Our immigration story part 2: from resident visa to citizenship

2010: We planned our first trip to the US for Christmas. We were told that it could take anywhere from 2-6 months for Leo to get his green card, so we worked it out for other people to stay in our apartment, take over our classes and ministry duties and set off.

Leo had a bucket-list of things to do in the snow, and he checked most of them off, including sledding, a snowball fight and peeing his name in the snow. Lol!

I had an absolute blast introducing him to my family, and we even took a road trip to Chicago to visit friends there. It was amazing!

Even more incredible, we received his green card just 3 weeks after arriving in the States.

It said “conditional”, and we honestly didn’t pay much attention to that. We were just so happy to have that little expensive piece of plastic.

Since we were truly hoping to NOT be gone 6 months, we headed back down to Colombia just 2 months after arriving in the US.

It was never our plan to live full-time in the US. We really loved our lives and ministry in Colombia, and thought we could play it right by being employed by a US mission agency for Leo to keep his residency status even though we lived in Colombia.

We knew that he couldn’t be out of the US longer than 6 months, so we came back up for the summer months, enjoying all the fun of summertime in the Midwest.

We went back to Colombia to start the school year, and then came back to the US for 2 weeks in October.

In 2012, Leo came to the US alone in March and stayed for a week in Chicago with some friends. He had a blast!

His next trip in July, however completely uprooted us.

He flew into Florida, and as he was going through immigration, the officer looked at his passport and asked

“Where do you live?”

“I am a resident of the US, but I work for a US-based mission agency in Colombia”, Leo replied.

“Sir, you were given a 2-year conditional resident visa, which means that you need to reside in the US. You need to apply to remove the conditions of this visa in a few months, and if you aren’t living here, they will probably deny your request.”

What?!?

He called me, panicked, from the airport.

We weren’t ready to pack up and leave.

But we had to.

We worked it out that he would complete his 2 week trip, staying with dear friends in Memphis, and then come back to help me pack up and move.

We had 5 weeks.

You can read more about that trauma in some earlier blogs.

We came to the US and lived out of my parents basement. Our #1 priority was getting jobs.

In October 2012 we filed form I-751, paid $595 + $85 biometric fee, and hoped for the best.

We got word in November that the conditions on his visa were not removed, but that he was given another year with the conditions.

We continued working our tails off, moved out into our own place and filed again in 2013 for the conditions to be removed. We filed form I-751 again, and paid the $680 total in fees… again.

The conditions were removed, and he had permanent resident status. We bought the house we had been renting, and continued working our butts off.

Leo’s entire family came to the US for a month for Christmas, and it was one of the coldest December’s we’d had in a long time. They LOVED experiencing snow and the cold air. We all packed 12 of us into our tiny 3-bedroom, 1-bathroom house and had a blast!

We were also free to finally travel! So the following year, we went to Colombia together. I had gone twice without Leo, and it was amazing to be able to go together again!

In 2014, in addition to traveling to Colombia, Leo was invited to travel to Bolivia to help with a conference. The weeks before he was to fly out, he was at the music store purchasing things he needed for the trip, and his wallet was stolen. It just happened to be the day after he was getting his license renewed, so his green card and license were in his wallet.

He can leave the US without his green card, but he can’t get back in without it as proof of his status.

He had to apply to replace it, which meant filing a I-90, and paying $455 + $85 biometric fee.

They gave him a stamp in his passport, valid for 6 months, that showed he had filled out the paperwork and was allowed to travel.

They said it would take up to 6 months.

We got a letter 6 months later, saying that it would take an additional 6 months. He had to take that letter to the immigration office so that they would give him yet another stamp valid for 6 months.

In 2015, we were spending a month in Peru helping with some amazing churches. While there, I got a message from the girl staying at our house saying that we received a letter from USCIS. I asked her to open it.

It said that his application for replacing his green card was denied because he missed a biometric appointment.

He had never gotten a letter about a biometric appointment, and our mail carriers were awful! We would often get mail for other houses, and neighbors would deliver packages to our house that were mistakenly delivered to theirs.

I was terrified. We were out of the country. Would we be allowed back in?!?

I put in a panicked call to the immigration lawyer at our church, and she re-assured me 3 days later when her call finally could get through.

