Tuesday, January 26, 2010

A Day in Dubai

Mid-winter greetings from the warm and sunny Middle East! I'm currently in Abu Dhabi for a training course with Schlumberger. This past weekend a bunch of us had an opportunity to venture into Dubai for a day of sightseeing and exploring facilitated by a Big Bus tour of the city. I was blown away by the sight of the world's tallest building, the Burj Khalifa, which recently finished construction. I also witnessed a a tremendous waterworks show at dusk choreographed to music. Dubai is strikingly extravagent and opulent with showy displays of buildings, shopping malls and fancy, shiny cars. Abu Dhabi, on the other hand, where I have been living, feels much more like an authentic city, with a more realistic taste of Arab culture. It's very wealthy (in fact Abu Dhabi recently extended credit to Dubai in their hour of need), but the city population is much more definitively native, with less evidence of expatriates and tourists. I have dallied in Arabian food, but am still catching up with the spices. Instead, a mate from Australia and I went to a place tonight called Jones (likely British purveyors and clientele) and each ordered a burger (a variant on Kobe beef-)--rather expensive but quite tasty. I'm having a good time, even though I miss everyone and the winter of the Northeast! But I may go skiing this weekend (within one of the world's largest indoor ski resorts). Only in Dubai...

Sunday, January 24, 2010

A Christmas Day Engagement Story (From Isaac)

This Christmas was going to be different. Allie and I knew that we wanted to exchange gifts in person instead of finding each other’s gift under the tree in the morning. Last year it had been hard because we had worked so lovingly on presents for one another, but there was no mutual sharing of that initial exciting look of joy when we discovered each other’s gifts of love and diligent work. It was with this in mind that we set out on our Christmas plans. Allie and I agreed that I would pick Allie up at 4pm at her house and together we would go exchange gifts. Although the picking up of Allie at her house was the beginning of the surprise engagement ceremony, little did Allie know that the planning of this day had been in the making for over six months!

After finishing my spring semester, I can remember telling my mom about my idea. Together over the course of the summer we talked and talked about what I could do to make the engagement a very special day for Allie. In August I designed and started building a jewelry box for Allie. I knew that I wanted her ring to arrive with a lot of love, and what better way to do this than to have her engagement ring in a box made just for her! By the time I left for vet school the jewelry box’s skeleton was done, and inlaid into the lid of the jewelry box were two interwoven hearts--an idea that I had had for over half a year! When I came home for fall break I had reserved breakfast with Mr. Blue, and to my great delight, he gave me his and Mrs. Blue’s blessing! Two days later I ordered Allie’s ring, under guidance of many hints dropped along the way! Finished with finals for the semester, I came back home to a full agenda all focused on making the upcoming engagement day special. It took about five days to finish the jewelry box and then it was onto getting the site ready. I knew that Allie would want a private and quiet setting for the proposal, and I had my eye set on just that! My favorite Bentley farmhouse was unoccupied and open. The living room was perfect! It had the fireplace and the vintage cozy feeling of days of old. With the help of my family we changed this room in the empty farmhouse into a romantic oasis. With an “It’s a Wonderful Life Theme” and a Christmas time aura the room was magnificent!

Once Allie and I were in the car heading home to the farm, it was everything that I could do to keep the conversation going. My mind kept returning to what was about to occur. As we approached Salt Point I got a call. Naturally, I handed the phone off to Allie as I was the one driving. It was my mom on the other end. I could hear my mom tell her that someone had left the lights on at the farm and she asked us to turn them off. As soon as Allie got off the phone I had the first hint that she thought I might be up to something. I urgently just tried to keep talking and get her mind distracted. As we got off the parkway and headed for Bentley Lane I could feel my heart beating. It was just too much suspense! Once on Bentley Lane I drove very slowly. I wanted to make sure that Luke, who had been watching the fire in the fireplace, had plenty of time to get out of the farmhouse through the back door.

