"Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God." ~ Matthew 5:8

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Finally, the last part-for now.

I awoke the next morning fully convinced that I had dreamed the whole thing, and rather disappointed. Much to my amazement and joy, I discovered upon checking my email that the events of the night before had been no dream!

It was rather strange telling family and friends from opposite sides of the world: I admit it was a little hard not seeing my family as I shared the news with them, but I was oh-so-glad Eric hadn't waited until I came back to the States! There was a new freedom and certainty in our relationship now that we knew where we were headed: and I was so glad I could love, love love him!

The pictures we used to tell our friends we were engaged!
I did love sharing the news with my students and their family-they had become family to me, and I was so thankful to have them share my excitement. They even threw me a little party!
As excited as we were, we still had nearly 4 long months to wait until we could see each other again. Were we crazy? Probably! The emails flew back and forth faster than ever, longer than ever, sweeter and more loving day by day. Thanks to God's goodness and Eric's lead, there was love-and at the same time, a sort of sacred purity that made it all more beautiful than ever.

He sent me a box-and mail from "home" is incredibly rare and precious where I was, so I was absolutely shocked! I sent him a card here and there when friends were traveling back to the States.
Contents of "the box." Just to clarify, the coloring pages are from his younger siblings...

And of course, the frequent (alright, daily!) Skype calls continued...and lengthened (right Wendy?? You were so patient!)...and deepened. I looked forward so much to that daily contact with him. Sure the calls often were broken. Sure they often dropped altogether. Some days we even dealt with a 30 second delay! But through that communication, a lifelong love and friendship was continuing to grow.

Still, truth be told, our hearts often ached. It was really, really hard to be apart! Some days we just couldn't connect, couldn't communicate well. Some days we felt a million miles apart instead of 6,300. Some days we wondered if we had done the right thing to become so close when we were so far apart. I had no idea how you could ache so much, miss someone so much when you had only spent 2 weeks together in the entire course of a relationship.

At last (and yet far too soon when it came to saying goodbye to the dear people around me), I prepared to head Stateside. Only 2 more weeks...and I would see him! Call me silly, but I was literally counting the hours. As I traveled mile after mile, I had plenty of uninterrupted time to reflect on the last months and realize that I was in a time of serious transition. I was going home...but only for 4 months. And then I would...I would...marry Eric!!! The thought became real.

After remarkably smooth travel, I reached Chicago late. Then my luggage was lost. After coming so far, I missed my last short flight home. The last flight of the night. I was exhausted, tired, jet lagged, dirty. Neither the international nor the domestic airline would take responsibility for me or help me. I was calm, cool, and collected until I finally picked up the phone and called my dad. As soon as I heard his comforting voice, I melted into tears. "I think I need to spend the night in Chicago." After calming me, he assured me the family was praying and encouraged me to try one more time to see if I could get on a flight to Omaha. Was it worth it, I wondered? No airline even wanted to take me, plus they had told me all flights to Omaha were full. Still, I did as he asked...

"You're in luck! There's one seat left on the flight to Omaha." That's not luck, that's God. A very good, very kind God. As I landed in Omaha late that night, I grabbed my backpack, thanked my good God, and gladly prepared to end 4-1/2 long months away from my family. My exhaustion seemed to melt away, and I could hardly contain my excitement.

There they were, real, happy, chattering, hugging. I happily lost myself in their embraces, just savoring the chance to be with them. My family. At last we all turned and headed up the sloped hallway towards our van.

As I rounded a corner..there he was. My best friend, my love, the man whom I was to marry. The one I most wanted and least expected to see. Eric!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I screamed, and he knelt, asking me once more, but for the first time in person, to marry him.

Don't worry, I said yes.

"You're real," was my intelligent remark as he stood and we clasped hands. We stared at each other for a moment, laughing, gasping from the pure happiness of the moment. Truly, the rest of the world slipped away as I gazed on my beloved fiancé for the first time in so long. The next moment, I was in his arms, as I had yearned to be so many times before.

A crazy summer and many, many happy memories later, we now stand on the threshold of marriage. In 2-1/2 weeks we will pledge ourselves to each other for a life time: divorce is not even an option. It is a big change, bigger than I even realize at this point. And yet, as I stand here on this threshold and look back, I see the workings, the kindness of a gracious God in so many places and in so many ways. I know that as we step forward into our new life together, He will be with us, enabling us to magnify Him and to love each other.

