My Love Story Chapter 22 ~ Houston, Texas

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{If you missed previous chapters of our Love Story, click HERE to catch up. Or for a refresher of Chapter 21, Mixed Emotions, read here.} It’s my 14th wedding anniversary, so I HAD to share the next chapter of our love story today!!

I arrived home in Houston on June 25th.  I hadn’t really told anyone in my family what as going on. It was all happening so quickly, from when I stepped onto US soil 5 days before, to my arriving in Texas for the summer. My older brother Ryan and his wife (of one year) Alayna were living with my parents for the summer while he worked a summer job. My (3 years older) cousin Mike was also living there for the summer, as he worked a summer internship.  My younger brother Russell (whom I was closest with) was an exchange student in Spain for the summer, and my littlest brother Kirk (12) was also home, so everything was kinda different at my house.

My family greeted me as I stepped off the plane with balloons and cheers. That was back in the day when people could meet you at your terminal.  We stopped to eat dinner at Red Lobster, and I told them some highlights of my trip. Most of my communication to my family the past 2 months was through emails, so they got to hear stories from my mouth. My parents had taken a similar trip to The Holy Land about 10 years before I did, so it was fun to tell them because the’d been there. I hadn’t gained the normal weight that most study abroad students gain, and my brother was asking me self discipline tips over dinner. I was determined not to, so exercised and stayed away from a lot of treats while over there. No one asked about Matthew, so I didn’t bring it up, either.

Once we got home, I took a drive with Alayna, and told her everything. She said that my uncertainty mixed with doubt was the adversary creeping in, and I needed to trust. I felt trusting, I just wasn’t sure what I wanted. I filled in Ryan and my cousin Mike later on, and the next day I casually told my mom that Matthew was coming for a visit in 2 weeks. She shockingly replied, “what day?” To which I said, “July 3rd” and she blurted,”that’s in a week!”  Oh…so it is.  I knew she was pretty excited, she always liked Matthew, but she tried to conceal her excitement because she knew of my uncertainty.

I had been thinking about him a lot…trying not to be sick from nervousness, and getting excited to realize it WAS just a week away that I’d see him. It seemed odd to me that I could change my way of thinking so much. Alayna told me that the peace I felt in Egypt (after our email parting ways) was a blessing so I could enjoy my time there instead of being sad.

I got to talk to my wise  17 year old brother when he called from Spain. I told him I was bothered with myself for being so inconsistent with my feelings and he said, “who cares???” No one cares. It snapped me out of “judging myself” and I thought…I guess it really doesn’t matter.

June 29th journal entry:

Wow! Today I have felt extra nervous and anxious. I can’t believe he is actually coming. Matthew Duke, the boy that I’ve only dreamed of the past year and a half bought a plane ticket to fly from San Francisco to Houston to visit ME! Feelings have been coming back rather strong. I don’t understand how my thoughts can fluctuate so much. When I think of him, I just think about how much I love him and how wonderful he is and how good we would be together. It all seems too perfect for it not to work. We’ve both had our struggles and we’ve learned so much. What I am most afraid of now, is to see if his actions match his words. If not, it’s nothing.

I spent the day with my mom, and joined her at a halfway house where she taught life skills and parenting classes to mothers each week. On our drive home, I opened up to her the situation with Matthew. She was a good listener, and she said she once heard that when two really strong people come together, opposition is more intense because the adversary doesn’t want it to happen. Interesting thought.

I didn’t have much of an appetite in the days leading up to his arrival, I was just too nervous.

July 3rd journal entry:

I couldn’t eat. I talked to myself in the car all the way to the airport, trying to calm myself down. I sang church Primary songs for calming affect.  Waiting for the plane to land killed me. He stepped off the plane in a BYU t-shirt, just as I thought he would.  He’s a t-shirt kinda guy. We gave a quick hug and started walking. It wasn’t uncomfortable at all, laughing and talking non-stop. 

With my family waiting in the car, we went to see the Houston Symphony play Americana music at an outdoor theater.


July 4th

Not much affection between the two of us. Neither one of us knew what to do. We hadn’t kissed in 6 months, since that fateful frozen day in January. In the evening, we played cards with Ryan and Alayna, then they went to bed around 1AM, which left us alone and feeling awkward for the first time. We were both pretty tired, and after a lingering hug, said goodnight. I really wanted to talk (and…you know…), but the emotions of the day left me exhausted.

On the morning of July 4th, I tiptoed into the room he was staying to wake him up. I shook his bed, and saw a grin creep across his face with his eyes still shut. He was already awake. We spent the morning in our jammies chatting. It was the first time he really opened up to me about the struggles going on back home. He had hinted at it before, but never fully disclosed his pain.

As we talked, he played with the ring on my finger, and I got tingles up and down my spine.

