Monthly Archives: July 2012

The Rest of the Story: Part V

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This is the continuation of our story… to read how we met, read here.  For Part I of The Rest of the Story, read here, and Part II here


At Mom & Dad’s House – about to attend church together for the first time

Sitting there on the bench, in the middle of the airport, with the man I thought was supposed to be on the other side of the world – my world was reeling.  Slowly, I became aware of my surroundings again, people bustling by and intercom announcements whirring.  Slowly, I regained my composure – and my ability to form coherent sentences.


I could not, however, stop smiling.  I don’t think he could, either.


My parents arrived with all our luggage and Jeff stood up to introduce himself to Mom and Dad, who themselves were all grins and – I believe – relieved to no longer have to keep the surprise a secret.  


As it turned out, they all had been scheming for months.  Jeffrey had devised a plan – with our supervisor’s permission – to come home to the States to visit his family in Texas, and then fly to New Orleans to surprise me and meet my parents, and spend a few days with us before we would both fly over to Southeast Asia.  Co-horting – again – with my mother, he’d arranged for his flight to arrive in New Orleans the same day but earlier than our flight back home from Virginia.  So he had plenty of time to check our arriving flight and position himself to be ‘found’ by us on the way to baggage claim.


After the three of them chatted and I could feel my legs again, we started our walk out to the parking garage, where Dad’s truck was waiting to carry us the one-hour drive home.


*****


Back at Mom & Dad’s house, sometime after the initial shock was wearing off – and after I’d taken a much-needed nap, Jeffrey and I had a talk.  And he laid out the game plan, so to speak.  He wasn’t just in town to visit, he explained. He’d come to take me on that date – that date he’d asked about when he called me from Malaysia so many months before.


You see, in the days that followed that initial phone call, Jeffrey had asked me to ‘paint him a picture’ of what a perfect date would be where I lived in New Orleans.  He’d never visited there, so he asked me to tell him what we might do if we were ever able to go on that hypothetical date.


So I’d written back and described how we’d likely start off the afternoon with some b-ball in the backyard… maybe go indoor rock climbing at my favorite place… and end up eating dinner while listening to a band at the House of Blues.  We already figured out that we both liked basketball and rock-climbing, and primarily liked praise and worship music… and some good jazz… he had even introduced me to some Nora Jones music, sending one of her cd’s to me in the mail.  So: b-ball, rock-climbing, listening to a good band… that, I’d said, would be the perfect date.  You know, hypothetically speaking.


So now, here he was – right before my eyes.  And he had been scheming.  


He had tickets to see Nora Jones at the House of Blues the following evening.


*****
The next day we did find a place to kill some time with the basketball, and although we didn’t have time for climbing, I was thrilled to be going to see Nora Jones.  We drove my Mom’s car back to New Orleans and enjoyed an amazing concert.  Being there together, hearing Nora in person – it was like a dream… in fact, the entire weekend was like a dream…


Exhausted, but completely satisfied, we got back in Mom’s car and turned west again, towards Baton Rouge… we had a good long drive to enjoy talking with each other – and Jeffrey had something to talk about….


Before we were completely out of town, he found a place to stop, pulled the little Camry over to the side of the road, and turned half-way around in his seat to look me straight in the face.


I could feel my eyes getting wide, wondering if it was really so necessary to stop the car right then and there.  (Apparently, it was.)


Then he started talking.  We already knew where we stood.  We loved each other.  We were heading in the same direction, and – if the Lord continued to lead us this direction – we wanted to be married at the end of my term overseas and then apply to go back overseas and spend our life doing the work there together – raise our family there.  We had already talked about all of this.


But, as usual, Jeffrey wasn’t just talking… he had been scheming.


As I was completely unaware, he had approached our team leader there in China and had a heart-to heart.  We’d already had his blessing and permission to have a relationship with each other, but Jeffrey explained to him that we were serious, and suggested that perhaps our team leader could re-write my job description on the team, shorten my term to a year, rather than two years, and then we could return to the States together, get married, and re-apply to the Board to go back on the team as long-term workers.


Our supervisor was pleased to make the change.


So, again – unbeknownst to me until that very moment in the little Toyota on the side of the road – I was now no longer going overseas for two years, but for one.  And then we would return together, get married, and re-join the team again in China.


Let me clarify that the boy had not yet even proposed.


{Oh no, that is a whole ‘nother story.}


Again, I was caught by surprise.


Again, my world was reeling.


Furthermore, he continued, although – as ’employees’ of the Board – we could not technically get engaged until our terms were completed – he told me he would like to ask my parents’ blessing and permission to marry me.  And he’d like to do it the following evening.


The rest of the conversation is a bit of a blurr.  I was surprised and excited and trying to just absorb the new information and what it meant.


It was a good thing I was sitting down the whole way home, because – again – my legs would have failed me.


