Pack it Up, Pack it In, Let me Begin…

“That’s not a lot of clothes for six months…” I say as I look at the apparel laid out on my bed. And it’s true. When this journey started, I had a hard enough time pairing my clothes down to three suitcases, and one (giant) duffel bag full of shoes! Now, I’m trying to fit everything I need for the next six months into one backpack. Yikes.

The Great Enlivening began in October and continued as we headed to Baja California, Mexico for three months.  Now, four months in to the journey, it’s time for the next phase. And after much prayer and consideration, we still don’t know exactly what this season will look like.

Sure, we could take out our travel bucket-lists of all the places we’ve ever wanted to go, and plan our journey that way. But this is a journey by faith. Which means that we’re letting God lead us to where we’re supposed to go.

“How on earth are we supposed to pack for this?” I ask Rachel, who’s packing her bag in the next room.

She walks in to my room and says “Well, I guess we just have to be ready for anything!”

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As it turns out, this is no easy task. Every item needs to have multiple purposes. I need to sleep, workout and go-out in as many combinations of these clothes as possible. Oh yeah, and it all needs to be wrinkle free… which pretty much means that Rayon/Spandex blends are my new love.

So here’s what made the list:

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The clothes:

  • Tank tops (x5)
  • Short Sleeve Tops (x2)
  • Long Sleeve Shirt (x1)
  • Dresses (x3)
  • Sports Bras (x2)
  • Convertible all-in one bra (x1)
  • Undies (x7)
  • Bathing Suit (x1)
  • Long Black Pants (x2)
  • Capri Black Pants (x1)
  • Black Shorts (x1)
  • Black Skirt (x1)
  • Jeans (x1)
  • Chambray Top (x1)
  • Rain Jacket (x1)
  • Khaki Jacket (x1)
  • Scarf (x1)
  • Cardigan Sweater (x2)
  • Baseball Cap
  • Beanie
  • Gloves
  • Scarf
  • Shoes:
    • Gray Flats
    • Running Shoes
    • Flip Flops (aka – hostel shower shoes, ick!)
    • Sandals

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The “Practical & Pragmatic” Items:

  • Safety Whistle (because you can’t bring mace on a plane)
  • Tiny Flashlight
  • Eye Mask / Ear Plugs
  • Sleep Sack (bed-bug proof!)
  • Spork (yes, a spork)
  • Drain Stopper (I fear I’ll be doing a lot of laundry in the sink)
  • Laundry Soap Sheets (for all of my sink laundry…)
  • Door Stopper (for those lovely hostels without locks on the doors!)
  • Electronic Adapter Kit
  • iPhone Camera Lenses
  • Laptop & Charger (we are writing a blog after all…)
  • iPhone & Charger
  • Toiletries (so I’m clean)
  • Deck of cards (so I can win friends and influence people)

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And finally, the “Don’t Judge Me” items:

  • Hair Straightener (just because I’m living like a vagabond, doesn’t mean I have to look like one!)
  • Kate Spade Purse (see hair straightener comment)
  • Yoga Mat (I’m addicted now, I need this)
  • Neck Pillow (I’m pillow-particular. Like I said, don’t judge me.)
  • Selfie Stick (for all my selfies…)

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Amazingly, all of this fits in one 45-liter backpack and a 15-liter daypack. When it’s all said and done it weighs about 28 pounds. It’s not light, but hey, it could be worse!

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As our time in Mexico started drawing to an end, Rachel felt convicted to pray about where we should go next. And she was quickly led to research information about Argentina. Soon after that, the two of us were diligently typing away on our laptops, researching everything from Antarctic Penguins to Zika Virus.

“Man, Argentina is far-away!” I lament, as I looked at the twenty-four hour flight times. “And it’s really expensive to get there…” since every one-way ticket I can find costs somewhere between $1,100 and $1,200.

“Wait a minute!” Rachel exclaims, “What day did we want to leave?”

“February 6th” I say.

“Well I don’t know why this one is so cheap, but I think we should book it!” She says as she points to her computer screen. I look over and see that it lists a price of $599 for a flight from San Diego, California to Buenos Aires, Argentina.

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“Definitely! Let’s book it.” I start typing and I pull up the same website. I enter the search terms exactly as Rachel has them listed and I get… nothing. So I try it again, maybe I entered something incorrectly. But after typing in my parameters a second time, I’m left staring at a screen that reads “$1,100, $1,199, $1,205, etc.”

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After a few more tries, I clear my cookies and somehow keep getting the same results!  I look at Rachel and ask “what the heck is happening here?”  She laughs and says, “I have no idea!”

I think back to how Rachel was prompted to pray for our trip and how God told her to research Argentina, and it all starts to make sense.  I’m not saying that God is behind the technical workings of Kayak.com, but… he kind of is.  And by listening to his prompting, Rachel was able to book two tickets for us, at the price of one!

A few minutes later we’re busy planning our time in Argentina. We are a couple of type-A’s after all. But the more we plan, the more our plans just don’t work out. In fact, we even booked a couple of flights from Buenos Aires to Ushuaia, Argentina that were cancelled by the airline as quickly as they were booked.

I start to feel a little frustrated and wonder if we really are supposed to go to Argentina, or if somehow we got our signals crossed. When I get a subtle reminder during our Morning Prayer time – “Stop trying to put this in a box.”

