Outside the south, the following story will seem absurd and irrational. Within the borders of wild flowers and thick drawls and odd phrases this is just another love story. 

prologue to the prologue. 

In less than two weeks, I will make my way, step by patient step, holding on to the strong and steady arm of the man who raised me,  towards my best friend, creative partner, and current fiance to proclaim our love and make a life long covenant in front of beloved friends and family. After this walk, I shall have a new identity--wife. 

Less than a year ago, I was making a very different walk, still a slow and patient one, only this time, the only thing I was holding was my head, held high. With hundreds in front and behind me, I made my way on and across a stage. And in this walk, much like the previous mentioned, I underwent an identity change; I became a college graduate. 

At that point, I had only been with my husband-to-be for two months. I had indeed passed the favorite southern timeline encompassed by the phrase "ring by spring,"* but I knew that my finger would not be without a ring for too many more springs. Our relationship moved quick and our love grew as big as Texas in no time. This blog is about the lessons we're learning after the "I do's" are exchanged. But those would never have happened without the story below. 

*the spring of the girl's junior or senior semester; in either case, the wedding tends to follow the summer preceding graduation

the beginning of the rest of my life.

Waco is no small city, yet a college town certainly has that feel about it, especially in the south. Everywhere you go you see people from this class or that organization, and groups of friends change every semester so you have to reacquaint yourself to the new members of the clique, come fall and spring. In the fall of 2011, I began my senior year, living off campus for the first time with my best friend Kaytlyn in a loft we nicknamed 'Central Perk.' Between the weeks of back-to-back FRIENDS watching, getting homework accomplished as quickly as possible (beginning as close to the due date as possible), and too many donut and coffee runs, we chatted about boys a fair amount. No one was piquing any particular interest for either of us, but there was this one boy I kept  seeing that I had not seen around these parts before, and my oh my, was he ever cute. 

That same semester, Byron had become an acquaintance of a friend of mine. They showed up to a music event that was hosted by our local coffee shop and I was giddy. I quickly whispered to my friend, I am dying to meet that boy. She did not feel the same way, but nonetheless had the guts to introduce herself to him, saying "I"m Erica; you hang out with Jacob; he's my friend." He acted polite (but was actually taken aback and felt weird about that interaction). I was jealous. Luckily, I had my chance to do that same thing a few weeks later at a church retreat. This time, he was in line with our mutual friend, and I, thankfully, did not have to be as bold. I can't speak for both of us, but in that moment, all I wanted to do was go chat with him for the rest of the retreat. In the weeks and months that followed, we kept up with each other through twitter and saw each other here and there, but nothing much came of it for awhile.

At some point, something clicked for Byron, and the flirting picked up. Each time he replied to a tweet or sent a message, I would run and tell Kaytlyn. She would laugh. She had never seen me so excited and "girly" over a boy. We chatted about Downton Abbey at first, then our families, then each other. Back at the church, another event was happening. And he arrived. I was smitten. That evening, we finally exchanged numbers, and soon after we went on our first date (but it didn't count we say now… It took three "dates" to get to our first real Southern date with the whole script played out: the flowers, the pick-up, the butterflies.) He asked me to join him as he studied. I dashed out the door as quickly as I could, leaving behind a roommate and company that knew something was going on. We met at a coffee shop, the same place, where I had previously lacked enough courage to introduce myself. I awkwardly walked past a group of friends dead set on finding where my adorable crush was sitting. We chatted about school and just enjoyed each other's company. Later that evening, I asked him to come over to my apartment to continue doing our homework together. I couldn't get enough of him. He played DJ while I worked, and he stayed late. 

He left and Kaytlyn and I giggled our way through wondering "what just happened?" I never stayed up past 10…it was well into the next day when Byron departed. Oh my. Indeed, something was happening.

We met a few more times before spring break came, and then departed--he, with his friends to Colorado; me, with my family to Hawaii. We wanted to keep in touch, and thus a string of e-mails began. Due to our time difference, we would each write to have the other wake up to a message that had hopes for their day and a desire to see each other as soon as possible when we got back to Waco. 

We returned. He came over. We embraced. He stayed late again, and we swapped stories of our wonderful weeks, held hands and enjoyed not being miles apart. 

He came back the next evening. We kissed.

That Friday, we decided to begin calling each other boyfriend and girlfriend. 

