Tuesday, 4 September 2012

The Perfect Proposal

"Lord, I do fear
Thou'st made the world too beautiful this year;
My soul is all but out of me..."

-- Edna St.Vincent Millay

I caught buses from Winchcombe to Gloucester on the 30th of August, on a quest to spend some time with a few cherished friends. Lizzie and Neil, whom I was staying with then, told me they had a meeting in Gloucester that day, so I would have a ride the 35 to 45 minute drive home. On the bus Charles and I exchanged texts, like we always do. I wrote something about how tall, dark, and handsome I find him, and how much I love him, and he responded with, "Love you, beautiful. Hope your day brings you happiness in ways you couldn't imagine." At this stage, I really hadn't imagined the happiness it had in store!

I went to the home of “my English family” for lunch and we laughed our way through it, and then “my little English sister” Megan and I went on to my beloved Gloucester Cathedral to meet a few more friends (Ali, and Lizzie and the girls) for a coffee. I ordered a mocha at the Cathedral coffee shop and basked in the beautiful, ancient place which has been a sanctuary for my heart since I first saw it upon starting at Redcliffe 7 years ago, and the precious friendships the Lord’s given me to come home to every time I get back to Gloucestershire. I am so utterly blessed to have friends like these!

After finishing our drinks, I proposed we take 2-year-old Lily up to the cloister courtyard to run around. I was holding baby Rosalie, of course, but Lizzie seemed to suddenly really want me to put her back in her pram, so, though I found this rather weird of my friend who lets me take her daughters around as if they were my own, I laid the precious 4-month-old back in her pram and followed Lily to the fountain. I have adored the cloisters and the cloister courtyard since I first laid eyes on it. All throughout college it was my favourite place to spend time in prayer. I’d sit on the benches out there and write letters to loved ones back home, fill my journals with prayers and thoughts, study for essays, and do bible studies. It was just a sanctuary to me—a “thin place” where God seemed nearer to me, where my heart could most easily connect with him, and there were no distractions beyond the kind of beautiful ones that made me adore Him more…

Neil showed up to pick up his wife and kids and after a few photos by the fountain, he suggested we take some inside the stunning 14th century cloisters, complete with stained glass reflections and the earliest surviving fan-vaulted ceilings in England. When this was an abbey, the monks would have used the cloisters for study and meditation, and the windows where their scribing desks sat to write out the scriptures before the printing press was invented have always fascinated and thrilled me.  The beauty is intoxicating to me. So inside we went, all 7 of us, and as we did, Lizzie suggested we go down in another direction. When I turned that way, there, against an ancient wooden and iron door, stood my tall, dark, and handsome Londoner holding a bouquet of flowers.

The man I'm going to marry, with flowers and ring in hand, in the courtyard of my beloved cathedral where he proposed!!!

And I was flabbergasted! I had NO IDEA this was coming or that he and my friends had been in cahoots to surprise me like this for nearly 2 months. I went to give him a kiss hello, shocked and a little confused, and then he took me by the hand and led me back out to the courtyard. I could feel his heart pounding so quickly in his chest as I kept kissing him and hugging him and telling him how excited I was to see him. I thought to myself, “Surely, this must be the proposal…” but he wasn’t saying much—he was so nervous! Then he said, “Let’s walk” and we began to make a wide circle around the fountain, his thumb rubbing anxiously my hand that he was holding. He began to speak to me in rhyme, but flustered, it took me awhile to realize that he was reciting to me a poem by heart. He said, without a flaw:

Remember when we first met?
When all was awkward and so much unsaid?
And we took a walk that we couldn't have imagined
Where it'd end up or how we were being led
And we journeyed on
Confused and unsure
Whether we should make a go of it
Or leave things undecided some more
But we took a chance
In the chilly north
Thought we were worth it
And then looked forward
To this day where
We make a promise to each other
To one day be united
And love forever
So now for me will you bless
When I ask you the question
Leah, will you marry me?
Please will you say...

At this point he got down on one knee and opened a pretty ring box before me, holding out a gorgeous 18k white gold .45 carat diamond solitaire. And I very quickly exclaimed, “Yes!”

