Dear Ana and Emma,
When I started this blog, I thought it would be for everyone. We were living in Japan at the time, and writing a blog was the easiest way to share our stories with family and friends half a world away. Now, though, four years into it, I look back and see that, more than anything, this blog is for the two of you. How many people my age have the opportunity to read about what their daily schedule was like when they were babies, toddlers, preschoolers, and beyond? Not many, I imagine. But you two will have it, in all of its rambling glory.
So, seeing as how this is for you, I’ve thought about some of the big events from our family’s history, looking to see if I’ve documented them well for you before my mind starts failing me and I forget the details. (And you’d be surprised how even now, three years back isn’t always easy to remember!) I’ve already gone back and written Emma’s birth story, a tale that includes both Justin Timberlake, Harry Potter, and screaming Japanese midwives. (Exciting!) I would write yours, Ana, but honestly, every living relative of mine was there in the hospital keeping vigil, so there’s no shortage of remembered details or pictures of that day.
But what I want to write about today is something that I haven’t written about before. And I’m sad to tell you that the faster we move away from 2003, the more trouble I have remembering. So before I completely forget, let me tell you a story…
After I graduated from college, I spent two years in a tiny country in Africa called Namibia. I went as a Journeyman missionary, and during my time there, I worked with Swakopmund Baptist Church to reach and disciple teenagers in the area. I loved Namibia and felt very much at home there. I hoped that God would call me back at the end of my two years to the foreign mission field as a career missionary, and as I asked older missionaries how I could best prepare for that option, I got two responses…
1. Go to seminary
2. Get married
Well, I actually had some control over that first one, so at the end of my term, I moved back home to attend Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary… and discovered that home was not quite what I remembered. Journeymen would have probably been well served if they had been told that the transition back to the US might be even more difficult than the transition to the mission field was, likely because we just weren’t expecting it to be hard since it was home. It didn’t take long for me to start feeling completely inept at everything — relating to Americans, starting my masters, working a job that I wasn’t a bit qualified for, the break up of a relationship– and to begin wishing that I had never left my little seaside town in Africa. What was this strange new place I was living in? Home? What?! Why was I such a weird foreigner here?! AHHHH!!!
At some point in this strange relocation, I heard about an opportunity to spend the Christmas holidays overseas. A flyer had been slipped under my door, and I remember picking it up, immediately seeing a date for a trip to Vietnam, and thinking to myself, “Self, you need to get out of America.” Without much thought at all, I booked a flight to Ho Chi Minh City (hello!), applied for a Vietnamese visa, and confirmed that I would be meeting up with the rest of the seminary students who would be taking the trip.
On November 15, 2003, I went to the training session where I got to hear details about what we’d be doing. As soon as I sat down, I caught snippets of a conversation going on behind me between two guys. It was clear after only a few minutes that they were going to Vietnam as well, so I turned around and said, “I’m going to Vietnam, too! My name’s Jennifer.” The first introduced himself as Samuel, and the second introduced himself as Wes. (Oh, yeah, you know where this is going now.) And that was that. I don’t think I spoke more than three words to him at a time until the new year, when our small group met at the airport to leave for our trip.
Vietnam, first and foremost, was hot. In January. I was the only girl on our team and was the only one prepared for this humid possibility, carrying with me only one small backpack, while the guys each had two pieces of luggage and a carry-on. (“Amateurs,” I remember thinking to myself as I got my passport stamped. Ha!) We spent a couple of days in Saigon, adjusting to the time difference and exploring the city, then we were off in a very tiny little van driven by a former South Vietnamese fighter pilot. I somehow got shotgun without calling it (were they being gentlemen?) and was surprisingly calm and collected as our driver drove us up into Vietnam’s mountains at terrifying speeds. I remember he had a mix tape of American songs (including Stevie Wonder’s “I Just Called to Say I Love You”), which he played for our listening pleasure. We were having a good trip, the four of us and the professor who was leading our team, until we arrived in a town called DaLat, where our professor promptly fell and broke his leg. Not good.
