Yesterday Jeremy and I celebrated five years of marriage. We enjoyed an early breakfast (one of my favorite pastimes together), worked like crazy on our first floor renovation, and spent the afternoon and evening at the Chicago Botanic Gardens, walking, talking, picnicking. It was such an incredibly lovely day, and the gardens felt like the perfect place to be on our anniversary, as we spent so much of our dating years traipsing through parks, hiking up trails, and seeking out green places to spend our days in. Looking back over the past five, and even ten to twelve years, simply a.mazes me. Sometimes looking back on my own life story, I’m bewildered that it belongs to me. If I had a nickel for every time I thought, If someone had told me this was where I’d be five years from back then, I never would have believed it, I would have a lot of nickels.
Disclaimer: this post is lo-lo-lo-lo-long, and is essentially an account of our relationship from the start. So you may want to mentally prepare that the rest of this post is probably more for me than it is for you. I will be surprised and impressed if you make it all the way through. But, by all means! Stay, if you have the endurance and the interest!
I met Jeremy Mann when I was fifteen years old. Fifteen. He was new to my co-ed Wednesday night small group. I thought he was gorgeous, hilarious, charming. He was articulate and seemed wise for sixteen. I had no illusions of ever being in any kind of relationship with him; he was from a different high school, had plenty of girls who thought he was the dish. The thought of ever being his girlfriend didn’t cross my mind. But I do remember thinking to myself after that first night, that kid seems like the kind of guy I’d want to end up marrying someday.
I distinctly remember our first date, if you can call it that in high school. It wasn’t really clearly labeled as a real date, although Jeremy had casually written, “alright, it’s a date” over instant messenger (child of the 90’s baby) after making plans to hang out. I didn’t suppose this was a real date, because I figured Jeremy just talked to me and gave my best friend and I rides to youth group for the heck of it, not because he was remotely interested in me. A little Caribou and perusing his favorite fish store sounded casual enough to keep me from totally freaking out. Because in my little sophomore-in-high-school world, Brad Pitt had asked me to hang out. And everyone knows you don’t actually date Brad Pitt, duh.
I realized maybe Jeremy had actually meant, “it’s a date” as in I want to hang out with you because I like you when I heard him telling me over my mint white hot chocolate that he really liked me, and why, and that he thought we would be good together and he would like to date me. I was dumbfounded. Like, literally. I was so dumbfounded that when he asked me what I thought, I was literally found to be dumb (ie. lacking the power of speech) in the literal sense. I don’t remember exactly what I said, but I know that I talked for far less time than he did. And that it was probably something like, “yeah. um no yeah, me too. I think that sounds good.” I was totally unprepared to answer. I had a head-over-heels big time crush on this boy and yet the idea of being his girlfriend in the real world in some actual way was something that had just not entered my mental space.
So we were “together,” sort of awkwardly for a stretch. Mostly I imagine because ever since Jeremy had poured his heart out to me at that Chanhassen Caribou, I had nearly completely lost my ability to be my normal human self around him. Our relationship (if you could call it that) consisted of phone conversations and time spent within the context of youth group, or rides to youth group. And while I was my normal, confident, outgoing self with my friends and at school, around Jeremy I was quieter, less confident, a little bit unsure of how to be in a relationship with someone I’d secretly had such a huge crush on.
By the end of our sophomore year of high school, it was over. To Jeremy, it fizzled out. To me–due to some misunderstandings as a result of what I later saw as some real miscommunication–it was suddenly and drastically o.ver, without much explanation. I was devastated. Pissed. And it took me at least a good six months to really get over it.
By the spring of my Junior year, Jeremy Mann was a distant memory. He had stopped coming to our youth group, and being at different high schools we never ran into each other. I didn’t see him. Didn’t hear anything about him. Didn’t see him on instant messenger. I figured we’d probably never cross paths again.
I was enjoying my second to last year of high school. I had incredible friends. I had matured a bit. My big sister was at college and our relationship had developed into closer to what it is today (less fighting over stealing each others’ clothes, more real life sisterhood stuff). I was pretty content with life, optimistic about the future. I was playing an incredibly small part in Brigadoon, our spring musical, and was really enjoying it.
Then out of the blue one day, that familiar AOL instant messenger tone sounded, and up popped a chat window from soccermann1, Jeremy Mann. It took me by surprise. How odd that he’s online, and even more odd that he’s talking to me, I thought. But I wasn’t rattled, and so we had some run-of-the-mill, AOL-instant-messenger, haven’t-talked-to-you-in-a-while-what’s-up conversation. I’m pretty sure I told him a bit about Brigadoon, what I’d done for Spring Break, what I was doing for prom (which was coming up), but it was a pretty normal interaction and I didn’t think much of it.
