It still feels like yesterday that I was living in a three-room house with four other guys, where actually having too much time on my hands was a problem. I still feel like I should be alone and miserable when going to bed, wishing there was someone beside me, yet when I turn—there she is. How did such a radical change take place? As recently as 2016, I’d never had a girl express the slightest interest in me. Now I have two wonderful daughters waking up at night and crying for daddy. How did this happen so quickly?
30,000 feet beneath, the landscape of California passed by. I stared out my window and watched. It was January, and beautiful shades of green covered the state. My belongings were in storage, and I was on the way to the Philippines to see my love. In the dead of winter below, mountains were capped in white. And as we passed north, jutting up like a snow-capped head, the stark form of Mount Shasta erupted up from the landscape. Northward and northward we passed, colder and colder, hills and forests and mountains and bays passing beneath.
Thoughts of my beloved filled my heart as we soared over the continent, the landscape fading into starker and starker white. Despite all the entertainment options within the plane, I couldn’t take my eyes off the dramatic winter display beneath. Alaska was pure white, then suddenly a stark brown cliff crashed down into the ocean.
Ice flows. The sort of thing you’d see in a movie. But to see them was breathtaking. Enormous ice sheets, flat as flat could be, covered the surface of the ocean, fissures separating them like cracks in a sidewalk.
Countless unknowns lay ahead. Would we marry? Would we find that we didn’t get along as well in person as online? Would I make friends in my new home? Where was I going to live? Would I be able to stand the awful heat and pollution of Manila? Or would I wake up in a few minutes and find myself alone in my bed—having dreamed this grand adventure?
At some point we passed over Russia—barren, endless snow. In half a day, I had journeyed a third around the globe, but the journey was not over. I had a ways to go before we would see each other again.
The plane touched down in Shanghai, and I started my seven-hour layover.
A friend of mine who’d been a missionary in China connected with me a local Chinese man, Yang, who was going to show me around Shanghai. I’d never been outside of an airport in China, though the country had always fascinated me. Or maybe I’ve just always been a sucker for Chinese food.
Either way, I’d struggled for weeks with risking an adventure outside the airport versus playing it safe within the confines of the international air travel machine. But people I had trust in my life had said, “On this trip, stillness and stagnation will be your enemy.” It would be a theme of the coming weeks.
And so I disembarked and was found by Yang. Hours without sleep? 20+.
I wanted to exchange money, but he said that he’d cover everything. So, with no local money and zero ability to communicate, I journeyed with a friend’s friend to see a Chinese megacity.
I don’t actually remember what time it was. It was night, and it was cold. I shivered in my light sweater (after all, you don’t pack a winter coat when heading to the Philippines). Yang took me on a bullet train to the fashionable downtown center where skyscrapers glowered down at us. One was the 3rd-tallest building on the planet. We went into a giant mall. International brands and escalators. We went up (again, 20+ hours no sleep, details are fuzzy) and we did the one thing I wanted to do in China—eat Chinese food.
With half an eye on the clock, we ascended one of those skyscrapers and looked out at the rivers of light spreading out to the horizon. We jogged to the bullet train only to find…we’d missed the last train back to the airport. Yang quickly summoned a taxi, and with a prayer, we headed for the airport.
Now, I’m no expert on public transportation, but I can tell you this for sure: a cab in Shanghai loses a race to a bullet train in Shanghai. Every time. Michelle was going to arrive at NAIA Airport to a great deal of disappointment. Half an hour after my flight’s departure, I finally got to the airport. Yang felt awful. I dashed through the gates.
There in the cold barrenness of a Chinese airport terminal, the grace of God smacked me once again. The flight had been delayed for two hours. My God kept a couple hundred people stranded in a Shanghai terminal for two hours because he valued my relationship with my love and wanted me to arrive to see her. That’s how much he loves me.
I half-slept on a cramped plane, disembarked, and found myself mostly alone in the passenger pickup area at 4 a.m. local time. Now, where was my girlfriend? Hours without sleep: 35?
I messaged Michelle and she replied with a cryptic message about being on her way, but then she went silent. Alone in the faint stink and the warm night air of Manila, I was left with my doubts. Was she really coming? What if this were some elaborate con? Of course, this wasn’t entirely unexpected. She’d been 45 minutes late to our first date, and I’d nearly returned to my hotel. And I still couldn’t help but wonder if I soon would wake up to the sound of one of my roommates playing Call of Duty in our three-room house.
And then, just as suddenly as she same into my life in the first place, there she was, leaping out of a van with balloons and a sign that said, “Welcome Home.”
My love, I left all my belongings and all my friends and family. I traveled over mountains and forests, over frozen islands of ice and barren Siberian wasteland. I nearly was stranded in Shanghai. All for this moment: to see you here, to be together with you, my first and only. And I’m not letting go.
The Lord did this for us. Don’t you see His hand?
He was the one who left the throne of heaven for his bride, leaping over mountains and bounding over hills. No barrier, no distance could keep him away from us. For him, there were no others—no girlfriends, no other bride. Always and forever, from eternity past, we were in his eyes as his one and only, his love, his bride. For us, he came and was incarnated among us and lived in the poverty and heat and hardship of our world. He suffered, he died, he redeemed, he betrothed. And now we wait what feels a lifetime but is in fact so brief. We wait for him to come again, bounding over hill and mountain, to take us away forever—not as immigrant to another earthly nation but to His eternal kingdom.
Joey, this is a beautiful. Thank you for sharing your love story. It is a reminder of just how much God loves us.