Once it became obvious that his injury required some medical attention, we set him up in the van where he could stretch his leg out, leaving only a tiny little jump seat that the two smallest people in our group would have to share. Wes and I were the smallest in the bunch, so we got stuck together, and Wes, who had been very shy up until then, asked me to tell him all about Namibia. It wasn’t often that I had an eager (or captive) audience for my Namibia stories, so I took advantage of the situation. We talked all the way back to the more populated area of DaLat, where Vietnamese honeymooners were the norm, the garbage trucks played “It’s a Small World After All” while backing up, and where, rumor has it, a crazy Buddhist monk lived. (We couldn’t confirm that last one because when we stopped there later in the week, a dog came to meet us at the trail. Wes and I, both dog lovers, approached him with “here, boy!” and “hello, Sugarbear!” and then had to run full sprints to get away from his snarling and snapping. Nice doggy!) While our professor was with the other members of the team getting diagnosed, Wes and I made ourselves useful by trying to find the best chicken parmigiana in all of Vietnam for him (or so our professor said this certain restaurant had), walking through the city three or four times, only to discover that the restaurant he loved was on the bottom floor of the hotel we were all staying at. Of course.
The next day, our professor boarded a plane for Saigon, then Singapore, then the US. We were four non-Vietnamese speaking seminary students on our own. Our travel and our work continued on, as did our outings around town. The other two members of our team didn’t much enjoy leaving the hotel in their free time (complaining of jet lag and humidity), so Wes and I went together, walking the streets of Da Lat, of Pleiku, and of Saigon together. Our group was staying in the Communist Party’s resort in Pleiku, and I remember being told (by our other team member) that our conversations were being eavesdropped on. Wes and I spent many afternoons in the hotel’s restaurant, sharing French fries and Cokes, probably making their listening dull and boring with all of our talk about all of the details of our lives back home. I remember laughing a lot more in Vietnam than I had back in the US, whether it was over karaoke late at night, being followed by very curious elementary aged children, or at one particular restaurant watching a cockroach crawl across our teammate’s shoulder as he proclaimed, unaware of his creepy-crawly friend, “Well, this is the CLEANEST restaurant we’ve been to so far!” Wes, who was (as a pastor here in town calls him) “the youngest old man ever,” surprised us all by letting his hair down on the trip, jumping on the back of a motorcycle with one of our Vietnamese tour guides and eating chili pepper plants straight off the side of the road when the same tour guide dared him to do so. (Neither of which I thought was particularly wise of him, but at least he was enjoying himself.) He also shaved the full beard he was sporting early on in the trip, telling us all it was too hot for facial hair. (Then confessing to me later that it had more to do with looking clean-cut for the “hot girl” on the team. Ha!)
It was a quick trip. But the flights back were LONG. Wes had said enough while we spent time together for me to assume (and hope that I was wrong!) that he was planning on asking me out once we got back to the US. My suspicion was confirmed when at every ticketing counter, he jumped right behind me so that we would have seat assignments right next to each other. Eighteen long hours later, we were still talking, from one side of the Pacific to the other. When we said goodbye in the DFW airport, I wondered when I would hear from him again.
He didn’t waste any time. Only a few days after we were back, he called to ask if we could, and I quote, “meet up for coffee” to talk about Vietnam and some changes he was thinking about making to his degree plan. I remember my grandmother telling me at one point in all of this, as my parents asked about the guy in my pictures and heard about what he had called to ask, “Well, just because you go out with him once doesn’t mean you have to MARRY him!” And it wasn’t a date — we were just meeting up for coffee. So, I cautiously called him back, told him that I was available on Friday, and he said, “Great! I’ll pick you up for dinner at 6!” Tricked, I tell you! Tricked into a date!
I kept my word and was ready for him at six, but when he got to the dorm, he walked right past me, not recognizing me with my hair done and make-up on. (Neither of which was a real priority in sweltering Vietnam, you know.) It was obvious early on in the evening that he saw this as a date… but that was okay. After dinner, we ended up walking through downtown Fort Worth, watching a movie then talking into the very, very late hours. Just like we had in Vietnam, walking and talking about the same things. I remember thinking, as he dropped me off, that I wouldn’t mind hanging out with him again.
Three weeks later, we had decided on a wedding date.
It was a long, nine month road from there to the wedding, a road which included two crazy semesters of seminary work, job changes, and a summer spent on an evangelism team in Lebanon, where we passed out Bibles on the Muslim side of Beirut. (And where the two of us, somehow, always ended up in the homes of Hezbollah fighters. Which made for interesting tea time chats, let me tell you.)
But those are stories for another time…