Our Love Story, Part 7: “I love you!”

It wasn’t long before I knew I needed to get State-side. Only a couple of weeks after completing a transition back to Ukraine from Thailand, I flew home to Texas where Kelsie was waiting for me. Her parents had moved up to Calgary, Canada due to a work assignment from Danny’s employer, but Kelsie stayed behind so we could meet and begin to spend time together in person.

As the days passed, my confidence in our relationship grew steadily. Soon, I decided that it was time to tell Kelsie in no uncertain terms that I loved her. Trained as I was to treat such steps with extreme caution, I decided to check with Danny first. I sent off an email and soon received his reply. He gave his permission excitedly and even expressed some surprise that I had not already told Kelsie of my love!

Armed with this approval, I purchased a dozen red roses and placed them in the parlor of my Grandmother’s house, where Kelsie had been staying. That afternoon, Kelsie and I entered the parlor together where she immediately saw the flowers. Her face beamed as she noticed the card protruding from the side. Inscribed on it in large letters were the words: “I love you, Princess Kelsie!”

"I love you, Princess Kelsie!"

“I love you, Princess Kelsie!”

A few days later, I asked Kelsie to marry me, and she joyfully agreed. Perhaps no two people on earth were happier that day than we were. After long months of waiting, seeking, praying and trusting God, we knew for certain that each of us had found our life-partner in the other.

She said yes!

She said yes!

Planning the wedding at the Powells' home in Canada

Planning the wedding at the Powells’ home in Canada

The days and weeks that followed were a delightful blend of travel, meeting family, wedding planning, and of course, spending every possible moment with each other. On September 18, 2004 our young courtship officially ended as we crossed the threshold from singleness into marriage. Less than a month later, we arrived in Ukraine as a missionary couple and began building our new life together.

111_1129

Ever After

At the time of this writing, Kelsie and I have been married for over 8 years, and the Lord has blessed us with three precious children who are the joy of our lives. While married life has certainly presented its challenges, we have faced them together: not as competitors, but as friends. In fact, the phrase, “You’re my best friend,” is one used often in our home.

We count ourselves very blessed to have had parents and mentors who urged us to trust God in the area of marriage, and we can testify along with many thousands of saints that God is indeed faithful to direct the paths of those who wait on Him.

“Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.”
(Prov. 3:5-6)

From the left: Cindy Powell, Danny Powell, Kelsie, Joshua, Cathy Steele, Mike Steele

From the left: Cindy Powell, Danny Powell, Kelsie, Joshua, Cathy Steele, Mike Steele

161_6167

Honeymooning in Eureka Springs

Honeymooning in Eureka Springs

The honeymoon continues...

The honeymoon continues…

Our Love Story, Part 6: Mystery Courtship

As Kelsie and I embarked on what would become a life-long journey together, our relationship was unlike anything I had envisioned. I was still in Thailand and she in Oklahoma. My acquaintance with her family had reached the ripe old age of three weeks, and neither of us had ever seen each other in person. Our budding new friendship sounded more like a success story from an online dating site than a Christian courtship. Yet none involved could deny that God was leading.

Kelsie receives her first bouquet from me while I was still overseas.

Kelsie receives her first bouquet from me while I was still overseas.

I think she liked them.

I think she liked them.

Let me clarify at this point what exactly we had begun. Neither of us had agreed to marriage. How could we? We knew only the barest facts about each other and were proceeding primarily based on the sincere belief that this was God’s direction.

Our approach was practical. Separated by thousands of miles, we focused on exchanging information and seeking to confirm that this was, in fact, God’s will. It was understood that both of us were free to back out at any time if we did not believe God was leading us to proceed.

Unlike most young people entering courtship, we could not meet face to face and so relied heavily on written correspondence. Looking back, both of us have observed that God used this apparent limitation as a means of maturing and strengthening our relationship. As we wrote, we discussed a variety of issues including our views on children, finances, the family in general, church, ministry, education, and employment. Woven into the fact exchanges were plenty of personal details and the simple, excited chatter of two young people who are rapidly falling in love.

But love was one word I refrained from using at the beginning. Too many have cheapened that word by applying it early and often to anything and anyone who happens to catch their fancy. I wanted Kelsie to know that when first I confessed my love for her, it would be more than just words.

Our Love Story, Part 5: The Beginning

I am told that most young ladies receive a pleasant sort of shock when they learn of a secret admirer. Kelsie was no exception. She, too, had experienced some disappointments before meeting me and had wondered if a man of godly character would ever pursue her.

Now, as her father handed over the rolled up parchment, she loosened the ribbon and read my invitation.

Dear Kelsie,

Although you do not know me, I have been corresponding with your parents for the past month or so in regards to a possible courtship with you. I have really enjoyed getting to know them, and in a way getting to know you through them…

…we have been “talking about you” for some time now, and your mother and father wrote me recently, saying that they felt this would be a good time to let you know about all of this.

And so my purpose in writing you this letter, is to see if you would be willing to begin a courtship relationship, with the goal of marriage in mind should the Lord so direct us.

