The making of a family

Today I was dusting my study and thinking about how this may be my favourite family portrait. The photo is not very clear but they are African soapstone carvings of a couple with successive numbers of children from one to four.

Over the years and trips to South Africa we have collected these sculptures to represent our family at it's different stages.

When I got back from this last trip and our collection was finally complete, we put them all together and had a moment of pause concerning the first one. I had bought it before I even met Aaron I believe, I just thought it was beautiful but I don't think it was representative. After a moment of looking at it I realized that it was the perfect start to the collection as it could represent God bringing us together. And we have no doubt that He did.

The story of how a boy from Idaho meets a girl from South Africa (and at the time Swaziland) is a pretty cool one. And since it is our anniversary week, I will tell it to you.

In 1994 I was going to school in Swaziland. I was loving it. I had abandoned my laissez faire attitude toward education and worked really hard to be accepted into this programme, and it was an incredible experience. I was enjoying a taste of independence with the comfort of still being able to run home to mommy every weekend.

One such weekend my dad informed me that he had been having some troubling promptings. They indicated that I was in danger.He said he did not know why or how, but that it was a very intense prompting and he had not been able to shake the impression. Now if you know my dad you are raising your eyebrows right now because my dad is the most low-key, understated, undramatic individual you will ever meet. He is a man of few, well chosen words. I remember the only time in my life that it snowed in South Africa, exclaiming, "Daddy! It's freezing!" To which he replied, "hmmmm..'tis cool". Recently he was in the hospital in some undetermined incredible pain but when I spoke to him a day or two later (not having even been made aware of the hospital visit) he greeted my "how are you?" with his characteristic, "I'm incredibly strong". The man is not an alarmist. So if he tells you that he is feeling like you are in danger, you are going to be paying attention. This is actually the only time I can remember that he ever informed me of any type of feeling he had been having.

So I paid attention, but in typical wise teenager fashion I informed him that I had experienced no such feeling and that when I did I would let him know, until then I would carry on with life as usual thankyouverymuch. It was not as though I was living a risky lifestyle. I was being a good girl, I was studying hard, dating the nicest, most decent and respectful guy you could wish to know, whom my family also adored, I was serious about my spirituality, I had good friends, I was getting good grades,I was living right. I decided my dad had finally really lost it and went about the day. That night as I was getting ready for bed I had an overwhelming sense of fear and dread. It enveloped me and felt as though it was literally squeezing in on me. I remembered what my dad had said and wondered if this was maybe confirmation of that. Still, I knew better and by the morning I was all about going about as life as usual and went back up to school.

For the next few days, I was in a haze though, nothing seemed right, nothing was clicking, I could not focus, it really was like moving through molasses, everything was suddenly too hard. That weekend when I went home I mentioned to my dad how overwhelmed I was, and how every part of me wanted to run away but I knew that was not the response of an individual with character. My dad allowed me to come to my own conclusion but reminded me that Jesus had taught not to hang around that which was a vexation to our spirit. Still to me, it felt like quitting and I was determined not to be a quitter.

For a couple of days or weeks I'm not sure I continued in this stupor. The next weekend I came home and flung myself on my parents bed. I said, "I can't take this anymore, maybe I should just go to Ricks College". I said that very facetiously. Ricks College was a long running family joke for various reasons and I never, ever for a moment had truly considered going there. It was like, so far beneath me, people!

My dad suddenly looked very animated. "Do you think?" he asked. "That is exactly the same impression I have been having!". I was taken aback, was the man actually serious? I was having one of the most high quality educational experiences I could possibly have at this point in my life, something my dad had encouraged me to work so hard for, having my mind broadened in so many ways, meeting people from all around the world and now he wanted me to go to a FARM school? (It isn't really a farm school but it is located in Idaho so, same thing, right?) In fact, one night probably a year earlier we had some missionaries over to our house for dinner and I was mocking Idaho and saying how the worst thing they had to worry about was potato blight (I had a recent ex-boyfriend who had left for Ricks college in Idaho, and managed to dump me before I could dump him-my mail was slower then his-DANGIT, so I just a tad bitter). He nudged me and whispered that his companion was from Idaho.

