I first met Andrea in 1995 when we were placed on the same mission team in a small town in Ukraine. To pass the time while we rode trains across this former Soviet country, we would read to each other from an old book I had found containing local fairy tales. It became a special thing between us, and over the next two years we grew to be very close friends.
In 1997, soon after returning to the United States, I invited Andrea to my hometown of Pensacola, Florida to meet my family. That weekend I also wanted to show her one of my favorite places, so I took her to a beautiful, secluded spot on Pensacola Beach. As we sat on the beach watching the sun near the horizon, we were approached by an old vagabond who was meandering down the beach putting trash in a large bag. He struck up a conversation with us and told us about love lost in his own life, and challenged me to hold on to Andrea, no matter what! He then said that he had something for us and, much to our surprise, began digging through his sack.
As he rummaged through his bag, Andrea nervously scooted a little closer to me and put her arm in mine. He finally retrieved his treasure, a flat package wrapped in brown wrapping paper. He slowly handed it to Andrea and then turned and walked away, while we wondered what to do with this strange gift. Andrea was a bit nervous, but I told her I thought it would be okay to open it, and when I did we were shocked to find a beautiful handmade wooden book with leather binding and parchment pages. As Andrea watched the old man walk away, she asked me, Do you think its an old family album? I dont know, I told her, lets open it and see. We opened it to find an old fairy tale with charming hand-drawn illustrations and a large ornate letter beginning each page.
I began to read the story aloud and we learned that it was about a beautiful young girl named Odette. As we read on, Andrea commented that the drawing of Odette as a little girl looked just like she did when she was 8 years old, and that the story sounded very familiar. It eventually dawned on her that this was not mere coincidence this was a set-up. As she saw me begin to smile, she realized that it was me who had made the book (the old vagabond was really an old friend of mines father who eagerly played the part!)
The fairy tale told of Odettes life growing up, her travel to a faraway land, and how she built a relationship with a young man named Jonathan (who looked amazingly like me!)
The tale also told of how Jonathan had traveled to ask Odettes father for his daughters hand in marriage (something I had done a month earlier without Andreas knowledge.)
The story progressed to a moment when Odette and Jonathan sat together on a serene beach watching the sunset, when all of a sudden an old vagabond approached them. Mirroring the moment that had just happened, the drifter in the story talked of love as he gave them a special book and inspired Jonathan to kneel upon the sand and ask Odette for her hand in marriage. The beautiful maiden looked into his eyes, and with heart overflowing, said. . . From there on the page was blank because everything up to this point had happened to Andrea, but this was new.
I closed the book, knelt on the sand, and asked Andrea if she would be my wife. She tearfully replied yes and kissed me while in the background my vagabond friend and his family began cheering and clapping (they also secretly took lots of pictures of our special occasion.)
After a lot of hugs and a closer look at the book, Andrea also realized that each of the ornate letters at the beginning of each page spelled out MARRY ME ANDREA. Six months later we were married, and weve been very happily married for seven years. We also continue to work in eastern Europe, but our family is bigger now with three daughters the first named Abigail Odette.
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