The Story of Us (part two)

The night Jackson received his mission call is still so vivid in my memory. I remember light. The gentle lamplight as we waited for all of his family to arrive, the light in his eyes as he tore open that big white envelope, the tangible light of Jesus Christ spilling all over that little living room. "Georgia Atlanta, North Mission." he said. He held my eyes for a moment, and then everyone was hugging and crying and six weeks came and went and there we were in a little parking lot in American Fork. He pulled me to him and held me close for what seemed like an eternity we laughed and cried and made quiet promises only we could hear, and then he was gone.

Our last picture together before Jack left for Georgia
Jack and I did not miss a single week for the next year and a half. Handwritten letters, e-mails, voice-recordings, everything you can think of. His letters were beautiful and important and his growth and sincere love for the work of Jesus Christ and for the people in Georgia bled through every word. The two years I spent without Jackson defined and created who I am today. I truly believe that my God lovingly and intentionally took me by my imperfect hand and with perfect intention guided me to the people and the experiences that were necessary for me find growth, to find progression, to find purpose, to find myself, and most of all, to find faith in Him.

I loved looking at these pictures while he was gone. He looks so happy and full of LIGHT!

Mountain Meadow Ranch: The very first thing I did after Jackson left was slip on a pair of sweats, pull my hair up into a ponytail, and got to work. I googled "summer camps in America", narrowed it down to three, and sent out applications hundreds and hundreds of miles away from the little town I grew up in. In June of 2013 I packed up a duffell bag, and drove to Mountain Meadow Ranch, a 900 acre non-denominational summer camp in Northern California. Those three months were everything my heart needed, and then some. I spent the summer beneath the trees, jumping into bodies of water, learning how to catch snakes and lizards and bull-frogs. I remember the sound of a hundred children's voices singing "Country Roads", the way the fire smelt as the smoke would disappear into a sky blanketed in stars. I remember dirt seeping into every inch of my body, and real, raw, happiness seeping into every inch of my soul--the only kind that can be found when a cell-phone isn't buzzing in your pocket all day long. I remember the rich kids and I remember the poor kids sponsored to be there, but that's the thing, they were all the same. They were kids. The Elena's owned the camp, and their trust and belief in God felt like home. I remember rootbeer floats and homemade fireworks on the fourth of July. I remember Beth from England, Matt from Idaho, the Elena's from Susanville, Natawni, one of my best friends, from Utah. I learned more than I can explain that summer. I fell in love with so many things and people and experiences, but most importantly, I fell in love with myself--imperfections and all.

Jack and one of his favorite companions Jordan Coleman. Happy Birthday Jackson!! 

Dixie State University: The following year I had the opportunity to return to Dixie State as an Ambassador, recruiting for Dixie throughout high-schools in Utah, and in return, receiving a full-ride scholarship. Ever since I was a little girl, my Dad taught me the importance of working, and working hard. I felt so grateful for my scholarship and spent countless hours examining cadavers in the Anatomy lab, pouring over pathophysiology and microbiology textbooks, studying for math and chemistry and psychology exams. I have always known I wanted to be a Nurse, and I followed my dream relentlessly.

This was also the year that brought Millie Stirland, Madi Law, and Syd Hill into my life. I will forever be grateful God put Millie into my life. She was the girl with the unruly hair who spent the semester by my side. She taught me important things like, "staying cooped up in a bedroom and writing your missionary on the weekends is pathetic and silly and look at this beautiful city you live in with all of these beautiful people to meet." She taught me how to let go a little, and I think I taught her how to hold on a little. Dixie taught me balance. I learned how to work hard and play hard. I learned how to focus, how to study for four hours straight. I learned how to build a resume, how to act in a professional setting. I dated a lot (sorry Jack:), seriously dated a few people, and learned a TON about men in general, what I liked, what I didn't like. I fell in love with red-rock, sunshine, and the original swig. I fell asleep on the rug or couch in our living room most nights listening to country music, I stayed up too late, slept in too long, and ate more cold cereal than I care to admit, and had my debit card declined on a regular basis. I did college. I felt college. I got college out of my system. I LOVE that I can say that. 

Mountain Meadow Ranch, Summer 2013

Six months before Jackson was to come home, I met a boy named Jared. He, to be completely honest, wasn’t my typical type. He was twenty something, California-grown, and came out of seemingly nowhere. We ate yellow curry on a cold, October evening, and talked late into the night.  In the beginning I had myself convinced that it was a fling, that I’d wake up one day and be completely over it and then Jackson would come home and it would be happily ever after as we had always planned. But yellow curry turned into, do you want to carve a pumpkin with me tomorrow night? Wednesday pumpkins turned into Thursday to the movies and Thursdays into Fridays, Fridays into the weekends, and the weekends into the week days and just like that he became the focus of my life.  

