Friday, September 12, 2008

Happy Anniversary! or How We Hooked Up: The Expanded Version

Five years ago today Steve and I were married -- almost three years to the day after we met. I have all of this written in my journal, but because it spans three years and lot of other things happened in between, I wanted the whole story in tact. For memory's sake. And because I refuse to scrapbook. I'm throwing in some pictures and journal entries, too (sort of embarrassing, but the whole story needs to be here, right?). Here we go. . . the longest post of my life.

Sunday, September 3, 2000 - Moscow, Russia

I'd been in Russia for a couple of weeks getting used to the culture, the smell, the food, and desperately trying to fight homesickness. I was with 10 other girls on a semester-long stay in Moscow to teach English with the International Language Programs (ILP). That Sunday we'd decided to go to church at the Russian branch and almost doubled their attendance. That night a few of us decided to meet at the church with the other members and ride a bus to a baptism being held in another part of the city. When we got there, the missionaries looked a little wary. Steve told me later it was mostly because we were a bunch of American girls - who most hadn't seen in over a year - and they didn't know why we were there. We cram onto the bus. ILP girls sat in the back, the members sat in the front, and the missionaries stood, a little cramped, where they could find standing room. The missionary standing right in front of me happened to be Steve.

Neither of us wanted to be too chatty for obvious reasons of him being on a mission and me a single girl, but we did talk a little. Steve wanted to know who we were and what we were doing there. So we talked about that, and a little about him. You know, the basics . . . "Where are you from?" "How long have you been on a mission?". Our conversation stayed pretty low-key, but I guess we'd made a good impression on each other.

Nat's Journal: September 10, 2000

"I went to the Russian branch again today. I suppose it doesn't matter where I go to church as long as I go, but I wanted to stay at the Russian branch instead of going to the International one because I wanted to learn more Russian and see what the Church is like in "infant" stages. But, I think a bigger reason why I wanted to go is the reason I shouldn't go. There's a missionary that I sort of have my eye on. I know i shouldn't go after a missionary (AND I WOULDN'T!) It's just that I'm afraid of distracting him from what he's out here doing. I don't even think he's noticed me that much (oh, yes he had), but we've had a couple of fun conversations (at the baptism last Sunday). I was really torn at where I should go for church, but I've decided to go to the International branch. I feel good about that."

I ended up going to the Russian branch most of the time anyway. Mostly because there was a girl we had been trying to get to go to church with us who lived in our building. Besides the casual, "Hey, how are ya?", I think Steve and I had maybe two more conversations the entire four months I was there.

This is one of my favorite pictures from being in Russia. These are some gardens in St. Petersburg. Hmm . . . that girl on the bench looks familiar. :)

The months went on and my experiences there (Steve aside) were some that I'll never forget. December rolled around, and it was time for us to leave. Ali, a girl in our group kept one of those books, similar to what a lot of missionaries have, that gets passed around right before transfers. Everyone writes a little something in it, leaves pictures, and contact information. So, Ali decided to pass her book along to the missionaries and Steve wrote in it, leaving his information with her. On our last Sunday as we were leaving, Steve came up to me and said, "I wrote my address in Ali's book. You can write me if you want."

At first I thought Ali was a giant flirt and was sort of embarrassed that she'd passed her book to them, but if it wasn't for her, and for Steve giving me the OK, I would have never kept contact with him after I'd left.

This is the only picture I have of both Steve and I while we were in Russia. From the left: three missionaries who I don't remember, Steve, Elder Parker, Ali, Elder um, going home soon, Brother & Sister Ballif, then Charlotte, Stacy, and me on the bottom.

After Christmas Steve was transferred to a different mission. The Romania-Bucharest mission includes a little Russian-speaking country called Moldova. Instead of sending Russian-speaking missionaries there, they pull missionaries from other Russian missions when they need them. Steve was chosen to go, and because the rules are different in that mission regarding email, I was able to write him that way instead of sending real mail. Every week I got a copy of the letter he wrote his family with a quick note at the top for me. And every week I wrote him back -- very cordially, no flirting. I promise.

