Monday, June 25, 2012

Best Year of My Life! (It's true)

It has been 7 months since I last blogged! I started this blog to detail my trips to Nicaragua and other countries. And at times I will blog about momentous events in my life. Well... something VERY momentous happened over a month ago and I am just now getting around to blogging about it.

I GOT MARRIED!!! HITCHED!!! WED!!! On May 12th in Jacksonville, Florida, I stood beside my father, brother, brother-in-law, future brother-in-law, and college roommates as I watched my gorgeous bride walk down the aisle to me. Anyone who was there will confirm that it was an extremely emotional moment for me. I had been waiting so long for that this day and it could not have been more perfect, because the most beautiful woman in the world and my best friend was about to take my last name. Stefanie Marie Jones! The wedding ceremony was beautiful and the reception was a blast. Then we spent an amazing 9 days in Jamaica for our honeymoon. We are now making our home in Trussville, Alabama. However, I am not writing this blog to talk about the wedding and first month of marriage. I want to document to events that led up to the proposal 3 months prior to the wedding!!

It is going to be difficult to share every detail that unfolded the crazy yet magical day of Saturday, February 11th that will forever have a special place in mine and Stef's heart. It is the day that Stef agreed to be my wife, and I became the happiest/luckiest man in the world. What I mean by difficult is that it takes almost a full hour to share the story in person with friends and family; so to type it out in a short, to the point, yet not missing the best moments and readable in one sitting story will not be easy. But here goes...

This story begins in September, 2011, when I was an indecisive idiot and broke Stefanie's heart by ending our relationship. After I moved back to Trussville, Stef and I did not see each other, talk on the phone, or email for 5 months! Zero contact. Believe me, I wanted to see her and talk with her because I thought about her every day. However, during that time, the Lord in His sovereignty used our separation to prepare my heart and mind for the journey Stef and I are now on. And He was also working in Stef's life during that time as well. I don’t have time to share everything that Christ was doing, but it mostly dealt with my perspective on relationships/marriage and my selfishness, especially in reference to my life plan. I emphasize “my” because that’s exactly what it was, not God’s or ours, but my plan. Having realized all this plus the fact that Stef was everything I ever wanted (and more), and that I didn’t want to live life without her, I decided that I had to do whatever I could to get her back. Therefore on Friday, February 10th, I left work early and drove 10 hours to Orlando, FL. I had spoken with Stef’s dad, Rob, on the phone the day before and asked if we could meet Saturday morning for coffee. I was extremely nervous making that call, but he was very cordial. We ended up meeting a little later than I had hoped for lunch on Saturday. That was a big concern, but it did add a little to my nerves since I was anxious to get to Jacksonville and see Stef. Rob and I sat and talked for almost 2 hours. Again, the conversation went very well, and by the end I had asked his blessing in asking for his daughter’s hand in marriage. He gave it but said it might not be so easy with Stef. He said she might “kick me in the teeth” and wouldn’t blame her. I wouldn’t have either. Leaving lunch I had a 2 hour drive to Jacksonville. It gave me a little time to prepare, because it was hard to make a plan since I wasn’t sure what Rob was going to say or how Stef was going to respond. But I knew what I wanted, and so with Step 1 completed (talking with her father), my hopes for a proposal were “all systems go.” However, I knew that many things had to fall perfectly into place, or rather the Lord’s place, for that to become a reality, especially that night.

While driving to Jacksonville detailing my next “steps”, I was informed that Stef somehow knew I was coming to see her. My plan was to surprise her, but God had other plans. (What’s cool about this story is how God’s plans trumped mine at every turn, because all my plans crashed & burned). My original thought was to give Stef a clue that I was in town to see her (in order for her not to be completely overwhelmed and have a little time to process her thoughts and feelings), and then show up about 30 minutes later. However, God knew that Stef needed a full day to pray and think. So, on Friday night, He worked it out in a way that made Stef’s best friend feel very strongly that she needed to tell her I was coming the next day. A sad/romantic movie was involved but that’s too much detail for now. In Stef’s friend’s defense, I am glad she did it but at the time I thought my plans were ruined.

