It all began at the College Avenue train station platform back in January of 2013 at 6am… One dark, cold morning as we waited for the train to come to take us downtown Chicago, Stephen stood next to me, and he started talking. He cheerfully said, “Good morning!” and then talked with me until the train arrived. His friendliness surprised me, and he seemed nice; however, since I had just started dating someone else, I kept things cool. We said “Hi!” to each other after that because we often sat in the same train car.
A couple months later, when I sat there talking on the phone to my long-distance boyfriend, after seeing Stephen looking at me, this thought ran through my head: “Why am I dating someone 1,000 miles away when there’s a perfectly interested guy sitting right over there!?” I shook the thought off and dated the long-distance guy until he broke up with me. I wasn’t ready for Stephen then because he both annoyed and intrigued me… (Early in the morning he talked loudly with his train buddies in the train, and he seemed to me like a boring suburbanite…I didn’t know that he had grown up in vineyard country, loved chopping firewood and the outdoors, loved God…I could sense that he was interested, but I had some growing up to do.) Over the next year and a half I tried going on over a dozen first dates with other guys (that never worked out, but) while running into Stephen a few times at church because his friend Lauren had invited him.
When I saw Stephen show up at a contra dance at church (a type of folk dance similar to English line dancing), I relaxed around him, and found out his name. He danced with me that day and later invited me dancing with him and his friend Lauren. More months past where I started a job, then it ended suddenly, so as I started job hunting again I finally signed up for LinkedIn. I noticed this cute guy had looked at my profile; then I realized it was the “Train Guy” –Stephen! (He didn’t have glasses or a beard in that photo, and he looked striking in his bright blue shirt. Attraction sparked.) I asked him to be one of my connections, which he accepted, and we started emailing. Dancing is what I asked him about when we started writing each other on October 16th, 2014.
We only exchanged one set of messages on LinkedIn before we switched to email, but I am so thankful for LinkedIn! We started officially dating on November 16th, 2014, and he met my family. In December, he flew me out to California to meet his family. We cooked together, sat by his fireplace and read, and fell in love.
Back in October, during our first meal together, Stephen had started talking about this houseboat trip that his Uncle Roger chartered and that Stephen loved going on every two years. In February, I met Uncle Roger and his lively family (partly to get approval to see if I could handle the houseboat trip. 😉 ), and they approved me. In the spring I hoped that we might get engaged during that trip, but as the time approached, I felt like Stephen would wait. In order to cope, I prepared my mind to think that we might get engaged in the fall or hopefully by Christmas. Stephen threw me off his trail by mentioning marriage less as the trip came closer.
In August 2015, Stephen, Stephen’s cousin, Mark, and I piled ourselves and a small fridge and gear into a 2015 Chevy Impala, and drove through the night (rain storm and all) to Arizona where we boarded a houseboat on Lake Powell in Arizona and Utah.
Lake Powell is a huge network of ravines filled in with water because of Glen Canyon Dam farther downstream, so we would drive for a couple hours until we found an inlet or section that had a beach and could put down our anchors for a night or two.
Our first spot we found a cozy canyon where we could park at the end of it. The steep rock walls stretching up around us made me feel safe as we settled in, jumped in the water, and relaxed.
The next day we moved to a place near a channel, so it felt more open, and we got more breezes. We stayed there for two days. The second night we celebrated Uncle Roger’s birthday complete with dancing and silliness. On our second day there, most of us went by boat to see Rainbow Bridge—a one hundred foot rock bridge formation. By that day I had started to relax…
We moved into Rock Creek Bay on Wednesday, August 12th, where we had some canyon walls on two sides of us, but more openness at either end; the colors of the red rocks and green sage brush beside the water just made me happy. Stephen and I cooked an amazing meal of teriyaki chicken, three types of coleslaw (red cabbage Asian flavored one, a Ramen noodle one, and a traditional one), and garlic infused spaghetti squash for dinner that night. People went back for seconds, thirds, and we hardly had any left! That night a meteor shower blossomed in the sky above us as we fell asleep. Little did I know that the next day would be my engagement day!
On Thursday, August 13th, 2015 as always, the twelve of us woke up on the top of the houseboat to the sun shining on us and getting us too hot to sleep. Stephen tried waterskiing with one ski that day, and he finally did it! He had been trying for years…
Later that day, Stephen and I swam together, tried snorkeling, and then read together in the back of the motorboat tied up to the big houseboat. The day before Stephen asked me, “Do you want to go on a walk?” I said, “Sure!” We hadn’t done it, but then on Thursday, he asked again: “Do you want to go on a walk or a boat ride?” I said, “Sure!” He responded, “Well, maybe later.”
The cooks for that dinner had started a little later, so even around 6pm, dinner was a ways off. Stephen came up to see me where I had been talking with his Aunt Hanna and her sister-in-law, Carol on the top of the houseboat. He asked me, “Do you want to go for a walk?” I said, “Sure.” After putting on my sandals and Stephen putting on a shirt (he hardly wore a shirt all week because it was so warm), we walked up the stony slope along the lake.
As we went through the reddish rocks along the lake, Stephen kept bending down to try to catch the little lizards that kept skittering around. We looked in holes in the sandstone, walked by the lake, and I said, “Let’s wade,” so we did until a motorboat’s wake splashed us, and we got away from the edge. With the bright, blue sky above, the sun setting and making the rocks up high red, the peaceful walk relaxed me. I thought, “Something could happen during this walk,” but I batted the thought away because it seemed too scary to hope for a ring and then be disappointed. I had hints, hopes, inklings of what was happening—especially after I saw Aunt Hanna and Carol standing on top of the boat, a hundred feet away, sort of looking our way with cameras.
I tried to act normal and said, “Didn’t God do an amazing job of creating all this!?” Stephen responded, “Yes!” I could hear Velcro ripping (he was getting something out of his pocket), and I tried to stay cool and kept looking at the sky.
Then Stephen said, “I have a rock in my shoe!” I looked toward him, and then he shifted from looking at his shoe to being on one knee. A grin spread across my face as he said, “I have a question to ask you.” He took my hand and then said, “Mary, will you be my wife?” And he held out a ring that throws sparks out of its diamond. My smile grew and I responded, “Yes, yes, yes!!!” He put the diamond on my finger and then just hugged me. We both cried, smiled, and celebrated that we were finally engaged!!!
After celebrating together alone for a while, we walked back to the houseboat. Stephen said, “I have an announcement to make: We got engaged!!!!” They all laughed and congratulated us, but Stephen’s cousin Anni said, “I called it!!! I thought you two would get engaged at Lake Powell.” The kabobs and other grilled meat was ready by the time we got back, so we all ate on the top of the boat. That night, after calling our parents and texting or calling our siblings, I fell asleep watching more shooting stars between looking at the star of a diamond I now had on my finger.
Stephen and I can’t wait for our wedding day on June 18th, 2016!
By M. H. Campbell