“The green card is just proof of his status. His status hasn’t changed. It will take him longer to get through immigration, but he has full rights to come back.”

After we hung up, I bawled for an hour straight. In those 3 days, I had gone through every emotion that I went through 3 years before when we had to leave Colombia. I was willing to trust Jesus if we had to leave everything again, but still traumatized from the last sudden move.

And she was right… it took us a lot longer to get through immigration, but they let us in, and suggested that Leo just apply for Citizenship.

In all the paperwork we had looked through, it said that he had to have a physical copy of his green card, but they assured us that if we had a copy of it, that would be enough.

In 2016, we had saved up enough to file the N-400. The cost break-down: $199 for the instructions, $640 for the application fee, and $85 for the biometrics.

Leo became a US citizen in August of 2016. The ceremony was incredible, and in addition to my family and our pastor, Leo’s Mom was there to witness it.

We did all of this without hiring a lawyer. It was an expensive journey but completely worth it.

We have friends who have chosen not to get citizenship, but to renew their permanent resident status every 4 years.

We also have missionary friends whose spouses are from countries where it is even harder to obtain a resident visa, no matter how long they have been married.

Leo is also fortunate, in that Colombia and the US have a dual-citizenship arrangement. Not everyone has that opportunity. This means that he did not have to give up his Colombian citizenship to become a US citizen. This also means that our son has full rights as a dual citizen. We haven’t filed his Colombian paperwork yet, but plan to do so.

I will say that the first time we travelled with both of our blue passports was very emotional. We had taken so many trips where the immigration lines were long and the officers were not friendly.

But now, we are free to roam about the world.

Our immigration story: from Colombia to the US (part one)

When Leo and I met in 2007, we had no idea the up-hill battle that was waiting for us in regards to immigration.

As a US citizen, I didn’t realize how much I took traveling to other countries for granted.

By the time I went to live in Colombia as a 28 year-old, I had already been to over 15 countries: Haiti, Hungary and Austria when I was in high-school, Greece, Italy, Germany, Brazil, Russia and Puerto Rico (although its part of the US, it seemed like a different country!) in college… and then Russia again, Australia, Mexico, El Salvador, the Philippines, Kenya, Tanzania and India in the years between college and leaving for Colombia.

My family valued traveling and knowing other cultures, and I thought that everyone in the world would have those opportunities.

I was wrong.

The first petition: Summer 2008

Leo first applied for his tourist visa the summer after we met. We were hoping that he could just come the the US with me to meet my parents and family and get to know a little more about where I came from. It was such a fun idea!

The fee for the visa application was $225, which, when minimum wage back then was the equivalent of $150/month, was a chunk of money.

He waited in a long line that wrapped around the outside of the embassy for about 5 hours, only to be denied. They said that he didn’t have enough ties to Colombia to ensure that he wouldn’t out-stay his visa and become illegal. He didn’t own a home, a car, have a job at a lucrative company, have enough money in the bank, etc.

So, I stayed in Colombia for the summer as well, and we had a blast! We even travelled to the coast to help lead worship for a conference together, and I was even more convinced that this was the man for me!

The second petition: Winter 2008

He applied at Christmastime again for a different type of tourist visa, where our church would sponsor him to come. We had to get letters from 5 different Pastors, all explaining that they were asking him to come to speak for specific dates about the work we were doing in Colombia.

The same $225, the same long wait in a line that wrapped around the Embassy, the same answer: no.

We were crushed.

At this point, we knew we wanted to get married, and he was looking forward to asking my father for my hand in marriage in person (he wasn’t so good on the phone).

I went to the US for Christmas with a promise ring on my finger, and had a long conversation with my parents about how to move forward with what we felt like God was calling us to: marriage.

Even though they hadn’t met Leo, he sent a gift of a Bible to me and a letter to my parents. I decided to go ahead and buy my wedding dress and take it back with me to Colombia after Christmas.

We were going to try again for a tourist visa for Spring Break, but my parents said it would be better to just save our money and try for the tourist visa after we were married.

Here’s the deal:

In Colombia, there are only 2 types of marriages that are recognized by the State: a courthouse wedding, or a Catholic wedding. ALL of the Protestants who want to marry in their churches need to FIRST get married “legally”, and then have their church ceremony.

