I haven’t written a blog post since Chinese New Year. That’s because I’ve been kind of busy…
This is the story of two seemingly separate paths which eventually converged and coalesced by a Spirit-led coinciding of events.
The first point of confluence was the Lord. Both Allen and Arianna grew up with a strong faith from youth due to positive family influences. Another is an intellectual curiosity and love of learning which drove both of them from childhood. And a geographical commonality was the city of Los Angeles. Though Allen was born in Guam and Arianna grew up in Seattle, both have L.A. connections: Arianna was born in the City of Angeles, and Allen moved to the city at a young age—so actually they overlapped in Los Angeles for a few years! And of course both are professors at Biola now which is in the greater Los Angeles area. But God brought them through a multitude of geographical destinations to arrive where they now are: Arianna came back to L.A. via Portland and Denver, and Allen via New Haven, Boston, Scotland, and England.
Allen started teaching at Biola University in 2008 and Arianna in 2012. Because they teach in separate departments, they rarely ever see each other on campus. Initial contact was made via their mutual friend Teri. Allen had joined a faculty integration group in the Fall of 2012, and he got to know Teri through that. Teri was (and still is) one of Arianna’s closest faculty friends on campus. It was during the December 2012 Christmas tree lighting (Allen’s favorite annual Biola event) that he saw Teri sitting next to Arianna and the introduction was first made. Allen immediately was drawn to Arianna’s beauty and outgoing personality, and that night friended her on Facebook. Arianna noticed how truly kind Allen was to his students, and how much they seemed to adore him. She accepted the friend request and he noticed that, other than Teri, he was her first Biola Facebook friend! Still, that led nowhere because Arianna is the type of person who is not drawn to anyone based on initial impressions—a fact which would not only play into Allen’s favor later, but would be one of the qualities Allen would most admire about her. She is not impressed by looks or money or charisma, but values the heart and spirit above all else. Actually there was another, more important reason nothing manifested itself just yet: Allen asked Teri in confidence if Arianna was single, and Teri’s discreet reply was, “This is not a good time.” Arianna was still in a relationship and Teri saved Allen the embarrassment of being denied—not to mention, unbeknownst to Allen, any man who desires a relationship with Arianna who she does not have a solid basis of friendship with, she views with suspicion, because how can she trust someone without knowing them?
Fast forward half a year to August 2013. At the faculty conference which immediately precedes every academic year, Allen talked with Arianna briefly. He found out she was now single, and suddenly his interest was renewed—but alas, again the timing was not right. Still just acquaintances, both exchanged pleasantries but nothing further arose from that. Later that spring Arianna ran into Allen at a technology conference on campus. They sat among a group of friends and colleagues. She noticed that he quietly and prayerfully paused before eating his food. While this was a small gesture, it caused her to regard Allen with esteem, valuing his clear heart for the Lord.
Another year passed during which both Allen and Arianna tried dating other people. Many were good learning experiences (and some were outright disasters!) but none were “just right.” Allen, in fact, had just ended a major relationship the day before the August 2014 faculty conference. During that conference, Allen had a fateful conversation with Arianna in which long-distance running was discussed. Arianna knew that he was a marathon runner, and she was in the midst of a year of discovery in which she was willing to take risks in trying new things, such as kayaking and online dating and everything in between! That led to the running conversation, though the two of them cannot remember who initiated the topic of running (Allen thinks that Arianna asked him to be her running coach, and Arianna thinks that Allen brought up the idea!). Allen was heartbroken from his prior relationship so the last thing he was thinking about was a romantic relationship with Arianna, but he accepted the challenge of coaching her because it would be a welcome distraction from his heartache to help her with this project. This was God-ordained because it led to a solid foundation of friendship with no ulterior motive whatsoever. (Plus, it probably helped to defuse any potential romanticism in that they saw each other several times a week not on campus dressed professionally, but in workout clothes and sweating!) Arianna, likewise, had no other motivation other than to try something new (a goal she made over the summer): she confessed she could not even run a mile but would like to courageously tackle the unknown—another quality about her that Allen (as an Intercultural Studies professor) would find immensely attractive: her openness to new things, such as always being willing to eat new foods and experience new cultures and travels, as well as social justice concerns for those who are oppressed and disadvantaged. She continually likes to challenge herself for personal growth, and her positivity and constant learning posture proved to be disarmingly charming to Allen. Allen was patient and kind as Arianna learned how to run. She began to feel increasingly at ease around Allen, looking forward to talking to him, learning from him, and sharing her own observations. As a Communication Studies professor, she noted that he seemed to house many qualities she admired in a friend: He was generous with his time and words of affirmation, witty and observant, had a thirst for learning, and a shepherding heart.
