Where Our Love Story Began
The truth is, my love story with Ian didn’t begin last summer, even though that’s when we met for the first time; his existence was completely oblivious to me until July 2017. My love story with Ian actually began years ago, at a different wedding... mine. I was in love with someone else years ago & got married on the most beautiful Midwest September afternoon. The wedding was elaborate, months in the making & one in which every last detail was accounted for, right down to hand-drawn monograms on the glassware. I learned a sage piece of advice months later: a beautiful wedding doesn’t mean a beautiful marriage. We separated less than one year later & were officially divorced shortly thereafter. I can reflect on these details now with nothing but joy & satisfaction. Gratitude. But I will never forget the darkness that loomed in those days. I will never forget that pain, that suffering; those sleepless nights, those tear-soaked pillows, or those amber-filled bottles that I consumed to the last drop. I ran away to Colorado eleven months after my divorce was final, knowing that my hometown could never be home again. I had no plan other than a full tank of gas & a route on the map to my little sister’s house in Colorado Springs in January 2015.
Months later I got my own place. I hadn’t fully recovered from the blow of a failed marriage, which meant that I was still drinking in excess, still looking for love in all the wrong places, & still driving a wedge even further between me & my relationship with God. I was miserable & used that as my excuse to justify my sin. I used that as my excuse to drive God away. Little did I know that God was using each of the little pieces I had left. That He would use those teeny, tiny shards to create a masterpiece.
I took to the outdoors slowly at first, then frequently. I hiked in a retired pair of running shoes & an 8-liter Coleman pack from Target for the duration of my time in Colorado. Morning hangovers were soon replaced with morning ascents through the Rocky Mountains. Drinking in excess as a form of mourning was turned into one drink on top of a mountain as a form of celebration. First, Mt. Bierstadt. Then Raspberry Mountain. Quandary. La Plata. My passion for the outdoors started as a silly crush & developed into an insatiable desire. The best part was finding people who shared the same adoration for our wild places & who became friends for life.
The turning point was a random road trip to Four Corners & Moab, Utah in March 2016. I wasn’t a landscape photographer by any means, but I knew how to work a camera. My self-taught skills had garnered enough attention back home in Indiana that I did portraits & wedding gigs for almost five years for extra money. Capturing landscapes was nothing like photographing people... I quickly learned that landscapes were way better. I loved taking singular moments in time, moments that may never again be witnessed in nature, & making them permanent. I loved the constant reminder of the beauty that surrounds us, of the beauty that is oftentimes ignored, all with the click of a button & snap of a shutter. My photographs had become like a collection of model ships in glass bottles: a preserved tale of adventure, with wind in my sails. Moab birthed the fantasy to travel with my camera & tell the stories from my personal encounters with the world.
I had an elaborate plan to complete a cross-country trip that involved quitting my job for a year & living out of my car. The goal? See every single state & every single National Park, with pit stops along the way for a bottle of whiskey distilled from each state & a tattoo from an artist in every single state. Five months after committing to these goals, I bought “Chuck” from my best friend, Andrea, in August 2016. Chuck was a white 2004 Toyota 4Runner that I would blaze the American trail in. I found plans on the internet for how to build him out, complete with a kitchen, bed, & storage. Every detail, right down to the DIY curtain system for the windows that would provide privacy while I slept & be simple enough to take down when it was time to start driving again. I created my itinerary & a route while reaching out to whiskey distilleries & tattoo artists around the country. My plan was coming together rather nicely.
