Monday, August 18, 2014

Our Love Story As A Book Extras

Telling Our Love Story 

The Quick To Long Versions:
Quickest: I love Natasha Erskine who is an amazing woman of God (and her daughters Alea and Roya) and we plan on getting married and becoming a family on October 11, 2014.

Almost As Quick:
Natasha met her extroverted first love and husband Lynn Erskine at Kingswood University (previously Bethany), where I now teach. They pastored at Immanuel Baptist Church in Truro Nova Scotia until Lynn’s heart stopped unexpectedly while finishing a long evening run on Sept 2, 2012. Earlier that morning he preached at church and watched an afternoon movie with his family before Lynn parted from this earth and his beautiful wife and two beautiful blonde haired blue eyed daughters Roya (4) and Alea (2).
Later on we met...
January 18, 2014 around 5:30pm I met Natasha in person for the first time. She was currently a single mom and grieving widow for the past year and a half living on PEI (Prince Edward Island) and I was a pastor who had just moved countries into the smaller town of Sussex, Canada for my first year of teaching as a professor and guardedly single after just finishing a previous relationship 2-3 months earlier.

The Relationship Progression:
We started emailing soon after our first time meeting. We started talking over the phone after our first date. It was meant to be a relaxed coffee meet up to see if this instant mutual connection was real or fantasized. It was real. I drove a total of 6 hours one night to spend 6 hours with Natasha once more before she left the country for almost a month to go overseas on a missions trip with her Uncle to Bangladesh. We didn’t think we would talk while she was there, but after she found internet, emails and I-message continued unexpectedly to the point of us knowing we would pretty much be stepping into a relationship together if we weren’t already upon her return to Canada after only being in person together 3 times previously. I had already connected with her family and invited over for lunch through church while she was overseas unintentionally and the base was set. By the time we had known each other for a month and hung out 3 times, the ground we had covered through conversation felt like we’d been dating close to a year and pretty confirmed. Is that crazy? Can that really happen? It did for us, but it still took me 5 months of prayer and deepening our relationship and me requestioning or growing into the reality for me to “make sure” and be able to say it as public and openly as I’m now doing in this post.
We both have back stories which is what makes this story quite the undertaking.

Natasha’s Backstory:
Natasha and Lynn loved each other deeply and were obviously committed to the end. She grieved intentionally after as a strong single mom with the support of many around her and has consistently sought to honor Lynn well. As early as four months after Lynn’s death, Natasha blogged that she felt she still had more love to give to a husband and that she would actively let her girl’s pray for such. Although Natasha was open to a relationship, she was not actively searching nor was she open to just any guy from what I know. It just happened to be that the night I walked in the door that she felt like God gave her a supernatural ability to see into my spirit and felt an inner confirmation about me from God. I’m sure there is probably more there, but a huge necessary point was that I trust Natasha’s walk with God (I was taught to trust a woman’s intuition early on) and that she had a good feeling about me and what she felt was a confirmation from God. That’s lucky for me. So you’re saying there’s a chance…

Brent’s Backstory: 
I didn’t know this until after the fact because I didn’t remember names or see any pictures 
but I was made aware of Lynn’s death and Natasha’s story early on by a mutual friend on the 
church staff in Michigan. A month later on Oct 12-13, I attended a pastor’s retreat where I was given
 the words from a colleague, “Rest. She will come. There will be two blondes beside her.”

