How We Met Part Seven! Kicking the Can.

This is the part of our story where chronology is getting confusing. I've taken you, my sweet readers, through four long years and five summers and now we are getting into the details, the minutia of how we met and got together. Of course, all the details, while seeming trivial were all in the grand scheme of God's planning and workings.

Looking back, we both laugh at how blind we were to obvious truths. "Were we really dating all that time and we just didn't know it?" "How did you not know I liked you?" "Everyone else did?" Honestly, I was so in the dark about how Tuan felt about me and I had been waffling myself up to the end of that summer, so in my mind it was perfectly rational that the guy who had written me multi-page missives all summer, could truly be taking me to meet his "future wife. " Also, I had been the "friend-girl" to so many guys that had been very good buddies and then paired up with other girls, that again, it made sense to me.

I didn't know what to expect when the door opened. Would I like these new friends? Was Tuan really in love with one of them? I was so confused! However, when the door opened and I was greeted with big warm friendly smiles and huge hugs and exclamations of "we are so glad to meet you!" I didn't care one bit if he married any of the sweet Ridgehaven girls. I liked them immediately! We had a bitter sweet evening of fellowship--grieving with Josh and at the same time listening to the Ridgehaven crew reminiscence about their summer (camp sub-cultures are so cool).

It was early August--the time when you're moving back to school, but things haven't really started up yet and there's lots of free time to be had. I'm sure we hung out a little bit, but one of the episodes that stands out in my mind is when Tuan asked me to go down to Baton Rouge with him. He was moving back into his apartment and invited me to come, stay the night and go to church with some of our campers from Harvest. "You can stay with my friend ______, she lives in our complex and you'll like her, she's a great girl.

I was thinking, okay, now we're getting somewhere! We'll get to hang out, maybe have some good conversation--you don't just invite any old friend to do something like this. There's gotta be something going on!

Instead, I left Baton Rouge on Sunday afternoon even more confused than I was before and quite ready to wipe my hands of the whole situation.

I followed Tuan down to Baton Rouge and we were not at his apartment but perhaps three minutes before there was a knock at the door. It was his neighbor, who we shall call "Lucy".

It quickly became very clear to me that there would not be a moment alone with Tuan the entire weekend as "lucy" was on the prowl and bound and determined to take Tuan for herself. I am not exaggerating, people. It was wild. Where Tuan went, there goeth she. I was bewildered and amazed. Was something going on between them? Had I misplaced my paranoia on the Ridgehaven girls all to find that he had a girlfriend in Baton Rouge?

I stayed in her apartment that night and it was quite chilly. Just when I thought that things could not get even weirder, we headed to the parking lot intending to go to church the next morning. We'd decided to take my car and since I was totally lost in Baton Rouge, I handed the keys to Tuan so he could drive. She immediately hopped into the front seat of my car.

The front seat.

Of MY car!

You are thinking to yourself: "oh no she didn't!" and I am telling you, "oh, yes, she did!"

There is a line that you do not cross in the game--nay, war--of love and that was the line. I sat in the backseat of MY car (did I mention I was in the backseat of MY car?) and there sat in stunned, amused bewilderment and I thought to myself, "If she really wants Tuan that badly, I am not getting in the way."

I went back to Hattiesburg that afternoon, I was confused, and perplexed. What in the world was going on with this? One night soon after, I went to eat at McAllister's with Josh, Troy, Leigh, Anna and some friends from church. Leigh, Anna and I went to the bathroom together (as girls do) and we were rehashing the same conversation we'd probably had many times before, but this time there was new information as Troy and Josh had been loose-lipped. "Paula!" Anna said, "Josh and Troy said that Tuan talked about you all summer and he definitely likes you!" "Really? AUGH!!!" I said jubilantly and somehow jumped up in the air and simultaneously kicked the garbage can across the girls bathroom. It was loud. I was so mortified (and all at once grinning and sheepish). We came out of the bathroom painfully aware that the entire restaurant had heard our ruckus.

But, O, take that, Lucy!

Lest my readers think that all I did in those days was gallivant between fun destinations and socialize (like the Jane Austen characters I so longed to be), I actually did go to school, worked everyday, spent hours upon hours on projects (I was studying art/graphic design) and was involved with RUF. With school starting I was getting to know our brand new campus minister, Clint Wilcke and staying busy. I was also becoming convicted.

It became clear that I was getting very consumed with Tuan--whether it was the idea of a relationship, wondering about it all, or just being rather head-over-heels for the boy himself. It wasn't a good thing and I'm thankful God helped me to see what was going on deep down. I realized that I could not keep on obsessing and thinking and daydreaming. I needed to be focused on the Lord and living the life he had called me to live right then and there.

I prayed about it and just kind of said, "God, I'm sending Tuan to you and if this works out, so be it, but I cannot cling to this." It sounds so abstract, and I'm going to make it more so by saying that I put the whole idea and the hopes and dreams of a relationship with Tuan in a bottle, corked it and threw it out to sea. If God wanted this to happen, it would.

It was time to wait a little longer.


How We Met Part Six--the long awaited account

Okay, I am just tickled at the response our story is generating. The sweet comments and notes have made this very, very fun.

Two things fueled the speed of the first five posts. First, Tuan was out of town all last week which left me with long and winding and empty evenings to write my heart out. Second, our laptop was working which was the equivalent of writing with the perfect pen. Our laptop screen bit the dust this week--alas--and I am now hacking away on this keyboard that is so difficult to type on my arms are aching. But, the story must go on.

It was spring of 2001 and my heart was leaning towards this sweet, cute guy who was a very, very good friend. God had opened the doors wide open for me to go and work at my beloved Twin Lakes and Tuan had realized that Christian camping was more his calling than computer engineering. (Go figure!)

He was applying to work at Ridgehaven along with several of my good guy friends from church and stumbled in the application process when it asked if he agreed with the Westminster Confession of Faith.

