Tag Archives: betrothal

The story of us :: Part 12 – afterthoughts


Ever since I hit “publish” on Part 1, I’ve been getting messages from people.  Strangers, friends, acquaintances… here are some of the questions I’ve gotten:

*Will you use that home-school program with your kids?

*Why did you stay in that home-school program if it was so bad?

*Do you resent your parents for any of the hard parts of your story?

*Are you going to allow your children to date?

*Would you recommend this courtship thing for everyone?

*Do you think your marriage has been harder because of the method you used and the fact that you didn’t know eachother very well?

*Do you feel like you missed out on anything by not dating?

Wow.  Talk about a bunch of loaded questions.  But I promised that I would answer them as best as I could.  If you don’t get a question answered to your satisfaction, write me again.  I’ll keep trying!

In regards to the program (Advanced Training Institute):  No, I will absolutely NOT be using this program or anything related to it or produced by it.  There is so much that I could say on this topic, but maybe that’s another post for another day.  For now, I will say that in the last few years as I’ve really spent time looking objectively at what is being taught and modeled by ATI, and it’s effects on myself and my peers, I’ve found it to be incredibly contrary to Scripture.  Sometimes it’s subtle things being pushed on naive young people (most often in “apprenticeship sessions” where there are no parents present) , sometimes it’s blatant misuse and twisting of Scripture.  I have a lot of friends who also grew up in ATI who have worked hard  to compile their own experiences and thoughts on the matter (I have contributed a bit, where I could).  If you are interested in learning more about the program, this is where I would direct you: www.RecoveringGrace.org

Why did I stay so long?  That one is complicated.  The biggest reason is probably because I was taught (by the program, ironically) that this program was the only godly option.  College was strongly discouraged as a dangerous idol and threat.  ATI was the only viable option presented to us, and I bought it hook, line and sinker.  I remember my dad asking once if I wanted to go to college, but I couldn’t think of anything that I would love to study.  I’d rather travel and “give God my youth” anyway.

Do I resent my parents?  Absolutely not.  I truly believe they have always done their best to give us great opportunities and learning experiences.  When we started homeschooling, there were not half as many curriculum options as there are now.  I can definitely see how ATI would appeal to parents as a “fool proof” method and Christian curriculum.  Besides, that Scripture verse (Romans 8:28) that talks about everything working together for our good?  It applies here, too.  If not for those years in ATI, I might not have met Nathan or the hundred other wonderful friends along the way.  In short, I love my parents to pieces and am so thankful to call them mine!

Can I roll two of those questions into one?  Am I going to allow my children to date, and would I recommend courtship to everyone?  Here is my answer: God doesn’t do cookie-cutters.  My hope for my children is that they will follow God.  My greatest desire to is raise adults who can hear from God for themselves and have the wherewithal to be obedient to His voice alone.  I have no desire (nor do I see it as being remotely Scriptural) to be the voice of God in their lives!  I’m quite certain that the Holy Spirit can speak to them as easily (perhaps more so)  as He speaks to me.  So if that means that God leads them to date the man of their dreams before they get married, I believe it’s possible to do that in a God-honoring way.  Courtship is not the answer to the world’s problems.  In fact, in many instances that I’ve witnessed with my friends, it can be even more dangerous and painful than a dating relationship.  But even if it’s done “right” and ends well, I have seen many negative effects.  The first of which is probably pride.  I’m sure you’ve heard it, too.

“My daughter has never kissed a man in her whole life!  She is PURE and WHOLE and has worked so hard to maintain that status!”  Or maybe “We saved our first kiss for our wedding day.  It was hard, but we did it.”  Or even “We have committed to not even touch until we are married.”  It often reeks of a list of human accomplishments.

At the same time, the rules and standards and “ideal courtship” has produced so much guilt and shame.  Because who among us can honestly avoid crushes through our teenage and young adult years?  I certainly couldn’t.  But I felt such horrible guilt over them!  So in order to maintain the appearance of absolute purity, you pretend.  There’s your next bi-product… deception.

The piece of the typical courtship model that I *do* like is parental input.  Notice I did not say parental *control*.  By the time my children are old enough to be considering marriage, I do hope that we will have a relationship of mutual trust and respect.  I will not be demanding obedience or submission from my adult daughters!  I pray that they will feel free to ask for mine and Nathan’s opinions and counsel regarding any man that catches their eye, but that they will be able to pray about it and decide for themselves.  I *do* like that the typical courtship model includes more group settings and family involvement.  Because that’s real life.  One-on-one trips to the theater are not the best for determining a person’s true character.  But toss him into the middle of a family game night and you may get a better glimpse. 😉

I could go on and on about this topic.  But hopefully my point is already made.  I think courtship *can* be good.  I think dating *can* be good.  But mostly, I think that God has to lead it.  There is no formula for a perfect marriage.  There is no cookie-cutter for a safe and pain-free journey to the alter.  How can you learn to love without making yourself vulnerable?  I love this quote by C. S. Lewis… “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket- safe, dark, motionless, airless–it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.

Do I feel that my marriage has been more difficult because of the method we used?  That’s rather impossible to answer, seeing as I’ve never been married before and have nothing to compare my experience to!  But the issues that we faced early in our marriage were, in my opinion, more easily attributed to the long-distance relationship.  Like I mentioned half-way through Part 10, I did a terrible job of addressing issues that came up during our engagement.  Because it’s easier to just get off the phone and not bring it up again.  Guess what… you can’t do that once you’re married!  So that was (maybe it still is) a learning experience for us.

Do I feel like I’ve missed out on anything by not dating?  Yes, sometimes I do.  Sometimes I wonder if my marriage would look different if we had met, been able to develop a friendship, allowed to have a crush, fall in love, THEN commit to a lifetime together.  However, that coin has another side.  Our relationship has been about commitment from the very beginning.  I committed to love Nathan long before I *felt* any love for Nathan.  It was never based on feeling.  So I wonder if that doesn’t give us more stability when our marriage hits a rough patch or dry spot, as all marriages do.

I do not regret the crushes I had before Nathan came along.  There were plenty of them!  But each one taught me something about myself.

I most *definitely* do not regret saving myself physically for Nathan alone.  Not one iota.  And I’m thankful that he kept himself for me, as well.

The point of me writing out our story, in as much detail as I could recall, was not to fling another “this is how it’s done” article into cyber-space.  There are already way too many of those floating around.  The *very last* thing that we want is for anyone to read our story and say “that’s how it ought to be done.”  God doesn’t use cookie-cutters.  One of the things I like about our story is how delightfully different it is.  God wrote it that way.

My #1 goal in writing all of this was for my kids.  Because I remember asking my parents to tell me their story.  Many times.  I always wanted more details!  Maybe it’s built into our DNA.  We love a good story.

A piece of our 6-month long honeymoon. Teluride, CO!

A piece of our 6-month long honeymoon. Teluride, CO!

