Here Comes the Bride

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September 28, 2002 was the start of our family – it was our wedding day. It was perfect and beautiful – all I ever dreamt of and more. At that point in time, my grandmother was fighting her battle with cancer so we moved the date up by 6 months so she could see this grand occasion. My mother and grandmother spent endless hours planning the perfect wedding for me – down to the very last detail. Regretfully, I remember being a bit annoyed at times thinking – it’s my wedding and I feel like it’s been hijacked. Why do they care so much about my wedding day? It’s all about me – not the mother and grandmother. In the end, the day went without a hitch, and our family was started.

One of the best days of my life.

We were so excited to start our careers and buy our first home together. We looked forward to a home filled with the laughter of our precious blonde hair, blue eyed children. Our perfect plan down to the last detail. It wasn’t long until we started on our journey of infertility. There’s not time here to paint that picture of pain and disappointment. Crushed dreams, anxiety and fear, constant disappointment, the tragic pain of many failed pregnancies and my first real awareness and realization that we are not really in control of anything in this world and learning how to slowly come to terms with this raw realization. I was desperate to be a mother. I soon found myself on my knees begging God to have mercy – to give me a child. “Lord, I want a baby, any child that you desire. Please just hear my prayers.” I was brought to a humbling point, forced to face my pride and false thinking that this life was my plan. I remember the day that I bowed before my Mighty God and said, “I just want to be a godly mother to any child, but on your terms not mine. Please just grant me this request.”

On Palm Sunday (April 5, 2009), our hearts were healing from a recent miscarriage as we listened to a plea for families to host a child with medical needs from Afghanistan. My heart skipped a beat at the thought. I knew it was a long shot, but I proceeded to write a carefully worded note to Mike on the bulletin. A bulletin that we still have to this day. I wrote: “Can we offer to provide eye exams and glasses on a Saturday to these kids? And, shortly after, that was followed by “Can we consider learning about having ONE with us?” For him, it was far outside the comfort zone. Unknowingly, this single event started us on a path we could have never imagined and certainly couldn’t have planned.

In June of 2009, with teddy bears in hand, we headed to the airport. Yes, I said teddy bears plural; somehow I had convinced Mike to host two little girls for the entire summer, not just one -Khaleda and Negar. I could hardly stand myself as I got their rooms ready. We were so afraid and excited. We had never been parents so it was a bit disconcerting. “How in the world are we going to pull this off with our work schedule?” We laughed as we said, “What on this Earth are we thinking? We can’t do this.” I remember Mike saying, “Well it is just 6 weeks. We’ll be fine. It will go by fast, and we will look back on it and say it was a good experience.” Those 6 weeks were life changing for both of us on so many levels. Those two little girls stole our hearts. They gave us so much joy and a whole new outlook on the true meaning of life. We watched them swim for the first time, introduced them to the beach, and taught them ride bikes. We fed them so much ice cream that their bellies ached. I watched my husband act like a complete goofball with two little girls that could hardly understand English. It was beautiful.  Just before they were to return to Afghanstan in August, we learned just how sick Khaleda really was. The doctors said that if we sent her back to her country, she would live less than two years. The day we put her on that plane, I came home and sobbed. I remember weeping in my laundry room floor and saying, “Lord if there is a way, please let us help her. We love her. If you open doors, we promise we will walk through them.”

The day before Thanksgiving 2009, Khaleda returned to us and became our first child, our daughter, our eldest, one of our greatest blessings. In a very unconventional way, I became a mother. I never would have planned this way, but through God’s Sovereign hand – we received the child that was created for us. To us, she was perfect.

One of the best days of my life.

Adoption. Up until this point, I had thought it was a nice gesture. A great way to help children who are less fortunate. I could see myself adopting children. I actually loved the notion. That November, the word adoption took on a new and deep reaching meaning for me. My heart ached for this child who was not my flesh and blood. I felt the awesome desire to be an example, a leader, a witness, and a godly mother to her. I experienced the overwhelming sense of responsibility for guiding this child, that looked to us with complete trust, through the torrential waves of life. It did NOT matter that she did not come from my own womb. My gracious God had answered my prayers in ways I could not yet imagine or comprehend. He brought her to us in His perfect timing, and she was His choice for us. He used this special bond of worldly adoption in our family to teach all three of us the true meaning of the word adoption.

Ephesians 1: reads –   Spiritual Blessings in Christ

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.

