Death and Orchids

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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! :)

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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.

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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.

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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.