Thus began four months of running together, from August to December. The first training run was at Balboa Island in Newport Beach. That eventually led to her first race—a 5K (3 miles)—at Dodger Stadium. Later would come a 10-mile race at Huntington Beach, a 10K at Disneyland, and eventually three half marathons in a calendar year, so her perseverance truly paid off! Allen initially wondered if Arianna would really stick it out, but she did indeed, a testament to her faithfulness and loyalty, one of her greatest hallmarks. Ironically, just as important as the races were the training runs—so the journey proved to be as valuable as the destination, as is often the case. Two times a week Arianna and Allen spent literally hours in running and conversing along the way. They discussed everything from pop culture to theology/spirituality to personal struggles to academic work. Allen was so impressed by Arianna’s intellectual curiosity in everything—so often people would tell Allen that he overwhelms them with words as if he’s “lecturing” about everything, but Arianna’s response was patient listening and learning—and vice versa! Arianna was so impressed with the depth and breadth of Allen’s character. Not only did he seem to be able to handle whatever questions she posed, he liked talking through things! Arianna realized how much she loved “chewing” on ideas with Allen, pondering through all sorts of layers and implications and hearing his perspective. Arianna, who won the teaching award at Biola and the senior class choice award for favorite professor, also helped Allen with improving his classroom teaching, and Allen—as a researcher and writer—helped Arianna with advice on that side of things. Thus they discovered they complemented each other well. They had a lot in common (e.g. that The Lord of the Rings ranks among her favorite movies—a fact that Allen found so hot about her!) but they also brought a lot of diversity of experiences to the table that the other has never had. She loved discovering that Allen’s rich knowledge of missiology, travel, and scholarly territory was balanced with a fondness for movies that included The Sound of Music and Indiana Jones, Disney culture, community events like baseball and live concerts, and of course, really good food.Yet, what remained consistent was their like-minded spirit. The training runs took them all over Southern California, from Manhattan Beach to Palos Verdes to Laguna Beach. Many of the runs would end with lunch or dinner: exploring new restaurants or simply cooking together. They began to watch a new sitcom called “Selfie” due to their mutual interest in social media. And there were also other memorable events such as Arianna’s first baseball game (where she finally understood the game because Allen explained it so well), her visiting his church, and watching a movie together (Exodus). The two of them just felt so comfortable together as friends that trust really began to be built. Inevitably, people began to ask if anything was going on romantically between them. The honest answer from each of them was, “No we’re just friends.” But it was a friendship based on a lot of commonalities. Allen remarked, “Arianna, you’re such an agreeable person!” To which she replied: “I don’t know if I am really; I just happen to agree with you in just about everything!” It occurred to her in that moment that her level of trust in Allen made him one of her closest friends.
But something began to change—perhaps it was friends planting the idea in their minds (Allen’s House Church friends certainly encouraged him in this direction to take things to another level!), or because their mutual respect began to grow, but suddenly Allen began to change in his feelings for her a couple of weeks before the end of the Fall 2014 semester. He wondered if he should broach the subject with her, but feared damaging their friendship if she did not reciprocate. He finally worked up the courage on the last night of the semester before she went home for Christmas vacation in mid-December. Both gave a Christmas gift (without knowing the other was giving one, similar to the Gift of the Magi story!) and Allen said: “Arianna, we’ve been friends for some time now… and people have been asking if there’s something going on between us.” And Arianna’s reply (much to Allen’s dismay) was: “Oh, Biola people!” and she laughed it off. Allen then nervously continued: “Well, I was wondering if there might be something more than just friendship…?” At which point Arianna’s demeanor changed, her countenance grew thoughtful, and to Allen’s great delight, said, “I’ve considered it.” Allen was expecting her to say no and put him firmly in the friend zone, so this was a hugely pleasant surprise! But her answer ended up being a little anticlimactic: “I don’t know. I have to think and pray about it over Christmas. I don’t know if it is wise to date a colleague. My calling is to be a Biola professor and I don’t want to jeopardize that.” Allen would have almost preferred a straight-up “no” answer because then he could just clear his mind of this over the holidays! But he realized that a hope, a possibility, was certainly better than a denial. So he said, “Take your time. I will be waiting for your response.” His kind and patient reply put Arianna at ease. It affirmed the sense of safety she consistently felt with him – safety to be herself. More than that, his concern for her welfare was paramount, so he also said, “If it has to be a choice between me having you and Biola having you, I will let Biola have you because I do not want to jeopardize your calling. However, if it is a possibility that Biola and I might not be mutually exclusive, please let me know.” Allen’s integrity and selflessness made an impression on Arianna.