I cannot muster the words to describe this feeling. I honestly questioned whether I was actually dreaming (Charles, being the wonderful, servant-hearted man he is, pinched me to prove that I was indeed awake :)). I started jumping up and down in excitement, and this lasted throughout the day and into the next, hopping and dancing about every few minutes :) So much excitement, I just don’t know what to do with it all! Between all of the jumping up and down and squeals of delight and kissing and hugging the handsome man kneeling before me, Charles had to literally ask me if I’d like to put the ring on. And of course I did! Without even getting my finger measurement, it was a PERFECT fit. And on my rather diminutive hands, the diamond looked huge, and couldn’t possibly sparkle any brighter! The best part is, he chose it himself :)

It is the perfect, classic diamond solitaire and I love it!

“I have found the one whom my soul loves.”
– Song of Songs 3:4

An older couple came up to us at that point and offered to take our photo :) I love how you can read the relief in Charles’ face in the photo!

Upon just standing up from where he'd been knelt :)
But then the courtyard cleared of people entirely, and the cathedral vergers shut the doors to leave us to ourselves out there in the courtyard. It turns out, I was to learn later, that my friend Neil had called the cathedral and told them of Charles’ plans to propose there and enlisted their help. The vergers were all part of the coordination :) And the cathedral staff asked whether they could call the local tv service to catch it all on film! Ha! My friends declined, knowing that wouldn’t really be my thing. But rather cool, nonetheless, that our engagement was such high priority to this massive, majestic cathedral I so love :)

I adore this place even more now-- and I didn't guess that would be possible :)
We had a few minutes to gather ourselves, and then, as if walking on a cloud in a dream, we meandered back into the cloisters and into the main part of the cathedral so I could show Charles this place I loved so much that He’d never been to before. What an incredibly perfect place to plan His proposal. I couldn’t have thought of a more apt place as far as my little heart goes. And the fact that he knew this makes my little heart dance! In a dream-like blur, I pointed out a few things as we sauntered through the dimly-lit, stone-walled, ancient place of worship. And a few times we ducked into a little side chapel and shared a kiss and I squealed in more excitement :) Could this be real? Did a tall, dark, and handsome English gentleman really just propose to this small-town American girl in this majestic, ancient cathedral? It felt like a fairytale :)

Then we walked out into the town and sat on a bench and reveled in this feeling, as Charles explained to me how calling my parents’ to ask for my hand in marriage had gone (and the bizarre experience of having my dad talk of artificially inseminating his cattle during their phone call. What? Hehe!) and Charles told me that this was our time but that he’d arranged for us to go home with Neil and Lizzie later, and he’d stay over one night with us in Winchcombe before he had to head back up to London. In all this time, the sky was beautiful and bright and sunny and only broke open for a quick bit of time when Neil was on his way to pick us up. I didn’t want to leave the cathedral, but I was floating and found it hard to think too clearly about anything. I was thinking, though, that I hadn’t said goodbye to my friends, and I would be returning to the states for a long time and felt badly that I hadn’t given them hugs…

Neil picked us up with a grin like the cat that got the cream for having helped pull this surprise proposal off. I had just spent the last 3 weeks with Lizzie and Neil and my gorgeous goddaughters and they’d not given me ANY reason to believe that anything like this was going to happen. When I had first arrived, I’d even confessed to Lizzie that I thought it would be so brilliant if Charles would think to show up and surprise me there in the Cotswolds and propose, because he and I have talked about our future marriage for years now! And my precious friend Lizzie whom is known for not being able to keep a secret in all her enthusiasm, gave me no clues AT ALL. I was completely and utterly surprised. I’d even been disappointed earlier in the month when Charles told me he wasn’t going to make it over to visit us while I was there, even though we’d discussed a visit earlier in the summer when I’d made plans to be there. I’d been teary and upset when I heard, and Neil and Lizzie still managed to keep from spilling any beans :) 

When he picked us up, Neil explained that he’d left Lizzie and the girls at Redcliffe because Rosie was in the middle of a breastfeed, and we’d just have to go back there to pick them up. He asked what we should do for supper, whether Charles and I would like to go out on a little date, or whether we should all do something together. I even offered to cook. But they were only priming me for another surprise :)

When we arrived to Redcliffe, Neil told us he would park and we should go find Lizzie feeding the baby. As we walked through the halls of my alma mater, I caught a glimpse through a window of one of my dearest friends, Amanda who lives on the other side of the country, out in the garden. I said to Charles, “I think I just saw Amanda Pink!” and he didn’t let on a thing :) We rounded a corner to the garden door, and there milling about under a little garden party tent, were my dearest friends in the world, all come back to Redcliffe from all over England! A banner reading, “He asked… She said Yes!” hung across a window-wall, and under the tent was a little patio table with wine and juice and cupcakes and crisps and delicate-stemmed wine glasses. Little tins of flowers and jars tied with ribbon and holding candles were scattered about. Blankets and cushions lay invitingly under the tent. And my close circle of dearest friends were all gathered there to congratulate us :) It could not have been a more perfect surprise!