Oh, how cool is God's providence! Here I was, liking Tuan but still doctrinally different enough that I could not entertain the possibility of him as a future spouse, when along comes this question and the door is opened.

"So, what is the Westminter Confession of Faith?" he asked.

I talked a bit about it, but he (in his wonderful Tuan-ish way) had already printed it out from the internet and was planning to read the entire thing before his interview.

I realize many of you are familiar with the WCF, so I am not going to delve further into the details of it, but you can find a copy online if your curiosity is raging.

Mack, Ridgehaven's camp director was down in our area and stopped in Hattiesburg to meet the guys and conduct interviews. Tuan had read the WCF and while he was still digesting much of it, was definitely hung up on limited atonement and made that clear to Mack. Nevertheless, he got the job and was all set to go off to North Carolina for eleven weeks with four guys he'd barely met.

School had ended and I was getting ready for Twin Lakes and saying good-byes. Tuan was back home preparing for Ridgehaven and wanted to get together before he left.

"Want to go to the Drive-Inn and watch Shrek?"

At that time the vintage Beverly Drive-In was playing movies and it was quite the novelty in Hattiesburg. Now, I realize the story could go in a very obvious direction here. Heh. The "drive-in". However, our story never went in a very obvious direction and I will comfort you all right now with the forewarning that there was no smooching in the Jeep that night. Oh, no there was not.

Tuan came to pick me up with Sonny, John (the once-despised, purported baseball player turned good friend and skit buddy) ,and another guy we'd worked with at Harvest named MIchael Schepemaker.

We piled into the Jeep and head to the Beverly. Tuan backs into the parking space so the rear of the Jeep faces the screen and pulls out the back seat and turns it around so there is a very convenient viewing spot. He indicated to me that there was a spot for me on that back seat and as I sit down--FULLY expecting him to join me, nay, hoping he would join me, Fourteen year old, sweet, oblivious Sonny flops down right beside me leaving Tuan out in the cold.


Tuan is such a nice brother that he did not kick Sonny out and settled for an awkward perch on the fender in front of me. We settled in to watch Shrek and the whole time I was wistfully wishing that he was beside me. Halfway through the movie, I randomly reached out and touched his head and let me tell ya folks,


I'm sure everyone in Hattiesburg saw them in the sky that night. My breath caught and then, more than ever I knew I was starting to fall for this crazy cute, hottie friend of mine.

We saw each other once before he left and only for a few minutes. I went to Twin Lakes, torn because he was not "reformed" (even though he was beginning to think about things) and I still had Mr. "X" the wonderful magical PCA man who fit my list floating around in my head.

I had also learned my lesson from previous heartbreaks and even though I liked Tuan, he did not have my heart. My prayer still was, "Lord, please keep me out of a relationship until it is with the right guy."

So . . . Twin Lakes. At last! It was great and really really hard. I was with some of my best friends in this wide world and loved being a counselor and had so much fun with my girls, but it was a hard summer. Being a counselor is emotionally difficult and physically exhausting and Twin Lakes had doubled in size, making it very different from the small camp of my LIT days. There was much leaning on Jesus that summer.

One of the most restful parts of the week was the counselor hunt. We were sent out to hide in the woods and wait for our campers to come find us. The forty minutes or so of sitting in the somewhat quiet woods was the perfect time to write long letters to Tuan about my summer and to also read and savor his multi-page missives.

Tuan got a fun and lovely introduction to the "Carey guys" the night before they left for Ridgehaven and on the way up to North Carolina. One of the first things he wrote to me was, "Do you realize how flatulent your friends are?" He was also thrown in to a very different place than he'd ever known, the world of the PCA and it's culture. He loved Ridgehaven, but was in a great deal of culture shock and still grappling with reformed Theology.

Much of our letters from the summer deal with those issues and especially limited atonement (dum dum da dum!). However, by the end of the summer, Tuan was loving Ridgehaven and the dear friendships he'd made and, yes, had reconciled himself to Reformed Theology! I rejoice at how God used those circumstances to bring him to that point and to bond with Troy and Josh who are still such dear, dear friends to us both.

Meanwhile, back at Twin Lakes, I had completely let go of the "wonderful magical Mr PCA idea" and by the time camp ended, was pretty ready to see Tuan. Oh, was I ready to see Tuan! I had no idea at all how he felt about me, but I was feeling it.

Did I mention Twin Lakes ran for seven weeks and Ridgehaven for ELEVEN. I wasn't going to be seeing this boy any time soon.

My parents were living in Florida, so I very casually invited anyone on staff who wanted to to come spend a week with us. Twenty-two people signed up and THEN I called my parents and ask if it was okay. Thank goodness they were laid back about those things. We had a lot of fun that week and then four folks ended up staying an extra week due to car trouble, leaving one more LONG week or so. I was getting pretty antsy and so I called Mrs. Dorothy.

If I couldn't talk to Tuan, I could at least talk to his mom. This was before everyone had a cellphone. I had one at that point, but it NEVER left my car. My roomate would get so mad at me for never carrying it. It was so expensive to talk on one--when you could get near a tower and Tuan certainly did not have one. We only talked once that summer--when he finally got to a pay phone and it was a super short conversation. It's funny how much things have changed.

I don't remember seeing him for the first time when he returned, but Tuan, Josh and Troy were very excited about their summer, had all these great stories and games to share and were talking non-stop about how wonderful the staff had been and there were these great girls and fun guys they'd worked with.

Wait a minute. Great girls?

I did not want to hear about "great girls" from Tuan. Oh, no I didn't. And these "great girls" (and guys--I was filtering out "guys") were coming to Hattiesburg. For a visit. They couldn't wait for me to meet them.

Josh's parents had moved to Hattiesburg that summer. His dad, Mr. Andy had diabetes and was suffering many complications from it. Being in Hattiesburg would be good for it's access to hospitals and doctors. They had bought a great house that they had plans to use in some sort of ministry way and all the Ridgehaven crew was going to gather there. The guys wanted me to join them.

