When the SARS epidemic broke out three months later and everyone in the program got quarantined or sent home, Jen was crystal clear why she had been guided to stay. Friends of hers were suddenly in precarious situations, and many lost tens of thousands of dollars as the program collapsed. The emotional, financial, physical, and academic toll was high. It was one of those times in her life when she reflected upon her choice and thought, “Wow. I heard God.” It became crystal clear that God wasn’t taking her away from the path she had always been on—but rather, guiding her to follow it more carefully, more intentionally, more deeply.
Jen knew each ensuing time that she head God’s voice that she was on an unpredictable path. But she also had the reassurance and confidence that derives from living amidst the protection of a divine plan. And I’ll tell you, once we have heard the voice of God, we will seek it all the time, and that makes us very brave. Seeking and accepting the word of God means we’re willing to live with the mysteries of why things fall apart and how things will come together. For Jen, it meant—amongst other things—that when her engagement to my college sweetheart, Pat, fell apart and with it her dreams for a white picket fence and a simple Christian life, that she could keep it together, sad but not immobilized, in pain, but not resigned.
And let me be clear about one thing: whatever you think about God, that moment of singing in church and really, truly hearing God changed her faith, and it changed her parent’s faith. The reverberations of the tears Jen shed that day as the Holy Spirit washed over her continue to affect everything she does from the moment she wakes up to the moment her head hits the pillow. If at any point you wonder why she choose to do the things she does, or if you ever wonder if she's in danger or weak or maybe even a little stupid in my relationship with yours truly, trust her on this: Jen has felt herself wrapped in the certainty of the Holy Spirit, and it has altered her spiritual DNA. She trusts God’s guidance and her experiences of it fully. Since that first time she heard Him, she's walked this path of love and relationship with Him by her side. She has defined the words “love” and “relationship” for her and her family, beyond what prim and the polite company thinks the words mean. She has taken the words apart, stripped them down to their core, and reknitted them for herself. And now she owns them, even when she struggles to remember their meaning, even when others think she ought not to. Love and relationship, for Jen, means walking hand and hand with God.
So, as you’re reading our story—Jen and Danny’s story—know that whatever your reaction to our ideas of faith and God, love, and relationship, you’re likely not thinking anything we haven’t thought ourselves, and we can hold your reactions with loving hands.
You may be gung-ho about the idea of faith or you may be rolling your eyes at this (much like I did when we first met). But, if you’re going to walk this story with us, you have to get ready: Your ideas about what you thought you knew—about us, about faith, about love, about relationships—might soften. It happens. It happened to me and I ended up marrying Jen.
Five years after the SARS outbreak Jen landed her dream job and was the youngest Executive Director at the Joint Council on International Children's Services in Washington D.C. The Joint Council is a non-profit that partners with groups around the world to end suffering for vulnerable children who don’t have permanent homes.
Jen had been at Joint Council for over three years and conversation at work one day started with seven words: “We need you to fly to Uganda.”
Jen often had to hop on flights to other countries for meetings. She would come home from her journeys to her then-husband, Eli, late at night after full days of giving her heart and soul to children’s advocacy work. Jen's position at the Joint Council often required her to do the impossible—help change policy on a shoestring budget, help an adoption agency fly a child to the U.S. on a moment’s notice, work until two in the morning on the tenth draft of a legislative proposal. It was all part of the mission.
But on that day with the seven-word request, Jen had just had her first daughter. All she wanted to do was bury her face in Caroline’s onesie and make sure she was healthy and thriving. And here Joint Council was, asking her to fly to Uganda.
...to be continued tomorrow!