Ryan and Madison

Image 11 of Ryan and Madison

How We Met

Settle in, because our story is a wild ride. I would love to recount an epic tale in which I was the knight in shining armor who came in to swoop Madi off of her feet and into the sunset, but that’s not quite how things went. So grab yourself a hypothetical coffee and journey back with me for a few minutes.

Travel with me to the days of my youth. My first memory of the beautiful Madison Kamarad classically involves me making a fool of myself and her being entertained by it. Madi and I had our first encounter at a high school leadership conference during our junior year of high school, where I was, as usual, showing off for the lovely ladies. This time I was making a spectacle by juggling their cell phones. Madi was one of the gracious girls who watched with a pretty smile. We didn’t have much of a conversation, and my foolish young self failed to ask for her number. Alas, life is full of trials, and I was forced to endure the next two years of my life without that beautiful, smiling, and kind-hearted presence. Until that fateful day…

It was a cold January day in 2017. Call it fate, chance, or the will of God, but something led me into the most unlikely of places to have my first real encounter with the future love of my life. The second semester of my college experience was about to begin, and I was looking forward to what was to be the most difficult class I had ever taken–an accelerated, 3-month EMT class. I had seen Madison around during my first semester and knew that she had a reputation of being a caring and godly young woman, but I had not yet ventured to converse with this outgoing, curly-haired blonde. As I stood in line to pick up my overpriced, 1600-page EMT book, I turned to look behind me. There she was. Casually, and just as unaware as I was of the fatefulness of the moment, Madison Kamarad stood with the classic friendly demeanor that makes everyone around her instantly comfortable. I don’t remember who was the first to say hello, but the conversation flowed naturally and wonderfully between us. We learned that we had both done years of door-to-door literature evangelism to help pay our way through school. We were to be in the same EMT class and talked about our expectations, fears, and excitements for the course. I had heard rumors of Madi’s light-hearted and mature spirit, and I was honored to experience it first hand. We acquired the books that we would pour over for countless miserable hours, and we went our separate ways. As usual, I was completely oblivious of the significance of what had just happened, but not Madi. I learned several years later that she had returned to her room after that first meeting and proceeded to tell her roommate that she had just (she claims that it was somewhat jokingly) met her future husband. Being the upstanding, wise 18-year-old that I was, I took the obvious best next step… and I dated her roommate. Yes, you read that correctly. For about a year, Madi endured her feelings for me while still supporting me in friendship as I dated her own friend and roommate. Are you starting to understand why I couldn’t present myself as the hero of the story?

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The relationship with Madi’s roommate didn’t work out, and I still remember the note and Cliff bar that Madi gave me after the breakup. She also gave a supportive note to the girl I had been dating (isn’t Madi the sweetest?!). One would think that, after all this, I would come to my senses, right? As much as I would like to say that I did, that would be less than accurate. After the breakup, Madi and I worked as teacher’s aids together for the International Rescue and Relief summer program in southwestern Colorado–one of the most exciting and romantic atmospheres we could have asked for. The adrenaline and adventure of the program, combined with the emotions of the recent breakup led me to make some more unfortunate decisions. I knew Madi had some level of feelings for me at this point, and I also knew that my brother and Madi’s best friend had been trying to set us up (they failed miserably at being subtle). I allowed the aforementioned factors to dictate my actions, and I led Madi on a bit. She can tell you about the confusion and shock she felt when I put my arm around her while we sat in a hammock with friends one night. To make matters worse, Madi’s phone number was mysteriously and suspiciously blocked on my phone later that summer (This was not my doing, and the suspected culprit will remain unnamed). We learned later that we had both reached out to the other multiple times that summer, and we both were hurt that the other had been ignoring us.

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During the rest of that summer, I was working in Alaska and going through some major personal growth while Madi was slaving away as an overworked and under-supported teacher for a summer school. I grew a lot spiritually and emotionally that summer and made the decision to spend the following school year as a student missionary in the Philippines, where I knew Madi and a couple of other friends were going. I made the decision and filled out all the paperwork during the time that Madi’s number was blocked in my phone, so she had no idea I had made that change in plans. Last she knew, I would be taking classes and probably making more poor relationship decisions back at Union while she was gone as a student missionary. Then I would spend the following year overseas while she suffered through another Nebraska winter. You can imagine her astonishment just weeks before leaving for the Philippines when she read an email from the director of student missions saying that she and Ryan and the others were all set and ready to go! After being led on a summer program and apparently ignored the next two months, she was about to spend an entire school year in a foreign country with this handsome, funny, strong, amazing, great, wonderful, super mature, and totally humble young man (sounds romantic now, right?). For some reason, she didn’t see it that way at the time.