After parking in the driveway, I was about to get out of the car when Allie asked, “Isaac, do you want me to come, too?” (I later found out this was just to make me feel as if she still had no idea that we were not there just to turn off a light). As we walked towards the farmhouse we couldn’t talk. I was shaking. We walked into the farmhouse and as I opened the door into the living room, the room became alive. Although I was holding Allie’s hand with one hand, my other hand was in my pocket and with it I had pressed a button on a remote in my pocket. And with the push of that button, the lights on the tree and lights laced around the room came to life. The speakers turned on and one of our favorite songs started playing, “I Do Cherish You”. All we could do was just hold each other. It was a long time before we were able to move. I finally was able to say, “Merry Christmas”. Her face shown in amazement and delight. Eventually our song came to an end and with that approached a time that this young man had waited for all his life. We both sat down on the couch because I still needed to catch my feelings.

On the coffee table in front of us was a box all wrapped in Christmas paper. Next to it lay an “It’s a Wonderful Life” collectors’ memorabilia box. In front of us was a beautiful wood fire in the fireplace. To our left was a poster featuring Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed (the actors starring in “It’s a Wonderful Life”) on the wall. Above us I had sewn up a napkin holding 500 roses pedals and from it dangled a string. To our right was a Christmas tree standing with all of its ornaments. Also to our right there was romantic dinner set for two. On the dinner table were two dozen roses, two white candles, two settings, and food for two.

The time was almost here. I told Allie that there were to be two parts. I told her to start with opening the present in front of her, but she could only observe and not touch the gift yet. I told her that--believe it or not--all of those days that we talked before Christmas and I had told her that I could not tell her what I was working on, was all under the box. As she pulled up the box that was wrapped, the jewelry box appeared! And as it appeared, I slipped off the couch to my knees.

Finally, at last, the moment of a lifetime, a moment in the history of my life was here. All my mind could think about was the importance, uniqueness, and significance of asking this wonderful young lady that I had only started dating fifteen months ago to marry me. Allie, is no ordinary young lady. She is very special to me. Allie embodies joy and calmness, grace and beauty, purity and innocence. She loves me so much and she lets me know every day. I just long to love, serve and cherish her. I love her because she has taught me more about what it means to love, to give, and to serve God by reflecting God in our relationship. To know that Allie has given so much of herself to love me has been such a blessing. To know this, in turn, has made me want to give more of myself to love her in a more honest and true way. To realize that my marriage proposal would lead to a lifetime commitment added a dimension of seriousness, perfectness, and newness which should only be known by us as long as we are living. In a culture that has led many to the misunderstanding that the commitment of marriage is nothing more than a conditional agreement, made me reflect on the solemnity of desiring to enter a lifelong promise based on unconditional love. I have been so blessed by God. It was to Him I thanked and praised that I could be in and at this moment now.

As I knelt my words were slow to come because those were the thoughts whirling through my head. This was a life changing moment. It wasn’t marriage, but that was what was in mind. Since I had started dating Allie, there had never been a doubt in my mind that she wasn’t the one. I finally was able to begin to say something and look into her eyes. She was gleaming. Her eyes were sparkling and her face was radiant. She was smiling a smile that I think she must have saved for this occasion. What I said didn’t come out perfectly, but to me it had a lot of meaning. I said, “Alexandra Zononi Blue, I have been waiting my whole life for this day. To be kneeling in front of such a beautiful and outstanding young lady is infinitely more than I could have ever hoped for or imagined. Allie, will you walk through life’s paths with me, walking by my side? Will you be the mother of my children? Alexandra Zononi Blue, will you marry me?” With each word I said, her smile got bigger and brighter. And as if she looked like she was going to burst if she didn’t get it out soon enough, she said, “YES”!!!!!!!!!! With a yank of a string, 500 rose pedals came floating down from the ceiling and gracefully landed on and around us! What a moment, what a word, what a lady, and what a future wife. A dream that could have never been imagined came true. I was delighted, ecstatic and overwhelmed.

There was still one more thing to do and with that we turned our attention to the jewelry box that I had made for her. I told her to explore it and that the drawer with a lock was going to need a specific key which was in the necklace compartment of the jewelry box. She unlocked the drawer and what appeared was a gorgeous diamond ring. Mounted on the white gold band was an ideal cut brilliant round center diamond with two trillions gracing either side. I took it out and slid it onto her finger. It fit perfectly! She loved it! I was so relieved that Allie approved-- all those months of carefully paying attention as soon as the subject matter turned to engagement rings had paid off.

I rejoined Allie on the couch after I turned on the playlist for the evening that was composed of hand selected songs, by my brother and me the night before. It was then that we had our first kiss. It was definitely worth the wait!

