This weekend, I spent some time sorting through our final photos of 2012. Stephen loves to keep our computer in tip-top organizational state, and this is part of it.
I deleted the blurry and unflattering shots, and categorized the rest into a 2012 folder, complete with categories of different events: my parents coming to visit, trips to villages, courses I taught. In previous years, we’ve had a “Stephen & Kelli” folder of things just the two of us. We also have a “friends” folder–random photos of times out with friends.
But this year, after I had sorted through more photos than I could count, I looked into our “friends” folder. There was one photo.
You see, we’ve never been excessively popular people. But here, most of our friendships are based in other things: we attend work events with friends, yes, but they are work friends; we spend plenty of time socializing in our street with friends, yes, but they are our neighbors. We have very few people that are simply friends, and even less photos of these few people.
And then I looked at the “Stephen & Kelli” folder to find the majority of 2012 within it.
Because really it’s almost always just us.
Sometimes we’re around the neighbor kids, but we’re the only ones who understand each other. Sometimes we are around work friends, but we like each other best. But really, most of the time, it’s just us.
Today at home church, I watched as Stephen & his friend Isaac joined in worship. There was one girl scheduled to lead on a keyboard, and Stephen added cajon while Isaac added guitar impromptu.
Stephen looked in his element; he was at ease. And it reminded me of how fun it is to see him find his place here.
He’s really wonderful with the neighbor kids. His patience is growing, which I didn’t think was possible. He has always been the most patient person I know. And he still more patient, with the endless requests for more water and asking for him to come to the door to collect a flower. When we returned from a bike ride yesterday, a girl ran into him with such zest she knocked his bicycle from under him; he patiently picked it up and calmly corrected her. The other night he sat playing Memory with a little girl as she soaked up the attention.
I only know a glimpse of these children’s lives, but I know Stephen presents a new role of males. He shows them loving attention, he plays with them in a safe environment. He compliments their drawings, hair bows, and haircuts. He tells the boys they are strong when they help us carry groceries in. He takes time for them.
When we traveled to a remote village for a few weeks in November, I loved seeing the changes in Stephen. That was longest time we had been in a more trying environment: cold showers, sleeping on wood floors, very limited personal space, and more rice than any American knows what to do with.
I know this is hard on him; he has back pain from sleeping on the hard floors and usually doesn’t sleep well. The feeling of being endlessly hungry doesn’t settle well on most men, and he’s no different.
But he said nothing. He was exceptionally positive, really.
Just in December, he got his first iPhone 4. It’s from my dad, who kindly upgraded and passed one along to us! Stephen was so excited. He started working for Apple in 2009. And through a year of being surrounded by coworkers with Apple computers, iPhones, and more, he graciously used a small Sony Ericsson.
He’s set it up to work magic. It connects our calendar, emails, photos, and music between the laptop, iPad, and phone. We can text our families around the world free of charge. He keeps everything updated and synced, whether its photos or my recipe collection or our address book.
I love that he uses it to its full potential, but didn’t see it as a necessity. I love that he is really working hard to know what is truly a need and what is simply a want–when is he truly hungry, and when he is just hungry for familiar food? When do we really need to improve our technology, or when can we make do because so many are? He keeps us balanced–helping us to splurge and enjoy life while we still live in way that sometimes a meal of rice is enough.
I’m not sure I know how to write this: I don’t think iPhones are bad, nor are steak dinners. Rice isn’t awful, and neither is sleeping on the floor. Neither way is good or bad; instead, we are simply living somewhere in between them all. I love that Stephen is really working to embrace this middle ground–when there are burgers, he enjoys them. And when it’s rice, he enjoys it as he can without complaint. Likewise, he doesn’t jump at every new movie or camera lens or software program. Nor does he demand we have nothing.
Since moving to Thailand, Stephen and I have gotten much closer.
In our neighborhood, he’s the only one I can really communicate with. And in Mae Sot, he’s the only one I can communicate well with. Within many, many miles, he’s the only one who knows about my family and has had a meal with them. He’s the only one who knows about the many surgeries I’ve had and has sat beside me during recoveries. He’s the only one who knew who I was in college and how the past few years have changed me.
And at the end of every day, when we realize we are stuck in a very small space between our sweet friends in our kitchen and our lovely families a million miles away, he’s the only one in that small space with me. He knows the heat of Thailand, the frustration of running out of water again, the unknowns of how long we’ll be here and when our next trip to the hospital will be. He knows the love/hate relationship we have with the “Kelli! Stephen! Water!” being shouted and repeated, louder and louder, outside our window.
I guess I’m realizing how much he has come to mean to me. I am thankful for where we are, experiencing all of this together–whether it’s hiking over a slippery mud mountain, sitting in a hospital waiting room and not sure who or what you’re waiting on, bringing another cup of water to the kids at the door, or perhaps just getting up for a 6am breakfast in the market.
It is just us for so much of our lives, but I’m not tired of it. I actually crave our long bike ride and hike on Saturday mornings, because it’s time together to talk; while I know we spend more time together then more couples would even know what to do with! It would be easier to measure our time apart than together.
He was always perfect for me, and he was always abundantly patient, wise, and kind. He’s always been funny and kept things light-hearted. And still, he’s more of all of that now.
I’m not the only one who loves him.
Check out the amazing magnet-version of Stephen that two kids put together last night: