November 13, 2020

An unusual yet fitting marriage proposal leads couple on their journey with God

Photo: Emily and Alexander Mingus share their joy on their wedding day on June 27. (Submitted photo)

Photo: Emily and Alexander Mingus share their joy on their wedding day on June 27. (Submitted photo)

Third in an occasional series

(Editor’s note: In this series, The Criterion will feature young adults who have found a home in the Church and strive to live their faith in their everyday life.)

By John Shaughnessy

The first sparks of love ignite differently for every couple—and they often strike even those two people in unexpected ways.

Consider the story of Emily Freyberger and Alexander Mingus, who first met during the “welcome weekend” of their freshman year in college.

“I was dating someone at the time,” she recalls. “We got to know each other more when we became music ministers in the fall of our sophomore year. We became good friends that year. That summer, I was studying abroad in Florence. He texted me on my birthday, and from there, we sent each other a message a day and shared prayer requests.”

Still, that connection didn’t prepare her for what happened when she returned from Italy for the beginning of their junior year at the University of Dayton in Ohio.

“I saw him at the undergraduate music minister retreat and my heart flip-flopped,” she says. “I thought, Oh man, God, you obviously have other plans for us than just being friends. That led to us getting to know each other more.”

They began dating that September of 2016. A month later Emily—who shares everything in her heart with God in her faith journal—wrote this revealing entry about Alexander, “He is the man that I have been praying for my entire life. I love all the things that make him who he is—his passion for YOU, his smile, his laugh, the way he looks at me like I’m the only one in the room.”

To Emily, it didn’t matter that they only had been dating a month. Nor did it matter that he hadn’t given any indication yet about how he felt about her. Indeed, at the time Alexander was open to dating, and he was thinking about a vocation in religious life. Still, what mattered to Emily is she felt so strongly drawn to Alexander that she prayed daily for him, asking God to help him make the best decision for his future, even if it meant it wasn’t with her.

The path to love was different for Alexander, who is more analytical and meditative than Emily.

An unusual yet fitting marriage proposal

“It took me a lot longer to recognize that this was meant to be,” Alexander says with a smile.

“It was a slow transformation of my heart. When we started dating, I was open to dating but I was also thinking about religious life. I wasn’t sure which direction to go. This opportunity to enter into a relationship with Emily came up, and because I was open to both, I went with that opportunity. But the question of religious life was still on my mind at least through the first year of our relationship.”

After more than a year of thought and prayer about his future, he says, he “began seeing things about marriage, about fatherhood that I hadn’t really seen or reflected on before.” And Emily was at the heart of those thoughts.

That clarity eventually led him to the unusual yet fitting, faith-filled proposal of marriage that he made to Emily.

It happened on Easter Sunday of 2019 in the adoration chapel of her home church, St. Elizabeth Seton in Carmel, Ind., in the Lafayette Diocese.

“She didn’t suspect a thing,” Alexander recalls. “I had the ring in my pocket.”

On special days, Emily and Alexander have a tradition of sharing letters with each other. They did so again in the adoration chapel, but this one from Alexander would change both their lives.

“I hand her my note and she handed me hers,” he says. “I read hers in 10 seconds because I’m breathing hard and I’m sweating and she’s taking forever to read my note. She notices my leg is shaking. She gets to the end of the note where I say something about ‘wanting to spend the rest of my life with you.’ ”

Emily continues, remembering how she felt and reacted in that moment.

“Oh my word, I think this is it!” she recalls saying to herself. “As soon as I met his eyes, I knew it was the moment I was hoping and praying for. He took my hand and went down on one knee. He fumbled with the ring because he was so nervous.

“It really was so special to me. It was the perfect way to start our journey together, with God literally present there.”

The moment captured everything that matters to them, Alexander says, starting with the decision to propose on Easter Sunday in the adoration chapel.

“Just the significance of that day seemed appropriate—new life, resurrection. I told Emily, ‘I did this here because I know we want to keep the Lord at the center of our relationship and our marriage.’ ”

Seeking a closer connection

They were married in the same church on June 27 of this year—a day when Emily took the last name of Mingus, a day when they embraced a certain foundation for their marriage that Emily’s father—Brian Freyberger—had shared with them.

“It’s the triangle concept,” Emily says. “Jesus is at the top of the triangle, and the two of us are at the bottom. The closer I am to God and the closer that Alexander is to God, the closer Alexander and I are to each other.”

Alexander notes, “We’re trying to be the best we can be to each other. It’s just clear to see how it helps us when we live out that principle. I know that the days when I have a good relationship with the Lord are the days when I have a good relationship with my wife, and vice versa.”

The wedding was the highlight of what has been a whirlwind year for Emily and Alexander, who are both 24 and now members of St. Joan of Arc Parish in Indianapolis.

In March, Emily started her job as the music therapist at St. Augustine Home for the Aged in Indianapolis. In May, Alexander graduated with a master’s degree in public administration from Dayton. Shortly after the wedding, he began work as the assistant director of the Indiana Catholic Conference (ICC), which represents the Indiana bishops in public policy matters in the state.

There was also the challenging reality that Emily started working with the residents at St. Augustine Home just as the COVID-19 crisis started.

“There’s an emotional, mental and psychological benefit of music therapy,” says Emily, who has a gifted voice that complements her talents on the piano and the guitar. “I see that benefit in the eyes of residents who are struggling with loneliness and isolation.

“We sing songs, engage in prayer and reminisce. It’s the most powerful thing to form relationships with them. I know the secret longings of their hearts, their joys and struggles. It’s a powerful way to act like Christ and serve with humility.”

Music also continues to be at the heart of their marriage. A major part of their home life include “date nights” where one of them starts a song or plays an instrument—Alexander plays the guitar and piano, too—and the other joins in the music.

That focus on harmony also guides Alexander in his work.

Another calling from God

“Trying to engage faithfully in politics as a Catholic and doing that explicitly through the ICC, it can be challenging,” he says. “There are many different perspectives within the Church.

“I know that if I neglect my prayer life and I neglect my personal relationship with Christ, I’m going to get burned out. I’m going to be more likely to despair in the face of challenges of division. So I try to look to Christ for unity. Not just for unity in the world, but unity in myself. Because I know Christ is the only source of peace that is lasting. And so that grounds me in this work and in my relationships with people. And it inspires me to invite others into that same peace.”

Recently, the couple learned they have invited one other person into their lives. Emily is pregnant with their first child.

“That’s the great focus of our prayer, the source of our hopes and our dreams for the next stage of our life together,” Alexander says. “There’s a lot of thinking about the future, thinking about how will I be as a father and her as a mother.

“Something that we’ve talked about is we know it’s important to continue dating one another through having kids—for us to make time intentionally for that. I’m grateful we both have a desire to do that.”

In talking about this latest chapter in their marriage, Emily exudes the same awe and joy that marked her faith journal entry about Alexander after a month of dating.

“It’s quite a gift,” Emily says about her pregnancy. “It’s been the neatest blessing in these early months of marriage. When I talk to my residents, they say, ‘It’s about time!’ Talking to them reminds me that life is a precious gift.

“I’m so excited to see him as a dad, and the way we’ll raise our future child and children in the way God calls us to. I couldn’t be more grateful.” †

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