There are NO Pastors who will marry you in a church unless you are already legally married. And, we couldn’t file for a Fiancé visa if we were legally married in Colombia.

So, we took our chances and got legally married almost 2 months before our official wedding. We were not only planning the wedding in Colombia but also a wedding a month later in the US.

Yes, that is 3 weddings total… lol!

The third petition: April 2009

We got everything together and applied for a tourist visa. The same $225, for again the same answer: no.

We were outraged and so sad at the same time. When Leo presented himself the 3rd time in a year, the Consule said “it just looks like you are doing anything in your power to get the the US. If your marriage is real, you need to wait 2 years before even trying to apply again”.

What we didn’t realize is that there is an entire industry of US Citizens getting paid thousands of dollars to marry internationals for the sole purpose of coming to the US. I also heard stories when I lived in Kenya of US citizens falling in love with locals, only to bring them to the US and find out it was all a trick, and that the local only ever wanted to get to the US.

We were advised by other friends at the Embassy to wait 2 years and then apply for a resident visa… that it was extremely rare for the Embassy to grant tourist visas to married couples.

So, we cancelled the wedding in the US, and for reasons completely out of our control, none of my family could come to our Colombian wedding, and they still hadn’t met Leo.

My parents were able to travel to Colombia 6 months after we were married, and we had an incredible time together!

The fourth petition: Summer 2010

A year after we were married, we decided to give the resident visa a try. We knew it was a long process, and we figured that by the time all the steps were accomplished, it would probably be 2 years.

There were 3 basic steps:

1) filling out and paying for the I-130. https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/us-visas/immigrate/family-immigration/immigrant-visa-for-a-spouse-or-fiance-of-a-us-citizen.html

You had to, again, pay to even start the process. $535 for just turning in the I-130, then an additional $325 filing fee.

2) After his form was received, he was given a case number and a date to appear at the embassy. He received a list of things he had to compile and bring with him:

Medical records (for which, he had to go to one of the US-approved doctors for a complete physical exam, full x-rays and blood work. That cost $100 ( I know… cheap compared to the US, but expensive in pesos!)

Paperwork from our sponsor

Civil documents: police reports (or paper stating that he has no record), birth certificate, marriage certificate, Colombian passport

Passport pictures

He appeared at the Embassy with all of the documentation, and they asked him a few clarifying questions.

3) They gave him another date with another list of items to provide to verify our marriage.

Anyone who has ever married a non-citizen has “The Book”. Some are more organized than others, but ALL contain:

-Pictures together. We chose pictures where also had different hairstyles to show the progression of time of our 3 years together

-proof of joint bills (which was really hard for us, because there was only 1 bill in our name… all the rest were in our landlord’s name)

-proof of residency (we had to get a letter from the school where I worked who had a contract with the landlord, stating that we had been living together and paying rent since we were married in May of 2009)

-proof of marriage (we had to compile letters from friends and family who had known us from dating to marriage to verify that we were indeed a couple. The Embassy asks for 2-3 letters, and we had over 20)

-proof of joint bank accounts (which was super tricky because Colombian banks didn’t allow for joint accounts then… we had to open one at a bank with ties to the US, and even then, we barely had enough money for the minimum amount to open the account)

We also chose to include our ministry letters from when we were dating to the current time, sharing with our supporters about the work we were doing together in Colombia.

We arrived for our joint interview at 7am. It was a beautifully sunny day, and we were told to sit in a nice patio area with benches and a clear roof, in front of some darkened windows. There was a coffee and bread station nearby where you could spend $5 on bread that cost $.50 out on the street.

There were 3 other couples also sitting nervously with their “books” in hand, waiting.

I honestly think that we were being watched for the entire 6 hours we were made to wait.

I had brought a book, and we passed the time talking, eating expensive bread and trying to be patient.

One window slid open, and a man called out a number. Then another. Two couples were called up. It was obvious what was going on. One was given their visa, and the other was denied.

We looked at each other and knew that this was it. Either way, this was the day we would know, for sure, whether we would be able to go to the US together.

Our numbers were called, and we stepped up to the window.

We handed over our book.

The man leafed through it, and stopped on one of our support letters. He asked about the kind of work we do, and shared that his parents had been missionaries in Thailand.

