I’ve started this post dozens of times in my head over the last two weeks, and have wondered for years what I would say when the time came to say it. So many emotions swirling, my head is spinning, and I can’t seem to make words flow the way I want them to. But I have something to share with you, sweet readers, and I want to share it well, so I’m doing my best to just get the words out, even if it’s difficult.
The Thursday before last I wrote a blog post about where I am with business, about the questions and fears I faced, and the truth I fought hard to remember. But it wasn’t the full story. Nothing over the past 9 months has been the full story, because other things were happening in my life that affected my heart, but were too close for me to share.
Until now, that is.
Just hours after I hit the “publish” button on that blog post, I stood facing a man that I have come to love more than I knew was humanly possible, and watched in absolutely shock as he knelt on one knee and told me, for the first time, that he loved me, that there was no one else in the world he would rather wake up next to in 40 years, and then he gave me a ring, and my head is still spinning, because I can’t believe this is real life.
How did it happen? I’m so glad that you asked.(WARNING: long post alert!)
His name is Joseph Buckley Bradshaw, but he goes by Buck. He was born and raised in South Carolina, and has just the tiniest hint of a southern accent. He’s the most steady, humble, honest man I’ve ever met. He loves dancing, coffee, travel, people, laughter, the show “Psych“, family, bowties, and most of all, the Gospel. He has dark hair that’s starting to gray, he wears glasses and a short beard, he loves plaid and the color green. He is perhaps the most intentional person I’ve ever met, and that’s saying a lot.
Our Story | Pre-dating
How we met: Buck moved to DC for grad school in 2007, and joined our church (Capitol Hill Baptist) a few months later. He was very involved and deeply invested in the church community. Then he moved to Haiti for work in the summer of 2010. I started attending CHBC in December, and finally moved up to Capitol Hill in June of 2011 (you can read all about that decision and why I moved in this blog post). I poured myself into church relationship and built my life into the community, and did so very quickly. It turns out that many of my friends were also his friends… but had no idea he existed, because he was out of the country. He left his job in Haiti and moved back to DC in October, 2011. Just a day or two later, a bunch of friends went out for FroYo after Bible study. I joined late, and noticed a new face at the opposite end of our group. I stopped to talk with a friend as we walked out the door, and felt rude not introducing myself to this guy waiting patiently nearby. So I introduced myself, and that was that. Buck doesn’t remember this, but swears it’s because “it was too dark to see your curls.” Awwwwwww.
A few weeks later I was at a movie night at some friends’ house (where, as it happens, Buck was staying, and later moved into that house permanently). Buck walked in halfway through the movie, and, “I saw this gorgeous curly head sitting over on the couch.” That’s his first memory of me.
Becoming friends: Because we had so many of the same friends, we often ended up at the same events. Just a month after we met, about 30 of us drove out to a nighttime corn maze. We were in the same carpool vehicle on the way there, we walked and talked through the entire maze, and I was absolutely struck by Buck’s depth, his love for Christ, and his perspective on so many of the things I thought were important, particularly his love for the Gospel. By the end of the night, I was very aware that I liked him, a lot.
Over the next months, we ran into each other a lot— at Church, at friends’ houses, at social functions, etc. And I went from curious to interested to “oooohhhh, I need to be careful, because I think I’m starting to really like him.” Besides his rugged good looks, his incredible sense of humor, and his deep, resounding laughter, he was a man of character, of integrity, of leadership, with a precious servants’ heart. He moved back from Haiti without a job, and it took him 9-10 months to find one. Instead of wasting that time playing video games or feeling sorry for himself, he tried to serve as often as possible— he drove elderly church members to doctors appointments, he started teaching children’s Sunday School, he got involved with our Church’s International Student Ministry, he started meeting with a Chinese student to help him practice his English, and more. I watched him struggle with discouragement when, once again, he didn’t get a job, but also saw the way he intentionally used his time and was firm in his trust in the Lord.
And all of this time my emotions were going crazy. With every interaction, my respect for him grew, and I felt my heart growing increasingly attracted to him. But Buck, being the man of character that he is, didn’t give me a single indication that he was remotely interested in me. He was polite and cordial and friendly, but not a anything more than that. I had nothing to latch onto that would cause me to say, “well, maybe he likes me!”