The person who gave me this word, by no means wanted to intrude so she told me after the group meeting setting and was very considerate of me in a place of also being contently single at the time. A year later the next fall she emails me again feeling prompted by God to at least revisit the phrase but at the time I was dating a fun brunette and completely disregarded the email. Soon after Becca and I broke up, I read the friend’s email thread and response telling me to disregard her comment if it didn’t fit so I did, until… I went to a fellow professor’s house who started to play matchmaker… I knew how this went, they come up with names, I go along with it, and almost every time they have simply tried to set me up with whatever single Christian woman they know and though we could work even if it’s a long shot, we have nothing in common, and have little attraction to each other. But the way my colleague talked about this girl this night was different. Her and her spouse both confirmed that this girl/woman was the real deal, something solid and special. You could see they believed it in the way they kept revisiting her throughout the night conversation, but after talking to her mother recently the colleague was determined that this girl wouldn’t be for any kind of relationship ready for another year or so. I decided I at least wanted to know this girl’s name to see… Natasha Erskine, (“Remember that,” I told myself in my head), I went home,.. she’s not on Facebook. Google search? I found a Blog and video. I watched a twelve minute video and could tell she was obviously passionate for God. Then I went to her blog. Scrolled down and there was a picture of Lynn and then there was a picture of Natasha, with two blonde girls right beside her.
Now I was beside myself!!!  A chill went down my back and I had one of those taken aback WoW moments, yet I didn’t want to get ahead of myself.  So I emailed my friend, slept on it, and received word to keep that more low key between me and God to sit on it before going too public or crazy with anything.  I asked the Counseling Professor Allen and got similar counsel, so I prayed but let it be until I went to go and see those friends back in Michigan over Christmas.  Besides, she wouldn’t be ready to be in a relationship in a year anyways and on top of that this whole thing could be one of those times where I get excited and nothing really comes of it, but you figure there was still probably a reason for all of that. I was asked by the mutual friend who had the original word for me over a year earlier if I wanted to take a symbolic painting back to Natasha.  I figured why not take the chance to possibly meet this woman, while once again knowing that the painting might be dropped off best with her friend or parents in New Brunswick and me never meet Natasha in person/ face to face.  It turned out she was open to me dropping off the painting!  So I was headed down her way in a month with the student leadership.  She knew nothing about me. I could’ve been a 50 year old professor with a family and kids for all she knew.  She didn’t catch wind that I was younger and that this might be one of those timely rendezvous until the day before we met.
I was supposed to carry on this painting on to the plane back home to keep it safe.  It wasn't going to fit… I ended up shipping it to Canada last minute which was the very thing we were trying to avoid… but it was too late and instead of shipping it straight to Natasha and finding her address, I figured I might as well ship it up to myself so I still had a chance to deliver it.  J  It sounds more creepy now when I type that than it did at the time.  I just was intrigued and really wanted to seize this moment if this was the one chance I would meet the Natasha that had seemed to be so evasive to many in this time.   Keep in mind, that despite all of this happening, I was completely open and still convinced that I might drop off this painting meet this woman and that be the end of us knowing each other.  We get the painting on the PEI trip with 30 college student leaders and I figured I would step away from the group for an hour at some point and drop it off with one or two others… nope.  Instead it happened at the end of the day with a bunch of  college students who had been walking around all day ready to get home and eat and rest also needing to get to a bathroom.  So here I am pulling up with a 15 passenger van (school logo and all) and about 5-8 students going in first needing to use her bathroom and my friends 8 year old daughter, Esther, who wondered if she had any kids and asked if we could pray for Natasha when we met her.

The First Meeting:  
So there we are being welcomed in and standing in her home by the dinner table between the kitchen and living room while different people traded off using the bathroom.  Roya and Alea were running around playing with there cat Thumbelina and I specifically remember one girl semi-tackling her sister as they ran around.  We talked as a group for a few minutes.  Then we opened up the painting and Natasha looked at it and you could tell she was moved.  The painting said, “Restore” and was painted expressively by our mutual friends’ for their personal marriage but was being transferred to Natasha as a message of hope.  I didn’t think of the significance of me delivering this painting.  Once we were all done using the bathroom, we asked if we could pray for her and I asked Esther if she wanted to pray but she got shy and said to me, “You can pray.”  (honestly I was nervous and kind of caught off guard by saying we should pray and then Esther not wanting to and me being put on the spot)  So I put my hand on Natasha’s shoulder and prayed for her.  There was a moment of connection here that I didn’t expect.  I’ve often put my hand on a man or woman’s shoulder to pray for them without any distraction, so noticing her defined smaller feminine structure under my hand surprised me.  So, Moment 1 this night was me seeing her girls tackle each other.  Moment 2 was praying for her as a group with my hand on her shoulder.  Moment 3 was our goodbye.  I lingered behind at the door as people were getting in the van just to tell her that from what I’d heard, she was highly respected and revered and I just wanted to thank her for her example.  She had a knowing vulnerable look of reception. I thought I had said or referenced something too sensitive and was about to make her cry as I walked away and assumed that any chance there was over!  “Whelp,” I nervously chuckled and thought as I drove away, “I totally made her cry… Stupid.  There went any possibility there.  But that was cool I got to help in that way and a fun 15 minutes… back to leadership retreat!”   But I was wrong!  She did respond with this email:
Brent, it was such an honor to have you all at our house last night. Thank you for going out of your way to make that happen. I hope you've all had a fun weekend. :) 
I am curious to know what led you to Kingswood? How did you find yourself in the majestic town of Sussex?? :)
Peace in Christ,
(Those two questions spurred an email thread of 54 messages w/in 2-3 weeks)
So within a few days we started a long emailing spree on an almost daily basis for that first week or month, and I don’t know how, but even though it was mainly written words over email, the conversation and connection was electric.  It moved me.