*****


The weekend went by in a blink.  The time I spent in my parents’ home was a refreshing segue from the eight weeks of training in Virginia to my departure for China.  Jeffrey and I enjoyed long walks and long talks.  There was a gathering of friends at Mom and Dad’s house Sunday afternoon – all coming to say goodbye to me and wish me well.  Childhood buddies… my Pastor since I was nine-years-old… my roommate… seminary compadres… 


Friends and church family who had been a part of my life for decades lingered over snacks and ‘remember when’ stories until late in the evening.  Finally, the last visitor said farewell, clutching my prayer card as they departed.  Jeffrey took advantage of the quiet moment to speak to my parents, who were more than happy to give their blessing to us.  


We celebrated with a late-night trip to Waffle House.


The following day, we said goodbye again, as Jeffrey flew back to Texas to spend a few more days with his family before flying out of Houston to head back overseas.  I would be seeing him briefly in Houston, but since his flights had been bought and scheduled separately from mine, we were on different flights out of the country.


My roommate Melissa & me at the airport





The day came for me to say goodbye to my family and my country.  Emotions were so high that day, as I knew it would be a year before I’d return.  Just before hugging me for the last time, my Mom slipped me a thick white envelope and I put it in the top of my carry-on bag.


I held my breath heading through the final check-point, and into the new chapter of my life.  I would not look back.  I would not shed a tear.  I seated myself on a black leather chair in my gate section, waiting for my plane to board, and pulled out the envelope my mother had given me. 


Inside was a long, hand-written letter of love and admiration and encouragement.  A treasure.  I sat alone with tears flowing, already missing her so much.   I had probably been crying a few minutes when I noticed a married couple a few seats down from me.  Both smiled with a compassionate look on their faces.  And one gestured to me with her hands, asking me – without speaking – if I was okay.  I realized they were both deaf.


While in training in Virginia, I had made a dear friend who was also deaf, and had quickly picked up sign language from her.  I signed to the married couple that I was okay, and that I was leaving to go on a long journey far away, and that my mother had written me a sweet note, and that I already missed her.


We signed together for a few minutes and when the announcement came for our boarding, I signed to them what seat sections were being called out until it was their time to join the line for boarding.


Showing my boarding pass and passport to the attendant, I quietly thanked the Lord for a sweet few moments of distraction so that the tears didn’t overtake me.


*****
It took over an entire day to get to China.  Jeffrey met up with me in Houston, and a few of our new teammates, whom I’d been with in training, were there too.  He helped us get to our gate and then made it to his.  The next stop was Los Angeles.  We had a long layover and I’d written down his flight numbers so I checked the listings and found that his plane was arriving and navigated my way to gate.  He smiled to see me and we spent a few minutes together before heading off to separate gates again to board for the long flight.


We landed in the capital city of our region – exhausted but excited.  In many ways, it felt like coming home.  The sing-song language I loved filled my ears and my heart swelled.  The small taxis zoomed in and out of traffic, with their incessant honking.  I loved it.  And I loved that Jeffrey was there with me.


Enjoying dinner with some of our teammates





We had to spend a few days in the capital city before heading out to the more rural town where we would spend the next year working.  While in the capital we had to have medicals done, obtain our student visas, and tie up a few more loose ends before moving on to our final destination.


We stayed in a local hotel there while we were getting over jet-lag and getting things done.  one afternoon, I and my two girlfriends who were new teammates also were just arriving back to the hotel after being out and about the city.  Jeffrey had been away all morning, getting other things done for our supervisor.  He met me in the hallway just outside my hotel room and told me he wanted to give me my birthday present early.  He had a silly grin on his face and his hands behind his back.


“Okay….” I said, wondering what was coming.  


From behind his back he pulled out my present, which was unwrapped, but was contained in a nylon cinch sack… I loosened the draw string and pulled out… my very own climbing harness!  I smiled at him and hugged him for the gift.


Using my keycard I opened the door to my hotel room and walked in to find another surprise.


Twelve.  Dozen. Roses.


Twelve dozen roses, wrapped in paper (which has always been my favorite way to receive flowers) were laid out on the bed in the hotel room.  I stared at them in shock while Jeff and his partner – who had helped him get all of those roses from the Flower Market in town to my room – laughed. And the girls with me shrieked in disbelief.


This is what Twelve Dozen Roses looks like!





It was just one of many times this man would show me his love and affection and thoughtfulness.  He was full of gifts, and full of surprises.  


But there was one surprise… many months later… that was destined for trouble…



The Rest of the Story: Part IV

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This is the continuation of our story… to read how we met, read here.  For Part I of The Rest of the Story, read here, and Part II here




Exchanging pictures became one of our favorite pasttimes

Months flew by as if I were racing toward a finish line, and in a way, I was.  I knew my life was about to drastically change.  I was getting ready to leave the life I had grown comfortable in – my roommate and dear friend,… our cute and cozy house nestled on the outskirts of New Orleans,…. My teaching job, and any plans of fishing my masters degree at the seminary… My youth group i loved leading weekly,… My family… American luxuries… CC’s Coffee Houses…. And my sporty little Civic.

I was leaving it all.

One weekend, in preparation for moving, I had a garage sell at my parents’ home in order to drastically downsize my belongings.  I would only be taking a few trunks to Asia, so much of my clothes, books, and other trinkets and ‘stuff’ would only be taking up storage space for no telling how long.