Learning trust & waiting well: Buck’s carefulness was really hard for me. I liked him— a lot— but I had no reason to believe that he liked me, and that was hard to deal with. But it wasn’t the first time I’d been in this spot. And if there’s anything that I’ve learned over the past 28 years of my life, it’s that love for Christ is infinitely more important than having things that I want, and often God uses my desires to teach me to love Him more. My attraction to Buck was a sweet practice for me to trust God with unknowns (as He says here), believing that He has good planned for His children (as He says here and here and here), uprooting idolatry (as He says here), and waiting on Him for whatever He chose to do (as He says here and here and here and here). Was it hard? Heck yeah. Did it hurt sometimes? Yes— by March of 2011 it got so hard that I decided I couldn’t really be around him anymore and needed to distance myself, because I liked him too much, and I needed to care well for my heart. Did I get frustrated with God, and wonder why on earth did you even let me like this guy in the first place??!? Yes. Often. But the bottom line is this: I trust God with my life, and the full course of it. I believe that He is fully sovereign, good, wise, and kind, and deals tenderly with His children. He has planned out my days, and does all things for His glory and my good. So even when I don’t understand what’s going on, I trust that my God sees all things, and controls all things, and I can rest in that. I wrote about a lot of this in a Q & A post on singleness, here.
And then suddenly…: July of 2012 came around, and guess what? I still liked Buck. Toward the end of the month Buck and another friend of ours got jobs right around the same time, and my roommate and I hosted a dinner for them to celebrate their employment. Yes, it was with some ulterior motives, but I’d prayed faithfully for months for both of these men to find jobs, and they both knew that, so it seemed like a good excuse. This was the first night that I thought, “… maybe??”
I saw him more over those next few weeks than I’d seen him over the previous months— mostly by accident, or so it seemed. My heart was going crazy every day, and I was doing everything in my power to not think of him as anything more than a sweet brother in Christ. And then one night after Bible study we stood in the hallway at Church talking with a group of friends. One by one, they all left the conversation, until it was just the two of us standing there, and he asked if I had plans Friday night. “Would you like to get dinner?” I was shocked, and it was all I could do to keep from coming out of my skin. I said yes, and then left as soon as possible. And didn’t sleep for the next few nights, and could barely eat. WHAT ON EARTH??!?!?
Our Story | First Date
He took me on a photo walk. How sweet, right? First along H Street NE, then at the Capitol, then we did dinner at Pacifico Cantina (where I couldn’t eat, I was so nervous!!), then finished up looking over our pictures at Buzz Bakery. (Crazy man was up in VT with a bunch of guy friends the week before, and shaved to have a mustache. And kept it for our first date. I had such a hard time taking him seriously!)
Our Story | Dating
Our first date was August 17, 2012. We “made it official” (aka, had the “defining relationships” talk) on September 1, 2012, at a close friends’ wedding. My sweet roommate Lindsey made us take our first pictures together. #awkward!!
From there, we just spent time getting to know one another. We set up regular date nights (I love Thursdays!!!), talked to one of our pastors about hanging out with him and his wife on a regular basis (for accountability and just to have someone involved in our lives), and did our best to get to know one another. Saturday brunches, where we looked through each others’ pictures from growing up, Tuesday nights working together in International Student Ministry, sitting together at Church, phone calls, texts, etc.
Dating wasn’t a hard, bumpy road, by any stretch of the imagination— but neither of us wanted to date long, both really wanted to be married, and both struggled for the first few months to know how to do this well. After so many years of keeping my heart on lockdown, I found it very difficult to open up and be vulnerable with Buck. For Buck, we both knew that I was much more emotionally “in” than he was at the beginning, and he dealt with a good bit of uncertainty. But compared to other couples we know, dating was, for the most part, sweet. (we both agree that we’re just excited to be married. we loved dating each other, but hated dating, in general)
At an International Student Ministry (ISM) outing in September
Introducing Buck to my hometown | maybe the best “us” picture I know of | Christmas party in DecemberThanksgiving with my familyAt a dear friends’ wedding reception (we really like weddings!)Random crazy picture, sometime around ChristmasIn Atlanta for New Years, for an annual get-together with his closest friends from college. I loved them ALL. Thankful for friends with cameras.Myrtle Beach in January to meet his parentsPretending we’re tourists in our own city.
