Sunday, September 29, 2013

They Had to Travel Long Distances...

Do you believe in miracles? Not necessarily the walk-on-water or miraculous-physical-healing variety (although I definitely believe in those too), but do you believe in the small things that come together just a little too perfectly? If you don't, then this next installment of my story might seem like nothing more than an interesting string of curiously fortunate coincidences. To me, however, all I see is a merciful, omnipotent hand rapidly assembling the confused jigsaw of my life, and it is nothing short of miraculous.

I love temples. In the LDS Church, we have quite a few of them across the globe, and in my home state of Utah, there are upwards of fifteen. Before setting off on my crazy France adventures, I was in the habit of going to the temple at least once a week, both because I love the peace I feel there and because they are so accessible. But here in Europe, they aren't as easy to come by. The nearest one to Lyon is just outside of Bern, Switzerland--four hours away. The distance isn't too terrible, but going there requires advance planning--finding transportation, figuring out a place to stay, getting a travel group together, etc. Since one of my job hazards includes not always knowing when I'll have enough of my own time to travel, putting together temple trips has been a challenge, and by March of this year, I had only gone once to visit the temple. Fortunately, I finally had a weekend where I knew for sure that I would not be traveling with the Roneys, so I immediately started organizing. In no time, some friends and I were preparing for a temple day on
April 13.

Not long after Roby and I started writing to each other and in the midst of all my secret hopes and thoughts and dreams of spending time together in person, he asked me one day if I ever had the chance to go to the Swiss temple. Of course I told him about our anticipated trip in April and how I was excited to finally be going again. His next message, though, came as quite a surprise. It turned out that he had been planning to go to the temple the same week as me.

Now, you might easily say that he decided to go when he heard I was going to be there. We had both been hinting at each other that we would love to meet up, and we hadn't been writing for more than two weeks before he invited me to come to Italy. But you have to know that Lecce, Italy is nearly 13 hours away from Bern. It was even more difficult and rare for Roby to get the chance to make that journey than it was for me. Furthermore, he had been invited the day before asking me by some friends who were making the trek. This was not a sneaky plot just to see me. The first puzzle piece had simply been put in place.

Of course, things always have to be a little complicated. It turned out that I wouldn't be at the temple until Saturday whereas Roby's friends were leaving early Saturday morning. My initial excitement crashed down into disappointment when I realized we might not be able to see each other. But Roby just kept saying "we will see." The day before Roby left, he told me that somehow, there wasn't a place for him to stay near the temple on Friday night, and he was trying to figure out what to do. A crazy idea came to my mind. My friends and I would stay Friday night in Geneva--two hours away from the temple. What if I invited him to stay? Of course, it would mean taking a train down to Geneva and taking one back to Bern as our car was already full. It didn't seem logical at all. But the idea persisted in my mind, and I finally asked him.

It turns out he had been praying that I would invite him to Geneva.

Although I thought my idea was crazy and improbable, he also said he'd been hoping I would then take the train back with him to the temple. Puzzle piece number two. Furthermore, he had found someone who could give him a ride to Geneva that day--piece number three. And once again, if you'd still like me to be counting pieces, it turned out he would be able to stay all day on Saturday as there was yet another person who could give him a ride back to Italy even though his friends were leaving much earlier. It all seemed so perfect.

Friday, April 12--finally, the day arrived! I was so anxious and excited and nervous that I could hardly teach at all. Roby and I had just Skyped for the first time a few days before, and I had realized that he was even cuter than I thought from his pictures or my fuzzy MTC memories. But what if he didn't like me in person? What if things felt awkward? What if there wasn't any chemistry? What if we didn't fit well together after all? He had known me as his teacher--what if I was just imagining that he was really interested? What if I had to deal with a horrible disappointment yet again? I imagined dozens of scenarios for our first meeting--everything from a cold greeting and a miserable train ride to swelling orchestral music and a love-at-first-sight kiss. Soon enough, we were on the road and I was headed closer to my uncertain fate.

And, of course, things got complicated again. I had arranged for a friend to meet him and take him to where he would be staying, but the intention was always for me to meet up with him that night as well. Unfortunately, that didn't happen. I spent the whole day anticipating our first meeting that night, but coordinating our locations became too complicated, and we ended up staying 20 minutes away from each other. I was keenly disappointed. It seemed too ridiculous--so close and yet impossibly far away. Fortunately, we still planned to meet early the next morning at the Geneva train station.

I think I slept about two hours that night.

Friday, September 13, 2013

...A Young Man and Young Woman Fell in Love.

Back in the day...here we are on opposite sides of the group!
I don't remember what I thought after commenting on Roberto's new profile pic, but I do remember being excited when he wrote back two days later, clearly wanting to hear back from me. We started with the basics: work, school, an exchange of memories from the MTC. He asked for help with his English. I told him that he already wrote excellently well. I explained what I was doing in France. He mentioned that he went by Roby and that his hometown and current residence of Lecce, Italy wasn't too far away from Lyon...  They were small things that somehow made for rapid connections. Within just a couple days, our messages grew much longer and even became significantly more personal. I started checking my Facebook several times during the day to see if he'd responded yet and always felt unusually happy when I saw one of his messages. We fell into a pattern before a week had passed, and I started learning what times he was most likely to write back. But then one day, I didn't get a message.

