How It All Started

"Where did HE come from?" Sarah thought as she glanced up at the stylishly dressed young man walking through the door. "He's cool!" The young man barely spared her a second look as he placed the crock-pot on the counter and searched for an outlet.

"Hi! What's your name?" she opened cordially.

"Joel," he responded with a shallow smile before moving out of the room.

"Well! He's not very friendly" she concluded. "Besides, he looks so worldly! He must be a mess."

The "mess" was not completely unaware of the new girl and her parents. "I won't stare" he thought, but was forced to acknowledge her when she introduced herself and asked his name. Later, after the morning service, he found an opportunity to observe the trio inconspicuously and decided "she's nice enough, and she's kinda pretty, but she's probably FAR too conservative for my tastes."

How very wrong they both were!

When irish eyes are smiling

"Who should we invite for dinner?" Sarah asked her mom a few months later. "I think we should invite the Potters, since they're a family we don't know."

The invitation was duly sent and accepted, though it was not known whether Joel would be in attendance. The evening came and within minutes of the Potter's arrival everyone felt at ease. Sarah promptly engaged Joel's brother Samuel in conversation, later to be joined by Joel who had arrived shortly after his family. She noticed how easily he kept conversation going, and how much he smiled. And she discovered a freedom and joy in their communication. The following Sunday Sarah cheerfully greeted Joel but it was back to the silent treatment.

"Yep" Sarah thought, "He's a mess."

There's something sweet

"What are YOU doing here?" The question was rendered rude by Joel's surprise at finding Sarah in his house one Friday evening on returning home from work.

"I came to help your family prepare for hosting church."

"Oh! I didn't know you were here!"

"Well, I'm here!"

"Oh that was brilliant" she immediately regretted to herself.

This would be the first of many visits that Sarah would make to the Potter home to help prepare for church, bake and can with the young ladies, or sew and garden with Mrs. Potter. Such days spent at the Potter house usually ended in long, late-night conversations with the older children.

One such evening Joel and his brother Dan joined in the fun. For nearly two hours the conversation revolved entirely around music. Taste, style, quality, and many other aspects were discussed and critiqued. To the astonishment of both Joel and Sarah, they found that they agreed on practically all counts.

Eventually, the conversation turned to college, and the position of Christians attending secular schools, a topic which held great interest to Sarah. She asked Joel how he had maintained his faith through school and he explained to her how he had found strength in his own faith through the support of his church and his family, especially in the early years of his degree.

Her questions continued thick and fast and he couldn't help but notice how she truly showed interest in his experiences. It was only upon later reflection that he realized the extent to which she had drawn him out of his shell. Sarah, in turn, found it refreshing to talk with someone acquainted with the challenges of college. Deep down she also enjoyed this chance to get to know him better and to catch a glimpse of his close relationship with the Lord and his family.

Over the next few months, Sarah observed Joel more and more and discovered in him a quiet servant. "Maybe he's not such a mess after all" She thought, which only heightened her interest in the handsome, blue-eyed, dark-haired young man.

Take my heart, Lord

Sarah vacillated between joy and disappointment as communication flowed sporadically between her and Joel. The topics of discussion were varied but informative, and she often struggled with how much to say as she discovered what an interesting "mess" he truly was. On top of this, she often fought self-condemnation and misinterpreted his reserve as rejection.

In December, Sarah felt she'd had enough and after being invited again to the Potters' to help out, she resolved she wouldn't say a word to him and certainly didn't expect anything from him in return. Imagine her surprise upon stepping into the living room to hear him ask, "How was your trip?"

"Trip? What trip?" she stuttered, disoriented.

As he clarified, she recalled the trip to NH her family had taken last weekend. The conversation was short and abrupt but she discerned from it that he did care about maintaining a friendship with her and her family. Her resolve crumbled.

It was during a similar visit soon after this conversation that Joel asked "Are you all going to be here Sunday?"

"No, we won't be here Sunday, we're going to visit Dinwiddie," Sarah responded. In the summer of 2011 the Plourd family was planning to move from the Northern Virginia to the greater Richmond area to accommodate Mr. Plourd's changing work location. "I don't really want to move, I've grown to love this area, but I'm trying to rest that in the Lord's hands" she confided.