I honestly can’t remember all the specifics, besides the fact that he spoke to us together and separately, and then gave Leo his passport, saying that his visa was approved. We had 6 months to get to the US for the next steps of the process.

We waited in another line for about an hour for them to put the official visa in his passport, and walked away from the Embassy crying… but this time, happy tears!

Miracle Morales

Between Leo’s accident, a rough pregnancy, and the exhaustion of the first year of being parents, I feel like I’ve lost the last 2 years of my life.  Lol! I also realized that I hadn’t written out the story of our miracle.

It’s long, but worth the read!  Even as I’m typing this out, it isn’t lost on me that some of the characters in this story were people God used to bring other seasons of my life full-circle in HIS story of redemption.

For those of you who have known us for a while, you know that I had quite a few years when I struggled with my health.  As soon as we were married, we took the “we’ll trust God” approach with growing our family, and didn’t really use any measures to prevent it from happening.

After a while, we knew something was wrong.

After finally seeing a fertility specialist here once we go to the States, we got some heartbreaking news:  I probably wouldn’t be able to get pregnant.  He said “we could pump you full of hormones and try, but if I were you, I’d think about just saving my money.”  We were determined to do something, but the day I went in for another check-up, the doctor found yet another cyst on my ovaries and said that there was nothing he could do.

That was in 2014, right around when we got Canela.

Our marriage had been through some hard times before, but nothing like that year.  I felt so guilty, so ashamed, so sorry that Leo had married me.  I knew he would be an amazing dad, and I felt like I was holding him back from something he was made to do.

We had to take an honest look at each other and ask 

“Am I enough for you?”

“Are we enough for each other?”

“If it is just the two of us for the rest of our lives, will we be ok?”

We had to die to the idea of being parents. 

Sidenote: Yes, adoption is an option for most couples, but this is before Leo was able to become a citizen, and we knew we weren’t in the place to even try to adopt or foster. 

Fast forward 2 years to the accident.  Leo had taken a brave step to quit his job so he could focus on his ministry and music full-time, and 2 days later falls and shatters his elbow.

Our dog was about to have puppies.

It was crazy!

As people were coming over to our house to pray for Leo’s healing, a few of them bluntly said

“I feel like Jesus not only wants to heal Leo, but wants to heal you, too”. 

Not just one person… but a few!

*I have had MANY people pray for me over the years… hands on my belly, crying out to Jesus kinds of prayers… “seeing- us-with-a-crib” kind of prayers… and I had honestly not really put any stock in prayers for a baby for a LONG time… but this time was different.

Leo’s mom had come to visit and celebrate Leo’s citizenship ceremony with us, and in the stress of it all, I went off the rails with my diet.  (I had completely changed my eating habits after the news of our infertility to try to help keep my hormones balanced).  I had another bout with a cyst and anemia that about took me down for a while.  The worst days of bleeding, I was in a dear friend’s wedding, or else I would’ve gone to the hospital.

It didn’t feel like God had heard any of the prayers that I was finally willing to let others pray.

In desperation, I found a Groupon for acupuncture.  I was willing to try anything to get my hormones and cycle back on track. And, just as God would have it, the precious acupuncturist is a Chinese Christian who goes to Vineyard!  She spoke life over my body, almost prophesying as I laid there on her table for 6 sessions over the few weeks.  My period finally stopped.  I was so grateful!

I had also made an appointment at my OB’s office to see if they could figure out what was going on.  I remember going in, and having the ultrasound tech look at everything.  I hadn’t seen my ovaries since the fertility doc, and all I remember then was seeing the cyst.  This time was different, however.  This time, instead of cysts, my ovaries were full of follicles.  I mean, I had never seen that with all the different ultrasounds over the years!  The tech said

“I don’t know… everything looks perfectly healthy and normal.” 

I laughed.  I had never heard that before!

In that moment, I felt the Lord say “Get ready!”. 

The following week, we were having a worship and healing night at our church.  I always stand towards the back of the sanctuary, just hanging back and watching what Jesus is doing.  Leo was running sound that night, so I just sat in my own little section of chairs on the main floor in the back.