This is a reminder that God gives me fairly often. It means, “stop trying to look at this in a way that makes sense based on your experience and perspective.”  You see… I’m a problem solver. If I know the end-goal, my mind will start meticulously working through every scenario that could help me achieve it. But with God, we don’t always get to know the end goal. And if He tells me to go to Argentina without a plan, then I’m supposed to go, no questions asked.

This is SO much easier said than done. I’ve built my life inside carefully crafted boundaries that keep me safe and secure – financially, emotionally and physically. Boundaries are great that way; they’re designed to keep us safe. But sometimes, we become so comfortable living inside our risk-adjusted boxes, that we never leave them.

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That’s where I found myself a few years ago, stuck inside the box of my life. And though it was calm and cozy, something was missing. My heart was craving adventure, inspiration and novelty. And those things just can’t be found by staying inside the lines.

So in an effort to continue growing and becoming the person I wish to become, I decided to fully embrace the ambiguity of the next several months of my life – starting with Argentina.  On Saturday, Rachel and I leave for Buenos Aires with nothing more than a backpack, a one-way ticket and a three-day hostel reservation.  And though it doesn’t exactly feel cozy and comfortable, everything about it feels right.

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PS – Mad props to the ‘House of Pain’ for my title… it’s a classic.

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“El Nino” is a Punk

We’re on our way home when the text comes in. “Be REALLY careful driving.” It’s from our neighbor, Claudio, aka “Dad.”

He was nice enough to watch the dogs while Natalie and I went up to the San Diego airport to drop off my friend Sherri who came to visit. But since this is the second time he’s cautioned us today, I can tell he’s pretty worried.

“Why is everyone so freaked out by the rain?” I ask Natalie, bewildered as we make our way back toward the border.

“Oh, it’s just Californians” she explains matter-of-factly. “They’re not used to driving in it.”

Growing up in Alabama and Louisiana, rain was often part of everyday life. But here in SoCal and Baja California, it’s an anomaly and apparently something that causes a lot of concern and traffic accidents.

“But it’s just rain,” I say.

“It’s like how Southerners react to snow,” she counters.

Immediately I have a flash back of my first time driving in the snow in Virginia. When I misjudged the time it would take to slow down and make a turn and how I wasn’t able to. How my car skidded right up over the curb and directly onto the main road – which by the grace of God somehow had no on-coming traffic at that moment.

“Well, I guess that makes sense,” I acknowledge.

But inwardly I still think the reaction to rain (people not leaving their houses and being afraid to drive anywhere) is a bit over the top. I mean, it’s just a little water people.

We cross over into Mexico and then traffic comes to a stop. We’ve come to expect exceedingly long wait times heading into the U.S., but coming into Mexico is usually smooth sailing. Until today.

We inch along for about 30 minutes chalking it up to nothing more than some wicked rush-hour traffic until I see it: a section of the road that is completely covered in water and the wake of cars that are haphazardly trying to pass through it.

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It’s hard to tell how deep the water is but it’s completely covering the wheels of most of the cars, which makes me thankful we’re in an SUV.

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After safely crossing this “shallow river” we continue on the main road where I began to really appreciate Claudio’s concern for our safety. Turns out “El Nino” is no joke. And also that Mexican infrastructure is not made for substantial rain.

Muddy water pooled along the edges of the lanes makes hydroplaning a serious threat and newly deposited boulders strewn across the road have me concerned about landslides.

Just when we make it back to our house safely we get the news. We expected that the skylight in our entryway would be leaking (which has happened before and why we keep a spare bucket nearby).

Bucket

But in addition, all the excessive rain that has saturated the ground has seeped through a crack in the concrete walls completely flooding my bathroom and the utility closet.

When we talk to friends and neighbors later we hear similar reports; flooded houses and people stranded because of impassable, muddy roads. Even the beach where Natalie and I run is a mess. Massive waves took out some of the wooden umbrellas and tables and trash is strewn all along the sand.

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Needless to say, I now understand the impact a “little rain” can have here. And I also think “El Nino” deserves a spanking for all the havoc he’s wreacked.

But more than anything I’ve come to a greater respect and appreciation for water.

On one hand we are surrounded by it – the Pacific ocean is literally right off our back patio. And on the other hand, we have to plan ahead to ensure we have what we need to live. You see, the water is not drinkable in Mexico. Which doesn’t sound like a big deal until you think about needing enough water for two adults and two dogs every day.

Before we left Virginia I purchased a top-of-the-line water filter that can basically take scummy pond water and make it potable.

water filer

It’s worked well, but it only filters about a gallon an hour. So, at least 6 times a day, I’m refilling the container, filling up our pitcher in the fridge and also allocating some water for the dogs.

If I fall behind in doing so, we run out. Which isn’t the end of the world, because we can always go to a “tienda” to buy some, but it does keep water at the forefront of my mind throughout my day.

In Mexico, I never leave the house without a water bottle. And when I go to the U.S. I always feel so grateful to have fresh, free water available at fountains in nearly every store – something I didn’t really appreciate before.

Two months into our time here, I’m pretty comfortable with the water situation. It’s been a long time since I’ve accidentally swallowed a big gulp after brushing my teeth (which always makes me feel sick – though whether it’s a physical or psychosomatic response, I’m not sure). Refilling the water filter is habitual these days and most of the time we have more than enough.