And where was Joel during all this? The Lord was working in him too. The first thing he noticed was the joy he experienced each time a new message arrived from Sarah, followed by an immediate wonder at that joy. The wonder forced him to start reexamining his position towards marriage in general and Sarah specifically. Was he prepared to leap into that responsibility? Was she actually a good fit for him? Was she interested in him beyond friendship? Their communication had shown him that their standards and beliefs were very well aligned. Could this be the girl he'd been praying for?

His heart, though touched, still enjoyed its freedom and feared the commitment and struggle relationships bring. For weeks he tried to ignore her. To treat her like he treated the other eligible young ladies of his acquaintance.

Sarah sensed Joel had begun ignoring and avoiding her and her spirit fell to an all-time low. Her sister-in-law encouraged her to accept his lack of interest and quit worrying over him. One morning she made the decision to do just that and committed the situation to the Lord. Immediately after her time with the Lord, she called a friend and unloaded her burdened heart. Much encouragement was shared, but the part that stuck out to her was the comment, "Sarah, the way you've been acting, he's probably confused!" She realized it was all or nothing, she either had to quit reaching out to him altogether or faithfully reach out to him regardless of his response. She felt either option would take all of God's grace! From then on, she sought to treat Joel as she did the rest of his family instead of ignoring him.

Meanwhile, his avoidance tactics weren't working. When Sarah and her family visited Dinwiddie, in February to seek out a new church, he knew in his heart that "we'll miss ya'll" really meant "I'll miss you."

"Alright, I get it. I like her!" The admission was freeing, but what do about it was another matter. His mind was divided whether he was simply laboring under a "crush" or if he should seriously pursue this new found interest. To get a steady-going man like Joel to make a change in his life would require an extreme level of conviction regarding the purpose and worthiness of the cause.

As their interactions increased, Joel began asking God if He was directing specifically to this young woman. Joel was certain that they were compatible, but was that proof of God's will, or coincidence? He began praying: "Lord, show me some sign that this is the one you have chosen for me."

Working together

About this time, Sarah's parents began encouraging her to prepare for both marriage and singleness. She'd been preparing for marriage for years but there were some things lacking in her preparation for singleness. A verse that stood out to her during this time read: "I will sing unto the Lord for he hath dealt bountifully with me." Sarah and her parents sensed the Lord leading her to focus on her gift of music to serve Him. She decided, therefore, to make a go of that CD she'd always wanted to record and to work on fine-tuning her piano teaching methods. She found contentment in leaving marriage and Joel in the Lord's hands and simply serving Him. She tried to make her motivation in life to " for the Lord, how she may please the Lord."

After spending fruitless hours working on the technical aspects of her CD, Sarah cried out,"Oh Lord! I need help! I can't keep trying to do this CD myself! I don't have the knowledge or the time. Please send someone to help me with this project!" Having experienced a new freedom in her friendship with Joel, she shared her difficulties with the project with him, thinking his engineering background might provide some useful input.

"Oh well that's easy!" Joel laughed.

"Fine, you can do it!" She teasingly responded with a toss of her head.

"I'd enjoy that," he rejoined, smiling broadly.

On the way home, Sarah wondered whether this was an offer to help her. Encouraged by her parents to follow it up, she sent him a message asking if he was interested in helping and detailing some things he could help with. All that week, she'd prayed for him regarding this matter and that she'd learn all that the Lord wanted her to learn while she awaited his response. She wondered if he would give her an answer that Sunday, but morning and afternoon passed and he did not broach the topic. She determined in her heart that she would let God work in him. She would not ask him again. She knew he was a faithful man...she would not need to. Just before he left for home, Joel finally spoke about the project and expressed his willingness to help.

In March, a lady of the church suggested a music recital among a few of the families including the Potters and Plourds. Knowing how Joel loved to sing and wanting to encourage him in that gift, Sarah offered (after much prayer) to sing a duet with him for the recital. Joel jumped at the opportunity. He had often desired a singing partner and he was already acquainted with Sarah's musical taste and her skill. (Was this that sign he'd been waiting for?) The decision made, they settled on a song and began practicing weekly after church, and whenever they could.

As they practised, Sarah found his vocal skill inspiring and decided she wanted to take a few voice lessons herself. They might improve her singing for her CD. She called Joel's voice teacher.

