Lauren changed her name this past Saturday, becoming the wife of a young man who has been smitten with her since they were both eleven years old. It's a beautiful story - one that simply HAD to be read at the reception. My daughter commissioned me, her author mommy, to write the story. What a privilege! So, as I await the pictures of that special day from two awesome photographers, I would like to share with you the story that I wrote. It was read by a long time friend of Lauren's, Hannah Brown.
Ben and Lauren's Love Story
The first time that Ben and Lauren met, he literally swept her off her feet. Really.
Ben’s family had been missionaries in Central Africa Republic until civil unrest forced them out when Ben was six. The same had happened to Lauren’s family in Liberia just months before Lauren was born. By the moving of God’s hand in both families’ lives, ministry in Ivory Coast opened up. The Abernethy’s were stationed on a mission compound in the northeastern part of the country. The Gaults ministered in the southern coastal town of San Pedro.
The Abernethys frequently visited the town of San Pedro for vacations or field conferences, During one of those trips, Lauren was invited to a Bible study for missionary kids. She and Ben were both 11.
Over a game of “Steal the Bacon” during the evening activities, Lauren tripped over Ben’s feet and wondered if the boy had done it on purpose. Little did she know the boy was struggling with the fact that there was a very pretty, but unfamiliar girl in his presence that night and he was smitten. While Lauren was holding the missionary’s baby, she happened to look up at him and Ben blushed profusely. Had she seen him staring at her?
Lauren became good friends with Ben’s sister, Alyssa, and was frequently invited to the Gault’s house to play with her. Ben was so eager to spend time with Lauren that one time, he flew a paper airplane into the playroom with the message, “Can I play Barbies with you two?”
Though both families had teased them about their obvious crush on each other, when Ben and Lauren were 12, he could no longer keep his feelings a secret. With the help of another missionary kid, Zack Watkins, he cornered Lauren with some meaningful questions: Do you like to jump on a trampoline? Do you like to swim at the beach? And then he moved in with the most important question. As sincere as a love-smitten 12-year old boy can be, he asked Lauren, Will you marry me?
Lauren’s response? She ran quickly out of the room and found safety in the playroom with Ben’s sister Alyssa. Lauren does admit being a little freaked out by the question, but she was also very touched by it. Her young heart started to ponder the possibilities...
Ben was not to be discouraged. A few months later and just weeks before civil unrest would shake the core of the country - he took the opportunity to talk with Lauren’s dad. Ben looked Lauren’s father straight in the eye, “I really like Lauren and I want to marry her when I grow up.” Jeff, not wanting to laugh at the young man’s obvious crush on his youngest daughter, said with a straight face. “Well, Ben, you come back when you’re taller and we’ll talk.”
Within weeks, the town where the Abernethys were ministering was sieged by rebels and was no longer safe for Americans to live. The Abernethys along with other missionaries fled Ivory Coast for an undetermined amount of time. Lauren was a 7th grader when her family was suddenly thrust back into America. She had lived most of her life in West Africa, so this was not an easy transition. As she acclimated into an American Junior High, she told her classmates that she had a boyfriend named Ben Gault. Her heart was attempting to hold on to his even through the distance.
Ben’s family returned to Pennsylvania until it could be decided where God was leading them. Between the time of the sudden evacuation from Ivory Coast in 2001 until Ben’s high school graduation in 2009, they only saw each other in person twice. Once was when Ben’s entire family came through Charlotte on their way to meetings in Florida and the other was when only Ben and his dad stayed overnight.
The last time they would see each other, Lauren had just started wearing makeup. She arrived home from school and did her best to not act too excited when she realized that Ben and his dad were there for a couple of days. Ben’s first comment to her was, What’s that on your face? And so, they were off to another great start.
The Gaults headed towards a new ministry in Cameroon, West Africa, and the Abernethys remained in Charlotte to start a campus ministry. During the ensuing three years, there was not much communication between the two except the occasional email - and then when Facebook emerged, they connected that way. Ben’s mom remembers that he kept a picture of Lauren in his room during those years. It was the only girl’s picture she ever remembers Ben keeping in his room.
In July 2009, Jeff and Kim reunited with the Gault family at a Baptist Mid-Missions Annual conference in Cleveland, Ohio. When Kim looked up to see a very tall, handsome young man walking toward her purposefully, she knew. Before he said a word, she knew. Ben gave Kim a big hug and then looked in her eyes, Aunt Kim, would it be okay if I visited you guys in Charlotte this summer? I really really need to see Lauren.
Something in Kim’s heart stirred as she saw the sincerity in Ben’s face. After talking to Ben’s parents, they worked out a plan to have Ben and his sister Alyssa fly down to Charlotte for ten days later that summer. Lauren was a little nervous the day that Ben and Alyssa were to arrive. She confided in her mom, What if I don’t feel like I used to about Ben? What if I am not attracted to him this time? The dream she had pondered about her and Ben seemed fragile. She was unsure of herself. Of him.
Though they were both a little shy at first, it was obvious to anyone observing them during those 10 days, that the magic was only beginning! One day during a trip to the beach, Ben & Lauren were sitting on a dock, dangling their feet in the water, talking of secrets and feelings yet unspoken. Suddenly and almost with a sigh, Lauren leaned her head on Ben’s shoulder. She was home. She knew it. He knew it.
Ben was to begin classes at Appalachian Bible College a few weeks after the trip to Charlotte. The time between leaving Lauren after those 10 magical days and the time he would see her again, Ben struggled with finding the “center” of a relationship that he was certain was meant to be. Lauren felt that Ben should date other girls, spread his wings, get acclimated into America and enjoy himself. Ben, though a great student and desirous to prepare himself for future ministry, wanted nothing more than to solidify the relationship - for good.
Why, Lauren? It’s always been you.
The rest is history. On April 16, 2011, Ben sat quietly with Lauren looking out at a beautiful panoramic view of the New River Gorge near Diamond Point in West Virginia. He talked to her as Lauren took in the scenery around them. Content. Sudden glimpses of red caught her eye and as she looked down, Ben opened the box to present a beautiful diamond ring to Lauren and asked her to marry him.
As Ben had done from the first time they met, he again swept Lauren off her feet.
Today is the beginning of what started ten years ago in the heart of a young boy and a young girl. And God saw that it was very good.