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    I was blessed to be born in the most amazing and incredible family imaginable! My parents love The Lord passionately and have prayed for me from the very beginning of my life! Through their example, I saw what it truly meant to be a Christian – to live like Christ! When I was 15, even though I had lived a very sheltered life, I saw myself as a sinful girl. I surrendered my life to Jesus Christ and accepted Him as my personal Lord and Saviour! As a typical young girl, I had fairy tale dreams of love, marriage, and family! On occasion, I prayed for who my future spouse might be, but never did I expect that God would give me a gift this precious and special!

   1Just after my 19 birthday, my family took a road trip to Chicago for my sisters and I to attend a week long “Journey to the Heart” Bible camp! Shortly after our arrival, while unpacking, I saw a young man through the window who caught my attention! He was walking an older man to lunch in the freezing snow, and I was instantly impressed at his kindness and patience on this bitter cold day! I didn’t have the slightest clue that this would someday be the love of my life!

We girls spent the next week in Michigan seeking the Lord, studying His word, listening to message, talking, playing, encouraging each other, praying, and asking God to show us His will and desire for our lives! Somehow in the midst of this flurry of activity, the name of the young man I had seen walking in the snow came up- Brandon Keilen!
After a spiritually refreshing week, we made the drive back to Chicago where the rest of my family greeted us, bursting with stories of their adventures and new friends they had made while we were away! Brandon’s name must have been mentioned a dozen times that first afternoon back. I realized that he had made an impression on my siblings too!

   Over the next few years I watched and interacted with him at different events, meetings, and conferences. Each time we were together, I was more impressed and more attracted to him! The way he played with children and had a genuine love for them just melted my heart!

   Two summers after that first introduction, I had the privilege of spending a few weeks in Chicago again! It was during this visit, I realized that not only was Brandon a man far beyond the ordinary, but I also realized that my 2feelings for him were much deeper than just admiration and respect. I was falling in love with this amazing boy!

   I started praying for Brandon frequently that God would be real to him, protect, guide, direct, love, strengthen and use him! I had a crush bigger than I ever imagined possible, but I didn’t think I had the slightest chance of ever being noticed by him! I had purposed to not allow my feelings for him to be obvious, because I had seen many forward girls lure guys into a relationship. Instead, I wanted to pray and trust God and let Him guide both me and Brandon. At times this was hard, because I knew it was highly possible that we would never form a relationship. But at the same time, I knew if it was God’s will, I wanted Him to show it in a miraculous way that would leave us both in awe of His love for us.

   During the next few months while Brandon was at Bible college, my feelings grew, and so did my prayer for him! It seemed much too big a miracle to ask God for something so precious as Brandon. I knew I didn’t deserve a man like that, so I didn’t often ask that he could be mine to have, I simply prayed Scripture for him and asked God to guard and guide him! I looked forward to each time I might have the possibility of seeing him and counted down the days with great anticipation to each event that he might happen to be at. I cried my heart out every time I had to say goodbye and hoped that I would somehow see him again in the future!

   3Three years passed, and during this time, God became so real to me! He showed Himself to me in a mighty, powerful way! Jesus became my pleasure and contentment! He was trying to teach me that nothing in this world can fully satisfy- not relationships, ministry, service, friendship, church, family, schooling- nothing, other than Jesus Christ could bring complete contentment! Not to make it sound like there weren’t hard days, struggles, doubts, questions, longings, loneliness, and desires to be loved and married, but He became the satisfaction to these needs!

    November 2, 2013, Brandon flew to TN to be an usher in my younger sister’s wedding! After his visit here, I thought for sure there was never a chance that we could be anything more than friends! He was such a gentleman, so careful and above reproach in his conduct, that I gave up the last tiny dream of being a part of his life! Little did I know that 3 weeks later, my life would be forever changed!

   On Thanksgiving Day, I was home with my sister Josie, while the rest of my family was away with relatives! There was a snowstorm in the mountains and the roads were closed, so my plans to meet my family were cancelled! The morning after Thanksgiving, November 29, I headed to NC to meet my 4family! After being in the car for over 6 hours I was ready to give hugs and spend time with my siblings, however just minutes after my arrival, my parents told me that we needed to talk alone! A thousand thoughts were racing through my mind at that moment, and I wondered if I had done something wrong, if there was baby on the way, or a surprise for one of my siblings, or someone had gotten hurt, etc.  I didn’t really know what to think, but I knew something wasn’t normal! I went with my parents to a place where we could be alone and my daddy said, “Michael, someone has called and asked to get to know you better. There is a guy who would like to court you!” In the shock and utter surprise that followed, I can’t remember exactly what was said, but I remember reminding my parents that they knew there was only one guy I ever wanted to marry and that I was simply not interested. My sweet daddy was crying and smiling so big that he couldn’t say much, but he showed me his phone and my heart stopped! I knew that Michigan phone number like the back of my hand! I was speechless, and my tears fell like a fountain! My parents prayed with me then gave Brandon their blessing and permission to call me!

