Earlier this week marked a couple of anniversaries for me. The first was that it has now been 14 years since I've returned home from serving a mission for my church in Kiev, Ukraine. I remember that crazy last day where my two best friends and companions and I went to say goodbye to some of our favorite people. One of our quick stops was to see a family I was very close to and the father had made us beautiful wooden plant stands. They were gorgeous and are still floating around somewhere in Kiev because we were not allowed to bring them on the plane. I was heartbroken and when I went back to visit a few years later I told him the sad tale and he just handed me one from their home. It wasn't nearly as beautiful as the one that he had previously made me but I made sure to get it home this time and it still stands in my dining room as a wonderful reminder of my Ukrainian family.
Lots of missionaries are kind of nervous to come home because there are big decisions to make and real life to face after spending all day every day for years in service to others. It can feel like a spiritual let down. I was ready though and while sad to say goodbye and leave, I had wonderful things to look forward to at home. I arrived late on a Tuesday evening and waiting for me at the airport were my parents, one of my sisters and one of my best friends. I was released as a missionary the following day and felt so grateful for the experience. It was an incredible opportunity and blessing to be able to serve a mission and it refined me and changed me in ways that help me each day.
The second anniversary that I celebrated this week was that it has now been 14 years from the day I got engaged. Just two days after I got home I was headed back to the airport, this time by myself. I had taken a long time to get ready and choose my outfit and I was so excitedly nervous. I was going to pick up Josh and we hadn't seen each other in two and a half years. We had been writing to each other the whole time and I ached to be with him again. Some, actually most, people told me we would never last that long and that our relationship would end while we were apart, but I knew better. I understand that it happens more often than not but I knew in my heart we were different. We were meant to be together and we had both chosen to consecrate that sacred time in our lives to serving Jesus Christ, which only brought us closer together and made us better versions of ourselves. Even when it would be weeks without a letter from him, I always felt connected and close.
He returned home a few months before I did and I was so anxious and excited to see him. Still, I wondered how it would be to be with him again. I was at the airport and waiting for him to come down the hallway when I saw him and my heart seriously went aflutter. He didn't see me though (so much for that magical moment when our eyes meet and we run to each other's arms) so I had to call to him before he got on the escalator to go down to baggage claim. The minute our eyes locked, I felt such peace in my heart and I knew that we were going to be so happy together. It was as if we had never been apart and there wasn't any awkwardness at all; we just fell right back into place with each other. It was one of the most magical moments of my life.
Neither of us really knew the city where we were since my parents had moved their when I went to college so we drove to a park he had found online but it was dark and cold. He started talking to me in the parking lot and I remember thinking that he wasn't going to ask me right there in the parking lot, was he? But he did. He got so excited he just asked me right then to be his wife and I told him that I thought he would never ask. We had talked about getting married almost four years previous so it was a long time coming and I was so happy. Then we walked through this park, with angry geese following us, to a gazebo where we danced to a tape he had made. At one point there was a break in the music and he said that was when he was supposed to have proposed. Then we drove around trying to find a good steak restaurant to eat and talk. We stayed up until almost 3am that night just talking on my living room couch and I just remember feeling so happy and complete.
We took engagement pictures the next day and then on Sunday I went to church with a beautiful ring on my finger to report to the high council and give my homecoming talk. My new fiance went home on Monday and I didn't see him for another month, until just two weeks before we got married. After being apart for most of the time we dated, one of the very happiest parts about getting married was that we were finally able to live together and be together all of the time. Our lives were now connected and we didn't have to be separated any more. Six more weeks and we'll get to celebrate that anniversary too. Being asked to marry Josh was the easiest question I've ever answered and I'm glad every day that I said yes.