Oxford: A Love Story

For our First Anniversary

My time in the British Isles was drawing to a close. At the dawn of my summer adventure two years ago, when I stepped onto the streets of Dublin full of hope and curiosity, it felt as if I was on the brink of an endless summer. The possibilities knew no limits, and my time there seemed as far-reaching as the Atlantic horizon. But the days passed as they always do, and I found myself strolling the stately streets of Oxford come mid-August, watching the sun set on my last two nights in the UK.

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Oxford was a place I had long wanted to visit. It was the home of some of the greatest writers and most beautiful colleges, and thus a fitting location to spend a few relaxed days between leaving Scotland and travelling to France. It was a time to slow down and process what life in Stirling had meant to me and how it had changed me. And for me, the backdrop of history, bookshops, and lush green meadows seemed the perfect place to unwind and do just those things.

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But while I was in that classic city and wandered the winding streets and manicured courtyards, I found I no longer felt completely alone to think about my travels like I had before. In fact, no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t stop thinking about someone across the ocean whom I had not seen in nearly three months, yet someone who was one of the most important parts of that entire summer. This person would be Stephen, my amazing friend who is now my husband of almost a year.

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For me, our story had its beginnings in the spring of 2014. Though we had known each other for almost two years, we were little more than distant friends until registration for the Eau Claire Marathon opened that year. A number of our friends signed up for the half marathon, Stephen and I included, and we began to meet at my house on Oxford Avenue a few times a week to run together. Over the months of training we grew from being distant friends to close friends. I was struck by our conversations and how Stephen cared so much for everyone in our group. When I had laryngitis the day of the race, he stuck by me to make sure I was alright. It was then that I began to see the how much he truly cared about me, and in turn came to realize how I cared about him too. It was an exciting time, though for me it was tinged with the knowledge that I would soon be leaving for Scotland. With our growing friendship at such a fragile stage I didn’t know whether it would survive three months of being apart or look remotely the same when I returned. I was becoming more disappointed at the thought of having to leave at such a time when Stephen asked if he could write to me while I was abroad, and all of those worries disappeared.

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His first letter came the night before I departed on a weekend trip to the Highlands. It was the most beautiful piece of writing I had seen. I read the letter countless times and hiked with it in my backpack all over Glencoe. I memorized some of the passages. There didn’t seem to be any way I could create something half so good, but I crafted my return letter on the bus ride back, polished it up in my favorite coffee shop in Stirling, and sent it off with the hope that he would like it. My letter arrived in Eau Claire about a week later, and thus began the days of our correspondence.

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It was a beautiful time, a tender time. It was the days of waiting every day for a letter, walking along the loch thinking of what to write, and hoping desperately that each envelope that I had sent would make its way safely to Wisconsin. It was a time of learning and growing. I’ve been asked if it’s difficult to start a relationship long-distance like that. For us, the beginning our story was fitting for who we are. Things moved forward slowly over those first three months, giving each of us plenty of time to think and pray. Our writing letters allowed us to express who we were more deeply and more thoughtfully than typical first-date small talk, and through writing we formed a real substance to our relationship that I wouldn’t trade for anything.

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But despite the wonderful way our relationship was beginning, my mind kept returning to all of the unknowns. It’s a vulnerable thing to allow yourself to fall in love. There aren’t any guarantees. There’s no roadmap or guidebook. You can try to make it as safe as possible, but when you choose to become close to someone you always run the risk of being hurt.  I thought of these things as I entered Christ Church Cathedral for evensong. A small group of us were escorted inside and given hymnals, and I held mine tightly and looked up at the stained glass windows many feet above us. I was fully aware that in just a few weeks’ time I would be back in America again. I knew that part of me wanted to take courage and let this friendship grow, but another part of me wanted some sort of supernatural, lightning-strike moment of assurance that this was the right thing to do before I advanced any further.

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Of course, there was no such moment. But while I was in that service in Oxford, something changed. A passage that we had each sent to each other that summer made another appearance: My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord (Is. 55:8). And the third time it finally sunk in. All of the things I was perceiving as unknown or daunting weren’t so for God. Everything I felt was too much for me to figure out wasn’t for Him. I didn’t have to see the whole future before taking the first step. I was free. I felt a quiet peace and trust that was more powerful than any lightning strike could have been, and the assurance that despite any problems that I perceived, loving my best friend was, and would always be, worth it.

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And so I walked out into the golden meadow of Christ Church Cathedral and found a quiet perch beside a brook. My smile was too much to contain, my heart overjoyed. And I took out my little notebook and jotted down how I hoped that Stephen would be able to visit this wonderful place some time, and how I hoped I could be there with him whenever he did.

A year later, nearly to the day, Stephen and I arrived at the Oxford train station. The city looked exactly the same, felt the same. For all I knew it could have been only two days that I was away. Except that this time, the man that I had fallen in love with in Oxford and had decided to love was with me, and we couldn’t have picked a better place to begin our marriage.

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