The unexpected things are often the best things.

Darryl and I each have our own story in which our years of singleness did much work in us. That time prepared us for each other today - to see each other at the right time, to move him to pursue me and moved me to say I’d give him a chance when as he asked for “an undeserved, disproportionate amount of consideration”. And here we are about to enter into marriage in a month!
How I love this man and how I could not have fathomed or planned this but the unexpected often becomes the best things and I am so grateful and in awe of how God does more than we could have imagined.

from here
Tim Keller says "Your future self will always see your present self as unwise and immature. That means you are currently unwise and immature." So this present unwise and immature self has learned a lot through this time of dating Darryl and now engaged to him. What started as a "No no no" to the thought of dating Darryl, changed to saying "Yes yes yes!" when he proposed. I have watched God refine and reshape the way I date and view marriage and still have an endless amount to learn so here are some lessons learned along our time together and whether you are married, single or dating, I hope it encourages you and fosters an eternal perspective as to what really matters.
What is God's priority? For you to be made like Him, to love Him, to know him, and to make Him known. So what matters in a person? What matters in the dating process?
Whether it be Hollywood, Disney, fake reality shows or even the church, this pressure and expectation exist to find the one person in all the universe for you and for you to make sure you have your list and specifics for your type of person so you don’t miss the one and stay picky so you don’t pick the wrong one.
For a believer, there is a right type of a person and wrong type of person - someone who is a faithful follower of Jesus and someone who is not. That’s what really matters in the end.

