• Martina Huntington

Travel Story: Miracles to Brazil

I want to take a quick break from my regularly scheduled posts about disability pride month to tell you a story about my best friend on her wedding anniversary...which is today! And I’m crying as I’m writing this post because it’s just jammed pack with crazy stuff…some might even call them miracles.

When I was 17 years old, I went on a yearlong foreign exchange to Brazil through Rotary International. It was during this exchange that I met many important people in my life including my host families and my best friend, Nina. We made so many fun memories together, from classes to dance parties to Jack Johnson--we were pretty much inseparable. I carry so many wonderful memories with Nina to this day. When my daughter was born, we named her Audrey Nina, after her “Tia Nina.”

Asian girl in a wheelchair and friend dressed up in costume
Martina and Nina at a costume party in Florida, 2011

In January of 2017, Nina told me that she was going to marry the love of her life, Paulo in July. A.J. and I were so excited for Nina and Paulo to celebrate beginning their lives together. We began planning our trip to Brazil. I was so excited for my family to meet her, especially for Audrey to meet her namesake. Brazil 2017!

Well, it turned out 2017 was a rough year for Clan Huntington. It was the year when A.J.’s company had several rounds of layoffs and we were hit on the third round. Then, our car was hit from behind and totaled. Luckily, we were able to provide for our family with my job and our rainy day savings fund over the next few months. We held out hope that A.J. would find another job soon, so we could continue saving for our trip. However, the search for a job proved to be a long drawn out process that went on for months longer than we expected (it always seems to go this way).

We kept our head high and continued through this humbling experience where life was very uncertain and we had no idea what would happen next. We learned and grew together as a family, and relied heavily on the good Lord with fervor and faith. We always knew that things would work out, but we just needed to find the right way to go about it. And it was hard. I hate to admit it but I’m a recovering type A, who loves to plan as much of my life out as possible and this situation was extremely the opposite of that. Trying and failing was extremely uneasy. But we kept relying on each other and the Lord. We worked hard, we kept each other close, we kept the Lord even closer, and we prayed daily. Eventually, things did work out. A.J. secured a job with another company and was to begin his job just a couple weeks before the wedding.

Asian family posing outdoors at Kings Canyon National Park in California
family vacation out to Kings Canyon National Park in California

In the meantime, I agonized over the decision of whether or not to make Nina and Paulo’s wedding. I felt an immense guilt even thinking about leaving the family after all the events in this process, spending money we no longer had, and not being able to take them to meet my family. So, I decided I would not go to the wedding.

The day I told Nina was literally one of the hardest things I had ever done (I know this sounds so dramatic but it’s so true). She was so sweet and understanding about the whole situation, and she did her best to cheer me up. But I really struggled with it. I was overwhelmed with this literal pain to the heart that hurt so much. I was so sad and disappointed at the thought of not being there for my best friend on her special day. I knew I was going to regret it for the rest of my life. Every time the thought crossed my mind, tears just welded up in my eyes and ran down my face. I could eat or sleep. It was something I couldn’t shake from my mind.

When I get into these situations where I just feel unsettled, sad, helpless, I do the only I really know how to—I prayed to my Heavenly Father. I prayed for comfort and a way—a way I could pursue to get me just far enough to at least know that I put in a valiant effort and did everything I could to get to that wedding, or at least know I tried. I knew it was going take some serious help from above to make it happen, but I never gave up hope that it happen. I just needed a small miracle. NBD right? AJ tells me all the time that I have a determination that is both a blessing and a curse. So, I prayed a lot for miracles and the chance to be a part of my best friend’s wedding.

Miracle #1 Reconnecting with a friend

While praying one night, and feeling especially heartbroken, I asked Heavenly Father to help me find a way. When I finished praying, I immediately had a thought to reach out to a friend from college (whom I had not connected with for several years). I just told her what was going on and she immediately responded, “you’ve come to the right place. If there is someone who could help you out, it’s my family member.” And the next day, she connected me, and we got the ball rolling and set an appointment with the Brazilian consulate in LA.

Miracle #2 Plane Ticket

Another friend from Brazil reached out to me about the flight situation. She told me that if I could get everything together, she would give me her skymiles. And I had just enough to book my other flights, which was tight, but it was going to be worth it if this could all work out…(I’m so, so grateful for friends).