Over the years, people have told us to write our story and publish it.  We have always resisted, because of our hesitation to become a cookie-cutter.  But when I recounted the story to someone who asked a few months ago, I was disturbed at how hard I had to think to recall certain parts.  That did it.  I started writing the next day.  This is God’s story.  He orchestrated it from long before we met, until now.  I don’t want any more details to be lost!

We’ve been married over 10 yrs!  It’s safe to say we’re getting better with age.  We have more fun together, are more comfortable together, love eachother more, we’re better at supporting eachother and resolving conflict, and… well… everything has gotten better.  I will be forever grateful for God giving me Nathan Terrell, and am SO looking forward to the next 10 yrs!

Even more in love than before. April 2013

Even more in love than ever before. April 2013

The story of us :: Part 11


Friday, September 13, 2002.  A day that will go down in history.  At least, it was a big one for us!  WEDDING DAY!

I woke up at 8am, excited but much calmer than I anticipated.  I took advantage of the giant garden tub in my room at the Abriendo Inn Bed and Breakfast, and soaked until I was too hungry to soak anymore!  Kimberly (my little sister/maid of honor) and I headed downstairs to check out the buffet.  It was fabulous, though I soon discovered that I was too excited to eat as much as I thought I wanted.

We drove out to my mom and dad’s house in time to catch the end of the breakfast craziness.  Can you believe that my parents made breakfast for the large crowd of friends and family staying there at the house?  I think at one point, someone counted 30 visitors on property… aside from my family!  It was a ton of fun.

There was a flurry of activity as everyone gathered dresses, shoes, curling irons, nail polish, my over-night bag, wedding planner notebook, and a hundred other little things that would come into play before the day was done.

Our first stop was the salon.  Who would have guessed?? 😉 We counted 95 tiny hair pins, carefully positioned to hold each little curl in place.  My friend Amanda did my makeup.  The moment my stylist said “All done.  How do you like it?” and showed me the mirror is the moment that everything went surreal.  Maybe it was the tiara.  Or the pile of curls on top of my head.  Whatever it was, I suddenly went from “WOW this is happening today!” to “this can’t be real.  Is this actually happening?”

I would love to recount every detail of that day in this post.  But honestly, the rest is fuzzy.  We went to the photographer’s later to don THE DRESS, and that is where Nathan and I got to see one another in all our decked-out attire!  I do remember his face when he walked into the room.  At that moment, all he said was “wow.”  What more does a girl need to hear on her wedding day?


We drove with Leslie (my friend/photographer) to a nearby park for some beautiful outdoor photos.  And we had a blast!  Who knew taking wedding pictures would be so much fun??


As we were wrapping up there, it started to rain.  Now, that might not mean much to you.  But that summer, Colorado was suffering a horrible drought.  It had been a hot couple of months, and absolutely no rain.  Everyone was so excited when those drops starting hitting the ground with such great force!  I’m not one to be a party-pooper, but I did start getting nervous.  It’s raining.  I’m outdoors.  In a beautiful white gown.  I can’t get muddy before the ceremony even happens!  Enter Prince Charming.


Seeing my beloved and getting to laugh and take pictures before the ceremony was the best thing ever for my nerves.  I was so excited to meet him at the end of that aisle.candle lighting

The ceremony was perfect.  If anything went wrong, I certainly can’t recall it now.  It felt like a dream.  The music, the candles, the vows that we wrote for eachother, everything.  Nathan suggested that we do something a little different… so we washed eachother’s feet as symbol of our commitment to serve one another.  Yes, as part of the ceremony!  I was a little hesitant about that idea, but it ended up being incredibly special for us.  My one regret is that we don’t have a good video of our wedding.  That is sad.  But I’m so thankful for beautiful photos!

wedding party

Right there is another thing we are so thankful for.  All the wonderful friends and family who were a part of our wedding!  It would not have been the same without any one of them.

Back then, everyone thought it was super fun that I was marrying a Mexican! 😉 Okay, he’s technically American.  But he’s lived in Mexico most of his life!  Someone suggested that we do a Mexican-style reception.  So we did!  Chips, guacamole, taquitos, and about a thousand little tortilla pinwheel things that my dad (and several friends) made.  It was a blast!!  My sweet uncle made us plates, in case the food was gone by the time the receiving line was over.  I did not realize that it would take so long to get 350 people through a receiving line!  But truly, I would do it the same way again.  I loved getting to hug and greet every single person there.

It’s hard to choose a favorite part of the reception.  But if I had to, I would say it was this one…


I don’t remember whose idea it was to have our fathers give us a blessing.  I had never seen anything like that done, and really wasn’t sure what to expect.  But it was precious.  Both mine and Nathan’s dad prayed that God would bless our marriage, future children, and lives.  I wish I had that on video.

Now let’s be really honest.  A reception is not really a party until the cake comes out, right??  We had amazing cake.  Almond poppy-seed with vanilla buttercream frosting.  Lots and lots of it.  And now I have the urge to go bake something.

It was an incredible day.  One that I will always remember with deep appreciation and fondness.


“I’m so glad I found you. If I had my life to live over again, next time, I’d find you sooner so I could love you longer.”

The story of us :: Part 10


The rest of our engagement was a whirlwind of activity!  Dress shopping, cake tasting, list making, day dreaming, and even a few visits with my beloved.  I learned during this time that attempting to please everyone in every area of wedding planning is completely impossible.  But boy, did I try!  My parents were truly amazing through the whole ordeal.  For every decision, there was first my opinion to weigh.  Then someone (other than my parents) would object to some piece (or all) of it.  Then came the negotiating.  Many times I would ask my parents “what do you think?  How should we do this?”  I can not recall any response that didn’t boil down to “it’s your wedding… we just want you to be happy with it.”  They were amazing.  And so extremely patient.

I do remember one time that there was a particularly stressful decision on the table.  It was one of those “darned if you do, darned if you don’t” kind of things.  I agonized over the options, knowing that someone would be unhappy no matter what.  It was at this point that my dad said, “how about I just give you all this money that we’re spending on the wedding, and you and Nathan can elope.”  I think he was kidding. 😉

When I met Nathan’s family for the first time, we had already been engaged for over 4 months!  (For those who are not familiar with our family, Nathan’s parents moved to Mexico to be missionaries when Nathan was 8.  They live in the Southern state of Chiapas, which is a looooong ways South of the border.  So coming to the U.S. is a huge event that does not happen often.)  They were traveling all over the U.S. and planned a stop in Colorado to meet my family!  The only trouble was that I was leaving *early* the morning after they arrived to drive to Dallas with my sister Kimberly.  Which means that after they pulled in at midnight, we sat up and talked until 2 and then I said “sorry, I have a 12 hr drive tomorrow. I have to get some sleep!”  Bummer.

I was able to see Nathan 3 times during our engagement.  The longest was for his family reunion in California!  He paid for my flight, and I think I bit my nails all the way there.  Actually I’ve never bit my nails.  But if I did, I would have been on that flight.  I was so nervous to be meeting all of the aunts, uncles, grandma, cousins, and actually be spending a bunch of time with Nathan’s immediate family!  It didn’t take long for that nervousness to be replaced by excitement.  And maybe a little bit of intimidation.  Nathan’s family is so much fun!  It was a big reunion, with family from all over 2 countries.

