It’s amazing how much life can change over the course of one year and how God’s plans are far superior to our own plans.
Back in October of 2016, I was finally feeling joy again after a rough start to that year. I was thankful for my apartment right by the beach, for my career as a high school English teacher, and for my Bible study, which I had found just a few months back.
Everything was going well. While out for a run with my friend, Gabriella, I had commented to her about how I was really content with my life. She immediately replied, “You know what that means, don’t you?” She explained how I would probably find a new relationship since I wasn’t actively seeking one. I laughed and shrugged it off.
But as the weeks passed, I found myself drawn to AJ every time we would meet at our weekly Thursday night Bible study.
The first time I met AJ at Bible study, I actually had him pegged as a dumb jock. He speaks somewhat slowly, so I just pictured the stereotypical attractive football player who has little intelligence. I didn’t even know his name. His friend, Sway, introduced him as “Gaines,” so it actually took me a few weeks of Bible study before I learned that his name was AJ…and months before I knew that his actual name was Alan.
How wrong I turned out to be with my dumb jock assumptions. Once he opened his mouth about the Scriptures, I knew that he had a phenomenal knowledge of the Bible.
As weeks passed, I noticed how similar we were, primarily how we both had to work at finding a balance between our careers, our workouts, and our faith journeys. I was impressed when AJ told me about the commitment that he made to God, promising that he would not work out for more time in any given day than he had spent in prayer. That blew me away.
After previous failed relationships, I had started to doubt that I would ever find a guy who was quite as interested in his faith as I was. And yet here I was, feeling completely humbled by AJ. I knew that in all of my marathon training, there were many days when I had run for two or three hours, but I definitely had not also spent two or three hours in prayer with God. I actually felt intimidated by AJ and his faith, even unworthy at times, not thinking that I was holy enough to push him further in his faith journey.
I started looking forward to Bible study even more than I previously had, always hoping to be in AJ’s group when we would split up, or trying to sit near him during dinner. However, AJ seemed to be a lot younger than me. I didn’t really know his background, but I knew that he was studying for his physical therapy boards after having recently graduated from college. I assumed that he was around 22 years old. I was 28 at the time, so I viewed him as the cute guy at Bible study who I had a bit of a crush on, knowing that nothing would ever come of it.
Wrong, once again.
Yes, he had only recently graduated from college, but that’s because he was earning his doctorate for physical therapy. Once I learned that and knew that he was only four years younger than me, I was even more interested in him.
On October 8th, I went to Catholic Underground in New York City with some of my friends from Bible study. AJ was just a few weeks away from his boards for physical therapy, so he was studying during the drive up to NYC. I was sitting next to him in the back seat, quizzing him on his notes and also chatting about life to him and the rest of our group.
During adoration, I noticed that he took out his phone. Initially, I totally judged him, wondering what could be so important that he would look at his phone during adoration. Then I realized that he was actually looking up the words to the Hillsong United song, “Touch the Sky,” which was being played. And then I I noticed how he was singing aloud — something that isn’t that common among the Catholic men I see at any given Sunday Mass.
At the end of the night, I told AI that I would pray for his boards and he told me that he would pray for my upcoming marathon. It turned out that these significant events were both happening during the same week: my marathon on October 23rd and his exam on October 27th.
We didn’t talk much outside of Bible study at that point because we didn’t even have each other’s numbers. He sent me a private message on Slack, the app our Bible study uses to inform everyone about our events. He said that he hoped that my race went well (but he was a little early, so I thanked him and explained the actual date of my race), and I promised him that I would pray for his exam.
I always try to pray for people when they need me to, but often I forget to pray at the exact right moment when their test or other significant event is happening. Not this time. I couldn’t believe how many times I thought of AJ and his exam on October 27th. Even while I was at work, I kept thinking about the test and how he was doing, saying a little prayer every time I remembered.
