So here goes... in attempted chronological order. 27 wonderful memories from my 27th year!
1. Being a National Champion
This actually happened exactly 5 days before my 27th birthday. (What can I say? It was a great birthday week!) Even though I didn't get to see the National Championship game in person, it was an incredible moment for this Auburn Alumna! It sure was nice to be a National Champion Auburn Tiger for most of my 27th year!
2. Living in Thailand
Just 3 days after my birthday last year, we packed up and moved to Thailand! It seemed so crazy to me then, but now I am really proud of myself (and my husband) for taking this amazing opportunity. We had a precious little apartment in Chiang Mai, Thailand for 3 and 1/2 months of last year and we learned so much during that time. I have a deep love for Thailand, Thai people, and Thai culture thanks to that experience! And if you count the 6 weeks we spent overseas in Nov/Dec - then we lived overseas in Thailand and India for about 5 months of last year!
|Rusty pointing up at our tiny Thai apartment!|
3. Learning Thai
This is another experience that seemed really daunting at the time, but I am so glad we dove in! While living in Thailand, we took Thai lessons once a week from an awesome teacher, Khruu Jai. While we still have a lot to learn (and I'm sure we butcher the tones most of the time,) it thrills my heart to be able to speak to the Thai people in their language! I'm proud to say that I can introduce myself, answer basic questions, and get around the market place in Thai now! I'm looking forward to learning more!
|With Kruu Jai after a Thai lesson|
4. Playing with Tigers
Truly a "once in a lifetime" experience! I don't know many people who have snuggled up with a 300 lb tiger! These are truly majestic animals! For those of you wondering - no - she was not sedated or chained, and yes - she had all her claws and teeth! I was really happy to see that these tigers were very well cared for. This was Rusty's Valentine's Day gift to me last year. What a DATE!
5. Riding Elephants
Another great experience in Thailand! This was our "fun day" during our 2nd trip to Thailand this year. We drove out to a Karen Elephant Camp and took an hour long ride through the woods/jungle on these incredible creatures! I was THRILLED when our guide slid down and asked if I wanted to ride on the elephant's head! It was a lot of fun, but there's not much to hold on to. It's a wonder I didn't go tumbling off!
6. Volunteering at Viengping
The 2 hours we spent on Thursdays at Viengping Children's Home was a weekly highlight of my time in Thailand. We usually volunteered in the "Suwadee" room with the two year olds, and we quickly fell in love with these sweet babies! It was so hard to say goodbye!
7. Finally meeting P. Rapee & Pastor Banya
This amazing couple has been a part of Rusty's life since 2007, and he had talked about them for almost as long as I've known him. He really has loved them since he met them, and when I met them, I completely understood why! P. Rapee is so full of life, love, and energy. Her husband Banya is one of the sweetest, funniest men I've met! We now say that they are our Thai family. We know these two will be in our life for years to come!
|Banya, Rusty, me & P. Rapee - our very first picture together.|
8. Buying a Children's Home
The saddest fact about this amazing couple (P. Rapee & Pastor Banya), is that they cannot have children of their own. These are two of the most loving people I have ever met - and they want to share that love so badly! For 27 years they have dreamed of running their own Children's Home. Well, this year - that dream came true! Seeing them so happy was truly humbling. It was one of those moments when all the work we do felt so worthwhile!
|Rapee & Banya jumping for joy outside their new Children's Home!|
9. Meeting the kids in the Refuge
The Refuge is one of the Children's Homes we care for in Thailand, but it isn't filled with Thai children. It is home to Karen children who are refugees from Burma. These kids have run for their lives from the Burma army through a jungle dotted with landmines - all so that they have a safe place to go to school. They have BIG dreams about going back to their country as teachers, doctors, and government leaders. They are strong, kind, and courageous young men and women! Getting to know them has been a privilege.