But beyond that, I’ve fallen in love…with the ocean.

Ocean

It’s something I admire each day on my porch or through my dinning room windows. I love to gaze at the beauty of sunlight dancing on the waves like diamonds. I breathe in the ocean air, walk along it’s rocky beaches and run along it’s sandy ones. The sound of the crashing waves has become a part of my life, the rhythm as natural as breathing to me, the sound calming my spirit and lulling me to sleep each night.

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Since November, I’ve enjoyed the presence of the ocean. But last week, in honor of a new year and my friend Sherri’s birthday, I opted for a more tangible experience –completely immersing myself in it.

For the last decade, nearly every January, I’ve had people invite me to do the “Polar Plunge” in Virginia Beach. And every year I’ve politely declined. Maybe because I’m a chicken, but also because running into freezing cold water in the middle of winter sounds miserable.

But this January I took the plunge on my own volition. See the video below.

Yes, it was a physical plunge (which wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it would be and was actually quite refreshing). But more importantly, and on a much deeper level, I believe it was symbolic of a spiritual plunge. A willingness to go into deeper waters. To embrace a little discomfort. To explore more of who God is and the world He’s created. And to experience what I might otherwise just admire from afar.

On this “Great Enlivening,” I sense God calling me beyond the comfort and security of the shore. He’s asked me to get out of the boat and leave behind my life raft. To be completely dependent on Him. Which, in all honestly, is a bit scary.

I’ve seen the power of the waves crashing and the fierceness with which they can cause destruction. I’ve questioned whether or not I have the skills to swim in the midst of the inevitable storms I’ll face.

stormy

Yet, God continues to tell me to trust Him. That it’s not about my ability but my obedience. That if I listen to His still, small voice, He will sustain me, tell me which wave to ride and when to dive deep.

And also, that if I’m willing to step out on faith, I’ll get to experience the thrill of walking on water.


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A Cup of Passion and a New Perspective

It’s our new favorite place in Mexico. Not just because of the cozy, quaint interior or friendly staff, but because they serve the best espresso we’ve ever had.

Passione Caffé is on our way home from yoga and since caffeine is normally required to revive us from that work out, we’ve been frequenting it a lot lately.

passione caffe

There’s something about taking the time to sit at a table and order a cup of coffee that comes in a real china cup. About savoring each sip, being present and having meaningful conversation with another person.

single-espresso

Sharing a house and a car, Natalie and I spend just about every waking moment together, but in this place we are free from distractions and our conversation often goes deep. To the desires of our heart – our hopes to one day be remarried and have kids. To the work God has done and is doing in our lives – how much we’ve grown over the last year and also how much more refining we need. To where we think He is leading and where we think we’ll end up – will we come back to Virginia? Mexico? Some other part of the world?

At this rightly named “Caffé” we’re drinking espresso, but I like to think we’re sipping on a little cup of “passion.” We share our hopes and dreams and the combination of conversation and coffee further whets our appetite for the adventure God has in store for us, albeit largely unknown.

Yesterday as we sipped, we reflected on the group of gals we had just met. They came down from San Diego to surf for a few days and stopped in to take a yoga class.

Always interested in meeting new people (especially fellow 30-somethings since there aren’t many of us here), Natalie and I struck up a conversation with some of these ladies after class.

yoga girls

After the usual niceties, we faced the inevitable questions about what we do for a living and how we came to live in Mexico. Three months into this adventure, we’ve honed a solid, 30-second explanation. It goes something like this:

“We both went through a divorce in the last 18 months. We own our own business, don’t have kids and have enough money saved up after working for a decade to take a year off. So, we cashed out our retirement funds, packed up and left nearly everything behind in Virginia, drove across the country and are living here in Baja California for three months. The plan is to see 7 continents over the next 8 months or so.”

This usually elicits overwhelmingly enthusiastic approval or confessions of jealousy from whoever we are talking to. But, if it doesn’t and we sense the person is not totally on board with our plan we then add:

“We’re young, single and we realized that we only have a short window of time to do this – especially if we end up getting married and having kids. So, why not now? Worst case scenario, we have the most amazing time seeing the world and when we get back, we settle down, get jobs and make more money.”

This usually does the trick; as even the most sensible and risk-averse person has a hard time disagreeing with this logic.

In the case of these San Diego surfer girls, we were far from crazy. Word must have traveled among the group in a matter of minutes because after we said goodbye and began to drive away, they waved at us to roll down the window.

“You girls are an inspiration!” they shouted enthusiastically.

It felt good to hear that. I mean, who doesn’t want the affirmation and approval of others? Especially when you’re a recovering type-A, East coast performance addict and it’s coming from a bunch of chilled-out Californians. But 20 minutes later at Passione Caffé I felt differently.

As Natalie and I pontificated over coffee it all became so clear. This trip is much more than two divorced girls trading in their broken hearts and marriages for a trip around the world. It’s more than impressing people with our courage to step out of our comfort zones and take risks. It’s more than the cool places we will see along the way. That may be part of it, but what this trip is really about is following God. Being obedient to where He is calling us. So that in the end, HIS purpose is accomplished and HE gets the glory – not us.

Glory

“While our plan is to see 7 continents, that may not be where God leads us,” I tell Natalie. “The truth is that we really don’t have a clue as to where we’ll be or what our lives will look like in 6 months to a year.” She nods in agreement. And then the irony of it all occurs to me and I laugh out loud.