Miracle #3 Expired Passport

Then, we reached another roadblock, my passport was expired!!! This is like the number one rule for an avid traveler: NEVER LET YOUR PASSPORT EXPIRE. I never intended to, but the money situation made everything seem tight. But, I made several calls to passport agencies around the U.S. and after talking it over with AJ we decided to go all-in on this plan to get me to Brazil (He was, and is, so supportive of my wild ideas). So, I bought an early morning plane ticket to CO, hoping and praying that I could get it all done that morning because my return flight was for later that day (Frontier Airlines crazy hours, am I right?). It all had to work perfectly. AJ and the kids dropped me off at the SLC airport at the crack of dawn. I arrived at the Denver airport and Ubered my way to the passport office. I had ALL of my documents in order and got in line. I prayed tons in my heart. I was worried that something would go wrong but tried to overpower that worry with positive thoughts—it really was the only thing I could control. In the end, I got to the counter and explained my story and was able to get it all done in a matter of an hour. I was talking with a family there and they confirmed this was the best and fastest passport office. Score! Then I flew home that afternoon with my new passport.

Miracle #4 Visa

That evening, I came home and packed my bags to head out to LA on a one-way flight in the morning in hopes of getting a Brazilian Visa. At this time, I had heard had been so tricky during this time due to political upheavals and government disagreements, which added to the worry. I had all my documents ready, appointment set, brushed up on my Portuguese to explain the situation, and still worried that it wouldn’t work out. The flight to Brazil was set for that evening so I could get to Nina’s wedding just in time, so again, everything had to line up perfectly. There was a lot of uncertainty during this leg of the process, but I was praying as hard as I could the whole way that this would work out. It had to work out. Call it lack of sleep or a passionate determination to get on that plane out to Brazil, but when the time came for me to talk to my interviewer, I shared the full story about everything that it took for me to get there and how I really needed this visa to make it to my best friend’s wedding. The interviewer looked me in the eye, gave me a smile, and immediately gave me visa right into my passport. Hallelujah!!!

Asian woman traveling in wheelchair in front of Brasil sign
Martina at the Brazilian Consulate in Los Angeles, CA

Miracle #5 Brazil!!

It had all been such a rush and I hadn’t been able to process it all, just taking one step at a time. I didn’t believe I was going to Brazil until I was actually on the plane to Brazil. And my friend had thrown in a little surprise she didn’t bother to mention to me—she was flying me business class all the way. Boy, after the crazy last few days and so few hours of sleep, this was the sweetest gift (could definitely get used to this). All the while, my host family were headed to São Paulo to pick me up from the airport, my friends were in my little town plotting how to bring me to Nina’s doorstep, and Nina…had NO IDEA any of this was going on. Not even the slightest.

Friends and family in Brasil / Brazil
My host families in Brazil
Woman in a wheelchair traveling in Brazil
My friends and family in Brasil / Brazil

From the moment I landed in Brazil, there were just tears of joy and gratitude of all the miracles that took place and amazing people it took to get me there. It was all so hard to process in the moment, so I just went with the flow, living this dream in Brazil. My host dad, brother and sister picked me up from the airport early in the morning and it was such a sweet reunion. 10 years since I left Brazil. 10 years! I missed them all so much and shed so many more tears of joy. So many changes, yet so many familiarities at the same time. It was surreal to catch up while we trekked 7 hours to get to my little town, the town where I “grew up” and the town where Nina was having the wedding. I couldn’t wait to see the rest.

Asian woman in a wheelchair and best friend in Brazil
Tina and Nina at Nina's pub party pre-wedding, Dracena, Brazil

Friends at dinner in Brasil / Brazil
Girlfriends at Nina's party

This story is so near and dear to my heart and I wanted to write it down here so that I can always remember everything that led up to this event. There were so, so many miracles that I never would have imagined could happened to me. I like to think that I am a person of faith who does not need to see in order to believe, but this was just a sprinkle of love from above. It is evident to me that the Lord is in the details of our lives. He knows our desires, big and small and He provides a way (I believe if it be for the pure love of mankind). It is up to us to seek those ways and make something out of them. I’m so grateful for my Heavenly Father, who cares for and loves me so much. I’m grateful that He made this journey possible for this little girl who wanted so badly to be there for her best friend. I wanted to share this story with you in hopes that you will see that miracles happen every day. Look for those miracles in your life and know that you are loved.

Thanks for reading along on this journey. Read up on how I surprised Nina and the rest of my visit to Brazil in the next post.

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#anniversary #love #friendship #wheelchair #wheelchairlife #brazil #brasil #travel #travelstories #wheelchairtravel #disability #amor #amizade #cadeirante #deficiencia #vidadecadeirante #blog #paralysis #sci #spinalcordinjury

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A.J. and Martina are college sweethearts who are the parents of three wild wee ones. Together, they share their experiences as parents, stories from their travels around the world, their search for new wheelchair accessible routes. They love spreading awareness about disability, and sharing positivity and kindness. They are believers of Jesus Christ and are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and are based in Utah.

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