Our engagement date :)

The loveliest surprise engagement party!
We're engaged!!

Re-creating the moment with the banner :)
The story came out that Charles had contacted Neil and Lizzie about a surprise proposal, and Lizzie had organized everyone else to be a part. They had all known this was coming for nearly 2 months, all biting their tongues when I spoke of missing Charles and fearing our long winter apart and wondering if he was ever going to get us engaged and watching me suffer in the insecurity of that… It was just all too too perfect.

Charles and some of his co-conspirators!
Neil had brought my laptop and set it up to call my family as soon as we got to Redcliffe and tell them the news :) “My English family” had also known what was coming, and soon came up to college to join the party. We opened lovely cards of congratulations, and ate and drank and chatted and laughed. Paul and Abbie brought his guitar and worship books, because one of my favourite things since Redcliffe has been worship times with friends and the acoustic guitar. We ordered pizzas and sat under the tent together til the sky started to go dark. Heavenly! But perhaps the dearest part of the whole party was when they all sat around us and prayed over us, each one. I’m not sure a heart can get any more full than mine was in those moments, with my darling new baby goddaughter in my lap, my handsome FIANCÉ at my side, and the dearest, know-everything-about-me friends all around praying for us and our future. 

Being prayed for... Such an incredible feeling!
 “How full can a heart be? How much of the precious presence of another can it take in without breaking apart and spilling over onto everything?”
– Leigh McLeroy

Amanda, Abbie, and I took Charles around to see our college, walking down memory lane together. Then as the night closed in, we moved our perfect little garden party indoors and Charles popped open the champagne so we could all have a toast!

Champagne toasts in the evening!
Every last detail was perfectly orchestrated by my loved ones to bless my heart. And oh my goodness, how well they did that. Overwhelmed with thankfulness!

In the evening we went home with Neil and Lizzie and the girls and I called as many of my family as I could get a hold of. Telling everyone was half the fun :) Joy goes all that much more deep when it is shared! And we are still floating on that cloud of joy...

So thankful.

(View the entire album of photos here)

"He fell to the seat, she by his side. There were no more words. The stars were beginning to shine. How was it that their lips met? How is it that the birds sing, that the snow melts, that the rose opens, that may blooms, that the dawn whitens behind the black trees on the shivering summit of the hills?
One kiss and that was all.
Both trembled, and they looked at each other in the darkness with brilliant eyes."
-- Victor Hugo


Gabi Dickinson said...

Words fail me, but oh if you could see the smile on my face and the one i've been carrying in my heart since i heard the news :)
Love you almost-married-sister!

Lizzie S said...

Yay! You wrote it up so beautifully. :)

Lizzie S said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Bex said...

Yay! I'm so glad it all went well!

Abi, Beth and I all knew as well, even when you stayed that night. It was pretty bizarre having to say goodbye to Amanda when you left, because we knew that she'd be coming back!

You have no idea how much time Mum and Amanda spent thinking up contingency plans just in case it rained or whatever other possible scenario they could think up...!

But, once again: yay!

Deb said...

What a perfect chapter in your "happily-ever-after" love story, Leah!

I was sooo disappointed that I missed your phone call....but I knew that I'd be able to read all the lovely details of your engagement on your blog = )

Congratulations to you and your handsome Englishman!!!!

Jodi said...

How exciting, Leah!!! Congratulations to you both!
I've been out of the loop for awhile; so sorry to be late with my congrats! I've been thinking about you and thought I'd catch up on your blog. So happy to see the news! I'm so excited for you and Charles! Blessings, sister!!

Leah said...

Thank you, Jodi :) It's so good to hear from you, girl!

And thank you EVERYONE!! We're very excited :)

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