What a fabulously wonderful and busy year it has been! I am still here....alive and so incredibly well. I am so grateful for the literally dozens of e-mails wondering where I am and if we are all okay. The answer is YES....we are BEYOND "okay." We are in absolutely bliss. Life is amazing. So where have I been? LIVING IT!!! In addition to enjoying every single waking moment with my sweetheart and blessed little ones, I have also been blessed with a LOT of work this year. My photography business is going crazy and has become a full-time gig...and sometimes OVER full-time. I feel so richly blessed with the work. However, as a result, I haven't been able to update my blog as often as I would like. Still, slowly but surely, we are going to do just that. ESPECIALLY since this has been such a landmark year for our little family. We have so many things that absolutely need to be written...and so much we want to share.
Jeff and I have seen COUNTLESS miracles in our entire courtship and now, in our marriage. So many miracles, answers and signs that confirmed that God's handprint is absolutely all over this union. After many miracles leading UP to our wedding day, we experienced quite an amazing one as we were preparing to leave on our honeymoon. I have an exciting surprise for you. For the first time here on my blog, you are going to be able to read an entry in the voice of my sweetheart. Jeff has graciously offered to document this amazing miracle (since we were both there living it) so that I can continue with my work and still have these precious moments documented while it is still so very, very fresh in our minds. Not only am I grateful for the time he is saving me in offering to record this amazing series of miracles, but I also LOVE LOVE LOVE the idea of HIS VOICE being here on my blog as well. (I have inserted a few comments into his account in RED print.) NOW, you will get a little taste of the man I married. He is beyond amazing and I LOVE the way he documented this amazing experience. Before I update about our actual HONEYMOON in Israel, I hope you will enjoy reading JEFF'S amazing account of the MIRACLE of how we got there......
Arriving on time at our hotel in Jerusalem was a miracle that I will never forget! But let me back up a little.
Heather and I had been discussing marriage on and off after a year of dating, but we hadn’t yet gotten into the details. One night at my apartment, Heather asked me if, assuming we got married (which was unofficially the plan), would I want a reception. We discussed the possibilities and brought up the idea together of possibly not doing a reception at all; or if we did, we could make it very small and casual. This would allow us to do a nicer honeymoon, instead. That idea got us both excited, and Heather then asked me where I would want to go. I looked over at her and said, “What would you think about Israel?” Heather had never been there, had had a missed opportunity years prior, and I knew that this was her dream vacation. She quickly became emotional as the thought of going to the Holy Land for our honeymoon became a genuine possibility. I also became excited as we spoke of the details. Could we really do this? What would we need to do to make that happen? The idea had taken root.
Not long afterward, the unofficial was made official when I proposed to Heather at John Adams’ library (built by his son John Quincy) near Boston, Massachusetts. It was March, and we began looking at summer tours in Israel. We had to hurry. We quickly settled on a tour led by an LDS guide that would begin the end of June and finish in early July. Heather got her passport, we reserved our spots, and we eagerly awaited the summer.
June 21st arrived. Heather and I were married and sealed in the Jordan River temple, and the next morning we would fly out from Salt Lake to New York City, and then on to Tel Aviv. But this is where the story of our miracle journey begins.
After the wedding ceremony, an informal family gathering (and BBQ) was held in Heather’s sister’s spacious backyard. We would spend that night in Salt Lake City and fly out the next morning. Before leaving with our luggage to our hotel, I mentally ran down our checklist and asked Heather if she had her passport. She did. I went to double-check that I had mine, as well. I couldn’t find it. I searched my car: in the glove box, under the seats, in the trunk, under the floor mats…nothing. I turned my luggage inside-out. Still, nothing. Strangely, I had two copies of my passport, but I couldn’t fly out with just copies. I needed the original, but it was nowhere to be found. After much searching, several of us said a prayer that we would be able to locate the passport and continue on our highly anticipated trip. We decided to go to the hotel anyway, in spite of still not having found the necessary passport. On our drive north to Salt Lake, Heather and Charles (her dad) commented on how calm they felt and how assured they were that it would be found. I was trying to be optimistic, but I felt terrible that I had not guarded the document more closely. As a last resort, I suggested that since I had copies, but no passport, there was the chance that I had left it at Office Max when I photocopied it. Charles said he would check first thing in the morning (since the store had long since closed for the night). All I could do was wait and enjoy our first night together married.
I awoke early. I was still very nervous. Finally, the call came that I had indeed left it in the copier, and Charles was immediately driving it up to us. He arrived just as we were getting ready to load the taxi to head to the airport. We both breathed a heavy sigh of relief, knowing that all was well….or was it?
