No recipes here. This post is for posterity for our family and for all others, may it give you a small glimpse into our world. It’s light on photos since they’re an ocean away.
As 2019 comes to a close, I can’t help but reflect on what a year it has been. Last New Year’s Eve, I found myself lying awake in bed with a song from our New Year’s Eve party in my head. Marc Anthony’s Vivir Mi Vida haunted me that night and stirred within me a longing to return to a Latin American country. Little did I know as I wrestled with sleep that it would actually come to fruition just a few months later.
After college, I spent a year on STINT with Cru in Maracaibo, Venezuela. That year stretched me, shaped me, made me a much stronger person, and cultivated in my heart a love for the world. Ryan and I were dating long-distance (pre-smart phones, FaceTime, Skype… in the age of long-distance calling cards and being able to afford one phone conversation a week). My Spanish was not as proficient as I had thought. I was on a team working and living with six other recent college grads, all but one were strangers with me until days before we departed. An incredibly amazing family of missionaries from Colombia invited us all to live in their house. The husband and wife slept in a bedroom with their two elementary-aged kids to make space for us. Their hospitality and generosity was unlike any I had experienced. They showered us with the most amazing peach tea from heaven (it was really just a Nestea mix) and introduced us to fresh jugos de parchita (passion fruit) and guayaba (guava), as well as a special celebratory stew at the end of our year that included cow stomach. I was so very grateful to be sitting next to a guy who loved it so I could discreetly swap bowls. That recipe will not be appearing here. 😉
I’m pretty sure we all thought God was going to do amazing things through us, which he did. But his best works that year were within each of our own hearts. I always chase after that year because my heart was so soft as God drew me closer to him. I also didn’t have kids and had all the time in the world to read and grow and enjoy the lessons along the way.
Fast forward a few years later, I quit my job of teaching 8th grade math (an experience that has been quite handy this year homeschooling), Ryan quit his sales job and we decided to follow the Lord into full-time ministry to college students. College is when the Lord really got ahold of both of us. At the time, they were referred to as the powerful percent – 1% of the world’s population consisted of college students who would change the world. It made sense to invest in them. It still does. So being young and childless, we moved across the world to Melbourne, Australia, this time married and with 8 of our best friends from college and a lone Texan who became a dear friend along the way.
Again, we thought we were skilled and knew what we were doing. We were quite wrong. One of our first days there, there was a big protest outside of the public library in Melbourne against the US/Bush/the war on Iraq (this was early 2003). Heath Ledger was there, or so it was rumoured (if I’m talking about Oz, I need to spell like them). We learned much about failure and work/life balance and team conflict that first year there. But we had great adventures and met some dear friends for life. We went back for a second year in humility after much failure of trying to launch a ministry in a culture that seems so much alike and yet is so very different. We prayed more, depended on our own “wisdom” less. And that is when we hit the sweet spot. I was pregnant, and we already had plans to return to the US to launch Cru at the University of Maryland. But I found that I didn’t want to leave. In fact, I wanted our future kids to grow up with the Aussie mindset of enjoying life and family and adventures, rather than the American mindset of success and attaining more, often at great personal cost. I remember telling Ryan that if I went into labour early, we should stay in Australia indefinitely. But alas, I flew across the Pacific 8 months pregnant and we settled in Maryland.
Our plan was 5 years there. Actually, our plan was a few years at Penn State to get some training because Australia showed us we did not know what we were doing. But as no one ever wanted to do ministry at Maryland (cost of living is super high, ministry historically was hard, area schools aren’t great… not exactly appealing when you raise you own salary and value education highly), we were sent there right away. And it was so much fun. We worked with some truly amazing students and it was a joy to start a ministry alongside of them! Those early years at Maryland were some of the best and most faith-filled years we’ve had.