Now that's what I call living happily ever after.  

Will You Marry Me? Our love story, part 3

February 18, 2013. I had just passed the first Valentine's day of my life in which I actually had someone to say "Be mine" to. Almost. But not quite...still in courtship, we avoided hearts and words of love and instead stuck to effusive words of gratitude for our courtship and friendship. But the truth was, I missed him like crazy. The truth was, I was ready to spend the rest of my life with Eric. The truth was, I was ready to say those words to him I had said to no man (besides my brothers and dad of course) before: "I love you."

Valentine's Day was enjoyable, just not spent with the "someone" I was crazy about.

That evening, I connected to the internet and ended up hearing from Eric. "Want to talk tonight?" he asked. Would I ever refuse that question if I could help it?? "I'd love to!!" I chatted back. "However, I'm due to visit the neighbor first, and then at ___ time, I'm going to Skype with my mom and sister." Silly me: even though we really never talked in the evening, I didn't suspect a thing. We agreed to talk in that middle slot of time, and off I floated to the neighbors.
However, that visit took much, much longer than I had anticipated. We chatted. We sipped tea. We watched some sort of soap opera/comedy. My student Anna and I helped her make tortillas. I was antsy to get home to talk with Eric, but I knew how important hospitality was in this culture, and so I resolved to enjoy the time.
At last we arrived home....just in time for my call with Anna and mom. I had completely missed the slot of time set aside for Eric! I got online and, very disappointed, apologized to him, expecting him to say he couldn't talk until the next day. "How about you talk to your sister, and then we'll talk?" He suggested. I was delighted, and still completely oblivious to anything out of the ordinary.
I enjoyed the time with my mom (who was visiting my sister), Anna, and my adorable niece Brielle. They were able to turn their video camera on without disrupting our connection- a rare treat- and I admired Anna's growing baby-bump, laughed at Brielle's antics...and wondered why my mom wouldn't sit in front of the video camera. I hadn't seen her face since leaving home a month before, and I couldn't understand why she wouldn't let me see her! Also, I wasn't sure why she was so ready to end our call...I was enjoying myself! Still, I suspected absolutely nothing out of the ordinary.
Brielle and Anna Skyping with yours truly-Feb 18, 2013.

Finally, I was ready to talk with my extraordinarily patient man. We started talking, and I loved hearing his voice for the second time that day. I small-talked, telling him about my day and just chatting. Nothing out of the ordinary, right?
Out of the blue, Eric asked me to look at my email. I discovered a pdf letter from him there and was touched and delighted, but still thought it was just one of his many thoughtful ways of surprising me. I was right, but boy had I underestimated the surprise. "Read the letter, and tell me when you get the end of each paragraph," he requested. I obliged and while you don't get to know the actual contents of that now-precious letter, suffice it to say, my heart was pounding and my eyes full of tears by the time I reached the end of that first paragraph. It was unlike anything I had ever read, even from him: it was tender, passionate, sincere, romantic. I thought passed through my mind: "Is this...? No." I wouldn't let myself think he was proposing if that might not turn out to be the case!

I continued to read the second, then the third paragraph. As I reached the end of the third paragraph and prepared to start the last, there was no more guessing, no more doubting. I knew. Sitting there on the other side of the world, in a quiet house, in my dim little room, on my toshak (pallet), I began to tremble, and smile and weep from the depth of my emotions. I was alone, but I felt a good God smiling down on Eric and I, His presence filling my room and making me feel closer to Eric than I ever had been, despite the miles separating us.

I had no doubt what my answer would be as I finished the last beautiful paragraph and heard Eric's voice over Skype, filled with emotion, asking me. Asking me to marry him. Saying for the very first time three words so precious, so full of meaning, "I love you."

I think my answer went something like this: "YES! Yes, yes, yes yes yes!" Laughter: tears: few words but great, great happiness. We praised God together and were well-practiced in our new favorite words ("I love you") by the time I finally laid down and tried to convince myself I was sleeping.

The meandering and abridged version of our love story, part 2

Thus it was that I was extremely shocked to get a Skype call from my dad one chilly November morning right before I left my host family to go teach. "There's a young man who wants to enter a courtship with you...see if marriage might be God's plan for you." His actual words barely dented my stunned brain. Who? What? Where? When? Why? How? I was on the other side of the world, for goodness sake! This was the last thing I expected to hear from my dad at this point in my life.