I remember seeing a precious Indian family up in the next section.  During the ministry time, I walked over and offered to pray for them.  They were grateful, and Jesus really moved!  After I was done, the woman looked at me and said

“While we were worshipping, I saw you in the corner.  The Lord told me that you were going to come pray for me, and that I need to pray for you to have a baby.”

Uh… what?!  Ok.

She went on to say “Do you mind if I pray for you in my native language?”

She poured out her heart to God on my behalf for what seemed like 30 minutes.  It was beautiful.  I felt something break off of me, and there was so much peace!

2 days later we left for Colombia for a month.

We got back from our vacation, and while Leo was leading worship at church, I was home.  I decided to take a pregnancy test, since I hadn’t had my period since the bleeding episode almost 2 months before.

It was positive.

I can’t tell you how many tests I’ve taken.

This was the first one that was ever positive.

I was sitting in the bathroom, shaking.  I doubted the test.  I took another one.  Positive.  I thought that maybe it was just that brand, so I took another one that used words instead of symbols.

“Pregnant”

I cried.  I debated calling my best friend, but decided that I should wait to tell Leo first.

But how?

On one of our more hopeful trips to Colombia, we had purchased a baby-sized Colombian soccer jersey.  We kept it out until I couldn’t look at it anymore, and I buried it in a dresser drawer.

It took a while to remember, but I found the little jersey, and wrapped the pregnancy tests up in it. 

When Leo got home, I presented it to him.

“What is this?” He asked?

“I think we’re going to have a baby!” I cried.

We laughed and cried all night!

The next day was Friday, and I called the OB’s office to schedule a blood test and another ultrasound.

They were able to get me in right away for the blood test, and confirmed that I was, indeed, pregnant.

We saw my parents that weekend, for the first time since we had been back from Colombia.

My mom pulled me aside and asked

“Honey, were you in a place where you could foster or adopt any kids?”

“No, why?” I replied

“I had an incredible, tangible experience with the Lord, where I felt Him tell me that you were going to meet your child in Colombia.” 

Silence…
Because of all the pain we’d experienced, we didn’t really include our parents in any of our infertility journey… we didn’t want to cause them pain as well… and we had lost  previous pregnancies (that we found out about after the fact) that we also hadn’t included them in on, so I wasn’t really ready to share. 

So, I just kept sipping my water, and without looking at my mom said

“Nope, we weren’t doing any ministry with kids this time.”

She slowly replied “That is so weird.  It was such an intense experience, and I just prayed for you everyday you were there.”

“Huh”.

When we had the ultrasound that following week and heard the little heartbeat, we called both sets of parents to share the news and to ask for prayer.

I told my mom “We didn’t meet our baby in Colombia, but it looks like we made it there.”

Our little miracle baby was “made in Colombia” and due on the 4th of July.

Already showing his bi-cultural side!16177700_10158168584320215_2479383839146418530_o

Death and Orchids

31701_10150199122680215_5953708_n

 

After breaking up with a long-time college relationship, I was talking with my best friend Jill about how I just don’t seem to be able to pick “the right guy”.  She agreed that she also struggled with this!

During our conversation, we talked about a friend of ours who made a plan with her dad.  They agreed on a specific gift that the father would give a guy when he asked for her hand in marriage.  If the father approved of the guy, he would give him this gift to give to his daughter when he proposed.  Jill and I both loved that story, but the reality that both of our dads were out of state, and not really around to give counsel/see the guy in more than just a “dad-pleasing” mode made us think of another way it could work.

We both prayed about it, and asked our Heavenly Dad to put an idea in our heads of something that He would impress on the heart of the “right guy” to give us when he proposed.  For her, the image of purple roses came to mind.  For me, it was orchids.

Now, neither of us really thought that it could really be the Father putting this on our minds, so we didn’t really put much stock in the images, but we definitely held onto those ideas!

And, it even turned out that when Jill’s now-husband proposed to her, he gave her purple roses, not knowing anything about the simple prayer that she had prayed years before!

Fast forward a few years to when I was in full-time ministry… When I lived out of my car traveling the US, I distinctly remember a conversation I had with a youth pastor in Springfield, MO.  He had just gotten back from a mission trip to China that had changed his life.  He talked about how passionate the Chinese Christians were to share Jesus… and how they were willing to pay a price for the Gospel.  I remember the drive from Springfield to Tulsa, and asking God what MY price was…. and I remember that the first word that came to my mind was “marriage”.