We hopped out of the cab and wheeled our bags to the check-in counter to weigh our luggage and get our boarding passes. A male and female were assisting us, with a supervisor pacing in the background. One of them took our passports (which I was holding a bit more firmly now), smiled, and asked where we were headed for our honeymoon. Israel, we responded enthusiastically. They grinned and congratulated us. Then, the one lady behind them looked over the other’s shoulder at my passport. She asked if she could see it. Oh no, what now, I thought. With an apologetic look, the lady explained that she could not let us continue on our flight. She pointed out that my passport expired in September. Yeah, so what. We’re only staying two weeks, I thought to myself. She further explained that Israel had a policy that they did not allow people into their country whose passports expired in fewer than six months from their return flight. Delta will get fined, she said, and the person will be flown back to the U.S. I felt extremely dejected. How had I not known this? What could we do? Heather and I stepped back to discuss our options. We could stay in Salt Lake, wait until Monday when the passport office would open, and try to get an appointment to expedite a passport renewal. How long would that take, even after we had secured an appointment? We would surely miss our entire tour, or at least most of it.
We stepped back up to the counter and asked if we could continue on to our layover destination. Heck, I don’t need a passport to fly to the East coast, do I? If we were going to be delayed, then we would rather spend our honeymoon in New York City trying to get this resolved than in Salt Lake. They seemed hesitant but said we could. They typed a note in the computer system explaining why we were not allowed to continue to Tel Aviv, and then they cancelled our seats from New York to Israel. Our final destination was now JFK airport, but we were at least happy to be moving forward.
We sketched out a plan B while sitting at the gate before our flight. We’d find a hotel near the airport. The next day was Sunday, so we would hang out and find some Sunday-appropriate activities. No government offices would be opened, but we would go in to the consulate first thing Monday to secure an appointment. At that point, we’d have to play it by ear and stay in touch with our tour guide. No guarantees on our ETA for Israel. Whatever happened, we’d make the best of it. After booking the hotel from my phone, the intercom announced that we were boarding. We’d be in New York in a few hours.
We landed in the evening, and we were admittedly exhausted, but we still had some details to iron out. Since our seats on the flight from NYC to Tel Aviv had been cancelled, we had to pick up our luggage at baggage claim upon arrival. Then, we decided to take our bags back over to check-in. Our plan was to move our flight to Tuesday, and so we were waiting in line to talk to an agent who could do that. Why Tuesday? Why not. We were going off faith that we could make things happen, so we stood at the end of a long, snaking line that seemed to be getting longer, not shorter. Heather was busy on the phone with offices in New York, trying to see when we could get in for an appointment about my passport. We were told that Tuesday or Wednesday would be the earliest. I rolled our bags forward two inches. Then, Heather would hang up and call our tour guide to relay the news and give any updates on our status. I looked at the clock and scooted up another two inches, not because the line was moving, but because inching my way closer to the person in front of me made me feel like we were making progress. On one hand, we knew the reality of our situation in New York, but on the other hand was our diehard faith and hope that somehow things would work out. We stuck with our plan and rolled the dice for a Tuesday flight to the Holy Land.
I remember saying a prayer in my head while standing in line. Although totally internal, this was a prayer of intensity. These were not just casual wishes and gripes that I was rolling around in my mind out of boredom and desperation. I was having a heartfelt conversation with my Father. I told Him that this was a special trip, even as far as honeymoons go. I said that this was Heather’s dream. I reminded Him that I had already been to Israel, but Heather had not. For her sake, help us find a way through these difficulties, I said. I told him our intentions were good. We wanted to begin our marriage on a strong and spiritual high note. I confessed that I would find peace with whatever the outcome would be, but if there was a way He could get us on an airplane bound for Israel, we would both be extremely grateful. I don’t think I could have predicted what happened next.
After what seemed like forever in that line, we stepped up to the counter. A nice young woman greeted us. I’m not sure why, but instead of saying that we needed to bump our flight to Tuesday, I began explaining that an employee in Salt Lake had taken us off our flight to Tel Aviv, and we needed her help to have our seats reinstated on the flight. I also said that we needed to hurry because that flight out of New York would be leaving soon. (This took me completely by surprise. Instead of "following our plan" to change our flight....Jeff followed the SPIRIT instead and totally took the bull by the horns and "assumed the sale" on getting us back on our flight. I am fairly certain that I fell even MORE in love with him in that moment (if that's even possible). So awesome!!!) She had a look of confusion on her face but asked for our passports so she could pull up our information. The cancellation note from Salt Lake appeared on the screen, and she read over it intently. It says you can’t get on the flight, she said. Plus the flight is full. I told her that I needed her to overwrite the cancellation and that our seats were likely still there since it was only cancelled hours earlier. I explained that this was our honeymoon, and I didn’t understand why they cancelled our seats on the flight. I was very polite, but I also had a slight attitude of being put out. This was a mistake, and we needed her help to rectify it. She tried to pull her supervisor over, but the supervisor was busy helping another person. The agent tried to call the documents office (which deals with passport and other document issues), but they weren’t picking up. We continued waiting at the counter. Heather and I were very friendly. We apologized to the young lady and told her that we knew this wasn’t her fault, and we would be grateful for her help in getting our seats restored on the flight. She nodded in sympathy, but she wasn’t confident that she could do anything for us, mostly as a result of the note in the system stating that we could not fly out.