The First Date:  
We decided to meet up again to see whether we were both crazy or whether there was something different here.  Calactus (a vegan hipster nice spot) in Moncton on January 25th was the night’s start.  We had dinner and Natasha was nervous and barely ate.  We prayed together to calm our nerves and I asked a lot of questions.  We went for a drive since there was snow everywhere and ended up on an unintentional snow driving adventure and then ended up climbing a random small hill to get a view but the wind up draft was killer freezing and I soon found out she wasn’t the hugest fan of heights as we were climbing… whoops.  We drove further and found a place to park and talk until late.  I dropped her off and my drive home was only supposed to take an hour, but I ended up spinning out on the way home and having to get towed which ended up taking me 4 hours to get home and an extra $250… expensive first date!  But she was just as beautiful as I remembered and the conversations were great and there was one moment as she got back into the car that her eyes were saying a lot and one of the things they were saying was that the date had been going well so far!

The First Home Visit with Her Girls:  
I wanted to see Natasha and her girls one more time before she left for a month after our first date.  As I left work as soon as I was done and started the 2½ hour drive to arrive hopefully around dinner before the girls were asleep but, What was this going to be like?  Would it be awkward and quiet with the four of us sitting around a dinner table and the two girls crying or staring at me and wondering why I was in Daddy’s or Lynn’s seat?  Would they already be in bed and me have to say a quick “Hi” and also exit early?  I didn’t know what to expect.  I was planning at staying down the road at her grandma’s for the night and driving back for classes the next morning extra early. 
Alea opened the door for me with a bright 4 year old’s face and dainty voice said so matter of factly, “My daddy died.”  I smiled and responded with something like, “Well, I’m sorry about that and impressed that you’re willing so open.”  They welcomed me in and Natasha had lentil soup and salad made, but the girls had already eaten so they welcomed me into the living room where they were making a fort play area with pillows on the ground.  The proceeded to jump around on the couches and on me and it was a great time of playing around.  It was very natural.  When it was bed time, I got to read the bed time story on the living room couch and as I opened the book to read with us all sitting there, one of the girls looked up at me and said, “Daddy?” and the other caught wind and joined in and said, “Daddy?” Daddy? Daddy?... I responded, “No, I’m just a friend of your mom’s visiting right now.”  There’s no protocol book for this stuff! We are making it up as we go! (This moment didn’t really phase or scare me.  It was probably a natural question for two girls who haven’t had a lot of random men come to visit them and hangout at their house).  Also, Natasha did call me out early on after first meeting and graciously made it clear that she was not interested in playing games.  Pretty much this needed to be intentional about moving forward towards marriage and family because she wasn’t wanting to date just to date.  Totally understandable.  So early on I had to decide and make sure that I wasn’t just entering or stepping into this scenario unless I was open and intentional about not only getting to know Natasha as a potential future wife but also the girls as my future daughters and family.  The relationship was a go.  There was still this sense of it being so fresh and Bangladesh so soon that we were deciding to not try and add too many relational distractions for Natasha as she went to serve and also spend time grieving Lynn.  Despite the effort, our relationship continued to progress through conversation while she was away.  So upon her return I was planning to meet her and welcome her while she was at her parent’s house and I was planning on asking at least her dad for permission to date her.  Little did I know that weekend I would end up having conversations with pretty much all of her family members about us and also for setting a precedent that they could talk openly with me about Natasha and Lynn and her grieving along the way.  The relationship was officializing.  At the same time, I was full steam midway into the spring semester of my first year of teaching with a lot of weekend speaking engagements.  We still lived 2-3 hours a part.  She couldn’t drive my way mid week with a daughter in school nor could I while teaching so our only time to see each other were the off weekends.  Needless to say, email, phone, and facetime became our great friends. 