I had had a rough time in relationships… desperately wanting to be in one, but feeling like I was settling whenever one would present itself.  It was during that 3-hour drive that I surrendered that part of my heart to Jesus and truly died to the idea of ever getting married.  I went from bitter whenever I would see my friends find the love of their lives, to content knowing that I was enough as I was, and that Jesus was enough for me.

I can honestly say that I loved being single and serving Jesus.  I had such an authentic, intimate relationship with Him at that time… so many miles on the road with just the Word, worship cds (yes, before ipods), and my own songs sung out the car window.  It was a really sacred time.

Fast forward to a month before I went to Colombia.  My friends Jake and Bridget organized a prayer/worship night for me as I was about to head out to Colombia.  It was such a great time being with old college friends!  After everyone left, it was just the 3 of us on their couch, and Jake said “Lilia, I feel like the Lord is going to awaken something that He called you to put to death.  I feel strongly that you are going to find your husband in Colombia.”  I laughed out loud!  I honestly hadn’t even been thinking about it… but made some kind of comment about finding a Jesus-loving, dark-haired hippie musician.

Fast forward to the week after I got to Colombia.  The pastor’s family had a kind of death of their own in the family, and people started bringing over beautiful bouquets of flowers, many of them containing orchids.

I asked the pastor’s wife about it, and she said “oh, you didn’t know?  The national flower of Colombia is the orchid”.

In that moment, the Lord confirmed the word that my friend Jake had spoken…

And He answered a prayer that a silly 20-something broken-hearted girl had prayed years before.

Because of immigration issues, Leo wasn’t able to meet my family to officially ask for my hand in marriage, but the day that we were legally married Leo presented me with

a bouquet of orchids.

 

Our Story! :)

1929391_20028765214_6629_n

When people meet us, they are always curious about how we met, where we met, etc.  After living in the States for so long now, people just assume that we met here.  But here’s the real story…

I moved to Bogota, Colombia right before New Years in 2007.  I was invited to teach music at an international school, and knowing that a lot of my world would be in English, I asked if it would be possible to live with a Colombian family instead of with the other teachers.  I was placed with a bi-cultural pastor’s family.  We didn’t know anything about each other until I arrived, but we quickly found out that the Lord had indeed put us together!

They invited me to go on a retreat they were leading with a different church my first weekend in country. It was during that trip they discovered that I was a worship leader/speaker, and we had a BLAST ministering together. I learned a TON of songs in Spanish, and was on my way to becoming bilingual (although I had a LOOOOOOONG way to go).

The following weekend, I had been spending time with the English teachers when I got a call from the pastor asking if I would be willing to play the drums for the services the following day.  He said that their worship team had a few different drummers, but that none of them were available.  I immediately agreed and rushed back to their place so he could take me to the church.

I showed up without makeup, in a t-shirt, baggy torn jeans and crocs.  Lol!  (if you know anything about Colombian women, they would NEVER dress like that…).

None of the guys on the worship team spoke English, and, as Leo later told me, upon seeing me they decided to change the set list to translated Hillsong songs instead of their typical latino-flavored songs.

I had a blast!

I think the guys were a little surprised that I could do it.

After the rehearsal, the electric guitarist (Leo) stuck around to wait for the pastor to pick me up.  I literally had no idea how to say anything about music or life at that point… and he didn’t really know how to say anything about life and music to me, either… but somehow, after sharing our names, how old we were and how many siblings we had (thank you Spanish 1), I communicated that I write music.

Leo immediately turned on the keyboard and asked me to sit and play him something.  I started playing “We will praise You” from my Captivated:Live cd, and just as I got to the 2nd verse, Leo stopped me.  He said…

“No. No. No…. Jazz…. colors!” and then proceeded to hum the melody of the song and completely changed the chords to sounds I would never know how to make in a million years.  I cracked up!  I remember thinking “I think this guy and I are going to be good friends!”

The pastor came right about then to walk me home (he lived only a block away from the church).