Who wouldn't want to spend a week with this crazy bunch?? Can you find me and Nathan?

Who wouldn’t want to spend a week with this crazy bunch?? Can you find me and Nathan?

This reunion was just 3 weeks before our wedding.  I felt slightly insane being that close to the wedding date (SO much left to do!) and leaving the state for the week.  But it was totally worth it.  I fell in love with Nathan’s family that week.  Had some great talks with his aunts and grandma, got to know the siblings a bit, and of course enjoyed getting so much face time with Nathan!

At a beautiful dinner during the reunion. Great memories!

At a nice dinner during the reunion.

When it was time to go home, I said goodbye to Nathan one last time.  So relieved that the next time I saw him, it would be for our wedding and we wouldn’t have to keep doing this long-distance relationship!

Is this a good spot to talk about long-distance relationships?  Allow me to tell you one major issue that I discovered with ours.  Of course, I did not realize it was an issue until well after we were married.  We never learned to fight!  I’m not a good fighter, anyway.  I tend to avoid conflict like the plague.  I’m not sure why, it’s just how I’m wired.  Maybe that’s okay some of the time!  But when you’re married, or even about to get married,  you have to learn how to DEAL with conflict.  Not just breeze over it.  However, if your relationship is long-distance, it’s MUCH easier to just brush it under the rug.  So that’s what I did!  When we came across a topic that we did not agree on, it was simple to just say goodbye and hang up the phone instead of actually getting into the issue and working through it.  Obviously, this became an issue after we were married and I couldn’t just hang up.  But that’s another post for another day.

Sep 1st, all of the wedding fun began!  My girlfriends began arriving from all over the place, and we all had too much fun to bother with things like sleep.  😉  There were nails to paint, dresses to pick up, hairs to curl, rental items to check out, parties to be had… it was a fun time!  Remember, I was still living at home all this time, so it was my parent’s house that was overflowing with girls and hair products!  Once again, they were fantastic.  So very patient and tolerant of the late night giggle-fests, even cooking one amazing meal after another for us!

Nathan left his job at ETMC, packed up his few belongings, and drove to Colorado.  10 days before the wedding.  The next thing we knew, it was rehearsal day.  We set up and decorated, and things started to feel very real.  My parents did this huge amazing BBQ for our entire wedding party and all of the out-of-town guests.  It was definitely the party before the party!  As I sit here remembering those wonderfully busy days, I’m overwhelmed with gratitude once again.

For my friends, who worked tirelessly to help set up and tear down.  For my photographer and friend, who insisted on putting me and my sister Kimberly at a Bed and Breakfast the night before the wedding (she was sure I wouldn’t get any sleep with 8 girls camped out on my floor).  For the sweet ladies in our church, who helped make so much food and drinks.  For my precious grandpa/pastor, who patiently walked through the rehearsal with us more than once… and kept us laughing the whole time.  But most especially for my parents.  They went above and beyond when it came to our wedding.  They invested many hours of cooking, cleaning, setting up, and calming my nerves.

I drifted to sleep that night feeling so blessed.  This was my last night as an unmarried woman!  I knew that tomorrow would be wonderful, I just had no idea HOW wonderful.

The story of us :: Part 9


The next month was… too much for just one descriptive word.  Surreal.  Awkward.  Wonderful.  Scary.  Exciting.  Overwhelming.  Happy.

Our engagement photo

Our engagement photo

Nathan got a job at my dad’s shop for the few weeks that he had left in Colorado.  He asked if he could come down before breakfast every morning so that we could do our morning Bible study together, and those times rapidly became my favorite time of the day.  We would read a bit of Scripture, then spend a few minutes praying together.  That’s when I got to know the real Nathan.

There is a piece of a person that is only revealed when they are speaking to the Creator of the universe.  I loved what I saw and heard there.  When Nathan prays, there is a boldness and familiarity coupled with humility.  The first time I heard him pray, I was taken back.  With me and my family he is gentle, kind, very respectful, and often silly.  But when he prays, he becomes a warrior.  There is a verse (Heb 4:16) that reminds me so much of Nathan.  It says: Let us then fearlessly and confidently and boldly draw near to the throne of grace (the throne of God’s unmerited favor to us sinners), that we may receive mercy [for our failures] and find grace to help in good time for every need.

Every day, we would have that quiet time together, then I’d run and get ready for work so we could drive into town together in Nathan’s car.  It was a stick-shift, but we managed to hold hands and change gears together somehow. 🙂 Holding hands was the extent of our physical contact thus far, as we were both operating under the assumption that the other wanted to wait for our wedding to have our first kiss.  That was the generally accepted standard in our circles, and we had not questioned it… yet.

We had talked to my parents about this issue of physical boundaries.  In essence, they told us that we had to decide.  We needed to discuss it, draw the line where we felt it should be drawn, and stick to it.  Their counsel was that drawing the line *before* kissing made it a nice clear line.  After that, it becomes more difficult, if your goal is to save the most intimate things for after you are married.  That was good advice.  Draw your line, wherever it may be, and stick to it.

February 14th, 2002 was our first Valentine’s Day!  But Nathan had to leave early that morning in order to get back to TX.  He was signed up to help instruct a dive trip in FL, then begin working at East Texas Medical Center after that.  I was not a happy camper about him leaving, but especially on Valentine’s Day!  I decided to make the best of it, and woke up at the crack of dawn to make a special breakfast.  I’m pretty sure my mom helped me with that big breakfast, because I was not remotely comfortable in the kitchen at that point in my life!  (Thanks for the help, Mom!)

After breakfast, we said goodbye.  We hugged for a few minutes and I cried.  Saying goodbye at this point stung badly.  We had just begun getting to know eachother.  The only wedding planning we had done was deciding on a church.  I wasn’t sure when I would see him again.  It was a sad day!

We talked on the phone A LOT over the next few months.  Nathan moved in with a family he had grown close to at ALERT, and worked insanely long hours at the ER.  He loved it!  I’m sure his cell phone bill was outrageous.  And my poor parents basically did not have a phone for the hours that I was home from work (sorry about that again, Mom and Dad)!  During one of these long conversations, the topic of the first kiss came up.  My take on it was something like “I don’t want to share that special moment with 350 people.”  Nathan’s response was “OH GOOD! Neither do I!”  I’m glad we got that settled!  I had no idea when our first kiss would be, but felt relieved that we didn’t have to share it with a crowd.