Let Go of "Your" Type
After ten years of singleness that followed from a long relationship, I finally began to humbly realize I don’t really know what I “need” in someone. I thought I knew what would be good for me, what I needed, what someone should be in light of my gifts, passions and desires, and what others told me I should end up with. All these skewed and narrowed my thinking of what God would have for me in a spouse. Rather than really letting the values in God’s Word about the purpose of marriage lead the way I was trying to figure it all out from all the voices and examples I saw. And from the ugly drive of perfectionism and legalism I wanted to make sure I did not mess this up. Talk about pressure.
There are character qualities that matter and should be observed over time but what I often see is the specific mental list (or written out list) hinders you from seeing someone or something who is right in front of you who may not meet all your criteria but could end up being even more and better for you than you knew possible. I was letting go of my usual attempts of strategically “placing” myself in front of someone who I thought was the right “type” for me to only be disappointed and then this guy is placed in my path that I was not interested in and did not expect to be. God often uses the unlikely to surprise you!
Darryl wrote me a few letters while we were dating and in his first letter he wrote about how rather than starting with asking “Why this person?” he was starting with the question of  “Why am I here at all in the dating scene and process? Why pursuing this?” before even considering “Why Ashley?” Consider your motive, desire and perspective of marriage. Is your desire for a specific person greater than your desire for a God-honoring marriage? Is it for self in hopes to fulfill some desire or seemingly missing element, identity or loneliness? Or is it to pursue marriage with someone who you want to seek and serve God’s glory with and you see that about their life already?
It is true what has been said for ages - instead of looking for the right person, focus on becoming the right kind of person. You will begin to see the people around you not as potentials or non-potentials to cross off your mental list but will begin to see what really matters about a person and what endures about a person to get past the temporary external things you see and can get fixated on.
The Lord your God and Creator is the keeper of your heart and soul forever. A spouse is for this earthly life preparing you for eternity. Darryl also told me early on that he did not want to flirt with me in order to try and win my heart as my heart was not for his keeping but to be a witness to it and to care for it. So consider humbly and wisely what you think “your" type is.
Good fit
Consider your past, your personalities, your wiring and see whether the other person may be a good fit for those areas. We both had experienced heartache and disappointment from past relationships that left different wounds on each of us. We found that the way the other person was wired, or from what they had walked through in their past, they seemed to speak into those wounds and areas in such a caring sensitive way that I often found myself seeing of Darryl and saying about him "that he seems to be so well fitted for me". Not because he's perfect, not because he is the same as me, not because he is the one person God created in the universe for me and I was lucky to not mess up the cosmic order and find him, but because he loves me in a way that builds me up, where my insecurities find a safe place in him and is tangibly God’s specific love to me.
A partner in life, a good fit, is someone who encourages alongside you in your God given abilities and gifts to flourish. They don’t make your gifts. They don’t create your relationship with God but encourage it, inspire and spur it on. Rather than asking and having the perspective of  “How do you fit into my life?” consider “Do our lives together make each other better, stronger, more into the future version that God sees for us?”
Tony Evans says “unity is oneness of purpose, not sameness of persons.” Our differences often complement and strengthen the other and also bring potential conflict.
Conflict, Differences and Forgiveness
We are two different people with two different upbringings, two different perspectives, feelings, perceptions, both sinful people. We continue to grow in learning to slow down in conflict and make an effort to hear and understand the other first, fighting the urge to be the one heard and understood first.
Growing in understanding should lead to increased love and respect of the other person and if not, then they may not be a good fit for you or the right type of person at all. Darryl and I are very different in some ways yet very similar in others. Our differences had people never picturing us together until they saw how well we fit even in the ways we are different. This isn’t because we are some super couple but it’s because we have worked hard at communication and growing in understanding of each other that has led to a great love and respect for each other. And takes setting aside an agenda to try and change someone to make them what you think they ought to be, but learning who they already are and if that does not increase your love and respect of them, then they may not be a right person for you. Proverbs 24:3-4 says “by wisdom a house is built, and through understanding it is established; through knowledge its rooms are filled with rare and beautiful treasures.” Understanding is how we have established this relationship and one way we can continue to deepen it.
Our differences can add strength to each other and enrich the other where they may be lacking. I can get eyes downward on details and specifics while he lifts my perspective up as he sees the big picture. I often am a “dreamer” and he often is an “if” person - if God brings us to such-and-such we will then walk through that. We want to grow and help the other grow, and differences often will be a way towards growth as you work through the differences and conflict in an understanding way that also brings about forgiveness when we’ve wronged the other.
The way Darryl follows the Lord in his everyday looks different than the way I follow the Lord in my everyday. What I thought a faithful follower of Jesus should look like was more influenced by my own wiring and “Christianese” expectations. The way another person faithfully follows Jesus may look differently than it does in my life and that does not mean they are disqualified from my consideration nor that their faith is not genuine. It should be observed overtime but not discounted if fleshed out differently than my life. We are all broken sinful people carrying our sin, hurts and wounds with us. As followers of Jesus we are all in process, progressively being made more like Jesus but that means what we will be is not what we are yet and some things still are ugly in us and through us. We also have lived separate single independent lives for many years and working towards merging our lives together naturally brings conflict. Work towards understanding and oneness rather than working to change the other.
Exposing - Choose your weapon of choice young padawan
All our days God is doing major open heart surgery on us repairing the ugly places of our hearts that are in desperate need of His repairing work and He lets us choose the scalpel in His hand that will cut us open. The Bible does not lay out specific instructions in choosing a spouse. He tells us the purpose of marriage, how we are to love, respect and serve the other, reflecting Christ and the Church, the Gospel, through our marriage. But He does not give dating steps and how to know he or she is “the one”. He gives us the ability and freedom to choose a spouse that should be aligned with His heart and values and the principle of not being unequally yoked with a non-believer. Relationships expose our ugliness. Choosing a spouse is choosing the scalpel that will cut open and expose the ugliness of your heart that needs repairing. It’s frustrating and humiliating at times but opens you to the greatest work in your life. So when considering who you marry - why this person? Why them to be the one to cut you open and expose what is really underneath? Is this someone you want and trust to cut open the ugly with great love, grace, care and forgiveness because they want you to be all God has for you to be and will walk alongside you and encourage you in all things? Or will they ruthlessly cut you open to feel better about themselves, to shame, to control? Your selfishness and pride continues to be exposed more and more - who will be the scalpel in the hand of God cutting you open to His repairing and restoring work?
What it means to be loved by another person as God intended us to be loved is not always how you think it would look from all our false ideals from culture. It is in being truly loved we are exposed to our ugliness to be made more into the image of God, who we were intended to be.
I have often been asked what is too much to share when dating. What’s too intimate, what crosses emotional boundaries? That can be tricky as we all are triggered emotionally differently and also should safeguard the things we share that are appropriate and in safe keeping in the dating process to not emotional manipulate or cross boundaries. Darryl and I shared a lot about our past, life lessons and desires for the future. We shared more specifics of our hurts, fears, and desires as we built trust with each other. We also talked often about life issues around us in our jobs, friendships, church, culture and world. We got to see the other person's take on issues and their perspective. You want to get to know them and this means learning how they perceive life and how they respond to what life throws at them. Talk through these things more because you are in a culture and world immersed in sin and darkness and you need to be able to navigate through them together and it is a good time while dating to see their worldview. You can’t predict all that is coming but talk about culture, what you see, where you see it heading, how you will respond, what you want to be about, what you’re concerned about and what you’re encouraged about from all that you see. This was something early on, maybe on our third date that really drew me to Darryl more and more. Not only will you influence each other but together you will be an influence in your home, neighborhood, community, and city. There is much about him and his way of thinking that is counter culture and I loved that because I did not feel alone in my thinking and wanted to think more like him – unattached from worldly things and pursuits.