"Hi, my name is Sarah. I'm a friend of Joel Potter, your student. I was wondering if it would be possible for me to have a few voice lessons with you? I'm working on a CD project and I'd like to be better prepared for the singing parts."

"Oh sure, that's fine!" He responded. "When would you like to have a lesson?"

"Well, it would have to be an evening, since my dad would be driving me after work. We don't have a second vehicle."

"I'm afraid the only evening I have available is Monday. The same night Joel has his lesson. You could ask him to take you and both of you could have a lesson that night. I'll mention it to him."

Her mouth dropped open momentarily.

"Are you sure there isn't another evening available?" She prodded. She didn't want to be responsible in any way for such an arrangement unless God made it clear it was to be, nor did she want to unnecessarily inconvenience Joel!

"No, I'm afraid not. Talk it over with him and get back to me" he replied.

She got off the phone dazed. She knew she'd done NOTHING to force this circumstance though it pleased her very much. She couldn't help but feel like God was in it. She talked it over with her parents. She already knew her mom would be for it. She had suggested it even BEFORE Sarah made the call!

The next step: talk to Joel.

But now he's dear and so unsure...

About this time Sarah's father became aware of a business trip he needed to take down south. Her mom wanted to accompany him. That Monday was to be the first voice lesson but now, her parents would not even be home to take her! She told all this to Joel, hoping he'd offer to take her to the voice lesson himself. (She didn't want to ask out right.) But he merely said, "I'll pray for you". Frustrated that he did not take the bait, a sermon began forming itself in her mind...something about "Be warmed be filled" but she bit her tongue and finally, worked up the courage to ask him. He responded, "It's possible. I'll have to think about it."

Meanwhile, the plan was made for her to stay with his family during the week her parents would be away. When Joel learned of the plan, he couldn't even consider refusing her request! It seemed as if the Lord had orchestrated it Himself. Her voice lesson with Joel was one of the keenest pleasures she'd ever enjoyed. Not only that, but it was VERY helpful and she knew she HAD to have more! Sarah again talked with Joel and proposed accompanying him weekly to his voice lessons. After prayer (on both sides) he graciously accepted the invitation.

As for the week at the Potters, it was a blast! Movies, games and discussions were the order of the evening. Joel did not exclude himself from these activities. One particular evening in the midst of family discussions about nothing much, Sarah felt frustrated that he didn't ask many questions about her. She sent up a flair prayer about this and sensed the Lord wanted her to reach out to him regardless of whether he reached out to her. She, starting on the topic of his work, which somehow led them into into a full disclosure of their perspectives on various hot topics within their circles and they found their beliefs to be VERY similar. A deeper relationship grew between them seemingly overnight. It was as if God had broken down a wall that stood between them.

Another evening, as Sarah shared some things the Lord had laid on her heart, she asked him how she could pray for him. He responded that he was "seeking God's direction for his life." She began to pray earnestly for him regarding this.

Throughout that week, Joel was still watching and waiting. He felt sure he could get attached to this girl if he let himself, but he was leery of leaving his heart unprotected if the door should be closed. Time, however, was growing short. He knew that Sarah and her family were planning a move in the near future and he felt an urgency to take action growing inside of him.

At the end of that week together, Joel felt lead to ask God for a SPECIFIC sign of His leading. Joel prayed that the Lord would show him if he should move forward by motivating Sarah to invite him into the house the next evening when he dropped her off at her home. Immediately his mind was filled with doubting and reasons why it was "silly" to make such a request. However, Joel clung to the example of Gideon and told himself "Gideon asked for two signs, I'm only asking for one!" The intervening time felt endless. Joel's heart and thoughts were racing as they pulled into the Plourd's drive. He stopped the car and looked over at Sarah.

"Would you like to come in?" Joel's heart did a back-flip. He was forced to look down so she wouldn't see the smile that engulfed his face. "My parents, I'm sure, would love to see you, and maybe dad could show you that video he took of our song." Sarah persuaded. Joel felt sure she had no idea the affect her words had on him.

"I don't want to be in the way. I know you haven't seen your parents in over a week." He hedged.

"Oh they won't mind. But thank you for being so considerate."

"Well I guess I could come in for a few minutes," he finally decided.