10. Celebrating our anniversary at a Karen wedding
On April 18th, we celebrated our 2nd anniversary by attending the wedding of some of our dear Karen friends - Hebrew & SerNeGay - who run The Refuge. I did SerNeGay's hair and makeup for the wedding and even had a small part in the ceremony. It was a beautiful day! We are so honored to share our anniversary with this amazing couple!
|I'm wearing my traditional Karen skirt while SerNeGay is dressed as a "western" bride in white!|
11. Meeting cousin Sam
It's hard to find the words to describe Rusty's 81 year old cousin Sam. It's strange that we could get so close to someone in just a year's time! From the moment we met him in Pattaya, Thailand, we were FAMILY. Losing him was like losing another grandfather for me and for Rusty... I still don't think it has fully set in. He was such a kind, generous, funny old man! We had some truly wonderful times together in Thailand, and I'm so thankful for those memories. I am going to miss his stories and the way he made us laugh. We are so blessed to have known him!
|One of Sam's favorite things to do was take us out for ice cream and coffee!|
12. Surviving my first earthquake
Okay... I don't know if this is really a good memory from last year - but I felt like it was worth mentioning! Just a few weeks after the tsunami in Japan, Rusty and I experienced our first earthquake. We were separated when it happened (which was even scarier) and I was so thankful it wasn't worse where we were. Rusty was in a movie theater on the 5th floor of a mall when he felt the seats start shaking. I was in the nightmarket shopping with some girlfriends when I felt dizzy (or so I thought). It wasn't until I saw the lanterns swaying and everyone else's wide eyes that I realized it wasn't just me! It turns out the epicenter was quite a few miles away in Burma, and there wasn't any damage in Chiang Mai. But because we aren't used to earthquakes we were pretty freaked out the rest of the night - jumping up and running out the door with every aftershock!
13. Watching the fire dancers on Koh Samet
These guys were AH-MAZING! Seriously... I was captivated! I told Rusty if we'd just been dating he might have lost me to one of them. (kidding, kidding ;) They danced and flipped and climbed on each others' shoulders - all while swinging fire around their necks, throwing fire, or BREATHING fire! It was so awesome we went back the next night to watch the show again!
14. Going on a Waterfall Hike with Pastor & Rapee
This was definitely one of my favorite days in Thailand. We spent the day with Pastor and Rapee, hiking to see 7 waterfalls. We laughed a lot on the way down, as Rapee tried to keep me from breaking my neck as I half hiked/half slid down some slippery slopes! But it was so worth it when we got to the bottom. The waterfalls were BEAUTIFUL! I also loved the time we spent at the biggest falls, sharing our hearts and praying together. It truly bonded the 4 of us together!
|This turned out to be one of my favorite pictures from our time in Thailand!|
15. Riding down the Salawin
This was a great memory for so many reasons (you'd have to read the blog to fully understand). There is nothing like hearing a mortar go off nearby while you're walking through a field with these precious girls right behind you. I got a chance to experience what life is like for these children, and it changed me.
16. Finding a passion for Burma
There are so many experiences this year that ignited my passion for Burma... my trip down the Salawin, my time in the refugee camp, eating dinner at a Freedom Fighter restaurant, meeting Dave Eubanks (founder of the Free Burma Rangers) - the list goes on. I have a heart for the tribal people of Burma, especially the Karen, like nothing else I've experienced. I long for them to see FREEDOM and PEACE! That's why I put together this blog - 10 Things You Need To Know About Burma. I put so much hard work into it, and I consider it one of my biggest accomplishments of last year.
17. Experiencing a U2 concert from crazy, awesomely good (free) seats!
Because of my passion for the people of Burma, I volunteered (along with some of our awesome friends) to raise awareness through the US Campaign for Burma at a U2 concert last summer. It was a tiring but wonderful experience, and we were told that afterwards, we'd get a chance to go to the concert for free. Little did we know that our "free seats" would be RIGHT BESIDE THE STAGE! I'm pretty sure I could've counted Bono's sweatdrops if I had tried.
18. Being on the Nashville News
While I was volunteering at that U2 concert for the US Campaign for Burma, a news crew walked past my table. I called them over to sign our petition (hoping that they might interview me about the situation in Burma!) To my delight the anchor responded, "I'll sign your petition if you'll talk on camera!" Little did he know that was exactly what I wanted to do. It was incredible to get to share about the plight of our Burmese friends to a TV market as big as Nashville!
|With Nashville News Anchor, Eric Alvarez, and his crew!|
19. Celebrating my Granddaddy's 80th Birthday
My Granddaddy turned 80 this summer, and our family surprised him with a huge party! He had no idea what was going on until he walked through the door. It was so sweet to see him so happy, visiting with old friends and family members he hadn't seen in forever!
