In 2007, my parents drove me to my pink and orange themed, non-air conditioned dorm room at Weston Hall in Champaign, Illinois, where my heart swelled and broke simultaneously as I stepped into my future, saying goodbye to my parents for my first year of independence. I remember the way my dad was strong, for my mom was tear-filled and weak. She never did stop sending me cards almost weekly with a $5 bill and all her love for my entire college career.
Little did I know, just months later in that very dorm room I would find out that a high school friend passed away. Moments after receiving the news, I hit my knees and the Lord led me to Himself. From then on, everything changed for me. I began to see life as something other than my story.
I met the man to whom I’ve bound my life and heart that year, too. Before I knew I would ever see him as anything other than my “hippie friend Gabe,” I would wander over to his giant old Urbana house after class from time to time to shoot the breeze and play guitar. I would be lying if I said I didn’t always admire his unwillingness to conform, his love for literature, his love that spilled over for those with great need and his protectiveness of me. It was just three and a half years after we met that we married and moved our new life together only a couple of blocks down the cobbled road from that old Urbana house I used to visit from time-to-time.
It was in that home that we got our first dog, grieved my mom’s loss, made our first sushi rolls, and grew forever friendships with some of the dearest people to my heart. I brought home papers to grade every night from my second graders who I loved more than was probably normal.
We decided to become foster parents here in Urbana, and it’s here that we were entrusted with Martell when he was just eight short weeks young.
It was in Urbana that we bought our first home—one that had a rich history and legacy of faithfulness to Jesus from friends who loved us in our hardest of seasons. I could weep just thinking of the way the Lord provided them for us at that time. It was in their home (that’s now ours, soon to be someone else’s) that I sat in front of the fire knitting my tears into a pair of slippers I made for my dad as I missed my mom with a depth I didn’t know was possible. It was in their home that we brought Martell the morning after we picked him up from the hospital, sick and sad. It was in this home, before and after it was ours, that my heart grew in a more authentic and weathered love for Jesus. It was in this home that we hosted the four year old girl that changed my heart and life forever, and where I swelled in my middle carrying our sweet baby Esmae, who we brought home two weeks before her due date. It’s in this home where we watched both kids take their first steps, and where we watched them learn to love one another, and the last wild orphan boy we hosted for the longest five months possibly ever.
It’s here in Urbana where we’ve acquired some baggage—some painful loss, some terrifying trauma, some life-altering anxiety, some necessary change, some difficult loneliness. It’s here in Urbana where our fingers entwined and we decided we would take a giant and Spirit-led leap of faith to leave the place where our roots run so sweet and so deep.
So here we go—Washington, you have a lot to live up to.
And Urbana, dear sweet Urbana, and all of the beautiful people who come along with it–you will always have paved the most beautiful cobble roads of growth and change and hope in my heart.