Sadly, the day of the gathering, Mr. Andy passed away. Mrs. Les, in spite of it all, encouraged us all to come on over and be with Josh. Josh called to see if the girls could stay at my apartment that night and Tuan picked me up to go over to meet everyone and see Josh.

It was sobering, honestly. Mr. Andy, Mrs. Les and Josh were so dear to me and had been for many years.

On the way over, I was upset for Mrs. Les and Josh, but also very, very nervous about meeting these girls. I had really and truly convinced myself that Tuan was in love with on of them and that he was taking me to the Fortier's house that night to introduce me, his dear "friend", to the girl he was one day going to marry.

I was a nervous, emotional wreck as we knocked on the Fortier's door.


How We Met Part 5, Burning Questions Answered

I almost didn't write tonight. Aubrey wrote with a Sharpie on our laptop screen and then somehow broke the screen beyond it's already damaged state and most of the day the screen was all green, then black and wonder of wonders, when I started to use our horrible desktop keyboard (the equivalent of a scratchy pen with little ink--shudder!), I checked the laptop and baby, it is back! I really didn't know if I could write without the laptop--isn't that horribly quirky and dependent?

Still, I could not leave my few faithful readers in the urgent suspense which your comments expressed so well. I will now answer the unanswered question of Part Four:

How do you get an insect out of your ear?

Have the afflicted person lay on their side with the infested ear on the up side. First, pour oil (olive or vegetable) into the ear. This will suffocate the bug and end the horrid noisy stuff going on deep down. (Shudder) Then, pour warm water into the ear, this will cause the oil to rise, bringing the bug right on up with it.

There you go.

Back to the story. I was holding the small box, everyone was looking at me and smiling, I was choking, suffocating and feeling so incredibly awkward and perplexed. I opened the box and pull out three cards.

Three phone cards.

With pictures in the style above.

Remember phone cards? You could use them at pay phones to make calls without using change?

Tuan was grinning ear to ear. I was at once breathing a HUGE sigh of relief and, yet, more confused than ever. Why was he giving me phone cards?

"They are illustrations from the Lord of the Rings by the brothers Hildebrandt and I got them on Ebay!"

This was such foreshadowing of life to come. First of all, Tuan enjoys giving gifts. He puts a LOT of thought into them. Many times in our marriage, I've been utterly baffled by the time and thought put into gifts that I never would have asked for. Second, the man is an Ebay nut. Many times in our marriage, he has openly grumbled at the horrible inconvenience of buying something at the mall when he could just get it on Ebay. I get a LOT of Ebay gifts. Third, He loves Tolkien and the Lord of the Rings, especially. Now, at that time of life, I'd started both the Hobbit and the Trilogy and simply could not finish them (quelle horreur, I know). Naturally, I could never admit to anyone that I had failed to finish the pinnacle of reading, so I'm sure in a past conversation I had admitted to liking Tolkien, but at that time, I mostly remembered Tom Bombadil and Riddles in the Dark. I had no idea who Sauron was, much less Goldberry!

So there I was with these wonderful collectible phone cards that I knew must be treasured! I was also left with some great relief that he had not declared his love to me at Garfield's in front of his parents and my best friend.

We were still "Just friends."

During exam week, right before the Christmas holidays, Tuan called me from a pay phone in New Orleans. His mom had been in a terrible wreck and could I please go be at the hospital with his dad siblings until he could get there? I rushed to Forrest General and spent the next several days at the hospital with him and his family whenever I could get away. Again, I was getting to know my future in-laws, without the pressure of them being "my future in-laws."

That fall, my parents had moved from Collins to Santa Rosa Beach, Florida and I spent the holidays puttering around the Destin-Seaside area, knowing no one besides family and very eager for something to do. So, it was quite exciting when things fell into place for Tuan to come and stay a week with us. We had a lot of fun on the freezing beach and riding around in his Jeep. It was that very week that we exchanged our first Christmas gifts (in addition to the phone cards) and had our first fight.

Yes, our first fight. But Christmas gifts come first. He bought me Casablanca on DVD and I gave him Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles--the Movie--on DVD. DVDS had just come out and were such a big deal!

There was no romance going on that week, but we did have conflict. One night, we were riding around and Tuan asked what we were doing for supper.

"Oh, yeah, my mom is making Nachos!" I was super excited. Nachos night was a big deal for our family.
"Nachos? For supper?! I have NEVER heard of that!" He exclaimed.

Our nachos involved meat, beans, cheese, sour cream, olives and so on and so forth. Tuan's idea of Nachos were the ballgame variety topped with cheese from a pump dispenser and topped with pickled jalapenos. Naturally he was befuddled. I, however, read into his statement and drew the conclusion that by questioning Nachos as an appropriate dinner option he was insulting me, my mother, my family traditions and probably a few other things.

Things in the Jeep got very quiet. I sort of turned my body to the door and we rode in stony silence. Fortunately at some point that night we reconciled and Tuan now considers nachos an acceptable meal option.

The Holidays ended and it was back to school for both of us. Tuan was living with some guys just off of LSU's campus and I was rooming with a super fun girl named Jeanine. We were always up to something and getting into scrapes and silly situations. Our next door neighbors were all on the USM Tennis team. They were all German, French, Swedish, Morroccan and very Continental. They were as pagan as they were good looking, which made our life very interesting, for sure! We didn't have a lot to do with them, but occasionally they'd wander into our apartment.

On the more appropriate friendship note, I had started going to church at Woodland Pres and was loving the families there as well as hanging out a good bit with Anna Griffith and Leigh Wilson. Anna was still in high school, but came to RUF with us and Leigh and I had met at RYM years ago, then reconnected at JCJC. Also going to Woodland were the "Carey Guys". A whole group of mostly Presbyterian fellows who were a little bit older than me and attending William Carey. A few of them became frequent Sunday afternoon visitors at our apartment and Jeanine and I were amazed at the quantities of food they'd devour at Sunday dinner! Josh Fortier was one of the Carey Guys. His dad had been our pastor years back and his mother, Mrs. Les was one of my favorite people ever. Getting to know Josh and his friend Troy was great fun. At that time, I began working as a janitor with some of them.