The Lumineers! Mumford & Sons for Valentine’s Day!
At another friends’ wedding— Buck was emcee, I was photographer. 12 hours in NYC (I’ll blog more of that trip later)
Visiting friends in Richmond (again, grateful for friends with good cameras!)
A few weeks ago, we sat down with our calendars and planned out date nights through the end of June. Yes, we’re planners, and we’re totally okay with that.Thursday, May 2 was a scheduled photo walk. The plan was for us to eat dinner by ourselves beforehand, to meet up around 7:30, walk around and take pictures along H Street NE, and then visit a newly-renovated coffee shop at the end of the evening. Just casual, sweet time. The day before, however, Buck texted me and said, “Pick up time is 5pm tomorrow!” and I freaked out— oh my gosh, he’s going to propose.
Now, let me just stop right here and say that, just like when we were friends and I didn’t know that he liked me and I fought soooo hard to keep from reading into things, I did that same thing leading up to the proposal. For months now I knew that we both just… knew. I knew we were going to marry each other. We hadn’t talked about it. We never went ring shopping. We never talked timing (though I was sooooo tempted, and did bring it up once or twice). I just knew. It’s really hard to explain, and if I were to give you the reasons why/how I knew, they wouldn’t make sense to anyone else. But I just knew. However, I disciplined myself to not think ahead to wedding, to not think about the proposal, to not read into anything, because I didn’t want to be disappointed if something didn’t happen. And most of all, I just wanted to enjoy time with Buck whenever I was with him. So even though I knew it was coming soon, and everything surrounding the proposal pointed to it, I disciplined myself to not think it.
Even so, I made sure my nails were done and that I wore a cute outfit. Which is good, because he was dressed well, and wearing a bowtie. I promise you, we did not plan to coordinate so well that evening, but look at us!!
Quick version: He reenacted our first date. Photo walk on H Street NE, then photos at the Capitol (where he proposed), then dinner at Pacifico Cantina, then a quick stop at his house, then wrapping it up with coffee at Buzz Bakery. Amazing.
We started on H Street, like we originally planned. Just for a few minutes. Then he asked if I was ready for the second location? Second location?!? What on earth. No, he’s not proposing. Sure! Let’s go. We drove over to our Church, and when we parked, he said, “Actually I have a gift for you… mostly since it was our 8 month anniversary yesterday,” and he pulled out this beautiful box that looked like a book. Inside was a green journal that I had given him back in October, and that he told me he has been writing in. He calls it his “Book of Sarah,” and on it he wrote reasons that he likes me, or things that I do that he likes. “Because I want you to be absolutely certain that I do, indeed, like you,” he said. My heart melted. Awwwwwww. And then we got out and started toward the Capitol.
We walked around the Capitol for awhile. It was “magic hour,” that perfect time of day where the light goes golden and everything is peaceful and feels quiet. He made us pretend like we’re tourists and ask people to take our picture. What I didn’t know is that he was trying to distract me from seeing our friend Tim, who was following us with a camera.
We walked down toward the Visitor’s Center, where there were no people around. We talked about how much we love the gray granite and the green ivy all around there, that the color combination is just so sweet. And then he handed me his camera and asked if I would take a look at the pictures he’d taken and see what I think. “Sure, if you take a look at mine!” He said he would in a second, but needed to grab something from his backpack first.
Side story: The Monday before, Buck and Tim (who was following us) had gone to the Capitol to “stage” the proposal via pictures. Buck had switched out the memory cards when we were on H Street, so when I looked through the pictures on his camera, I was supposed to see this:
But instead, I scrolled BACKWARDS, and saw this:I gasped and nearly dropped the camera, and then this happened:
Most girls I talk to say that they don’t really remember what their fiancé said when he proposed. I remember everything that Buck said. There are lots of other things that I don’t remember, like how two cameras and a camera bag left my hands and arms and ended up safely on the ground, or what I said and how he went from being on his knee to holding me tight, but I remember all of the words.
