Our Blessed Life

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The Healing

It’s late in the afternoon.  

The morning was productive only because our good friend Anna (11 years old) spent the early part of the day with us and helped the kids with school work while I did a load of laundry (yes, one load is all I accomplished), cleaned the kitchen, heated lunch, and made a bulk batch of muffins for next week’s breakfasts.

Between those tasks and tending to the little ones, I never would have been able to get any school work done with the older ones.  So after Lena did her reading lesson with me, she and the other three big kids forged ahead through their pace work under Anna’s supervision.  

Poor girl was a champ - relaying back and forth between questions and checking work, and Carson - who is an ever-moving mini-machine, bent on wearing you down with his combination of cute, repetitious chatter and his command of your full attention.  

At one point she looked up at me a little exasperated, “Mrs. Hazleton, I don’t know what to do with him!”  {I giggled a little inside, the way I always do when being called "Mrs. Hazleton" in such a sincere young voice.} 

Poor girl. She’d already set him up with two or more activities, and within seconds he either lost interest or melted into frustration because something wasn’t working quite right for him.  

For good measure, he balanced out his tantrums with cheerful requests for Anna to “come pay wid me?” in his sing-song voice.  

I felt for Anna.  She was catching a glimpse of what I experience. 

Every waking moment.  

The full morning only added to the mix of jumbled thoughts and emotions in my head.  I felt the growing need to sort them out.  Lay them on the table and assess each one.  So many needsIdeasRamblings.  So tightly wound up inside my head, to have them come unfurled would only mean a slow dripping like sap from a pine tree.  

The tightness I felt inside at the urgent needs to which I have no answers - the jumble of ideas to which I have no direction - the growing tension, for which I have no outlet... it all left me feeling more laid low and scrunched up, as if ready to pop out of the box like Jack at any given second.  

But having no release, I had no option but to move forward in the late afternoon.  

Daddy's coming home; church dinner will start soon; nothing for it.  

Scrunched up insides will have to wait.

Get the hair brushed, the feet covered in five pairs of shoes.  Get the ducks aligned.  Change the diaper.  

It was in this moment - in changing Olivia’s diaper that the warmth began to seep into my cracks again. My fingers went through the motions of the diaper change and clothing change quite automatically while my eyes stared off at the chickens outside the window... my mind wandering through a dozen thoughts.  

Then, when the task was complete, there she was.  Lying in her little bed all chubby and neatly clothed.  Her eyes so bright.  That puff of strawberry hair that I know will turn blonde on me.  

Her smile so unassuming.  Her squeals and cooing now coming into focus for my wandering ears.

The corners of my mouth couldn’t help themselves, turning up into a returning smile. Involuntarily.  And that one change.  The beginning of a smile that warmed my lips spread through me.  

I gathered her up in my arms, her fat body cradled against me and then lifted her above me, to her delight.  

And bringing her close again, her tiny soft hands grabbing my neck.  Her cheek to my nose, I breathed in her sweet baby smell and felt her drool on my lips.  I sighed as it filled me up inside.  “Your kisses are like medicine.”

And I knew the truth of what I had just said.

A happy heart doeth good like a medicine.  

Monday, September 24, 2012

38 Years.

Did I {actually} just share my age with all my bloggy friends?

Today is my birthday.  And I am feeling nostalgic.

I asked my Mom to snap a few kid-shots of me from the family photo albums with her iPhone and email them to me.

Note: {My MOM has an iPhone, while my poor little phone is still not so 'smaht'. ::sigh::}

Another Note: {Family photo albums are absolutely priceless.  A few months ago while my Mom and Dad were visiting, they brought all the old albums I used to love to peer through when I was a kid, and five of my own children sat in a row on the couch and gleefully flipped through them while we told them things like, "that was Mommy on her first day of school.... that was Aunt Sarah when she was five-years-old.... no, that's not Mommy, that's Nai Nai!"}

Anyway, my Mom sent mew a few images and I thrill as I can see my own daughters' faces in my childhood face.

