The first is the night that I accepted Christ as my Lord and Savior...the culmination of a patient girlfriend and my future wife who didn't give up on me and an even more patient God, who walked with me through the valleys of my Freshman year at UT to show me that His love was bigger than all of the sin I could muster. It was on this day that I surrendered my life to serve my God, and while I ask forgiveness daily for falling short of His Glory, I continue to this day to walk daily with Him and ask for his guidance as I lead my family and raise my children in the way and teaching of the Lord.
The second milestone. I am working for Arthur Andersen and in a hotel room in Wilmington, North Carolina. It's in the middle of winter, and I am out of town for what seems to be weeks at a time. At home is Candi, pregnant with our first child, working nights at Vanderbilt and sick as a dog...anyone who calls this morning sickness has 1) never been pregnant or 2) never had a wife that is nauseated 24 hours a day for easily the first 4 months of her pregnancy. I remember that Candi had to go to her OB Dr. and she took her mom with her because she didn't want to go by herself...and she had to get an ultrasound because the Dr. couldn't hear the heartbeat. Everything was okay, and I can remember thinking that this was the end of my days working as an auditor with AA, and I promptly found a way out of public accounting. Now that's not my milestone as I digress...As I'm sitting in North Carolina, I get a call from Candi, almost in tears and terrified to talk to me over the phone..."it's your mom," she says. "I just talked to her and she has ALS." As a nurse Candi knew the gravity of the news that she just shared with me, and she also could tell by my reaction that I had no idea how our lives just changed. The next 2 years are a blur, but I can remember several moments during this time like they were yesterday. I can remember a Sunday at Brentwood Baptist, I was sitting alone in church - the old sanctuary on Franklin Road - not sure why Candi wasn't there - but I can remember going up to the altar for prayer time in tears, asking God for help as I watched my mom struggle with this awful disease and as I struggled to be the son that I needed to be and find a balance as I also needed to be a strong husband to my wife of under 2 years and father to my precious new baby girl. Those first 4 years of marriage, Candi and I went through just about every major life event one could imagine...We bought a house a year into our marriage, we had a baby within the next year, mom gets diagnosed with ALS and after taking care of her before and after work for over 6 months we decide to sell our houses and buy a house together so we can take care of her full-time. While we are living together we become pregnant with our 2nd child, so I have a pregnant wife, a 1 year old baby girl, and a mom who is going downhill all too quickly. We bring in help for mom and ultimately move her to the Alive Hospice Residence, where she spent the last month of her life. Within a week of mom's death, we were blessed with the birth of our 2nd daughter. Just writing this down makes me exhausted, but the lessons I learned and the growth that Candi and I experienced during this time - it strengthened our marriage and our dependence on daily help from our Heavenly Father, as we truly could not have endured that time in our lives without is sustenance.
This past week, I have had the 3rd milestone in my life. I have a picture in my mind that will be forever embedded in my heart of my new daughter running out of the orphanage door with arms open wide and a smile bigger than life...saying "mommy" and running into the arms of a stranger she had never met...with the faith that only a child can manage, she reaches her mother who picks up her new daughter and they embrace as if the prodigal child was finally home. I can't wait until I can share pictures and video of this and the other moments that we experienced this past week as we met our son and daughter for the first time. It was a trip that changed me forever. I am thankful that Sarah Beth and Haley were able to join us for the trip for many reasons - they were able to see the level of poverty that the people in Ethiopia live - they were able to see first hand the joy of the people, many of whom had virtually nothing but they seemed more content than most Americans. The children in the orphanage were also content and happy, but we witnessed one sibling set of boys - ages probably 5 and 3 - the day they were brought to the orphanage. I can still see the looks on their faces. Their eyes are dead and their little bodies look broken as they have just lost everything they have ever known. This is where our children were 5 months ago, today. I can tell by the looks on their faces in those first pictures, and the only thing that keeps me going is knowing that those two little boys will get a family one day very soon and I know their faces will light up when they get to run into the arms of their new mommy and daddy, too.
It's been less than a week since last Friday when the judge said those magic words that we have been waiting over a year to hear: "They are Yours," she said. And with those words we are now a family of 7. Albeit, for the next couple of weeks, we are here and they are still at HH in Ethiopia, but we left with them part of our hearts, and I long for the day (and it can't come too soon) that that door will open and our son and daughter will look into our eyes, run with open arms and say - mommy! daddy! - embrace with the love that only a mother or father can give. The thought of that moment consumes me.
I am already changed. I love a son and a daughter that I have seen in pictures for a little over two months and I have met in person for only 4 days, and yet I know they are mine. That moment when I first held them in my arms - I will truly never be the same. I am changed forever.