On March 16th, 2015 I shook hands with a tall, dark Italian and my life changed forever.
I had just come out of a difficult season in life, and was looking forward to graduating college and adventuring on my own for a while. Starting my own photography business was a brewing idea, and I was getting more involved in the young professional scene in Lakeland, Florida. At that time there was a group of young people like me who gathered once a month to worship, study scripture, and fellowship with each other. Since I had been one of the first participants, I made it a point to go every month, which is where I was destined to first meet Matthew Peter Vacaro.
I remember walking around the corner at the same time he did on the opposite side of the courtyard of First United Methodist. We made eye-contact and exchanged a friendly smile. “Hmmm. Another Southeastern!” I thought as I observed his patterned button-up and skinny jeans. Later that evening I met his best friend, John, who then introduced me to Matthew. Matt then made it VERY clear that he was NOT a Southeastern student, and that he was “offended” by the idea. He was from Boston, and up there he had been a TRUE hipster. I knew right away that we were going to be friends. I left that night feeling like something had changed…
It became clear early on that my first suspicions were true- we were MEANT to be friends! We shared a similar sense of humor and communication style, which made it the easiest thing in the world to talk and laugh together. From constantly joking around, to having deeper and more serious conversations, Matt soon became the friend I hoped to see at every social gathering. He made me laugh like no one ever had, and he cooked AMAZING Italian food! Who wouldn’t want to be friends with a guy like that???
Soon after our friendship began, our romantic feelings started to kindle. We both knew we liked each other, but deep down it just didn’t seem right to start something. Unfortunately, instead of waiting for a more opportune time to start dating, we jumped in head first and immediately noticed the consequences. (One of the reasons why I LOVE this story is because it is all about REDEMPTION!) We started dating prematurely and as a result became SUPER awkward with each other and lost the elements of friendship that we had enjoyed before things became romantic. It took all of four weeks to realize that we were just not ready to be more than friends, and so with heavy hearts we parted ways. I remember feeling so sad, thinking that it was SUCH a shame to lose a wonderful friendship because of a brief, romantic fling. I reconciled it in my heart and lay the thought of Matthew Peter Vacaro to rest forever.
Time went by and Matthew began to appear on my friend scene again. From hockey games to late night hang-outs at the Poor Porker, the Lord kept bringing this guy back into my life, reminding me of how much I had missed his friendship. I quickly remembered why I had liked him so much before! Which only led to making me feel frustrated and sad. Little did I know that Matthew was beginning to feel the same way! When Christmas of 2015 came along, my family invited Matt to spend the holiday with us since he was away from home and family. Surprisingly enough, he said yes! My family loved him, and I could tell that something was different between us. I was leaving for Thailand the next day to shoot a wedding and see old friends, and that night when we parted ways with hopeful hearts.
I was in Thailand for a month, and he began writing me on day ONE. I remember not being able to believe my eyes when I first saw his message! The casual “how are you doing?” quickly became a series of letters that delved into the deepest parts of who we are. I later found out that for the month I was away in Thailand, Matthew dreamt of me every single night. It was then that he suspected the Lord was trying to tell him something.
My return to America brought a renewal of our romantic relationship. This time, with a better foundation of friendship under our feet, it became more about pursuing marriage in the future, rather than casually dating. This allowed us to have fun, pursue honor and purity, and get to know each other with PURPOSE!
The months FLEW by. We cooked food, adventured all around Florida, traveled to Boston to see his family, texted all day every day, and laughed constantly. I can say without question that it was the best year of my life!
As 2017 arrived, we knew that the time was coming to take the next step in our relationship. I was eagerly (and anxiously!) waiting for the proposal, but had to constantly keep my patience in check! By the end of March he had ordered the ring and by the end of April it had arrived.
On April 30th, 2017, my life would once again forever change. (It is one thing to know that you WANT to be married, it’s a whole other thing to actually say YES!) We went to Church like usual on that day, ate Crispers for lunch and hung out like normal. I was slightly suspicious that something was up, but not sure anything would actually happen! When he off-handedly mentioned needing to go to the library to drop off a book, I REALLY started to wonder (after all, his book was a YEAR over-due!). I said, “babe, if the spirit of conviction has come upon you, who am I to argue?” And so off to the library we went.
We browsed through the books like usual, and the whole time he was FREAKING OUT because of the gigantic ring box in his pocket! At one point he actually DROPPED it on the library floor, causing the ring to pop right out!! Thankfully I was around the corner and entirely unaware. We then walked out of the library, and instead of going to the car, he asked if we could go for a walk. In that moment my heart started to race! After all, why else would someone want to “go for a walk” in 100 degree heat?!
We strolled along Lake Morton until we arrived at First United Methodist. We began to reminisce about how we had met there, re-living that fateful moment of first making eye-contact. He asked if we could go see the courtyard where we first met and of course I followed along! As we walked down the steps into the courtyard, memory after memory started flooding in. From first laying eyes on each other, to how I secretly admired his big, manly hands when he first reached out to shake my own. As we reminisced, he placed me on the exact spot where we had first been introduced, and took my hands in his. Expressing how he never would have thought that this would be the place where his life would change forever, and that on this spot he would meet his wife. He cried his way through the whole speech, which only made ME more emotional! He got on his knee and asked me to marry him, and I said YES! I then leaned down and gave him the very first kiss I had ever given anyone.
After that, our friends Andrew and Katie came out of the bushes and celebrated with us! We ran around in circles for sheer joy, and were then greeted by the pastor of the church, who held our hands and prayed over our future marriage. Matthew then announced that there was a party with all of my friends waiting for us, and so off we went for an evening full of hugs and celebration.
It goes without saying that I have pretty much NEVER been happier. All of this waiting and praying has proven to be WORTH it!! And as Matthew and I prepare for a wedding and marriage, we are reminded of Christ’s commitment and love for us. We hope to be a reflection of Christ’s love for his people ALL OUR LIVES and can’t wait to encourage others to do the same, no matter what stage of life they are in. Truly my friends, there is JOY in the waiting.
Thank you for loving us and celebrating with us! Stay tuned for all of the beautiful adventures to come. =)
P.S. Thank you thank you THANK YOU to Katie Anderson for capturing this moment!!!