It was Sunday, and we went to church with my family in the afternoon. Since it was the first Sunday of the month, in our church, we have what is called a testimony meeting where members of the congregation have a chance to stand up and share from their heart. I nearly jumped right out of my seat at the beginning. I had to much to share–mainly from my trip to the Holy Land–that I just couldn’t keep it in. I expressed my gratitude for my Savior, a Living Prophet on the earth, the Book of Mormon along with the Bible that I studied so intensely on my trip. When I sat down, Matthew grabbed my hand.  In Sunday School class, Matthew introduced himself and said he was visiting the Hill Family…”actually Kristen.” That made me all giddy inside. I loved to hear him say my name.

In the evening, we went to see 4th of July fireworks, and as we sat and waited, he put his arm around me. I was enjoying this bolder side of him. Once home, I was frustrated the we still hadn’t “talked.” I’m a talker…I want to say things, be open, have dialogue, know we are in the same place.

He said, “I feel like I’m in a dream and don’t want to wake up.” I said, “I’m afraid I will.”

He then proceeded to tell me he’d never loved someone so much. I told him about my built up hurt, that he couldn’t see how good we were together (before), and that maybe he didn’t think I was pretty enough for him. That really surprised him. I’d thought for months, that that must have been the reason–after all, we were best of friends, everything had clicked, that must have been it. I cried a bit as I revealed that, but it felt good to get it out. He reassured me that was not the case. We still had two months to go of the summer with me in Texas and him in California. What if that break is too much again? He said that in 2 months, he see’s us together. Serious, happy, and together.

It was nearing midnight, and after a little snack, our conversation got more lighthearted as we sat on the couch in the near darkness of my home. Everyone else had gone to bed to give us our time alone. On my family room couch, he sat as I laid in his lap and he played with my hair. At 3am, we decided we were too tired to talk anymore and got up to head to our different rooms. After a lingering hug, I whispered, “come on Matthew, make your move”  with a giggle. That gave him the extra nudge to break that six month streak, and he kissed me. Finally, he kissed me! That led to several more kisses and hugging as we stood in the darkness of my parents family room. We had to giddily laugh, we had been waiting a while for this.

The next day, our family went on an adventure. Looking back, I’m surprised I didn’t take him places on my own, just the two of us, but I think I wanted to comfort of my family around…to help nudge us along on this uncharted territory that I worried would be awkward. The ice was broken. We explored the Galveston Beach, and held hands and hugged right in front of my family. My mom did a great job of taking some fun candid shots of us.

at the beach

Public displays of affections was something that I wasn’t very good at even in the past with boyfriends, but there just wasn’t an option not to this time. We spent the day at the beach, and rode on a ferris wheel, and up at the top, we kissed even more. Then we played in a fountain alongside a handful of children to cool off from the hot July Texas heat.

ferris wheel boardwalk

Once back at my house, we knew he was heading back to California later that day. He told me he wanted me to come to California in a month to meet his family and play on his home turf. Squealing on the inside, but calm on the outside, I agreed that would be fun.

It felt so good to be near him. So right. So perfect.

We think so much the same, and that makes me happy. Our goals and values are so much in harmony, he makes me laugh, which I never though I needed. I got a surge of emotion as I thought about us having children someday. I wrote in my journal, “I love how I feel! I want to do so much GOOD with him beside me!”  It felt right, just being with someone who made me want to be a better person.

I drove him to the airport, and as we waited for his delayed plane, he gave me my birthday gift (which was the next day). First, a handmade card several pages long, including drawings of all the fun things we’d done together over the year+ since we’d known each other.

Birthday Card Pictures

I smiled to myself at such a thoughtful gift. I couldn’t believe he had remembered so much. I always wondered if he thought about our “highlights” the past 2 years as much as I did. It contained: lyrics to a song, a lock of my hair he’d cut 3 months before, a flashcard for a test he helped me study for, places we went, and things we talked about. He then gave me a little stuffed bear with a simple necklace attached around its’ neck. I remember thinking it was an odd necklace, kinda old/worn looking, but chalked it up to him not knowing quite what to buy for a girl. What he didn’t tell me then, but I found out later, was he bought that necklace when he was 14 years old, and saved it to give to his future wife.

He handed me a letter that he told me to read once I got home. It said:

Happy Birthday, Kristen! The angels in heaven were shouting for JOY the day you were born. We celebrate birthdays to honor the beginning of a person we have grown to love, the start of something great. Life wouldn’t be complete without you, and this world (and myself) are better because you are in it. 

Be still my heart.

saying goodbye

In the airport terminal, we hugged, kissed, and he walked away looking back to give me one last smile. I smiled back with a silent prayer pleading to my Heavenly Father to never let this end. A tear fell down my face, and happiness filled me.

goodbye hug


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