“What’s so funny?” she asks.

“As a coach, the FIRST question I ask my clients to clearly define is, “What do you want your life to be like in 6 to 12 months,” I say. “And here I am and I don’t have a clue how to answer that question!”

We laugh some more but what then occurs to me is that perhaps this is the wrong question to ask. In a society where we are told to make our destiny and do what makes us happy, and at a time when we are encouraged to set goals for the new year, maybe the question isn’t “Where do I want to be in the next 6-12 months.” It’s “Where does God want me to be?”

I know that in order to get that answer I have to slow down. I have to intentionally seek God and silence the distractions around me. And if I want to actually do what God wants me to do and be who He wants me to be, I have to sacrifice and surrender my own will.

That’s much easier said than done. But in the end, God’s will is the absolute best thing.

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So, for 2016, I’m not going to set a bunch of goals about what I think I should be accomplishing. Instead, I’m going to focus on just one goal – uniformity with God’s will.

Today, as I sip another espresso at Passione Caffé, I feel a newfound passion. A new clarity about my purpose. And a new hope that if I’m truly conformed to the will of God, this “Great Enlivening” may look very different from what I originally thought or what we might plan, but it will be infinitely better.


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The Merging of Two Worlds

I’ve never actually made gumbo, which as an LSU graduate and the daughter of two Louisiana-born natives is embarrassing to admit and liable to have my “Cajun card” in question.

That’s why when my parents came to visit, I figured it was the perfect time to learn. Not to mention a great opportunity to introduce a little Cajun culture to some of our new friends in Mexico.

While Natalie and I have met some wonderful people here, two in particular have been unbelievable blessings to us; Claudio, our neighbor, and Susana, our Spanish teacher.

Meet Claudio.

Claudio

An Italian-born Frenchman, Claudio speaks 5 languages, and spends his weekends riding his Harley motorcycle with Solo Angeles (formally Hells Angels of Tijuana.)

Hells Angels

Despite the seemingly tough exterior, he’s a big softy at heart with a flair for the finer things in life. He makes incredible pasta dishes, ice cream sundaes and cappuccino (which he drinks each morning with his chocolate croissant), and has taken us under his wing to ensure we don’t starve, get into too much trouble and also, that we have the complete Baja California experience.

Claudio and girls

A father-figure of sorts, he is a 15 year-old boy in a 67-year-old body and just as funny and entertaining as he is generous. He has served as our tour-guide, chauffeur (making several trips with us to the border, the San Diego airport and multiple stores around town) and also our stand-in dog sitter. Nimitz and Mugsy – especially Mugsy – adore him. (Probably because he feeds them pasta too!) 🙂

Pasta and dogs

He keeps threatening that it’s time for us to leave the nest and “fly on our own” but we think he secretly enjoys having two stand-in daughters to look after. At least we hope he does!

Meet Susana.

Susana

A blonde German born in Mexico, Susana speaks 4 languages (yes, Natalie and I clearly need to up our language skills) and is as sweet as a sugar cookie. She gave us a hefty discount on our lessons so that we could afford to see her 3 times a week. An excellent Spanish instructor, she not only teaches us the language but also expertly educates us on pronunciation and Mexican culture so that we don’t embarrass ourselves too badly while here.

She and her husband, Jose, a gregarious local with an infectious laugh, treated us to a delicious dinner last week at their favorite restaurant. They have also escorted us to another border crossing, are a wealth of information about the local area and continually offer to help us in any way they can.

Needless to say, these folks have truly helped us over the last 6 weeks and while I know a dinner party isn’t much, I figured it would be a small way to say thanks.

After picking up my parents from the San Diego airport, we did a grocery store run to get all the necessary ingredients to make this most authentic Louisiana dish: Okra, chicken, sausage, shrimp, green peppers and onions, celery, rice, and also oil and flour for the roux (which starts the whole process and largely determines the flavor).

“You don’t have vegetable oil and flour?” my Dad asks when he sees them in my cart.  “Only olive oil,” I answer without hesitation. How do I explain to him that my cooking these days comes down to scrambling eggs, stir-frying veggies, throwing a frozen pizza in the oven or microwaving a bag of popcorn?

“Do you even have Tony’s?” he asks with a look of serious concern. “Of course I do,” I respond. (Tony Chachere’s cajun seasoning is a household staple for all Louisianians).  “I may not know how to cook Gumbo, but I haven’t forgotten my roots,” I reassure him.

“Ok, good.  Well we brought the file seasoning (ground sassafras leaves) from home,” he tells me.

Getting all the ingredients in San Diego cost a small fortune, but apart from a tiny bit of crab boil we couldn’t find, we had everything we needed. My mom chopped all the veggies and my Dad supervised with making the roux and coaching me on how to put it all together.

Dad and Rach

It was a lot more labor intensive than I imagined, but after several hours, I officially made my first gumbo!

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Now, while my name may be Rachel, I’ve never pretended my last name is Ray. But there was a time in my life when cooking and hosting get-togethers was a regular occurrence. When I tried new recipes looking for the ones that would “wow” my guests.  When I loved pulling out my white china, setting placemats, arranging napkins with rings and silverware on a beautiful table that could easily seat 10.