Thus started four weeks of patient waiting. But it was not passive; it was quite active in fact. Allen and Arianna kept in touch literally every day during the entire month of the Christmas holidays—every day there was the minimum of at least a text message, if not an email—and oddly enough, one phone call which felt pleasantly strange because phone was not something either of them ever used with each other since they had so much in-person conversation time on all their runs! But the phone conversation went so smoothly and it helped them to each consider that this may, in fact, work.
When Arianna returned in mid-January, she said she had an answer for Allen. But first things first: of course they had to go on another run! They started in Balboa Island again, coincidentally symbolizing coming full circle from their first-ever run together. That afternoon they also watched a Seattle Seahawks playoff game in which the Hawks came back against the Colts in dramatic fashion (Allen credits the Hawks victory with putting Arianna in a joyous mood and thus contributing to her positive answer that day!). Finally there was dinner, during which Allen was ready for Arianna’s answer. After all this waiting, how did she reply? “I still don’t know.” !!! Or rather, it was not “I don’t know” in terms of being unsure about Allen, but more of an “I don’t want our friendship to be ruined and I’m not sure how to proceed forward because I have some fears.” But she gave it more thought, and helpfully articulated, “You know, we’ve already moved forward by discussing this as a possibility; so really, it’s impossible to go back now to what we were before.” This relaxed both of them. And so Allen suggested: “Why don’t I take you out on a date then. Just on a ‘probationary’ status of dating—no commitment, you can back out at any time, but let’s just give it a try and see how it goes.” So Arianna agreed. Allen asked if he could pray for them at the conclusion of their talk. Arianna took note of how much she enjoyed hearing Allen pray – a true conversation with God. He asked that the Lord would help them be kind and generous to one another.
That led to four official dates—the first one exceeded both their expectations (Arianna commented, “That was the best first date I ever went on!”) and each successive date unbelievably trumped the one before. Before long, they had decided to be in a committed, exclusive relationship. Though their relationship happened naturally and organically, there was also intentionality behind it: 1) They created a figurative “cookie jar” which contained profound questions written on strips of paper which they would pull out one at a time on their dates to get to know each other better. Such questions really helped to lay a strong foundation for their relationship. 2) Meeting loved ones also helped. Arianna and Allen both agreed that inviting friends to join them was an important part of their relationship-building. Their first-ever date included a double date dinner with one of Allen’s closest friends, Tran, and her husband Yun. Another double date was with Arianna’s cousin Romy (who is like a sister to her) and her fiance Jeff. And of course, the parents: Allen introduced Arianna to his mom and stepdad over coffee, and Arianna introduced Allen to her parents over Skype because they live in Seattle—nevertheless that did not stop Arianna’s mom from shedding tears of joy at the encounter!
One day, Arianna and Allen just spontaneously brought up the idea of engagement. They both were thinking about it simultaneously, thus characterizing the nature of their relationship: they’ve always been on the same page. They were just friends through the running; they had a romantic awakening at the same time a couple of weeks before the end of the Fall 2014 semester; they were tentative but consistent with the Christmas vacation long-distance contact maintenance; they were willing to try dating; and they both were on board with the exclusive boyfriend/girlfriend relationship when it came to that. And now, with the other in full agreement, they decided they wanted to spend the rest of their lives together. Allen asked Arianna’s parents for their blessing, and they wholeheartedly gave it!
While from an outside perspective the pace of their relationship quickened quite a bit, their closest friends remarked, “You two already knew each other well, after spending a whole semester running together. You are not beginning dating; you are really in the middle of dating. Also, you are both in your 30s and you know yourselves already.” Those reassuring thoughts confirmed that this was right, and both Allen and Arianna felt that the Lord was in this. Arianna’s parents’ support was further confirmation, because they had seen this whole process play out from the beginning.