Even more shocking was the answer to the "who" question: Eric. Eric. ERIC????? Dad had to be kidding, had to be getting mixed me up with someone else. But, he wasn't. He was dead serious. My mind was in a whirl, my world turning upside-down, my heart pounding somewhere in the region of my throat instead of where it belonged. I should pray, should take time to think. But in those seconds of gasping amazement, I felt absolute peace and joy. I knew I could trust Eric: I knew he would only have asked this if he had prayed long and hard over the possibility, and I knew that he would treat me honorably.

"Yes! Tell him yes! I would be...honored and...delighted!" My words fumbled and tumbled and tripped their way out of my mouth, but already I was grinning like my life depended on it. I floated through the rest of the day, world's most distracted teacher (sorry Anna! long division was not my strong point that day!) and adrenaline pumping.

At the end of my day, and the beginning of his, he called me. On Skype-I told you it came into the story often. I knelt before my bed in my tiny room at my host family and, hands shaking, answered his call. It felt so strange to be talking to just him, under these circumstances! We were both nervous, both happy, both awkward: I still remember the call lasted exactly 16:33 seconds. I lay awake a long time that night, pinching myself, grinning, and praying. It was the first of many, many nights that I would do so...

The calls continued, and the emails flew back and forth. Goodness it was hard communicating with weak internet on my side, clueless awkwardness on both sides. I know his mom often aided the flow of conversation in those first days-thank goodness! But oh, how I looked forward to each and every call: learning more about Eric, laughing with him, talking on deep and serious subjects, praying with him. Thanksgiving came and went, and December flew by until the day I got to go home for a month.

The lovely, lovely girls I lived with overseas.

Two weeks. Two adrenaline filled, exciting, scary, delightful, glorious weeks-the only time we saw each other in our courtship (yes, I know we're crazy!). Two happy, happy weeks in January.

Those first hours (maybe even the first couple of days) I was so incredibly nervous that I nearly wished myself on the other side of the ocean again (see my nervous face in our first picture together, above. That's my niece in the picture as well in case you were wondering.). When he got off the airplane, I was unsure of whether to faint, run away, or greet him awkwardly like the good homeschooler I was. I chose the last option, in case you're wondering, but it was a close call. I realized what was at stake here-hearts. The rest of our lives. And the name of our God. I knew we both genuinely wanted to honor Him, we just weren't sure how to do so in our relationship. So we started off sitting on different couches, stealing nervous glances at each other, and talking like strangers instead of the friends we were.

Don't worry, that didn't last long. I'll never forget the day the ice melted, so to speak. It was January 2nd, and we went on our first "date" (cue gasp). No, don't worry, we weren't really alone-my big sister Anna was visiting with her birthfamily at a nearby table. But we talked. Really, really talked, without being nervous, without being afraid. I felt like I really trusted God for the first time in several days. And you know, that whole trusting God thing works! We relaxed...we laughed...we shared dreams and fears and really talked openly about our relationship and where it was going. We shared hearts. And we both felt the deep tug of something that could almost, someday be called the happy beginnings of love.

See? Much less awkward.

I could go on and on about all that happened in our hearts during those days together. To say that not only friendship blossomed but romance would be a massive understatement. By the time Eric got on an airplane to leave, I felt like running after him, like I could hardly bear the 5 months that separated then and the next time we would see each other. We both ached as we said goodbye and I prepared to head back overseas: "hard" didn't even come close to describing what separating was like. We anticipated calls even more, and treasured every email. Slowly but surely, I began to realize that I couldn't imagine life without this man.

Finally: a long and meandering account of our love story...

Fall is definitely gearing up over here, and I'm loving it. I'm relishing my last (for the forseeable future) Midwestern fall. I missed last year's, and in just 2-1/2 weeks -two and a half weeks, folks!- I'm marrying my best friend and moving east. Wow!

Anyway, I love fall here: the vivid yellows of goldenrod, sunflowers, and aging soybean fields. The thousands of butterflies garbed in white, yellow, and orange. The massive sky, so intensely blue, so intensely huge above the rustling corn fields. The crisp mornings and warm afternoons: the smell of bonfires and apple cider. The reddening sumac last brave wild roses. It's a busy, a productive time of year here-a time of harvest, of farmers harvesting from the black of morning to the dead of night. A time of a fresh school year along with the joys of new books, fresh notepads, and clean pencils (I was one of those strange children that actually loved school.)

