Love Story: Chapter 31

The original plan was for Tony to drive me back to Knoxville, spend a few days with my family, then head off to Arkansas for another Children’s Cup meeting. A day before we were to leave, Tony received a call from his direct report at the Cup office. He suggested that Tony go ahead and end his internship a few weeks early. 

Like Tony said in the previous chapter, he bucked his entire way through that season with Children’s Cup. He didn’t have correct expectations for the position, and he all but resented being sentenced to a cubicle and stacks of administrative work… almost everyday. (At least that’s how Tony saw it—a prison sentence.) All jokes aside, let me say this: Administrative work is 100% necessary for any organization to run effectively and well. But administrative anything simply isn’t Tony’s forte. 

If he knew the work awaiting him in Baton Rouge, I honestly don’t believe he would’ve ever gotten on the plane. I mean, really, things like mining for diamonds on the ocean floor and touring foreigners through the Cape Winelands are what gets his heart pumping. Stamping envelopes and inputting data into a computer system are, for this guy, more like torture. Still, I think the Lord knew what He was doing when He called Tony to the States. 

Children’s Cup was precisely what Tony needed at the time. Lessons in discipline, control, patience, and submission to authority. Haven’t all great leaders, at some point in their lives, done the work they didn’t want to do? Yes, I’d venture to say so. And that’s what Tony is—a great leader. God is equipping him each and everyday to lead Yebo Life with authenticity, love, and grace, and I’m fortunate to get to stand by his side and watch it all unfold—since day one, from the ground up. (Although sometimes I don’t feel so fortunate! Starting a grassroots organization isn’t the easiest feat in the world.)

So, that was the end of the Children’s Cup season for Tony, and the start of our life together... actually, physically together. He had to return his intern vehicle that afternoon, and we scrambled to find an affordable one-way rental car (also not the easiest feat in the world) to get us to Knoxville. 

$224.83. That’s what that two-door economy car cost us, and we were like Brittany Murphy and Ashton Kutcher in Just Married the entire way from Baton Rouge to my grandmother’s home in Ethridge, TN. Shoulder-to-shoulder, we argued nearly the whole time. Tony was further infuriated by the fact that his American fiancé was in the driver’s seat. Helpless, I think he considered himself. Fortunately, today, we can recall the memory with laughs.

We had a great visit with my grandmother, then hightailed it back to Knoxville to return our rental on time. That evening, we celebrated my brother-in-law’s birthday. A week later, Tony experienced his very first true blue yard sale. I’ll never forget it. 

  Tony and my paternal grandmother at her home in Ethridge, TN.

Tony and my paternal grandmother at her home in Ethridge, TN.

Tony couldn’t believe that my sister Leslie and I were waking up so early. He couldn’t imagine anyone showing up at the house before 10 a.m. on a Saturday. But at 5 a.m., Leslie and I were alive and well in her driveway, fully equipped with lawn chairs and coffee… and sure enough, there came our first customer. Minutes later, Tony walked outside, examined the scene, and shook his head saying, “Unbelievable.” Oh, how I laughed. 

Stuff was neatly scattered all over the pavement. “This would never work in Africa,” Tony said. “People would just run by and steal things.” That’s an ongoing joke we have about the many differences between our home countries. In the U.S., unfenced yards are peppered with bicycles, skateboards, toys, balls, garden tools, and such. “In Africa,” Tony will point and say, “He gone!”

Our time in Knoxville was quickly dwindling. The countdown was officially on. I only had four more weeks at home, and in those 28 days, Tony and I did as much as possible. They were sweet, full, rich times. We celebrated my dad’s birthday, my birthday, a friend’s engagement, the same friend’s wedding, and our own engagement. Tony had his first winter bass fishing experience, and we made a multitude of memories over the dinner table with family and friends.

  Having dinner with my sisters and their husbands in Knoxville, TN.

Having dinner with my sisters and their husbands in Knoxville, TN.

The day after our engagement party (a beautiful celebration hosted by my sisters), I picked up my wedding dress. The next day, Tony left for Cape Town. And the next, I, in a whirlwind of emotions and broken luggage, left too. Flustered by the state of my suitcase and late for my flight, I didn’t get to say a proper goodbye to my mother, father, and grandfather. (Silly me. When will I learn? It’s not the things that matter. It’s the people.)

  At our engagement party in Dandridge, TN on May 4, 2014 with my immediate family.

At our engagement party in Dandridge, TN on May 4, 2014 with my immediate family.

  Dropping Tony off at the McGhee Tyson Airport in Knoxville, TN on May 6, 2014.

Dropping Tony off at the McGhee Tyson Airport in Knoxville, TN on May 6, 2014.

But just before I went through security, my dad handed me a folded up piece of paper. He’d cut out the games section of his newspaper for me. My dad works the Crossword, Sudoku, Jumble, and Celebrity Cipher everyday, so handing over this portion of the daily news is quite an offer—one that I hope I never take for granted.

A few hours later, with an itinerary that landed me in South Africa, I was all sorts of things. Nervous, doubtful, sad… and wondering if I’d made a completely irrational decision to leave America (again). I asked the Lord to speak to my heart and to reassure me that I was in His will.

The Celebrity Cipher is a cryptogram created from quotations by famous people, past and present. Each letter in the cipher stands for another. That day’s clue: W equals F. One letter, that’s typically all the help you get. Thankfully, somehow, I’m rather good at this game. Not as good as my father, but pretty decent. Within minutes of my prayer, I'd solved the puzzle. 

Initially, my scribbles were nothing but letters—mere answers to different pieces of the puzzle. But once I’d filled in each letter, I zoomed out and found myself starting at a quote by Amelia Earhart, the first female to, oddly enough, fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean. 

Never do things others can do and will do if there are things others cannot do or will not do.

To this day, I keep that folded up piece of paper in my wallet as a reminder that while my life may look different from the mainstream, and while it may produce its own unique set of difficulties, I’m right where God wants me. The words God spoke through Jeremiah to the Jewish exiles in Babylon resonate with me now. "You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart." (Jeremiah 29:13)

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