The next step was finding another job so I had the financial means to support myself with travel expenses for an entire year while unemployed. In November 2016, I was looking for the quickest way to make the most money when I saw a job opening on Indeed.com for a Customer Service Agent for an airline I had never heard of in Colorado Springs. A quick Google inquiry of the airline indicated that this was a job worth applying for, so I sent in my resume. And then came the invitation for the group interview. I will never forget that day, ever. I appeared for the interview with my frizzy hair in a neatly wrapped bun. Prior to breaking into groups for the interview, the General Manager spent about thirty minutes talking about the benefits of airline work. She expressed the stress of the job & detailed its challenges, but I knew this was the job I wanted because of the sparkle in her eye when she explained the travel benefits. My eyes were soon sparkling too as the hair on my arms stood up at the worldwide prospects just within my grasp. The pay? Minimum wage. Not exactly a great way to fund a cross-country roadtrip, but I went through with the interview anyway. Will this job derail my road trip plans? Would that be a bad thing if I have flight benefits? I received a phone call three hours later with a job offer. I was flustered about the pay rate, but so confident about the job itself that I accepted the job offer with the same breath that I had answered the phone call. You know when something just “feels right”? I accepted the position without hesitation for that reason exactly.
And then, like the weight of the world had been dropped on my shoulders, the reality check reared its ugly head. How am I supposed to live in my car for a year traveling the country using the money that I saved from this part-time-minimum-wage job? Well, I wasn’t. I had to be realistic. I wrestled with that for awhile, feeling like I had given up on such a vibrant dream all for the sake of a job. But I was quickly reminded after my first (of many) free flights home, that at the very core of my vibrant dream was the desire to travel. To experience, to wander, to live. I have seen far beyond our borders, relishing in adventures that would have been impossible otherwise. I have shown up to the airport more than once without a destination in mind, just to see somewhere new for a day or two. My weekends transformed from Rocky Mountain explorations to quick-trips all around the United States. One day in Los Angeles, seven hours in New York City, a sleepover at my parents’ home in Indiana, all just because I could.
How I Found My Way to Montana
Summertime was approaching at this point. My best friend, Andrea, & her family (who I was living with in Colorado at the time & who previously sold me Chuck) were preparing to move to Texas. We had lived together for over one year at this point, & I had to come to terms with the reality that it was time for me to also move on. This season of my life instantly felt like a season of change. Something big was going to happen, I just didn’t know or have an understanding as to what capacity that would turn out to be.
I loved being a Gate Agent, but thought maybe this was a good time to try for another position in the airline industry. I applied for a Flight Attendant position with the same airline I was already working with, cleared my schedule for the in-person interview, & showed up ready to impress. I had taken careful time to cover each of the visible tattoos on my fingers & wrists, using concealer & jewelry to fade their appearances. The interviewer spent a solid 37 minutes... and I mean a solid 37 minutes... talking about the tattoo policy for Flight Attendants with this airline. I maintained my composure until “termination for having visible tattoos” was discussed. I swallowed hard & admitted the truth in private to the proctor, removing the jewelry & smearing the makeup off my fingers. “Well, you can always have them removed!” She said. I told her that was never going to be an option, as I feel that the permanent ink on my skin is an actual part of me & my life story. I thanked her for her time, leaving the interview feeling incredibly crushed. I was angry. For a split second, I did regret the tattoos... but I quickly snapped out of it & thought, There is a reason for this.
When I got home from the interview, & after a fair amount of wallowing & self-pity, I logged on to the airline’s website to apply for the station that Andrea & her husband had recommended I try: Glacier Park International Airport, which happened to have a part-time Seasonal Gate Agent position available. Andrea’s family had taken a family trip to Glacier National Park the year before, spending a week in the glacial terrain & mountainscapes of Big Sky Country. “You would love Montana,” they told me. I realized I had nothing to lose & emailed my cover letter & resume to the General Manager of the station before falling asleep for the night.
One week went by. And then another. And another. Week four passed just as silently. At this point, I had given up on Montana. But on June 15, the GM responded with an acceptance of my transfer. I remember confetti & balloons falling from the sky, I swear. A quick three weeks later, I was northbound to Montana, my car packed to the brim with every piece of my life. Andrea, who tends to have prophetic tendencies, told me before I left, "You know what, Megan, you're going to fall in love & never come back to Colorado." Yeah... right....
I settled in to my tiny, dirty apartment that I affectionately referred to as “The Dump,” & took every spare moment of my first weekend at my new home to explore around Glacier National Park. I not only made lifelong friends in those few days, but I made new goals & discovered even more hidden pieces of myself along the trails.