A couple weeks later I was waiting off stage during a run of Brigadoon for whatever part was coming next. I remember being a little tired, a little cranky, and thinking to myself, I don’t know anyone coming to the show tonight. I think I’m just going to skip the whole meet-and-greet-the-audience-after-the-show bit and meet my friends at Perkins. (Classy). And while I was sitting at Perkins with my friends after the show, my sister called. “Melissa Dooner just came to our house with some guy… I think it was Jeremy Mann?” Melissa was a good friend of mine, but she clearly had the Jeremy Mann part of the story wrong, because that just made no sense. “Jeremy Mann?” I said, “No, it wouldn’t have been Jeremy. Was it Eric Hadland?” (Eric was another good friend of mine, also friends with Melissa.) My sister hemmed and hawed. “No, I know Eric. I’m pretty sure it was Jeremy… I mean I’ve only seen him once or twice, but I’m pretty sure it was him. His hair was a lot longer, so he looked a little different, but I’m pretty sure that’s who it was.” Hm. Weird. I gave up on figuring out who it was. “Well anyways, what did they say?” “They just asked for you and I told them you were out with your friends. They asked when you’d be back and I said probably a while so they left.” Sta-range, I thought. I’d have to ask Melissa about this mystery person she was with later.
As it turns out, Jeremy had gotten Melissa to agree to going to this play of mine in secret, so that he could see me. His plan was apparently to casually run into me after the show. Melissa would help keep him from freaking out, and also maybe make it look like it wasn’t totally weird for Jeremy to be there. When I was a no-show, Melissa convinced Jeremy to stop by my house. Maybe they’d catch me there? Jeremy claims he fell in love with me for the first time when he saw me on that stage during Brigadoon.
I seriously wish I had a copy of the instant messenger conversation I had with Jeremy after this whole thing. I don’t remember any of the follow-up, but I do remember seeing Jeremy for the first time in about a year a month or so later at Vesper’s, a big worship service at Bethel (where my sis went to school). I remember his hair was long, and I was wearing platform tennis-shoes (hot!) that had a giant crack down the middle of the sole, which we talked about. We sat next to each other, and hit it off. I was myself. He seemed a little different in some way, maybe more mature. Soon after, we made plans to hang out.
He came over to my house one day and we went for a walk. We ended up walking close to eight miles, despite the fact that I was wearing platform flip flops (seriously with the platforms!). We talked for hours as we walked, about everything under the sun. Our families, our friends, our backgrounds, what kinds of things we cared about, thoughts, interests, hopes for the future.
By the end of junior year, we were together for real, and I mark June 3rd, 2003 as the day we started dating, because that was the day Jeremy snuck into my school, broke into my locker, and arranged a bunch of magnetic words into a poem he had written for me, ending with, not you and me, but we. We eased slowly but naturally into our relationship. I loved spending time with Jeremy. We could talk about anything and everything. We dreamt about what we would do with our lives if we could do anything at all. We went on a hunt to find a water tower we thought we could climb. When Jeremy was actually successful in finding an old, tall water tower with a ladder that was just close enough to pull ourselves up to it, we climbed. We had our first kiss on top of that water tower, high above the trees and the lake and close to the stars.
By the spring of our senior year of high school, we’d been dating roughly a year. This was odd for us, because it was time to get serious about college decision-making. Our relationship was great, but we both recognized that deciding where we’d each spend the next four years of our lives should be done so independent of one another. Jeremy was seriously considering two different schools, I planned to apply to three, and we shared one of those in common. We didn’t want to choose the same school just to be together, and on the flip side we didn’t want to avoid one school just because the other person had picked it (we knew staying with your high school boyfriend or girlfriend through college was incredibly rare). So we made a pact to have no conversations about college until we had each made a final decision.
Jeremy had his decision ready before I did, and my family had informal bets going. My dad and I guessed he had picked Stanford; my mom and sister were convinced it was Biola. When I was ready (dangerously close to the decision deadline), I called Jeremy that evening and said, “Ok. I know where I’m going.” He paused, sort of taken aback. “Oh, wow,” he said, “Can I call you back in five minutes or something? I don’t know if I’m ready for this conversation yet.” I said sure, dialed my best friend Kristin to say, “ah! He’s calling me back in five minutes!!” and to hear her say, “ah!! Oh my gosh!!!!” and was back on the phone with Jeremy shortly after. I told him I was going to Biola. He told me he was going to Biola, too. No. Freaking. Way.