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We saw each other shortly before leaving for the Philippines, and we soon realized what had happened with the whole blocked phone number fiasco. We quickly resumed our friendship, she forgave me for my idiocy and immaturity, and we had the experience of a lifetime that year! Even before that trip, I remember telling my mom (probably when she was asking for the millionth time why I wasn’t dating Madi) that Madi was probably the kindest and most loving friend I had ever had. That wonderful friendship blossomed further during our 8-month adventure in Pagudpud. There was no more tension or leading on. We lived across the hall from each other, ate together, traveled together, worked together, and served together. I realized that Madi’s heart was even bigger and more beautiful than I had known before! I also learned about her OCD and borderline-excessive cleaning habits, her intense need for hugs and cuddling from her friends, her love for sharing random (and questionably accurate) facts, her ability to handle stressful situations, her wonderful organizational skills, her patience, her dependability, her intentionality, and her endless motivation to show love to people around her. Through all this, our friendship grew and remained impressively platonic.

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Looking back, I’m so grateful for the way our relationship unfolded. College was an awesome journey of growth for me, and it took every minute of it for me to grow up enough to be half the man that Madi deserves. My journey of growth continued in the Philippines, but my eyes and mind were still closed to the idea of a future with Madi. After a quick trip to Mount Everest’s base camp and another three-month relationship with someone other than Madi, I was back at Union and ready to take on the world during my Junior year. Madi and I picked up right where we had left off. We regularly had “friend dates” and would drink coffee together and talk about our lives. Her feelings for me came back, and naturally, I was once again completely oblivious.

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Remember how I said it took every minute of college for me to grow up? Well, college was only a half over at this point. That first semester of our Junior year, I got caught up once again in the excitement of a potential relationship. This time, I was at least prudent enough to realize what was going on and that this person (who is a fantastic individual and is still a close friend to Madi and me) was not the one for me. In my ignorance of Madi’s situation, I asked her as we sat and chatted over cups of coffee to be an accountability partner to not allow my feelings or actions to get ahead of myself with this other girl. Unbeknownst to me, the girl also was talking to Madi about me, and she also asked her to be an accountability partner! Once again, my punk little self had put my sweet Madi in a miserable situation. Madi suffered silently, trying to stifle her feelings for me until she realized she needed to get it off her chest.

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One fall day, Madi asked me to join her for another friend date. I was happy to schedule some time with her and drove to Holmes Lake completely unsuspecting and unready for the figurative steam train that was about to wreck my life. We hammocked (in two separate hammocks) and talked, and everything seemed normal. As she dropped me off at the dorm, she handed me a brown envelope with my name on it and a small handwritten floral design. I didn’t think twice about this because, as anyone close to Madi knows, she regularly writes thoughtful notes to her friends. I went back to my room and opened it, still nonchalantly going about my normal day. This ignorant normalcy lasted about fifteen more seconds…

About three lines in, I realized what was happening. My heart pounded; the corners of my vision blurred, then became black. I braced myself in my chair, readying myself to pass out. The first page was an introduction explaining how she had been learning vulnerability and felt that she needed to share these feelings with me for her own sake. I read about her side of the story from freshman year in the bookstore to the experience at the summer program and through the Philippines. The realization that my closest friend had been in love with me for three years was enough to knock me off my seat–literally. After finishing the 16-page letter, I fell on the floor of my dorm room and continued trying not to lose consciousness. I realized how much I had hurt her and how kind and loving she had been to me through everything. I remember asking God what the heck was going on and for Him to show me something. I crawled back to my chair and dragged myself up to my desk to flip open my Bible. I opened, flipped a couple of pages, and read Proverbs 5:18.

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“May your fountain be blessed, and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth.”

I proceeded to battle unconsciousness a third time. I knew my own tendencies and weaknesses in relationships, and I was not willing to lose Madi’s friendship for my own stupidity. I told her that I needed some time to process and be sure that I wouldn’t react out of my initial exciting feelings. She understood, and I still remember her response to me. She told me that she was proud of me for not rushing anything and that she was happy to wait until I was ready and knew how I felt. Seriously, I am marrying such an incredible woman!