How had I missed this all the times that I had read it before? How could I not truly understand adoption? Adoption, it’s who God is. He is our good, good Father. Perfect in all of His ways. I am not physically his flesh and blood. I’m full of imperfections, yet He loves me perfectly. An Amazing love. How can it be? That He would send his greatest joy to die for me so that I can be adopted and redeemed. And what a gift, to be able to live this out on this Earth through the adoption of my eldest child. He took the pain of infertility and turned it into great honor. A daily reminder of who I am and what he has done. Blessed beyond comprehension.

One of the best days of my life.

Over the years, there have been countless miracles in our lives. I wish I had the time to share each one today and I hope to in the future. Her story so clearly points me back to my Savior every day. The obstacles that were overcome were tremendous. We spent so much time going to appointments and hospitals all over this country. We regularly traveled to California for testing and treatment. On our last flight to California, we experienced exceptionally rough turbulence. While I love to travel and I fly often, I despise it. It reminds me of how helpless and not in control I really am. Anyway, this time I found myself having to remain calm for Khaleda. She was so nervous and she said to me, “Hey Mom, if the plane goes down, I counted the number of rows both in front and behind us to the nearest emergency exit. That way, we can quickly crawl over the seats rather than waiting in the aisle to escape if the plane crashes.” I thought to myself, “Sweet child, we are flying over the Rocky Mountains. If we go down, we don’t need to know where the exits are.” Since that just couldn’t be my audible answer to her very serious concern, my mind raced for ways to comfort her in a more appropriate way. Before I knew it, I heard myself reassuring her. As the words left my mouth, it was like I was hearing them for the first time. They weren’t previous thoughts or a well-rehearsed answer. I simply said, “Khaleda, before we were knit in the womb, God knew how many days we were granted, and he already knows when we will take our last breath on this Earth. We will not die one second before or after that determined last breath. There is nothing we can do to change our number of days or breaths. So let’s just try to trust in Him and relax.” I saw her relax with this comforting realization, and I immediately praised God for those words. At that point in time, I had no idea what that very conversation would mean to me in the future.

Several days later on our return flight home, I was tormented over the next decisions Mike and I would have to make for our sweet child. A bone marrow transplant. The only cure for this brutal disease. A 95% chance of cure. A miraculous perfect match. The catch: it needed to be done immediately for the chance of best success. Every month and year that we waited would reduce our chances. But there were real risks. A laundry list of terrible side effects and ultimately a risk of death. How could we live with our decision if it wasn’t successful? This child was depending on us, trusting her mother and father with blind faith. Another blessing to behold. As tears ran down my cheeks on that flight, I was reminded by my faithful Father, “Amanda, before Khaleda was knit in the womb, her days were numbered. No decision that you and Mike will make can alter my timing. She will not take her last breath before her set time, regardless of your choices.”

I have had to go back to that place every day and sometimes every hour to survive the last 7 months. There have been days when I could have just lost my mind from the agonizing pain of this decision. Watching your child suffer is something beyond words. It brings forth a plethora of emotions like no other. One night, I shook my fists at the Lord asking, “Why Lord? Can’t you see, we need relief here? I CANNOT take this anymore – where are you?” And then, a picture of Christ on the cross came to my mind. It was then, in that moment, that I more fully realized that He has already stood in my shoes. He understood so perfectly what I was feeling. He also watched His son suffer. He was not against me. Suffering and death are a terrible part of living in a fallen world. God aches with us. He doesn’t only ache – He acts. He mercifully provided a way to overcome death. I wept even more, but with new understanding and with even more praise in our suffering.

For 7 long months, Khaleda suffered through atrocities that I could have never imagined. Ten days of aggressive chemo that wreaked havoc on her tiny body like you would not believe. Two bone marrow transplants, 6 surgeries, 1 chest tube, 5 CT scans, atleast 15 x-rays, 8 catheters, multiple horrendous side effects, around the clock medication through 4 lines, and minute by minute monitoring for 170 days. She never complained about the treatment. NEVER. Many of her nurses and doctors, made the trip to her celebration of life. She changed their lives too. They loved her and fought over having her for their 12 hour shifts. Even if they weren’t her nurse, they came to our room to love on her. They painted her nails, gave her foot massages and baths, watched movies, walked laps and bought her coffee and ice cream. She stole their hearts. It became a running joke, that if someone couldn’t find who they needed – they would just page Khaleda’s room. Her favorite doctor was planning her own wedding during this time. Khaleda was so excited and so involved in the details. Every day, she would tell me about the decorations, the theme, the dress, and the reception. She loved weddings. Over the years, she attended every wedding she could with us. The thought of dressing up, painting her nails, and fixing her hair made her giddy. She loved seeing the bride and watching her walk down the aisle into the arms of her husband. She always blushed and giggled when it was time to “Kiss the Bride.” I vividly remember her coming home from a Sunday School lesson one week, taught by Adam Bloom. I asked her what she learned that day and she said smiling, “I learned that the Bible in it’s entirety is a love story with the underlying theme being: Here Comes the Bride.” That made her love it so much more. She looked at things differently after that.