Dinning room

Before I’d bring the hot dishes to the server, I’d invite guests to sip wine and sample appetizers on our two-piece wine bar. The music and lighting would be soft. The temperature just right. And if I did my job as a hostess correctly, no one had to ask me for anything throughout the course of the night and no one left without a fully belly, a huge hug and the warm feeling of being loved inside.

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But all of that changed a few years ago.

Between a divorce, 4 moves and paring down from a 4-bedroom house to a single bedroom worth of stuff, I didn’t have the space nor the energy to entertain. But over the last few months I’ve realized how much I missed opening my home and sharing a meal with others. So, I vowed that when I got settled into our place in Mexico (and actually knew some people to invite), I’d start doing so again.

Of course, I don’t have any fine china here. Forget about a wine bar or server. I don’t even have 6 place settings that match! Our rustic wooden table only seats 6, so we squeezed in a folding chair I found stashed in my closet and asked Claudio to bring over two more wine glass so we would have enough. (I already had to borrow a pot from him to cook the gumbo!)

The plan was to make this incredibly yummy baked cheese appetizer but apparently Mexicans don’t eat havarti cheese or crescent rolls since I couldn’t find them anywhere. So, we we settled for cheese, crackers and apples which I displayed on the only available space in our tiny kitchen – the side of the counter.

I insisted on fixing everyone’s plate, not only because I was born and bred to embrace Southern hospitality, but also because once everyone was seated around the table, there wouldn’t be enough room for anyone to get up again.

table

Finally, we were all gathered snuggly around the table. There was a hodgepodge of dishes and glasses and a random assortment of silverware placed neatly on our make-shift paper-towel napkins.

It wasn’t fancy or impressive, but as I asked everyone to bow their head so I could pray, I was thankful. Thankful for each person. Thankful for the blessing of each life and the fact that I know mine is richer for having the privilege of sharing it with these people. And that’s exactly what I said.

As we ate, drank, shared stories and laughed, I realized it was the merging of two worlds – my upbringing and family life back home and the new community of friends I’ve made here. And that despite the differences in ages, cultures, language and religion, sitting around that table we were a family of sorts.

Considering everyone wanted seconds, I think the gumbo was a hit. And based on the feedback from Claudio and Susana the next day, they did indeed leave with full stomachs and full hearts. My only regret is that I was so caught up enjoying the evening that I forgot to take pictures!

Oh well. I know the memory of that night will not soon fade. Nor will my relationships with Claudio, Susana and Jose. And even though they were only here for 5 days, I know my Mom and Dad feel the same way.

claudio and parents

This Christmas day I’ll be sitting at my parent’s large dinning room table with perfectly matching place settings, a gorgeous centerpiece and an exquisite meal that will rival anything from a 5-star restaurant. And while that will be wonderful, what I am most looking forward to are the people who will be around me; my family. These are the people who have been with me through countless ups and downs, know all of my failings and continue to love and support me unconditionally despite them all. Even when I do crazy things like cash out my retirement to spend a year traveling the world.

What I’ve come to understand after selling, packing up and leaving nearly everything I own behind is that the stuff in life doesn’t really matter, the people do.

Oh sure, there’s nothing wrong with nice things and I can certainly appreciate ambience and impressive decor in the moment.  But what ultimately makes my life rich and beautiful are the people I spend it with. The people who laugh with me and cry with me.  The people who disagree with me and love me enough to challenge me. And the people who will always be in my heart, even if we are thousands of miles apart.

The only real downside to this whole “Enlivening Adventure” is that I probably won’t get to see my family much over the next year as Natalie and I galavant across the globe, which is why I’m going to cherish every moment I have with them this Christmas.

The good news is that through people like Claudio and Susana, God has shown me that family can have a broader definition.  And that if I’m willing to embrace those He divinely connects me with (and maybe even cook another Cajun meal or two), I’ll have family wherever I go.

 

 

 

 

In Mexico, I’m an Amazon

At 5’7” I’m slightly above the average height of women in America. In Mexico, I’m practically an amazon. A white giant among a dark-skinned population of people who are well…for the most part, fairly petite.

This is especially obvious to me when I’m at the gym. And by gym, I mean a single room that is no more than 20 feet wide by 30 feet long. There are no weights or machines. Just a wall of mirrors, 20 or so handmade wooden steps piled in the corner and a small counter in the back with a fridge and blender where you can purchase a sports drink of sorts (I’ve never tried one though it seems most of the people there consume one every day).

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Natalie noticed a sign for Zumba the second day we were in Mexico, and since I’m mildly obsessed with dancing, I had to check it out. Turns out that Zumba is really a high-paced step aerobics class, but it’s the only workout facility within 25 minutes and at $1 a class, it’s hard to beat the price.

An early bird by nature, I decided to go to the 6:30 a.m. class hoping to get a good workout and “blend in.” Being nearly a head taller than everyone else made that a little challenging, not to mention my inability to understand Spanish and the rapid step changes that seemed to come every 12 -15 seconds.

My concern was less about looking like an idiot and more about accidentally kicking the woman behind me or smacking the girl next to me in the face with my flailing arm. Long limbs served me well as a basketball player, but in a Mexican aerobic class they are potentially deadly weapons. Especially here. Fire codes either don’t exist or are irrelevant. You pay and you get to participate in class….even if that means squeezing 20 people in a room that does not comfortably hold more than 10. And even then it’s tight.

