This has been quite the year for me. In my last post, I told the story of my professional journey over the last year. But I realized that I can’t let the calendar turn to 2016 without sharing some of the amazing personal stories I’ve had over the last 365 days. If you’re like me, you enjoy a good story. So if you’ll indulge me, let me tell you a few stories about the best year of my life.
“Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” -Psalm 37:4
I had been calling and calling but all I could get was voicemail. Nothing, even this frustrating experience, could tarnish my love for the Chicago Cubs, but I just wanted one thing. Was that too much to ask?
The reason I was calling the Chicago Cubs, was that I wanted to put a personal message on the video board. I had the money. I cashed some old savings bonds and sold some things, and the $500 was all ready to go. Yes, it costs $500 to put a message on the Wrigley Field marquee. Maybe I was crazy for wanting to pay that much. But for two huge baseball fans, seeing “Congrats Aaron & Sarah!” on the famous red sign minutes after getting engaged seemed worth it to me.
It was the day before I was supposed to pop the question, and I still had not heard back from anyone. I couldn’t figure it out. That was Friday, January 23, 2015. Later that night, I began to understand why it had been so difficult to contact the Cubs’ staff. All-time Cubs great, Ernie Banks, had died. Nothing else was going on that marquee now, and rightfully so. The organization was focused on paying respects to Mr. Cub. As a fan, I was mourning the loss as well.
But that didn’t change the fact that Saturday was the big day. I didn’t get what I wanted, but I knew what was going through Sarah’s mind. She was with me when I bought the ring. She knew we were going to Chicago. Despite everything that had happened, there was no turning back now.
Saturday, January 24, 2015.
As we were driving to Chicago on Saturday morning, I could feel the ring burning a hole in my inner coat pocket. I was so nervous. No one had called me back, so I needed a new plan. I decided that I’d still take Sarah to Wrigleyville and propose at the exact spot where she had first told me that she wanted to marry me. We wouldn’t have the marquee message, but now I had some extra money to spend. So, instead, I decided that I’d take her to a fancy restaurant.
The day went splendidly. I took Sarah to her favorite donut shop that actually serves gluten-free donuts!
We went to Navy Pier and took a ride on the ferris wheel. We had a fabulous dinner that would not have been possible had I purchased the marquee message. We got on the Red Line headed towards Wrigleyville, and my heart was about to beat out of my chest.
We got off the train much as I had done many times before when I was headed to a Cubs game. It was fairly cold that day, but nothing you wouldn’t expect for Chicago in January. Sarah told me that she needed to go to the bathroom, so we stopped at a local bar. She went to go find the ladies’ room, and I was just standing there. Waiting. Waiting.
Finally, after what seemed like forever, she came out and we started walking down Sheffield Ave. At this point I was physically shaking, and I didn’t know what to say. I was furiously trying to remember the exact spot where Sarah had told me she would marry me if I asked her. “We’ve…walked here before, haven’t we?” I awkwardly stammered. Obviously we had walked here before. We had already gone to two Cubs games in the short time we had been together. I looked up ahead and saw bar lights. I didn’t want to propose in front of a bar. After we walked a few more steps, I stopped. I reached into my pocket, got down on one knee, and asked Sarah to marry me.
She said yes.
In one instant, everything that had been racing through my mind washed away. Whatever plans I had made didn’t matter at that point. We hugged and we kissed in front of 3838 Sheffield Ave. It was a dream come true.
You know, that verse I put up at the top gets misquoted a lot. Sometimes we think that we deserve whatever we want from God. It was infathomable to me, at the time, that God would not let me put our message up on the Wrigley marquee. I had been praying. I thought I had been delighting in the Lord. Doesn’t that mean He should give me the desires of my heart?
Well He did.
Getting engaged to Sarah was much more important than the message. As I slipped the ring onto her finger, I became fully aware of that. But, little did I know that God had even more in store for me. In fact, He was about to give me a desire that I didn’t even know was in my heart…
The Trip of a Lifetime
Jump ahead four days. I was on Twitter.
I noticed some friends of mine who were Indianapolis Colts fans posting about how they had a certificate from the team dubbing them official Colts fans. Obviously, I had to have this.