I was 3 or 4 maybe?  My Mom said she can see Maggie.

First Grade, I believe.  Just color me blonde and call me Lilly.

First day of school. Lilly cocks her head to the side just like this.  All the time.
At midnight last night my Mom texted me a birthday message. She does this every year. Love her!

Today my sweet husband made me coffee ready to brew when I got up.  (He has to leave the house at 4:30 every morning.  Shudder.)

There was also a cute little gift bag waiting for me.  And I smiled a little extra because wrapping presents is one of those little extra things that Jeff has learned over the years.

 I love the presentation of a gift as much as the gift.

I love the thoughtfulness of a gift as much as the gift itself.

Jeff comes from a family that - when birthdays roll around - everyone says "what do you want?" And usually you end up getting money so you can just buy yourself exactly what you want.  It's something I've come to appreciate over the years, I mean I just spent some of my birthday money last night on some pretty new window panels for our bedroom.  Exactly what I wanted.  This practice is so thoughtful on a different level.  But it is definitely different from my own upbringing.

I grew up in a family where - when birthdays roll around - family members put a lot of thought into something you might really, really like.  Or they might ask someone close to you for ideas... then they secretly go out and buy/make it for you and wrap it especially for you.  When I was growing up, birthday presents - in beautiful wrapping - would suddenly 'appear' in a special spot in the living room a few days before the actual birthday.  This was a way of stretching out the celebration.

So seeing the cute little gift bag on the dining room bar this morning was extra sweet.  Some of the kids were quick to tell me they had helped pick out the bag and tissue.  Other kids were actually there with Daddy when they picked out the present.  (A Timex Weekender watch, with a bright pink strap.)

Self Portraits of a Blogger

After breakfast - and with lots of prodding from their Mama - my kids helped pick up a little around the house and cleaned both bathrooms for me.  Lena made my bed, of course. 

For years, it's been my dream to wake up on my birthday to a cleaned-up (read: mostly clutter-free) house, with the laundry all done.  Then I could just enjoy a peaceful house with the kids all day... The dream lives on.  I guess I have 364 days to work on making it happen for next year.

Some of the kids gave me cards, which were quite good, actually.  Both Christopher and Maggie had drawn humming birds, my favorite.

Lena shared her fingernail art stickers with me.  She put one on each of her big toenails, and matching ones on mine.  She smiled as we shared that sweet moment.

We went on an outing to find some chocolate chips at Target so I could make my own birthday cookie cake.  But alas, Target didn't have the good kind.  (Read: Ghiardeli bittersweet chips). And an outing to Walmart with six kids was not what I wanted to do today, so we came back home - chocolate-chipless.

But when I walked in the door, to my surprise, I found that Jeff had come home on his lunch break and brought me chocolate chips, and a dozen roses. That man!

**Update** A few minutes after originally posting this, I got a text from Jeff, asking if I was having a 'cool and refreshing' afternoon... for those of you not local, it feels like a hundred degrees outside.  Knowing my cryptic husband, I immediately went to look in the freezer, and then the fridge, where I found a Venti Cool Lime Refresher, my new obsession favorite from Starbucks, sitting beside a bag of chocolate-covered roasted almonds!  Again, I say, that man!!

Thirty-eight years.  I swear it goes by faster all the time.  But I promise I don't feel a bit older than twenty-five.  I still like to jump on the trampoline and paint my nails fun colors and drive my mini-van like it's still my little red, two-door Honda Civic.

Yes, I still feel like I'm in my twenties.  And my fifty-something year old Mom (sporting her Starbucks and iPhone), says I probably always will.

So much life.  God has bestowed so many blessings.

"Bless the Lord, O my soul,

And all that is within me,

Bless His Holy name!"

Saturday, August 11, 2012

How She's Doing

The first picture we saw of her

A year ago (on August 9th, 2011) we were sitting in the SDA office in Kiev, receiving referrals for two children.  Up until that point, we thought Lena, (who's Reeces' Rainbow alias was 'Lori') was born in 2006.  It wasn't until they pulled her file that day in Kiev, that we were told she was actually a year older than we thought.