Now, a few weeks and a dozen classes later, I’m a regular. The “Senoras” greet me with a bright “Buenos dias” when I arrive and then promptly point to which wooden step I’m “assigned to.” Apparently I’m not the only once concerned about controlling my lengthy limbs. And yet, when I inadvertently make contact with someone around me – which usually happens at least once a class – they just smile when I say “perdon” and shrug it off. They don’t expect me to be any different than I am.

And yet, for most of my life I tried to do exactly that. To be different; to modify who I was in order to conform to societal pressure, garner the approval of others, or meet some unhealthy or unrealistic standard. And when I couldn’t do that, I would hide what I didn’t like, or apologize for it. Talk about being exhausting and a recipe for feeling perpetually inadequate!

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Today I know better. That while far from perfect, I’m made in the image of the most-high God. And that instead of trying to be someone different, what I really need to learn is how to be authentically me.

Authenticity was the theme of the talk I gave last month at the “Women on the Way” Catholic Women’s conference in Richmond, Virginia, and something God has been teaching me a lot about recently.

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On the surface, it sounds really simple. “Just be yourself!” But being authentic requires courage, vulnerability and sometimes exposes the deepest, most flawed and unredeemed parts of who we are. That’s not easy or comfortable.

And yet, authenticity is also beautiful, captivating and the thing that allows us to connect most deeply with other people.

As I stood in front of 400 women that Saturday, I was real. Real about my struggles with an eating disorder in college, my failed marriage, the highs and lows of the last several years and also the incredible ways God has and continues to work in my life.

After the talk I met dozens of women who thanked me, cried as they relayed their personal trials or told me how inspired they were by what I shared. Turns out authenticity was exactly what they wanted…what they needed. And I know the same is true for me – that the more authentically I live, the more fulfilling, enjoyable and God-honoring my life is.

I think about this as I observe the world around me; the birds in the sky, fish in the sea, and animals and plants that aren’t trying to be anything but what God made them to be. And there is simplicity and joy in that! Just look at Mugsy and Nimits at the beach chasing each other and running around being dogs.

They had the time of their life and Natalie and I couldn’t stop smiling and laughing as we watched them.

I imagine that when we are authentic God does the same. That He delights in us being fully the person He created us to be. That He marvels at the diversity of His creation and loves when we embrace the unique way He made each one of us.

This morning as I finish up a jog with my new running partner, Blanca, a forty-something, 4’9 single mom and tortilla maker, I am well aware of that diversity. She doesn’t have a car, speaks less English than I do Spanish (which makes our conversations quite entertaining and reliant on hand gestures) and yet, we meet every morning at 5:45 a.m. to do a short run before aerobics.

After our jog she hops in my car and I drive us to class. We have become fast friends and after we get our wooden steps, she stands next to me. I look down and can’t help but chuckle. My size 10.5 shoe looks like a ski compared to her tiny sneaker.

Dear God, don’t let me step on her today, I think to myself.

Blanca looks at me curiously but since I can’t explain that in Spanish, I simply put my foot next to hers and point.

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We both laugh and even more so when I put my arm around her shoulders and her head rests easily on mine. We giggle at our reflection in the mirror and the stark difference in our size and appearance causes a few other women around us to notice and do the same.

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I imagine that I’ll meet a lot more “Blanca’s” over the course of my world travels and there will be plenty of times when I am clearly “different” than those around me. My prayer is that I will be authentically me in each moment. That I will celebrate their uniqueness just as I do my own, embracing every bit of who God made me to be.

 

 

 

The Right Question

Street signs.

Yeah, they don’t exist in Mexico. At least not with much frequency or consistency. Which poses a small problem when you don’t have GPS, a data plan on your phone that allows you to use Google maps and you’re trying to find a place you’ve never been.

Such was the case when Natalie and I ventured out for church on Sunday morning. We did our homework, and found the only Catholic Mass in English south of the border as well as an English-speaking non-denominational service that was relatively close. As two military-trained girls, we were confident in our abilities.

Rachel in Qatar

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We looked up the locations of each respective church, took pictures of the map and directions (so we could refer to them when we were on the road and didn’t have access to wifi) and headed fearlessly into the unknown Mexican landscape.

Finding the Catholic Church was easy – it was right off the main road. Finding Calvary Chapel proved to be much more difficult.

“We’re looking for Calle Articulo Tercero,” Natalie informs me as we head south on the main road.

She’s the driver and I’m navigating.

Easy enough, I think. We pass one street, then another….and then another.

“Hmmm….I’m not seeing any street signs….are you?” I ask.

“No…that’s weird.”

Natalie looks at the picture of the map on her phone while we wait at a stoplight. We’re in the general vicinity and decide to make the next right-hand turn.

She throws out another name of a street and I search diligently. But there’s not a street sign to be found.

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Circles, backtracking and running into dead ends ensues. Time is ticking and if we don’t find this place soon, we’re going to miss the service.

“I think we should ask for directions,” I announce. After only two weeks of Spanish lessons, thinking I can clearly communicate or understand the language is overly ambitious to say the least, but it’s our only hope.

There’s a friendly looking woman with her young son setting up a table for the local market that we’ve somehow run into. We stop and I roll down the window.

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“Perdon, Senora,” I begin. “Tengo una pregunta por favor. Donde esta la iglesia, Calvary Chapel?” (Excuse me, Miss. I have a question, please. Where is the Calvary Chapel Church?)