   My amazing parents know each of us children so well. They sweetly left me alone, so our first call would be just Brandon and I!  Wow! Passion, desire, emotion, love, commitment, excitement, gratitude, shock, thankfulness- I 5don’t think one single word can describe what I felt at that moment! The tears of joy poured down my cheeks, while we talked on the phone! This was the love of my life, my crush, my dream, my “too good to be true” beau- the boy I had prayed for! This was the man I wanted to spend forever with; he was calling me! He asked me to be his girl! What an inexpressible, indescribable, unfathomable privilege! God has truly given me the desire of my heart!

Brandon’s Story
The first time I saw Michaela was in the Spring of 2009. I was serving with a ministry in Chicago at the time, and Michaela and a few of her sisters came to Chicago to meet up with a group that was going on a week-long retreat in Michigan. (However, I don’t remember meeting her specifically at that time.) While the girls were on the retreat, the rest of the family stayed at the ministry to help out until their return. During that time, I was able to spend some time with her siblings, and much respect and fondness developed during those few days. I remember one day when several of Michaela’s little siblings came and helped me in the dish pit during evening chores. I was thoroughly impressed at how such young kids could so heartily chip in and help get the job done. (Little did I know that they were probably just following their older sister’s example!) The whole family was a lot of fun to be around, and I enjoyed every chance I got to visit with them.

         As time went by, our paths would cross again at various conferences that both Michaela’s family and I would attend. That was when I really 
began to notice Michaela. At that time, however, I wasn’t really looking for a “significant other” as I was trying to focus on the opportunities that the Lord 15had given me in that season of my life. To be honest, Michaela wasn’t the easiest person to get to know, as she always seemed to prefer being in the background and taking care of her little siblings. At first she just seemed like a shy person that didn’t like crowds; but eventually I began to see that there was so much more to this quiet girl than first met the eye. When I would see her interaction and care for her siblings, I began to notice the type of person she was and the heart that she had… and it was a very beautiful thing! But I never thought (not in a million years) that this beautiful thing could be mine to keep and cherish forever. And as I began to see the type of person she was, it seemed apparent that she was a girl that was simply out of my league. So the idea of a relationship simply didn’t come to my mind.

I ended up attending a Bible school in Texas for the next three years, so seeing Michaela was limited mostly to the conferences we would both attend during my off-semesters. At the end of this three-year period, just a few days before I was to fly back for my final semester, my sister and I went out for dinner. In the course of our conversation, she asked me if I had any one I was praying about pursuing. I gave her an honest answer, “No.” She seemed like she didn’t believe me, so I asked her what she was thinking. Her answer shocked me: “If you don’t notice Michaela Bates you’re blind as a bat!” I gave the shocked reply, “I could never do that to a girl like her! She’s amazing!” (What I didn’t know until later was that my sister seriously thought I was considering her – she wasn’t trying to put thoughts into my head.) The next day, I spent some time with my parents. In the course of our conversation, Michaela’s name came up, and my parents were very encouraging about the idea of pursuing a relationship with her. I was hesitant to think the interest could be two-sided because Michaela had never seemed to conduct herself in that way around me. But there was one thing I did know – I had a great respect and admiration for her. I had to wonder… was God opening a door to something that I considered too wonderful to ask for? I did really like the idea of pursuing a relationship with her, but I also knew that affectionate thoughts were not enough to found a relationship on. I needed to know if this was something God was working out, or if it was just an idea of mine. So I decided to make it a matter of prayer as I went back to school.

When I went back to Texas, and began giving the matter some thought and prayer, I began to realize that the Lord was prompting me to surrender something to Him… my thoughts of marriage. It may seem ironic12 that this was all happening at the same time, but I believe the Lord was orchestrating every bit of it. A few years earlier, the Lord had prompted the question: was I willing to surrender the idea of marriage to Him? At that point in time, I found I could not do it… that was a decision I didn’t want Him to have control of, and I felt like if I surrendered that to Him, then He would make my life into something I didn’t want it to be. Even though I was not thinking of anyone specifically in regard to marriage, the very idea of it was something I couldn’t let go of. But eventually, I began to realize that I could trust Him to decide what He thought was best for my life. My surrender of that area to Him didn’t necessarily mean that I wouldn’t get married, but rather that it was His decision to choose if I did or didn’t. It wasn’t easy, but I knew what God chose to do would ultimately be best.

