story of how we met (part 1)

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I started this blog less than a year ago. Before weekly posts here, I kept a pretty thorough journal. That is, until Tyler and I started dating. Something about being infatuated with him just consumed all my time and thoughts, apparently *eye roll*. Unfortunalty, and I suppose ironically, when the biggest changes were happening, *aka dating, engagement, marriage* I wrote very little of my in-the-moment thoughts down! #sadface

I’ll never be able replicate my feelings in those tantamount moments. My journal is spotty and inadequate. I pop in every few months or half a year with a quick detail or thought, but its clear, when I go radio silent for almost 2 years, the responsibility of “writing it all down” just compounded and became overwhelming. Thankfully, this blog has been a means of keeping me accountable to something, if only my handful of readers HI GUYS! 

I’ve had it at the back of my mind to revisit these moments, and as each week passes, I know the memories become less and less fresh. So here, on an airplane to Japan, my excuses run out. For my personal sanity, I’m going to tell the story of Tyler & I in four parts: how we met, our time dating, the engagement story, and of course, our marriage. Today, just that first one ;) 

On this nine hour flight to Osaka, trapped in the back corner of the plane (yay traveling on a budget) I’m hopeful that I can meditate a bit and reconnect with my 21 year old self’s feelings and memories from six years ago when Tyler and I first met. Whether anyone reads this doesn’t matter so much as my *doing justice* to our story (because, for the record, I think its an awesome one.) 

Both Tyler and I were raised in the LDS, or “Mormon” church. As members of that church, youth are encouraged to serve "missions"; a period of time (2 years for men, 1.5 years for women) where you leave home to teach the gospel you were raised loving. For men, serving a mission is a commandment, for women, it’s optional. Both Tyler and I were “called” or sent by an apostle (church leader) to the Tacoma Washington Mission. Pictures of us opening our mission calls below:

Tyler was 19 when he left home to serve, I was 21. Both of us had some time at Brigham Young University under our belts and interrupted our college experience to serve. It’s no easy thing to sign up to serve a mission. You aren’t just on a church trip. This is a full *repeat FULL* time commitment to represent the church and Jesus Christ in declaring the restored gospel found in the LDS church. You have no contact with family members (other than once a week emails, and twice a year phone calls), give up all entertainment and personal hobbies, and spend every day 6:30am to 10:30pm on a strict schedule, obedient to a small hundred page handbook of other rules. As you might guess, dating is not allowed. Missionaries serve in companionships of same gender and spend little time interacting with people outside of their assigned areas. Below are the pictures of us in the Missionary Training Center and photos of us as new missionaries (seriously cute stuff)

My companion Sister Bowles :)

My companion Sister Bowles :)

The Tacoma Washington Mission basically covered the entire Washington peninsula. As missionaries, we spent our time spiritually preparing ourselves, searching for people who wanted to learn about our church and doctrine, and helping people learn and be baptized into the church. Tyler had been serving for over a year when I came into the mission as a "greenie". We were serving in different cities and didn’t have any contact for the first months of my time there. He was Elder Alden. I was Sister Grenfell. We were both immersed in the work of God. 

I’ll share more about my experience as a missionary later, but for now, back on track of how we met! 

My earliest memory of “Elder Alden” was when my second companion, Sister Bowles, shared a story from earlier in her mission. She described a "zone" she served in where she was friends with some Elders in a neighboring area. She described one day when she was out contacting people and they saw the Elders’ car drive by. Only one missionary was in the front, but as they pulled up next to one another at a gas station, she realized that Elder Alden was lying down in the back of the car, sprawled on the seat, and looked miserable. His companion told them Alden was super sick, but insisted on going out “car contacting” rather than staying in bed all day. Bowles finished the story laughing that this “Elder Alden” was so gung-ho he wouldn’t stop working even one day. My young missionary mind, eager to be successful, buried this story deep in my sub-consciousness, and internalized this standard: “hard working missionaries never stop working, no matter what.” This stayed with me the rest of my mission, and any time I thought of taking a break, I thought of Elder Alden refusing to quit.

I heard a few more stories from Sister Bowles about Elder Alden, and learned that she had served with him enough to be good friends. All the stories I heard only served to paint this idyllic picture of Elder Alden. Before I'd even laid eyes on him, he had made an impression as an intelligent, hard working, creative, piano-playing missionary. (Just to give you a peak into missionary psyche, there’s nothing more attractive than a committed testimony of the work we were doing saving souls, and this mythical “Alden” seemed to have a rock solid one.) 

Then the day came. The day I finally laid eyes on this guy. Sister Bowles and I stopped by our church building to pick up some materials one morning while a missionary leader conference was being held. The double doors of the church had barely swung open, when Bowles and I were pounced on by a bubbly Elder who stuck his hand out towards us with a peppy “HI SISTERS.” I automatically reached my hand out and smiled, the habit of grinning energetically on auto pilot, as my brain worked out who this was. As my eyes moved from this guys shocking red hair; parted and glued to one side of his head, to his horn rimmed glasses, into his squinty happy blue eyes, and down to his name tag, my brain put it all together at the same time my eyes read the name “Elder Alden” in bold letters on his chest.