But our adventurous hearts still wondered, will we go overseas again? Will our kids be able to experience the rub and adventure of living in another country? Many years ended with that question. And then in the early morning hours of January 1, 2019, I found myself crying over a Marc Anthony song. A few weeks later, the unrest in my soul was still there and I finally broke down and asked Ryan, “Is this it? Is this our life? We’ll always be at Maryland, live in a large house (that is a sweet gift and testimony to the Lord), our kids having every comfort they “need” and not really having need to count the cost for following Jesus, apart from the fact that we won’t buy them cell phones? We could not be missionaries, and their lives would look the same. Is our missionary life feeing into their entitlement, as they get to travel every summer to some cool place or country? Is there not more for our family?” Those questions led me to finally identify what was at the root of my sleepless nights: regret.
And so in February, we determined to begin asking if we could go overseas for the school year to follow. Our hands were open (more or less) to anywhere in the world. We were caught staring at maps of the world in coffee shops and asking random people where they would choose to live for a year. If Venezuela were an option, it would have been an easy decision. Our hearts long for that country deeply. Time caused me to forget about Marc Anthony’s inspiration, and I longed for Australia. The food, the adventures, the culture I love (plus Jesus… the church didn’t give itself a great reputation in the early years of colonization). I knew it would be costly and it may not stretch our kids as much as other places would, but it has my heart. But when we asked Australia if they had a place for us, they said “no.” We tried rephrasing, but still were told “no.” We’re finally at the place in life where we’re “too experienced.” I think that means old… kidding. kind of.
That brings us to mid-April and a bit of pressure because if we were going to go somewhere, we needed to tell our team and students at Maryland and give them at least a bit of time to prepare for their leaders picking up and leaving the country. We turned our eyes to Latin America and had a conversation with the Cru leaders over that part of the world. Perhaps Chile, but our Spanish isn’t great and it’s more European-feeling so not there. Ecuador? They are all stressed and work so much and the weather can be depressing… we get enough of that in Maryland. Costa Rica? Yes, Costa Rica, they said. I was not so sure, but after asking lots of questions, I began to come around to the idea. I kept hearing Costa Rica come up in conversations and thought maybe that was the Lord sending a message. But then we got a message saying we could not go to Costa Rica- either Chile or Puerto Rico were our options. We were quite confused, and they had already told us Chile was not a good fit. So Puerto Rico? They speak Spanish, we can get there easily and cheaply (because we have to multiply everything by 6, mind you), we would join a team that had another family with kids just a bit younger than ours. And we said yes.
The rest will be history. I’m not sure of the lessons that I will say I learned this year. Patience? Contentment? Thinking of others more highly than myself? Serving my family? We’ll see. I need much work still, so fortunately we have five more months. We are indeed stretched, uncomfortable, we miss home and friends and school. Island living… I always thought it would be amazing, but it turns out that it invokes a bit of a trapped feeling. Ryan asked the other day if he could take me away sometime, and I sassily answered, “Where to another beach? Another island? No thanks.” Who am I? Is it possible that when asked if I favor beach or mountains, my answer is mountains? Not sure. I do still love the beautiful beaches for sure.
If anyone is still reading, I’m starting a read the Bible in a year plan tomorrow. Two years ago I did this one, and it was the first time I ever read the whole Bible in a year. I loved it. I need the structure again. I don’t like the ones that have you read one chapter in four different parts of the Bible each day. I’m sure they’re great, but I can’t stick with them. I love the Bible Project, and I’m going to give their plan a try for 2020. In addition to the daily reading (a few chapters from one book chronologically and a Psalm to pray through each day), they have great videos to intro each new book of the Bible. Want to do it with me? I sure could use the accountability because follow through and structure are not my strong points. Let me know if you decide to join me! Here’s the pdf of the plan.
Terps, I love you. I miss you. I do still pray that you would consider the adventure of a one-year STINT abroad and see what the Lord wants to teach you along the way. Corporate America will be blessed to have you, but they will be willing to wait a year for a good thing. Having an employee who has lived abroad for a year and embraced hardships and crossing cultures is invaluable. I would choose that person’s resume any day. #stillrecruiting