Thanks to my sister in law Pam who knew all the right people, my application to seminary was submitted and accepted in record time.  I would begin classes in January of 1999 and by February there would be student housing available for me.  The first weeks of classes I would live with my parents and commute.

 Though I knew a few of my brother’s friends who were still in school, heading to orientation was much like it was when I headed off to college….I didn’t know anyone and was excited about the adventure of starting a brand new chapter in my life.

 Orientation day.  There was a campus tour to go on.  We were divided into groups and I made my way over to the library.  Tour guides shuffled us up and down the aisles of the library and informed us of the many hours of research we would be doing in that place.   I had made a ‘friend’ named Laura on the tour.  Part way through the tour she introduced me to a girl named Julie.  The tour finished up and as a couple of tours merged into one, that’s when it happened.  Julie turned to me and said, “Hey Holly, this is Joe.  He’s from Oklahoma too.”

 Who knew in that library that day I would meet for the first time the man to whom I would be married to by the end of that year.  Honestly, at that moment, Joe was nothing more than a fellow student to me.  By the time the campus tour finished up I could tell that Joe and Julie seemed to be a little more than ‘just friends.’  So, this is not a sweet ‘love at first sight’ story!

 That night I had made plans to spend the night with a dear childhood friend, Dana, who had recently moved to Ft. Worth.  Most of my fondest childhood/teenage memories include my sweet Dana.  That night over dinner, I told her about my day and she asked the questions.  ‘So, did you meet any cute guys?’  My answer, ‘I did meet one really cute guy in the library, but I can’t remember his name.  He seems to be taken though!’  Joe…..such a difficult name to remember!!!!

 Joe and I would meet again the next week in class.  Dr. Tolar’s Biblical Backgrounds.   As Joe walked in the class for the first time, our eyes met and he made his way to sit down next to me.  That day we walked out of class together and thus was the beginning of our friendship. . . sitting in class together and walking across campus together chatting as Joe made his way to his campus house and I went to my car.

 Over the course of the next several weeks, I figured out that Joe was indeed dating someone.  His dating interest had shifted from Julie to another blonde headed beauty on campus…my friend Laura that I had made on the first day of orientation.  This actually made it very comfortable for me.  Many of my dearest friends in my life have been guys and I enjoyed getting to know Joe as ‘just a friend’.  It was a safe place for me.

 By February I got word of my student housing assignment, and I would not be in the apartments where most single students lived.  The first available place to live was a one bedroom duplex.  I knew right away that most of the people that lived in that area were married…except for my Biblical Backgrounds friend, Joe!

 When the time came for me to move in, my parent’s were in China so two of my childhood ‘guy’ friends agreed to help me move.   Michael and Corey got me and all my things moved into that tiny place.  As I was unloading the last things out of my car, a red pick up truck stopped outside.  It was Joe.  He had just finished working out at the rec center and stopped by to see if I needed any help. I was pretty much all moved, but I did get him to help me light my stove.  It was February 14th….He didn’t have time to stay long because he had to get cleaned up to go to dinner with Laura!

 Over the next several weeks, Joe and I began spending a lot of time together as friends.  My heart was on lock down but the more time we spent together, the more I began to see what an amazing guy he was.  I had honestly never met anyone as nice as Joe (everyone seems to say that about him!). 

 One Sunday night early in March after I had returned from a weekend at my parent’s house, I got a phone call.  It was Joe and he asked if he could come over to talk to me about something.   He sat in my recliner rather devastated.  Joe shared with me that Laura had gone to a missions conference that weekend.  On Saturday night, she had told Joe that she felt “God calling her to a life of singleness.”  That was a new one for me.  It sounded very spiritual, but my mind kept thinking, “sorry Joe I think that it was Laura’s gentle way of dumping a really nice guy!”

 That night it began.  I began letting the guard over my heart down.  There was no longer Julie or Laura to shield my mind and heart from looking at Joe as anything other than a great friend.  That night I asked Joe something for the first time.  “Joe, are you a coffee drinker?”  I was hoping his answer would be no.  Wouldn’t you know he was a coffee lover like me and that night I brewed the very first pot of the thousands that we have now shared.

 When Joe left my house that evening, I remember running back to my bed and kneeling next to it.  I really don’t remember the exact words of my prayer.  Somewhere in a journal I have it recorded…..but it went something like this… ‘God, I’m scared to death to admit this, but I think I already have fallen in love with Joe.  Plllleeeese if this is not something that will last, bring these feelings to a screeching halt now!!’

 The next few weeks when we were not in class or at work, Joe and I spent almost every minute together.  He went home with me to hear my parent’s church presentation about their trip to China.  My little home church was a buzz with rumors of the guy with Holly.  But at that point….we truly were just friends.  I had no idea if Joe thought of me as anything other than a friend.

 The next Monday night it happened.  While we were returning from having dinner together, he asked me on a date.  My heart skipped a beat.  He shared with me that he didn’t want to ruin our friendship, but that he really wanted to take me on a date that weekend.  I said yes.   And things got very awkward at that point.  By Thursday there was another conversation that ended with Joe telling me that he felt he made a mistake by asking me on a date and that he didn’t want to mislead me because he knew my story and wanted to respect my emotions.

 So we were back to just being friends and things returned to ‘normal’.  The next few weeks were filled with long nights of study and conversation.  We ate together almost every night and went on many adventures together around DFW.  One evening as I was in the kitchen cooking dinner, Joe was in my living room watching TV (or so I thought).  We had spent most of the day together and all day I had sensed that he was really thinking about something because he had been very distant.  I walked into my living room to ask him if he liked ground turkey and he stood up from the couch.

 “Holly, I want to marry you.” 

 “Ummmm…do you eat ground turkey?” 

“Holly, did you hear me?  I want to spend the rest of my life with you.” 

“Hold that thought and let me go turn off the burner!”

 I had to be at my job in twenty minutes and a man I didn’t even call my boyfriend had just asked me to marry him…at least I thought that was what had happened. 

 We agreed to continue the conversation when I returned from work that evening.  (can you imagine how difficult that job was that night…I’m betting I didn’t make a whole lot of sense to the kids I tutored that night!)  By the end of that evening, a decision had been made.  Joe and I had decided that indeed we wanted to spend the rest of our lives together.  Granted I had never met his family.  We had never held hands.  The only date he had asked me on he had backed out of.  There was no ring. That night we were not exactly sure what it all meant but we both agreed that that night God began molding our hearts together as one.

 The next couple of months were a whirlwind of telling people.  I had been very clear to my family and friends that Joe was ‘just a friend’ and now I would be telling them that I am engaged to him. 

 Somehow, the pain of the previous year seemed like a very distant memory.   Indeed, God had turned my sorrow into dancing.  As I sit here ten years later, I realize how naïve those two twenty-somethings really were.  If they had known then about some of the trials that lied ahead of them in the next ten years, they might have not looked forward with such excitement.

 Our story would not make a good princess movie.  I’m not sure our 10 years together could be classified as ‘happily ever after.’  However, one thing I do know.  God has been faithful to bless our commitment to each other..  I am forever grateful to that sweet girl Julie for introducing me to her boyfriend (hehehehe!)  Joe.  Who knew that that day in the seminary library, I was meeting my prince.  .  . the one who would be by my side through all the joys and pains of the next 10 years.  This ponytail princess cannot wait to ride into the sunset of the next ten years with Joe by my side.  It may not be a fairytale, but I am very blessed for this story to be my life.

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