Over the next couple months we had a lot of conversations about how the fall would look. We guessed it could be tricky. We wanted to make our own friends, develop independently, explore whatever avenues of higher education made sense for each of us. It was too early to be thinking about marriage, and we didn’t want to get to college attached at the hip. We talked about whether we should break up, but decided it didn’t make sense to do so without a reason that had something to do with the state of our relationship.
So we went off to college in the fall, together but separate. We ended up getting put in the same orientation group, and were overly cautious about broadcasting our relationship status to the point that we sort of acted like we didn’t know each other. I remember the girl who would later become my best friend at school saying to me upon finding out I was from Minnesota, “OH MY GOSH! You’re from Minnesota?!?! JEREMY IS FROM MINNESOTA!!! HOW ARE YOU NOT MORE EXCITED?!?!” After a couple days, we were a little less intense about not seeming attached at the hip, and learned to settle into our relationship in this new context.
College was good, new, hard in some ways, and Jeremy proved to be an incredible encouragement and support. When I was discouraged about my apparent lack of Biblical knowledge my first semester at school, he helped me see the incredible opportunity I had to be studying the Bible and theology at a University, and reminded me that I was there to learn, and that I had plenty of time and resources to do so well. When I considered changing my major to Nursing after my freshman year, he told me to go for it. In the thick of my most difficult prerequisites, he pointed me to Jesus, encouraging my dependence on Him to do something I felt he may be calling me to.
The Lord continued to deepen and confirm our relationship. With each challenge we faced, whether it was the result of individual challenges we experienced or challenges within our own relationship, God brought us out on the other side. He shaped us, matured us, and continued to knit our hearts together.
We both planned to spend the summer after our junior year of college in Minnesota. Most of our recent summers had been spent apart, Jeremy had just been at Oxford for a semester, and we were looking forward to being in the same state for a change. We worked a ton, but still managed to enjoy our families, friends, and the gorgeous midwestern summer weather. We made plans to save our monies throughout the summer, and reward ourselves by going on a fun date (aka fancy dinner) in August, as a kind of last hoorah of summer before heading back to school. Jeremy would plan it.
It was the best date of my life. The weather was perfect. I wore my favorite dress at the time (which happened to belong to my sister). He took me to a quaint Italian restaurant in Excelsior, a nearby lakeside town I spent much of my growing up years enjoying. Our waitress was incredibly nice and charming. We drank Riesling. Jeremy insisted on appetizers and dessert to go along with dinner, to really treat ourselves for all the work we’d done over the summer. The conversation was delightful, and meaningful. The food was unbelievable. I enjoyed every minute of it, and remember thinking to myself, this is a perfect evening. It began to storm a little outside during the end of dinner, and I loved to hear the low rumble of the thunder as we continued to enjoy each others’ company.
As we were finishing dessert, I think I made some comment about leaving, and Jeremy said he was a little worried about the weather, and that maybe we should enjoy this place just a little longer. Worried about the weather? What did the weather matter?
As we left, the rain had stopped and the clouds were starting to lighten up in that post-summer-storm way, where the evening light returns and the once-stormy clouds turn shades of purple-orange and light pink. We got in Jeremy’s car and he mentioned he had something else he planned for us, and that I’d need to wear a blindfold during the ride so that I wouldn’t guess where we were going.
Strangely, I had no questions. I felt so happily content at what a wonderful evening we were having, that I simply put on the blindfold, breathed easy, and continued to enjoy my company. I didn’t try and guess where we were going, my mind wasn’t racing with questions and anticipation. I figured Jeremy had really gone all out in the spirit of celebrating our work that summer, and taking sufficient time to relax and enjoy our time together. He had clearly put more thought into this night than I knew, and I was ready to sit back and enjoy it.
When the car stopped, we were at the edge of a small lake, in a little dirt parking lot surrounded by trees. He gave me tennis shoes to put on instead of my heels, and handed me his fleece, as the sun was on its way down. We got out of the car and walked down to the edge of the lake to find a canoe sitting in the water next to a small wooden dock, with a gorgeous bouquet of white calla lilies rested on the seat. “Are those for me?” I asked, surprised. They were, and the canoe was for us as well. I got in the front, Jeremy in the back to paddle, and we set out onto the lake.