With a sense of organization the next activity for the evening was eating dinner. This was no ordinary dinner, of course. My favorite part was that it was just for two! I was so thankful to have had help in this department by my wonderful mother and grandmother! They are both wonderful cooks and bakers. I helped Allie to her seat and served her quite the meal. My mom and grandma had prepared a spread of asparagus, rotisserie chicken, fresh baked dinner rolls, baked potatoes with sour cream, ceaser salad, bing cherries and sparkling cider. It wasn’t a very talkative dinner, because we were just trying to soak it all in. So much had changed just a few minutes ago. It was just too wonderful to be true. The food was heavenly. To have dinner with my future bride was so special. I love just being with her and having all of her attention!

My sister Hannah was so kind to come and take pictures of the now engaged couple following dinner. When the photo shoot was done, the evening fell into just what Allie and I like: a warm, cozy, and peaceful evening. Sitting on a couch in front of a fire is so comforting on a cold winter night. There were many presents for Allie to open from my family as they were not going to see Allie this evening! After that we ate our cake. The cake my Mom had prepared was outstanding! It was a four layer vanilla cake with every layer having whipped cream in between and it was covered with chocolate frosting! On top the decorative icing read, “Allie Blue, I will love you ‘til the day I die.” It was truly delicious!

By this time we were both just ready to relax, and we had the perfect environment to do it in. For the next three hours we had no place to be and no place to go. The atmosphere was phenomenal with the fire crackling at out feet! Sitting next to Allie is such a treat. What a day to remember! What a day to rejoice in! What a day to enjoy! We had often talked and dreamed about sitting in a cozy living room with a fire in front of us in the midst of the hustle and bustle of the past busy semester. Now was that time. What a blessing and delight! It had been a different kind of Christmas evening, but one thing is for sure and that is that I had witnessed quite the look of joy and excitement on Allie’s face that night!

Allie, it will be a wonderful life with you as my wife! I love you, Allie!

Luke Loves a Good Laugh

Saturday, January 23, 2010

On Waiting & The Fullfillment of Dreams

When I was in college, I remember reading the love story of Jim and Elisabeth Elliot. Jim and Elisabeth met at Wheaton College as they were both discerning a call to the mission field. They were desperately in love but uncertain as to whether God would desire that they remain single so that they could more flexibly serve Him. For five years, on and off the mission field, Jim and Elisabeth wrote letters, occasionally saw each other, and waited to discern whether God’s blessing would be present for their marriage. After five years of longing they finally discerned a call to joint service in marriage among a remote tribe of Ecuadorian natives.

I distinctly remember reading this story and then talking to a friend as we drove down Highway 99 back to George Fox University. I said out loud, “What a great and crazy story! I could never do that! I could never wait like that if my heart was so full of emotion, of longing and of love – I could never wait. I am just not cut out for waiting under those circumstances.”

The way I saw it was simple – I am a relator; I engage relationships with my full heart. It wasn’t in me to engage a relationship and then just say, “Well, that’s okay, let’s put it on the back burner and see what happens.”

Fast forward the story of my life ahead five years to the summer of 2007 when a dream of all dreams was coming true for me – Adam Monaghan (whom I had met at age seventeen at a youth conference in Seattle) was with me for a week in my home state of New York. Every day of his visit was more and more incredible and by the end of the week, it was very certain that our hearts were ready to engage this relationship fully, and more intentionally. Our feelings for each other were growing and as we got to the end of the week, excited and hopeful for our future, we decided to do that which was so opposite every feeling and emotion within us. We decided to put everything on hold and wait, not just a week or a month, but for over two years. Our reasons for waiting were right, and they were good, and they honored sound principles and correct judgment, but this decision didn’t make sense at all to my heart.

Like Jim and Elisabeth, Adam and I sparingly wrote cards and letters (lovingly displayed on my wall) through the postal service, and that was it for over two years – the limited contact was intentional, we needed to wait to engage our relationship more fully, to honor God’s fullness of time, God’s right timing. Every letter that Adam sent began with the phrase, “This is crazy!” It was! Not only was it crazy, it was tough, it hurt. I remember after only two months of waiting had passed, a particularly intense moment where I felt like every part of me was about to break apart. How could I do this for two years more? This was exactly what I said that I could never do, and here I was doing it!