Sarah, there was a time back in January that we were walking along H Street at night, and talking about our relationship and direction, and about how there was uncertainty, especially on my part. About two weeks later, all of that was gone, and I knew. I knew— that I want you. That there is no other person in the world that I would rather wake up next to in forty years. And then he said “Sarah—” and I said yes. I don’t even remember him asking me to marry him. And then he picked me up, and told me, for the first time, that he loved me. No, I didn’t cry. I was so overwhelmed by the fact that it was happening— really happening, right then— that I went completely numb with shock. It was all so much all at once. To go from fighting against reading into things, and guessing timeframes, to seeing him on one knee, and he’s giving me a ring, and telling me that he wants me for the rest of our lives, and that he loves me, and it was all so much all at once that I couldn’t take it in. I’m soooooooo so glad that we have it documented, though. I cried for the first time Saturday morning, when I first looked at these pictures.
We took a few pictures around the Capitol, and then we stopped by his house where he arranged a group of our closest DC friends to surprise me with a party. I pretty much didn’t talk, I was so overwhelmed. And then we went to Buzz Bakery, and stared at each other until they kicked us out. Whenever I interview with a couple about photographing their wedding, I like to ask them when/how they knew that this was the person they wanted to spend the rest of their lives with. Their answers vary— for some it’s like a flash of lightening; for others more like a slow dawn and one day they just realize that they know; for others it’s a decision that combines logic and emotion; and some have a combination of those experiences. I have no idea what mine was like. You would think that I would know, since I ask that question so often. But I don’t. It was slow, and dawning, and yes, there were moments when I felt more convinced than others, but I honestly think it had more to do with learning to trust God and trust Buck for what the future would hold, and less to do with being convinced of my own knowledge in the fact. I knew months before he asked me out that he was the kind of man I wanted to marry— his character, his strengths, his love for Christ, his leadership, and his servant’s heart were all things that I saw in Buck, and knew I needed in a husband. Somewhere, at some point, it changed from “someone like Buck” to “Buck,” and I don’t know when that change took place. But it did, and there is literally no other man in the world I could dream of loving and trusting and spending the rest of my life with, besides Buck Bradshaw.
I took these pictures on our first date. At the bottom of the stairs on the left is where he proposed. Amazing.I’m still overwhelmed. It’s all so surreal. Every time I look at my ring I think, “Is that real? Is it really mine? This can’t be reality.” Every time I look at Buck I think, “He wants to marry me? How is this real life??!?” He worked with a jeweler to design this himself, by the way. I tried on rings with a girlfriend a few months back (when Buck was out of the country), and came away even less certain of my taste than before. So many options!! This ring? perfect in every way. It’s a thin band, nothing too gaudy or flashy. Cushion cut diamond (my faaaavorite!!) in a halo setting, but again, nothing too big. The band is plain on top, but has filagree work all along the sides of it, that you can only see when you turn it. It’s perfect. But honestly… I would be thrilled with anything from Buck.But it is real life. We are getting married! And we’re already over-our-heads with planning for our wedding and our future together. You wouldn’t believe me if I told you all of the things we’ve done in the last thirteen days!!
Our greatest desire is that the Gospel is proclaimed well at our wedding, and that the way that we go about planning our wedding (and being engaged) accurately reflects the glory of God. This desire has realigned a lot of things for me— we’re not emphasizing things (with time or budget) that many people would, or that I might naturally want to. And I think that’s a good thing. We’re doing our best to keep a balanced perspective— our marriage is more important than our wedding, and our wedding itself is more important than all of the little details that go into it.
We are overwhelmed with joy & excitement, and humbled by the amount of happiness shown by our friends and family.
And for those of you who want to know details… more will come later. As of now we’re planning on an August wedding (of this year! yes, you read that correctly! less than three months away!!!), and plan to be married at the place that has meant so much for us, our relationship, and our individual walks with Christ— Capitol Hill Baptist Church.
Jeremiah 31:12 is an excellent summary of our thoughts and emotions.