This is a big deal because although we had seen 'Lori's picture many times, we passed over her in our minds because she was at least a few months older than our oldest biological daughter, and we'd been warned about all the things that could go wrong if we decided to "adopt out of birth order."

Eventually, the Lord dealt with our hearts and impressed upon us that He was wiser than the wisest advice of men and that He had a plan.  Had we known that she was a whole year older than we'd originally thought, we may not have even opened our hearts and minds to the idea in prayer for the possibility of adding her to our family.

An updated picture sent to us from someone who visited the orphanage...
looks like she's always liked helping with the cooking!
 Lena Joy Hazleton - born 'Olena' - turned out to be quite different than all our expectations.  The day we met her, I was shocked at how tiny she was.  So little.  And painfully thin.  See-all-your-bones thin.  This could have been from the massive amounts of parasites she came home with, or the ridiculous metabolism of a child who was probably rarely still for the first 5 years of her life, or maybe because children with HIV have different needs nutritionally, that weren't being met in the orphanage.  Or it could have been because she was born prematurely at home, weighing only 4 pounds.  It is a miracle she is even alive, because her birth-mother had her early - at home - and then took her to the hospital, where she was abandoned just hours later.

Or maybe it's just in her genes, because after getting her home and ridding her of the parasites, we finally put some weight on her - only to have her shoot up in height and get skinny again. :)

The Day we met her
So she was tiny, but she was dynamite.  A firecracker.  My wildcat.  During our visits to the orphanage, Lena would literally climb us like we were trees to be conquered.  She would hang on us, laughing wildly.  Nothing deterred her - or made her sit still for more than 2 minutes.  Jeff and I would leave the orphanage every afternoon completely exhausted.  And I worried that we had made a mistake.

She's a great big sister, and loves babies
But now I can hardly believe the transformation in this child.  She is calm.  Gentle.  Helpful.  She beams when she is praised or thanked for anything.  Before we brought her home, we knew there was a possibility that Lena has FAS (Fetal Alcohol Syndrome).  Honestly, I kind of wrote this off.  I very naively thought, well if she does have it, it must be mild, and we'll just work with her and help her get better.

But the thing about FAS is that the brain is permanently affected.  And with Lena, I didn't realize the extent of the damage until I sat down to begin teaching her some kindergarten basics.

There is a lot to say about FAS and how it affects Lena - so much so that I'll have to write an entirely separate post about it.  Suffice it to say that there are definite challenges.  And we have had to change the way we parent with her.

Modeling her new dress from Granna
But thankfully, knowing is half the battle, right?  And we're seeing progress, both in her behavior and learning, and in our bonding with her.

Lena loves to play with her brothers and sisters.  She's an extremely big help with watching over Carson and sitting and talking with Olivia while I'm cooking dinner.  She loves to do anything to help with dinner or around the house, and constantly asks what she can do for me.  She makes my bed nearly every single day.  And honestly, if given the choice between watching a show with her sibling or making my bed, she'd choose to make the bed.  Just yesterday - of her own accord - she decided to clean out and re-organize the drawers in their dresser.

Easter Sunday with (most) of her Sissies
And on top of that, she asks to rub my feet every.single.night.  Pretty amazing girl, huh?  And you know what?  Because of the difficulties she has with FAS, Lena is emotionally much younger than six. So her being older than our oldest biological daughter is not even an issue.  I'm so glad we decided that God knows best.  Because look at the blessing we almost passed over!

Miss Hazel Eyes is growing up

Thursday, August 09, 2012

How He's Doing

It's been nearly one year since we met Christopher and Lena, and so I thought it would be fun to post some updates on ALL the kiddos.  (Plus, I have to put together a report for the Ukrainian Embassy, so I might as well start thinking in this direction.)