Well, very soon after that, I cut out any possibility of romantic interest with anyone else and started thinking and praying full-time about Madi. I had a hundred excuses that I had used for years as to why I didn’t have romantic feelings for her, but I slowly began to realize those were mostly insignificant things that I had just been saying to get my friends and family to stop telling me to date her. I’ll never forget a conversation I had with my good friend Robert when he helped me see that Madi loves me with a kind of love that most people go their whole lives searching for. I realized how strong and resilient Madi is, how committed of a friend she had been to me, and how well we work together. From the IRR summer program to the Philippines and youth ministries at Union, we had plenty of opportunities to work together, and I realized there was no one else I would rather do life with. Even as I type this, she is right next to me working on our wedding registry, and I’m still blown away by how well she puts up with me and empowers me while filling in the blatant holes of my weaknesses.

December came, finals were right around the corner, and I was finally starting to think a future with Madison Kamarad might be the one for me. Once again, she asked me if we could talk. It was the day of my most important final exam of the semester, and I walked across 48th street to meet her at The Mill. I stepped in the door and saw her already seated at a table in the middle of the room. She flashed a pretty smile as I pulled up a chair and asked what she wanted to talk about. I was a little nervous coming into this friend’s date because I was starting to have feelings for her, but I wasn’t ready to tell her yet. As she began, the conversation took an unexpected twist. She told me she didn’t want to date me anymore. What? Just when I was finally starting to reciprocate interest after three years, she had decided that our friendship was too valuable to risk and that she deserved to be chosen by someone rather than “settled for” like she felt I might be doing. She said what she had to say, sent me a copy of her speaker notes that she had been reading from, and we went our separate ways in the most “just friends” way possible.

I didn’t come close to passing out this time, but I sure struggled to study after that! I sat in the student center with my heart pounding and head racing, realizing what my blindness and foolishness might have cost me and that I may have missed my chance. I took the final and went home for the semester, knowing that I had a lot of thinking and praying to do. Even then, I had a strong feeling that if we were to take this relationship out of the “friend zone,” there was a high probability that we would marry each other. No pressure, right? That December, I talked to several trusted advisors and mentors, I prayed about Madi every day, and I even fasted. People say that fasting gives you so much mental clarity… They’re wrong. I was hungry and a bit miserable all day, but I sure did pray and think a lot! After going out to Colorado for some friends’ wedding and spending a couple of days with Madi, my decision was made. This wonderful woman was someone who I would be incredibly blessed to have as a partner, and I was ready to choose her in the way that she deserved and step out on the risky waters of dating my best friend.

Madi and I were both backs at Union early for the second semester to take an Ice Rescue course, and it was the perfect opportunity to tell her how I felt. It was a chilly Thursday afternoon, and I had asked Madi to join me for coffee at a little underground coffee shop called the Crescent Moon. The cold brew coffee and the nerves of the moment left me a bit shaky as I told Madi about my time thinking and praying about her over the last couple of months. I told her that she did deserve to be chosen and that I was choosing to pursue her. I agreed that our friendship was too valuable to lose, so I proposed that we take it at whoever’s pace was slowest. She agreed, and we embarked on our awkward, scary, and wonderful journey of not dating but kinda being a couple, or as we liked to call it, pre-pre-dating.

“Whoever’s the pace is slowest” sped up pretty quickly, and within a month I was planning how to ask her to drop off both “pre’s” from our relationship status. It was February 2, 2020. The Kansas City Chiefs were squaring off against the San Francisco 49ers in Superbowl LIV, and everything was in place to ask my sweet Madi to be my official girlfriend–no “pre’s” attached! After watching the game with friends at my brother’s apartment, I asked Madi to take a walk with me. We took our normal route down Calvert and across 56th to Holmes Lake, and she suspected nothing. Our amazing friends had come earlier and set up a hammock on the bridge with lights, flowers, and an ice bucket with a bottle of Welch’s sparkling grape juice. Madi said yes on the bridge that night, and our adventure continued! We have so many amazing memories together from our time officially dating, but this is already about four pages longer than I had planned on it going. One year, one month, and 26 days later, I took a knee on top of an Alaskan mountain and asked my best friend to become my bride. You’ll have to read Madi’s story to find out if she said yes that time! Thank you for taking the time to read this and for being a beautiful part of our lives and journey together.