"oh" I said, "sorry. Well at least you didn't go to Ricks". He looked up at me, smiled mildly, and said, "I actually did before I came out here, and I will probably go back when I go home".

Oh. I kept my mouth full of food after that to prevent my foot having enough room to re-enter.

Anyway back to the story. Within a week or two I had come to the conclusion that the unthinkable was actually what God wanted me to do. My dad was right. Of all the bizarre things!

I sadly left my program so that I could work and earn some money to go to Ricks the following January. I continued to date my boyfriend and see all my friends around town who were still going to school and having fun together. Most of them were absolutely flummoxed as to what I was doing. I was still not sure myself. My teachers were shocked and did not understand why I would leave when I appeared to be thriving academically and having a good time socially. It was pretty difficult and isolating at times but I was starting to get excited about the adventure ahead. Even if it did involve going to a farm school.

The following January a few weeks before I was due to leave for Ricks, friends of us invited us to a braai (BBQ). A missionary who had stayed with them for an usually long time (7 months) was coming back to the area with his parents to show them where he had shared. These friends happened to live in our "village" a few houses down and we saw them and the various missionaries who lived with them all the time. But I never really noticed any of them as they were unavailable to me for social purposes so to me, they did not exist. When the friend mentioned to my mom the name of the missionary, my mom said, "oh, isn't he the obnoxious one?" I, knowing that it was our friends' especially favourite missionary quickly jumped in and said, "oh no mom, he is really nice!" (I had no idea who I was talking about).

That night we sat around the campfire with our friends and The Americans and discovered that the missionary in question was going back to Ricks at just the same time I would be starting there. He offered to help me to get set up and get books. I said, "great, it's a date!". Apparently he later told his mommy very excitedly, "wow mom, did you hear that? She said 'it's a date' ". Oy vey. Poor socially deprived kid.

I thought he was very nice, for a missionary, and wrote in my journal that night that if all the boys at Ricks were as nice as this one was, I would be fine. Then I forgot about him. More or less.

A few weeks later I arrived on Ice Planet Hoth. Holy culture shock man! I knew no-one and had 2 suitcases and nothing else. My suitcases did not include bed-linen and I spent the first few nights on borrowed sheets. I was a little lost but having a tan and an accent in the middle of January in Idaho was proving to be pretty helpful socially. I had several date offers a day. I was really homesick though, and I kept thinking about the missionary who had offered to help me. I did not need help with books, but I really longed to see a familiar face from home. I tried and tried to call his home, but I did not understand area codes or something and could not get it right. One day about 3 days after I arrived, I woke up and wrote in my journal," today is the day I am going to find my missionary. I was on a mission myself and I could not explain the great urge, considering that in my rather brief stay I already had a rather full social calendar.

That day, as I wandered around the campus Bookstore I felt a tap on my shoulder, I turned around, there he was. "Cold enough for ya?" he asked. I made some really embarrassing and involuntary sound that was like "AAAAHHHHHH" a mixture of joy and relief. I think my eyes even filled with tears. I wanted the floor to swallow me.

Since we had only seen each other briefly for one evening, this long lost love reaction on my part was seriously awkward. I later discovered that he had been searching in a stalker like fashion for me too, and when he saw me walking into the Bookstore he abandoned his car practically in the middle of the road to run after me. We chatted for a while, exchanged numbers. That evening I was sitting in the library when he walked by. I practically jumped in front of him and he sat with me for the rest of the evening as we annoyed other patrons by giggling hysterically as we wrote my parents a joke letter about how we were engaged (Ricks, much to our disdain was quite famous for its super fast marital hookups. And we were far too sophisticated for such nonsense). We described my ring and everything. Oh, how we laughed.

The mail to South Africa took a little under 3 weeks back then. By the time my parents received the letter, it was true. Right down to the ring description. Trust me, no-one was more shocked then me. My life plan was to get married when I was 30. In fact when I first arrived I was absolutely scandalized and made a special call to my mom to tell her that there were "teenagers getting married here canyoubelieveit?!" after I heard that a girl in our apartment block had just become 19!!! NINETEEN.