My 22nd birthday (April 24th, 2002) was supposed to be a regular old day.  Go to work, come home, probably have a dinner party with my family.  Instead, I was awakened long before my alarm was set to go off.  By someone coming into my room, carrying a candle, kissing me gently on the forehead and saying “happy  birthday, Beautiful.”  It was Nathan!!  I squinted at him for a minute, trying to decide if this was real.  Nathan is in Texas.  I think I’m in Colorado.  What is going on??  I sat up and said “what are you doing here??”  He laughed at my shocked face and then told me he drove up late last night so he could spend my birthday with me.  YAY!  I suddenly became very aware of my morning breath.  He said he wanted to take me to breakfast, so hurry and get ready.

We went out for my favorite breakfast food: cream cheese blintzes with strawberries at IHOP!  After I had thoroughly stuffed myself, we walked out to my car.  I pointed out the hill behind IHOP.  It was just a bare hill now, recently cleared for construction.  We drove up it and talked for a few minutes, enjoying the slightly elevated view of the city.  And then, there it was.  Our first kiss.  Not just OUR first kiss, but my first kiss EVER!  It was short and sweet and we both smiled like idiots for the rest of the day.

I’m sure I received other gifts for my birthday that year.  But that was the most memorable one!

The story of us :: Part 8


We left the restaurant and rode home in her Jeep together. Alone for the first time. She was wearing an engagement ring and she asked me how old I was, my middle name, if I had siblings. I was a little shocked at how little she knew about me and yet had said yes. A very trusting person with a heart of gold. I am a very lucky guy.


The next few days were interesting.  Nathan moved up to my grandparent’s guest room (they live on the same property with my parents, just 1/4 mile away) but spent all of his time down at our house.

The day after I said yes was our first disagreement, and my first glimpse into marital compromising!  We called Nathan’s parents so I could “meet” them.  Until now, he and I had only been talking about us.  Getting to know eachother, etc.  Remember we’ve been engaged (or betrothed, depending on who you asked) for less than a day!  As we talked to his parents they asked about a wedding date.  Oh.  Yeah.  Maybe we should pick one.  I said “well I’ve always wanted a Christmas wedding.  With white lights, poinsettias, and snow!”  Nathan and his parents said “Christmas is just a day… and that’s 11 months away!”  That was a good point.  None of us wanted an 11 month engagement!  But I had a hard time letting go of the Christmas wedding idea.  Nathan’s only real opinion on the issue was something like “the sooner the better.”  Eventually we settled on September 13th. 8 months and 3 days away.  Let the countdown begin!

Our parents were planning some sort of dinner for us that coming Friday night.  I think they called it a betrothal dinner.  They invited all of our family from around the state to join us for a big dinner at my parent’s house.  I can’t remember which parent requested it, but they asked that we not hold hands until then.

Nathan and I went ring shopping a couple of times that week.  He had just graduated from ALERT, had not begun working yet, and had a very tight budget.  He told me how much he had to spend, and we began hunting… each time dragging one of my little siblings along with us!  At one point, a beautiful sparkle caught my eye.  We looked at the ring, then I saw the price tag and quickly handed it back.  NOT in the budget!  Moving on!  But Nathan saw.  As we left that store he said “oh hang on!  I want that guy’s business card for later.  Be right back!”  He ran back into the store, returning in less than a minute.  I was discouraged.  I had really hoped to have a real ring on by Friday night.  Oh well.

Friday night rolled around, and dinner was wonderful!  My mom has a knack for making meals perfect.  Candles, tablecloths, the whole 9 yards.  Over the course of the dinner, we told our story.  Much of my family thought this was insane.  Engaged to a total stranger.  But they listened sweetly anyway!  After we finished telling the story, my parents gave us a box that Peter and Jamie (Nathan’s parents) had ordered.  In it was a silver cup, engraved with our names.  My dad read aloud an e-mail they had sent as well.  It was all very sweet.

My dad giving Nathan my hand.

My dad giving Nathan my hand.

After the cup, my dad giving Nathan my hand, and a precious prayer over the two of us, it was official.  We were betrothed.

Shortly after all of that, I noticed that Nathan was missing.  Maybe he’s hyper-ventilating in a corner somewhere?  Or maybe he freaked out and is on his way back to Texas?  I asked Kimberly if she knew where he went.  Either she’s a better liar than I thought, or she was as clueless as me.  A few minutes later, there was a knock at the front door.  When it opened, there was Nathan.  With one of our horses.  He held his hand out to me, then lifted me up onto the horse!

Side-saddle in a jean skirt. Off into the darkness we rode!

Side-saddle, bare-back, in a jean skirt. I should add that to my resume.

We rode off into the darkness.  I had no idea what was going on, but I loved that Nathan had planned something.  We rode up to the top of a hill, then Nathan hopped down and stood in front of me.  He said something about being honored that I agreed to be his wife, and excited to start our lives together.  Then he slid the plastic ring off my finger and replaced with something much heavier.  I strained to see what it was, but MAN was it ever dark out there!  I couldn’t see a thing.  I knew Nathan had a flashlight (we weren’t sure how Jed, our sweet horse, would do riding in the dark) but he wouldn’t let me have it!  He got a kick out of torturing me all the way home.  But as soon as I got inside, I saw it.  THE RING!  Nathan went back and got the one that caught my eye.  That’s when I knew.  He’s a sweet one. 🙂

Back at the house for dessert, now with a REAL diamond on my finger!

Back at the house for dessert, now with a REAL diamond on my finger!

The story of us :: Part 7


I woke up a few hours later to the rhythmic THWACK of wood being chopped outside my window.  I sat up, looked outside, and there he was.  So this is real.  Not some crazy dream.  That man actually proposed to me last night, and now I have a decision to make.  A really really big one.  I have to call Amanda!

I recounted the whole episode over the phone, while standing at the window watching the handsome wood-chopper.  Re-telling the story made it feel real.  We had a moment or two of squealing.  Just then, Nathan looked up!  I froze.  He smiled and waved, then went back to swinging the axe.  If he was trying to impress me, it worked.


The next day I wasn’t really sure what to do, so I got out of the house and did some ranch work. Once I caught her looking out the window at me with a phone to her ear. Either telling her best friend that prince charming was in her yard, or getting tips on how to get rid of the body and hide the evidence.


Hahahaha!  It was definitely not the latter.  We hung up the phone and I knew I had to get out of there.  My parents had told me the night before that they, Nathan, and Nathan’s parents had been fasting and praying about all of this for a few days.  So I decided I would join them for today, and head to the mountains.

I grabbed my Bible, a water bottle, and my journal and hopped in my Jeep.  By now, Nathan was laying under my mom’s car, working on something.  I slipped by and thought “well at least he’s awfully handy to have around…”

I drove 20 minutes towards the mountains, to a little lake in Colorado City.  And that’s where I spent the rest of my day.

I have no idea how long I sat there, thinking outloud, praying, asking God to make this VERY clear.  Eventually I picked up my Bible and flipped open to the “Psalm of the day”.  It’s January 8th, so we start on Psalm 8.  As I started to read, my memory took over and I began to recite.  Complete with hand-motions.  Wait… what am I doing???  Then the realization dawns.  This is the Psalm we learned with the children in Monterrey.  The week I met Nathan.  That could be a coincidence… right???

