Sunday, February 27, 2005

Engaging Activities

And the festivities begin!

Boy, whoever knew that getting engaged could be so crazy? Ok, I know a lot of people seem to know this, and many are more than willing to point it out, but I have been genuinely surprised by the amount of activity being engaged requires.

But it also means we have great excuses to spend more time with our friends.

On Friday, February 25, we made our first official outing as an engaged couple. We met Kelly and Christi Romeo to go to a new sushi place and celebrate both our engagement and Christi's 30th birthday.

The Romeos were among my closest friends when we were all in college together at ACU. I have thoroughly enjoyed reconnecting with them since my move to DFW, and they have particularly made Bethany and I feel loved.

In fact, on the evening in question, Christi gave us a gift that contained a bridal emergency kit for the wedding and a book titled The Five Love Languages. It was very touching seeing my friends already trying to support and help us.

We went to a restaurant called Shogun's, which I believe is a sushi chain. They had just opened and we wound up going on the Grand Opening evening.

The food was good, but there were several moments of confusion between the hostess, the chef from our table and the cooks in the kitchen. We wound up with a lot of food we didn't order and I never received one of the sushi orders I had ordered. We also order saki and passed back and forth the hot and cold bottles to make sure everyone sampled everything.

The confusion didn't end at the orders. They brought us out some fried ice cream to celebrate the occasions, but they kept telling Bethany and I to have a "happy anniversary," and after several attempts to explain, we just gave up and starting joking about how tough our marriage had been through the years.

Afterwards, we retired to a nearby Barnes and Noble for coffee and browsing. After an hour or so, we returned to the Romeos house supposedly to watch a movie (whenever we get together, we always have so much fun talking that we never play the games we bring or watch the movies we intend to). We stayed the night at the Romeo and then drove back to Dallas the next morning to start the wedding registration process.

We thought it was going to be a light day ...

Monday, February 14, 2005

The Rules of Engagement

Well, (not) alone at last. ;-)

I know that I have a million people to whom I owe all the details of my recent engagement (well, maybe not a MILLION, but certainly a few hundred). And I did post some pictures that illustrate the story presented here.

Bethany Kay Hawkins agreed to marry me around 9 p.m. on February 12, 2005. As of that evening, we had been together for 1 year, 1 month and 13 days.

I had been waffling back and forth for many months about if and when I should propose, and around Christmas I came very close. I decided then that I would wait for Valentine’s weekend, since it would be the last occasion Bethany would have been expecting.

Bethany and I are both pretty jaded when it comes to celebrating over-commercialized holidays. We do celebrate them, but we often do so by making fun of the cultural conventions and the pathetic emotional manipulation used to drive our holiday economy.

Last year, we had celebrated Valentine’s Day by eating dinner at
Starlite Café, a wonderful little restaurant tucked away between the University area and the Central Park area of Austin.

I called Bethany the week before and told her I wanted to come down to Austin so we could eat dinner at “our old place,” and she readily agreed. I had many lengthy conversations with my friends, debating strategy, etiquette and even logistics for keeping things quiet. (My cell phone bill was quite horrible this month, but worth every penny). I then called Judy Hocott, an old family friend, and told her my plans and asked if she wanted to play a part in the weekend. She agreed.

As I arrived in Austin, I drove straight to Judy’s house and showed her the ring and told her how I was planning on proposing. I left both the ring and the Book of Choices (more about that in a moment) at her house and then proceeded to go meet up with Bethany.

The toughest part of the weekend was playing it cool. I made myself absolutely sick with the stress of planning and keeping secrets from my girlfriend (something I’m not very good at). My stomach was churning up incredible amounts of stomach acid and I hadn’t slept more than a few hours in weeks.

And poor Bethany. My strategy was to surround us with friends, so that I would have less opportunity to blow the surprise. However, she had been waiting all week to see me and as she realized our schedule was keeping us from spending any alone time, she began to become increasingly upset, even breaking into tears at one point. It just tore at me to keep from telling her why our weekend was so artificially busy.

The morning of February 12, Bethany, I and Glenn Griffin met for coffee at Starbucks. But not just any Starbucks: we met at the 45th and Lamar Starbucks, very Starbucks Bethany and I had met at in December 2003. She had been delayed by construction, and was already a bit flustered by the time she arrived. We ate breakfast and then set out on a shopping tour to find Judy a Valentine’s gift.

After four hours of shopping, we returned to the Starbucks parking lot and Bethany and I parted ways to change clothes and get ready for dinner.

I picked her up around 5:30 and we went back to our Starbucks to talk. We left in time to make our 7:00 reservations (there are funny stories about both the trip and dinner, but they will have to wait for a later time). During dinner, Bethany kept telling me that she was worried about me and asking if I was ok. I told her that I hadn’t been feeling well, but was mainly just tired. The truth was that I could not stand the anticipation and almost blurted out my plans several times.

I had told Bethany that I had left her gift at Judy’s and said that we would be dropping by there for desert. She gave me a little red book called Guess How much I Love You. On the dedication page, she wrote “I hope that our game of ‘out-loving’ each other will be a restless part of our desire to serve each other for the rest of our days.”