This moment resonated in my mind. Somewhere, in the parts of your brain that surprise you with how genius they can be, I logged that handshake. There was an electricity, an intuition maybe. I’m not claiming this was a “love at first sight” moment. But it happened. And it stuck with me. 

Many months passed where we only saw each other only briefly. We might have exchanged a hello here or there, maaaaybe. I honestly don’t remember having much contact with Elder Alden until about 4 months before the end of my mission. Our Mission President and his wife wanted to celebrate the love and spirit of their missionaries, and put together musical and testimony performances where members and investigators (people who were interested in becoming members) could come to church and learn and feel. Tyler was asked to play the piano (did I mention he slays on the keys?) and I was asked to be the chorister (did I mention I had basically no experience whatsoever leading chorus?). Lucky for me, this gig meant I got to travel around the mission, and spend more time with missionaries and our leaders. Tyler *ahem, Elder Alden* and I worked closely to piece together the music and plan out how to best teach the songs to the missionaries. Tyler had enough musical talent to make up for what I lacked, and I had enough pep to get a choir of 100 Elders and Sisters (of varying levels of buy-in to that singing stuff) to belt their guts out!

This was a magical time of my mission (and most missionaries I served with have said the same). It was a privilege to come together in a large group and feel one another’s energy and love towards the work we were doing. One poignant memory from this time was a missionary performance we gave in Sequim, Washington waaaaaaay up on the peninsula. We put on the regular program; singing Called to Serve (the missionary theme song), songs in praise of Christ, and the grand finale Amazing Grace (always the best). 

With some expert YouTube search-ery, I was able to find this video of our missionary choir from 2012 *happy cry emoji* it's pretty low quality, and I honestly thought we sounded A LOT better than we do here haha, but you can get a glimpse of what I'm talking about!

After these performances, Tyler and I would often hang back to talk with members, thank them for coming, and smile at the compliments and outpouring of gratitude for the feelings they felt throughout. One very old man slowly walked up to me and emphatically exclaimed, “You and that pianist make such a great team! My wife is a pianist and I’m a chorister and we’ve been married over seventy years! I’d say it’s the perfect combination! You two should get married!” I blushed the color of Tyler’s hair, and hoped that from six feet away, he hadn’t heard. I nervously laughed and shuffled away towards my companion (already a little guilty that I was secretly intrigued by that idea ;););) From the corner of my eye I saw the old man step over to Tyler, and to my embarrassment point towards me laughing and patting Elder Alden on the back. I looked away before I could see Elder Alden’s reaction. 

On the drive back from one of these musical practices, Elder Alden, his companion, and me and my companion shared about an hour and a half in the car ride to Tacoma. By this point I’m pretty sure I had journal entries where I tried to mention Elder Alden in a “I’m not like thinking about dating because I’m totally still a missionary, but this guy is like way cute and soooo fun, but like MOST importantly super righteous and has a strong testimony which is what I’m MOST into” sort of way.  Y’know, real subtle like.

I’ll also fully disclose that during those long hours knocking doors (when I’d run out of stuff to talk about with my companion of 10 weeks), gushing about my teeny tiny (but totally huge) crush on Elder Alden. So getting to ride in the car with him (even in the awkward missionary style with companions next to us) was quite the treat. This is the part that if Tyler were writing this would emphasize as being one of the few moments he thought of me in an *after the mission* sort of way. We put on one of the more bumping EFY youth music C.D.s (missionaries can only listen to church music), and I started dancing in shotgun. Tyler said as he watched me get excited over the music the thought crossed his mind, “I’d like to marry a girl someday with this much happy energy.” There was a point in the drive where I turned around and saw him looking at me with a little bit more intensity and, I’ll never forget, a glimmer in his eye. Like the handshake when we first met, that split second of eye contact resonated in that subconscious part of my mind. 

Our missions ended at different times and we didn’t keep in touch for four or so months. I don’t believe in fate or love at first sight. I do believe Tyler and I had some powerful first interactions... where that nano second of idea or impulse crosses your mind, and you see it’s potential. Meeting on our mission made everything that much more intense - feelings, thoughts, and experiences take on sort of a “God is orchestrating this” quality. 

A few times as I’ve been writing, I’ve caught myself starting out of my window over the Pacific Ocean, towards the Washington Tacoma Mission… towards those amazing times as a missionary... six years back to my innocent love that was saturated in “God’s Will” and desire to do nothing more than serve Him. It would be bad journalism if I didn’t pay tribute to the foundation of my religion and beliefs during this time of life that attracted me to someone with similar desires and commitments. And lucky for me, because Mormon or not now… Tyler was and IS a strong, hard working, genuine, and deeply loving person. 

I’m glad I recognized the beginning of something powerful.