Spring 2001

This went on for about four months. Then one week he wrote me, asking me to send him a picture. Heh. His excuse was that the girls in the English classes they taught were really flirty and he needed a picture of a girl so he could tell them he had a girlfriend. I thought, "Psh... ya right." But I sent him one anyway. Later (like after we were married) he told me that he really did have a problem with flirty girls, but the bigger reason for the picture was so he could see which girl was writing him. I had been writing him for four months and he didn't know which ILP girl I was! When he got the picture he told me that he was hoping it was me, but he wanted to be sure.
This is the picture I sent him. It was the most recent picture I had. You'd think the girls back in Moldova would have been suspicious because it wasn't a picture of Steve and me. By the way, I'm with Devin and Hilary.

Meanwhile, I was finishing up spring semester at Utah State and seriously considering a mission, which is a story in itself because I was dead set against going when I got home from Russia. The homesickness almost did me in. Here are a few thoughts I had at the time:

Nat's Journal: April 11, 2001

" . . . Another thing I've thought about, or person, rather, is Elder Perry. . . .he comes home in July, I think, which is right around the time I can put my [mission] papers in and go. You can only get to know a missionary so well when you're a girl, but I felt a connection with him that's carried over since I got home and has gotten stronger. He is
so focused and dedicated on his mission -- he's amazing! Anyway, what I'm trying to get at is . . . I want to see him when he gets home, but he lives in California. I don't know if he's even given that a thought or thought about dating me when he gets home -- he's got more important things to do."

Summer 2001

I finished the semester, moved back home to Idaho and decided to put my mission papers in. I got my call on June 21 to serve in the Austria Vienna Mission. I was scheduled to leave in September. This next journal entry is basically me thinking as I'm writing. Kind of random and so like a girl. Haha.

Nat's Journal: August 12, 2001

" . . . Elder Perry, well, now I can call him "Stephen"- which is way weird - got home last month. AND he's coming to Utah in two weeks to see his favorite [mission] companion come home and go to a mission reunion - which he invited me to. PLUS -- since I'll be endowed by then, he wants to do a session at the Salt Lake Temple. AHHH! I think being there and seeing him in all-white would probably do me in. OK, that was my first thought and I wondered seriously if I'd still go [on a mission] after spending a few days with him as a regular person. Then I thought . . . if I stayed home on the chance that we would date seriously and it didn't work out between us, I would really really regret not going [on a mission]. My heart usually rules my head in situations like these, but my head is gonna have to buck up and take control this time."

I went down to Salt Lake at the end of August -- the day after my mission farewell at church and two weeks before I was to enter the Missionary Training Center (MTC).

Nat's Journal: September 4, 2001

"I found Stephen's cousin's apartment and knocked on the door. When Stephen opened it we were both a little shy. We didn't know whether to hug or shake hands so we did neither. He hadn't shaved his goatee off. It was rather cute. :)"

After spending a couple of days hanging around temple square, and basically getting to know each other in person, it was time to say good-bye. Again.

"When I woke up Wednesday morning I was sick to my stomach. Not physically sick, but emotionally. I knew that in a few hours we'd have to say good-bye. Maybe forever -- who knows? We went out for breakfast then got pics taken in front of the temple. I helped them load some stuff then he walked me across a busy street to my car. We hugged for a second then when we parted he reached over and kissed me on the cheek, and I did it back. As I was pulling into traffic I glanced over and he looked back and waved. I do miss him, but I don't 'pine away' for him. I'm trying not to let my hopes get too high in case he's not around when I get home."

Fall 2001

I reported to the MTC on September 12, 2001. Yes, the day after 9/11, and yes, the same day we got married two years later. Leaving on my mission during the wake of 9/11 is another story.

From the left: Elizabeth (Greenhalgh) Marsh (my companion), Elise Fluckiger, Erin (Langston) Lowther, and me.

I loved Austria. I loved the simplicity of the life of a missionary. All we had to worry about was sharing what we loved most -- the Gospel. We never worried about having jobs or a social life or going to school. And everything we owned fit into two suitcases.