It was getting late in the evening--almost time to go to bed--and I started feeling anxious. What had happened? Why hadn't he written back? Had I done something wrong? I must have reread my last message about ten times, carefully combing through it to make sure I hadn't said something stupid or something that could be misinterpreted culturally, linguistically, or otherwise. Finally, I went to bed feeling disappointed and yet telling myself not to be ridiculous. Obviously, people have lives and things they have to do. It's not like I was a priority for him, right? We weren't dating or anything--I had no claim on his time. But I'd been through similar situations before and they always ended up badly: waiting up for a text that never comes; hoping for an email response that is never written. This was probably just another one of those got-my-hopes-up-way-too-soon moments that I'd spend the next week or two coming down from. Residual bitterness from past experiences? Maybe. Fears created by old wounds? Absolutely.

This is where the next miracle happened. I woke up the following day, and, even though my hardened-by-experience side tried to stop my little-kid-at-Christmas side, I checked my Facebook first thing.

And he had written back.

Dear friends, not only had he written back, but he even apologized for not having written sooner. This seems like a very simple thing--and really, it is a simple thing that most people wouldn't think much of. But to me, it was a sign. In all my ten years of marriageable-age dating, I had never had a guy apologize to me for responding just a little later than normal--especially not without any prompting from me. Honestly, from that moment on, I was sold. Here was a man who obviously cared about my feelings, even if they are a little neurotic at times.

It was also at this point that I realized he had tried to contact me two years earlier, when I was elbows-deep in a master's program and struggling with my first time teaching a college French class. He had wanted to get to know me back then and had tried to spark a conversation on Facebook, but it never went anywhere. Frankly, I completely blew him off. I still don't remember why or what I was thinking. Ultimately, I guess it just wasn't the right time. In fact, back then I specifically did not want an intercultural relationship, because I felt like they were too complicated and would make a marriage too hard to navigate. I look back on that attitude with a smile now...but, I digress!

My favorite walk
At this point, I suddenly became very quiet about my personal life. It was unusual. I generally told at least my mom and a couple of good friends about every guy I was interested in. But this felt so...BIG...that I took a little while to open up about what was happening. And what exactly was happening? Well, I was discovering remarkable similarities between myself and Roby. Our minds had similar ways of thinking. Our beliefs were entirely compatible. Our life goals were aligned. What we were looking for existed fully in the other person. I was falling in love. And I could sense that he felt the same way. We hadn't spent a moment together in over five years, and yet I felt like I knew him very well. I began taking long walks in the crisp, spring air and spent a lot of time just thinking. I will always associate that season with those feelings--fresh blossoms mixed with new emotions and ideas. I didn't even know yet that the next series of even bigger miracles was just around the corner.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Once Upon a Time...


Remember how I said last time that big things have been happening in my life these past few months? Well, to sum up the story, I've been considering changing my blog name to be "Poppins Goes to France and Falls in Love With an Italian..." BUT, I think that would be a little less catchy. However, this does mean that I have some explaining to do! I've been turning this story over in my mind for months, trying to figure out the best way to share it on here--should I tell it like a fairytale? Should I make it funny? Should I just give an account of everything that happened? In the end, I've decided to tell it to you the way I see it--as a story of faith, healing, and learning to deeply trust God's promises after recognizing that my trust was wearing thin. And of course, there will be JOY! (And love and maybe some mushy stuff...) I guess that means that for the first time on this blog, things are about to get very personal around here... :)

When I came to France last September, I was very unsure of what I was getting myself into. Most people were excited for me and I was pretty excited for myself. But there were a few people who said to me that deciding to live in France for three years would probably mean that I was limiting my marriage possibilities--I know that might seem like a strange thing to say because there surely isn't an unusual imbalance of men to women in France, but to a 28 year old Mormon girl like myself, those kindly expressed concerns nagged at my mind. Couple that with all-too-many dear souls who for several years have asked me the tremendously personal question, "why aren't you married," and I guess you could say the pressures were running a bit high when I embarked on this adventure.

Anyone who knows me well knows that I'm a deep thinker. But not only do I think a lot, I also thrive on talking through my thoughts to a good human sounding board, especially a practical one who can tell me to be realistic. Unfortunately, my first few months in France were seriously lacking in sounding boards, and frankly, I was pretty lonely. Don't get me wrong--I was surrounded by very good people and I was unbelievably well taken care of by the Roney family. But I didn't feel like I had any friends that I could really talk to. As a result, those nagging concerns started turning into feelings of desperation and even despair. Part of me is embarrassed to admit that I really thought my chance at getting married was past--and I was pretty upset about it. Retrospectively, I'm telling myself that I was being dramatic. People get married in their much older age all the time--28 is not the cut-off for marital bliss! I guess it all goes back to that nun thing I joked about once...

Ooo--who is that handsome fellow?!
Anyway, I started the new year with a sense of quiet desperation and a bit of resignation. I wasn't going on dates at all, and I wasn't really seeing any dateable guys around. But, as I've said before, when life starts looking grim, that's when the "magic" (or I would say miracles) happen. One day, I was killing some time (a terrible expression, isn't it?) on Facebook and I saw a new profile picture of someone I hadn't seen in a few years--five and a half, to be exact. Back in those days, I was a teacher at the Provo Missionary Training Center (MTC), and I had many missionaries file through my classroom. And, of course, being a good teacher (hee hee), I am now friends with many of them on Facebook and like to follow up on their lives. I hadn't heard much from this particular former missionary (he wasn't and still isn't a big Facebook-er), so seeing his face lead me to wonder how he was doing and what he was up to (and I won't lie: I thought he was pretty cute...). So, I commented on his picture--I figured it was my teacherly responsibility, right? HA...ahem. Well, it turned out that an innocent Facebook comment has now changed my life forever.

Do I have your attention yet? Oh, good! Well...I'm afraid the rest will have to wait until next time. And don't worry, the preamble is over and there are still many awesome things to come!