I’m inwardly pleased with myself. These Spanish classes are really paying off!

The woman stares at me blankly and says something that sounds like a question. I repeat the same thing, but she still looks confused. Meanwhile, eight to ten people walking to the market gather around my window and want to know what is going on.

I don’t know what they are saying but it’s clear they want to help. I decide to try one more time, “Donde esta la iglesia Calvary Chapel?”

There are more looks of confusion until the young boy’s eyes suddenly grow wide. He says something rapidly in Spanish to his Mom and then she exclaims, “Ahhh! El Chapel Calvario!”

“Si, si!” I exclaim. Finally, we’re getting somewhere!

All at once three people are talking and pointing. It’s rapid fire and all I get is that we have to go straight and take a left at some point. I nod my head feigning understanding, before I say “Gracias” and roll up the window.

Natalie looks at me hopefully…as if my three years of high school Spanish are going to save the day.

“I didn’t catch 90% of what they said, but I think it’s that way,” I say pointing behind us.

So, we pull a U-turn and continue on.

Another five minutes of wrong turns and we are clearly lost. Natalie is ready to give up, but I’m determined. “Let’s just ask one more time,” I suggest.

We spot a couple walking and pull over. I roll down the window, repeat the same question as before and decide to add at the end, “Yo hablo un poco de espanol.” (I speak a little Spanish).

I’m hoping one or both of them speaks English, but when he opens his mouth, it’s all in Spanish…and much too fast for me to decipher. I can tell he’s asked me a question but I have no idea what it is.

What I want to say is, ‘I’m sorry, I didn’t understand,” or “What did you say?” But in this moment, all of these phrases escape me. Flustered, I open my mouth and say the first thing that comes to mind.por-que“Por Que?” (Why)?

As soon as the words leave my lips I realize this makes absolutely no sense, but it’s too late.

The man looks at me, drops his head into his hands and shakes it before he starts to laugh. Even Natalie knows this is the wrong response and she’s laughing too.

“No comprendo!” I offer quickly, trying to salvage some of my Spanish-speaking self-respect.

“Si, claro,” he chuckles. (Yes, obviously). And now I’m laughing too.

After we regain our composure, he gives me directions I still don’t understand and we drive off. By the grace of God, we manage to find this church, attend the service and head home.

On the way back we are still amused by the whole escapade.

“Por que….por que?!?” I lament to Natalie. “That’s the best I could come up with??”

We have a good laugh about it, but after the fact I realized two things:

First of all, my Spanish skills need a LOT of work. And secondly, and more importantly, “Why?” is often not the right question to ask.

When my marriage first started unraveling, I found myself asking “Why?” a lot.

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Why did this happen to me? Why did I deserve this? Why would God call me to marry a man who would hurt me so deeply? And then after it ended, Why would He allow me to suffer, telling me again and again to not quit on the marriage, all the while knowing it would eventually end in divorce?

I have my theories. Plausible ones, like I made a mistake, heard God wrong, or that my former husband had simply operated in his own free will.

Idealistic ones, like I needed to go through this storm in my life to be who I am today, or that he did.

Then there are the flat out wrong theories, like God made a mistake. Or that I was simply punished for the men’s hearts I’ve broken over the years.

But, in the end, none of those theories can be proven and what I’ve finally come to understand is that I might never know why and even if I do, it won’t change my reality. What I really need to know is “what now?”

When I finally asked God that question, I stopped feeling like a victim and finally felt empowered to take a step and move forward. Turns out He had a lot to tell me. And He still does.

Sometimes when I ask God, “What now?” I don’t quite understand His directions. Often I just have a general sense of where He’s leading. But He never laughs when I am confused or gets frustrated when I take a wrong turn. He’s the ultimate GPS. He sees the big picture, knows every possible detour and side street and as long as I follow His voice, I can know with confidence, that I’m on the right path.
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Even now, as Natalie and I step out on faith to live this “Great Enlivening,” we don’t really know why God has asked us to do this, nor do we know where this journey will end. But as we continue to ask “what now,” we trust He will lead us exactly where we are supposed to go…even if it’s to a place where the streets have no names.

 

 

 

Balconies, Birds and Border Crossings

He’s just standing there on the edge of the cliff, about forty feet above the crashing waves, staring majestically off into the horizon. His slender grey body and long legs are so delicate that your eye could easily miss him, but he’s so close to me I can see every detail. He’s a handsome crane, although I’m not exactly sure what he’s doing here, since I thought that they were fresh water birds… but I’m happy he decided to hang out by my balcony.

Two weeks ago, Rachel and I crossed the border into Baja California, Mexico. We entered the country in a non-traditional way… we drove. According to the U.S. Department of State, driving across the border into Mexico is “discouraged… due to safety concerns.” But what’s a worldwide adventure without a little risk?

The drive was surprisingly simple, especially considering the fact that street signs don’t exist here. But we found our way to Puerto Nuevo without incident. Once we arrived, we saw that the house we rented has the most spectacular view of the Pacific Ocean. From the balcony, I’ve already seen amazing sunsets, pelicans, dolphins and killer whales! But today, I’m graced by the presence of a beautiful crane.

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I take a deep breath and look out across the ocean with sheer appreciation for the beauty in front of me. “How did I get so lucky?” I think to myself as I take a sip of my coffee.

Woof, woof, woof!!!!