October 27th was a Thursday, so we had Bible study that night. He came late since he was busy that day, but I remember feeling so excited to see him since I had prayed for his test so much that day. We didn’t really get to talk, but I was so hopeful that he would pass.
The following Thursday, November 3rd, I hosted Bible study at my apartment. It turned out that a larger group than normal was available that night, so we faced a good problem: too many people here for Bible study. I made penne a la vodka with chicken and squished 15 of us into my living room.
It was a very warm fall last year, so I was always looking for people to come kayaking with me. I posted an open invitation on Slack, but I did secretly hope that AJ might take me up on my offer for anyone to join me for kayaking. He responded that he was interested, so we exchanged numbers, waiting for a nice day to kayak.
Before we actually had time to go kayaking, my friend, Kate, invited a bunch of us to go to a bar crawl in Asbury Park to raise money for the Covenant House on November 5th. I don’t drink at all, so a bar crawl was not very high on my list of desired things to do, but I was excited that I would get to spend time with Kate and Gabriella, and I was hoping that AJ might come as well. Gabriella and I planned to bike to Asbury, so I was excited to at least have fun with her and Kate.
In the end, the bar crawl was great. AJ and I talked here and there throughout the day, but we also spent time talking to other friends. I was able to catch up with some of my teammates from a relay race that we had completed in August.
Then we got to the last bar, Johnny Mac’s, and some of the bar crawl crew had gone home for the night. There was an outdoor bar that had these huge heaters blasting (it was November in New Jersey, after all), but nobody wanted to sit directly under the heaters because it was so hot. Well, I quickly learned that both AJ and I love being hot. We sat at the bar under those heaters for a long time, just chatting and getting to know each other. I knew for sure at that point that I was interested in him, and I was hoping that the feelings were mutual, but I really wasn’t sure. I’ve always been pretty terrible at knowing when guys are interested in me.
Soon after that night, we were started hanging out together pretty often, since I was free every afternoon after work and AJ hadn’t yet gotten hired as a physical therapist since he was waiting on his license to come in the mail. It also helped that I had extra days off from work for teacher convention.
I’m so thankful for this time that we had because if he had already had a job when we first met, we never would have been able to hang out. God’s perfect timing was definitely at work.
On Tuesday, November 8th, AJ and I got to go kayaking on Shark River when I got out of work. We kayaked and talked and had a really good time. The following day, Wednesday, we went to see the movie Hacksaw Ridge. I remember texting Gabriella about it, unsure whether or not it was a date, not knowing whether I should pay for my own ticket or not. In the end, he planned to get to the theater before me to get the tickets, so I just figured he would get the tickets. But then we both showed up at exactly the same time, so when the cashier called him up, I just let him purchase both of our tickets. He told me later on that he did not intend the movies to be a date, but he realized that I may have thought that when I let him pay. Regardless, it was a great movie.
On Thursday, we had a young adult Mass at my church, followed by fellowship at a local bar, Anchor Tavern.
Because I was one of the people organizing the event, I didn’t have time to talk to AJ because I had to walk over to Anchor Tavern first to make sure that the reserved tables had been set up for us.
I sat at a table, just hoping that AJ would end up near me. That event had a great turnout, with over 20 of us at the bar and many more who attended the Mass. AJ did, in fact, sit near me. This time, I really felt like he was interested in me, even though I was still a bit unclear on the whole situation.
The next day, Friday, we went hiking at Hartshorne Park in Atlantic Highlands. Unfortunately, AJ didn’t have his own car at this point. He had to borrow his brother’s car, so we were only able to hike for a short time before he needed to return the car.
Then on Saturday, a group of us from Bible study were driving to the campus ministry house at Rider University to film this video. That was the fifth consecutive day that AJ and I had been together.
Some time during that week I had talked to Gabriella, completely unsure whether or not he was interested in me. I felt like he had to be since we were spending so much time together, but at the same time, he would always just say goodbye when he left, not really hugging me goodbye or anything.