Building blocks - What it means to build a life together
Being older in our 30’s I figured we should have life figured out, well established in careers and in all areas of our lives. I mean I wasn’t but he should right? I found myself needing to shift and let go of my thinking about what it means to have a life together but that you don’t have a life together without first building a life together. We get to walk through this life together, taking on what the world throws at us together and build our values together as a couple. You build a life one day at a time as you take on the everyday grind and demands of life.
“God did not give you your spouse to be the grind; He gave you your spouse to be a companion through the grind.” Ted Cunningham
Christ. Commitment. Communication. Forgiveness. Fun. Jesus is at the center of who we are and how we can love another imperfect person and not look to another person to fulfill our needs. We commit to being there and working through conflict. We both value meaningful, honest and deep communication so we work towards that. We extend grace and forgiveness to each other. We both are intense, deep thinkers and know we need and both love to have fun and laugh. 

We also did not start with feelings and chemistry. We built great feelings and chemistry from sharing our hearts with each other, from growing in understanding, grace and forgiveness as we learned about each other, building great love, respect and fun with each other. We also don’t take ourselves too seriously and laugh often which fosters great fun and companionship. Sexual compatibility, as expressed in this article, is not a prerequisite to explore but something that you build through a “deepening and growing marriage by the love, commitment, trust, respect over the years ” and I am looking forward to our years ahead building a marriage and life together in the Lord.
"Attraction is a feeling, love is an action, marriage is a covenant. Feelings are wonderful and inevitable byproduct of a loving covenant."
Forsaking all others and Oneness
I found myself thinking about those words often in vows, “forsaking all others”, and oneness while dating. What does this look like in dating, in marriage? Who and what gets priority? In the dating stage this looks like doing more everyday life together and also finding ways to blend more of friendships, passions and hobbies together. It does not mean you forsake all other relationships completely and disappear from them. It is in comparison, your spouse is priority over other friends and relationship. Your friends, family and the world could turn their back on you but your spouse is to be there, forsaking all others to remain with each other.
And oneness is a goal of marriage, but what does this look like in dating to move toward that when we are not married yet? Gary Thomas says to “ask in everything - how do we do this, resolve this as one? Desires compete; seek humility and oneness over anything else.” In the dating stage we can work at considering the other in our plans, time, decision making and resolve any conflict between us or with others that seeks unity not discord. And we get to move towards the forsaking all others and oneness in marriage here pretty soon.
“The most remarkable thing about marriage today is not that it can be troubled but that we still have this privilege at all. When God justly expelled us from the garden of Eden, He did not take this gift back. He let us keep His priceless gift, though we sometimes misuse it. But what every married couple needs to know is that their marriage is a remnant of Eden. This is why every marriage is worth working at, worth fighting for. A marriage filled with hope in God is nothing less than an afterglow of the garden of Eden, radiant with hope until perfection is finally restored.” Ray Ortlund