When we last left the story of Josh and Zhenya's engagement, Josh was eager to propose. His hope was that the two families would strike up a game of Ultimate Frisbee, a fellowship staple of the group. That way Josh could carry out his plan to toss Zhenya the custom Frisbee he'd had made with the words printed on it, "Will You Marry Me?".
However, Zhenya had wandered to the far reaches of the enormous park to hunt for Crawfish with Josh's little brother. I'm certain that Josh wasn't surprised by her reason for leaving the group. Zhenya's love of children and dedication to their interests is one of the traits he's found attractive in her. Still, I'm not sure how Josh was able to endure the wait for her to return from the other side of the park; I was certainly struggling with my desire for him to have the opportunity to "pop the question". So much was riding on a Frisbee toss!
While Josh was away, Zhenya arrived at the picnic shelter. At this point, her dad did some quick thinking. He knew if she saw Josh from a distance she would want to find out what he was up to before Josh could get in position to toss her the Frisbee. Thus, Zhenya's dad intervened and asked her to help him practice his dance steps. She apparently didn't think this too strange because her dad and I had just taken a dance lesson. Zhenya knew we were still trying to grasp the steps we'd learned, and we were practicing on anyone who got near enough.
Honestly, I'm surprised that these photos of Zhenya and her daddy are in focus. I'm just certain that I was shaking by this time! I KNEW Josh had gone to get THE Frisbee. I KNEW he was JUST ABOUT to propose to our precious Zhenya. And, as I heard his footfall on the gravel path heading away from the picnic shelter, I was suddenly transported to the dusty grounds of a large orphanage in western Russia...
...where we first met Zhenya and two of her siblings, Sarah and Matt.
I was recalling the weed-filled field dotted with a few pieces of broken-down equipment that served as the playground for about 300 children.
And I was also remembering a precious eight-year-old little girl who looked and acted like a little boy. She could beat the boys at any sport they wanted to play.
When we adopted her, we honestly weren't sure if she would grow up to embrace what God had created her to be -- a beautiful woman. After all, that adoption 14 years ago was truly just a giant leap of faith. We had no prior experience that informed us how older-children placed in a family through adoption would turn out. When we took the step to enlarge our family in this way, we didn't know another soul who had taken a similar step. We couldn't begin to realized that an international orphan-care movement was just about to take shape as Christians around the globe stepped up to care for the least of these.
As it turns out, Mr. R and I have had the great joy and privilege of watching God mold and heal Zhenya in so many ways. Oh, she remains wonderfully athletic! Zhenya could still give NFL quarterbacks a run for their money! And she's still willing to take risks and try new challenges. At the same time, Zhenya has grown into a woman who gladly embraces being female. And, our godly daughter is eager to take on the roles of wife and mother. Our God is great. Nothing is impossible for Him!
This review of the past 14 years was racing through my mind as Josh hurried to the family's van to retrieve his tool for proposing. As I heard his returning steps, my heart overflowed with joy! All I could think was, "By God's grace, she's ready! Zhenya is ready to be a godly wife! God has molded her into a masterpiece perfect for this young man we've come to love and admire! God is soooo good!"
I apologize, but I didn't manage to capture a photo of Josh tossing THE Frisbee to her. Even though I KNEW what was going to happen, I wan't composed enough to capture the throw with my camera. I'm afraid I was just recovering from my flashback to Russia.
What happened was this: Josh tossed Zhenya the Frisbee and without a glance at its top, she threw it right back to him. Josh was unable to bear the wait any longer so he took matters into his own hands. When he caught the Frisbee, he tipped it's surface toward her so that she would notice it wasn't the Frisbee they normally played with. Then, he tossed right back to her.
Before she could even comprehend the Frisbee's words, "Will You Marry Me?", Josh was at her feet and had dropped to one knee.
As both families watched, he produced a jeweler's box and flipped it open as he said to her, "Zhenya, the past eight months have been the best of my life. I can't imagine the rest of my life without you at my side. Will you marry me?"
Our beaming daughter managed a weak shake of her head and whispered a delighted, "YES!"
At this point Josh's joy simply overflowed. He jumped to his feet and swung Zhenya round and round...
...all the while still clasping the ring.
Eventually, he remembered that there was yet another step to this proposing thing.
He removed the ring from it's padded nest. He slid it onto the same finger as the purity ring she'd received from her Dad and me about nine years earlier. She'd kept herself pure for this very moment, for this very man!
I love Josh's very satisfied look in this photo...
...and this one.
Rachel had known ahead of time. And, she'd been a great secret keeper!
When Zhenya and Rachel reached each other, their embrace told the story of very close friends who would now become sisters.
Hope's hug came with tears.
After several rounds of happy hugs, Mr. Reynolds delivered some happy news to the couple. With the change in status change from a courting couple to an engaged one, they could now hold hands. When their courtship began, the two sets of parents had requested that they refrain from physical contact. We asked this of the two of them so that any bond they built would be one of hearts and souls melding together. We didn't want them to mistake physical attraction for a love that could go the distance in the ups and downs of a marriage.
This then is that very first hand hold.
As Josh was happily gripping Zhenya's hand, he asked, "Can I also put my arm around her?". He got a "yes", and I snapped this photo as he slipped his arm around her for the first time. With God's enabling grace, the duo plans to wait to kiss until they are married on Labor Day weekend in early September. They begged both sets of parents for a short engagement because they know the wait to become one flesh will be a difficult one.
After a celebratory iced coffee at the local coffee shop we'd found the day before, both families headed back to the Castille's home.
Later that afternoon, I found Josh and Zhenya on the screened porch swing. Despite having JUST gotten engaged, their hearts--and laps--were open to three of Josh's siblings. When this scene caught my eye, it seemed almost prophetic. Josh and Zhenya both love children and are eager to fill their home with them. Lord willing, someday their laps will be filled yet again but this time with their own kiddos.
And, perhaps, some of their children will also be older adoptees like Zhenya once was...neglected or abused children in need of both love and the great good news of the gospel. We know of no couple better equipped and better experienced in what it means to really love the least of these.
Our God heals!