Thursday, April 7, 2016

Love Grew Between the Lines: How The Dixon Garden Was Established

When we have an anniversary of some sort, I share tidbits of what happened, and I have been asked multiple times to explain Kris and my love story.  Every time I reply "One day I will give you the full story".  Well, today's that day.  Many of our close friends have heard this story in it's entirety (maybe more entire than they wish to know!) and we have shared it with several youth groups and Sunday School classes of young people, encouraging them to be patient and wait for God's best.  So for those of you who like a good, clean romance novel with an uplifting ending, here you go!

Let's go back to 1993 in West Columbia, South Carolina.  This tall, blonde girl who has just begun the dating game at the age of 16 goes on her first missions trip.  She was encouraged by an older student she barely knew to take a leadership position in their Christian school's Student Missions Fellowship club her Junior year.  Excited for an opportunity to get more involved in another club (she couldn't get enough of extracurricular activities) she committed to the task, understanding that all officers go on the yearly missions trip the club promoted every Spring Break.  She took the plunge, raising money to go on her first trip away from her family for a full week. This was her first plane ride, and first time ever sharing her faith.  Oh, did I mention it was to Spain, and she spoke in Spanish to everyone she met?  Talk about going out of her comfort zone!  At the end of the week, the missionary in Spain who coordinated the trip asked of the dozen or so students in the room which of them was willing to commit to a life of missions.  This missionary felt in her heart that at least one of the students in the room was going to be called into a life of ministering cross-culturally.  This blonde girl let those words sink in deeply.  She pondered over that prayer for weeks, then months, praying like she never had prayed before.  "Lord, are you calling me to do this? I thought I was going to be a news broadcaster.  I want to get married one day, not be an old maid living in a hut in Africa!"  After what seemed like a year of struggling with God, she finally surrendered the call to ministry at youth camp that July.  With the full support of her parents, she decided to study nursing in order to use medicine as a platform to share the Gospel.
 After studying at Liberty University for four years, she continued to study two more years to get a masters in
 Intercultural Studies at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.  But let's backtrack a little.  During her freshman year at college, this blonde girl was a social butterfly.  She exploded in her newly found freedom in college and after one semester of scoping the field with lots of guy friends, she decided to date a particular guy who made her laugh.  She specifically wanted to find the husband who would spend his life with her on the mission field, so she was skeptical when that guy was studying youth ministry.  He tried learning Spanish to impress her, looked into going on missions trips to give her hope, but 1 1/2 years into their relationship and a returned engagement ring later they realized their callings were taking them in opposite directions.  With a crushed heart, she vowed to never enter a relationship again until she knew he was the man she would marry. College friends tried setting her up, seminary friends (and even a professor) attempted to play match makers, but every time there was no peace.  So after graduating again in 2001 she headed to Paraguay for a two year term as a medical missionary church planter, excited about finally fulfilling the career calling God had placed on her heart to share with those who had never heard.  In the back of her heart she was anxious, picturing herself as the "old maid living in a hut in Africa" because she was leaving single.  But regardless of that fear, she knew she was going on the path God had set out for her and trusted Him with her heart.

Now let's go back to 1996 to a little rural corner of Western Kentucky.  A farmer's young son begins studying agriculture at Murray State, a nearby public university, heading to follow in his father's and grandfather's footsteps.  However, while settling in, he meets a new friend who is different from other guys he's met.  This student friend has a vibrant love for Christ and lives it out in a radical way.  Although this young man has always attended church and grew up in a Christian family, he never has seen such commitment and passion for a walk with God.  The influence of this friend affects him to the point he realizes he has never surrendered his life to Christ as His Lord and Savior.  This young man becomes a genuine Christian, and God leads Him on a path of evangelism with his fellow students. He eventually spent a summer in Brazil to share His faith.  By the time he completed college, he knew God was calling him to something beyond the realm of farming.  After working a year on the family farm, in 2001 he committed to serving two years in China to share Christ with students there who had never heard.