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How They Asked

Now, it’s my turn! Ryan and I had been dating for a little over a year plus years of friendship when he and I adventured on a three-month expedition in Alaska. Prior to this trip, my friends and I were more than curious if he would ask me in Alaska with the Northern Lights or if he would wait for our next trip to the Philippines, where we would be returning to our mission home. Ryan and I both know that surprises are difficult for me to keep (or wait for), but he definitely caught me by surprise with this one.

Towards the end of our trip, Ryan’s brother, Caleb, was able to fly out and visit us and also shoot some videos for work (he’s a phenomenal photographer/videographer for a mission organization). Within a few hours of picking up Caleb from the airport, the Northern Lights were brighter than we had ever seen during our 3 months in Alaska. As I had guesstimated before, I was SURE that Ryan would propose with the Northern Lights if he were to do it in Alaska. The only bummer was that I was in my comfiest pajama pants and my nails were definitely not painted haha! We stood in below-0-degree weather as Caleb did his magic and captured the Northern Lights better than Jimmy Chin could ever do. It was almost 2 in the morning when we returned back to camp, and there was no proposal… meaning he would definitely be proposing in the Philippines.

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That week, Ryan and I and our classmates were enrolled in an extensive Pro Avalanche Rescue course that kept us pretty busy and more than exhausted. Ryan had the bright idea to take Caleb on one of our favorite hikes at the end of the week. The hike is called “Lazy Mountain”, a 5.6-mile round-trip hike that increases 3,008 feet in elevation. We planned on backpacking all of our gear to the top and pitching a tent for the night.

Upon arrival at our campsite, we set up the tent and got organized for the night. I was foolish and didn’t put on layers right away, and ended up shivering in my sleeping bag for two hours, with all of my layers and 6 hot hands, while I scarfed Trail Mix to keep my body burning calories. Ryan was so amazing and cooked me warm delicious pasta, and we ate out of Ziploc bags since we forgot our mess kits. As I was shivering in my sleeping bag, Caleb went outside to set up his tripod for sunset. I watched the sunset from inside the tent, as I continued trying to keep myself warm. As I sat there, I realized that Ryan was probably supposed to propose to me at sunset and I totally thought I ruined his magnificent plan by being too cold! The sun went down and again… no proposal, and we all went to sleep.

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At midnight, we woke up to see if the Northern Lights decided to say hello, but they were a no-show, as the moon was too bright for them to be visible. Ryan and Caleb decided to go on a walk, and I fell right back asleep. Ryan woke me up around 2 am, and asked if I would come and look at the mountain views with him. I got up and put my three-plus layers on, and we went on a little walk. It was absolutely beautiful. The moon shone brightly–bright enough to see all of the mountains surrounding us and the city lights shimmering off in the distance. It was super special because Ryan and I always tell each other that we “love each other to the moon and the mountains and back”, it was so fitting.

Ryan and I stood on a ledge facing a mountain called “Matanuska”, where we had attempted to summit with a large group of teens this last summer at camp. Ryan and I shared a stressful yet memorable emergency on that mountain, and he tells me that that day was the day he realized he would marry me one day. Ryan and I stood in the freezing cold for not too long, when he decided to read me a letter that he had written to me a few months ago. In the letter, he shared his thoughts towards me and the love that I had shared with him over the years. After reading his letter, he began to get on one knee, and of course… I totally flipped out and screamed “YES YES YES!” I went to excitedly hug him and accidentally tackled him into the snow while he tried not to lose the beautiful ring in the snow. As he stumbled to get back up again, he said, “Madi, I haven’t even asked you yet!” I was so excited that I didn’t even wait to see what he had to say haha! Ryan then asked me if I would marry him, and I said “no”. Just kidding, I totally said yes! (Also, if you’re picking out a ring any time soon, ask Ryan… cause he did flippin’ awesome, IT’S BEAUTIFUL!)

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The next morning, we packed up the tent and our backpacks and slid down the mountain. It took us three-plus hours to hike up, but Lazy Mountain’s steepness and snow create a slick winter slide that let us sit and slide down the mountain in 45 minutes. It was a wonderful time. We slid to a stop at the bottom of our mountaintop experience on March 28, our last day being boyfriend and girlfriend and our first day as fiance and fiancee.

Xoxo Madi

Our Video

Special Thanks

Caleb Haakenson
 | Photographer