If you followed our adoption journey from the beginning, you'll remember that Christopher's 'alias' on Reeces' Rainbow was 'Kirk.'  His name given to him at birth was Anton (pronounced more like 'Ahn-tone'), and we changed his name to Christopher Anton Hazleton.  For the first month we called him Anton,.... then Christopher-Anton... then dropped to just "Christopher", and he took the transition like a champ.

On a side-note, Lena's little accent causes her to call him "Clis-toh-fer" (roll that last 'r).  So cute.
The first picture we saw of him
When we met Christopher, he was incredibly shy.  In fact, when they brought him and Lena into the orphanage director's office to meet us for the first time, he literally hid behind his sister.  (Which wasn't easy, since she was bone-thin and weighed about as much as our 18-month old at the time.)

The snapshot my friend Jess sent me when she met him about 4 months before we traveled

He was so very quiet.  But those eyes were just as expressive as I imagined they would be, just by staring at the few photos I had of him before we traveled to meet him.

The day we met him
 Based on the first few weeks I knew this boy, I thought he was going to be our moody child.  He could kind of take me or leave me, and although he loved to be swung around and ride on Daddy's back and shoulders, he was also content to ignore us and sit drawing by himself.  He was taking everything in through the filter of that furrowed brow.

The first several months home were bumpy.  I kind of felt like he was feeling out whether or not to trust me, and attachment was definitely not instant.  Communication was difficult, and hours were spent daily, translating things through Google Translate, just so we could get through basic things.  Christopher needed to be taught things like house rules, family roles, and gender roles as well.  The boys and girls at the orphanage all played with the same toys, slept in the same room, and wore the same clothes.  I distinctly remember the day - not long after we got the kids home - when I turned around and my almost six-year-old son was dressed in a tutu, dress-up shoes, butterfly wings, and a princess crown, sporting a purse, and talking in a high-pitched voice with a huge smile on his face.

I quickly loaded all five kids into the van and made my first outting by myself with them since having the two newbies home.  I drove straight to the Dollar store and we loaded up the buggy with every last boyish dress-up item we could find.  The boys came home with a stash of pirate paraphernalia, guns, swords, cowboy clothes.

For months, he was my quietest child.  His favorite thing to do was sit and draw.  He would ride quietly in the van, hardly making conversation.  Just listening and looking out the window.  He wasn't unhappy.  Just quiet. Taking it all in.  I would wonder daily what was going through that mind of his.  I could tell he was sharp as a tack.

We had a lot of growing pains as we went through teaching him about what lying is.  And that lying is wrong. Every time.  I grew frustrated each time we would come home from his friend Alik's house, and I'd find a small toy hidden in his pocket, or stashed in his toy bin - stolen from his friend's stash... we had to teach him that stealing is wrong, too.  Every time.
Helping Daddy build the benches for our new table
But boy, is he a different child now!  If Christopher is anything, he's a jokester. And a HUGE talker.  I hardly remember those quiet days in the minivan.  Now I have to tell him that it's time to play the quiet game.  Almost every mealtime I'm having to tell him 5 minutes into the meal to stop talking and start eating.  Christopher loves to laugh and loves it even more when someone thinks he is funny.  He is still shy around people he doesn't know very well, but he loves attention.
Sporting his tie and shades for his sister's tea party birthday
 He also loves playing with cars, trains, and especially army men.  His Daddy taught him how to set up strategic battles and now it's one of his favorite things to do.  He loves to play 'soccer ball' at church, which to him refers to both soccer and to volley ball.

Showing off his muscles
 Speaking of church, he loves to wear his tie almost every week - and was especially excited this past Sunday when I surprised him and added a second tie to his collection.  He loves to tuck in his shirt and pretend he's the preacher.

He's a big helper around the house and - most days - does his chores quickly and happily.  He knows he's a part of a family.  And that the job he does helps all of us - and I am quick to give him praise and thank-yous for taking out the bathroom garbage and sweeping the kitchen... and especially for killing and disposing of any bugs he finds indoors.

And he still loves to draw.  He's quite the artist, in fact.  Which I love, since it was one of my favorite hobbies growing up as well.