Dating Long Distance With Kids:  
The rest is a blur.  We pretty much knew from each following date that we wanted to be together, but I had been single for almost 30 years and she had lost her husband less than two years ago, it seemed necessary for us to get to know each other and have some time together under our belts.  I also had to make a major shift in my life from giving my all for the gospel and intentionally living fully as a single man and being willing to leave my family behind to shifting to becoming a husband and father who became a part of my missional calling on my wedding night.  Another interesting dynamic was trying to figure out when to get time alone and when to have kids time on dates.  After our first date or two we had a lot time with the Natasha’s family and/or her girls around and would end up not having a lot of time or space together alone to talk or really get to have one on one growth time as a couple.  But then again, when we were alone, it was also essential for the girls to feel like I was becoming more a part of their lives and worlds in a way that they were excited about us to.  How do you get to date and know someone with kids well without feeling guilty about going on adventures without kids for alone time or with kids and not as a family?  Even though everything felt very natural, it was tough to really see us as a family at times, especially for Natasha, because our actual time together was so limited and in 1-3 day weekend spurts and then we went separate ways until… July when we had a whole month together to travel and spend a week back around Natasha’s friend, family and church world in PEI and then all the way down to the states to meet all of my family for our beach vacation trip in North Carolina where we got engaged at the very end.  We both, know how to put ourselves aside for others and could’ve waited a longer time, and I think I had a more difficult time wrapping my mind around the idea of us feeling so right and natural together so quick. The possibility of us going from meeting to engaged and potentially married in less than a year caused me to feel responsible to have to test it, but there was no perfect time and the more time we spent together the more it became me trying to answer every single one of my questions before marriage (about any girl) in an intensified shorter amount of time and Natasha getting frustrated at times because although she may have had her own questions, she trustingly knew God’s words in her life and had faith in the confirmation earlier on and continually through our relationship.  We both knew earlier on, but she was much more of the Mary who pondered God’s words in her heart and acted in humble faith more easily than me as a Joseph who thought very practically through the matter to have it play out in the best possible manner.

Single To Married:  
There were two huge struggles for me here, I can’t speak for Natasha. 1) My sister put it best when she said I was basically going through, “dying to self.”  Although I would still be Brent, there was a dying to my goals, dreams, and future plans as a single man needed to be able to embrace a life of ministry through and with a family first.  I may be overanalyzing this, but I just can’t reconcile having the same identity as a single after I’m married.  There’s something about becoming one with someone else and especially in my scenario with two daughters simultaneously that says, a new life plan and identity is needed for you to step into different than your previous plans.  The morals, values, and person remain, but the priorities, mindset, and heart calling have taken a dimension shift as it joins another heart and makes something new.

Brent, Are you IN? (JOURNAL)
What do you’re next 30 years or TODAY hold?
What’s it look like to appreciate your last 30 years and to leave them there while knowing how they’ve deeply shaped you?

Am I ready to give up even considering any other girl as a possibility or alternative or “what if” or “wonder what she is like” option from seeing her in pictures or discussions?

The question is Natasha it?  Are her and the girls a God led not only moment or learning experience, but my family?  Is Natasha my counterpart, my wo-man, my new life?  Is marriage supposed to feel like being born again or a continuation of who you are or both in one? Maybe it’s supposed to feel like a totally new chapter or section of a book where the past is in the past?  Is this relationship with Natasha more than the typical brother and sister in Christ love where we are supposed to become a family?  I passed that point.  I mean, I could bail and restart since I’ve had to learn how to leave my family and create a new community with each move but is this different or this a chosen pursuit to stay and commit?  Is Natasha a woman of God.  Yes.  Is she beautiful? Yes.  Do we fit well? Yes.  Do we have masked shortcomings visible and invisible? Yes.  Probably a lifetime journey.  Am I up for it? Am I ready for this?  Am I ready to give up my past life… to some degree I’ve already moved out of it… What are the fears left?  Leaving single or younger friends behind and unaccomplished dreams and adventures due to stretching finances. The fear of burning bridges or hurting past ministry or letting go because of the quick transition to Natasha.  But that’s not a problem… Natasha is a beautiful blessing...  I need to live more confidently in what I need to be and do and figure it out together.
It's time to step into a fun new chapter of life.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi Brent. This is Troy Carruthers. We know each other name-wise but haven't met each other. Just wanted to say congratulations. My wife Joy and I have always been big Natasha fans and we are so happy for you both. Cheers to the new chapter.