important doorway from one “Phase” in life to another. Though it’s just a doorway that we won’t be in for very long, we’re trying to make it one that we can look back on with happy memories.