I could cover pages with stories of mine and Jeanine's adventures, but Valentine's eve of 2001 was not atypical of our crazy life. It was around eleven thirty, we had run to Wal-mart around ten to buy Valentine goodies to give out and a friend of Jeanine's was hanging around the apartment. The tennis team was wandering in and out of our apartment and we had just gotten absolutely tickled about some nonsense when the phone rang.

It was Tuan. And he asked me to be his Valentine.

Sigh. So sweet. Unfortunately, I was so distracted by the bedlam in our apartment, that I just kind of accepted and got off the phone. The next day, however, was Valentine's day and I walked around the whole day with a big smile on my face and Meg Ryan-ish narration playing in my head over and over about how: "I have a Valentine! I hear nothing, not a sound of the streets of New York. Just the beat of my own heart. I have a Valentine . . . you!" and of course the Cranberries song, "Dreams" was playing:

"Oh, my life is changing everyday,
In every possible way.
And oh, my dreams, it's never quiet as it seems,
Never quiet as it seems.
I know I've felt like this before, but now I'm feeling it even more,
Because it came from you.
And then I open up and see the person falling here is me,
A different way to be.
Ah, la da ah...
La... "

Oh, I was starting to wake up and smell the roses. Suddenly, I found myself staring at the phone and wondering why in the world Tuan had not called in days! I was totally on the line of "girls don't call boys" and would not dream of calling him. But, dang it, why hadn't he called!?!?

When he would come visit me in Hattiesburg and bring his siblings along (every single time--love you guys!), I began to inwardly grumble that I never got Tuan to myself.

It was still on again, off again feeling-wise, but the "ons" exceeded the offs by far.

Still, I was clinging to the dream of this perfect Presbyterian Reformed guy that I just knew God had in store for me. I was torn between this idealized guy who fit everything on the list and Tuan who fit nearly everything on the list except, you know, being Reformed!

As spring came, we both decided not to go back to Harvest. I applied for Twin Lakes and was hired--whoo-hoo! I was so excited to be working out there and several good friends were going to be working with me. Tuan had not made plans yet, but he called up one night and said, "you know, I just realized I do not want to be a computer engineer at all. I would hate that! What I really want to do is work at a camp." He needed to make some summer plans.

My friends Josh and Troy along with some of the other Carey Guys were all planning to go and work that summer at Ridgehaven in North Caroliina. I suggested that he apply there and go work with them.

A few nights later, Tuan called. He had printed out the Ridgehaven application and was filling it out, but he had a question.

"Shoot" said I.

"What in the world is the Westminster Confession of Faith? I have to agree to it in order to work at Ridgehaven."


How We Met Part 4

As I've been writing this story out, I do realize it is a bit one-sided and very full of "I's" and "My's". I also realize that this is not a story involving far off people who have passed on, but folks in the current here and now, so I'm trying to be very careful and discreet! I dreamed last night someone had read my stories so far and had left this multi-paragraph comment printed on glossy paper slamming me and calling me a charlatan.

I also keep asking Tuan: "is all this okay?" "You're revealing my Bapticostal roots!" he has been telling me.

Oh, haven't you heard of a Bapticostal? I hadn't either until I used the terms to describe Tuan to my mom in the summer of 2000. I was sort of mashing Baptist and Pentecostal all into one lump and honestly, he was not at all Pentecostal and I'm not sure why I ever described him in that way! It is a joke to us now. But the Bapticostal term kind of explains why Tuan was not on my radar as a potential husband. I've thrown the term "Reformed" around so much because that was so defining of what I was thinking about and definitely looking for in a future husband. No way I could submit to someone who didn't go for at least four points!

We were back at camp, my best friend, Caroline, had joined the staff and the first few weeks were fabulous. Tuan and I worked at the ropes course, were kind of the "head counselors" I taught canoeing (my favorite activity--ever!), and had the fun of being the camp's evening program director. After the first week, I also took on the job of LIT director and loved it. Tuan was a counselor for the oldest guys and worked ropes and I'm pretty sure we were co-counselors again.

He also sported a very new and different look--instead of the long and very thick bowl cut, Tuan had shaved his head and was looking very different and kind of military-ish and his radio call-name was "Duke." He was pretty good-looking.

Tuan's mom was now our camp cook and I just grew to love "Ms Dorothy" who made our bag lunch sandwiches just as each of us liked them. (No mayonnaise for Tuan and I. More similarities). His brother, Sonny was an LIT. Every Friday night, Mr. Morris, Tuan's step-dad was visiting for the weekly Luau. It's neat how I was getting to know my future in-laws in such a pressure-free way--and already I adored them all.

As camp progressed, we were becoming better friends. We worked together exceptionally well and folks were noticing. One of the older women was asking if we were going to get married! I laughed out loud when I heard that. Totally not!

Older women are usually wiser, aren't they?

The fifth week of camp was Adventure Camp. That week, Tuan and I were given the chance to take on some extra responsibilities and had the fun of overseeing more of the day-to-day running of camp. We were in our element!

Adventure Camp was super fun. During that week, the kids went through the ropes course, flew in an airplane, and went on an overnight canoeing and camping trip on a local creek, among other things. Tuan went with the wonderful "Mr. Bill" on the two guy's trips and I went with Mr. Bill on the one girl's trip.

The night before adventure camp started, we gathered with the staff and afterwards decided to go fishing. I was along for the boat ride and the creepiest thing happened. Something bit Tuan's line and pulled us slowly around the lake, finally breaking his line. We never figured out what it was.