My sweet friend Amy, told me once that Khaleda was magic. Everywhere she went – lives were moved and changed. Even when she was in the worst possible health situation, she held her head high and asked about the well-being of other kids on the floor. She was so sad to see them suffer. She was also so brave and courageous, but mostly she loved the Lord even through it all. Every time she went for surgery, she would be so afraid. I would remind her – “Khaleda remember, you will not die until the Lord says it’s time. We always have to be ready, but we can’t change the time.” It was our conversation on so many days. Me reminding her, and her reminding me.

During our stay, different doctors told us atleast 4 times that Khaleda was not going to make it and that we should prepare. She came so close to death, medically speaking, that even some of the doctors said her recovery was miraculous. After each of those episodes, Khaleda would tell me that she had a vivid, recurring dream. In her dream, she saw herself standing in a beautiful, long, white gown. She was standing in the center of a room and couldn’t move her feet. There was a lady with long, curly dark hair across the room at a door beckoning her to follow. She could NOT see this lady’s face, and she couldn’t move in any direction. Upon wakening, she would describe it to me and would say, “Mom I just want that lady to turn around so I can see her face. I want to know who she is, and I need to know if I should follow her and where is she going?” I listened each time and I asked her, “Are you afraid in the dream?” She replied, “No, I’m not afraid, but I just need to know more.” I said to her,   “I don’t know what the dream means Khaleda. Maybe it’s your wedding day. Maybe that lady is going to lead you to your perfect husband. You will be a gorgeous bride, and I look so forward to your wedding day and helping you plan it. It will be amazing.” It was then that I started planning her wedding in my mind. It was then that I started to understand what my mother felt for me on my wedding day. Why she was so involved and cared so much about every single detail. Weddings are one of the most special days in the life of a mother.

There have been some serious ups and downs during our journey. We were faced with situations I would never wish on anyone. At the same time, there were beautiful moments that I wouldn’t change for anything. My child wanted and needed me, and I tried to be as godly of a mother as I could. I crawled into her bed and held her, kissed her, prayed with her and told her everything that I would ever want to say. I was not perfect, but I have no regrets. I had precious time with her.

Last Sunday was Mother’s Day. My precious daughter died on Mother’s Day – the day that we think of celebrating with our children. The day that we are supposed to get sweet homemade cards and eat a special lunch together. A day when mom stays in bed while dad and kids make breakfast. Whatever the tradition may be, it is not the day that your child is supposed to die. It seemed so cold and just plain wrong. That night as I laid in the bed mourning the loss of my daughter, something miraculous happened. God walked me back through the previous 24 hours revealing some of the details that I had somehow missed. He whispered to me, “Amanda, what does it mean to be a mother?” I thought of the feeling when you get to hold your child the first time, and I rejoiced at the miracle of children. I thought of watching the milestones, and I smiled. My greatest goal and purpose as a mother is to point my children to God. I was blessed with the opportunity to remind Khaleda of God’s love and pray with her in her last hours. As she took her last breath, I was there holding her and reminding her that God had spoken. Her job was done and done well, and that this exact time for her last breath on this Mother’s Day was determined before she was knit in the womb. I continued to hold her for a few hours after her passing. During that time, my sweet friend Lori Lawing sent me a text message referencing Psalm 45 verses 10-17.

Her text read:  The King, the Lord Jesus, has spoken to Khaleda. Just a few hours ago He said to her, “Listen, O Daughter, give attention and incline your ear. Forget your people and your father’s house. The King desires your beauty. Because He is your Lord, bow down to him.” Khaleda “is all glorious within” and beautiful. Her wedding gown “is embroidered with gold” and “she will be led to the King, her companions who follow her,” will go with her. “they will be led forth with gladness and rejoicing. They will enter into the King’s Palace…Therefore the peoples will give You thanks forever and ever.” A wedding has taken place today! The King has called his beautiful bride Khaleda home to be his treasured possession forever. 