In a lot of ways, it seems like he's been home way longer than a year.  He's definitely a Hazleton.  And a blessing!

One Year Home (almost)

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

One Year Ago...

One year ago yesterday we boarded an airplane.

We boarded an airplane and our lives changed.

We flew to Ukraine and met two children who were always destined to be ours.

A boy and a girl.  A son and a daughter.

To celebrate, I made borscht last night, with potato & cheese dumplings, and crusty bread. My little Ukrainians were in heaven.  Christopher ate until his tummy hurt.  Lena said it was her favorite supper ever.  While I was making dinner, Lena was my shadow.  She wanted to know everything I was doing, and when she saw the dumplings she literally jumped up and down in the kitchen.  I saw a glimpse of the little hyperactive wildcat she was in those first days we'd visit her at the orphanage.  She jumped up and down and said, "Oh I remember we ate dose in da groupa!!  Dey are my favorite!!  Oh, day are so yummy; I can't wait to eat dem!"

I decided to post a few pictures from our trip to Ukraine last year, and in the next few days, I'll give an up date on each of the kids.

The Day we got the kids' referrals and permission to go to their region and meet them

Minutes after meeting them for the first time

A few Days later... "papa" was a jungle gym

Doing crafts

With our fierce & amazing facilitator - she's gold!

She's a Lefty!

She doesn't realize she's going home soon!

"Gotcha Day"- finally! My friend Andrea was on the 2nd trip with me to bring the kids  home.

We are seconds away from literally running out the door to race to the train station

Monday, August 06, 2012

The Finale': an Engagement Story

This is the finale' 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...

Hanging out at one of the 'Guest Houses' Jeff & his backpacking partner called "Home"

It was early morning when I peered out my dorm window in the little Chinese town I loved.  Looking out at the cloudy sky, I felt disappointed.  It had been raining all week - my last week here before returning home.  

I had a lot to look forward to in returning home - I wouldn't be going alone.  Jeffrey and I were scheduled to leave this town early the following morning, making our way through the capital city of the Province (where we would stay a few days with our supervisors) and then making another stop in Thailand to finish out all the paperwork involved in ending our term of service in this wonderful country.

On a Team-Building Trip during my term

We would then make the long flight(s) home to the United States, and hit the ground running with just four short weeks before our wedding.  

We had planned everything from our wedding from overseas (I highly recommend this to any of you planning to get hitched - it is a LOT less stressful.)  There were just a few major things that needed to take place once we made it safely to the States... for one, we did not have jobs lined up,... oh, and we also did not have a vehicle to drive.... oh, and we didn't have a place to live, either.

The original plan had been to secure seminary housing in New Orleans, where Jeffrey would attend NOBTS for a year before we would head back overseas as career workers - we had planned to make our life in China.

But many are the plans of a man's (and woman's) heart... but it is the Lord who directs their steps.  Shortly before leaving the country to head home, all of our plans regarding living, school, and going back as workers overseas - it all fell apart.  It seemed God was directing us elsewhere - but we had no idea what He had in store - or where.

So yes, there were a few details that needed to be worked out before the wedding....

Oh, and then there was one other small thing.... we weren't technically engaged - yet.

While serving our terms overseas, as a 'company' policy, we could not technically be engaged, although our team and our supervisors knew we were a couple and were planning our wedding.  Our teammates even threw us a wedding shower - my supervisor's wife planned our surprise wedding shower for the same day I had planned her surprise baby shower.  Keeping the two events (one in the morning, the other in the afternoon) organized and top-secret must have driven our team crazy! 

So here we were the day before leaving the country to return to the States for our wedding - and I didn't yet have a ring on my finger.  We could not technically get engaged until we were en route to the United States - which would leave Jeffrey a small window in Thailand for popping the question.  My only request was that he not 'propose' to me on the plane or in the airport! 

I didn't know what he was planning, but I was confident he had a plan.