Earlier in the summer, a sweet little girl camper had a roach fly into her ear and crawl down into the earn canal. It was one of the most disturbing things I've ever witnessed. All of us on staff were sufficiently weirded out by the entire episode. I now know how to deal with that and hope to never ever put that to use!

Naturally the night we were camping out on the banks of a local creek, Nikki (another female counselor and I) were still bothered and concerned enough that all we could do was lie in the dark and ponder the possibility that a bug could crawl into our ears or up our noses. We finally got some toilet paper and stuffed our noses and ear so that NOTHING could go in. We got a lot of teasing the next morning.

In between camp-outs, Tuan and I would sit on a bench outside the dining hall and make sure we were on the same page with everything. I remember being especially struck by how we could communicate so much with very few words. In many ways we could read each other's minds and there was an easy camaraderie between us. We were developing a mutual admiration, trusts and respect. Despite all that, I remember telling another staff member that even though I felt like I should like Tuan, I just didn't.

Camp ended and we were better friends than we had ever been. The staff got together several times and one day Tuan called to see if I was free for the day. He had to take his sister Shauna to Brandon, then run to Baton Rouge for some school stuff. Did I want to ride?

Absolutely I did.

They picked me up early that morning, drove to Brandon, then Baton Rouge, where he took me to the BSU and the original Raising Cane's. On the way to drop me off, we stopped by his mom's house and when we finally got to my home it was late. We'd been on the road all day. My parents were out of town, so I invited him to come out to my Granny's and crash.

Remember, there was NO romance. Nothing inappropriate at all. He stayed at Granny's that night and we spent much of the next day driving my dad's jeep around the pastures as I taught Tuan how to drive a stick shift.

We spent around twenty eight hours together. Twenty eight hours of non-stop togetherness. I could not do that with many people. After all that, I was still not tired of being around Tuan. Later on, that was a real indicator of our compatibility.

At this point, it probably would have been strange that there was nothing going on, but from my perspective, I had been the "friend-girl" for so long, that hanging out with boys was just normal.

Summer ended and I moved into an apartment in Hattiesburg and Tuan moved to New Orleans for an engineering internship. Whenever Tuan came home for the weekend, we'd make plans and hang out in Hattiesburg, but it was always, always with Sonny or Shauna. Some nights he would call me from a pay phone in New Orleans but we did not talk much.

Around that time I was having inklings about him, but nothing beyond that. The Lord, in answering my prayers that I would not get into a relationship with anyone unless he was THE ONE, was definitely keeping me from giving my heart away. Whenever someone showed interest, I would simultaneously find it hard to breath and want to run for dear life. It was a good indicator!

Tuan was making good money at this internship and not spending much, so he decided to do some lavish Christmas shopping. He called me around Thanksgiving to tell me what he had gotten for his family and then he said,

"I got you something"

My breath kind of caught.

"You did? What is it?"

"I'm not going to tell you that, but I spent $XX.00 on it."

It was a lavish sum on a college budget. He was so excited about this mystery gift and I was utterly perplexed. Tuan came home before break and invited me to eat dinner with his family at Garfield's and he would give me the utterly amazing gift.

He was so excited.
I was nervous.

I brought my best friend along and as we sat down at the table, I was looking for some big box. Instead, he pulls out a very small box.

Like, small enough to hold jewelry.

I just about vomited. I could hardly breathe.

What had Tuan bought me and was there more going on here than I thought there was? Was he about to declare his love for me then and there and RIGHT IN FRONT OF HIS FAMILY?

The moment was excruciating. They were all smiling, watching.

I began slowly unwrapping the box, readying myself for whatever was to come . . . .


How We Met Part 3, or this, dear madam is a faithful account of all my dealings with Mr. Willoughby and Mr. Churchill

Walking down this memory lane has been fun for me--so many details to recall and think through. This post, however is quite long. There was no easy way to break this time period into segments. I should have majored in English.

To re-cap, I was about to start my Freshman year at Jones County Junior College. God had closed the doors to Twin Lakes for that summer, he had closed the doors to Belhaven and I headed off to JCJC with a peace that this was God's will for me, but it wasn't going to be pretty. After all, in tiny little Ellisville Mississippi (where one friend sagely warned me that the only fun thing to do was to go to McDonalds), there would be no reformed, godly people--only the same folks I'd gone to High School with. There is a reason they call it 13th grade!

Again, I was resolved to put my time in, and go on to Belhaven where I would meet a godly guy and get on with MY plans!

So Jones. The dry desert wasteland--so how did I find myself on a brisk fall evening sitting in the conference room of a local cabinet door manufacturing company called Morgan Brothers drinking coffee and discussing C.S. Lewis' Mere Christianity with five reformed guys?

I think it is because God has a great sense of humor and knows how to meet our needs and direct our lives in ways better than we could ever dream!

When I got to JC, I joined the yearbook staff and somehow the photographer who was this cool dude (no better word than dude applies here) named Eric somehow discovered I liked C.S. Lewis and was Presbyterian/Reformed (while it appears reformed guys numbered at least five at JCJC, reformed girls were MORE scarce). I was promptly invited to join their discussion group/book club that met on Thursday nights.

And that's how I found myself hanging out with the likes of this guy named Eric, and his friend Nathan and meeting all these random reformed baptist guys who were at JCJC, too.

At the beginning of the school year, I had contacted the RUF campus minister at USM hoping to become involved with RUF, but providentially he never returned my e-mail. I ended up being drawn into the Baptist Student Union in all it's glory.

I cannot say enough about the growth and grace experienced during my two years in the BSU at JCJC. God used that time in deep, wide and wonderful ways. I was constantly challenged to defend and explain my faith and positions when differences arose, yet we were all under the oversight and loving pastoral concern of our BSU director, Brother Larry Goff. Brother Larry was one of the godliest men I've ever known. He was Biblically sound, a truth speaker and a gifted discipler.

