Austin and Onna

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How We Met

“I’m going marry you some day,” 4-year-old Onna unexpectedly blurted to me as I entered her parents’ house. Those words could have easily been laughed over and forgotten by our parents, but they weren’t forgotten. Even to this day, Onna never forgot the awestruck look beneath my 4-year-old bowl-cut and my power walk into the other room after she said it. I never forgot my response, “no you won’t because we’re going to go to different colleges.” Twenty-one years later, I am now genuinely curious if I’m about to marry a prophet.

Our parents were good friends in college at Illinois State, and after college they remained close. Onna and I were born around the same time, and lived about 20 minutes away from each other. We had play dates, went on family vacations, and even had Christmas traditions between our families. Onna and I kept a friendship from childhood and into our teenage years. Then as I had guessed, we attended different colleges. In our college years the dynamic between Onna and I began to change. We would see each other once or twice a year when we both returned home from school, and she and I consistently used that time for conversation. Over the years, our conversations began to add depth, until she made her interest to me known our senior year of college. However, just as I did as a rosy-cheeked child, I ran away from her affection again. At the time, I was entangled in anxiety and part of my fear stemmed into relationships. I allowed fear to keep me from pursing her, and I decided that it would be better to remain friends and not risk hurting her or the dynamic of our families.

After college, I remained in the Saint Louis area where I worked for two years as an Admissions Counselor for Greenville University (the school that I attended). I began to experience liberation from anxiety through prayer and a strengthened faith in God. Within that feeling of freedom, I realized my anxious thoughts were the only thing keeping me from the joy and peace that being with Onna would bring. I met with her again the next time that I was home, and we closed an arcade bar with the best conversation that we had ever had. At the end of our conversation, I handed her a letter explaining the changes that had happened for me. I wrote about the new clarity that I had in the idea of dating, and how obvious that the decision to pursue her had become to me. I didn’t know how she would receive the letter, but I knew that I had to tell her how I felt. As I hoped, she accepted my letter with grace, and we started a journey together. I am continually blessed with the joy of being with her each day.

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how they asked

October marked 6 months of dating the man of my dreams. Don’t be fooled, our first month of dating was quite an awkward adjustment. When you have been friends with a guy your entire life, suppress your feelings, share your feelings, then eternally suppress feelings after a hard pass, one can only imagine the questions racing through a girl’s mind when you have an opportunity to date. “Do I tell him how I’ve changed since college? How will we do Christmas now? When will have our first kiss?” As we took off in this new adventure, we quickly learned more about our characters and quirks. Anyone who knew us and heard our story, without missing a beat, knew we were madly in love. Our assurance and confidence in this relationship has not wavered and we quickly knew that marriage was in the future…except I did not know how soon that day would come.

I had been coordinating with a dear friend and running pal from my college cross country team to take pictures of Austin and I in Southern Indiana. She had announced a sweet deal online, so I decided to take advantage of an opportunity to have a weekend away, go camping, hangout with friends, and snag a few pics of a guy I truly adore. Couple photo shoots have never really been something I wanted to do and Austin was less than thrilled (so it seemed), but it just seemed like a fun idea with fun people and I will never pass up an opportunity to be outside! So Emily and I got everything planned, I set up our pop-up camper and Austin and I hit the road for an adventure. Little did I know that he had secretly been planning a surprise of a lifetime with Emily behind my back.

A few weeks prior I had briefly mentioned to Austin an idea to look at engagement rings. This suggestion set him completely quiet. He seemed caught off guard by the suggestion and he left shortly after a brief conversation on the topic. I thought I had mentioned engagement too soon and potentially given him an anxiety attack by this thought and his lack of response! So, I vowed to not bring marriage or proposals up for a while unless he initiated a further conversation.

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After our arrival on Friday night and some unexpected crowds for a ‘bean dinner’ in the State Park, we set up camp and enjoyed some time catching up with friends. Saturday afternoon the fun began! We started off with some casual, playful pics while listening to some Ed Sheeran and Johnnyswim to set the mood. As our photo shoot progressed, we finally made it to the waterfall. As we took position, Emily asked us to stand back to back for a couple of ‘artsy fartsy’ shots. We took one step away from each other and then Emily yelled, “Onna turn around!” and as I did, I noticed that Austin was no longer standing, but kneeling.

Awestruck and shaking, I somehow communicated yes to the literal love of my life, as we stood barefoot in the water. I have never had so many happy tears in my lifetime and had so much joy for so long. I know that this is only the beginning of a true fairytale story as our journey together takes flight

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Special Thanks

Jim and Emily Hary
 | Photographer