Finally arriving in Jacksonville, I went to Tiffany’s (a jewelry store I never thought I'd ever buy anything from) and bought earrings, which Stef had lost one of a similar pair over the summer, and a necklace. I then began looking for some sort of ring to give her, because I knew she wanted her great-grandmother’s, but I didn’t have it yet. (It was in a safe deposit box in Orlando, and we couldn’t get to it until Monday). Getting flustered and anxious to get to Stef since she knew I was in town, I gave up the search for a ring and moved on with my “plan.” I drove to a friend’s house and started getting my first clue ready. It was my plan to use our bikes (we had bought two cruisers together while dating) with the Tiffany’s earrings in a box sitting on my bike’s seat with a note that read, “Two are better than one. They are meant to be together.” I was going to place that clue in her driveway for her to see before she left that evening for a charity ball she was attending. That plan didn’t work either because Stef and her roommate actually left early for the ball. (And if you know Stef then you know how surprising this was as Stef is never on time for anything!) Again my plans weren’t working, so I took a picture of our bikes together, printed it, and placed it in the box with the earrings and note. I put on my suit, gathered my supplies, and went to the ball. A friend snuck me in to a separate room in the back of the church where the ball was being held. I decorated the room with candles, flowers, rose pedals, pictures of us, and bible verses (see picture below). I turned on the song Crazy Girl by The Eli Young Band. This song has significance to our relationship. I had given the Tiffany’s box to a friend who was to give it to Stef at the ball and then lead her to the room. (The process of getting Stef to the room is a pretty funny one. Ask about it sometime.) I was not in the decorated room but waiting in a side room. Once she entered, the room was candlelit with the song playing in the background. A teacup candle path led her to a table with flowers and our picture. A note was leaning against the picture that read...

“I listened to this song while driving and started crying. There are so many words in this song that remind me of us; however…You are not crazy; I am crazy to have ever left you; God has done some crazy work in my life; Most of all… I am CRAZY in love with you.”

After she read the note I walked in from the side door. My heart was pounding, and I saw that she was crying which made me cry too. Seeing her for the first time in 5 months was more overwhelming than I could have ever expected. We sat in front of the table and for 45 minutes I poured out my heart, and Stef never said a word. I began by saying how sorry I was for leaving her and asked for her forgiveness. Then I told her about all that God had done in my life over the past 5 months, and how much my love for her had grown in ways that can only come from the Lord. Stef was so amazing and one of the first things she said to me was that she had forgiven me long ago. After hearing Stef’s side of the story, all the things she had prayed about earlier that day while waiting to see me were the same things I was sharing. We sat and talked for a while, and then I said I had another gift for her. I grabbed another Tiffany’s box with the necklace in it and gave it to her with a note that read, “Merry Christmas & Happy Birthday” since I had missed both in the 5 months. (There is a funny side note here about how all the “clues” I had planned for her to get, including the first Tiffany’s box, never registered with Stef; mostly because there were so many emotions and thoughts clouding her mind.)

We sat and talked in the room for about an hour & a half before I asked her if she wanted to leave. Things were going very well, and I wanted to continue with my ultimate plan of asking Stef to marry me. I still wasn’t sure if the timing was right yet, because there were a few things we still needed to talk about. So we left the ball and drove toward the beach. During the 15-minute drive, Stef and I were talking and catching up like we had never been apart. It was wonderful driving with her again, and all the things that I wanted to talk about to help confirm that the timing was right for a proposal were brought up naturally. “Praise God,” I thought. He was definitely directing me. Once we arrived at the beach everything had fallen into place perfectly for me to be confident about proposing. It was a cold and windy night, but I asked Stef if she would run out to the beach with me. She agreed, and we walked down the boardwalk to the beach. I stopped her at the end of the boardwalk overlooking the sand and the water, and I asked her if I could pray for us. We were shaking we were so cold, so I wrapped her up tight in my arms. (I was shaking not from the cold but mostly from being nervous). I prayed a very specific prayer for our new relationship and the new journey we on together. After praying I said,

“Stef, about 2 years ago we were standing right here and you asked me a question. You asked, ‘Do you want to kiss me?’, and I said, ‘Yes.’ So, now I have a question for you…”

I paused and prepared myself for what I was about to say.

“Stefanie Marie Elliott… I love you so much and I can’t imagine life without you…”

I’m not exactly sure what I said but just imagine something very sweet and romantic. At that moment I started to drop to one knee and the feelings and emotions that came over me were unbelievable. I was on one knee in front of the girl of my dreams about to ask her to be my wife! It was a very surreal moment, and it seemed like time was standing still.

“You are the woman I want to spend the rest of my life with. I want you to be my wife. Will you marry me?”

Stef just stared at me in complete shock. She didn’t say anything so I felt like the need to continue.
“I know this is all very overwhelming and a lot to take in, so you don’t have to give me an answer right now. I just want you to know that this is where I am.”

She was still just staring at me; I was still on my knee (I remember thinking I never imagined being on me knee this long!), so I reached in my pocket and pulled out a tiny, white ribbon.