Kelsie’s immediate response was to get alone and pray. She had my letter, the Ukrainian phrasebook, and a stack of missionary newsletters that I had written over the past two and a half years.

As Kelsie prayed, the rest of us held our breaths and waited. Happily, we did not have to wait long. A few hours later I received Kelsie’s response in which she excitedly agreed to begin a relationship!

Our moms met and chatted at the girls' retreat before Kelsie knew what was going on.

Our moms met and chatted at the girls’ retreat before Kelsie knew what was going on.

Suddenly, Kelsie was spending a lot more time with her email!

Suddenly, Kelsie was spending a lot more time with her email!

Our Love Story, Part 4: Let’s Tell Kelsie

After only three weeks, Danny surprised me by stating that he felt this was of the Lord and that we should tell Kelsie about it. “How would you like to tell her?” he asked. Since I was still in Thailand, my options were limited. Ultimately, we decided that I would write an introductory letter. Danny and his wife, Cindy, would print it on parchment paper, tie it up with a burgundy ribbon, and present it to Kelsie.

I believe there were those at the time who, upon hearing our story, worried that Danny and I were concocting an arranged marriage in which Kelsie had no say. Nothing could be further from the truth. As her father, Danny was merely doing what any good father should do: protecting his daughter from potentially harmful relationships and doing all he could to find for her the man who would become her life-long companion. That said, it was understood from the beginning that Kelsie had veto power. I had proposed a courtship, Danny had approved, but the final decision would be Kelsie’s.

Kelsie at the girls' retreat

Kelsie at the girls’ retreat (bottom row, red blouse)

At the time all this was transpiring, Kelsie was away teaching at a girls’ retreat. Her parents made their preparations in her absence, and on the day she returned, Danny suggested the family go on an after-dinner stroll in a local park. As Kelsie’s younger brother entertained himself by tossing stones into a nearby pond, she and her parents chatted.

“Kelsie, I have a new foreign language that I think you should learn,” Danny remarked.

“Really?” asked Kelsie, intrigued. In the Powell family, this was not an unusual request. Congruent with her desire to work in foreign missions, Kelsie had mastered Spanish and conversational Chinese, and had lately been studying French.

Danny continued, “Yes, I think you might be interested in learning Ukrainian.”

With that, he handed her a small, worn, paperback Ukrainian phrasebook. Opening it, she immediately noticed a name penned inside the front cover: Joshua Steele.

Our Love Story, Part 3: Dating the Dad?

In our modern culture, many Christian young men scoff at the idea of contacting a girl’s father before pursuing a relationship with her. “After all, she is an adult. Let her make her own decision.” While I realize that there may be exceptions, my position to this day remains the same: if at all possible, ask Dad first. The benefits of such an approach are numerous, and in my case, though a bit nervous initially, I never regretted for a moment my decision to correspond with Kelsie’s father before making my intentions known to her.

When Danny and I began emailing, I had no idea what to expect. But I knew that for now, Kelsie was under his jurisdiction and if I wanted a chance at winning her heart, I first needed to obtain Danny’s permission. I invited him to go at his own pace, to ask whatever questions he wanted, and to take whatever steps he felt were necessary in order to assure himself that I was ready and able to love, lead, and provide for his daughter in marriage.

Our early emails were largely composed of basic facts about our two families. He asked many questions about my upbringing and my ministry. In turn he also told me a lot about their family. Far from the extended grilling I had feared, I found that Danny and I actually got along quite well. He was very positive and encouraging. As I would later learn, Danny had felt strongly for a couple of months that God was about to bring Kelsie’s life partner onto the scene, and he had been waiting. From the time he read my first email, he strongly sensed that this courtship was God’s design.

I think it is no coincidence that of all the players in this particular courtship drama, it was Kelsie’s father who was the first to be convinced in his heart that this was a marriage made in heaven. Before I even knew the name Kelsie Powell, God had impressed upon Danny that the time was near.

Our Love Story, Part 2: First Things First

My introduction to Kelsie Powell was unlike anything I had previously imagined. When first I heard of her, we were about as far apart geographically as it is possible for any two people to be on this planet. In early 2004, she was living in Oklahoma with her parents while I was working on a short-term missions project in Thailand.

My sister’s email description of Kelsie was glowing. The highlights included such demonstratives as “Godly”, “virtuous”, “committed”, and one that caught my particular attention: “praying to marry a missionary.” This last point addressed a major question that I had pondered for some time: what type of girl would consent to marry a missionary, knowing that she would likely spend the rest of her life in some remote country overseas? Apparently, Kelsie was just such a girl.

Further inquiry revealed that not only was Kelsie praying to marry a missionary, she had been on many mission trips herself. She had served in Taiwan and Mexico, and she was fluent in Spanish.

Due to a long-standing personal conviction, I knew that my next step was to contact Kelsie’s father, Danny. To me, it was imperative that this be accomplished without Kelsie’s knowledge. In case things did not work out, I wanted to be able to make a quiet exit without damaging her emotionally.