The following week, we went kayaking again on Wednesday, November 16th. At one point, though, he mentioned a friend who may have been interested in someone else at Bible study and he said how he didn’t want Bible study to become a singles group. When he said that, I was really confused. Did he direct that towards me, trying to show me that we were just buddies and that no relationship would come out of all of our hang-outs? Or did he just mean that he didn’t want his friend to come to Bible study with the sole purpose of finding at mate? I was extremely confused.
On Thursday, we had Bible study Friendsgiving. I had to arrive late since it was the same night as parent-teacher conferences, but I was glad that I got to at least come to part of it.
Then on Friday, we had a holy half hour in Freehold, followed by fellowship at Moore’s Tavern. It was pretty loud in the bar that night, so it was difficult to talk to people. Every time AJ tried to talk to me, he put his hand on my back to pull me closer to him so that we could hear each other. I remember how tingly his touch felt every time he put his hand on the small of my back.
We talked about Spartan races and I told him about one that I was planning to sign up for. He was interested and said that he was going to look into signing up for the same race. He said that he could help me to increase my strength and I could help him to get back into a running routine. He reminded me that Spartan training came with one stipulation — that he would not work out for more hours a day than he spent in prayer or at church. I thought that was incredible.
He also invited me to go to a party that his parents were throwing for him the following weekend to celebrate his graduation and passing the boards. Later on, I asked Gabriella if she had been invited. When she said no, I was pretty confident that he had invited me because he was interested in me.
The following weekend, on Saturday, November 20th, we helped Kate deliver Thanksgiving baskets to families in need. Then AJ and I went to Twin Lights in Highlands, before hiking for a really long time again at Hartshorne. It was absolutely one of the most fun days that I had ever had. We had so much fun doing such ridiculous things and making up silly games. We ran through the reeds, played hide and seek, climbed fallen trees, played balancing games, Simon Says, you name it.
Then we created a game where one of us would close our eyes and the other person would try to lead us through the woods. We were in a really thick part of the woods, so it was relatively difficult to navigate alone, let alone helping another person. It was hilarious and we had a great time.
We were there for hours, ultimately hiking five and a half miles (partially because we thought we were going in a loop, but when we got to a dead end, we had to go back the entire way).
Afterward, we were starving for dinner, but we were both filthy from hours of hiking. It was Jersey Shore Restaurant Week, so we ended up going to Mr. Shrimp for dinner, despite our filth. Dinner was also hilarious because we kept finding random leaves and branches stuck to our clothing or in our hair. My diary entry on that day says, “It was such a blast, I have a feeling he’s going to end up being my next boyfriend but I still want to wait for him to take the lead. I guess we shall see what happens.”
The following Saturday, November 27th, was his graduation party at his house. I was a little bit nervous since I had never met his family or friends, and I only knew three people who were going to be there. It was really fun though.
During the bonfire, somehow the topic of blood diamonds came up and AJ said how he never wanted to buy a diamond. I was absolutely blown away. He was the first person I had ever met who even knew about blood diamonds. I had been saying for years that I never wanted to own a diamond. There were just so many things that AJ and I had in common — even our distaste for diamonds.
Later, people started leaving, but he asked if our friends, Sway and Denielle, wanted to stay so that the four of us could play some games, so we played Blokus and Scattergories. Eventually, Sway and Denielle were also leaving and I really wanted to stay to talk to AJ for a bit since we hadn’t been able to talk much during his party, but it was already getting late. Fortunately, AJ felt the same exact way. He has a dog named Bolt who is very mean to most people other than his immediate family. Knowing my love for dogs, though, he asked if I wanted him to introduce me to his dog. Of course I excitedly agreed.
I guess I’m a pet whisperer or something, because Bolt was initially scared, but let me pet him. Eventually, he came right up to me, licking my hand and everything. AJ couldn’t believe it because Bolt is usually so mean to everyone he encounters.