“I’m sorry I don’t have a ring right now. This ribbon is all I have…”

At that moment Stef’s expression changed. It was a look of concern. I later found out she was thinking to herself, “He hasn’t talked to my dad. This is just a spur of the moment, rash decision. He hasn’t thought this through.”

It was like I knew what she was thinking, and so immediately I said, “I met with your dad this morning, and he gave me his blessing to ask you to marry me.”

And instantly Stef smiled and said, “Yes! Yes! Yes!”

And so here we are on this new journey that the Lord has set before us. There are so many details and so much more to include, but it all comes down to this: The Lord has brought us together and we are so excited to see how He will use our marriage and our love for His glory.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

My New Pad

I don't mean iPad. It's a new place to lay my head. I have been working on it for over 6 weeks now, and I honestly think that I have been there everyday. Last night was the first night I was able to sleep there. I first saw this place over the summer when I went to see my brother's new house in the middle of Trussville. It is his garage apartment, and I knew it had potential the moment I saw it. However, I had to look past the cobwebs, terrible smell, and possible diseases in the carpet, but with some tender love and care it could be nice. I didn't know that TLC would involve almost 200 hours. Below are a few pictures I took a few days after I started working. Unfortunately, I didn't take a picture on the first day, but there was some nasty carpet everywhere. I had to get rid of it immediately because it smelled terrible (mildew, mold, pee, who knows what else).

The studs to the right of the pic were part of a closet that I decided to tear out to open the place up a little. There was also a big floor furnace that we tore out that was beneath where the oven is sitting. Unfortunately this meant I had no heat. I learned a lot about natural gas since I had to run new lines and check for leaks all over the house in order to get the gas lines to pass inspection.

This is the kitchen. The cabinets look great, right? The water leaked here, and in the bathroom. I think I pulled the plumbing apart and put it back together way more times than I should have to fix the leaks. I'd fix one leak and there would be another one somewhere else.

The living area. The total square footage of the upstairs area is about 800 square feet. There is a room and full bath downstairs too that is another 350+ sq. ft.

The bedroom had some pretty bad water damage in the ceiling. My dad and I had to do a little patch work on the roof. Right now I am measuring to jack up a sagging joist to brace it. The trash and boards on the floor is what Walt and I demoed out of the bathroom floor.

The bathroom probably had the most transformation which translates to the most work.

 I took the tile from the walls around the bathroom to replace the missing side of the shower.Waste not.

And after many hours of labor, a constantly sore back, and lots of help from friends and family, I have a completely restored place with hot water, heat, and nice calico cherry laminate floors (they are also harder to lay than expected). I have to be honest that there were a few times I was overwhelmed and never thought I would finish because some new problem always seemed to arise. But God is good and gave me the perfect amount of time to finish, because I start my new job this Monday.

I still have some work to do, but at least I can move in.

 It was nice to take a hot shower this morning and know that nothing leaked anymore. At least I'm pretty sure it doesn't. This restoration process has taught me a lot about home remodeling, and the main thing I learned is that I don't think I ever want to do it again.

One more note: There is a name I must mention because without the help of one Greg Williams and his truck for dump runs, his determination to paint to entire ceiling, and willingness to assist in any way after a grueling day at work, I would still be working late into the night on this place.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Los Tigres contra Los Bufalos

This past Sunday I went to San Marcos to play a game of flag football with my good friends and teammates from the Ave Maria Knights. I had previously met with a couple of the guys and we had talked about playing sometime soon. So, we finally got a chance to play. I was really impressed with their organization, because I had told them to find the guys to play and I would just show up. They found 14 players! However, only 7 of them had I played with at Ave Maria. We had a blast but I still had to teach them a few more rules of the game of football. We would have been much better as a team in the past had we played more flag football and simply learned the game better. Eventually I had to give each team a name because they understood Tigres (Tigers) or Bufalos (Buffaloes) better than offense or defense. I was QB for both teams and they got confused a lot about what side of the ball they were supposed to be on.

This was the first touchdown of the game. Iran, the guy with his hand up, probably knew the game better then anyone else.

We tried a reverse, but it actually didn't work out too well. Too bad Greg wasn't here to show them how to run the Banshee to perfection. This guy is Edwin. He helped organize the players for the game.

Kickoff. It wasn't hard to find a good kicker. This kind of practice would have been good in the past, because in the games I played with the Knights the kickoffs, punts and returns were all very confusing to the team.

Everyone is laughing and having fun.

They were all pretty good at pulling flags. This was a kickoff return.

This was a confusing play. The guys called the play in the huddle, and I thought it was going to be a double reverse. But it ending being something else. Notice how I am trying to hand to the ball off to the guy in the black shirt.
Later on we tried a "Hook & Ladder" or "Hitch & Pitch" but that didn't work out very well either.

