See these two? This was us circa Easter 1999, just a few months before we got engaged. These two had no idea they’d be married in about a year (much less all the craziness that would follow that!). I thought it would be fun in honor of today, our 21st wedding anniversary, to share a little piece of the story of us: a little episode I like to call The One Where I Got Deported. (If you’ve ever played two truths and a lie with me or asked me to share a random fact about myself on your wall, you’ve probably already heard it, but it’s a tale that bears retelling, I think.)
Trevor and I fell in love the summer after I spent my junior year in Edinburgh, where we met. It might have been handy to do it while we were both there, but when have we ever done things the easy way?
We spent my senior year (his sophomore!) dating long distance with a few transatlantic visits thrown in. That spring, I began applying for teaching jobs in England, hoping to secure a work permit and live and work within commuting distance of Macclesfield, where Trevor would be doing his internship the following year.
I interviewed at a secondary school for girls in Manchester that summer, and to my delight, they offered me a job teaching science starting in September.
The rest of the summer was a frenzy of excitement and packing and planning, including emailing the school regularly to check the status of the work permit they were working to get me.
By August, they assured me that all they needed to finalize my paperwork was to see my stamped passport. In hindsight this should have raised red flags, but I was 21 and naive and had no idea how these things worked. (Apparently neither did they.) I bought a ticket and got on a plane on a Thursday afternoon.
And finally I was there: in England, Trevor waiting a few hundred yards away, the rest of my life opening out before me.
After waiting in the immigration line, I was greeted by the usual question: “And what brings you to the UK?”
I cheerfully and confidently told the man that I’d been offered a teaching job that I’d be starting in a couple weeks.
His response will echo in my ears for the rest of my life. “Well, I don’t know what made you think you were allowed to work here, but you’re not.”
I remember my heart racing and my mouth going dry, but at this point, I was still pretty sure the mistake was his. I gave him the details of the school and explained that they had applied for my work permit and told me to come, and that I wouldn’t start work until the finalized work permit was in hand. He left me in a chair, fighting terrified tears in front of a sea of jetlagged strangers, while he made some phone calls.
It felt like he was gone for hours. It was the summer holidays, so there were only maintenance staff at the school to answer his call. They knew nothing about me. I assured the immigration man that I would never take a job illegally, that if things didn’t work out with the school, I would just visit for a couple weeks and then go home. Nothing I said mattered. He took and kept my passport and let me come through to rest for two days before traveling home. I was to buy return tickets at my own expense and fly home on Sunday.
When I finally came through the gate and found Trevor, I collapsed into his arms and said, “I’m not here.”
I spent most of the next day calling every authority all of my family’s collective resources could think of. No one could help. Immigration is a law unto itself, and no character reference can get you off the hook with them once you’re on it.
Early early Sunday morning I was escorted onto my plane in one of those blinking, beeping airport golf carts. Once checked in and seated on the plane, I was given back my passport, complete with a stamp, but not the one I (or the school) wanted to see: DENIED ENTRY.
The return journey felt like an ordeal, complete with a long layover in Canada, but eventually, I was home. A place I hadn’t expected to see again so soon. A place where, though I was surrounded by so much love, I felt hopeless and lost and alone.
I cried a lot that night, and the day or two that followed. But then a glimmer of hope came from the most unlikely source.
It was Tuesday, two days after I got home. My sister Paige, six at the time, hated to see me so sad. “I don’t know if this helps,” she offered, “but I think I heard Debbie say she was picking Trevor up from the airport.”
I looked at my mom, pleading with my eyes for her to confirm this rumor. She quickly made up a story about my cousin Jill’s boyfriend coming to visit and called Debbie for her to confirm it, which of course she did.
Of course Trevor wasn’t really coming. Why would he? He had to start his internship in a week. He’d never spend the money to fly over… unless… But no.
I burst into fresh sobs and fell to the floor (if you think I’m being overly dramatic in my telling of this, just ask my mom. It was rough!)
My step-mother Debbie may still be slightly annoyed to this day at my mother’s lack of resolve and spoiling of the surprise, but Debbie wasn’t there. She didn’t see me. My mom did the only thing she could do. She came to me, wrapped her arms around me, and whispered to me, “He is coming. Trevor’s coming.”
On Wednesday, Trevor and my family did manage to genuinely surprise me by having him in an unexpected restaurant a day earlier than I had guessed he’d come.
We couldn’t focus on our appetizers, so we paid for them and drove to a nearby park. There, with a $25 placeholder ring and only geese for witnesses, Trevor asked me to marry him.
The rest, as they say, is history. 22 Easters later, those two crazy kids with the baskets on their heads watched their beautiful oldest daughter get baptized. And today, though we hardly saw each other between work and therapies and church commitments, we remember all that God has blessed us with and we rejoice. (And don’t tell all of these amazing birthday kiddos I’ve been blogging about, but their Daddy is still my favorite.)