Orthodox Love Stories: Hannah and Lawson

How did you meet your spouse? 

Despite being Orthodox in faith, my now-husband, Lawson, and I met in an unorthodox way: social media.

I had just escaped a rather unfortunate relationship (*gulp*) and he was scrolling Instagram when he came across an ‘Orthodox Women’ page on Instagram. He scrolled, and found me: Californian, recent convert, semi-intellectual with an attitude and affinity for avocados. He was in New York at seminary, definitely single and looking, and I could tell. I knew what he was after: he didn’t want to be single forever, and he also wanted to get ordained. Time to get married, right? Well, not to this girl! I wasn’t falling for that!

Fast forward three weeks later, after several attempts to text, call, and build even a friendship, I had shut this poor guy down with the ‘I just got out of a hard relationship’ line. While that line was true, I had no reason to play hard to get here. Lawson was ironically everything I said my next partner needed to be. He was Orthodox, he had family values, he enjoyed books and music, and above all else, he seemed kind and warm towards people. As my life got busy and I, admittedly, went on dates with other people (who weren’t 3,000 miles away), I think he assumed I’d forgotten about him after a few weeks. One evening, he messaged me to let me know that he hoped I was okay, and that he and his friends at seminary were praying for me as I battled the PTSD that followed me out of that same prior relationship.

I’m not sure what it was about that message that struck me. It wasn’t just the sentiment of prayer – people tell us often if they’re praying for us. I think it had to do with this quiet collective prayer that he’d initiated, without necessarily saying anything or even expecting a response, but had done anyways because he had hoped I’d be better. Something in me changed after that. I called off all other dates. I told friends I was busy when I wasn’t, because I was going to church. I needed to pray for someone.

How did you know this was the person you were going to marry? 

One night after a fundraiser at work, I asked if I could call him. He didn’t even respond before I did anyway. He answered, and this smooth, southern drawl said, “hello there!” through the phone. “Hi,” I said. “I’m glad I finally called.” As soon as I heard his voice, as cheesy as it sounds, I think I knew. I just knew. Something felt familiar and like home and 3,000 miles was crossed in one night by two people who didn’t even know each other but so evidently wanted to.

We talked on the phone that night for eight hours. We covered everything: college, high school, favorite bands, hobbies, best books, travels, hopes of travels, ancestors, our homes. He told me towards the end of the call about seminary, and about his workload there. He went to church almost every day! And I thought *my* prayer rule was strict. He told me that he had been praying to the Theotokos for the past 40 days to either present him with a spouse or seal his heart for celibacy. He said most women he had expressed interest in ran the other way at the thought of being a priests’ wife. My heart sank to my stomach: he was such a great guy. I felt sad for all of the women who missed out on him for that reason, but also felt lucky that all those “no’s” had cleared a space for me to sit here and talk to him at three in the morning.

We talked on the phone every day; FaceTime, text, phone calls, even little photo-messaging apps with stupid filters. After about two weeks of non-stop communication, we booked his plane ticket from Memphis, Tennessee (his hometown) to San Francisco, California (mine). He’d fly in on New Year’s Eve, as I was flying back from Vancouver, Canada for a work event.

When the day came, we were pacing around United’s baggage claim in terminal three. I was looking at his location on a GPS, and then I looked up and he was right across from me. We hugged, and then after three months of waiting, we kissed. I think the entire airport looked on with confusion and a little bit of awe. But I knew it in that phone call and I knew it in the airport, and I still know it today.

How do you find that marriage changes the ways you interact with the world? 

Marriage has been super fun, first of all. It’s like a forever sleepover with my best friend. It’s also been challenging because we’re both only children, so we’ve never had to share and we both definitely have our preferences. Both of those truths bring about lots of changes and discussions! For instance, I never thought I’d have a discussion about how I fold towels. But it’s been fun!

I used to run on fumes when I wasn’t married: I’d grab lunch running from one thing to the next, would work all day and go to graduate classes in the evening and on my free nights I’d see friends. I’d go and go and go until I had nothing left for anyone else because at home, there wasn’t anyone else. I could afford to run on nothing and I didn’t have to save any of myself for anyone else.

Now, I can’t do that. I need to save some of my social and emotional energy for my husband, because he’s the one I come home to. When I’m burnt out and tired and cranky, not only do I have nothing to offer him as his spouse but I get cranky and irritable because I haven’t taken care of myself. I have to be better about reserving energy for my husband now that I don’t just go home to my own empty bed and pile of clothes on the floor. This means if someone wants to get dinner during the week, and it’s on a day where I have a meeting beforehand and a full day of work, I need to think about the kind of person I’m going to be when I go home after everything. Am I going to want to pack my husband’s lunch? Am I going to be able to love him as I should after pouring out for everyone else all day? if the answers are no, my husband needs to take priority. This is something I’m still getting used to, but it’s worthwhile.

What’s a favorite happy, sad, funny, or unique moment you can share from your love story? 

Dating from 2,000-3,000 miles away produces some funny stories. We used to call each other in the morning (8:00 his time and 6:00 mine), we used to FaceTime and watch movies together (“okay, hit ‘play’ on. the count of three”), and we used to take each other on errands. He came with me to the grocery store countless times just because it was fun!

I think the best story is our engagement story. When we got engaged, most of northern California was on fire. He flew in on a Friday afternoon and had plans of proposing that I didn’t know about. He wanted to go all of these different places in San Francisco, all of which I veto-ed because of the hours or the busy-ness or, honestly, the lack of food. We try several spots, and I note that he’s limping around the entire city. I ask what’s wrong, and he tells me he ‘slept on his leg wrong.’

Finally we settled on a hill in Marin. We get out of the car, and he gets down on one knee and pulls the ring out of his sock. He’d been walking around on a near carat of diamond and gold for two hours!

If someone about to get married asked you for advice, what would it be? 

Be willing to die to yourself over and over again in the name of compromise and love, and ultimately, because ‘husband’ has different weight than ‘boyfriend.’ You are likely more selfish, and perhaps meaner, than you thought. You will be surprised by your lack of patience. Go to confession more than you think you need to, and lean on others who are married and have been for a long time. You will feel perhaps the most alone you have ever felt in the first few months of marriage – friends will assume you have made the ultimate friend, and if you have to move for your marriage and new life, you will also have that to adjust to (I did). Go to church often, if you can. Now is the time to read those books you said you would read. Develop a prayer rule together but perhaps also a separate one that you follow independently.

Biggest gem of advice anyone can give: premarital counseling is not a sign of failure. We had some of the best conversations in our counseling with our priest. He still meets with us to help us work on boundaries with others, and he hears all about the ways in which we still clearly need God and community in our new season of marriage in our confessions. I am so thankful we leaned on our priest and other married couples for wisdom and prayer; it’s truly underestimated and marriage is not a journey to go on alone.

@hannah.bowick

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