This is a good action shot. I'm glad Stef was there to snap all these pictures. The guy in the pink cap is a fast runner but not the best receiver. I tried working with him a lot in the past. His name in Bobby and they guy chasing him is Ludwing. I played with them both at Ave Maria.

My good friend Cesar (with the cell phone on his hip) was there watching us play. His oldest son (leaning against the was to his right) played with us too. In the photo I am telling Cesar that he should play with us because of his big guns.

These guys are a huge reason I love Nicaragua.

Photos from 7/10/2011

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Surf's Up!

Last week I got my first opportunity to be a Nicaraguan tour guide, kind-of. My Jacksonville friend and old roommate, Davis Miller, and his cousin, Michael, came to visit Stef and me, and we had the responsibility to show them around the country. They mainly came to surf, which was fine with me. So we picked them up at the airport, rented a SUV, and took off on our week-long vacation. That's right, we rented a vehicle and I got to drive for the first time on the crazy streets of Managua. We stood at the rental company's desk contemplating what type of insurance we needed. The smart and obvious choice would have been full coverage, but the cheap side of me won the others over to save money with only liability. Luckily we got out of Managua alive, but it got a little hairy when Davis wanted to buy some $5 Ray Bans from a guy at a big intersection and the guy had to run through the intersection to finish the sale because Davis was bargaining so long. Thus began an entire week of laughs. 

We spent the first night in El Crucero, and the guys got to visit with the kids in the orphanage. Davis and Michael had their hands full as the children immediately climbed all over them as soon as they walked in the door. 

The next morning we woke up early and drove toward the beaches making sure to stop and see a few sights on the way. We saw the lagoon at Catarina and the beautiful city of Granada. Davis was driving in Granada and drove us right through the main market. Needless to say it was very slow going and we couldn't get out of the traffic. Once we got out, we visited the cathedral and the main square. 

After Granada we were in a hurry to get to the beach so we hit 100 a few times on the Pan American Highway. Luckily that's kilometers per hour (kph). I won't mention who originally thought it was mph. In San Juan del Sur we settled in to our fancy hotel right on the beach for a whopping $6 a night, rented some surfboards for $10 a day, and hit the Pacific Ocean. We spend the next 5 days surfing as much as we could. Luckily we had a 4x4 because a few of the beaches were pretty remote. Sometimes the mud splashed over the hood. By the end of the trip our vehicle was a different color and at night we couldn't tell if the headlights were on or not.

On one occasion Davis had a slight malfunction with his board. It was probably the biggest wave day we had yet, and Davis ended up coming back in with two boards! A wave had landed perfected on his board as he ditched it to snap it in half.

After just the first day of surfing I was tired, which means after 5 days I was dead. But it was totally worth it and we had a blast with lots of laughs the entire time.

On the way back to El Crucero, we stopped at the volcano Masaya. It is still active and spewing sulfer constantly. At one point Davis, Michael and I must have gotten a bad whiff of the smoke because we couldn't stop coughing. We had to walk away. It's funny though, the parking lot at the crater makes you park facing out just in case of an eruption!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

A Knight Reunion

A little over a week ago I got to visit some of my Nicaraguan football teammates in San Marcos. It was great to see them again and catch up in each other’s lives. I had previously told them that I was in Nicaragua so we had been planning a reunion since I arrived. At the time only two guys were free to meet, but I am planning another trip over there this Sunday to organize a flag football game. I hope we can spread the word, and that it doesn't rain in order to have a good turn-out. This is the first time I've brought my cleats to Nicaragua and I'd like to put them to good use. 

Stef got the opportunity to visit with them and see the Ave Maria campus as well. Enrollment during the summer semester is very low so the campus seemed like a ghost town. I also met with the Mr. Heier, the Dean of Students, and discussed the potential "sports" position at Ave Maria, but I got the impression that things aren't looking too good. It seems that the little economic issues in the States reach the little third world countries too. I'm sure I'll contact the university again before I leave. 

