When I met Frans, he had just become an uncle. Here he is with his newborn nephew, Floris, who is now walking and talking. I like Floris because we speak the same amount of Dutch. He sent me this photo soon after we met because, let’s be honest. What woman can resist a man with a baby in his arms?
Here they were at Floris’s first birthday. I love that we can measure the length we’ve known each other by Floris’s life. (And I love that Frans looks like he just asked Floris about his developmental strategies at van Santen & Sons this fiscal year.)
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Frans and I met at an unexpected time, and in an unexpected place.
For years I’d cringed at those annoying comments like, Love comes when you least likely expect it! For years I heard that message, and valiantly tried to ‘least likely expect it’ so that I could meet The One. I played the casual “Yah, I’m content. Whatever” until I was blue in the face. I was not being honest.
It was until I ‘least likely expected it’ myself, that I TRULY threw up the white flag of surrender (somewhat in disgust) and said You’re God. I’m not. My hands are open. No more games.
I couldn’t have forced or hurried myself into a moment like that. It just happened…at the right time. (Some of you who are reading this are gagging because you’ve been waiting for a moment like this. Go ahead and throw up if you need to. I understand; I’ll even hold your hair.)
So I’ll set the scene:
The Place: Sassy Anne’s in Knoxville, Tennessee, the most unlikely of places for a Dutchman and Floridian to meet each other.
The Reason: the wedding of mutual friends.
(We were already quite fond of PO and Amelia before we met, but because they were the medium God used to perform a work, they hold a very special place in our hearts.)
PO and Amelia met at Swiss l’Abri where, consequently, I had met Amelia four years earlier (see Part 2 for the shout-out). PO and Frans had also met at Swiss l’Abri and become fast friends two years earlier. Frans and I were never in Switzerland at the same time, however. We both agreed that this was a good thing. Had we met earlier, we wouldn’t have been ready for each other.
But back to Sassy Anne’s.
I had just arrived in Knoxville that night in time for the Bachelor/Bachelorette Party. It was Thursday. My prayer in the car on my coastal commute had been on Wednesday. At the right time…
Amelia had mentioned Frans, but as I had just thrown my hands in the air like I just don’t care the day before, I was pretty free to take him or leave him.
And then I saw him. Tall, blue hoodie. I respected the way he looked at people, the way he carried himself. Hmmm…we briefly talked about Switzerland, but there was no “This Magic Moment” playing in the background.
And then I heard him give a speech at the Rehearsal Dinner. He spoke of suffering, he spoke selflessly, meaningfully, unselfconsciously. I recognized that he had depth.
The next day, PO and Amelia’s wedding day, was both a celebration and a reunion. And suddenly, Frans was there. He got me a drink, we began to talk, and we were off. The night had ended and there was more to talk about. A pity the wedding was over. He invited me to go on a boat with friends the next day. I gave him my number.
That day on the boat is filled with gems. We jumped off a rope into the water. We swam together toward the shore. We played Bocce Ball. Frans lifted me out of the boat. He lost his balance and we fell, and as we did, I felt him instinctively turn his body to cushion mine so I wouldn’t be hurt. But most of all, we couldn’t stop talking. There was a consistent stream of Me too! You too? Our friendship was born that day.
But, you ask, how did it happen? Frans lived in Amsterdam. You lived in Florida. Long distance just doesn’t happen. Oh but it does, and this is how it happened for us. (But please do not make this YOUR formula. Your story is your own.)
Frans is what my friend Jon would call a “front door” type of man. He’s more than simply Dutch and straightforward, Frans is a leader. In a culture that warns its schoolchildren that “if you stick your head above the grain, you might get it cut off,” Frans is a rebel in the face of this rule.
First, he made it clear that he wanted to pursue me long distance. Second, he made it clear that it was perfectly fine if I said no. Third, he established trust.
We quickly went from Facebook to e-mails, to Skype. We have hundreds of hours of Skype conversations. We’re grateful for that kind of foundation, a foundation built on conversation.
At the beginning of September 2011, I got a letter from Frans inviting me to meet him in New York City. Before we met in New York, Frans drove 6 hours round trip to meet my parents, who happened to be in Europe for the first time in their lives. They talked for 5 hours. After they talked, my parents were excited that I was meeting Frans in New York.
Frans knew the importance of establishing trust, and the time it takes to do that.
It also takes sacrifice. Frans paid the extra amount for two bedrooms in New York, because it was important both of us that we not skip over any steps.
We involved our families and friends. We wanted a clear picture of the whole person, so we skyped with each other’s parents, brothers and sisters-in-law, and friends. When we met in person (me in Holland in December and Frans in the States in March), we saw more of the same. The consistency within our stories about our friends and family was important. It matched. It showed integrity.
When Frans proposed to me on train tracks during a trip to Knoxville, Tennessee, I was ready. In fact, Amelia, unknowing that Frans would propose that day, had just asked me that morning, “If Frans asked you today to marry him, what would you say?” It was the perfect practice. “I would say yes!”
And I did.
Surrounded by family and friends, and with God smiling on us, we did.
It was the end of something, and the beginning of something else. Our story.
At the right time…