I read for a long time.  Through many Psalms, random Proverbs, and who knows where else.  There was no rhyme or reason to it, I just read.  Then something I read would make me think “oh that reminds me of this other passage…” and I’d go off in search of it.  But no matter what I read, I could only see two words.  Faith.  Trust.

Finally I dropped my Bible onto my lap and said aloud “seriously God, You know I trust You.  But what am I supposed to do with it?  Am I supposed to marry this guy on faith???”

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart.”

“Yeah I know.  I do.  I am!  But this is too weird.  I don’t even know Nathan.”

“Lean not on your own understanding.”

I shook my head.  This is bizarre.  What will people think?

Somewhere deep inside, I felt it.  Clear as a bell.  “You can trust Me.  I know you better than anyone.  I know Nathan better than anyone.  If I say you are perfect for eachother, what more do you need to know?”  Okay.  That settles it then.

I’ll say yes.

I wish there were words to describe the peace I felt that day.  Once I stopped wrestling and questioning, I was flooded with peace.  And excitement!  I spent the rest of my time writing out my answer.  I wanted to give him a detailed answer, as he had presented a detailed question.  I outlined my thoughts and feelings about him from day 1 until now.  All the while, I was floating.  Not another question or doubt in my mind. I KNEW.


She asked for a family dinner that evening at a favorite TexMex place in town. Grandma and Grandpa too. We sat mid table across from each other. She had made notes and for a moment I thought this was it. 101 ways to tell a guy to beat it. Then she read aloud and her reading said “yes” only in more words that I can’t remember. I don’t think I was listening anymore. I was grinning like an oaf.

The face of a happy boy (and my sweet brother Billy next to him)

The face of a happy boy (and my sweet brother Billy next to him)


I read through my answer, my voice and hands shaking.  Can this be happening?  As I finished, I looked up at Nathan (he really was grinning like an oaf!  So adorable!) then I heard my grandma and mom sniffling.  Oh no.  Not the water works!  🙂  I went down to hug them both, and the sniffs were soon replaced by laughter.  We were ALL so happy!

Not the best picture, but I'm glad someone snapped it!

Funny picture, but I’m glad someone snapped it!


When she left her place for a moment to hug her mom and dad I placed a cheap ring from wal-mart on her empty plate. I had picked it up a few days ago with her brother Billy, who knew what she liked. I still have no idea how I had missed all the classes on romance in my life, but I swear I will teach my son better.


No, he’s not kidding!  There really was a plastic Walmart ring on my plate when I sat back down.  But I didn’t care.  It was a REALLY pretty fake. 😉

The rest of the dinner was nervous, excited, and again… kinda awkward!  But it was a great night.  When dinner was over, my dad suggested that Nathan and I drive home in my car.  Alone.  Eek!  NOW I’m nervous!

As we drove away Nathan said “well I know an awful lot about you.  But I’m sure there are things you want to ask me…”  My mind was reeling with questions.  But I did a quick prioritizing session and said “yeah….”  He said “go ahead! Ask me anything.”

Okay.  First things first.  “How old are you?”  23.  16 months older than me.  Phew.

“What’s your middle name?  Do you have any siblings?  What are your parents like?  Where were you born?”

As he answered my questions, it dawned on me how crazy this was.  These are first introduction kind of questions.  I looked down at the ring on my finger.  I just asked my FIANCE how old he is???  I may have had a slight freak-out moment.  But very quickly, God whispered to my heart “keep trusting Me. This is right.”  As soon as I would respond in my head “okay I trust You” the peace would come flooding back.

God and I would have that exact conversation several times over the next 9 months!

The story of us :: Part 6


This is where the story gets really good.  And a little bizarre.  But mostly good.

It was early evening when my flight from Michigan landed in Colorado Springs.  My dad met me at the gate and we chatted casually about my trip as we got my suitcase and then headed out to the parking lot.  When we got outside I noticed a beautiful white limousine out of the corner of my eye and muttered to my dad “whoa… that’s pretty.”  I kept walking in the direction of the parking lot, happily chatting my dad’s leg off.  Until he said “Julie… this is for us…” and stood next to the open door of the limo.


I had never been in a limo before.  I’m not sure how long I stood there with my mouth hanging open, but it must have been several seconds because my dad had to tell me again “this is ours!  Come on!”  I climbed in, looked around, and instantly became very nervous.  I asked my dad “what’s going on? Did someone die??”  He laughed and said no.  My hands started to shake, and my dad chuckled and offered me a drink from the ice-box between our seats.  Pepsi or Sprite?  Are you serious??  I’m not thirsty!  Why are we in a limo right now??

Finally he decided to stop torturing me, and he reached for my hand.

“Honey, remember when you said a few months ago that if God wanted you to get married, he would have to show you the man’s name in the Bible?”

I nodded.  My heart began to race.

My dad reached into his jacket and pulled out his little pocket Bible.  He flipped it open, handed it to me and said “I know you were kidding. But can you read me that piece that I have highlighted right there?”

I took the Bible from him and scanned the page for the yellow highlighted words.  There they are.  2 Sam 12:1 “And God sent Nathan.”

My eyes were probably as big as my face when I looked back up at my dad.  He said, “You know Nathan has been here the whole time you were visiting Amanda.  He has not asked to get to know you, or for permission to pursue a casual relationship.  He has asked for your hand in marriage, and your mom and I have given our blessing.  It’s totally up to you now.”


(Nathan’s perspective will be in bold type so we can switch back and forth)

I wanted Burnie to be able to focus on talking to Julie about everything so I hired a limo to handle the transportation. I told him that he should let her know why I was really here on the way home from the airport an hour away. If she was ok with it, then I would stay and we could talk… if not then I could be gone before they were home and they would not hear from me again. He proposed a middle option as well, that I could just give her some time and wait for a few days nearby if she wanted to talk later. I really didn’t expect her to be interested despite what her family all said… that she would be. I had my bags packed in the car when Burnie left and then waited in the kitchen for the call, expecting to hear “hit the road, Jack”.


I was full of questions.  I fired them off as fast as they came to mind.  But the only ones my dad would answer were the ones about his own personal thoughts on the matter.  Everything I asked about Nathan or how this came about was met with “well that’s Nathan’s part of the story… I’ll let him answer that one.”  What I *did* learn is that my dad had a lot of respect for Nathan.  He said that he and my mom both thought that Nathan was a great match for me, and they would give their full support if I decided to go for it.

When my questions slowed to a trickle, Dad told me that Nathan’s bags were packed and he was waiting for an answer.  If it’s no, he’ll be gone and I’ll never hear about it again.  If it’s maybe, he’s prepared to stay somewhere else until I am ready to hear his side.  If it’s yes, he wants to talk when we get home.  I hesitated.  Then he asked, “Do you want him to leave?”  No hesitation this time.  “No!  No don’t let him leave.  I want to hear what he has to say.”

We were getting close to home when the limo dropped us off at my dad’s truck, and I heard him make the call.  “It’s a yellowish-green light.  She wants to hear your story.”