I sighed and moved away from my dorm window.  As it was rainy season in this lovely Chinese city, I shouldn't have been surprised at the weather.  But it was disappointing because the rain and mud made it difficult to make last minute visits to local Chinese friends to say goodbye.  And we had also planned a picnic that day with our closest friends on our team - Billy and Teesa, who had a cute little apartment in town.  Our plan was to meet up with them at the apartment, and then all travel together out to a remote, beautiful place beside a lake, where Jeffrey had been before and wanted to show me before we left the country.

On this morning of the planned picnic, it wasn't actually raining, but rain-clouds loomed and I knew everything in the area was wet - it had been raining for days.  I looked around my dorm room at things which still needed to be divided among my teammates or stuffed into luggage and action packers (foot lockers) for the long trip home.  It was a daunting task, and my stress level was rising - especially knowing I still had a few dear local friends to say goodbye to - and saying goodbye meant one more chance to share the Good News with them before I left.

My cell phone rang, and I knew before I answered it that it was Jeffrey.  We would have to decide if the picnic was a bust or not.  I told him of my growing stress and my conclusion that everything in the area would be a soggy mess.  To me, the picnic just didn't seem like it would work.  He sounded disappointed (and so was I), but in my mind there was nothing we could do to change things.  I suggested we just visit with Billy and Teesa at their apartment - eat our picnic there and hang out a bit before I finished my packing and said my goodbyes.  He was reluctantly agreeable to my modified plan.


Lunch at Billy and Teesa's place was - as always - relaxing and refreshing.  Teesa is an excellent cook and always has a knack for entertaining guests... and Billy was always keeping us laughing with stories and his animated way of telling them.  I loved these people, and would miss them dearly.  

{To this day - nearly nine years later - Teesa and I still email nearly every single day, though we haven't seen each other face-to-face since we visited them five years ago.}

I should have known that spending time with our best friends there would dissolve my stress and put me in the mood for some fun, especially since the clouds had given way to beautiful sunny skies. I suggested that we could still take a trip out to the picnic spot. Teesa hesitated and the two of them deferred to Jeffrey, who was lounging on the couch.  He frowned and quickly dismissed the idea.  

That isn't like him at all, I thought.  He seems to be sulking.  While I was truly disappointed that no one was taking me up on my spontaneous idea, I couldn't really complain, since I was the one who had modified the plans to begin with.

We enjoyed our last afternoon with our friends, and Jeffrey took me back to the dorm on his motorcycle.  I had a lot of packing and goodbyes to tend to...


Morning came early, and our entire team joined us down in the courtyard facing the dorm at our language school, as we loaded up our luggage and action packers onto the tiny truck that would carry us to the airport and away from the city I loved.  I was a mix of emotions thinking over what had been the most meaningful and yet most challenging year of my life at that point.  

Soon we were on the little plane that pointed towards the capital city of our province.  We pulled out the Chocolate Revel Bars that Teesa had made for us to snack on during the journey.  Bliss!  

A quick 45 minute flight and we were once again loading our belongings into a vehicle as Jeffrey negotiated fare and gave them directions to our supervisor's apartment.  

K and S fed us and encouraged us... our weekend stay with them just wasn't long enough.  It never is.  And once again we were on our way.  

One might think we were already weary from all the traveling, but this is the life to which we'd become accustomed.  Every few months, we'd travel to the capital city... sometimes it was by 45 minute flight, but often it was by primitive 14 hour bus, winding through the mountains. Other times it was by night bus, as each person tried in vain to get sleep (or sometimes read by head lamp) on their tiny (filthy) bed, while simultaneously trying to keep oursleves in our beds as the bus sped and bumped and turned through the night.  And each day had its own fill of traveling by foot.  Any time we left the grounds of the language school to go into town and meet locals or buy food or exchange money or pay the electric bill - it was done mostly by foot.  Slow travel had become a normal part of our lives. And I found it relaxing.