This was taken somewhere in Vienna. From the left: Andrea (Petrilli) Gehmlich, Becca (Storrs) Rowe, me, and Becky Christensen.

Winter 2001-2002

We weren't allowed to email the first few months, and Steve wrote me occasionally by hand. He was pretty busy and all. Especially since he had a girlfriend by then. Don't worry, it's fine. It's not like we exchanged vows before I left. Things were pretty lax. I was actually kind of funny how casually he said it in his letter:

Letter from Steve: December 8, 2001

". . . Yep, I moved out here to Utah. I'm going back [to California] in a couple of weeks to see my family, friends, and girlfriend again."

And my reaction, which turned out to be sort of a spiritual experience for me:

Nat's Journal: December 25, 2001

"That morning I was worried because I was in a bad mood. (Sometimes I wake up grumpy because Sis. Appel snores all night, and I can't sleep. Anyways. . .) I knew that if I felt like that I wouldn't be able to teach with the Spirit. So I prayed and asked Heavenly Father to help me overcome this and then I studied my discussion and looked up more scriptures. That morning I got a letter from Stephen (finally) and he mentioned his 'girlfriend'. Hmm. Normally something like that would have ripped me up, but I was still happy. The fact that he has a girlfriend doesn't bug me at all. I was so excited that I wasn't upset, I couldn't stop smiling for 20-30 minutes. Then at our appointment that morning the Spirit was so strong. It was incredible."

Of course I wanted details about her, and I must have asked him because in his next letter (two months later) he wrote a whole paragraph about her. But, there must have been a serious relationship talk between the time he wrote the letter and when he mailed it because he added a P.S. to it with some comments about them sort of breaking up.

When we were finally allowed to send email, he wrote a little more frequently -- especially the last few months. He also wrote and told me that he'd enlisted in the Utah National Guard. My first thoughts were, "Psh. I told myself I'd never marry anyone in the military." Funny how things work out.

Spring 2003

I came home on March 14, 2003. Because my parents had moved while I was gone, I had to speak in my new ward and then in my old ward the next Sunday. Steve and I got in touch after I got back and because he was living in Provo at the time, it was easy for him to drive up to visit.

Nat's Journal: March 23, 2003

"Stephen is coming up this weekend! I have to speak in my old ward and he wanted to be there. I'm kind of nervous because I'm still weird and more awkward than normal around boys. And because I don't really know what he's thinking . . . but probably the same thing I am. We're still just friends, but we'll see if there's anything else."

Needless to say, he made a good impression on everyone. Especially me. :)

Nat's Journal: March 30, 2003

"When I'm with Stephen, I don't feel all giddy and girlish. I feel content and comfortable -- like the Spirit is there (such an R.M. thing to say. Ha.). He gave me a big hug and kissed me on the cheek. He is so sweet! He got along great with my family. Especially my dad. He listened while my dad told him all about the Crater (family land used for grazing that my dad takes care of), and even kicked back and watched some basketball with him."

Summer 2003

With almost weekly trips back and forth between Idaho Falls and Provo, we managed to see each other often enough to realize things were getting serious. Here are a few thoughts I had a couple of months later. (This was good for me to reread, by the way. I forget things that I learn, which is why I write them down, but it doesn't do me any good if I don't go back and read them again. :))

Nat's Journal: May 13, 2003

"So yesterday I was waiting for Hilly to get out of dance class and thinking about all of that stuff about Steve. (Apparently I'd been nervous about something.) I noticed my scriptures sitting in the backseat of the car, so I reached over, unzipped them, and a few minutes later I found myself reading in Doctrine & Covenants Section 132 - The Eternal Marriage section. I'm not sure what I was looking for -- maybe a verse that said something like, 'And ye shall marry he who thou lovest.' Actually, I don't recall even seeing the word 'love' anywhere. It talks a lot about making covenants - almost making marriage sound like a business contract. I don't remember which thoughts came first -- that's how the Lord works sometimes, how He answers our questions. A few quotes I'd heard before came to mind:

'When the Lord commanded us to love each other, He knew we had control over it.'

