It’s 5:54 PM and I've been sitting in the San Jose airport for almost four hours. Marlene left on a flight for Phoenix and then on to Memphis three hours ago. Mark and Vanessa at this moment are somewhere over the Pacific Ocean on their way back to China. In about an hour I fly to Los Angeles, then have almost four hours in the airport followed by an overnight flight into New York City, weather permitting. Tomorrow morning I fly to Albany, arriving about 10:30 AM. On Tuesday I start teaching Galatians to 500+ students at Word of Life Bible Institute.
As usual our family is scattered everywhere. Mark is heading west to China, Marlene is flying east to Memphis, I'm going south and then east and north to New York, Nick is in Birmingham, and Josh and Leah are in Chicago at the moment. Such is life for our family. Yesterday Mark remarked that he couldn’t wait to get back "home" to China. Vanessa feels the same way. Mark has been living out of his backpack for well over a month--including the Holy Land tour, which feels like it happened a year ago. Then Mark added, "I'm not sure where 'home' is anymore." Marlene and I understand that completely. I was born in Memphis, Tennessee and raised in Russellville, Alabama. That's my home town. Since leaving there, I've lived in Columbia, Missouri, Chattanooga, Tennessee, Oxford, Mississippi, Dallas, Texas, Midlothian, Texas, Downey, California, Garland, Texas, Oak Park, Illinois, and now Tupelo, Mississippi. I may have forgotten one or two places. Along the way Marlene and I have traveled to almost every state and to 29 foreign countries. Home is a moving target. It's where your heart is and where your friends are. It's where you hang your hat for a while. And as you move along through life's journey, you find that many places are "home" because of memories and friends.
We've had a wonderful time with Vanessa and her family. Vanessa's mother is Greek and last night we were treated to the annual crab fest at the Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church in Modesto. At least 800 people crowded into the church hall for a feast of crab legs brought to the tables in big plastic buckets. When I met Father John, he told me that he had once served a parish in the Chicago area. He knew all about Oak Park. When I asked if I could have my picture taken with him, he said, "It depends. Are you a Cubs fan or a White Sox fan?" He grew up cheering for the Cardinals so he was relieved when he learned that we are a White Sox family.
Marlene and Vanessa and her mother Maria spent hours working on wedding details. Happily, they left me out of most of it, except to note that the wedding will be held in a gazebo they are building in the backyard of Vanessa's home in Atwater. We are adding several Greek touches to the wedding ceremony to tie into the family's heritage.
Meanwhile I learned a bit about Mark and Vanessa’s romance. When Mark went back to China in August, he told us there was "this girl" he was interested in. Vanessa told her parents that there was "this boy" she was starting to like. Last fall they went with a group to Shanghai for a visit. One night while on a boat ride, Mark taught the Chinese passengers how to do a dance called "the sprinkler." Here is a YouTube video of the dance. When Vanessa saw Mark leading the Chinese passengers in the dance, she said to herself, "I love that man."
Mark told us he knew he loved Vanessa when she made the decision to go back to China for a second year. She had a big smile on her face and he was impressed that she would follow God's leading. They are clearly in love, and they seem like they've been together forever. Last night Maria said to me, "Can you believe this really happening?" Watching your children fall in love and move toward marriage with a wonderful person makes you stand in awe and say, "This is the Lord’s doing."