I started getting nervous.  Is this really happening?  This is weird.  I don’t even know this guy.  How is he so sure about me?  What guts it must take to put himself on the line like this.  I hope I don’t hurt him.  What if he’s a dork?  No, he can’t be a dork if my dad likes him.  My dad knows me better than anyone.  If he says I will like him, I’m sure I will.  Can I say maybe?  What if I can’t be as decisive about him as he has been about me?  Will he wait until I’m sure?  We have exchanged only a handful of words in 5 yrs.  This is so weird.  I’m not old enough to make this kind of decision.  I could be walking into a marriage proposal tonight, and I just stepped off a plane with only 3 hrs of sleep under my belt.  Ack!  Where is a mirror???

We pulled into the driveway and my little siblings came pouring out the front door.  They knew.  They were all so excited, hugging and chattering and taking my bags inside.

There he was.  Standing in the door, holding it open for me, smiling.  I walked in, completely unsure of what to do with my now-empty hands.  Hugging would seem awfully familiar… shaking his hand would be too formal…  Maybe I can just buzz past and look like I’m in a hurry to hug my mom.  Then Nathan stuck his hand out and instinctively I responded.  We just shook hands.  He’s proposing to me tonight and I just shook his hand.  This may very well be the most awkward moment of my life.

Finally I got to my mom!  We stood in the kitchen and hugged.  I whispered “what do you think of this??” and she whispered back “we are so excited.”  Then she pulled back, looked right into my eyes, and said “Honey, this is completely your call.  We think he’s great, but it’s entirely up to you and we will support whatever decision you make…”  Then, with a twinkle in her eye, she added “…but if you say no I will kick your fanny all over these 200 acres!”  Of course she was kidding!  But that’s what I needed to know.  She’s on board.

Suddenly I became aware of some soft piano music playing in the background, the fire in the fireplace, and the complete absence of all my brothers and sisters.  My mom gave me a nudge and said “go on!  He’s anxious to talk to you.”  And again my eyes grew wide.  “hu uh.  I’m not going in there alone!  Please come with me?”  She and my dad agreed.  They calmly sat down on the couch and I quickly parked myself next to my dad.


I was floored when he said “she wants to meet you tonight”. So once she was home and had hugged and kissed everyone I sat on the ottoman in the living room and told her my story. Every time I had met her, how it had affected me, and how I felt God had been the one arranging all these “coincidental” meetings. I really hadn’t planned very well what to say next so what came out was “so basically I am asking you to marry me.” Blah… no jumbotron, no sky writing, not even a fancy diner, down on one knee and with a ring. I didn’t even have a ring. Yes, I hold the record for the lamest proposal ever in the history of man, maybe even life on this planet. Earthworms have me beat for romantic flair.


It was actually about an hour of listening to Nathan recount every meeting (including the first) we ever had.  I was floored by how detailed his memory was.  Shocked that I made such an impression.  Impressed by how calm and collected he was, even giving this speech to me AND my parents.  He ended with “So basically I am asking you to marry me.  I’m not just asking you to be my wife, but to also be a missionary wife.  God has called me back to Mexico, and I plan to be a missionary there for the rest of my life.”  Wow.  So, nothing big or important to decide on, hu?

At the end of his speech, he said “Just tell me what to do.  Say the word and I’ll go back to Texas and never bother you again.  Or if you want, I can stay somewhere else until you’re ready to see me again.  I can work around here for a few weeks so we can talk more…  I’ll do whatever.”

Part of me wanted to be caught up in the emotion of it and say yes on the spot.  Part of me panicked.  When he finished talking he looked expectantly at me.  My parents followed suit.  I was pretty solidly in a state of shock at this point, and managed to get out something like “can I have a day to think about this?”  Nathan said “of course!  Take all the time you need.  I’m going to go to bed now.  Goodnight!”


She shocked me by asking if she could take some time to think about it! I slept like a rock, no worries, heck; I had expected to be on my way back to Dallas at this point.


My parents sat with me for a few minutes and we talked about what Nathan had just told me.  I asked about the missionary idea and I remember SO clearly what my dad said, as it has been a massive source of encouragement to me over the years.  “Being a missionary would be hard. But I’ve always thought that if any of my children could do it, it would be you.”

It was now after 10 pm, so my parents went to bed.  I fell asleep about 5 hrs later.  I tried to pray, but my thoughts were all over the place.  I tried to sleep, but I could not lay still.  I finally just starting asking God to make things more clear in the morning, and let me rest.  He did both.

The story of us :: Part 5


This season was an interesting one in my life.  I came to grips with the fact that I truly did want to be married, but decided to make the most of whatever I had left of singleness.  I had a realization that once I *did* have a significant other, my attention would be divided, and I’d never be this free to grow in my relationship with God again.  So those two months truly were blissfully ignorant!  I had no idea what was going on with Nathan…


I got a call that same day (Oct 31, 2001) from Burnie (Julie’s dad). He and his wife Pam were going to pick up Julie’s little sister Kimberly in Dallas in a few weeks and they would like to meet me. They picked me up at my barracks at ALERT and we talked all the way to Dallas, lunch at a Mexican place and then to the training center. I liked them a lot. I like people that ask real questions, pay attention to the answers and don’t use artificial smiles to convince you they are listening. I stayed for Kiki’s graduation and met her afterwards with her mom and dad, only briefly.

Kimberly's graduation from EXCEL (part of ATI)

Kimberly’s graduation from EXCEL (part of ATI)

Burnie and I were in touch a lot after that. He said that the whole thing was still a secret from Julie and asked if that was ok. I told him I would rather that he was ok with me as a decent person for his daughter first… then if I passed the test he could see how she felt about me. I didn’t know he was literally going to send me a test every week to answer. Questions about how I viewed child rearing, missions, God, life purpose… then he sent me Julie’s answers to the same questions. I liked her even more.

Nathan (top row, 2nd from right) with his paramedic unit

Nathan (top row, 2nd from right) with his paramedic unit

December 8th 2001 I graduated from Paramedics and finished my time at ALERT. I went just down the road to Tyler, TX and found a job as an ER tech at a level one trauma center. I told them I would start the end of March 2002. There was an ALERT dive trip to FL that I had been invited to be an instructor for in Feb-March, and I had a little side trip to Colorado to make in-between. Julie left her home on December 29th in the morning, and about an hour later I drove up the driveway. She was going to be gone visiting her friend in MI for 10 days and I was going to be visiting her family for that time. It was like final exams week for me, but the whole family was all really easy to love. Julie thought I was there to look for a job because I speak Spanish and much of the nearby city of Pueblo speaks Spanish. Her dad has the best poker face on the planet. A few days in, Burnie said that he and Pam were ok with me, and asked how we should proceed.