My best friend Natawni and I, MMR Summer 2013

Interestingly, a few weeks after I had begun dating Jared, I received an e-mail from Jackson. He related to me his remaining strong feelings he still had for me, but explained the confusion he felt about coming home after us being apart for two years. He explained he had been playing around with the idea of heading up to Utah State the semester after he returned, and wanted to know what I thought. I felt guilty and relieved and anxious and sad and even grateful but mostly confused. I quickly e-mailed him back that I had begun dating someone else a few weeks prior and I supported his decision of going up to Utah State and the conversation left us both a little hurt and a little vengeful. We only wrote a few times the last six months of his mission. 

My incredible siblings and I (minus Alex!)

Jackson gave two years of his life to serve a full mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (how cool is that!? I’m so proud of him!) And was honorably released a month early due to a herniated disc in his back. A few hours after he stepped off that plane I found myself wrapped into his arms again. Regardless of the ten or so people surrounding us, it felt warm and familiar and right, leaving us both feeling torn and confused. I remember sitting in that same little living room where we had opened his mission call 2 years prior, chatting with his family, occasionally glancing over at him across the room from me. He didn’t bother to look away though, he just, stared at me. Analyzing me, taking me all in, following every movement, every gesture. I shifted around in my seat. Talking with him about that moment now, he explained to me that he was looking for me, trying to see if I was still “in there.” I suppose I knew that though. Part of me wanted to run into the bathroom, take off a little make-up, dye my hair back dark, replace my skinny jeans, boots, and black v-neck with a dress from high school, something low-maintenance and hipster I had bought from Savers. 

Rock Climbing in Saint George 

I didn’t though, rather, I relaxed a little. I was proud of who I had become over the past two years!  I had taken the time to become the person I had always wanted to be. I found determination in my Saucony’s hitting the pavement beneath each step of my morning run. I found peace in the soothing chants of my instructor, in the drowning heat as I shifted into another pose at Brick canvas Hot Yoga, releasing my fear and frustration and anxiety. I had put more effort into school than I had ever put into anything. I was a Licensed Practical Nurse! I had one more year till I would complete my RN! For once in my life I wasn’t comparing or competing, rather I felt comfortable in my own skin, I felt as though my soul matched my body. My skin was a little clearer, my clothes fit a little better. As I sat there on that little couch though, under the eyes of my best friend, the boy I had grown up with, I wondered…had I taken it too far? How many hours was I spending exercising a day? When was the last time I had sat down with a friend and eaten my favorite milkshake, heck, when was the last time I had eaten a piece of chocolate? When one was the last time I had served someone I loved? Who had I become? Did I miss the balance I was so desperately seeking and head in the opposite direction? 

My two Ambassador Advisors/Mentors. They mean the world to me. 

In that moment, after seeing him again and being embraced by that all too familiar hug, there was nothing I wanted more than to be with him, to do it all over again. He wasn’t ready though, and admittedly, neither was I. 

After finally seeing Jackson, I felt a sense of peace and closure replace my feelings of anxiety. I gave that last five percent I had been holding back to Jared and I’s relationship, honestly believing this was the route where I belonged and where God wanted me to be. Jackson never left my mind though, and I thought of him often, hoping he was doing well, hoping he was finding happiness and peace. Jared flew me out to Hawaii to see him at BYU-H over my spring break, and we spent a week jumping off cliffs, paddling out to distant islands, studying at the library, hiking and snorkeling and swimming, walking through gift-shops, and eating sushi on the back of friend’s trucks. We talked about our future, arguing about whether or not he could decorate with moose-heads. 

Summer 2015, American Fork Firework Show 

I flew into the LAX airport on a layover; sunburnt and sleepy and centered. I remember chewing on a sub-par airport bagel when I looked down at my phone to find Jackson’s number on my screen. My heart skipped a few beats as I stared at it, watching it ring, letting my voice-mail answer. I paced around the air-port, talked to a complete stranger, and by the time I finished my bagel, I had decided to call him back. His voice was quiet and a little uneasy as he asked me if we could meet for dinner. Before I knew what I was saying, I agreed, and met him the next evening at a little Chinese place in American Fork we used to spend the majority of our paychecks on in high school.  Jackson expressed to me the gratitude he felt for his experiences up to this point. He had begun to date a girl from his mission, and while he learned so much from her faith in Jesus Christ and the goodness of her heart (she was a great missionary), he felt as though he was lacking a critical element of both physical and emotional attraction and had already decided to end the relationship, regardless of what was to happen with us. He always laughs and calls it "mission goggles". Also, hahaa, she basically demanded he marry her by August after two or three weeks of them dating. (Bless her--she always gives us a good laugh.) Anyway, he carefully and gently explained that fire to be something he had only ever felt between us, and let me know he would do anything to have it back again. 

Engagements with my sweetheart 

I was torn and confused and frustrated. If Jack had said these things to me right when he had returned home that would have been different, but he wasn’t ready then, he was ready now. And I had no idea what to do. I felt as though I had already committed to someone else, and spent the next five days in literal AGONY, hahaha, I literally was changing my mind every five seconds. I want to openly apologize to and thank those of you who had to be around me during this week. One minute I was all Jared, the next I was all Jackson, and the next I was moving to Paris so I didn’t have to make a decision. I prayed and talked to my family and best friends and everyone had something different to say. Finally, I had decided. I would be with Jared. Jared had never hurt me. Jared had always taken care of me. I could trust Jared. I would be safe with Jared. It all made perfect sense. That phone call to Jackson was the hardest one I ever had to make. We both cried. 