My freshman year was a time of great fellowship with Eric, Nathan and this girl named Christy who I'd known about my whole life (she lived down the street from my Grandmother), but had never met. Nathan took a group of us through a Bible study on the doctrines of grace that was pure scripture and was just food for my soul.

It was a great year. We were all sort of intoxicated with the romance of life and learning and fun. That spring, I had the privilege of seeing Nathan and Christy fall in like and love and begin a sweet relationship. "Kiss Me" by Sixpence None the Richer was a big hit and kind of captured the sort of blissful feelings I was having and towards the end of the spring semester, I found myself head-over-heels and mutually attracted to this other Reformed fellow who was hanging around the BSU.

(okay, Reformed guys were coming out of the woodwork at JCJC that year. I kid you not. Reformed girls were outnumbered. It was the best kept secret in all of reformed-dom.)

So, school ended and romance was blossoming for me and I was all excited because for the first time ever a great guy seemed interested. A great guy who was reformed! A great guy who was cute! And in a Band! And Tall! I mean, how much better could it get? Plus, the camp director at Harvest had invited me back to work around four weeks of camp that summer--whoo-hoo!

In the weeks leading up to camp we had a date or two and sweet e-mails and didn't I say that "Kiss Me" was playing on the radio all the time?

We kissed.

I have to share this part because of the importance of this before and later on.

All through high school, my three best LIT buds and I had sort of all made this promise that WE WOULD NOT KISS A GUY BEFORE WE WERE MARRIED. It was a big deal. I truly don't believe that this is something that is applicable to everyone, but it was a real personal conviction for me. And breaking personal conviction=sin and sin has consequences.

I remember immediately after our first kiss I said something along the lines of "i wasn't going to kiss a guy until I was married to him, but now I don't care."


So I headed off to Harvest for another summer of camp and I was giddy and not a little bit obsessed with this boy back home. Tuan was back at camp along with several folks from the previous summer and we were all having a fantastic time working together.

Tuan and I were once again paired up as co-counselors for part of that summer and the first week our team sent out into the woods to get a spirit stick to represent our group.

Tuan La does not deal in twigs and I know that now, but I was amazed and utterly dissolved into laughter when Tuan led our group to a cucumber magnolia tree that stood at least ten feet high and chopped the ENTIRE tree down to serve as our spirit stick. I was laughing so hard, I nearly--well. This is on a tangent, but our group named the stick Billy and carried it so proudly into the Dining hall before we were ordered to reduce our spirit stick size. It was shortened, painted to look like a coral snake and renamed "Raul, Son of Billy."

While I was simultaneously amazed at his antics, I was frequently silenced and put in my place by Tuan's comments. I remember blabbing about something and saying, "Tuan, you don't talk much do you?" He promptly replied, "if you don't talk so much, people think you are smarter/wiser than you really are."

Gulp. I was silenced!

One late night, we were on mopping duty and were mopping the kitchen. In our conversation, I started talking about my little romance that was going on and confided that we had kissed. Tuan, in his wonderful way shot back, "I'm not going to kiss a woman until I'm married to her."

Gulp. Talk about conviction!

Camp ended and I was still crazy about this boy, but had not seen much of him. The director of the camp threw this huge party on the Fourth of July for the staff and we spent the entire day on the lake, riding Jet Skis and swimming. Tuan and I laugh about riding on the Jet Ski and watching the sun set that evening--and neither of us had a single romantic inkling!

In the weeks after camp, the phone calls and e-mails stopped. I was struggling with denial that this spring fling was ending. Any doubt was eclipsed when we went with some of his friends to a concert in Jackson that turned out to be a night of zero interaction. At IHOP for a post-concert meal, I went to the bathroom and when I flushed the toilet, water flooded the bathroom. It was the fitting end to a terrible night and foolish relationship. It was so over.

In the weeks leading up to school starting, Tuan was set to have ACL surgery. The day of the surgery, I very randomly sent him flowers. He says they were the first thing he saw when he woke up and I was the first person he called.

Our camp director's family was a lot of fun and they were really great about getting us all together. Several times after camp, we did some fun outings. I always had fun with Tuan, but never gave him a second thought.

He went off to LSU and I was back at JCJCJ. It was an interesting time because I was really struggling over the very-unexplained rejection from this guy who had been my very first anything and simultaneously having a blast with other BSU buddies and my incredible room-mate, Tina. It was a real time of growth and dependence on God. I remember praying every day for grace to deal with seeing him and struggling as he and a friend became involved.

Once more, there were a lot of "why, Lords?" going up.

During that time, I kept reading Hebrews 12

And have you completely forgotten this word of encouragement that addresses you as a father addresses his son? It says,
“My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline,
and do not lose heart when he rebukes you,
because the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.”

Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live! They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.

I felt so acutely that the heart pain I was experiencing was the consequence of so recklessly breaking my convictions. Please note that I didn't feel like I was being punished--I knew without a doubt that I was completely and utterly forgiven! It was, however, a time to cling to Jesus and take heart because God was treating me as his daughter!

When I look back at JCJC it was a spiritual greenhouse of growth and good friendships and one of the happiest times of my life. I was busy, involved and giving not so much as a thought to this fellow named Tuan who was hours away at LSU.

Our camp director's family called up one crisp fall weekend and invited me to a camp-out at Tuan's. A group of us gathered with both families and had a rollicking time. I remember sitting beside Tuan, watching the fire with the great starry sky overhead as he told me all about this wonderful girl he had met. She was so cool and blah, blah, blah. Great, I thought and went on with my life.

I really did not think about Tuan much that year. Every now and then he would call my dorm room around midnight, but he would always call through the internet to save money (that is so much like Tuan, I have to laugh) and it was such a terrible connection that I got off the phone ASAP. "Why is he calling and can't he use a regular phone?" Those were my unromantic thoughts.