Only one more problem remained: Allen was on sabbatical in the Spring semester 2015 and had a two-month research trip planned through Asia, during which time they would be physically separated. But through it all, Arianna and Allen kept in touch and their love only grew for each other despite the distance. April saw their happy reunion in Hong Kong and Taiwan (as Arianna came to visit Allen at the end of his Asia trip) and in New York City for her birthday weekend—their first trips together.
In April, Arianna and Allen got formally engaged, and in August they are getting married!
After the wedding in early August in Seattle, Allen & Arianna will go on their honeymoon and return back to L.A. for a late August reception for those who can’t make the Seattle wedding. That fateful day when they had the running conversation was August 21, 2014. The Los Angeles reception is a year to the date that their whole story together began!
The future remains to be written, but as long as the double-As remain faithful to God who wrote this whole story, the future looks bright.
Fun with numbers:
-Allen went on an 8-week, 8-nation trip through Asia for his sabbatical: symbolic because “8” is the Chinese number of fortune; and they said goodbye to each other the day before Chinese New Year which is appropriate for Allen’s Chinese heritage.
-Their time apart also had biblical, not just cultural, significance: the last time they saw each other was Ash Wednesday, and they reunited the day before Easter: so their separation mapped exactly onto Lent: 40 days, symbolizing fasting. Forty is the biblical number of desolation (40 days of Noah’s flood; 40 years of Moses’s wandering in the Exodus; 40 days of Jesus fasting in the wilderness); but at the end of the 40 comes hope and new life. Allen is also getting married just a couple of weeks after his 40th birthday, so 40 also marks the end of his old life and the beginning of his new one.
-Easter is Arianna’s favorite holiday, and it was the day of their engagement! It was also Passover which is appropriate for Arianna’s Jewish heritage. It was also the first day of the new baseball (Allen’s favorite sport) season, but instead of a baseball diamond Allen and Arianna were focused on a real diamond! Also, Allen and Arianna’s first ‘date’ was a baseball game on the last day of the regular season in 2014; and their engagement happened to be on the first day of the new baseball season in 2015.
-Their wedding date is 8/8—once again the Chinese lucky number!
-It’s not just the double-8s which are significant, but also the double-As (as Arianna’s dad Bill dubbed them): symbolizing Allen & Arianna’s initials, as well as their engagement and wedding months of April & August!
-Arianna’s father Bill’s birthday is August 19, and Allen’s father Leon’s birthday is August 20. And our Heavenly Father had them first discuss running on August 21!
-Arianna’s mother Johanna’s birthday is New Year’s Eve. Allen’s mother Vivian’s birthday is Chinese New Year’s Day!
For those of you who want to know how it all unfolded, here’s the story:
Spring 2015 was Allen’s sabbatical semester. Arianna, meanwhile, was hit with her most stressful semester (teaching an overload of 5 classes, serving on 5 committees, a number of independent studies, and a new outside consulting project). To compound matters, they were apart for 40 days of Lent: they said bye to each other on Ash Wednesday, then Allen proceeded to travel to Asia for research for 8 weeks in 8 countries. Before Allen left, Arianna wrote him 8 notes as part of her Valentine’s Day gift to him, one each to be opened upon arrival in each new country (Allen, in turn, sent Arianna a postcard from every country he visited). Every week they made sure to have a FaceTime date on Sunday, and daily texts and Allen’s email morning prayers to Arianna daily kept their love for each other alive through the distance.
Arianna had a 10-day Spring break and came to see Allen in his final 2 countries on his trip: Hong Kong and Taiwan. Allen had wanted to allay some of the stress of the semester by rolling out the red carpet for her on this trip. Arianna stopped for half a day in Seattle to see her parents before flying to Hong Kong. Allen got the ball rolling by sending her flowers right before she got on the plane. Meanwhile, he had a Cinderella idea: get her a shoe, but instead of a glass slipper it would be a running shoe, symbolizing the marathon training that caused them to fall in love over the course of 8 months. He wanted to reconfirm Arianna’s running shoe size and color preferences, so he texted Arianna’s mom who stealthily took pictures of the shoes while Arianna was in the shower and texted them back to Allen!