It was then that I realized her dream. It WAS her standing in that room in her wedding gown. A wedding gown for the perfect wedding waiting to be ushered into Her eternal union as the bride. It was then that I realized that I had received the greatest Mother’s Day gift. My daughter spent her last breath comforted imperfectly by me, then went directly into the loving arms of our Almighty God, her PERFECT Groom. It was the perfect wedding and the perfect dress.

I may not ever have the opportunity to plan her Earthly wedding, but on May 14, 2016, we celebrated her gorgeous wedding reception. My family and friends gave us a great gift by planning this perfect celebration. I will never be able to express the depth of my gratitude to each of you. It was filled with pink for praise and joy, not black for sorrow. We cried and giggled as family and friends reminded us of “Khaleda stories” from the years past. It was truly ALL things Khaleda. She would have loved every last detail.

We are heart-broken over our loss, and our family will never be the same without her. But at the same time, we are comforted that she is eternally loved, full of joy and praise, in a healthy glorified body with no suffering. There is no darkness, no sick and no lame. I can’t help but smile when I think of her there. We will see her again for eternity. Until then we will continue to fight the good fight.

We can’t thank you all enough for your support and relentless prayers. We have felt the love of the body, and we are so blessed.

May the Lord bless you and keep you. May He make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you. May He lift his countenance upon you and grant you peace. Praise be to God for His plan is perfect!

This song has given me comfort in the last weeks.  You Hold Me Now

We hope this journey through her time with us brings you as much joy as it brings to us.

Click Here: The Life of Khaleda

Khaleda bulleyin.png


13 thoughts on “Here Comes the Bride

  1. Such an introspective and beautiful tribute. I’m so sorry for your deep and profound loss. You were an angel of mercy in this life to Khaled. Now she’s one to you. Many prayers of continued love and peace during this heartbreaking time.

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  2. Beautiful. You have expressed so much with this post ! So many truths, so many reminders for us and so much love. God Bless you and may you continue to be a shining light of His love.

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  3. Amanda,

    As I sat here reading this today I thought about the torment I’ve been under thinking of my dad’s last 24 hours in December when he passed. You probably aren’t aware of the details and they don’t matter. I have questioned myself and second guessed every decision I made that day for him. He had always bounced back. I sensed that morning was different, but I shrugged off the conversation with the Hospice worker about him not having much more time. When my mother asked me if he was dying, my response was, ‘Not today, not on my watch!’. As a nurse, I had it under control. That afternoon, my sister came to relieve me so I could attend a Lifetime Achievement Function for my father in law, George Kurtts. I woke him up to say goodbye and I’d see him tomorrow. He was different and I knee it. I was sick , but I said to myself that he’d be OK. As we dropped off my children to my niece, my sister texted me to come. I did everything my dad had asked for his last hours. I made him comfortable, I held him, called the priest for last rights. He didn’t go peacefully. It was horrible to watch. He died at 11:59 p.m. I felt like a liar. I told my mom not today, not on my watch and I was a liar. I told my dad that Hospice would keep him comfortable. He wasn’t and I was a liar. My husband and brother in law said to take him to the hospital. He wanted to die at home, but could I have bought him another month if I had sent him? He wanted to live through Christmas. He didn’t.

    I’ve torchered myself for 6 long months on what ifs. Then I read this beautiful article and you’ve reminded me his day was determined. My decisions wouldn’t have changed His will. He was ready, but I wasn’t. How can you ever be ready to lose people you love? But YOU made me realize I wasn’t in control that day. I have never spoken of my torment until now, but wanted to thank you for this post. I now remember and understand it was His choosing that day. Maybe I can finally start to let go and grieve appropriately.

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  4. Amanda I am so glad you shared this for everyone to hear your whole story. The service was beautiful and your words were so heartfelt. You are continually on my thoughts

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  5. Khaleda’s joy for life and love for her family was so evident in your video. She was so blessed that you and Mike heard God’s call and chose to become her parents. Out love and prayers continue to be with you.

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  6. That was the most beautiful thing I have ever watched. Thank you for sharing that most precious part of your heart. I was touched beyond words.

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  7. The path you have walked was definitely filled and touched by God. Prayers over your family and may God continue to touch you all through your daughters sweet spirit. It seems she was wise for her age and truly an “old soul” who knew more than we realize. Thank you for shedding this beautiful light on adoption as well.

