Love Story: Chapter 27

Yeah, so that’s how it happened. January 2, 2014 had come and gone, and we were engaged. The whole thing was both surreal and oddly normal. 

  The view of the Smoky Mountains from our cabin the morning after Tony proposed.

The view of the Smoky Mountains from our cabin the morning after Tony proposed.

I never wanted to receive an outlandish proposal from Tony. Being in the spotlight and fussed over only makes me embarrassed... and shockingly awkward. To be completely honest, I turn all shades of red when a crowd, large or small, is staring at me. My throat tightens, and I struggle to breathe normally. 

Public speaking is one thing, but expressing deep emotion in front of an audience is an entirely new level of hard. I was beyond thankful that Tony, charismatic and extroverted, chose a more casual, private setting for popping the question.

We celebrated with my family (and his via Skype) the following morning and announced that the wedding would take place in Cape Town. It was the place where we had met, the place that seemed most “us.” That aside, it was the place we felt called. 

  Tony and me hanging out on the porch of the cabin, happy and engaged.

Tony and me hanging out on the porch of the cabin, happy and engaged.

Tony’s visa permitted him to be in the States through May, and so we set the date for June 7th. The dead of winter in the southern hemisphere. It was a risky choice for a South African garden ceremony, but we felt at peace about the decision. So we made plans to venture across the ocean and down the globe at the beginning of May... meaning we’d have exactly four weeks "on the ground" to prepare for the wedding.

Those two weeks in Knoxville with Tony were amazing. He found his place amongst my family, and as for my best friends, well—he became close mates with their husbands, of course. It was a season of celebration and community. A sweet Tennessee winter. The end of one chapter. The World Race. Diamond Diving. Singleness. And the beginning of a new one. Together. America. South Africa. Wedding.

  Tony and me on Gay Street in downtown Knoxville—having a crepe breakfast with a friend.

Tony and me on Gay Street in downtown Knoxville—having a crepe breakfast with a friend.

The day after the family cabin weekend, I drove Tony to the airport in Atlanta. He was flying south to Baton Rouge to start an internship with Children’s Cup. Saying goodbye, again, was difficult. We’d been apart for five months, and two weeks together didn’t seem like enough. But I had a lot of work to do, and I’d see Tony again (this time in Louisiana) in a month.

During my time in Swaziland (Chapter 15), God spoke YEBO (now YEBO Life) into being. His instruction was simple: a women’s retreat in Knoxville in January 2014 called YEBO. I knew YEBO would eventually grow beyond retreats, but I wasn’t sure how or when... and besides, God had instructed me to stay focused on this single command. January 24th was rounding the corner, and I had discussions, meals and accommodation to organize.

  The farmhouse where the first YEBO retreat was hosted.

The farmhouse where the first YEBO retreat was hosted.

Fifteen women gathered on a snowy farm that weekend. Two from out-of-state joined us to lead talks on God’s provision and calling, and 13 others, including myself, showed up to share in good conversation and coffee. It was an interesting four days. Lots happened in a short amount of time, and a handful of lives were significantly shifted.

  Some of the women at the retreat enjoying late night snacks.

Some of the women at the retreat enjoying late night snacks.

I was thankful, but something I learned was this: Often, when people pioneer a new “thing,” they get worried about 1) what people will think and 2) how they’ll be perceived. What if the "thing" fails? What if I fail? And in my particular case—What if people don’t show up? 

I have a friend who’s currently trying to start a business, and she sent me a text last night. “It’s so scary trying new things that might fail... and telling the world you are trying! Successful people must not be perfectionists or approval junkies.” 

How true is that?! Successful people—people who make things happen—fail. Probably often. But they don’t let the fear of failure control their decisions. They can't. And they can’t allow perfection or the approval of others to become more important than the act of carrying out the vision.

As for me, I was afraid of people not showing up, and I was afraid of how people would view the retreat once they were there. My fear led me to take things into my own hands. 

God had called me to host YEBO, yes. But I did the planning. Thanks for your time, God, but I’ll handle the details from here. That was my attitude. I wanted the thing to be big... to be a success! In my mind, success meant people—lots and lots of people. Whoever wanted to come could come, and wherever the discussions wanted to go, they could go. I didn't want to appear controlling or rigid. 

Looking back, the retreat was too “wide-open.” 

God brought redemption to my disobedience, yes. Like I said, lives were impacted. But pursuing my own will did have its consequences. Once the retreat was over, I felt exhausted and was left second-guessing myself. I knew the fatigue and confusion weren't of the Lord, and I knew I’d taken some wrong turns along the way.

  My dear friend Chelsey and me at the retreat. This woman helps me process everything.

My dear friend Chelsey and me at the retreat. This woman helps me process everything.

Here's the thing: Success doesn’t always mean what we think it means. I thought success equaled numbers. But in God’s Kingdom, success equals obedience to God. Today, our retreats are geared towards small groups of four to six, and there’s more structure so we know where our discussions are headed. We have a goal in mind, and we move towards it while remaining sensitive and open to the Holy Spirit. It’s beautiful, really. And I’m able to finish the weekend feeling relaxed, at peace and full of joy.

A week after that first retreat, I flew to Baton Rouge. I still hadn’t fully processed the weekend and I continued to struggle to find my way as a new person in an old place, so it was good for me to get away. To catch a breather in a city unknown. 

  My first day in Baton Rouge, working in the floor of my bedroom.

My first day in Baton Rouge, working in the floor of my bedroom.

Tony picked me up from the airport on the evening of February 2nd. I remember walking out of the terminal to find him sitting by a fountain. He was bundled up nicely in his new winter coat. I hugged that man I love, and off we went—out of the airport and in to two and a half weeks of coffee mornings, Mexican nights and the occasional sushi date.

To read our full story, please visit our Love Story page.