It wasn’t a good Summer for 16-year-old Hannah. I had gained an extra 20+ pounds somewhere along the way (even as an avid runner – stress maybe?), I was really struggling with my “look” and finding my own style, aaaaaaaand I had used hydrogen peroxide on my hair to make it blonder. Instead of the gorgeous golden blonde I had anticipated, I had a slightly orange, slightly strawberry thing going on. Yikes.
On top of looking rough, I was feeling rough. My parents had just said I couldn’t date someone that I liked (because they didn’t believe in dating at the time) and they were planning to move our entire family across the ocean to Latvia to serve on the mission field. I was having a hard time with it to say the least. I wanted to be in Florida dating and going to college, not in this strange foreign place where I didn’t know a single soul.
So in June of 2011, we put our house in Florida on the market and packed up our keepsakes to take to family up in Minnesota to store for us for the next three years. Along the way we stopped at several churches to try and raise support for our mission in Eastern Europe. Franklin, Tennessee was the third stop along the way and one we were looking forward to because my parents had friends living there with kids our ages.
It was a Wednesday night. We went to Nate’s church with our friends for my dad to give a talk on our mission. To paint a full picture I’ll have to tell you what I was wearing… a lime green t-shirt in a size XL (because baggy = modest, right?), a hideous, HOMEMADE polka dot skirt, and grey Chuck Taylors. Add to that those extra 20 lbs I was wearing (in alllll the wrong places) and my orange hair. I thought I looked fine, but looking back I cringe.
Nate didn’t want to go. Sure his friends would be there, but he wanted to stay home. Besides, this missionary family only had little kids… so he had been told.
I could see him walking in from the parking lot and everything else started fading away. When our eyes met he didn’t look away. Love at first sight. From that moment at just 16, I never felt that way about another person again.
We finally managed to make it to a corner of the room that night and talked for hours. He wanted to be a black angus cow farmer and I was moving away to Latvia. He shook my hand three times while saying goodbye, followed me out to the parking lot, and stood there as we drove away. He did not however ask for my contact info. And I never heard from him again. Like for real.
Time passed and I lost all hope. Our family ended up not moving away, but I still never heard from him. Finally, March of 2012 rolled around and so did the annual Ligonier conference (a huge, 3 day event, that draws 5,000 Christians a year). I knew Nate and his family would be attending thanks to my brother and Nate’s best friend who had been emailing back and forth. The night before the conference, I was so worried that I wouldn’t remember what he looked like that I looked up a picture of him (haha!).
We had only talked one time, it had been nine months, I hadn’t heard from him even once, but I hadn’t liked another person since. So how do you go about finding one boy in a crowd of 5,000? You walk fast and employ your girlfriends as spies.
I’ll never forget seeing that handsome boy again. We were walking in a crowded hallway and passed within inches of the other pretending to not recognize each other. I went home that night and balled my eyes out. “He’ll never talk to me.” “He probably likes some other perfect chick.”
The next day, I summoned all of my nerve and walked right up to him. Conversation flowed just like that first night. The rest of the week was a series of listening to a lecture and then rushing out to find each other and talk again. The last day after the conference had ended, his family came over for dinner. Can you say smitten? Yikes. When he got ready to leave, I was so hoping for a hug or sweet word. Instead, I got a “well I’ll see ya next year” over his shoulder as he walked out. AAAAAAAAH My heart.
Months passed again without word. I thought about Nate all the time and he told me later that those months were filled with thoughts of me. He never dated anyone else.
Finally, I turned 18. Two weeks after my birthday that year, my parents called me into their room to talk. As I sank into the winged back chair my dad said, “Someone sent me a letter.” I lunged forward and then sank back as my dad said a name other than Nate’s. Someone I had no idea liked me had sent my dad a letter asking to “court” me.
Side note: “courting” is exactly like the old fashioned version. Like for real. The guy goes to the dad, professes his interest, then gets to come visit the daughter at her house, church, or other location with her family or an approved chaperone around. The intent is always to end this rather quick process in marriage. You’re only supposed to court one person. Dating around is simply not acceptable and girls who have done so are severely judged. (Nate and I plan to do some things differently with our three girls.)
I was stunned by David’s (not his real name) note and didn’t know what to think. He was 25 and I was only 18. I had no real interest in having a relationship with him, but no reason not to. I wasn’t allowed to attend college (more on this someday) and moving out for any reason besides marriage was not allowed (again, more someday). After graduating high school, my only job was to work to save money and wait around for a man to come ask to marry me. (Yikes, I can hear the snip in my voice.)
David was an amazing man. He was kind and genuine. Talented and smart. Feeling like I had no other option and no reason to say no, I said yes. He and I courted for all of December and January. In February, (the day before Valentine’s Day) my dad randomly decided that we needed to take a break. David was crushed and I was confused.
The Ligonier conference rolled around again late February. I was crushing hard on Nate, but had promised to court someone else whenever my dad gave his approval again. I decided to volunteer at the conference that year in hopes of having an excuse to talk to Nate. I drew the lucky straw that morning and was placed by the front door to hand out lanyards to all 5,000 people. Score. I may have had to stand there, smiling like barbie for 6 hours, but Nate finally popped into view. As he got closer and closer, I got more and more nervous. To my sheer shock, he walked past and pretended not to notice me!! I called out and he turned back to say hi. He later told me that he never thought a beautiful girl like me would remember him.
The next few days I spent talking to Nate and David and hoping they wouldn’t see each other. Boy was I confused. How do you tell a person you’re supposed to be falling in love with that you’re not? And how do you tell a person you think you love that you do when you’re not allowed to be forward in any way.
The conference finally came to a close, Nate left, and I cried.