Last night, Darby and I sat down and open up our box of memories. It is this little wooden box that holds a bunch of items from our relationship, including ticket stubs from our first date, pictures from homecoming dances, and a TON of letters written from me to her (I don’t remember our conversations being that one-sided….). As we read through some of the letters, I couldn’t help but roll my eyes at some of the comments; I mean, who says that kind of cheesy stuff?? It made me realize just how long it’s been and how far we’ve come, both as people and as a couple. So for this post, I want to take you on the journey of how I ended up with the greatest woman in the world.

It begins at my home church. I was in seventh grade, so I was either 12 or 13 years old. It was around Christmas when my friend came up to me and said that there was a new family at church. I asked about them and my friend said the only thing he knew is that there was a girl named Darby. We both laughed because the only other time we had ever heard that name used was in Veggietales and the character was a guy. Odd first impression no doubt, but it has stuck in my brain all these years.

I don’t exactly remember meeting Darby. I do have a vague recollection of standing at the back of the church sanctuary in the dark and being introduced, but I’m not sure if I just created that memory based on stories I heard from others.

Anyway, the first real memory I have of her is when the jr. high group went to Phantom Ranch bible camp for a winter retreat. I remember playing paintball and in all three games I played, I got in a shooting match with her. I never hit her and she never hit me, but I watched as she picked off my teammates one by one. I don’t think I got one person out in any of my games, but she definitely did. When I returned to the cabin. one of my friends announced to the cabin, “Darby is an assassin!” I don’t think she has picked up a paintball gun since.

One moment that sticks out about that trip is the ride home. I remember sitting in the back seat, I looked at Darby and thought, “Hm…. she’s pretty.” I even offered her some potato chips that I had bought, which she politely declined. This feeling of intrigue lasted for a few minutes before I finally shook my head and thought: “Nah, I don’t want to think about that now.” I let it go. It’s a good thing too, because as I would find out later, she was not allowed to date until she was 18.

The next year, we ended up living together. My family became homeless and we needed a place to stay, so the first place we settled was in the basement of Darby’s family’s house. No, this does not go like the stereotypical love story where the guy and girl are forced to hang out and end up falling in love. In fact, I hardly ever saw her. I hung out with her brother Josh a lot but almost never with her. The one time I remember is we played a game of Balderdash together, and yeah, she won by a lot.

The next few years went by and there were little moment reminding me that she was still there. On our first high school service trip to Racine, we played a game called Ninja. I was determined to win every time, but the game I remember most is one I lost. I made it to the end and turned to face my last opponent: Darby. She didn’t seem to want to go up against me, she just backed away. I remember thinking that I couldn’t beat Darby, I just didn’t want to. So I left my hand outstretched for too long, she hit it, and I lost. I nodded, put my head down, and looked ahead to the next game. She has been calming my competitive side since even before we were together.

Then there was another instance that needs recalling. I think I was a sophomore in high school and we were playing a game of alley kickball, which is just kickball but with only two bases instead of four. I was the last person up so I needed to get a home run, so I kicked it high and took off. One of my teammates was running at me, so I jumped to the left and BAM, I ran right into Darby. I caught her before she hit the ground, but she still got a bruise on her head. I was so shaken by the incident because I watched her get tears in her eyes. I had never seen Darby cry before and felt devastated that I was the reason why. Neither one of us has played alley kickball since then, although I have made her cry a few more times (some good and some bad).

During our senior year of high school, we hung out more. It was all with friends, but I got to know her a little better and became interested in her. One thing stood in the way: her diet. Yeah, that’s right, I was sooooo shallow. When we lived at her house, her family had all kinds of strange food, like lettuce and soup (the horror!). I knew that she couldn’t have dairy, which meant no cheese, which meant no pizza, and that concerned me.

I will never forget the day. It was MLK day and I joined Darby and her best friend for a college tour at a small Christian university known at Judson. At one point in the day, different groups broke off to have meetings with professors from the major of our choice. I had no idea what I wanted to study, so my plan was to tag along with the group and go to the music meeting. At the last second, I realized that going to the music meeting would be pointless because, and I can’t stress this enough, I suck at music. So I called an audible and went the other way to get on the bus to Lindner Tower, which the Biblical Studies meeting was. As I held the door open for others to walk through, this blonde haired girl walked through and said thank you, and yeah, it was Darby.

We agreed to meet in the lobby after our respective meetings (I think she want into the sociology one). In hindsight, my meeting was incredibly ironic and truly defined my next four years at Judson, but that’s for another time. I met her in the lobby after and we sat next to each other on the bus. It was a three minute ride to the cafeteria for lunch, but that ride changed my life. We talked about food, and not just any food – burgers and pizza and the fact that she loved all kinds of different things. My only remaining excuse (and a terrible one at that) came crashing down.

After that, we texted for a few months, with conversations becoming increasingly more detailed. This led up to a day when she called me on the phone for the first time. She had just finished talking to Judson about potential financial help. I was all set to go there thanks to loans and grants, but she did not want to take that much money out in loans. She couldn’t afford it. So she called me crying and we talked for a few minutes; this was her school of choice long before it was mine. When she finally hung up, I sobbed for a few minutes. I hated that she was in pain.

My last story takes places about two month later. After that phone conversation, we decided to have more conversations, all of which were more upbeat and some of which lasted over an hour. When we arrived at Memphis, Tennessee for our last high school service trip, I knew that there was a good chance that I would leave with the realization that I should ask her out. With college looming, it didn’t seem like a smart decision, but I knew this would be the week I made up my mind.

The first night, we went off to tour the camp we were staying at. We played one on one volleyball and yes, I lost. We made up every excuse to be near each other and talk to each other throughout the week. Each time I backed off to not appear to come on too strong, she crossed that line to bring me back over. We walked down Beale street together and I remember thinking that I had never seen someone so beautiful. I had an emotional breakdown on the last day and she was there to comfort me. As we drove home from that trip, I couldn’t stop staring at her. When we finally got back to church, we hugged for the first time. I finally had to admit it: this was the girl for me.

In the nearly seven years since, we have done many things together. We’ve gone to Navy Pier, Lazer Quest, Cubs games, four homecoming dances, Wicked on Broadway, Naples Florida, Atlanta, New Jersey, etc. We’ve been married nearly three years and our daughter will be nine months old this month.

Through everything, she has been my anchor. She grounds me when I’m about to fly off the handle. She relaxes me when I get too competitive. She pushes me when I’m feeling lazy or tired. She amazes me with her work ethic and her love for her work as a teacher. Her compassion makes me smile and her toughness makes me love her all the more. I married the most awesome woman in the world.