I'm so happy to be getting married at this time of year; right when everything seems so crisply alive, taking one last hurrah at life before retreating for winter hibernation. In two and a half weeks, I get to marry the man whom God is giving me to love for a life time.

Speaking of whom, it is hard to believe that we were engaged 7 months ago today! Time is a funny thing, and some days I feel like we have been engaged 5 minutes max: other times, that it has been a lifetime. I'll never forget that day...

I was living overseas, teaching these kiddos (one of the best 9 months of my life, I might add):

(Don't worry, I'm not balding-I'm wearing a headscarf)
I was loving life there, but also gladly rising early pretty much every day (as the my students' family knows oh-so-well: thanks for your patience, guys!) for that wonderful 6:15 call with this wonderful young man who was rapidly becoming my best friend. It was crazy in a sense, this being in a relationship on opposite sides of the globe, unable to see him in person (or even on video usually), unable to learn from my parents' advice or to pour out my over-abundant emotions on my big sis.
Still, it was a season when I felt more keenly alive than every before; a time when I felt utterly stretched and clueless, yet so glad to live dependent on God and lean on Him for wisdom. So far from my family, I found myself pouring out my heart and confusion and delight in prayer...and I discovered a Father ready to listen, ready to guide. As I prayed, "God, show me the way," I found myself more and more drawn to this man I talked to on Skype.
Skype. Actually, I first met Eric on Skype. Rewind a little farther. In late 2009, we both joined a group our CollegePlus friends had started: a prayed together a few evenings a week. We started with praise, then moved on to various requests. In matter of fact, we prayed more than we chatted, but I noted this fellow student with respect: when he prayed, it seemed as if he truly was before the Throne of Grace. I had rarely heard prayers with such delighted passion, and I found my heart caught up in praise when he was praying. Truth be told, I hardly noticed Eric himself at first: only the God He was praying to.
When we met in person in July of 2010, neither of us fell in love at first sight (sorry to disappoint you!). However, we enjoyed time with each other and with other students, and came to feel that we could trust each other as friends not to flirt, but to treat each other as friends and a brother/sister in Christ. There actually weren't too many guys I could feel that way about, and I guess I appreciated that about Eric.
Time passed (as it usually does), and we both continued in our own worlds that occasionally intersected. Our worlds mostly consisted of school at that point in time-tests and classes and professors and more tests and study and no student debt-thanks to College Plus: look it up! I hardly communicated with Eric, but was great friends with his sister Kali. She makes a marvelous partner in crime, by the way.

Not to bore you all to death, I left for my new home overseas in August of 2012, completely and utterly unaware that anything more than a pure, happy friendship with Eric would ever exist. I respected him: I enjoyed him and his sense of humor: I trusted him: but that was all.

To be continued (maybe even later today)....

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Little Sister Time

It probably seemed like I fell of the face of the earth-it's more like I've traveled 4 weeks out of the last 2-1/2 months, spent time with family and friends, and welcomed a new niece. Oh, and I'm preparing for a wedding (in 3-1/2 weeks) and a move!

I've continued to enjoy "dates" with my siblings: each one of them is so unique and we've had a blast together.

 I went on a "French picnic" with my 10 year old sister Amy-she loves all things France, so we dressed up, packed an elegant picnic, and pretended we were in Paris! We ended up having a fabulous time, including some great heart-to-heart talk.

All dressed up!

She's growing up so quickly.

Our "picnic:" nutella sandwhiches, truffles, pretzels, berries, and sparkling juice.

We had such fun!

Friday, July 12, 2013

Sibling Time! (1/10)

Before my marriage to Eric (yaaaaaaaaay! okay I'm better now. I just can't wait to marry the love of my life) and my move out east, I want to spend time with each of my siblings here. Fun, right? Well, it's definitely necessary to start a while in advance when you still live with ten siblings! So today was my youngest sister's turn.
Oksana and I went to the local frozen yogurt shop She loaded up with strawberry and root beer flavors, plus lots and lots of toppings. She grinned and chattering-or "chirped" as my sister says-the whole time.

We decided to eat outside: our yogurt melted fast, but that gave us a big table...

To play games! We had a blast (I won) and I was excited to see how much she has learned about playing games in the last months.

She had a huge smile like that the whole time! I love how her "chocolate -chip" brown eyes crinkle up when she smiles.

Hmm...looks like she got just a bit of sugar today. It was fun to spoil my little sister!

Friday, June 21, 2013

How can I?