We saw each other at the Christmas staff reunion and got in trouble with the camp director for being out too late. We were innocently running all over camp and looking at the stars and talking (it sounds so romantic, but so was not). I remember the camp director finding us and asking what we were doing. "Playing!" I replied. "What kind of games were you playing?" He grumpily asked. Granted it was two in the morning and I totally understand his position--now.

As spring came, thoughts turned to love one more and I had my heart utterly crushed and stomped on. It was horrible and uncomfortable and if it weren't so integral to the story later on, I'd leave it out completely.

I was hurt far more than over the previous spring's fling. I had given my heart completely away, without reservation and very foolishly. As a consequence, I was absolutely broken and bruised. Daily, I had to cling to the cross for grace to make it and for a lot of grace to be forgiving.

Forgiving was very hard, but God gave grace beyond expectations along with a very kind friend who came alongside me during those first hard days. And gradually, things improved.

In those days, I felt like a singleton amongst what seemed like a thousand people who had found their soul mates. Life was like an endless E-harmony commercial. I was convinced that I was the perpetual friend-girl who boys would hang out with, but never like. I was also a bit gun-shy about even getting into another relationship again. Eventually, my prayer came to be, "Lord, if you want me to get married, please do not let me be in a single relationship ever again until it is with the right guy."

The last weeks of school were bitter and sweet. The incredible JCJC days were ending and I was all set to transfer to Belhaven--finally! And, I was going back to Harvest for another summer. I just knew it was going to be great!

I was editing the yearbook, taking art classes and doing a work-study for our Public Relations Director. One day toward the end of school, she said, "Paula, you should really think about studying graphic design instead of English."

And just like that the Belhaven door closed. This time though, it wasn't difficult. It was shut gently and locked, while the door to USM, along with a change in major opened wide and welcoming.

So, another summer at Harvest and on to USM in the fall.

I came to camp so glad to have gotten away from everything. Tuan came to camp somewhat bruised and broken hearted. The wonderful "blah blah blah" girl had not worked out.

And they had kissed.

And so, we were even.



How We Met Part 2

Looking back on when Tuan and I first met, I have very few episodic memories, but interesting snippets from that week of camp. I was kind of thrown into the fun with a group of folks who had worked together several weeks before I got there and I'm sure I was clueless about all that was going on, but I LOVED camp and was so thrilled to be there.

Tuan and I were paired up as "co-counselors" and led a small group of boys and girls. We named our team the ducks and Tuan would act like a mama duck, make a tail with his hands and all of our "little ducklings" would act like ducks and march around to our team cheer. I think it was, "but the one little duck with the feather in his back, he ruled the others with a quack, quack, quack!"

We taught Bible together. I have no idea what we taught and honestly, we were very Theologically different, so I'm not sure how we did that!

I remember sitting at a table with him in a small room trying to figure out who was getting which activity awards--for Riflery and Archery?

On the Thursday of Day camp, the kids went home at lunch-time and returned for the evening and an overnight. I still did not know Tuan very well, but had spent a lot of time laughing with his sister. All the other staff were leaving for the afternoon and I had no idea what to do with myself since I lived too far away to run home. Shauna (Tuan's sister), invited me to spend the afternoon with her and Tuan. So Shauna and I piled into my 1987 Nissan Stanza (swanky, yes) and followed Tuan (who, incidentally was driving his 1991 Nissan Stanza--so cool) into Columbia for the afternoon.

I laugh especially, at this, because I got my first taste of their family and family culture that day and had NO CLUE I would have the joy of being a part of it one day.

Tuan drove very fast up and down the country roads. I was not a fast driver (then) and was trying desperately to safely keep up with him. We went to their house where I met Mrs. Dorothy for the first time and Brownie (the family's beloved dacshund) escaped from the house and we all went chasing after him. After meeting my unbeknownst-to-me future-mother-in-law, they took me to this Chinese restaurant in downtown Columbia.

I remember really enjoying that afternoon, but in no way more than thinking, "hey, this brother and sister are fun and they like the same music I do!" I actually had more fun with his sister, Shauna that week than with Tuan.

I also have to point out that our camp cook that week was none other than Mrs. Beth Sanford, whose oldest daughter Julia was a counselor and whose next oldest daughter, Elizabeth was one of my campers---it is amazing how God weaves people into your lives. The Sanfords are one of our favorite families and we love them all so much!

I left that week of camp giving nary a thought to Tuan, excepting the letter that our camp director sent me after camp. It was a "thank you for working, hope you come back next year" kind of letter, but written in red ink at the bottom of the page was this:

"I thought you and Tuan worked especially well together."

Is that foreshadowing or what?

I left Harvest giving little thought to the cute half-Vietnamese guy with the bowl cut and airwalk sneakers who drove the same car as me. I was afflicted with the early stages of Young Calvinists Disease and Tuan's bumper stickers sort of explain why I NEVER considered him an option:

One said, "Yes, Lord, we will ride" and another warned that "in case of rapture this vehicle will be unmanned".

Ha! Totally not an option for me! I was about to put in my two years of service at JCJC and get onto Belhaven where the real marriage potentials were!

How We Met Part 1

Someone posted their relationship stats on FB and it got me thinking about "our" story. How Tuan and I met and the really remarkable and wonderful ways that the LORD worked to bring us together. I've wanted for some time to write it all out, because as time goes by, I am forgetting more and more--and I surely do not want to do that. I think it may be encouraging for those who have had the doors to their plans shut firmly by the Lord and are wondering what in the world the Lord is doing and how can he possibly work things out or do better than "my plans." I know I felt that way.

The first day I laid eyes on Tuan was late June or early July 1998. I had been asked by a pastor/camp director to come and work a week as a counselor at Harvest Ministries in wee little Carson, MS. I remember sitting on the porch of the Lodge/Dining Hall on an early Monday morning, totally unsure of what was going to happen and wondering who all those people were. I have a vague recollection of Tuan sitting there, too, but I was much more pre-occupied with his best friend, John, who in my wild imagination, I determined was a Pearl River Community College baseball player. I had something against baseball players in those days (no rational reason) and was kind of set on not liking him. In fact, I was sort of grumpily hostile toward John on the inside, until I found out he was NOT a PRC baseball player.

