Photography by Kim Hardouin | Story by Couple
I opened the door. There he stood–tall, gangly, awkward and anxiously awaiting this first encounter. Playing hostess I ushered him in, showed him my space, pointed out the bowl of popcorn I had prepared for a snack, sat awkwardly across from him trying desperately to make small talk, sweating and panicking about how to “do this.” This first meeting was for a small church community we had both agreed to participate in for Lent that year – and which I had somehow agreed to host – but, unknown to me, it was not actually our first meeting. No, we had been (just as awkwardly) introduced by the deacon at the church in between masses, when I was cornered as I walked in the door, ushered downstairs to where Matt was having a farewell gathering for a charitable organization he had helped to run, and hastily introduced to this same tall man who looked as equally caught off guard as I. He remembers that meeting vividly, one that had happened nearly two years prior to the Lenten small group, yet I had pushed it aside as just another example of well-meaning matchmakers. But when he later sat on my couch, sharing his personal faith quietly and timidly, commenting on his work down in Mexico helping to build homes for impoverished families, something inside me recalled a man who took me by surprise and made me flummoxed in a quick moment. I recalled this “someone I ought to meet” that Deacon Steve had introduced, and as I sat there recalling – and he sat there worried I’d remember him as the man who never called when given my phone number – I was instantly curious. What did God have in mind this time around?
We both strongly believe “God gave me you”; it’s even the first quote I hand-painted on the wall above our bed. For two shy, reserved, late bloomers who rarely dated and finally found one another in our later 30s, God was definitely intervening on our behalf. For Matt, God brought his family out to Colorado and led him to Deacon Mike after an alterative college Spring Break. Deacon Mike brought him to Juarez, Mexico, and connected him with the community at Spirit of Christ, which is where he’d find himself when I was thrust in front of him by another deacon. For me, it was a long-awaited and much-desired answer to a prayer for someone to come along, ready to love me – all of me – and share in my faith journey. I had been praying for a man named “Matt,” thinking of someone else, while God had a different Matt in mind. We found one another when we least expected to, and that’s usually when you know it’s right. For the six weeks of Lent we shared our faith, began a friendship, and came to know one another apart from anything physical. Then Easter came, and the Lenten group disbanded, summer followed and we never spoke. It’s easy to get busy and find that time has passed without paying much attention. Until my phone rang out of the blue one night in late July, with the caller ID of “Matt Lanning.”
Little did I know until much later, but Matt had been wrestling with God about what to do … how to take action when his heart was yearning but his fear was overriding. It took some courage to call, but that moment changed everything for us. We chatted, caught up on the past few months, and then set a time to walk and talk soon. This would become our routine. We’d meet up, walk for a couple miles while we talked about everything and nothing at the same time. It was so easy. He listened without judgment, cared compassionately, got excited when I lit up about something, and kept wanting to meet up. No one had ever seemed to want to get to know me that well. We did this through the fall, as the weather cooled and the colors changed. Nothing “official,” but a perfectly safe start for two timid souls.
Our first kiss was just as awkward as our first meeting(s). He had brought me back a rosary from his family trip to Italy, blessed by the Pope, and as he handed it over to me standing outside my car, he leaned in and quickly kissed me. I looked shocked, recovered quickly, and left with a thank you. He spent the drive home beating himself up for it. But I knew the courage it took to make the first move – and I told him this – and in November when we were once again standing outside my car and he asked me if I wanted to “make it official,” I replied, “I thought it already was.”
Loving me isn’t easy. I’m passionate, emotional, always pouring myself into all I do, just as I agonize over every action and decision. My mind doubts my heart, my heart bulldozes my mind, and my spirit suffers the consequences. Through the ups and downs, through the moments I distanced myself from him, and the moments I welcomed him back in, Matt has stayed by my side. He has prayed fervently to God for clarity and direction; I have prayed the same. And God seemed to answer us both with a “Yes.”
It was nearly two years later, after “making it official,” that Matt took me up I-70 one Saturday to look at a gem collection an old friend had on sale, then turned right to continue up the mountain, rather than left to head back home. “Where are we going?” I kept questioning, while Matt reminded me, “I thought you liked surprises.” Not convinced I was going to like this one, but being the accommodating girlfriend I liked to believe I was, we continued to drive, stopping at Echo Lake to walk around as we had done a year before. I was pleased to be in the fresh air, to have a reason to walk, I was relaxed because this was predictable (which is important for an anxious soul), and was warm enough because Matt had thought to pack a jacket for me. We walked the lake, enjoyed the fall colors, and then started to make our way back home. Or so I thought. Along the way Matt made a left turn to pull off onto the side of the road where a trail seemed to lead to nowhere except a grove of trees. I was skeptical of why we needed to stop again but once again obliged, and we got out into the cool Colorado air. Passing by couples who had also stopped there to take engagement photos with their photographers (we really did pass by two such groups!), we made our way into the trees and away from others. It was lovely. Chattering away as I usually did, not noticing Matt’s nervousness or quiet, and missing the “clues” he was giving out or the courage he was seeking, I wasn’t expecting anything when we both stopped. The next moment took my breath away. Matt was down on one knee, ring box in hand, and reciting a well-practiced speech he had prepared. For me, it was a moment I had dreamed about for years, wondering what it would feel like to have someone say they wanted to spend the rest of our lives together. But my “Yes!” was an easy one. My heart knew and my mind didn’t question, and soon we were hugging, kissing, taking the best selfie on the first try, and both completely overwhelmed by what it all meant.
He had roses for me in the trunk of the car (little did I know all that time we were driving!), we laughed about the irony of passing so many couples taking engagement photos at that same spot, and finally went in search of a celebratory meal together. It was a day and a feeling I won’t forget.
A year later – exactly – on September 21, 2020, in the midst of the pandemic, after months of trying to “plan” when life was anything but “plan-able,” I would experience the same: a day and feeling I won’t ever forget. For me there was such a peace in marrying Matt. After a rollercoaster of emotions during dating, I knew this was what was meant to be. The inside of our wedding rings remind us daily: “God gave me you.”
Matt later confessed that he knew right away: “When we were together in our small group, and you posed the question, ‘What have you gotten out of this Lenten group?’ a thought instantly popped up: ‘My wife.’”