Engagements. We love this one!
A few days later I was at UVU studying for an exam, when I received a call from my older brother and best friend Josh. He asked if I had the time to stop by his house and talk with him for a minute—he needed to talk. I told him I’d be there soon, and was at his house within half an hour. We drove around for a little, and before he could say anything I demanded; “I’ve decided. I want to be with Jared. I don’t want to talk about it.” My brother knowingly smiled, and listened to me vent as he drove up to a little park Jackson and I used to spend time at in High School. He turned to me, the intensity of his voice rare; “Rachael.” “I want you to know I support you in whatever you decide. But Jackson is my friend. And I want you to at least hear what he has to say.” I sat there for a minute in silence, realizing what was happening. I was too shocked to be angry, shutting the car door behind me as Josh drove away. Up a little path, I found Jackson waiting for me. He immediately apologized, asking me to hear him out. 

The ground was covered in my favorite candy bars and flowers, and in his hands he held a leather-bound journal, full of letters from his friends and family I had collected as a Christmas gift for him years earlier. In the inside cover I had written; “Read this to me, and I’ll always come back to you.” He pulled me beside him, and read me the story of our love I had written in High School. “But I was different then!” A little voice screamed in my mind, “I was young and fearless and unaware of what it felt like to truly be hurt.” After Jackson finished the story, he turned on “our song” on his phone, and asked me to dance. We danced there, in the middle of the freezing cold night, and all hope of holding on to some sort of safe-reality that wasn't me falling in love with him all over again was lost. He then knelt down on one knee and said; "Rachael, will you please, please date me?" with tears in his eyes. I leaned on his shoulder and cried. It wasn’t a sad cry, though. It was a knowing cry. The kind of cry that admits defeat. I had known all along he was the one my heart knew, understood, and most of all wanted. It wasn’t about the flowers or the chocolate or even the book. It was about him, his soul, his freckles, our memories, our life. I knew in that moment that I could trust him, and not only could I trust him, but I could trust him with my entire life. With my children, with my sicknesses and triumphs and failures and successes and with my spirit. 
I had no idea how I was going to tell Jared without him thinking I was completely mental. The entire situation was heartbreaking. 

We were engaged ten days later, (yes--10,9,8,7,6,5,4,3,2,1--thanks for keeping track ;) Because, as Jackson always puts it, "When you know, you know." And we've pretty much known since we were fifteen years old. :)

The way I ended it with Jared was horrible and abrupt, I’ve never been good at goodbyes. But I need to say that I know he was put into my life for a reason. We learned lessons from each other that we couldn’t have learned from anyone else. He taught me to embrace EVERY part of my personality and own who I am and where I am going. He’d always ask me, “What are you goals? What makes you tick? Find that out. It’s so important and necessary.” He believed in me and pushed me to become better than I was. I am grateful for the kindness and empathy he showed towards me even in the very end. I think I reminded him what it feels like to want a family. I think I reminded him how much he loves his own.

Since that day I have never doubted my decision to marry Jackson Kyle Aubrey. He is, always has been, and always will be the absolute love of my life. He and I were married September the Second in the Salt Lake City Temple of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. I testify that the power of the Marriage Sealing is real and sacred and powerful. I am literally sealed to my sweet Jackson for eternity! I am so grateful for the Gospel and for the Plan of Salvation. If you’d like to learn more about my religion and the opportunity we have to be with those we love for forever you can look at! Anyway, Jackson’s the absolute best. He lets me tuck my fingers and toes under him when our apartment gets freezing cold, holds my hair when I am puking, buys me Ben and Jerry’s when I am emotional and upset, and understands my heart and my intentions. He is strong and gentle, confident and kind, always going out of his way to serve those around him. His testimony in our Savior Jesus Christ is tangible and unshakable. Also, let's not forget that he is the most handsome, sexiest man known to this earth... but i'll spare you my thoughts on that subject. ;) It is such a crazy, happy, beautiful thing to watch your crush become your boyfriend and your boyfriend become your fiancé and your fiancé become your husband and someday your husband become the father of your children. I can’t wait to spend my life by his side, watching him grow and learn and fail and succeed. Marriage isn’t perfect, but there is nobody else I would rather figure life out with. I love you, Jackson.

I always have.
I forever will. 

Our future is so bright. 

1 comment:

  1. SO great! Really Rachael. You have a gift, and I am in love with your style of writing. I'm now forever going to be stalking you. ;) You are such a beautiful girl, and it's amazing to me how you can so efficiently describe the change you've felt in yourself, but do it in such a small amount of words that holds SO much meaning. It's amazing and I love it. I'm so glad things worked out for you two. I always loved seeing pictures of you two on facebook and hoped you two would work out after his mission. :) (I hope that doesn't sound SO stinkin' creepy. Hahahaha. But really, I'm being honest :)). You're an amazing girl Rachael.