'Don't pray to marry the one you love; pray to love the one you marry.'

Then I thought about wedding vows and promising to love and cherish each other. It occurred to me that it's more of an active love -- not passively waiting and expecting to stay in love forever. I know I've been in and out of love and crushes and that feeling comes and goes if I don't do anything to 'nourish' it. Then I thought about how important faith is in a relationship. Having faith in each other. Then I felt a bit guilty for thinking that Steve would just dump me later. I guess my fear of being hurt killed my faith. I guess the question isn't whether or not I 'truly' love Steve or if he loves me, but whether or not we're willing to keep the love alive. As far as I'm concerned -- I could see myself spending the rest of my life with him."

As far as Steve dumping me . . . I don't think that was on his mind. I found a few journal entries he wrote around this time. Luckily this story isn't just about what was in my head. :)

Steve's Journal: June 2, 2003

"I love being around her. As I was leaving, I thought to myself, 'I don’t like doing this, I don’t want to have to leave her like this too many more times, in fact, I don’t want to do it at all.' I would love to be around her all the time. What I haven’t figured out yet is how long she has felt this way – because I’m pretty sure she feels the same that I do – I think she saw something back a long time ago, when I still had no clue. Even the first and second times that I went to see her after she got home from her mission, I had no clue where things would lead. And right now, I’m not completely sure, but if things continue on the path that they’re on, my mom can probably FINALLY leave me in peace about, 'Are you engaged yet?' I’ve really grown to love her. Don’t ask me how, but I’m getting to the point that I don’t want to be without this girl. I do love her."

One interesting aspect of our relationship is that we never had a DTR talk. We never verbally agreed not to date anyone, or how serious we were, or the possibility of us getting married.

Steve's Journal: June 13, 2003

"At work, the guys thought it was the strangest thing that we haven’t talked about marriage not one time and yet I’m so sure about this. They’re like, 'Aren’t you going to ask her what she thinks first?' I’m like, 'Nope, I already know.' And I do, there’s not a doubt in my mind. We hint to it so much, and it’s something I’m sure we both want, I have no doubts that she’ll say ‘yes.’ At work, they say, 'Man, you’ve got more guts than I had.' Ya, well, some people just know. I’ve prayed about it a few times after I got back from her house last weekend, it’s just made me more and more excited about it. Everything I’ve been through the last few months has pointed me toward her – I know it’s right and I’m so excited about it."

A week later Steve bought a ring.

July 4, 2003: Idaho Falls, ID

Nat's Journal: July 6, 2003

"We were down by the Greenbelt waiting for the fireworks to start, playing cards and listening to Wayne Richards on 97.3 (the station that choreographs music to the fireworks) and suddenly he starts talking about a guy named Stephen who was in love with a girl named Natalie from Idaho Falls. Right about then Steve made me stand up and he got on one knee. He was totally nervous and shaking a bit. I'll never forget the way he looked at me. He told me he loved me and said something like, 'I don't know how to do this', and he asked me right there to marry him. All I could say was, 'I love you' and I reached down and hugged him. I think he had the ring out and asked me if I wanted to see it. He slipped it onto my finger and then he's like, 'Is that yes?' and I shouted, 'YES!' Then he picked me up and swung me around in a big hug."

We had originally thought about a December wedding, but opted (at the end of July) for September 12. There was a possibility of Steve getting deployed that fall and we wanted to make sure it wouldn't interfere with the wedding. (At that point, I think I was in denial. I really didn't think he'd ever have to go.)

By the time we nailed down a date, there wasn't time to get professional engagement pictures taken, so a friend of mine went with us to drive around Idaho Falls looking for something a little picturesque. The pictures weren't digital, so they don't look as good scanned in. We hadn't joined the 21st century yet.

Luckily our photographer had joined the 21st century. I couldn't have been happier with the pictures she gave us. All 1500 of them.
Happy Anniversary, Sweetie.