I thoroughly enjoyed my visit with my dear friend Amanda (who is still one of my dearest friends)!  One night, sitting in her room, I told Amanda that it was strange how suddenly content I was to be single..  Beyond content, I was actually enjoying it.  Realizing that I have so much freedom right now to travel, shop, work, and just generally be footloose.  She laughed and said “now that you’ve reached that point, God will probably change it up and bring you a man.”  Haha!  You’d never considered yourself a prophet before, had you, Amanda?

I called home to talk to my family one night, after my first experience with snow-boarding.  My knees and backside hurt so bad I could barely move!  I had a blast though.  Nothing like making a complete fool of yourself with your best friend.

Amanda and me

Amanda and me

My family passed the phone around and I got to talk to everyone for a few minutes.  Then Billy (bratty little brother!) says “here talk to Nathan!” and handed the phone off.  Hello awkward conversation!  Nathan was as polite as he could be (I think we each said “hey…. umm…. how’s it goin… good…”) and then passed the phone to one of my parents.  I laughed and said “that was weird!  How are interviews going for Nathan?”  They lied very well and said “great!”  When I hung up I told Amanda “that was strange.  Something is going on.”  We figured, at the very most, he was going to ask for permission to court me.

As I type that, it occurs to me that it may sound strange to someone not familiar with courtship vs. dating.  So here is the nutshell description.  ATI strongly discourages dating, and offers courtship as better, safer alternative.  It entails a much higher level of involvement on the parents part, more group “dates”, and only chaperoned time together.  Courting is never just “for fun” but always with the end goal of marriage.  We had several talks about it in our family over the years, and all of us kids were on board with the idea.  So that’s what I expected from Nathan at this point.  Requesting permission to court me.  I was about to be very surprised.

The story of us :: Part 4


After that 2001 Knoxville conference, I went home to work for my dad as a receptionist for his construction company. I thoroughly enjoyed that time, getting to see my dad and grandma (she works for him too, to this day!) every day. It was refreshing to be in the “real world” where I was treated as a capable adult… which made me want to be one!

Maybe this would be the place to clarify some things about my up-bringing.  While the homeschool organization my family was with was terribly controlling, my parents were nothing like that.  In fact, I never really told them a lot of what went on during my years at HQ, Russia, Michigan, Dallas, and everywhere else I traveled to with ATI.  I feel really stupid about that now, and it’s hard to explain in a short post.  But I had been convinced (or instructed in some cases) that telling my parents negative things about my authorities there would be wrong of me.  Of all the things I struggled through in my late teens and early twenties, none of it was at the hand of my parents.  Really, what matters in this story is that my parents did not subscribe to the high control, zero trust mentality.  I felt that they trusted me, and expected me to act in a manner worthy of trust.  I appreciated it back then, but even more now that I have my own kids and can appreciate the challenge of parenting!  Okay.  Back to the story!

By this time, I had a pretty decent crush on another guy I’d met in my travels.  We had kept in touch once I went home, and I was beginning to think that *he* might be THE ONE.  Until one day he called and told me he was proposing to a girl at his school that night.  *Cue heart-wrenching music*  Yes, I was really hurt.  I cried on my dad’s shoulder and told him, “That’s it.  I’m not cut out for this relationship stuff.  I don’t even want to attempt this again.  If God wants me to get married, He’s going to have to show me the guy’s name in the Bible or something.”  This is also when I decided that I was way too easily wooed, and needed my dad to run interference for me.  My dad wasn’t so sure about this idea, but I was.  My new rule was “if a guy asks me out before he talks to my dad, he’s out. Period.”  I figured that was not an impossible requirement for God to work around.  My dad reluctantly agreed.  Our deal was that I didn’t want to know of any guy being interested until my parents could give him their stamp of approval.  I didn’t want to run the risk of falling for a guy and then having my parents disapprove.

That’s when guys starting coming out of the woodwork.  Random strangers, old neighbors, bizarre acquaintances, even one guy that my dad threatened with a restraining order.  Creepy.  But without exception, they all approached me first… making it even easier to say no.

During this time I was doing a weekly Bible study with my grandma.  I can’t even tell you how much I loved that.  I’ve always felt close to her, but that time was really special for us.  I confided a lot in her, and she prayed a lot for me.  I am so incredibly thankful for such Godly parents and grandparents.  I spent the remainder of 2001 just loving being with my family.

With 2 of my siblings (Kimberly and Billy), July `01.

2 of my siblings (Kimberly and Billy) and me 7/8/01

On October 30th 2001, I had a little melt-down.  I don’t remember what brought it on, but I remember the tears and telling my mom “I lied. I DO want to get married.”  She and my grandma prayed long and hard for me that night.  I don’t think anyone expected God to answer them so quickly.

Let’s jump back a little so Nathan can catch you up on his part of the story…


Back at ALERT, after Knoxville, I called my dad. “I think I have found the woman I should marry.” He didn’t take me seriously … again. This was the second time I had mentioned her. After Flint was the first, but I didn’t think I had a chance then, not much of one now maybe either.

Nathan doing tech rescue training in Yosemite

Nathan doing tech rescue training in Yosemite

In basic training I had learned that crashing and burning is not the end of life. If she said “no” at least there would be that. I spoke to a friend in the administration building there at ALERT. He got me into the home school registry system, we had Julie’s family picture and her grades, but no contact info. I called a unit buddy’s sister at ATI headquarters and finally got her dad’s work and cell numbers. I told my dad again that this is serious and if you want me to use the courtship system you need to call Burnie Zercher for the “my son would like to court your daughter” talk. As unimpressed with the formal mold of courtship as I was, I felt she must like it. Maybe she wanted more, but that I was doing it wrong and she wanted me to go about it correctly. That was my only hope since the alternative was that she was just out of my league.


Back to me again!  Remember at this time I’m working for my dad at his office, with my grandma?  Oct 31st, the day after my melt-down, turned out to be monumental.  My grandma answered the office phone, then asked me if I’ve heard of someone named Peter Terrell.  He said he was calling from Mexico, near the Guatemala border… should she put the call through to my dad?  Strange.  But definitely YES!  I went and stood in my dad’s office doorway, watching him calmly talk on the phone.  He said little more than “okay… interesting… sounds good.”  Then he hung up and went back to whatever he was doing.  “Dad!!”  He turns to me and says “yes?”  “Well?  What was that about?  Why is Peter Terrell calling you?  Isn’t that Nathan’s dad?”  Without batting an eye, he replied, “Oh yeah, I think so.  His son is graduating ALERT soon, and Headquarters gave him my information in case I could help set him up with some interviews.”  Oh.  Well that’s not so interesting after all.  I went back to working thinking “well maybe I’ll see him when he comes for interviews.”  That was the end of it!  Little did I know, the conversation had to do with an entirely different kind of interview.

Peter (Nathan’s dad) asked if I was spoken for, and informed my dad that Nathan was interested in pursuing a relationship with me.  He also said that Nathan did not want me brought into the loop until my parents were okay with him.  DING DING DING!  We have a winner, folks!!  I assume that Peter gave my dad some contact info for Nathan, and they hung up.