|Granddaddy with the grandkids - L to R my brother Brent, me, cousin Breeanna, and brother Jaron.|
20. Moving back to Sweet Home Alabama!
After 2 and 1/2 years in Michigan, I couldn't have been happier to move back to Sweet Home Alabama! Though we met some dear friends up there, and I think the snow is pretty, I am just not a northern gal. It has been wonderful to be back "home" and so much closer to our family and Southern friends! (And let's not forget Chick-Fil-A!)
|In the front yard of our Michigan home, getting ready to start the 13+ hour drive to Alabama!|
21. Billboard Sightings!
Though we've seen a lot of our iStock pictures in magazines, internet ads, and picture frames, this was the first year we got to see us on a BILLBOARD! A friend of Rusty's sent him this pic from Wheeling, WV. I love the message on this sign. Now I'm anxiously awaiting the day we get to have a billboard sighting in person! It's so much fun to see where we turn up!
|What have you done for your marriage today?|
22. Hearing Katie Davis speak
In October I went with Rusty, my parents, my little brother Jaron and his girlfriend Michelle to hear Katie Davis speak at the Church of Brookhills. It was such a special night - one that will forever impact our family. God really moved in that church that night, and His daughter Katie was an inspiration to so many! I can't wait to finish her book, Kisses from Katie!
23. Singing at BJ's wedding
Every time I get to sing at a friend's wedding, I consider it a huge honor. BJ's wedding was no different! It was such a beautiful ceremony, and I was blessed to be a part of it. I sang, "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring." I know she and Ricky will enjoy many happy years together!
24. Brent & Melissa's Wedding
Okay... this isn't in chronological order, but while we're talking about weddings - I can't forget my brother's! I got a new sister this summer! I also got to sing at the wedding, which was very special. Unfortunately my other brother got sick at the reception and had to be admitted to the hospital... so I don't have any good pictures of us with the happy couple! Here's a shot of me dancing with my date though! ;)
25. Seeing Jyoti for the first time in 4 years!
This was INCREDIBLE! I met this beautiful little girl in 2008 on a trip to India, and began personally sponsoring her monthly. I adored her, but unfortunately, she was terrified of white people! The one time I tried to hold her she cried hysterically! I got a quick kiss on the cheek on my last day there, but that was it. Fast forward to 2011 when we returned to Asha House.... The house Mom told me she had been walking around the house all day telling the other kids, "MY Auntie is coming!" When she saw me, she ran to me and threw her arms around my neck! For the next 2 days she covered me and Rusty in kisses and hugs. I loved every minute of it!
26. Watching Miss America with my Southern girlfriends
Now I loved my little Miss America party with my northern girlfriends last year.... but it warmed my heart to be watching it with girls who used football terminology to explain what happened during the pageant! HA! When my friend Courtney (Miss AL) was "saved" and put back in the Top 11 by the other contestants, my other friend Courtney (at my house) said - "Ohmygosh! It's like... the rival team scored the winning touchdown... and then IT GOT CALLED BACK! SHE GETS ANOTHER CHANCE!" Haha! An explanation like that would ONLY happen in the South! As Amos Lee says, there's just something about a Southern Girl! ;)
|Unfortunately, Rusty deleted the pics on our camera by mistake (SO SAD!) so I don't have a shot of all of us in our sequined crown headbands cheering for Miss Alabama! Here's the moment I referenced above though, when Courtney was SAVED!|
27. Celebrating 1,000 days of marriage
You may think it's silly, but this was a fun milestone for us! We celebrated 1,000 days of marriage on Friday the 13th - just 2 days before my 28th Birthday! You can read the blog here.
Okay friends... there you have it! 27 of my favorite memories from my 27th year! I'm sure I am forgetting a lot of other wonderful memories... like all the miracles we saw happen! This was one of the hardest years I've experienced, but it was also one of the most incredible! It was full of transition and difficult experiences and health challenges... but there is something amazing about surviving a really difficult year - and being able to look back with gratitude. That's what God does... He redeems things! He fills our life with such sweetness that in time, we forget the pain. If anything, I can say that God (once again) proved Himself FAITHFUL, GOOD, and TRUE this year! I am so grateful for the blessings He poured out on us, and anxious to see what He has in store for the year ahead!