And I had to ask the question, “Why?” “Why is this what I am called to do?” And in asking this question, in this moment of abundant need, it became so apparent when, early on in life, I had answered the call of Jesus, “Sarah, do you love me?” and I had said, “Yes,” my “Yes” meant that I loved Him first, that I loved Him more than anything. It hurt, but my “Yes” to Jesus meant that even if I was called to do that which I had said that I could never do, then I was willing to do it.

It was a helpful realization for me to learn that even something as simple as being patient, as simple as waiting, could be an act of spiritual worship. The funny thing is that when I Adam and I started waiting, and every month his letter came and said, “This is crazy!” I would always think, “What is the precedent for this?” “Who else has ever done anything like this?”

It turned out that this was an unreasonable question because when I started looking, I realized that we were only two among a throng of very many people who had answered Jesus’ call, “Do you love me?” said, “Yes” and then heard Jesus beckon and call to a place, to a task, to a summit that was way beyond the realm of normal comfort, way into the realm of craziness. But yet in this call, in the summons, I found something unexpected – there was an emboldening power to cast aside everything that I had been fearful of, everything that I had looked upon and seen as an insurmountable barrier because of my personality and disposition and say to the Lord, “As real as these barriers are, as real as these giants are, I love You more.” This was the story of all the giants of the faith! And I was being so silly as to ask “What is the precedent for doing something crazy? For loving Jesus more than loving normalcy?”

We all have dreams. We have passions that define us, that make us inherently unique, that give us goals and plans. As we move from a season of dreams into a season of conquest and of pursuit, one thing is sure - the fulfillment of our dreams is not handed to us on a silver platter. The process of fulfillment involves much surrender, much patience and much waiting on God.

Why does it all feel so hard? Why are our dreams pressed? Why must we wait? Why must we go through seasons of disappointment? Why must we do that which we always thought impossible?

When we are honest with our times of hardships, our unfilled desires, passions, dreams and yearnings, it allows us to come to Jesus and say, “I love you more. Let the fulfillment of all these dreams be found first in You.”

And that is the very beauty of it. Without the love of God, what is anything else?

Being with Adam is wonderful - a dream come true, if there ever was one! Adam and I are learning to love each other sincerely, deeply, from our hearts, sacrificially. Adam is so good at loving me! He brightens my world with his presence, his hugs, his laugh, his humor, his smile, his romanticism, his great notes, his encouraging words, and his generous thoughtfulness. But even knowing the richness of Adam's love for me, I can say so confidently with the psalmist, "Apart from you, God, I have no good thing."

Yes, it is as Augustine professed, "Our souls are restless, until they find their rest in Thee." Learning this truth is the work of waiting, of surrender, of doing what we thought was impossible. It is so worth it!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Sunshine, Warmth and Cows

This weekend, Luke and I ventured down to Georgia and Florida with the Cornell University Dairy Fellows. We visited six dairy farms which included being introduced to New Zealand type grazing dairies and also touring conventional confinement dairies. Along with seeing many, many cows, we enjoyed the warmer weather and excellent Southern cooking.

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Sunday, January 10, 2010

Romping In The Snow

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Saturday, January 09, 2010

A Restorative New Year's Celebration at Tamarack with Trip and Sally

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Tuesday, January 05, 2010

My Perfect Christmas

Adam made my Christmas so perfect! Adam is not a cook by nature, but he pre-emptively cleared his house and asked if he could cook and serve me dinner! He did such a great job and everything was so tasty! Our dinner fare was spaghetti, salad, garlic bread, ginger ale, and strawberries with chocolate! We ate by candlelight and listened to Andrew Peterson's Behold the Lamb of God CD in the background.

(It was just the two of us, so I am the only one in the picture! So happy!)

(Christmas Eve, after flying in through a snowstorm...meeting Adam's family for the first time.)

Sunday, January 03, 2010

A Mid-American Christmas

Is it obvious just how much I love being in Kansas with Adam, his family and his friends? What a long awaited dream! We are just so thankful! So thankful!

Philidelphia Comes to Bentley Farm!

We were happy to spend the New Year's weekend with Dad's family from Pennsylvania, and we were also thankful to have Maryella arrive home just in time from the hospital.