If you had asked me a year earlier what I would be doing summer of 1998, I would have told you this:

"Well, I'll be working at Twin Lakes for the first time as a counselor, then I'll be getting ready to start Belhaven College in the fall and I will study English and minor in Spanish and Art, go to RUF and work at Twin Lakes every summer and then I'll meet my husband at Twin Lakes my junior year, we'll get married and then he will be a camp director at Twin Lakes and we'll have twelve sons all named after the twelve tribes and I'll make GREAT biscuits. "

Seriously. That was MY plan. The summer of 1997, I went to RYM and took a class called, Making Sense of the Struggle. That was the first time the gospel became real to me. Truly, through the teaching of a man named Joey Stuart, God opened my eyes big time to His astounding holiness, my wretched sinfulness and the greatness and glory of the cross. I understood for the first time that Jesus lived for me the life I could not and died the death I could not. I still get giddy thinking about it.

At the same time, I was learning about what it meant to be reformed and was so excited about graduating, working at my beloved Twin Lakes and getting to be at Belhaven with all these godly people and going to RUF. I loved Twin Lakes (probably too much), had been an LIT every single year possible and all my best friends were my LIT buddies. I was determined to not do what everyone else from high school was doing (Jones County Junior College) and I wanted to get away from my home town and be with "real Christians." I had grown up in a small PCA church with few kids and was excited about being at Belhaven.

In spring of '98, I walked to the mailbox every day, because I was waiting to hear from Twin Lakes. I had applied and interviewed and felt great about it all. The day I got "the letter". I tore it open to find not welcome but REJECTION. Utter and total rejection. Twin Lakes did not have a place for me on staff. It was a pretty terrible time of tears and grief.

At the same time, the doors to Belhaven closed. There simply wasn't enough money for me to go. The doors to JCJC, however, were flung WIDE open. I decided to go to JCJC, but I did it with the resolve of, "Okay, I'll go to JCJC and suffer for two years, but it will be a spiritual wasteland and there will be no fellowship, but maybe I can go to RUF at USM? And then, after two years I'll transfer to Belhaven."

The last semester of Senior year was great and I made some great friendships with folks I'd never gotten to know--so thankful for that! Although I still had kind of a gaping wound from the rejection, I was kind of giddy with life and graduation stuff. I remember a warm spring evening, standing in my bathroom curling my hair and preparing to go to a play. An ambulance went past our house with it's sirens wailing. Absentmindedly, I wondered who it was and kept getting dressed. Minutes later, someone knocked on our door. It was my grandparent's neighbor and she came to tell us my grandfather had had a heart attack and was at the local hospital. We all rushed to the hospital. I remember praying and weeping while they worked on him and the horrid grief that descended when we found out he had died.

I think everyone has significant markers in their lives and losing my beloved Papaw is one of mine. I came into the summer grieving and in retrospect, being at Twin Lakes all summer after that had happened would have been very hard.

But viewing things in retrospect and living them is quite different. That summer, I had a lot of "whys?" going up, for sure.

I was asked by a pastor friend to be a counselor at a denominational camp that had moved from Twin Lakes to Harvest Ministries (I was like, "where?") and went for a wonderful week. Some really cool relationships were built and my cousins and sister were able to be campers. I also met a young man named Joey who would one day marry one of my favorite people in the world--Elizabeth! The director of Harvest and his family were around that week and I had the privilege of getting to know them. He told me that Harvest ran their own camps, had one more week of day camp to go and would I be interested in working the next week? Absolutely I would.

So that is how I found myself on a porch at a little camp on a summer morning, unknowingly sitting near my future husband. Part II to follow--naturally!


Comparison is the Root of all Agony

Oh, is that not so true? Lately, I've had to limit which blogs I read because there are some blogs that no matter how sincerely they are done (or not) just drag me down. I'm compelled to compare myself to other women and their lives, friends, houses, children, spiritual growth, housework accomplished, so on and so forth. I have always struggled with this tension of loneliness and love of solitude and often, blogs just enhance the feeling of loneliness. (How could I possibly feel alone with three children-I ask you?)

But my job isn't to be like so and so, or Miss Type A -got-it-all-together (nothing wrong with Type A--just not remotely attainable for me!), or Miss "I can paint my living room in an hour". No, my job is to be who God has created me to be and to do what he has uniquely called me to do.

And so, that is why I need to avoid some blogs. It also drives home to me the careful need to balance truth and memories when publicly recording daily life. My friend Sarah just wrote a post about this today.

We Southern women just want to have it all together--nice clothes, nice hair, cute kids, clean car, handsome husband, decorated clean house--hah! Without Jesus that is all emptiness and futility--chasing after the wind. I find it ironic that the only days I typically "dress" and fix my hair are church days--Sundays and Wednesdays. The very place I should be able to be broken and real is the place where I present the "best front."

In that vein, there are a few blogs that do encourage me and not pull me down. I am only sharing a few, because there are lots of real and wonderful people out there! Sarah above is always encouraging. Guitta is one of my favoritest, most aunthentic and real friends.

And in the vein of people who I do not know at all in real life (but so wish I did), Kendra at Preschoolers and Peace is so encouraging to me as a Mom of little ones. And then there is Auntie Leila who for practical parenting and housekeeping advice without the judgement or perfection is just fabulous. She is the sort of person who tells it like it is and yet you just love her for it. In this day and age, I need a woman who can and will lecture me about dishtowels and sponges and laundry and child-raising. One of the things I love is her beautiful house that is an accumulated beauty filled with things worn around the edges. Although we do differ Theologically, she is a very encouraging sister in the LORD.

So, what blogs encourage you?