The following weekend, and the ones that proceeded it, I was a part of the worship team. We had rehearsal on Saturday afternoons, and then 3 services on Sundays.  In between the services, we would all go to the cafe across the street to get something to eat and I would try my best to communicate what I’d been learning.  In addition to the Sunday services, I started helping out with the youth services on Friday nights, and teaching lessons at the worship academy on Saturdays. I LOVED it!

Leo also happened to be involved with all of those church events, so it gave us a good deal of time together, sharing life and ministry.  He was hilarious, and an incredible guitarist/worship leader.  It was so much fun to find someone with similar interests and passions!

He started walking me home more, and the pastor would always invite him to eat dinner with us.  When Leo would get home, he’d sign on to Skype and we would chat (all written) while the pastor’s daughter sat next to me to translate and help me learn what to say back.  It was hilarious.  We were NEVER without a bilingual dictionary!

One day, I was walking with the pastor and asked him what he thought about Leo.  He said “Wow!  What a guy!  He loves Jesus, loves people and is always here serving at the church!  You really can’t find anyone better!”.  But then he went on to say… “But I recommend you wait 2 years before you start to date.  Get to know him better, get to know the language and the culture better… Here, Colombian christians take dating VERY seriously.  You first start out in groups, and then the moment you go out just the 2 of you, it means that you’re serious about each other.  Dating in our church culture means that you’re seriously contemplating marriage.”

I think 2 weeks later, Leo and I were sitting on the steps out in front of the pastor’s house talking about what we really felt called to do. And, it was exactly the same!  It was at that moment when I had the feeling “I think I’m gonna marry this guy!”.

It was during that conversation where Leo said that he wanted to be my “novio”… and out of respect for the pastor, I told Leo that he would have to ask permission from the pastor if he wanted to date me.

Sidenote: it had always been an agreement between my dad and I when I was in high-school that if a guy wanted to date me, he HAD to ask my dad first.  It was a safety-net for me and to this day I am so grateful!  If a guy called the house (you know… in the ancient days before there were cell-phones), my dad would ask me “do you want to go out with this guy?”  If I said “no”, then so did my dad.  I have always encouraged young girls who are starting to date to have this same arrangement with their fathers.  It is SO important for their safety and health to have their dads involved with any boys who have interest in them.

So, Leo and the pastor met and talked one evening.  They were in the living room, and I was in the kitchen cooking (the pastor’s wife was out of town).   I was SO nervous, especially after the pastor had said that it would be better to wait 2 years, and it had only been 2 1/2 months!

But both he and Leo came into the kitchen beaming… the pastor hugged us both and said “you have our prayers, our counsel, and our best wishes!”.

A year and a half after Leo and I met, we were married in Bogota!  We just celebrated our 9th anniversary.

13254572_10156972576780215_723483712804902945_n

 

Processing… and waiting

Leo and I are about to celebrate 3 years of marriage!  It’s crazy how fast these few years have gone, and how many obstacles we’ve had to overcome in such a short time!  The few months leading up to our wedding, and even a year and a half into our marriage, it felt like it was us against the world!  Or, at least, us against the US Immigration laws and other issues that had to do with Leo not being able to get to the States.  Now, things have kinda switched around a bit.  Leo even took his first trip by himself to the States in March… a kind-of expensive requirement that comes with having a resident Visa… he can’t be out of the States for longer than 6 months.

We are at a bit of a stand-still now, however.  Leo would really like for us to have a year-long furlough in the States sometime soon, and I agree that we need a break!  Back in October, we were thinking that we could do it this coming January… but things haven’t worked out how we hoped.  We were thinking I could get pregnant, have the baby here in Colombia (I don’t have insurance in the States), and then live the last year of Leo’s residency requirement, before he gets US citizenship, in the States being close to family in a kind-of utopian, rest-filled existence.  Well, obviously, I’m not pregnant yet, and from what we’ve seen and heard from doctors, even visiting the States isn’t a good option for me because of my hormone issues and how connected my body is to seasons.  The two 2-month trips we took during opposite seasons knocked my body off again, and that’s the reason I’m still having a hard time getting pregnant.  And, if we went to the States and were able to get insurance, we wouldn’t be able to get pregnant until we’ve paid into the system for 9 months.  So, everything is on hold, and it’s not very fun.

All that to say…I’m not doing well… in many ways.