I became engaged 4 days after turning 19.

My parents (also more inclined to imagine me as a fully fledged adult when I got engaged) were surprisingly supportive. Aaron and I had discussed getting married on our first date and it was just a wait for him to procure an engagement ring after that. And boy did he drag his feet!

Actually, marriage had not been on his agenda at all either but once we met we knew that it was really the only thing we wanted to do and we wanted to do it sooner rather then later. I look back now and am grateful that none of us came to our sense before our wedding day. Because frankly? That was IN.SANE.

Most of my friends back in Swaziland were as stunned as I was. There were several conspiracy theories doing the rounds. Including: I needed a Green Card, I was pregnant, my parents had sent me away to escape the clutches of my non-Mormon boyfriend and arranged some sort of cult-ish marriage for me. (Despite the fact that my non-Mormon boyfriend continued to spend the weekends with, and go to church with my family.)

Despite the clear In.SANITY of it all, we all had the sense that God was with us on this, and we could not imagine anything other then being together asap, so we carried on. Our engagement was wonderful in some ways but so, so unbearably stressful for so many reasons, These actually had had nothing to do with the wedding itself, which I, in my twitterpated state had abdicated full control over to my future mother-in-law...yes! Me! Can you tell I was in an altered state of mind?

Fortunately our engagement was short. We were engaged on February 10th and married on May 18th. The night before my wedding was a literal nightmare but surprisingly we all survived it. Aaron did not run away and change his name, in fact during one moment of hysteria, he told me to "put your ring on and shut up. We are getting married in the morning".

Be assured that he has never told me to shut up or ordered me around since, but it seemed to do the trick. And although we left a day late for Salt Lake, we all found our way to the Temple. The rest, as they say, is history.

I have never had one moment of pause over whether or not I married the right person, and I am in awe of and grateful for the way God worked to get us together despite the varied complications, geographical difficulties and lack of cooperation along the way. Aaron tells that he freaked out (hard to believe of Aaron) just before he went on his mission and thought about not going, he also tells that he noticed me when he lived in the village (although I was not around that much due to living at school) but considered me out of his league. Ha.

He also tells the story of how I dissed his state and school when he came to dinner with his missionary companion one night, but that he did not care, the food was good.

Now I look at our four wonderful little people and can not believe that all this came all that. I really love that first sculpture!

I'm reading: The making of a familyTweet this!


nyn said...

I love hearing this story. I am glad you wrote it down. It was fun to read and relive with you. Again Happy 13th!!

Amz said...

What a wonderful story! I knew a very brief version and am so glad to hear the full one. The similarities to Me and Mike's is uncanny! Happy Anniversary!

~ Keara said...

Wow. I want you to write a book about your love story with Aaron. It's better than movies like Serendipity, because it's true. And because God's hand in it all is so clearly represented. I feel, after reading that, the way I do after finishing Pride & Prejudice. Like dreamily sighing. Blessings to you and your family ALWAYS. God certainly has blessed you very richly.

Amander said...

I have always loved your story, but this retelling is fantastic and the realization about the first sculpture nearly brought me to tears. You are a phenomenal person with serious writing skillz.

Anonymous said...

What a moving story. You sat next to me in seminary for many years and I always knew something awesome was in store for you. The extra special blessing is having a wonderful father who received inspiration to direct your life. I remember how he drove from Swaziland to the convention that was held at Aventura in the Freestate. He always did amazing things for his children. Consider your life privileged and your experience one that so many search for but do not find. A blessing indeed.

Becky said...

I discovered your blog through a WFMW link, and this post caught my attention. (I think it was the word South Africa - my grandmother was born there.) Anyway, what a great story. It's always amazing to see the little miracles in our lives. Enjoy your family :)

Brittany said...

Thanks for sharing...I had often wondered how you came to the US...and how you and Aaron met and stuff...

Michelle said...

So special. I love this story. It resonates, no matter what faith we are :-)