The ball was rolling, now!  But I would remain blissfully ignorant for 2 more months.

The story of us :: Part 3


This seems like a good spot to let Nathan tell you his part of our story thus far.  So here it is, in his own words!


After repeated requests by my sweet wife, culminating with a full day of her doing nothing but asking me to dictate to her my thoughts on the mater, I have decided to give in. I say “give in” because at some level I believe that there is a chance someone will try to take our story and force the emulation of it on themselves or their hapless child. Like fitting a square peg into a round hole. I believe that God has made us all unique and has fitted us each with a special spot in history and a specific person. At that spot we will meet that person and He will have a chance to write our story. The fact that it is unique is what makes it special. Copying someone else’s story robs the beauty of your own.

So, I was 18 yrs old and had spent the recent year traveling around Mexico participating in various forms of ministry. One of those was serving as the “materials room” staff for ATI’s children’s institute. Something that at the time I thought was a noble service and certainly enjoyed. I am a people person and I was meeting people. When I discovered Julie at the Monterrey shindig I suddenly very much loved my job. Spending a week helping her with her team and translation was awesome. I don’t remember much more than the environment and little spots of interaction. What I know I felt was that this girl was awesome, super cute, and very self assured and open to talking to me… in a world where girls and boys were not supposed to form any kind of relationships. Like two bugs in separate jars… we could observe each other’s worlds but don’t interact. Julie sort of tossed that out and spoke openly and asked real questions. When we said goodbye at the airport I was bummed that our time was over. I sat in my car and wrote down everything I knew about her. The list was depressingly short… I knew her name, home town was Beulah CO, and a few physical characteristics. I carried that list secretly in my note book and thought about her often.

In July 1999, I was 20 years old and entered ALERT basic training. This was something that Julie and I had discussed in the Monterrey airport as one of two directions my life was taking. ALERT was awesome for me, lots of maturing and physical growth as well as some experience in what life was like in the USA. Remember that by this time I had spent a lot of time on my own but always in small Indian villages or in rather controlling environments inside of the ATI (our homeschool organization) bubble. I graduated basic training and was “deployed” to the yearly conference in Knoxville TN along with the rest of my unit. May 2000. I still carried my notebook but it didn’t occur to me that Julie might be around. I had finished my regular duties for the day and was fulfilling some odd job assignment when I met her in a back hall way for an exchange of 4 sentences. I thought she seemed very glad to see me but for some reason unwilling to spend much time talking to me. I later learned that she knew she was being watched as a “trouble maker” and openly talking to an ALERT guy in the hallway would start ringing alarm bells with the SSS. I was still new to this ALERT uniform and it’s wondrous powers for good and evil. Over time I found that some parents would throw their daughters at us because they thought we were all heroes… and that supervisors would instantly jump to conclusions about our intentions and those of any young ladies seen speaking to us.

I was moved around the country a lot after that, training and serving on various deployments. I met a lot of young ladies and compared them all to my memories of Julie. I think she had achieved super human status… no one was as awesome as her. After that chance encounter in Knoxville I swore I wouldn’t be such a ninny and would always check staff and personnel at training centers to see if she was there. I also swore I would get up the courage to speak to her regardless of the stereo types and possible repercussions.

In the fall of 2000, my chance came. I was at the newest donation to ATI’s flotilla of properties, the Flint training center. We had been contracted to clean and repair the outside of the building; an old 16 story hotel… once a Ramada I think. We had only been there a couple of days when we were asked to take over night duty security. Blah… we were washing windows all day, hanging from 200 feet of rope, caulking windows from the outside, and taking down the old Ramada sign in pieces… now we get to take turns staying up all night and making the rounds of a huge hotel. We were non-plussed. I took one of the first shifts, bored I looked over the hotel staff lists… still no Julie Zercher, then there was another page, the arrivals for the next day… airport pickups. Last name on the alphabetical list. “Zercher, Julie”. I was wide awake the rest of the night. I traded with one of the other guys so I could be on duty when she came in the next night… I think my unit thought I was crazy… two night shifts in a row and all day washing windows. I watched on the security camera as they unloaded the van and came in the front doors. She didn’t see me. Just went right to the elevator with the rest of them and up stairs. 48 hours sleepless and she didn’t even look my direction. We washed windows the next morning again… as usual getting 2 runs done before breakfast. I was watching out for her in the breakfast line, little knowing that she was now watching out for me since I had unknowingly washed her window that morning and had just about scared her towel off. She was still cool but friendly and I was starting to feel that whole “mystery of women” thing. I didn’t get it. Later I figured out it was when we were not being directly observed she was friendly and then when the supervisors were around she had to be cool.

Behind the front desk there was a room for email use with 2 computers. One day I noticed she used Juno for her email provider. Same as me, I also noticed that when you log out of Juno it leaves your username/address on the screen in case you want to re-enter your password and log back in right away. I popped in one day right after Julie left and there on the screen was the email address sunshineinbeulah@juno.com Bingo. Now I had her address and for the next two years would be talking myself out of writing her. Great. I was bummed when I was listed on the team leaving early… I would have taken another week of trying to talk to her. My thought that this might be the last chance made me track her down in the kitchen that night. Asking for a picture with her was all I could think of. I knew that if she said yes there was a chance, if no then “Forget it buddy, you’re a nice guy but if your universe exploded we wouldn’t even hear about it in mine”. I really didn’t have very high an opinion of myself… even after countless moms throwing their daughters at us like confetti at a birthday party. Back to the kitchen… she said no… and rather hurriedly rushed off like there were cookies burning and explaining why she had said no wasn’t worth the trouble. I don’t think she heard my universe explode.

The next time our worlds met was Knoxville, June 2001. By this time I was senior in most ALERT circles. I was done with Tech Rescue and half way through Paramedics. I had changed a lot from the boy in Monterrey and even the guy in Flint. I had ranked up, continued bulking up, had spent time in firehouses and fires as well as in ERs. Trauma and drama were getting to be old hat and I was very comfortable in my skin. I didn’t get a chance to see her though even though I felt like maybe now I was closer to being worthy of her attention. I had been on the drill team ever since basic and because of my seniority and background in Tech I was given the honor of being one of the hidden rappellers coming down from the ceiling. I had already checked the attendance roster of the 20,000 something people there and she wasn’t on the list. I didn’t pick my anchor spot, and I never knew `till later that I would make my landing over 100 feet below right next to her family. That week as a medic I was assigned to the medic tent. As my habit I checked the list. Timothy Zercher was listed as having asthma… his team leader was a friend and I was very happy to visit with that team every free minute I had. The next day Billy and Timothy reported that “hey our sister Julie KNOWS you!” Wow. What a coincidence. I thought they were good kids and had an easy time hanging out with them. I was at the parent pick up most days, but didn’t manage to meet Mr. Zercher until the last day. Only for a minute and then they were gone again. The great Knoxville exodus began and I wasn’t going to be back again. The list in the back of my notebook was growing, brothers and sisters and now Burnie, her dad’s name.