I’ve read 2 books lately that have really helped put words to my emotions.  One is “God on Mute” by Peter Greig.  He skillfully writes about the many reasons why God doesn’t answer our prayers.  Ultimately, it’s because our life is meant to glorify Him, and He will do what He wants with us.  We can’t manipulate Him, have enough faith, or do enough good things to change His mind.  He knows what is best for us in the long-run, and He will have His way.

The second book I devoured this week is “A Million MIles in a Thousand Years” by Donald Miller.  I know it’s been out for a long time, but I finally had time to read it this week… I was sick at home for 2 days.   He writes about the importance of having a story, but yet knowing that our personal story ties in with the big Story that is weaved through generations of lives.   The greatest stories are those that have an obstacle too big for the main character to overcome without great sacrifice.

We don’t have many helpful answers to my health issues, but I can’t help think that somehow malaria has something to do with it.  My liver was pretty damaged during the whole ordeal, and your liver is what processes your hormones. Almost 7 years ago, I had to understand that if facing death was the price, it was worth knowing Jesus through the pain.  I knew the presence of the Lord through my pain… a kind of knowing that gets into your bones and holds everything together.   However, the last few years, I haven’t wanted to know Him in my pain and suffering.  I have wanted to know Him in the blessing… in the easy things… and nothing has been easy.  It’s been rather crazy actually.  But, in the area of my health, I’ve had to face another, very real thought:  if malaria is the price of not having natural children, is it still worth it? Is this my obstacle that comes with great personal sacrifice?

I don’t know why being in pain as a wife is so much harder than it was being single.  Maybe it’s because as a single person, serving Jesus, I knew that He was all I had… it was just me and Him, and as much as I was hurting, He was the only one who could hold me and bring healing… and I was willing to trust Him.  Now, as a wife, I serve my husband and Jesus, and my focus gets all off when I forget that my husband, while he can hold me, can’t bring healing or light to the dark, almost hopeless areas of my soul.  And while the tangible is seemingly more available than the eternal, I’m mad at both.   It was easier to believe in God’s sovereignty and timing when I thought it more closely lined up with mine.  More closely being “o.k. maybe not this month… but definitely this year, right?”.  2 years, and more un-answered questions later, I’m not doing well.

We have a beautiful tangerine tree in our apartment.  Our first Christmas together, we couldn’t agree on what kind of tree to have because Leo couldn’t understand the tradition of cutting down a beautiful, living thing just to decorate and watch die; and I couldn’t handle the feel of fake trees. So, we compromised and bought a small tree to decorate.  Bogota isn’t the best place for any kind of fruit trees because it’s so cold; but when we got the tree, it had 7 little tangerines growing.  The tree is supposed to bloom every 4 months, and then from those blooms, produce fruit.  I can count on one hand the amount of times it’s bloomed since it has stayed in the little corner of our living room that gets sunlight, and we’ve only had 1 tangerine grow since we plucked the first 7.

1916172_10150225769190215_6000129_n

This month, however, I saw little buds forming.  It was interesting to see them coming up from all different parts of the tree.  The buds have since turned into leaves or little white balls that will burst open into the most delicate, sweet smelling flowers.  This past week, I’ve been waiting for the first flowers to bloom, and just this morning, we had 3.  I remember thinking as I was tending to the tree this week that I don’t know how much bigger those little white buds can get before they break open.  They have such tension before they burst!

We are living an overwhelming amount of tension right now, and it’s easy to get mad at the tangible elements: our non-existent savings account, our tiny apartment that wouldn’t even fit a baby if we wanted it to, our lack of material things that would supposedly make things so much easier (… if I could just have a fancy mixer with all those fancy attachments so we could eat even healthier than we do now,  or a juicer so we could do one of those “cleanse” diets…), Leo’s citizenship process that is still so expensive (and will continue to be for another year and a half) that he needs to finish before we can adopt, etc.  It is overwhelming!

In the midst of this waiting for whatever is supposed to come next, however it’s supposed to come, I’m trying to choose to believe that this tension we are feeling is going to break forth into something beautiful and sweet-smelling soon.  It just has to.  We are desperate.

Pray for me… pray for Leo… pray for our hearts to be willing to line-up with God’s timing for many different things.  Pray for balance between being faithful with what we can control, and having faith for what we can’t.