AJ and I ended up talking on his couch for hours, before he finally kissed me for the first time. It’s funny looking back, because I felt like we had been hanging out for such a long time before he kissed me, but really the first time we had hung out together without other friends from Bible study was November 8th, so it was only about three weeks later. I think it felt like more time than that since there were many times when we hung out for four or five days in a row.
I don’t usually kiss guys who I’m not in a relationship with, but I remember being happy that he kissed me. He made it clear that we were dating and not seeing other people. But he wasn’t officially my boyfriend just yet.
We signed up for the Spartan Beast in April. Looking back, I’m really surprised that I did that because we could have realized that we weren’t right for each other between November and April. It could have made the race really awkward, but everything worked out just fine.
I can’t remember exactly how long we ended up hanging out and talking that night, but it was really late. I think I only left his house around 5am, which is a big deal for me since I am not typically a night person.
After that night, we continued hanging out, volunteering, running, working out, and playing games together.
One night we went to look at the ice sculptures in Neptune before walking around Belmar to look at all of the Christmas lights. We decided to take silly pictures imitating the sculptures.
Everything we did together was an absolute blast. At this point, I started telling one of my coworkers about him and she said she’d wager that we would be engaged in 6 to 9 months. I disagreed since we weren’t yet an official couple, but she just told me to wait and see. It’s funny now, looking back on that conversation, because she had us pegged from the start.
In early December, AJ was hired as a physical therapist, so his life started to get really busy. I am so thankful for all of the time that we had during the month of November because I didn’t realize how much that was about to change.
On the weekend of December 10th, one of our friends was having a birthday weekend celebration in the Poconos. I only knew Sway from Bible study, but he had been AJ’s friend for years. AJ invited me to come with a group of their friends to the Poconos. I was initially really nervous about going since I didn’t really know their group of friends yet and I wasn’t sure about the sleeping situation. I didn’t want to have to share a bed with AJ, but I wasn’t sure how much space there would be for everyone. I also didn’t know how much drinking would be involved, since I am not interested in alcohol at all and I really hate being around drunk people.
In the end, the weekend was a ton of fun and I’m really glad that I went. I got to know AJ’s friends better, go hiking in the Poconos, go swimming in the pool, and enjoy time with AJ before his life got super busy with work.
The first night, we slept on the kitchen floor in sleeping bags, but we were talking for such a long time that we looked at the clock at one point and realized that it was 6am. Oops! That day we went hiking for hours and I can’t believe that we even had the energy, considering our lack of sleep.
The second night, on December 11th, AJ made it official that I was his girlfriend. I’m really happy how everything turned out. I like the fact that we we met in Bible study and got to know each other through our discussions of the Scriptures, rather than on awkward first dates. There was never a time that I was trying to act a certain way to impress him. He even heard me talk about things I would rather have him not know about, like some conversations I had about previous relationships. Initially, I didn’t expect to end up with AJ at all, so I didn’t really care what I talked about when I was at Bible study or with that group of friends, and I think the same was true for him. We got to know the other person in an open, prayerful environment, which ended up being perfect.
We never really had a first date because initially we were hanging out kayaking and hiking, but it never really felt like a date. We were just friends. Then everything just developed into a relationship with the passing of time.
Fast forward a bit and now we are engaged, set to get married in August 2018. It’s amazing all that has happened in the past year and I am so thankful that God allowed my path to cross AJ’s path. We only had a short window of time to find each other between the start of Bible study and the start of AJ’s physical therapy job.
As I had become older and experienced more failed experiences, I think I had grown a bit cynical about relationships. I expected to have to settle a bit, never expecting to find someone who was quite as faithful or adventurous as me. I didn’t think I would find someone who has a passion for mission trips and volunteering. I didn’t really believe that God had that perfect love story in my cards. Boy, was I wrong.
Right now next year, I will be married to the most amazing man I know. I am excited that I will get to call him my husband and that he will call me his wife. Our short life on earth should be lived with one goal in mind: heaven. There is nobody I would rather have beside me during that journey, pushing me to grow in holiness each and every day.