Little did she know that I was about to give her the chance to ensure it would.

We left Starlite around 8:30 and drove over to Judy’s for dessert. Judy had, of course, gone all out, decorating her house with Valentine’s hearts, buying Bethany roses and even making a delicious chocolate desert (part brownie, part liquid fudge).

When we arrived, I told Judy and Bethany that I needed to give Bethany her Valentine’s present. She sat on the couch, surrounded by roses and decorations, while I retrieved the Book of Choices.

The Book of Choices is a book that Bethany and I pass back and forth on an annual basis. The writer fills the pages in the book with the choices that have defined our relationship in the previous year and the recipient then reads the choices aloud so that we can share in the emotion and sentiment of the past year’s choices.

As she read the book, we both became very emotional. Recorded in those pages were the thoughts, considerations and judgments that had led to the 10 choices I thought defined us the past year, and the feelings they stirred in both of us were very powerful and complex.

I decided to put a PDF version (6.2 MB) of the book on my Web site.

The last pages of the book summed up our present questions and choices and stated that I felt we were at a crossroads in our relationship. The following page had a simple marriage proposal. Beside the proposal, affixed to the satin bookmark of the book, was the engagement ring.

Bethany stared at the proposal for several seconds. Then she looked at me and asked “Is this real?” I nodded.

Suddenly, she threw the book over her shoulder and threw her arms around my neck. She trembled as she somehow giggled and sobbed at the same time. I held her for several minutes, waiting for her to stop shaking, but she didn’t.

I tried to lower myself to a knee, but she kept holding me tighter and tighter. I finally pulled back and looked at her, both of us in tears.

Haltingly, I tried to find my words. I said “Bethany, you are a treasure from God and I would love the honor of treasuring you as my wife.”

This sent her into another fit of tears and giggles, and I held her for several minutes. Then I pulled back and asked her if she had an answer.

She said, “Do I have to say it?”

I responded, “Well, YES, in fact you do.”

Bethany composed herself, looked at me and finally answered, “More than I’ve wanted anything else in my life.”

I retrieved the book, removed the ring and managed to slip it on her finger as we both wept.

After a few moments, Bethany bolted upright and ran for the kitchen. “JUDY! I’m GETTING MARRIED! I have to tell SOMEONE!”

Judy, Bethany and I embraced in the kitchen. Then Judy offered Bethany her phone and the long night of calling her family members and talking had begun.

We stayed for a few hours longer at Judy’s house and finally left around 11 p.m.

We announced our plans to get married this summer in Austin at church the next morning. We have so much to do, and so little time, but we both feeel like we’ve waited long enough.

Here are the photos taken from the night we got engaged.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

The Origins of Our Official "Love Day"

As Valentine's Day appraoches, I thought it would be good to reflect on where this holiday came from and why we think it's so importnat. My source for much of this content is "Extraordinary Origins Of Everyday Things" by Charles Panati.

The historical origins of Valentines Day:

Valentines Day has it origins in the (usually successful) efforts of the early Catholic church to eradicate pagan religions by co-opting pagan practices and holidays, and replacing them with Christian versions.

As early as the fourth century B.C. the Romans conducted a young man's right of passage to the god Lupercus. Teenage females would place their names in a box, from which they would be drawn by teenage males. The young lady whose name the man drew became his companion for the year, purposes of "mutual entertainment and pleasure (often sexual)." At the
end of that year another lottery would be held. Of course, the church was determined to snuff this business out, so they looked for a lover's with whom they could replace the pagan deity of Lupercus.

They found their man in a Valentine, a martyred bishop from two centuries past. In 270 A.D., the mad Roman Emperor Claudius II (NOT the same character as depicted in Robert Graves' "I, Claudius") issued an edict banning the institution of marriage because he believed that it undermined the morale of his soldiers by making them loath to leave their families on campaigns. Valentine, the bishop of Interamna sought to get around the edict by inviting young lovers to be married by him in secret. The Emperor found out about this, and had Valentine arrested. Impressed by the piety of the young priest, he attempted to convert him to Roman pagan beliefs in order to save him from execution.

Valentine refused to renounce Christianity, and attempted instead to the Emperor. This didn't work out, and on Feb. 24, 270 Valentine was clubbed, stoned, and beheaded. Legend says that while in jail, Valentine fell in love with the blind daughter of the jailer, and by his unswerving faith miraculously restored her sight. His farewell message was signed "From your Valentine".

The church viewed this man as the ideal replacement for Lupercus. So in 496 A.D., Pope Gelasius outlawed the Lupercan festival, but kept the lottery, intending to keep the game of chance-loving Romans interested in a Christian version of the festival. The names of young ladies were supplanted by the names of saints whose lives the drawer was to emulate for a year.

Of course adolescent young men of the time were likely much disappointed by this change, but eventually the new practice, whose spiritual overseer was it's patron saint - Valentine, caught on. The old pagan time-frame of mid-February was also kept, hence the present Valentines Day on February 14.

See Panati's book for further details on the practice of sending Valentine cards, and using "XXX" to indicate kisses.