Finally, we found ourselves in Thailand.  This was our last stop before heading to the States.  And we had a few days to explore the city before the long flight home.  By our second day in Thailand, I was beginning to grow impatient, waiting for Jeff to officially 'propose'.  By the time we were eating lunch at a little table in the local mall, I'd had enough waiting, completely frustrated at the thought that maybe he'd forgotten that I did not want this formality to take place on the plane or in an airport... I couldn't imagine another scenario at this point.  We were running out of time and I let him know my frustrations.

And he listened patiently.  And then decided to let me in on a secret.

"I had a plan", he explained.

"I had planned for us to go on a picnic at the most beautiful spot I've ever scene in China.  And I was going to bring my guitar... and sing to you while we sat by the lake.  I had a plan."

My heart positively sank.  He did have a plan.  And I had messed it all up.  And I had disappointed him  in the process.  I could see it all over his face.  He'd had a plan.  Now all he had was a deadline, and no opportunity to match the wonderful plan that had fallen through.  All because of me.

"But at Billy and Teesa's house I changed my mind and said I wanted to go," I said.

"Yes," he said, "but by that time we only had a few hours of daylight... and I didn't have the guitar or the ring with me, because you had said you didn't want to go... the ring and the guitar were at my place all the way across town.  There was no way we'd have had time."

I was sad.  And so was he. 

But I just couldn't let our trip end this way.

"It's okay," I said.  "We're still here; let's make the best of it... we can still have a picnic and have a great time together..."

We were staying at the most beautiful resort and the grounds around the resort were covered with breathtaking Thai gardens and secluded benches and wooden walkways.  It would be easy to find a wonderful spot for a quiet little picnic together.  It was our last day in Thailand, and we'd be flying out the next morning.  So while out in the city, we decided to pick up a Pizza Hut pizza and Vanilla Cokes (both rare delicacies during our time in China)... along with a candle to make our picnic romantic.  

We rode back to the resort in high hopes... until the rain started...


It was hours later, and the rain hadn't stopped.  Much of the grounds around the resort were flooded.  There was absolutely no way to have the quiet little beautiful picnic we had hoped for.  Not wanting to succumb to disappointment we laughed it off and decided to do the only thing we could - an indoor picnic.  

After I had my hair cut in the salon on the ground floor of the resort, we met back up in my hotel room and spread a blanket on the floor.  There we ate our cold pizza and room-temperature vanilla cokes (the room fridge wasn't able to sufficiently cool them)... we couldn't light the candle because we thought it might set off the sprinkler system in the room.  We laughed at the sad state of our 'romantic' picnic, but dinner was delicious.

Then Jeffrey sang the sweetest song to me.  I won't share it here because some things are just ours to relish.

He told me sweet things and gave me the ring we had picked out together at a jewelry shop in China.  I could finally wear it, and couldn't stop looking at it.

It was late and we were tired but happy when he headed back to his room.


Early the next morning we met our hired driver at the entrance of the hotel and Jeffrey helped him load up all our baggage into the trunk of the car.  The two of us sat in the back seat and before he drove away with us, Jeffrey began searching his backpack...

Months before, when we had picked out my engagement ring, we had also picked out my wedding band, and Jeffrey had kept up with it all this time.  He knew he had placed it in a certain spot in his backpack, and decided to double check before we left the resort - and the country - for good. 

He didn't find it.

We had minutes to spare before we had to leave to make it to the airport in time for our flight, and Jeff explained things to the driver and sprinted up to his room.  While he checked every drawer and square inch of the room, lifted up mattresses and searched underneath pillows, I sat in the backseat of that car and decided that no matter what - even if he didn't find the ring - I would not be disappointed.

He came back completely dejected and apologized.  I smiled and told him it was okay; it would all work out.  As the driver sped away with us in the back seat, Jeffrey decided once more to check his back pack.  And there - just where he'd thought he'd placed it - was the ring.  It must have been there all along.

We both smiled and he held my hand as the car weaved in and out of traffic on the Thailand freeway.  We raced toward the airport.  Towards home and the unknown and our new life together.

And I knew- no matter what was coming - it would be an adventure.

Shortly before leaving the country

Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Rest of the Story: Part V

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...