Later on that semester, Michaela’s sister ended up getting married, and I was asked to be an usher in the wedding. I was able to break away from school for a couple of days, and during that time I had several brief interactions with Michaela. However, during this time she didn’t draw attention to herself or express that she liked me, or anything of that sort. So even if God said that marriage was something He wanted me to pursue, I wasn’t even sure if Michaela would be open to the idea. But, in the end, I knew that if this was truly the will of the Lord, He would bring those details together.

So the semester came and went, and I still didn’t have a definite answer from the Lord on what He wanted me to do. So He prompted me to set aside some time for prayer and seeking Him through His Word while I was home. 17As I did this, He started giving direction in what I should do. I decided to go for a long walk that day, and during that time I was able to open my heart before the Lord and just speak to Him the different things I had on my mind in regard to the whole relationship idea. It was during this time that the Lord really seemed to give clear direction: to step forward and knock. He didn’t tell me what was going to happen, but simply gave me the next step to take. This could have (and a few years earlier would have) been a very intimidating thing for me to follow through with, because I realized that the next step was to contact Michaela’s dad. Before this time, I would have started racing through the “what if” questions: “what if he doesn’t like me,” “what if he asks me a question I don’t know the answer to,” “what if he says no!” But that was not the case for this situation. It seemed to me that God had given the clear direction to go ahead, and because of that I wasn’t consumed by the horrible “what ifs.” And besides, even if her dad did say no, I thought Michael was more than worth the disappointment of being turned down, even though I REALLY hoped this wouldn’t happen.

When I spoke with my parents about everything, they were very much in favor of the idea. (I will probably never fully know how much my parent’s support, wisdom, and guidance have benefited my life. I am so thankful for who they are and all they’ve been to me!) The next step was just finding out what Michaela’s parents thought about it. I ended up calling her dad the day after Thanksgiving, and he let me know that he “would talk to his wife and pray about it, and get back with me in a few days.” Those “few days” ended up turning into a few hours, as both he and Mrs. Bates called back that evening to give their full blessing. I was so relieved, and INCREDIBLY EXCITED!!! They gave me permission to call her, and that was a very special experience. And also somewhat humorous… my sister was more nervous about me making my first phone call than I was! She said, “What are you going to say?” When I told her I wasn’t exactly sure, she got a horrified look on her face and said “Oh, I’m so nervous for you!” But that first conversation was far from the awkward, not-sure-what-to-say ordeal that my sister had dreaded.  When we talked for the first time, it didn’t seem like I was talking to a stranger, but to a dear friend that I just didn’t know a lot about. But she has become far more than that since that day!

Although our relationship started in late November, we actually didn’t begin our courtship until late December. Michaela’s parents thought it would be a good idea to have a period of time to talk about foundational beliefs and values that we each had, and to hold off an official courtship until we 21felt like we were both heading in the same direction. We wanted to honor this, and were able to spend the next few weeks talking about the things that were most important to each of us. As time passed, we found that we really did have a heart for the same things, and on the 30th of December (2013), we began our courtship. It was such a memorable night, and I am so grateful that this wonderful girl has allowed me the wonderful privilege of being in this relationship with her!

God has been good to us, and I am very much anticipating what He has planned ahead. It is still hard for me to believe that I was given the honor of finding such a rare jewel as Michaela. And the more I get to know her, the more I realize how precious she really is. But there is one thing about her that I have so much respect for, and it is the fact that she desires to give God, the Lord of heaven and earth, first place in her heart. With being in this relationship, it is easy for us to make each other the primary focus of our lives. But I firmly believe that as we are careful to give the Lord the primary position in our heart, He will give us the love that we can give to each other, the kind that lasts forever. We are not perfect in keeping Him as the primary focus, but as we have continued to work on this, He has continued to bless us with a more fulfilling relationship than I ever thought possible. My dad once told me that finding someone I could connect with on a spiritual level is what I want to be searching for. I realized how hard it is to find that, and said “it’s so rare!” His response was that it could only be found “once in a lifetime.” As I have walked in this relationship with Michaela, I truly believe I have found that “once in a lifetime” girl for me! I thank the Lord for the miracle He wrought in bringing such a girl my way, and I pray our lives reflect the reality of His goodness as we pursue Him… together.