And here we are now -- five years, four addresses, two college diplomas, and 1.5 children later.


Shea said...

Wow. Incredible. Reading your blog made me cry! I am so happy for you two. Congratulations on your 5 year anniversary. Your story is truly touching and amazing.

Shea said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
The Rogers said...

OMG That was the cuteist story I have ever read! You two are just so cute!!

Kimi said...

Happy Anniversary!!
I just love you both, and your story! I get lost in it everytime I hear it (or tell it :)), and the long and detailed version makes it even better!

I'm so glad you two found each other!! For the record, I knew you would get married when you came to visit us the first time because 1) you were allergic to cats (like Stephen), 2) you had dark brown hair and wore contact lenses (like me - I was 19 ok, the qualifications weren't too extraneous :)), and 3) the way you handled Bay Area traffic in San Fransisco -- it spoke volumes... and seemingly prepared you for the future ;-) When you left my mom asked me what I thought, since she hadn't gone to San Fran with us, and I told her you were great! (and a lot like me... guess those contacts really earned you a lot of points!! haha)

Anyway-- I love you both! Well, all 3.5 of you :) I love having you in our family, and so close by.

Congrats on a great first 5 years!

Team Chilton said...

I totally read that whole thing and I love it! I've been wanting to hear the WHOLE story forever, but there never seems to be enough time. (you know how we girls want ALL the details). It just reminds me of our story...I'll have to wait for our anniversary though (and we'll only be on 3..not a big number like 5!)

Lorraine said...

Thanks, Nat. That was awesome. I knew some of the story, but I especially like the part about covenants and how staying in love is within our control. Congrats to you and Steve!

Brynn said...

That was so fun!!! I am glad you two ended up together and isn't it crazy and wonderful how things end up? And, I am almost 100% sure I took that first picture in St. Pete. I have one exactly like it, but, with me on the other side of the aisle looking around like I'm thinking deep things. Good times!

Natalie said...

Wow, I'm surprised that so many of you actually read the whole thing! LOL. I'm flattered... and impressed by your patience. :)

Shea - I love how it made you cry. I worked on this every day this week (during all the naps I could get Sophie to take) and I think I cried everytime. It's good to relive things like this, I think.

Bryan said...

Excellent post - thank you for sharing such a personal part of your lives. Happy fifth anniversary!

Chelsea said...

Natalie, that was beautifully and written with so much heart that I teared up so many times and had to stop so I didn't actually start crying. What a wonderful account to have written for you both to read years down the road when dating each other is just a fading memory.

Happy Anniversary.

Marsh Mayhem said...

Happy anniversaries, Sis! Can you believe we left seven years ago? And now we're both (okay, well you beat me) approaching five married years? Crazy!! My mom was so happy when I wrote her in the MTC to tell her about you, she still thinks she prayed you into existence!

And I still remember finding out you and Steve were getting married. It wasn't a shock, I remember the first thing you really said to me (aside from introductions) was "Do you have any boy stories?" Even with as much focusing as we did, I knew we'd get along!

Congratulations again!

Mary said...

Happy Anniversary, Nat and Steve!

Natalie said...

Elizabeth... was that really the first thing I asked you? Ugh. I'm slightly mortified, but it's good to know I was only a missionary for, what, a day? It takes a while to get that out of your system :)

Cassia said...

Natalie, that was such a sweet story! Thank you for sharing! :) And happy anniversary. :)

Anonymous said...

That was epicly heartwarming. Congrats! I remember getting that wedding announcement on my mission and feeling slightly trunky. That was the week that like three wedding announcements came in the mail.

Sara said...

Thank you so much for sharing that wonderful story. I'm glad you both kept such great records of that time period in your life! What a sweet experience. Happy Anniversary! :)

Leora said...

I LOVED this!

You two are a fantastic couple!

Sarah said...

I cried!!! It was beautiful. Thank you sooo much. You have no idea. I really needed that. xoxoxo Sarah

MindySue said...

Love this story! Thanks for sharing it. You have such a cute family!