Their happy reunion occurred in Hong Kong, at long last, on Good Friday. It just so happened that Allen’s father was traveling with him during this portion of the trip as well, and Allen’s church friends Paul & Esther also coincidentally were visiting Hong Kong for Spring break. Allen knew that Arianna’s favorite holiday was Easter so he had planned to propose that morning. She was wearing a lovely yellow dress which made her look like her favorite Disney princess, Belle. He started by taking her to Easter Sunrise Service at 6am in Discovery Bay in Hong Kong—on a remote part of Lantau Island. After a series of comedic mishaps of ending up in the wrong place twice, they finally got it right on the third try but by then had literally just missed the service! They asked the pastor for the liturgy sheet and had their own personal Easter sunrise service as the soft sun rose higher in the sky. God’s timing, as usual, was perfect.
Next, Allen and Arianna took a ferry boat across Victoria Harbour to Hong Kong Island where they met up with Allen’s father and Paul & Esther for an 8am tram ride up to the top of iconic Victoria Peak. This was where the action was scheduled to take place. Allen got very little sleep the night before due to nervousness, but his “Mission: Possible” teammates got his back. Paul & Esther literally had flown in the night before with the ring that they had picked up from Allen’s mother in Los Angeles (Allen’s mom and his Aunt Lillian, who are jewelers, had put together the most amazing ring back in California), and Dad was carrying the running shoes. Arianna, meanwhile, was completely unsuspecting. Normally, Hong Kong is hazy and has gray skies. That day, the skies were sunny and blue—a sight that Allen has never seen in Hong Kong! It seemed that God was smiling on them that day. Allen had prearranged with Paul to make the ring exchange in the bathroom, so he loudly announced that he was going to the bathroom and Paul said he was going too. It turned out, there was no bathroom on the observation deck on top of Victoria Peak! Esther then immediately distracted Arianna with questions about her trip thus far, and Allen and Paul ducked around the corner and made the ring exchange. Allen quickly tied the ring to the shoelace of the left running shoe and stuffed it inside the shoe.
Arianna came over to Allen and he announced to Paul & Esther and Dad, “Guess what—Arianna so thoughtfully gave me Easter gifts this morning: two running shirts! So I have a gift for her: a new pair of running shoes!” Allen had Arianna sit down on a bench and he took out the right shoe and put it on her foot, playfully saying that this was like a Cinderella moment. Then he put the left shoe on her foot but she felt something stuck inside. So she pulled out the shoelace and out popped the diamond engagement ring! Allen just happened to already be on his knees and Arianna suddenly focused hard on him and what he was saying because she knew this was a special moment—and one she totally did not expect or suspect (because she thought to herself: “How could he already have the ring prepared?”). Allen then held up some signs that he had written ahead of time so that he wouldn’t forget his lines and so that Arianna could visually read them as well as hear his words, and he said, “Arianna, do you remember one time you quoted an African proverb to me: ‘If you want to run fast, go alone; if you want to run far, go together’? Well, why not both? Because here are a pair of new racing shoes—so that you can run fast. But I have bought myself a matching pair [at which point Allen got the shoes from Dad and put it on himself] so that we can run together. Will you partner with me and run this race of life together with me? Arianna Molloy, will you marry me?” At which point she exclaimed “Yes!” and they embraced in joy! It just so happened that Victoria Peak also had this kiosk where lovers write their names on a red paper heart and pin it to the kiosk, so they also did that.
Afterward Allen brought Arianna to Hong Kong Disneyland (it’s like in the commercials: “So you’ve just done X [this incredible thing], what are you going to do now? I’m going to Disneyland!”) where they not only enjoyed the rides but had lunch in the beautiful Disneyland Hotel. Allen had further surprises in store for her: he pulled out some Cinderella cosmetics and an actual glass slipper he had purchase from the Disney store, saying, “Though I gave you running shoes, you are also my princess and you deserve a glass slipper!” Then he had arranged a cake ahead of time with Disney that had the line from Cinderella: “Be kind and have courage,” a quote which Allen thought exemplified Arianna’s persona. It just so happened that both had seen the movie separately a week earlier. That night, Allen and Arianna were able to indulge in a beautiful dinner on the Kowloon side of Hong Kong with a skyline view of Victoria Harbour with Allen’s aunt Sylvia (a Hong Kong movie star and director) and uncle Billy as they watched the “Symphony of Lights”—a fitting end to a blessed and “magical” day.
Allen and Arianna just wanted to highlight the extraordinary help of friends and family in making this story possible: both sets of parents, Allen’s aunts Lillian and Sylvia, church friends Paul & Esther, and many others.