It was 2:45 on a Wednesday. I was in the computer lab printing off a paper for class in 15 minutes.
But I had to have that certificate.
I went to the Colts website. All I had to do was fill out an online form and they would send me a printable PDF. I didn’t look at anything else. All I wanted was that certificate. I printed it out and tweeted a picture. I was late to class, but it seemed worth it to me.
I had no clue.
A few hours later, I was working my on-campus job in the college admission office. I received a call from an unknown number. I decided to answer it, and the rest, as they say, is history.
“Hello, is this Mr. Charles?”
“Yes, it is.”
“Hello, I’m with the Indianapolis Colts and I just wanted to inform you that you’ve won an expense-paid trip to the Super Bowl.”
I honestly can’t remember what was said after that. At first I was slightly skeptical, but as the voice on the other end explained what I had won, I started to flip.
Bethel student, South Bend native wins trip to Super Bowl XLIX
Indianapolis Colts super fan and South Bend native Aaron Charles is having the best week of his life. Five days after…
The next day, I was on a plane to Arizona with my fiance just four days after our engagement. Oh, and we were going to Super Bowl XLIX. No big deal.
To say it was a whirlwind would be an understatement. We saw a Fall Out Boy concert, we drove around Phoenix in a Chevy Camaro convertible given to us by family friends of Sarah’s and we stayed at the same resort that President Obama chooses when he visits.
And that was all before we witnessed one of the greatest Super Bowls of all time.
February 1, 2015
We were there. We were really there. We were THERE!
As we walked into the stadium, for the first time, I truly understood the phrase “out of body experience.” I felt like I was floating.
We got to our seats. I still couldn’t believe what was happening. There was a buzz in the air. The eyes of the world were focused on University of Phoenix Stadium, and we were there.
Two men came up to us with confused looks on their faces.
“Uh, I think you’re in our seats.”
Uh oh. Here we go. I knew this was too good to be true. I looked at my ticket.
We were in the wrong section.
We moved one section over and found a pleasant surprise. Sitting next to us were two Colts fans who had also won their tickets!
As Colts fans, we were obviously rooting for the Seahawks. For one, the Patriots had just beaten our Colts to advance to the Super Bowl. On top of that the years of anguish from playoff losses at the hands of the Patriots had not faded from my memory.
I honestly don’t remember much of the game itself. It was all such a blur. I really was trying to take it all in. I was trying to absorb every little moment. But even though I can’t recall every play, I can tell you how special it was to see the smile on my fiance’s face that entire week. Those are the moments that stuck with me.
One of those smiles came as the fireworks shot into the sky during Katy Perry’s halftime performance. It was pretty impressive, and we didn’t even know about #LeftShark!
About mid-way through the second half, I told Sarah something that has become a bit of an inside joke between us. I said that I wanted the Patriots to score so that it would be a close game. More than anything, I wanted an all-time classic.
Well, you know how it went.
One thing I can remember is how you could feel the ebb and flow of the game from the emotions of the crowd itself. After the catch, the young Patriots fan next to me began to weep. Not just cry, weep. Then came the play that will go down in history. I promise you that before Russell Wilson even snapped the ball, I leaned over to Sarah and said, “They’re in the shotgun formation. What are they doing? Just run the ball!”
Well, you know how it went.
Half the crowd fell into stunned silence as Malcolm Butler intercepted Russell Wilson’s pass at the goal line. The rest? Well, they certainly made up for the silence.
The Desires of My Heart
No matter what anyone tells me, I will always believe that winning that Super Bowl trip was not a matter of blind luck. God had a lesson to teach me. I thought I knew the desires of my own heart. I wanted the marquee message proposal-nothing else! Except, if you had given me the choice between that and a trip to the Super Bowl, I’m pretty sure I’d have chosen the Super Bowl.
Now Sarah and I look back on that trip as one of our fondest memories. We were able to celebrate our engagement, and have lasting moments that we will cherish forever.
Had I gotten my wish, I would have spent $500 for a message that never would have even gone up at the moment I wanted it to due to the memorial message for Ernie Banks. Looking back, there’s no other way to describe it: God had things figured out.
Only a month and a half into 2015, and we had already had quite the story! Oh but wait, there was more to come.