I started fulfilling my regular Ticketing & Gate Agent duties at FCA. At the beginning of my second week of work, my supervisor told me & a fellow coworker, Liz, that our security clearance badges were ready to be picked up from the Administration Office. We walked to the offices together, but no one was in the front office when we made our grand entrance. I poked my head around a doorway to one of the other offices, where a man was seated at his computer working. He looked young & slightly familiar. Naturally, I noticed his impeccable beard. Liz & I introduced ourselves, stating that we needed to pick up our badges. He made a quick phone call before returning to us in the main office. “It’s going to be a few minutes, but you’re welcome to have a seat & make yourselves comfortable.” Smooth.
I never sat down, & I never shut up. Sometimes when you meet someone new, it doesn’t feel new at all. He told me about his rafting adventures & how he had lived in Colorado & Indiana too (for which I accused him of stalking me). Talking to him was easy; being myself was easy. I know I’m quirky & weird, but usually people at work see the more professional side of Megan. Not with this guy. This guy got the unapologetically bizarre Megan, with the loud, roaring laugh & bright, crazy eyes… the insane part is that he didn’t seem to mind. Our thirty minute conversation felt more like thirty seconds, & we exchanged numbers before we both returned to work. You know, because I wanted a rafting buddy for the summer. I left the office thinking, This guy is going to be such a rad friend. And God laughed just quietly enough that I couldn’t hear the chuckle.
Weeks went by before we ever able to actually spend time together. He was an avid Monday through Friday, nine-to-fiver, & I was a work-forty-hours-in-three-days-and-spend-all-other-time-in-the-wild-without-cell-service kind of person. He txt me one afternoon to ask if I had plans for the evening. He specifically asked if I’d like to go dancing. Sure, it was barely 3 in the afternoon & I had already shed my makeup & donned sweatpants for the rest of the day, but it was the offer to go dancing that was far too intimidating to accept. I turned him down, stating that I didn’t dance without a plentiful helping of tequila. Do. You. Know. What. This. Man. Said.
"You got something better to do? I'm pretty sure the theme of your blog is being adventurous & pushing your comfort zone." Oh. So he's seen my blog (told you he was a stalker).
Okay. But he was right & he had totally called me out. “Tell me what time to be ready & what to wear,” I responded. No one puts Megan in the corner! I put on “real” clothes, made my eyebrows presentable, & we went out for the first time. I don’t want to turn into straight pudding puddles on you guys, but this was hands down the best first date of my entire life. If you could even call it a date, I told myself we were just hanging out. I wanted to maintain a life of spontaneous adventure & I was convinced that a boy would ruin all of those chances & opportunities. We went to the Farmer’s Market in Columbia Falls, drank beer, & danced to live music before going to the South Fork Reservoir for a walk, then off to Blue Moon for more dancing. We met an engaged couple on the dance floor & took a seat with them to catch our breath while we waited for the next song to play. They told us about their wedding (and invited us to come), how they met, all the fun little details about their relationship. They both looked at us expectantly & asked, “So how long have you two been together?” Ian & I both let out a boisterous, nervous laugh. He smiled & looked down at his shoes before the couple figured it out. “Oh my gosh, this is your first date? We never would’ve guessed. It’s like you two have been together for years.” And I thought to myself, You know, they have a point. We carried on dancing & smiling. Neither of us wanted the night to end, it seemed, so we went for an spontaneous swim in Whitefish Lake as the glowing moon hung above us. Did I feel like I was in a Hollywood movie? Yes.
When he dropped me off at home that night, I gave him a long embrace before our lips met for the first time. I can’t accurately define that moment; unless you’re one of the lucky people who have experienced the last first kiss of your life. Those people know the feeling. In all my life, I had never felt something so pure & genuine. I didn’t fall asleep for another hour, I just kept replaying the kiss over & over, as if the memory itself was so unbelievable that it made my brain stutter.