That evening, as they lingered to say "good bye", Sarah asked whether the Lord had answered his prayer for direction. "He did," she was pleased to hear, "but now I need prayer for courage to move forward." His wording intrigued her, to say the least! Pray she did.

Joel headed home with a song in his heart. He was reminded of a verse about abundant blessings which described his exact sentiments, but he couldn't remember the entire thing. As soon as he got home he rushed to his bible and looked it up:

"Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think... to him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen." Ephesians 3:20-21

Joel knew now that the Lord wanted him to act, but how? Having never been in such a situation before, Joel consulted the wisest man of his acquaintance: his dad. After hearing Joel's heart, Mr. Potter advised him two things. First, to make sure he was ready for the Lord to shut the door if He so chose. Second, to spend some time in fasting and prayer to be sure his heart and mind were truly in tune with God's will. "But," he replied, "if and when you proceed down this path, it will make your mother and I very proud and happy for you. We couldn't ask for a better daughter-in-law."

People will say we're in love

The times Joel and Sarah shared driving to and from voice lesson were crucial as they got to know each other better and interact outside of their normal social circles. Sarah was amazed at Joel's sensitivity to her, his gracious manners, his openness, and his appreciation for her compositions. The latter was significant for, outside of music ministry, she did not disclose this sacrosanct part of herself with anyone.

After one particular voice lesson, Joel stayed unusually long at the Plourd home. After he left, Sarah cried out to the Lord in the quietness of her room. "Lord, I want to pray for Joel but I don't want to pray for more than what Your light has revealed, I want to pray for Your will!" Immediately, the Lord reminded her of a prayer she'd always loved in Col. 1:9-12.

"We have not ceased to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for the attaining of all steadfastness and patience; joyously giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in Light."

It was with great joy she nightly prayed those verses for him. She prayed also for wisdom in relating to Joel, contentment with where God wanted the friendship to be, and God's work in Joel's heart, whatever that might mean.

About this time, Sarah discovered that she was in need of some help sewing a bridesmaid dress for an upcoming wedding. As it chanced, Joel's sister was a diligent and skillful seamstress, so back to the Potters she went. It took longer than she had expected to finish the dress, but no one heard Joel or Sarah complaining.

They often found themselves talking late into the evening, getting to know each other at a deeper level. She was enjoying him so much that it was with pain she recalled the impending move. Joel had intimated more than once that he hoped to visit "them" after her family moved. She hoped and prayed he was serious. He was so attentive to her, it was hard for her to think otherwise but she had learned not to trust her own heart. She found comfort in surrendering her fears to Him who knew her heart.

Finally, the Lord provided a lovely rental home for the Plourd family in southern Virginia. Her father sent a message to the church families asking for help to move some of their stuff. Joel responded by offering his services. Sarah was very grateful for his willingness to come, for the thought of visiting a place so far away from him was barely tolerable to her. It would be comforting to have him there. Yes, she had grown VERY close to him by this time.

The trip of three hours seemed extra long. Her new home was SO far away from Joel. As she stood beside her mom looking out one of the windows in their new place, they both sensed that Sarah would not be home much longer. "You know Mom, I would have thought the loveliness of this new home should be all the joy the moment could bring, but I feel like I won't be here long enough to enjoy it. Besides..." she looked off dreamily at the young man outside " home is right outside this window."

Her mom nodded in agreement and asked, "Does Joel know that it is okay with you if you end up living further away from your parents?"

She admitted that she hadn't discussed it with him and wondered how she could broach the topic without being too obvious. She prayed.

That evening on the way back north, Joel was very quiet. Unusually quiet. Sarah too felt tired but sensed he needed a lot of prayer so she prayed for him. As they talked about it later that evening, he admitted he didn't want her and her family to move. It seemed so far away.

The next morning, their conversation turned to young couples and the struggles they face early in marriage. In a very round about way Sarah explained to Joel that she was prepared to move further from her parents if God so directed her in marriage. Though neither said it, both knew they were thinking about themselves.

The end... and the beginning

The moon shone brightly in the cloudless sky, but it was dark under the trees where a hopeful young man knelt before the girl who had become his dreams. Both their hearts raced as he offered her a token of his love in exchange for one promise.

"Sarah Plourd, will you marry me and become Mrs. Sarah Potter?"

"Yes! With all my heart!"

November 18, 2011