On the morning of the garage sale, I got a phone call.  It was Jeffrey, and I was happy about the rare chance to hear his voice.  He had made a way to call me that day because it was June 22nd- exactly one year since the day we met.

We talked about how things were going for each of us, and then – for the first time ever – he told me he loved me!

***********
Our Training Center provided lots of ‘Get Alone with God’ spots


Before I could blink, I had moved out of the house in Metairie and sold my car and was boarding a plane for Virginia, where I would acquire some ‘Job Training’ and preparation for 8 weeks before loading up my trunks and heading overseas.



Our Training Center sends out people to work with people groups all over the world


My time in training was one of the hardest and best seasons of my life.  Each day, God was stretching me, and stripping me of selfishness.  It was a season rich with fellowship -both with the Lord and with like-minded believers who also had a heart for this work. We became like family.


By the end of training, strangers had become sisters


Throughout my training, Jeffrey and I kept in touch. We knew it wouldn’t be long before I’d be there on the ground with the rest of the team, and we would get to see each other again.  This made things both easier and more difficult.  I had grown weary of the distance between us.


Trying to pose for a good ‘Prayer Card’ pic


And we still didn’t know what the future held.  Jeffrey’s term on the team was scheduled to end only one year into my term. So he would be returning to the States while I still had a year to serve… We had talked about marriage, but it looked like it wasn’t going to happen for a few more years…
The logistics of our relationship would occupy my thoughts as I walked from my dorm building to the cafeteria or from training session to computer lab. Somehow in my heart I knew God would work it out.
The eight weeks of training was passing more quickly than I could have imagined, and I was delighted that my parents were flying up to attend my commissioning service. Then we would fly together back to Louisiana, and I would have about a week to pack my trunks before leaving the country.


Me with My Parents the day of my Commissioning Service


The morning we left the training center, the shuttle picked us up early to carry us to the airport. I had very little sleep the night before, as I stayed up late into the night saying goodbye to friends who had become like brothers and sisters. We had a common bond, and excitement was high as we all prepared to branch out all over the globe for one united purpose.
The flight to New Orleans passed quickly as I drifted in and out of sleep. I awoke as we began our descent, and leaned forward to see swamp beneath us as we were nearing the airport. My thoughts again turned to that tall, rugged man I’d come to love. In just over a week I would finally see him again.  It’s hard to be patient, I told the Lord. I’m just ready to be with him… It’s time.
We filed off the plane and I took the lead in front of my parents, heading towards baggage claim, since I knew this airport well. The three of us each pulled a small rolling carry-on luggage, and Mom and Dad seemed to be walking so slowly.  I was in a hurry.  Exhausted, all I could think about was getting our luggage and getting to my Dad’s truck so we could go home and I could sleep.
I kept looking back at them, trying to figure out why they were so leisurely lagging behind, and tried not to be impatient with them.  Just ahead of us were glass doors and I knew we had to go through those doors and then walk just a bit further to reach our baggage claim area. Glancing at the doors, someone on the other side of them caught my eye– probably because he was tall, and had the same hair color as Jeffrey.
Sneaking another quick glance at the man, I noticed he did look a lot like Jeffrey.
I looked away, suddenly growing nervous. What if…?
No, I chided myself. I must be really tired and delirious.  
We were getting closer to those glass doors, and closer to the tall stranger, who was looking more and more like Jeffrey, and I noticed he was looking my direction, and holding a sign with a name on it, I couldn’t yet make out…
My heart started beating wildly and suddenly I slowed down. My parents caught up with me and and I walked slower and slower, not wanting to meet the stranger’s gaze.
Surely, it’s not him! I’m just delirious. In fact, I’m probably dreaming. I’m still asleep on the plane and any minute now I’ll wake up as our plane is landing…
A few more steps and I could really make out his face… I just couldn’t believe what my eyes were telling me. I read the sign, which I could tell now was in Chinese characters: ‘mu lan’
I could hardly catch my breath, and I’m sure by now my Mom and Dad, who were in on this the whole time, most likely had huge grins on their faces.
I couldn’t feel MY face. Or my legs for that matter.
I was in such a state of shock that I just hoped my legs would carry me the rest of the way to him.
And then, just like that, the space between us was gone. I was standing right in front of him- the handsome tour guide I’d met over a year before then… The rugged hiker from across the world… The man I had come to love.
All kinds of things ran through my head: I can’t believe it; I can’t believe you’re really here…  This is the best surprise of my life- how did you pull this off?…. I’m so happy to see you!
But the only words my faltering mouth could form were, “why are you here?”

Yep.  That’s what I said.  Seriously romantic.
He grinned and said, “because you’re here.” 
And then I had to sit down, or I just might have passed out.
Thankfully there was a bench nearby, where we both sat down while Mom and Dad went on to baggage claim, probably giggling the whole way.
There on the bench, in the middle of the airport-in the middle of oblivion– I’m fairly certain we just grinned at each other for a solid five minutes and then fell into a long, sweet hug.  Those were the arms I’d been waiting for so long.
And this was the best surprise of my life… But I was about to be hit with a few more surprises….
(to be continued)