We'll be back in Florida in a week. Hasta pronto.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Praying for the People, Searching for Land, and Life with 16 Orphans

Life in Nicaragua continues to be busy, busy, busy! But the Lord is continuing to move in our hearts and the hearts of our sweet Nica friends. The other day we went out into the community to pray for some neighbors. As we walked into the "homes" of these people I was overwhelmed by their living conditions. I looked up and saw holes in their tins roofs and thought, "If it rains (which it does 3 times a day now) all their stuff gets wet." Then I quickly looked around and noticed that there was nothing to get wet. We laid hands on the women and prayed that the Lord would heal them. The power of the Holy Spirit in those homes was overwhelming. Even in the midst of spanish prayers and whispers that I could not understand I felt closer to the Lord than ever before. It amazes me that in the midst of such poverty and despair, and with so little that the Lord can fill me with so much. It makes me wonder about life in the States. Is the busyness, abundance of stuff and instant gratification blinding me from the many miracles of the Lord? Just a thought. We continued to another house and prayed for another women as she stood and wept in our presence. Again, the power in that place is evident. We will return to the houses again with medicine for the people and simply to sit and visit with them.

We also got the chance to go with Brother Jim and his wife Blancita to San Juan Del Sur. Brother Jim was looking for a house that he wanted to use for another ministry he is hoping to start for men recovering from addictions. The trip took about two and a half hours. On the way we saw volcanoes, stopped and ate lunch in a nearby town, dipped our toes in the Pacific Ocean (it was my first time) and got to visit a remote beach that took us thirty minutes down a very bumpy dirt road to get to. We were thankful for Scotty and Blancita to help translate during our many stops to get directions. It is hard to find a place that has no house number or street name. It was an adventure, but we enjoyed our day's trip!

Life with the kids continues to keep us busy. Scotty is doing great teaching bible in the primary school and music in the secondary school. I am still loving on the babies and helping in the kitchen and the home. I also started helping Ana every day at the feeding center. People come from all over the community with buckets, bags, tins and anything else they can find just to get a scoop of beans and a scoop of rice. This is the only meal that most of these people will get each day. We really enjoy the afternoons when the older kids get out of school. Scotty is usually playing some kind of sport with them either in the gym or in the field. One afternoon, after our english tutoring, we started a game of kick ball with some of the kids. We ran into some problems when Scotty got so excited while playing with the kids that he would yell to me in spanish to do something and I would have no clue what he was saying. I'd yell back at him, "I don't speak Spanish!" It was all pretty funny.

(Where are we in the photo above? Scotty is easy to find.)

Friday, June 17, 2011

Musica, clases de ingles, y bebes, bebes, y mas bebes!

We are here and busy, busy, busy already!

Well, it is our third day here in El Crucero and we are already busying ourself with numerous projects happening here at MQV. Currently they are building an addition to the girls home and a new boys home on top of running the school and the orphan home. Needless to say it is organized chaos here, but we love it.
Scotty has his hands full with teaching music to 7-11th graders and Bible to 1-6th graders. They love him! He is hoping this will improve his already advanced spanish speaking skills. At the end of his first day of music, the children surprised him by saying "let us teach you a song." He said the song was better than his was and in english. He and I are also tutoring Debonney (14yrs), Joely (16yrs) and Cecilla (15yrs) english after school for an hour each day. Today he got to organize a game of kick ball with the kids. They loved it! He woke up extra early today to help with some of the construction of the boys home that is coming along muy rapido!
We got to go visit with Moises and Sarah last night and enjoyed our time at their house. We were both excited to have some Nicaraguan coffee and chocolate cake. We hope to visit with more of Scotty's Nica friends while we are here. Tuesday night we went to Leo's church. We packed 15 people in the van and headed to Diriamba, a town about 20 minutes away. I was glad I chose a seat next to Leo who could translate the entire service. There was lots of dancing, singing, praising (shouting), and prayers. Ryan, one of the team members with us, shared his story of how he adopted his three sons from New Hope with the congregation.
(Written by Stefanie, obviously)

Stefanie is busy with the kids. She stays busy helping to care for six babies (sometimes all 16 kids when everyone comes home from school), from 7 in the morning until bedtime at 8:30. Her spanish is improving, but it is challenging at times when the kids speak spanish and miskito. For example, "plune" is food in miskito, and "comer" is to eat in spanish. She quickly learned those with these kids constantly asking to eat. They are probably teaching her more than she is teaching them. Her day looks like - diapers, diapers, more diapers, "baƱo" trips, "plune," playing outside, reading, organizing massive amounts of clothes, besos (kisses) from the cutest babies and then of course more diapers. Ruby, who is 14 and weighs 24 pounds needs the most attention and Frankie gives the sweetest kisses. Ofelia is the sneakiest of the bunch, but you can't help but laugh at some of the stuff that she gets in to. Her days are busy but she loves getting to take care of these sweet orphans. She is hoping to help me teach in the school some days starting next week.
We are planning to take the kids to the beach or the pool tomorrow. They love being outside!

Look for more updates to come as we get to do more and more with the children! We are so excited to be here together and to see the Lord's work here in Nicaragua.