Goodbye, Friend {You Changed Me; Made Me Brave}

As the new year began in 2012, my faith had stagnated.  Halfway through my first year of homeschooling, and I wasn’t sure I’d made the right choice.  I KNEW – KNEW I had been following His voice.  I knew life had to change radically.  Our family could not sustain the schedule and expectations.

I prayed.

I was tired of the American Dream.  Tired of following culture’s lead.  Just tired.

So, I Googled some version of those frustrations; I can’t really remember the words or the desires – exactly – but my sovereign God led me to a blog by Marla Taviano.  I started reading.

Marla was struggling too. Suddenly, I’d found a different kind of blogger.  No mommy blogger perfection to compete with or even emulate…I’d found authentic. I didn’t know her, but I loved her.

The first post I read:  January 24, 2012 – The Story We Never Told  

I learned quickly that her husband, Gabe, had been sick. Money was tight.  And Cambodia her heart.

I followed along; it felt like each post became a conversation with her – my new friend, Marla – whom I’d never met.  I didn’t even comment on her blog.  Just my heart friend.  {I know, it’s a bit stalkerish!}

Then, this post in February:  Read Along Details Coming Soon! 

I clicked over to Amazon.  Bought the book, and thought…no way. I can NOT do that.

But, why not?  Stagnate faith.  Feeling God calling me to different.  Resisting at every turn because I like food and stuff and my sweet little American Dream life too much.

So, I read along and wrote along.  (My first post can be found here.)   And life slowly began to change; my heart began to change.  The way I talked to and taught my kids began to change. Priorities were upended. For example:  Hannah was about to turn 12.  She’d been reading Katie Davis’ book and had decided on her own to forego gifts and ask birthday partiers to give $12 to Amazima (Katie’s ministry) instead.

Our hearts were changing.  And…

A day or so after Hannah’s birthday, we get this in the mail…

Marla photo

 

From the Tavianos.  Who I know are struggling financially.  And, I’ve only talked to Marla a few times through her blog comments, yet she cares enough about my heart, about Hannah’s heart, about efforts in Uganda – to give.  A simple gesture.  (You can read about that gift here:  Unexpected Gifts in the Mail )

This was also the moment (return address!) I realized she lived in Columbus, Ohio – so close to me!

God birthed a friendship of sorts.  I read Marla’s blog and commented.  She read and commented on mine.  We became Facebook friends.  I wanted to share 30 stories on my blog in November 2012, and Marla helped me find 30 people, introducing me to her friends (who have now become my friends).  She also shared her own story.

We were online friends.

Then, something weird happened…

I landed at the Columbus International Airport after a trip to Honduras.  I “checked in” on Facebook, and Marla commented something like…we should have coffee while you’re in Columbus sometime.

Huh?  Meet someone I met on the Internet in person?  That sounded like a Dateline NBC waiting to happen.

A few more times she offered to open her home or meet at the nearest coffee shop …and then finally, my friend, Jen, and I found ourselves in Columbus with an offer to have dinner with Marla and her family  – at her house.

I asked my reluctant friend…will you go with me?  You know, just in case she’s an ax murderer?  I mean, I am almost positive she’s not. But, this is weird.  I am about to show up at her house – a stranger! (Did my parents teach me nothing about stranger danger?)

My friend (very reluctantly) agreed to go with me.  And as they say:  the rest is history.

We ate pizza and chatted for hours.  Marla talked of Cambodia; we spoke of Honduras.  Conversation laced with Jesus.  Who He is and all he’d done and was/is doing.  I left feeling closer to Jesus than I ever had.

Marla and me

 

And I wanted {want} to be like her.  Like Marla.  I wanted Jesus to pour from my being.  To be a natural part of my decision-making and conversations.

We followed that first meeting on May 13, 2013 with many more.  Each time I found myself in Columbus, I met her for breakfast or found time for coffee. I watched and learned as her family sold their home and moved to the Abbey Lane apartment complex, answering God’s call to be His hands and feet.  {In fact, I celebrated my 39th birthday in her apartment with a mix of her neighbors.}

my bday at Marlas

 

We processed life at Abbey Lane as they minister to other cultures and faiths (make NO mistake – her neighbors are not a religious label or a people group “to be reached for Jesus.”  They are beautiful, loving NEIGHBORS – people – moms, dads, sisters, and brothers whom she loves deeply.)    And through Abbey Lane, I learned much about my world and myself.  My fears.  My opinions. My suppositions about others. My ideas about the gospel and how to share it.  My ideas of “church” and how we are to be like Jesus.  My role as “Christian.” Truly, this chapter in Marla’s life completely transformed mine.

She supported and loved me through divorce.  Our girls became friends.  We saw Divergent together and closed down a Steak and Shake one night.  I attended her church three times {you’re a beautiful representation of the church, Sanctuary Columbus!).  She spoke at Women of Purpose – a local conference I help organize.  We sat in On the Border for four hours one afternoon sharing our hopes, dreams, and fears. She came to watch Hannah dance and cheered her on as if she were about to win a Tony Award.  We processed freedom and giving to the poor via email.  We dangled our feet in a hot tub, discussing Jesus and Cambodia with people we’d never met.  We debated unschooling and homeschooling and education on more than one occasion.  We danced around the Columbus Zoo during Wild Lights to win a Jack Hanna DVD.  I watched and prayed as she walked alongside a sweet family whose baby boy was fighting cancer.  I laughed (and cried) at her going away party.

at marla's

Han w taviano girlsat starbucks w Marla

Conversation after conversation about how to love Jesus and others better.  To make this world a better place.  To do kingdom work for His glory.  To love well.  To follow His will (and what that even means). I am almost sure we have processed and questioned every aspect of faith, justice, and love.

She prayed for me. I prayed for her.

And I could go on and on.  Because there is no end to the beauty of Marla or the Jesus shining in and through her or our friendship or the sovereign God who brought us together. I wish I could share all she’s taught me.

And I will miss her.  So much.

Tomorrow, Marla and her family fly to Cambodia at 8:30 am.

marla and fam

 

The Cambodia I read about in that long ago post when I first happened upon Marla’s blog.  The Cambodia that she and her family have raised money for every single day for years.  The Cambodia that was and is never far from Marla’s heart or lips.

The Cambodia on the other side of the world.  The Cambodia God has called her to.

And I could NOT be prouder to call her friend.

Dear Marla, it has been (and will be) an honor and privilege to call you friend.  To stand by and witness God’s work in and through you. Knowing you has strengthened my faith and made me brave.  Knowing you has shown me a different kind of kingdom, a different way to live, and a different kind of joy and peace.

Knowing you has shown me a different Jesus.  Thank you for following Him and loving Him- and me – no matter what.  You’ll forever hold a special place in my heart – no “other side of the planet” can change that!

Gabe, Livi, Ava, and Nina – we love you. So much! The leap you’re making evidences authentic faith in a loving God.  We look forward to hugging your necks again in the near future.  In the meantime, we text and PRAY.

kids at goodbyeowen and gabe at goodbye

 

If you’d like to follow and/or support the Tavianos, you can find them on Facebook and /or subscribe to their website.

Much love, Taviano friends.  #Cambodiaorbust

Comments

  1. Thanks for sharing!

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  1. […] As the new year began in 2012, my faith had stagnated. Halfway through my first year of homeschooling, and …read more       […]

  2. […] upon a time, God connected me to a blogger named Marla Taviano.  (More about that here) Have you ever been connected to a person who made you a better person – just by knowing […]

  3. […] (You can more of our story here.  This picture was taken on my birthday last year at Abbey Lane.) […]

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