We continued to see each other over the summer, but my seasonal time in Montana was coming to a close. I was still wrestling with what I wanted out of life: that reckless, impulsive abandon to travel, hike, & backpack was a given. Did I have room for a man too? I had convinced myself at this point that having both was improbable. Nay, having both was impossible. My dreams to travel, take photographs, & write about life experiences were far too great to give up for another person. I had travelled that road before, where my dreams took the backseat in place of a relationship. Years of broken hearts taught me that my dreams are a priority. That my dreams are valid. And that I owe it to myself to achieve them.
Ian knew all along about my passions to just live & travel. I was always honest in saying that when my summer season in Montana concluded, I would be returning to Colorado Springs. He said he didn’t care because he just wanted to enjoy what little time we had left. So I started making my arrangements to return to Colorado, lining up a place to live & the transfer to my home COS station, feeling unnerved about having to leave him behind. His response to my wanderlust was always the same: "I'll be the rock, you can be the water."
Why I Didn’t Want a Relationship
You guys, my husband is an absolute catch. I am so dang lucky. But in the beginning, I didn’t want a relationship. Here was this man, right before my very own two eyes, who met my only two relationship criteria:
Listen, you’d be shocked to learn how hard those two attributes are to find in one, single person. I found them in Ian, but made up a number of excuses for why our relationship wouldn’t work. Literally. This was my list of excuses:
Notice how I referred to this list as “excuses”? Well, because that’s exactly what they were: excuses. And illogical reasons to avoid a relationship, all based on past experiences that didn’t even involve Ian. And justification to keep myself in my own contented solitude of doing what I want, when I want. I thought that a relationship would make me a weaker person, & I had just spent the last four years gaining back my strength. I thought that if I wanted the relationship, then I would have to sacrifice my life goals. Or that if I wanted to achieve my life goals, then I would have to sacrifice the relationship. In my mind, no scenario existed where I could both achieve my life goals AND have a meaningful romantic relationship. My best friend, Tiffany, would later refer to this as my own self-sabotage. But still, I continued to say to myself, No, Megan, you don’t want or need this relationship. You'll be happier & more successful without it. He will just distract you from your dreams & goals. In fact, he will hinder them altogether. And again, God laughed just quietly enough that I couldn’t hear the chuckle.
The Day That Changed
Thank God for all the best friends who snap us out of our own “logic” (or lack thereof). By this time, we had entered the month of September. Ian & I had continued to see each other, even though we both knew I was leaving town the following month. I purposefully kept him at a safe distance, keeping him just close enough to enjoy his company, but just far enough away that the painful bandaid-ripping of the relationship’s end wouldn’t debilitate me. But my excuses were no match for Ian. He would surprise me with coffee or food at work for no reason other than, “Just because I was thinking about you.” He killed the biggest, nastiest, gnarliest spider I have ever seen in my apartment & took me to the store to pick out my own can of spider spray to keep at my place. When money was so embarrassingly tight that I only had dimes & nickels to pay for gas (no, seriously), he bought my groceries. When I drank too much & ugly cried about everything for no reason, he hid my car keys & held me until the next morning, never even one time trying to take advantage of my inebriated state. He was always gentle, kind, & considerate. His sense of humor always made me laugh, or roll my eyes, or both at the same time. We could relentlessly tease or make fun of each other, all in the name of flirting, & end up liking each other all the more. Whenever we talked about a future, my brain "hamsters" (as we like to call them) would take over in their wheel, running over every scenario & somehow finding a route in each one that led to pain & heartbreak.