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  8. Thank y’all for sharing, reminding all who watch, and read the true life, that you have lived before us all, that God, truly is, not only our all in all, but the ONLY one, who holds our lives in the palm of HIS hand. Thank You, for this . PRAISE GOD ! ! !

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  9. 7 years that changed my prayer
    When I woke up on Palm Sunday in 2009 I was exhausted. I was scheduled to speak with Denver UMC about recruiting families to host children from Afghanistan that morning but my heart was not really in it. I recalled the ordeal I went through just to get approval to speak that day from the organization’s board, a request that was originally denied. I went to my quiet place to prepare what I was going to say and pray. I asked the Holy Spirit to give me one good family that day who would glorify the Father in hosting a child. Just one good family is all I asked for.

    Somewhere between my plea to the congregation and my meeting with interested families after church, this incredible journey started. In front of me was a well-dressed, attractive blond with big blue eyes absorbing every word I said. When I finished speaking, this woman blurted out the words, “We can take 4”. I was bewildered with what she said. I looked over her shoulder to see a tall, handsome, slender man standing behind her with both hands in the air, shaking his head left to right in complete fear. I had now met the Assell’s, a couple that I would learn combined the perfect combination of pedal to the floor, fearless acceleration, with 10 miles below the speed limit cruise control.

    When children arrive from Afghanistan, host families are given a name and a picture of the child they are hosting. The natural response once they meet up with their child is, “Ok now what”. Most families hand around in the airport for up to an hour, asking questions of the organization and other volunteers. But as I looked around to find the Assell’s, they were already gone. They had a plan and there was no time to waste.

    During the 6 weeks when the children are in NC, the organization hosts on average 2 events per week. It is a chance for the children and families who are struggling to adjust, to get together with other families to talk about what is working and what is not. Seldom did we see the Assell’s at these events. They were too busy living their lives with these children to need us. I do remember seeing them at the fireworks at East Lincoln that summer. There we visited and heard of all they were doing. It was then that I realized just how strong a bond was developing between Mike, Amanda and Khaleda. Khaleda sat in Mike’s lap, with both arms around his neck with a big smile on her face. She was so happy and they were a family. She really was a daddy’s girl. I believe it was at this event that I reminded them they had to give these girls back. They both said, “oh we know”.
    When it came time for the children to return to Afghanistan that summer, there were mixed emotions for most host families. Yes there were tears as they said goodbye, but honestly families are ready to get on with their lives for the remainder of the summer. For the Assel’s, Khaleda was their lives. They were the last ones to leave the airport. I saw two people completely heart broken and lost. They stared at the TSA lines as the Khaleda disappeared beyond checkpoint. Maybe if the flight were delayed or cancelled, Khaleda would return and they would get a few more minutes with her. When it became apparent this would not happen, I walked over to the family to try and offer a few words of comfort. Mike asked me if the pain will ever go away. My response was, “No, it will just change”. Today, I am reminded of how true those words were.

    I wanted to take this time to thank you both. Thank you for showing us all what commitment, drive and dedication are. Thank you for displaying to us what real faith, hope and unconditional love look like. Thank you for being the model for not only how we should treat our fellow man, but to love our own children. But above all, thank you for changing my prayer. You were not just a good host family or even a great one. I know, we were a good host family. You were a host family that words have not been created yet to describe. So should I return to volunteer for an organization like the one that brought Khaleda to all of our lives, my prayer will be for the Holy Spirit to glorify the Father by giving me an Assell Family.

    Love you guys,

    Robert Popoff

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  10. Such beautiful words to honor your precious Khaleda. I never had the privilege to meet her, but would see your face light up when we talked about her. She has made such a profound impact on me, and countless others. Our prayers continue for you and all who loved Khaleda. The world was a nicer place with her in it, and as her sister in Christ, I look forward to the day I will meet her in Heaven. God bless!!!

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  11. Wow! Thank you for sharing your story and how God is moving and continues to move. My son Eli battled leukemia for three and half years. This last Thursday his older brother Henry sang this song at church and it reminded me of your story… God bless you.

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  12. What a testimony, what a witness to our sovereign GOD, LORD and SAVIOR JESUS CHRIST. Thank you for sharing Khaleda’s story. We are praying for you and your family during this time of grief and celebration. Sincerely, Steve & Linda Stephenson

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