Workhorses in Central Illinois

The last three weeks or so since I got back to the States have absolutely flown by: to use the expression, I "hit the ground running." The days have been filled with many much anticipated and hoped-for events: time with my family, the chance to see my out-of-town sister and her adorable baby (such a happy little girl!), and two glorious opportunities to see my fiancé. Five months is way too long to be away from the love of my life!

I've enjoyed bacon (your turn is coming, Michael!), been out after dark (couldn't do that where I lived overseas), and been overwhelmed by options in Target (how many shampoo options do you need??). However, I've also missed things: the simplicity of life I enjoyed for the last 9 months, delicious naan bread, and the gorgeous mountains that surrounded me. More than anything, I've missed people: my students and their family, fellow teachers, my host family. These people cared for me, extended their friendship to me, and shared their lives with me: there's no possible way for me to simply forget them.

How do I sum my time there up? How do I answer when someone asks for the "30 second version"? How do I tell of the relationships, culture, adventures, daily life? How do I explain the joy, tears, community, loneliness, peace? How can I ever tell of His faithfulness, sustaining hand, comforting love, gracious mercy, and daily provision?

Perhaps I'll never fully figure that out, but if I must sum everything up succinctly, I can think of one word: thankful. I'm forever thankful to the Giver of all good gifts for my time overseas the last nine months.

"For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be glory forever. Amen." - Romans 11:36

Sunday, May 26, 2013

The Baby of the Family

...is now a cat
Yesterday the neighbors gave the kids a truly tiny kitten.

They were ecstatic!

Will is still fascinated by the "Meow"
They're still debating whether to call it Oreo or Marble. I think it will get plenty of loving!

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Party Time!

My last days here have been so bittersweet! I will miss my dear friends here so much, but I've been blessed with wonderful fellowship with them and a lot of gracious generosity on their part in saying goodbye. Leading the way in that would be the Pittman family, who have gone above and beyond to celebrate the end of school and mark the end of my time here with some special memories. I'm so thankful for them!
Tonight we went to a beautiful restaurant: we ate in a beautiful pavilion that hung over the river. Hanging curtains and a beautiful willow tree shaded the spot and gave it wonderful privacy.

The perfect opportunity to get silly!

Also the perfect chance to talk and visit as friends. I've had such a wonderful year getting to spend time with Wendy: I've learned so much about contentment and joy in the Lord from her example! Plus we've had some pretty good laughs together...

Here they all are. The kids have grown up a lot in the 9 months I've been here!

But they're still happy to pass the time waiting for the food by thumb-wrestling.

This sweet gift from the Pittmans made me smile and smile. After all, God did give me the precious love of my fiancée even while I was a world away here! Although...I've never seen him dressed quite like that!

The view out of our balcony/pavilion. We enjoyed lemon tea, vegetable salads, and shashlik, deliciously flavored meat kabobs. It was a fun way to celebrate!

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Faces I Can't Wait to See

So many mixed emotions fill my last days here! As I said a few days ago, there are people I will miss. There are also places, and a way of life that have been a blessing to me in the last nine months. Still, at the same time, I am so extremely excited to see some faces soon!
Church family (a small part of them shown here)...
My family...
And beyond a doubt, my beloved fiancé!

There are others: grandparents, my cousin, Eric's family, dear friends who are scattered across the States. There are so many people I'm looking forward to seeing-I'm so blessed!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Our Secret

My 15-year-old host sister often says to me in a conspiratorial whisper, "Don't forget our secret." "What secret?" I reply, feigning ignorance.

She grins. "My secret...is that I love you!" '

And I love her back. I'm thankful for my "little sister."

Monday, May 20, 2013

Faces I'll Miss

There are dear people I'll miss when I head home in 10 days...
The family I live with and teach: they've become like a second family to me!

My fellow homeschool helper and dear friend Peyton.

My host sisters.

Steve and Gayle, who've "adopted" me and my other friends during this time.
I'm so thankful for the friendships God has given me with these people these past 9 months!

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Almost Done

My friend and I with all our students. It's been a great school year!

Thursday, May 9, 2013

With My Song

"The Lord is my strength and my shield;
in Him my heart trusts, and I am helped;
my heart exults,
and with my song I give thanks to Him."
~Psalm 28:7

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Sleepover Fun

The kids invited some friends to a sleepover, and they thoroughly enjoyed every minute!
I love my students and enjoy their senses of humor every day. A sample of this humor can can be seen below...