The dear friend God used to bring us together!
That is where providence takes hold.  This blonde girl and young man meet for the first time on a hot July day in 2001 as they both initiated a six week training at a missionary learning center near Richmond, Virginia.  He noticed her, but she was too busy to notice him.  Then he got a splinter in his finger.  A good friend from seminary who was staying in the same dorm as this blonde girl found out and said "My friend is a nurse and should have tweezers.  Would you like me to get her to pull it out for you?"  And that is when she first took care of him.  The splinter came out and he thanked her.  What he didn't realize though, was that she and her roommate had already made a pact.  While they were in training they would not allow young men training with them to become a distraction.  They would only be focussed on going overseas to serve, not find a husband in the process.  This blonde girl worked extra hard not to notice the young man.  He "followed" her (a nice word for stalking) and figured out all her interests, her schedule, and where she frequented the most.  And he was there, watching, waiting for his opportunity to say hello, make small talk, and hopefully win her attention.  He thought all was lost until the last day of the training, when all the trainees went by bus to a nearby church to be commissioned as missionaries.  While this blonde girl normally sat with her roommate everywhere they went (to intentionally avoid available men), her roommate was late to the bus.  The young man entered the bus, and seeing the empty seat asked if he could sit there.  She agreed, and the conversation they had will never be forgotten.  They talked like they had always known each other.  They shared about immediate family who they thought were not Christians and vowed to pray for their salvation.  Then they exchanged email addresses.  This blonde girl didn't think much of it, but wanted to stay connected with someone who genuinely cared about the salvation of her loved one.  He was something special.  The young man finally had his open door into her world.  He strategically waited, then he began to write when she arrived in Paraguay.  The emails started, and continued until they were writing every day about their struggles, their discoveries, their milestones in language acquisition. They rejoiced about the people they were able to share with. And between the lines, God began to grow something.

It was Christmas night, 2001, when that young man asked to have a chat time with this blonde girl.  She was in Asuncion, the capital city, staying with an American missionary family for Christmas so she wouldn't be alone for the holidays. Unlike her small town across the country, this home had a steady internet connection to make chatting possible.  She agreed to the conversation, and in 105 degree weather that unbearably humid Christmas night, she chatted with that young man, who was so freezing his feet were numb early in the morning twelve time zones away in his unheated apartment in southern China.  He asked her as they were abruptly finishing their chat ,"Would you be interested in more than a friendship with me?"  Coincidently at that very moment she was asked to get offline immediately by her host family, and couldn't answer the question.  He was baffled and thought she was letting him down.
A long week went by.  She wondered what happened to him, not knowing what to say or how to say it.  Yes, she wanted a relationship, but she realized the implications. If she was true to her commitment in her heart made years earlier, he was likely going to be her husband!  That's a huge yes!  Meanwhile, he thought she wasn't interested.  Until, that SAME friend (remember the one who got him to have her take out the splinter) saw him at an annual gathering that happened to be around New Year's. When she "happened" to run into him (we know nothing happens by mistake!) she asked "So what are your intentions with my (friend)?".  Then he knew....she was talking about him to her friend!  That must mean there was something there! He then got up the nerve to write her again.

He wrote her to see how she was doing,  and in her reply she answered "Yes" to his request!
Every day they emailed and got to know each other more.  Late every night, she would go to an internet room on the edge of the tiny town she lived in alone, and an email was waiting about his day.  Then she would reply and tell him about hers, so he could read it when he got in from ministering (with the time zone difference, it was hard to be online at the same time).  Conversations on the phone were very expensive since they had to do a three way call though the United States with his mom connecting the calls.  A one hour call cost $40.  So they only talked once a month.  Eventually, the young man asked "Can I come to visit you?"  This proposal was huge.  One can't just hop on a plane and drop by when traveling from China to Paraguay!  It was an almost two day journey that went literally around the world to a different hemisphere and spanned three continents and two oceans.  It would cost him all his savings just to make the trip.  They agreed to spend their vacation time together that year and finally meet as a couple in August, eight months into their relationship.

With Concepcion, the woman whose house I shared when first moving to Paraguay.
I looked at this photo after he returned and cried. A lot.
The day after he arrived, the young man knew he had to tell her what he came to say.  So he more or less blurted it out after breakfast: "I love you".  She was not prepared, so paused.  He about passed out with fear and anticipation while she digested the declaration.  Finally, she looked him in the eyes and replied "I love you too".  The color returned to his face and he said "Good, because I really didn't want to get back on that plane in the morning!".  While they didn't get engaged (yet) they spent those 10 days talking about a life together.  It was the closest thing to dating they got to do, even though most of the time they drove around they had a chaperone. This had to be done to protect her reputation in a country where rumors can fly and witness can be ruined quickly.  They agreed ahead of time to not kiss, but it was definitely difficult to refrain.   They wanted to grow strong in their relationship without complicating it with physical affection. Putting him on a plane heading back to China was the hardest thing she had ever done in her life.  Her heart tore into a million pieces that day, and to this day she has never cried longer or harder.  Only God's peace that passes all understanding gave them the strength to continue the work they knew God had given them to do in China and Paraguay.

On the top of the mountain overlooking my first home in Paraguay. But no kissing!

Receiving Valentine's Flowers, all the way from China (he had the help of a missionary kid ordering them from across Paraguay for him!)