We were growing a little nervous by now, since help was slow to arrive and our flight that we should’ve been on was getting closer to departure. At last, this lady got through on the phone to the documents office. We listened eagerly to the conversation. Our story was repeated once more for the gentleman on the other end of the line. We knew he must have asked when my passport expired because we heard her respond by saying, September. We assumed his next question as well, since her subsequent response was the answer as to when we were arriving back in the states, which was early July. The young lady then smiled, pulled the phone away from her mouth for a moment, and happily said that he didn’t see a problem with it. She thanked him and hung up. Then, with the help of her supervisor and another agent next to her that joined in the conversation, they together inserted a note in the system to cancel out the original note that forbid us from flying out. The supervisor confirmed with this young lady that this man on the documents team had told her everything was fine. With a nonchalant “Alright then,” they continued to book us on the flight to Tel Aviv, although the seats would not be next to each other. We didn’t care at this point. We were in shock that we were getting on our original flight to Israel. We sincerely thanked the young lady who had helped us and asked her for one last favor. Would she be willing to escort us through the line to the front of security. She agreed, and the three of us hustled over to security and were escorted to the front (facing a barrage of angry looks from the other travelers in line). We thanked her once more and she left. Through security, down the long halls of moving sidewalks, and finally at our gate, we arrived just as the last passengers were boarding the flight from JFK to Tel Aviv. A miracle had happened.
A couple traveling to Israel that we had met in Salt Lake (and who had heard about our unfortunate story) was amazed to see us walk onto the flight. We simply told them that the problems were worked out, and that satisfied them enough to smile and nod in return. To add icing on the cake, while we were putting our bags in the overhead compartments, a young man asked if I wanted to trade him seats so I could sit with my wife. Heather and I were both very grateful. Here we were, after all this drama, sitting together as husband and wife on our flight to Israel that only hours before had seemed like such a distant hope. Miracle after miracle had left us with a feeling of euphoric awe and humble gratitude to our Heavenly Father.
Although we were elated to be taking off, we still had one more concern that we didn‘t want to think about right away. What were we going to do once we got to Israel? My passport hadn’t changed. It was still not valid through the required six month period. We had been warned in Salt Lake that Israel will send us back to the U.S. and fine Delta the expenses. At this point, though, we were happy to take our chances in Tel Aviv, rather than Salt Lake or New York. Regardless, I don’t think I’ve ever slept better on a flight.
Finally, after several movies and a couple airline meals, the wheels of the 757 touched down on Israeli soil and was met by the applause of many of the passengers. I took a deep, satisfied breath and hugged Heather excitedly. We gathered our things and made our way into the airport to see what sort of drama we would encounter upon presenting the passports…mine, specifically. We stood in one of the lines for foreign passport holders and eventually made it up to the booth being operated by a young Israeli man. Heather stepped to the front with a big smile on her face and told him how excited we were to be here in Tel Aviv, Israel. He smiled back, opened up her passport, gave it a glance, slammed the stamp down on the page, and asked if this was her first time visiting. She said it was her first time, but that her husband had been here before, indicating to me. I smiled, and it was my turn to present a passport to be stamped for approval. Heather leaned forward and explained that we were here on our honeymoon, and we would be touring Jerusalem and Galilee for the next few days. He looked at her while maintaining his smile, casually stamped my passport without giving it much thought, and wished us well on our trip through Israel. We thanked him politely, and I said another thank you in my heart. (After we left the passport desk, Jeff turned and smiled at me. I smiled back and said, "What?" He smiled even bigger and said, "I noticed you laid it [my friendliness] on a little thicker than usual back there." I just laughed and said, "Maybe a little." That, and our true innocence and honesty [and some serious help from a loving Heavenly Father], were apparently the perfect combination. :-)) We stepped out into baggage claim and found our pieces of luggage that had tags with big, blue Mr. and Mrs. Smith labels on them. Turning around, we spotted our driver holding a sign with “SMITH” boldly written on the face. We had arrived. We stepped out into the warm, humid Mediterranean air. With a slight breeze in the air, the palm trees and azaleas were waving a welcomed greeting, and we could not have been happier. Thus began our adventure in the Holy Land, and it was truly a miracle that we arrived!