While Julie was spending time with family and friends, yoga-ing it up, and running around Knoxville like a mad lady, I was doing my fair share of traveling.
During a trip from Tampa Bay back to Baton Rouge, I felt prompted to rewrite a sermon I'd shared two years earlier in Swaziland. Soon after, I was contacted by a close friend who leads the Chi Alpha ministry at Northwestern State University. Daniel invited me to attend their annual leaders' retreat and asked me to share during one of the teaching slots… lo and behold, my freshly-written message on God-given calling would be perfect.
I spent three days in Natchitoches, Louisiana, home to Julia Roberts in Steel Magnolias, with Daniel and his wife Brittany. I had the privilege of pouring into their male leaders over countless cups of coffee at Canebrake Café, where I quickly became one of the locals. Then we carpooled to Lafayette for the retreat. The weekend was filled with fun, laughter, four Mardi Gras parades, and some intense teaching, and I was beyond privileged to share the message I'd prepared.
Mardi Gras wasn't what everyone had warned me about. Granted, I wasn't roaming the streets of New Orleans where I'm sure it was a different kind of party, but I had a great time at several family-friendly celebrations. I loved learning about and experiencing the culture.
I was happy to return home to Baton Rouge, which really had become my home. I missed Larry and Julie and was longing to be back at Club Tucker... in my own bed. But my time there was short-lived. Just two days later, I was back on the horse and heading north to Conway, Arkansas.
Children's Cup partners with an amazing family in Conway who runs a restaurant called Pitza42. A portion of the restaurant's profit is used to fund feeding programs for children in Africa. For every pizza sold, a child receives a meal from FMSC. The Samuelson family opened up their home and treated me as one of their own! This trip is one of my fondest memories of stateside traveling. I built friendships everywhere I went, and it was amazing to be a part of something so big, something so impactful. My colleague and I were also able to share about Children's Cup at One Church, pastored by Paul Hudson, an extremely passionate man who brings the heat to a great congregation in downtown Conway.
December 1, 2013 is a day permanently etched on the scrolls of my memory. It was the day I said a final farewell to my second mom, Val Saharin. I cried when I said goodbye to her on that day in Cape Town. I feared it would be the last time we'd see each other… and I was right.
She'd been fighting stage four cancer for more than three years. And while driving home from Conway on March 10th, 2014, I got the call. "Val isn't going to make it through the night," my mother told me. Hours later, she was escorted by a host of angels into heaven. She was no longer in pain.
Val's passing was a terribly difficult thing to walk through. For her family. For my family. For me. I was in the States when she was diagnosed in 2010... and again when she passed away. I was forced to grieve her diagnosis and her death alone, and I was mad at God for carrying me to faraway places during those hard times. I longed to be back home in Cape Town with my family, but I was thankful that Val had finally received her healing in heaven.
She always encouraged me to live my life to the absolute fullest, and returning to Cape Town wouldn't have been her desire for me. Upon Val's diagnosis, while processing my thoughts in a journal, I resolved to living my life as if there were no tomorrow—a resolution I still live by today.
Over the weeks to come, I processed through my grief and pain... and trusted that God was working in and through it all.
Four days later after receiving the phone call from my mom, I drove to New Orleans to pick Julie up from the airport. Her arrival was impeccably timed and much needed. The two of us planned to spend a week in Baton Rouge before heading back up to Knoxville, where we'd enjoy our final month in the U.S.
I arrived in New Orleans a few hours early and had the chance to taste some of the city's finest po' boys with Bud, Martha, and Sally, friends that I hadn't seen in years and Louisiana natives. Their company took my mind off of Val, and almost as soon as we finished lunch, I had my fiancé in my arms. Julie and I rushed straight back to Baton Rouge because I had to represent Children's Cup at a 5K race fundraiser on LSU's campus.
Julie and I spent most of our last week in Baton Rouge at the Tuckers' house. We cooked our famous chicken and mango tacos and relaxed a bit. It had been a long few months! And as all good things come to an end, so did this season of life. It was a time of immense blessing, introspection, submission, humility, and perseverance. Like a mustang bound by a rope, I bucked my entire way through. But in the end, I learned a great deal about discipline, control, patience, and several other things that make me a better man today—a better husband, a better leader, and more than ever, a man who's sure of God's ability (and desire) to work all things, even the most painful ones, for my ultimate good.
To read our full story, please visit our Love Story page.