If you've been eagerly looking forward to the details of Josh and Zhenya getting engaged (hmm...I just let the cat out of the bag), I'm going to ask you to wait just bit longer. Trust me, a bit of the back story is important.
One of the most crucial aspects of courtship as our family has come to define it is the involvement of the couple's families. I can elaborate more later, but for now I'll just say that one of the strengths of courting rather than dating is that those who know you best (your parents and brothers and sisters) get to know the person with whom you are courting. That way, they (especially the parents) are able to offer you wise counsel as you move toward the most critical decision of your life -- your choice for a husband or wife. The family is also the group most likely to consistently pray for you as you travel the path of courtship seeking God's leading.
Last week we traveled to rural Tennessee (about a 16 hour drive) to spend time with the entire Castille family at their home. Although Zhenya had been there repeatedly, this was our first visit. Their hospitality was worthy of the reputation of Southerners ~ gracious, generous and thoughtful.
As soon as we arrived in the late afternoon, joy rang out and the laughter began. Kirsten has her back to the camera here but has obviously said something that Zhenya (on the left) and her soon-to-be sister-in-law, Rachel, found very funny. (If you reread that sentence you'll notice that I've just confirmed the BIG NEWS in our family. This happy mother is hopeless!) Rachel and Zhenya were fast friends before Josh and Zhenya started courting.
The April evening was exquisite. So after dinner, the two families went for a stroll down the Castille's long driveway. The Reynolds were introduced to a family member who isn't allowed in the house. It was love at first sight for me as I stared into Loretta's deep brown eyes. Loretta provides the family's milk. Each morning while we were in Tennessee, our daughter Kirsten rose extra early so that she could milk Loretta. This opportunity was soul-satisfying to Kirsten because it harkened back to her childhood in Russia prior to her adoption. Kirsten learned to milk her grandmother's cow on the small plot of land her grandmother farmed. This was before her grandmother went into a diabetic coma and Kirsten had to be placed in an orphanage at age 11.
The morning after our family arrived in Tennessee, we loaded up the vans and traveled to nearby Bell Buckle to spend the day. Here Sarah (in purple) and Eliana (in pink) crowd a bench in the picturesque small historic town with Josh's three sisters. Our Sarah's is holding "C", who was adopted from Russia as a toddler. Little "I", sitting in Rachel's lap, was added to the family through a domestic adoption just after the wedding of Josh's brother, Sean, and his wife, Beka. Josh and Zhenya first met at that very wedding.
Once we'd gathered in Bell Buckle, we set about antiquing. This was a new past time for our family. We all gravitated toward bits of the past that we found interesting. Here Hope is admiring jewelry of days long gone.
Everyone found something to amuse themselves.
For Matt, this was holding Sean and Beka's daughter, "S", after the two of them joined us.
My favorite find of the day was this chair. As a wedding photographer, I would have loved to bring it home for bridal shoots. I'm afraid though that we would have all been a bit tight on the trip home even though we drive a 15-passenger-van. Thus, I left the chair of my dreams right there in Bell Buckle, Tennessee.
Eliana enjoyed roaming the rambling antique dealers with Josh's younger siblings.
Meanwhile, Hope found a favorite hat. Somehow it reminded me of her Russian heritage.
Our second antique store destination had just opened a tea shop in the back.
The treats looked out-of-this-world delectable. Thankfully, lunch was just around the corner...or across the street in this case.
Mr. R and I had taken our own sweet time eyeing those tantalizing goodies...
...but when we caught up we found this wonderful gang waiting to be seated in the Bell Buckle Cafe. (That's Josh's father, Jamie, at the far end.)
While Josh's dad waited with the hungry group, Josh's mom, Linda, slipped into the shop next door and stumbled upon quite a find...
...perfectly pink boots for the littlest cowgirl in the family!
When Zhenya joins the Castille family (ugh...I slipped again!), these two handsome guys, who were adopted from Russia as toddlers just like little "C", will become her brothers. Zhenya will have three additional siblings from Russia! Isn't God so kind to have arranged that our oldest Russian adoptee would be marrying into a family that's filled with children who've been adopted?
As a result of repeated trips to the Castille's during her courtship, Zhenya already has a deep love for each of Josh's younger siblings.
Rachel also dotes on her younger siblings and she has developed a powerful love of the Russian people.
After lunch we continued our relaxed meanderings and made our way to the local coffee shop. It was a cute as could be, inside...
...and out. Kirsten and Matt enjoyed a laugh while the rest waited for their drinks.
You would think that by now we might have grown weary of this culinary adventure, but not so fast. We still need a taste of the local ice cream!
While the ice cream was being piled high on cones, more fun was had by our girls with some recycled hats for sale in the eatery.
We enjoyed the ice cream on benches outside the shop, relishing a cool April breeze.
A tired toddler was kept happy as her daddy fed her spoonfuls of creamy peach ice cream.
What a beautiful day of loving Christian fellowship we'd had in an idyllic setting. We headed home mid afternoon to make sure we were there when Josh got off work. The four parents knew we'd be returning the next day for an unusual picnic in the town's park. The light was green. This particular picnic would include a very creative marriage proposal...stay tuned!
God abounds in lovingkindness!