The next weekend, we left for Louisiana. A 7 hour car ride (that I like to refer to as our real first date) to meet his immediate and some extended family. When he first asked, I tried to think of any excuse to make to not go. I was so nervous and had several mini panic attacks with Kaytlyn, who calmed me down and laughed at me. I finally said yes! To this day, the best decision I have made.  

I fell hard for Byron in Louisiana. I loved his family. I loved how he interacted with them, especially his niece. I love how he kept reassuring me and making me feel welcome. We sat on a screened porch our second night there, and I resisted a very strong desire to confess my love for him. This was absolutely crazy. Everything had happened so fast, and yet it felt perfectly timed. I was in love, and I was ready to face whatever may come our way. 

A month later, we decided that we never had a normal, planned, first date. He planned one.

I paced. I had been dating this boy a month. I loved this boy. Still, I was nervous. I had never been on a date where the boy came with flowers and came to my door and opened my car door and certainly I had never been on a date where my roommate took a picture of us as if it were prom. What was great about our mixed up timeline, was that immediately when he came inside and took my hand, I was no longer nervous. The butterflies were there, to be sure, but I was at ease in the arm of my love on the way to a lovely dinner. 

The rest, as they say, is history. More dates, more long nights, more emails and letters, more family meetings, more of everything. We were doing life together and we did not want it to ever stop. 

the beginning of the stressful, joyous season known as engagement.

During Christmas break of 2012, Byron and his family were returning to Louisiana, and the invitation was extended to me. I jumped at the chance to go back out to the place I fell in love. 

Off we went! We were unfortunately not able to stay at his family's house due to an ill aunt who was posted up inside. However, we made sure to go out for a visit on our second day. We visited Papa and Nana lots, went to all the favorite local spots, and then to Walmart…The girls were all going to make a Walmart run for some things for Papa and Byron's niece while the boys spent some time on the land shootin' stuff.  This Walmart was far out, and I was more than happy to return to check on the boys after we acquired everything from the list. We heard gun shots, alerted the boys of our presence via cell phones and were reunited with our manly men. We were packing up to leave, but Byron suggested we stay back a little while longer to play with his new camera equipment and my fun film camera. I was game! Any chance to spend more time on the land during this trip, I would surely take. 

His family took off and we walked around, played in the barn, got muddy; I was posing on tractors and country fences. He took my hand as we walked. He swung it a little bit in a nervous fashion not normal for him. He said, with a small crack in his voice, "I have another Christmas gift for you." I was not computing. I think my brain shut down at this point. 

----As far as being surprised, I was. The proposal was unbelievably surprising, the engagement not as much. I knew the time was coming, but I had already expected (fantasized about) it several different times over Christmas break. I had given up hope, but then this amazing weekend happened.-----

He told me to look out in the distance. All I saw was a big pecan tree, and a house, and a shiny, glistening table. He was setting up his tripod for what I thought were a few couple pictures. Instead, he told me to go look and see what it was. Still I thought, cool, I get a gift, then we'll take some pictures. (I guess that is actually what happened…) What I saw when I approached this glistening table was an antique Scrabble board, complete with a pedestal that I had only seen once before at a lunch outing back in Waco. I had merely mentioned that it was a great piece. Byron purchased it the following day. Spelled out in gold-plated tiles was "Byron Maggie, Lovely and Unexpected." Resting on the table was a letter, I began to read it and suddenly, the future and present merged. Byron kneeled beside me, opened a box containing the most beautiful ring and spoke the words, "Will you marry me?" I QUICKLY responded "yes" and then we made out, in not so Southern fashion. Within a minute, he motioned for me to look at the road. The caravan of his families vehicles were coming back; my parents' car was now a part of it. All the way from Texas, they came to celebrate the love that Byron and I share. We celebrated and cried and hugged and kissed (just Byron and I), and toasted to a happy season of life at dinner. 

Still, I am shocked. It was the most perfect day. 

back to the prologue

And so I sit, with only twenty-two years of experience and wisdom, flipping through cookbooks and finally succumbing to pinterest for home decor ideas, finalizing details with vendors and creating a "day of wedding ultimate schedule and timeline" document, all the while, reminiscing over how lucky I am to have found young love and how wonderful the rest of our lives will be living and learning and growing together. 

I am thrilled that you have made it to this point, and excited to see where this goes and what we will learn.

Written in April 2013