Seven months later, this blonde girl's sister was getting married in the United States.  It was four months until the end of their 2 year terms, so the two love birds decided to use the remaining vacation time they had and spend two weeks together in the U.S. to meet each other's families and participate in the wedding.  This time, they agreed they would kiss when they saw each other.  When he went to pick her up at the Nashville airport (he arrived the day before) they shared their first kiss at the baggage claim. It may have lasted ten minutes.  The anticipation of that kiss was like nothing any bystander had ever seen.  People walked by, others made comments, but this reunited couple didn't notice.  They were finally together again after being so far apart.  He took her home to meet his family, and the next day, while both of them were still whirling from jet lag, he drove her to the most beautiful spot he could find in the area: Columbus Park in Columbus, Kentucky. At a little gazebo overlooking the Mississippi River, the young man read a poem he wrote, then got on one knee and asked this blonde girl to be his wife.  She said Yes!

This is our only engagement photo....

unless you count this- he bought me this ring from across the world! Thank goodness for internet!
In those two weeks they planned the majority of their wedding.  With the help of a newlywed friend, she picked out a dress in one hour, they set up a caterer and photographer, they picked their wedding party, and the venue and minister were booked.  All of this was done along with visiting seminary where they would live and he would attend before the wedding would take place in October.  They determined housing, met up with old friends she attended school with, and returned to Kentucky before saying goodbye for four more months. During those four months they picked out their registry online, picked out flowers and bridesmaids dresses (and several of the wedding party members were spread out across the world as well!), and made many plans by email.
Those four months in Paraguay and China were bittersweet.  While they missed each other desperately and wanted so badly to be married, they knew they couldn't leave their commitments on the field.  They had to complete what God sent them there to do.  Saying goodbye to the many friends they met, people they had led to Christ and discipled, and in her case, a group of indigenous people who would never again have a Christian witness for an indefinite amount of time was excruciating.  It tore her heart out to leave them behind, entrusting them to the One who cared about them more than she did.  Returning "home" to America was so difficult, but being reunited was a glimmer of joy.  They immediately moved to North Carolina for him to begin classes.  There was 10 weeks for this blonde girl to set up their home in another seminary housing apartment, for them to both find employment, and to complete wedding planning.  Most weekends were spent driving four hours to the wedding location in  South Carolina whenever they had the chance to tie up loose ends, attend showers, and see her family.
Finally, on October 4th, 2003 all the plans came together and this blonde girl and her young man exchanged vows.

And the kiss was timed.  It was a long one.  Five seconds to be exact. Their guests are still talking about it.

They scrapped up enough money to take a honeymoon in Kawaii, Hawaii, because that was her dream since childhood.  And they almost drowned there together, but that's another story.

The wait to see him again, to be with him intimately on our wedding night?  It was difficult.  It was more than difficult.  It seemed impossible.
But it was worth it.  It was worth it to those who got to hear.  It was worth it to build their character and trust in God's timing.  It was worth it to put their hearts in God's hands, knowing He would make all things beautiful in His time.  It was worth it to be able to share with their future children, with young people struggling to wait for God's best, with youth who think all is hopeless when a heart throb breaks their heart and shatters it.  It was worth it.
Wearing Chinese dress for our rehearsal dinner.  

Twelve and a half years later, we are at a place we could never have imagined.  I could not be here if He hadn't carried me then.  I could not be living with joy now if He had not taught me through that difficult time of waiting.  I couldn't wait for His plan to continue to unfold in my life if He hadn't strengthened me to see His faithfulness then.
He makes all things beautiful.  His plans are never fulfilled early or late.  And He is still reminding me of this lesson  Those days are my Jordan River.  When Joshua and the Israelites crossed the Jordan into the promised land, God told them to  build an alter right there in the river to remind them, their children, and their children's children of how He had been faithful.  40 years they waited in the wilderness, but He was faithful.

After our first year of marriage, Kris presented me with a small chest.  I excitedly opened it, and beheld a huge stack of printed out pages with the cover page titled "Love Grew Between the Lines".  It was our story, in emails.  Every single email we wrote each other for two years was in that box.  That is our pillar of stones in the Jordan.  When we doubt God's timing, His purposes, or His reasons, we can look back at that box and remember.  He's faithful.  He has a plan, and waiting is worth it.

I hope you've enjoyed this "little" story.  It isn't done.  It has only begun.  And God is weaving a story in your life too.  Is isn't the same as mine.  If it were, we'd all be dull and boring.  Everyone's is different.  And those differences reveal God's beautiful tapistry of journeys about His faithfulness that we can hear and marvel over.
Thanks for reading, and may this encourage you to strive to wait for His best in your life as well!