I invited him to Lake McDonald one night because I wanted to take photographs of the stars & wildfires. Naturally, he accepted my offer. We waited until nearly midnight to make sure the sky was dark & the stars were bright before heading in to the park, where we were met with an empty parking lot & a shoreline free for the taking. I set up my photography equipment & fumbled with the settings until they were just right. “Ready?” I asked. I pushed the remote button & heard the click of the shutter opening, & counted the seconds until I heard the click of the shutter closing. The preview revealed itself on the video screen, & I squealed with delight. I continued taking photographs for close to an hour, even making Ian be my stand-still model against the fiery flames & flickering stars. “You should come down here & be in one with me,” he insisted. I obliged. We stood side-by-side, laced our fingers together & stood silently facing the fires. The silence we created by trying our hardest to stand still enough so we wouldn’t disrupt the photograph being captured resulted in a fit of shoulder-shaking laughter. But, the preview of the photo was perfect. And I knew then, on the drive back to Kalispell, that I needed to give life & validity to my feelings… even though my excuses for denying my feelings were still swirling in my head. Ian would later tell me that this was the exact moment he knew he loved me.
On September 14, 2017, just three days after we visited the Sprague Fire in Glacier National Park, Ian gave me something that I will never forget: a letter. I am such a sappy sucker for letters. This letter was the game-changer for me; this letter completely changed my heart. I asked his permission to share it with my best friend & sister-in-law, Tiffany, to which he said yes. When I read this letter the first time, I was terrified. My feelings don’t meet his expectations in this letter. I didn’t know how I should respond to his words, so I waited to hear from Tiffany. In the four days leading up to her response, I was on pins & needles. I trusted her more with her feelings on the letter than my own because she would have the logical response that wasn't clouded by my excuses. She already knew my journey & my heart. She also already knew that even though I spit tough game about being a strong, independent woman, I wanted a man to come home to who would love me unconditionally; a man who would support me in every farfetched, crazy idea & who would encourage my desires to travel solo or accompanied.
That fateful fourth day, my phone lit up with a text message from Tiffany. I didn't immediately open the message because I was a whole mix of emotions. I knew that her response to the letter would ultimately decide my future with Ian. I was sitting in my parked car when I read her response. “You freaking marry him!” she said.
And as all of you now know, I did just that.
The Lessons Learned
I wonder if maybe I could've avoided my own emotional roller coaster by simply relying on God & trusting His plan for my life in the first place. If I'm being honest, I was (and sometimes still am) afraid of God's plan. What if His plan isn't enough? What if it's too much? I think I'll go my own way, just in case, then I can only blame myself. All those years of reciting Jeremiah 29:11, yet I forgot the verse's promise. I can think of so many verses now where God simply asks one--JUST ONE--task of me, of us, of His people: to trust Him.
God was nudging me towards Ian, I say that with the utmost confidence. I have the clarity now to admit that I was using Colorado Springs & my travel writing/photography career as excuses to run from His plan. I didn't trust that God would provide me with a man that would exceed the desires of my heart in every realm -- not just by fulfilling marriage vows, but in fulfilling the promises I had made to myself to continue exploring, creating, writing, & shooting, no matter what. I was afraid of being letdown, again. Of being heartbroken, again. Of starting over, again. Love can be so exasperating, whether it's with the right guy or the wrong guy. I thought I knew better than God & planned to run.
Thank goodness for my parents & Ian's parents. My parents never stopped praying for me, just as Ian's parents never stopped praying for him. Let me tell you, I had given up praying for a man yearssssss ago... but not my parents. My parents never stopped praying that I would find someone to love me in the exact ways that Ian loves me. How incredible, the love of a parent. I definitely believe that God anointed Tiffany's words throughout our many conversations about Ian because of the unwavering faith my parents had to see me love & be loved.
And so, what started as Andrea's prophecy that I would fall in love & never return to Colorado Springs became the prophecy of Tiffany's response to "you freaking marry him!" I never saw him coming, but I've learned that the most unexpected adventures hold the greatest rewards. Our marriage is living proof of that. He has been steadfast, strong, & resilient, a beautiful & perfect complement to my sometimes wild, sometimes calm, way of life. And just like he said from the beginning that we'd be... he is the rock, & I am the water.
Megan Elizabeth is a storyteller based in Kalispell, Montana. Take a peek at her blog & portfolio, drop her a line, & follow her story on Facebook & Instagram.