But there was a practical problem: I did not have the ability to make outgoing calls on my phone from Thailand. As I discussed the matter with my parents via email, we determined that the best solution would be for my father to contact Kelsie’s father.

Although I do not have a transcript of that conversation, I do remember experiencing a measure of concern as I imagined it in advance. The major components which I foresaw went something like this:

My father picks up the receiver, dials the number for the Powell household. The phone rings, and a man answers.

“Hello?”

“Yes, may I speak with Danny Powell please?”

“This is Danny.”

“Hi Danny, my name is Mike Steele. You don’t know me, and I don’t know you, but my daughter Jennifer has met your daughter Kelsie. Anyway, I’m actually calling on behalf of my son Joshua. You don’t know him either. He’s a missionary to Ukraine, but he’s currently working in Thailand. He’s interested in beginning a relationship with your daughter Kelsie, whom he also doesn’t know. He wanted to contact you about this without Kelsie knowing, but he can’t make calls out of Thailand. But he can email. He would like to know if he can send you an email about starting a relationship with Kelsie.”

Silence. Click.

Who was I kidding? What father in his right mind would even listen to such an absurd request? Despite my wavering faith, it turns out God was moving after all. Danny was very much in his right mind, and he was very willing to listen. After the two fathers got off the phone, I received the go-ahead to send my introductory email.

Scarcely able to believe that this was all happening, I composed a simple message in which I introduced myself, gave a very brief explanation of my work as a missionary, and expressed my desire to “get to know Kelsie in a courtship relationship with the goal of marriage in mind should the Lord so direct.” I stressed my respect for the fact that Kelsie was his daughter, that he was her God-ordained head, and that I was ready to proceed in whatever way and at whatever pace he desired. Then I hit send and waited.

A positive reply arrived soon thereafter, and Danny and I began our correspondence.

Our Love Story, Part 1: Three Strikes and You’re Out?

About three years ago, in response to requests from various people, Kelsie and I endeavored to publish our courtship story here on our blog. We were writing together, and posting as we went along. Unfortunately, the busyness of life and ministry at that time proved to be too much, and our posts slowly tapered off to nothing.

Ever since then, I’ve wanted to restart that project and finish it out. This summer, the opportunity presented itself. Debi Pearl wrote me and asked if I would document our story to be published as part of Mike’s new book, In Search of  a Help Meet. It took me longer than I expected, but I finally got the whole thing written and sent in.

The book is due to come out in January, but we’d like to give you a preview of our story right here. And trust me: this time you’ll get the complete story. The entire account is already written down and waiting to be published. We’ll post a new section every week or so until it’s all out.

And now, without further ado…

Part 1 – Three Strikes and You’re Out?

As the year 2003 was drawing to a close, I had reached the grim conclusion that God probably did not want me to be married any time soon. I was 24, and while my life heretofore had seen many successes, romance had not been among them. Onlookers, perhaps, suspected that I just was not trying hard enough, but this was far from true.

Like any normal young man, I wanted to be married. Badly. I had wanted it since I was eight. My difficulties were of a more practical nature. Did a girl exist who would want to marry a missionary, and, if so, how was I to find her? Already I had made three attempts at courtship that had fizzled before they ever got off the ground. I’ll not provide details here, but don’t worry: my stories were devoid of drama. Mostly, they came down to the fact that the girl in question simply did not like me.

This string of failures was a relatively new experience for me. Since my early teenage years I had committed my life wholly to God, and I had seen Him graciously bless and advance me in many miraculous ways. I had learned to discern His provision and guidance, usually proceeding with confidence in the knowledge that He was with me.

Thus, after my third strike at beginning a relationship, I began to suspect that I was missing some sort of divine memo. My utter failure to progress in my attempts at finding a life partner led me to a growing fear that God did not want me to get married. At least not now. But if not now, when? For some reason, the ten-year figure popped into my head and was subsequently expelled as quickly as it had arrived. Surely God did not intend for me to press on alone! Yet seemingly, the handwriting had appeared on the wall, and there was not much I could do to remove it.

At last I gave up trying. I was tired. I was distracted from my work. The emotional ups and downs of courtship-on/courtship-off had left me discouraged. At this point I made a decision which I believe the Lord is looking for in all His children, especially the single ones who are seeking a mate: I decided to wait on God. And by waiting, I don’t mean that lethargic inactivity wherein the proverbial farmer prays for potatoes without the willingness to pick up the hoe. Folks, I had hoed my very best. I had fulfilled every requirement I knew of. And after praying, searching, talking to fathers, seeking counsel, praying more, and wishing desperately to find a wife, all I got from God was silence. But I had learned that divine silence is itself an answer. “Wait. My time is not yet. Trust me.” And so I waited.

In a way, I felt that I had fewer answers than when I had begun. There were many things I did not understand, many courtship and marriage questions that remained a mystery. But I did know one thing: God is faithful. Marriage or no marriage, I had committed my life to following Him, and that was not about to change.

A few weeks later, I received an email from my sister Jennifer, who wrote, “I recently shared a room with a wonderful young lady named Kelsie…”