The water was pristine, clear as glass. The lake was surrounded by beautifully lush, green forrest. The sky was unreal, littered with the colors of the sharpest summer sunset, pink, red, orange, yellow. Small clusters of clouds leftover from the storm brought purples, pinks, and even hot shining white whisps of color. It was brilliant. It was quiet, and I thought to myself again what a perfect night this was. I also remember thinking, this would have made a great proposal, although I’m sure someday when Jeremy asks me to marry him, it will be amazing. We had certainly talked marriage, but considering the timeline I assumed we were on, a proposal wouldn’t come for at least another few months. This was not a proposal; this was just a perfect night.
The lake wasn’t an exact circle, and it twisted and turned a bit in places. I didn’t wonder where we were going, or whether we were going anywhere at all. Jeremy asked me at one point if I knew where we were, and I thought it was funny that he thought I might recognize this lake. It didn’t look remotely familiar to me. The sun continued to set, and the sky began to darken as the moon brightened. We rounded a bend, and then I saw it. I suddenly knew where we were.
Our water tower shone a dark shadow against the last bits of dusky sky. It stood behind the trees at the opposite bank of our lake. I couldn’t make out what was on the coastline, but I knew that behind that coastline, behind those trees was the highway we’d cross, and the cluster of forrest in which our water tower sat.
The shoes suddenly made more sense. And suddenly I realized perhaps we were headed someplace. Jeremy was going to have me climb that water tower.
I was nervous. You see, for our two-year dating anniversary, we went on a date and climbed the water tower, for old time’s sake. The first time we ever climbed it, I remember having no fear at all. I suppose I was running on the adrenaline of being with Jeremy, trying to impress him, never having done this before. But the second time we climbed it, I distinctly remember thinking, OH MY GOODNESS THIS IS SO DANGEROUS HOW DID WE EVER DO THIS WE ARE INSANE PEOPLE WHO ARE GOING TO DIE FALLING OFF A GIANT WATER TOWER.
I sat in the canoe, still quite at peace considering the situation, but with a small flutter in the pit of my stomach. “Are we going to climb it?” I asked, quietly. “Yep,” answered Jeremy, calmly. I said nothing more. The prospect of going up there frightened me, but I trusted Jeremy. He had planned this perfect night. He loved me, and didn’t want me to plummet from above-tree heights to an early death. And I had a feeling that climbing this water tower a third time was just something we were going to do.
The grass was still wet as we walked through the forrest and came to the base of the water tower. It was just as I remembered it. The last rungs of the black, iron ladder hung from the sky above my head. Jeremy lifted me up so that I could swing my feet up to start the climb, and I climbed, rung by rung through the trees and into the treetops. I was afraid. I stopped, took a few deep breaths, and said, “are you sure you want to keep going?” “Yes,” replied Jeremy simply, and I kept climbing, because I had decided that I would only ask whether he was sure once, and if he said yes, then I would be sure too.
There’s a spectacular moment when you emerge from the tops of the trees and into the clear, night sky, when the water tower comes into full view, and you can see countless stars shining in the dark black sky. This water tower is not very near any town that has an abundance of lights or nightlife or many people. So all you see is sky and lake and trees and specks of light in the distance off to one side.
I resolved to not look down as I approached the top of the ladder, which curves out a bit before you make it over the last rungs and safely onto the platform that surrounds the water tank. I found myself on the platform sincerely glad to be in the sky with Jeremy. We’d been utterly silent throughout the ascent (with the exception of my one interruption), and I felt almost as though Jeremy had carried me up there.
I spotted a truck in a small dirt road not far from the base of the water tower. Part of the forrest was being cleared out for development of a new neighborhood. The truck’s lights were on, and I asked Jeremy, “do you think they can see us?” No, of course they couldn’t. [turns out piled into this truck was my mom, Jer’s mom, my dad, Jer’s dad, and my sister.] We took in the views, the cool summer air, the stars, and the reflection of the moon on the lake. It was beautiful, meaningful, a reminder of the very earliest days of our young love.
Jeremy told me he had brought something he wanted to read to me, and he pulled out a small piece of folded paper. He began to read me a passage of scripture, and for the very first time that night, I thought to myself, oh my goodness, this may be a proposal. He talked to me about our love, our God, and the future he saw with me. And before I knew it, he was down on one knee, asking me to be his wife.
Ten months later, on June 14th, 2008, we stood at the front of a church, before God and before the most important people in our lives, and promised to be each others’ forever. For five years, the Lord has challenged, blessed, and strengthened us. I couldn’t have asked for a better husband, and a more perfect partner for me. And I couldn’t have written a better story than the one I’ve been given. Praise God. I’m so thankful for the life he’s given us.