“Ugh,” I say over my shoulder, “Nimitz! Knock it off!” He’s standing behind me on the balcony and has clearly spotted the crane. He’s also decided that it poses a level-one security threat.

Woof, woof – WOOF!!!

“Seriously Nims, that’s enough!” I turn around to look at him, and my heart stops. “Mugsy! No!!” I shout as I watch my chunky white pup shimmy through the railing of the balcony and take a giant leap off the side. The drop is nearly eight feet and she lands on a sliver of land near the cliffs’ edge – in a bed of cactus. I look at her in complete disbelief, and then, she climbs out of the cactus and starts running towards the crane, who’s perched on the edge of the cliff.

“Shit!” I shout as I race into the house to get my shoes and the keys. We have locked gates all over our property due to the higher levels of theft and crime in Mexico. This is great for security, but super inconvenient when you’re trying to save a dog from imminent death.

Luckily, the crane is no fool, and he’s long gone by the time I get the gate open. But Mugsy is convinced that he’s lurking nearby, so she starts running down the edge of the cliff. “Great,” I say to myself, “this is how I’m going to die – chasing a dog off a cliff in Mexico.”

I lose sight of her as she rounds a narrow corner, and I shout “Mugsy! Get back here right now!” Something in my tone must have conveyed the severity of the situation, because she turns around and runs back through the gate of the house. “Oh thank God.” I say with relief.

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The cliff…

I take Mugsy inside and start plucking the cactus spurs out of her belly, and I try to calm myself down. As I slather her with Neosporin, I start thinking of ways to strengthen the barrier on the balcony. Or other ways to deter her from taking a second flying leap off the side. I chuckle to myself as I think about how badly she wanted to catch that crane, what was she going to do if she caught it? Did she even see the cliff? Probably not, since she was so focused on the bird. I laugh again as I realize – I’m not so different from this dog.

How many times have I chased something I was sure I wanted? Or fixed my eyes so intently on achieving the next goal that I couldn’t see the cliff that was right in front of me? Honestly… more times than I’d care to admit.

I spent years striving to achieve – the promotion, the house, the car, and the marriage. I was sure that if I could just grab the next thing, I would be satisfied. But I never was. I didn’t realize that, like Mugsy, I was just chasing one crane after another down the edge of a cliff.

Until one day, when I had caught them all. I had the job, the car, the house, and the husband; but something was still missing. I had everything that was supposed to satisfy me, but I still had an aching need for something more. Frantically, I started looking for the next crane, the next goal, or the next achievement that I could add to my list. But it wasn’t there.

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“If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.” C.S. Lewis

So instead of staring hopelessly at an empty horizon, waiting for the next focal point to appear, it was time to look for something new. For the first time in my life, I turned my eyes towards God, and asked him to guide me towards my purpose. And that’s where this amazing journey began.

Now, my life looks completely different than it once did. I’m not working; traveling around the world; and living out of a suitcase in Mexico. I don’t know what tomorrow will bring, or where I’ll end up in twelve months – but really, who does? And even though it looks different than I expected, I feel truly satisfied for the first time; because I know without a doubt that I’m chasing God’s purpose for my life.

I look down at Mugsy, who’s sleeping on the couch. Her little feet are moving and her eyes are flickering; surely she’s dreaming about victoriously conquering that crane. I guess I can’t be too mad at her; we’re all prone to chasing the wrong things from time to time. Luckily, Mugsy has me to bring her back inside when she gets too close to the cliff’s edge. And I have God to do the same for me.

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Learning to Embrace a New Normal

Screeeeeech…screeeeeech…screeeeeech.

The sound of the swing is annoying but I don’t stop. I’m a good 75 to 100 lbs heavier and 25 to 30 years older than the average playground user but just as thrilled as any kid to be at this park.

It’s a cloudless, 75-degree Fall day in Tucson, Arizona and I can’t help but marvel at the magnificent mountain view just in the distance.

I’ve assessed the swing set and deemed it safe and sturdy enough to support me.  So despite its cries of protest, I kick my legs, lean back and climb higher.

With each pass the wind whooshes in my ears. My stomach flutters as I reach the height of the swing, my body momentarily weightless, suspended just above the earth and below a crystal blue desert sky.

I close my eyes and smile. I’ve forgotten how much fun this is.

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There’s a mom sitting on a bench engrossed in her cellphone while her two kids zip down the slide, giggle and chase each other around with reckless abandon.

I’ve gone unnoticed until they run past me on their way to the monkey bars. The girl, about 5, slows down as she passes. Her eyes squint and the skeptical up and down look she gives me says it all. “Grown ups aren’t supposed to play on playgrounds.”

“Yeah, I know kid,” I think to myself. “And they’re not supposed to cash out their investments at 33 and go travel the world with no definitive plan for the future either…but here I am.”

Expectations.

At some point, early on, they became a part of my life and I’ve had a love-hate relationship with them ever since.

There are expectations about what to do, who to be, how to look, what to own and so much more. Some expectations are self-imposed. Others I’ve adopted based on societal norms and the influence of others. And still other expectations I don’t even know I have, until they go unmet. But these expectations have greatly influenced and largely dictated the course of my life for more than three decades…until now.

Deciding to leave everything behind and go on a 12 to 18 month trip around the world was a blatant and unapologetic assault on those expectations. It was a ninja kick to limitations, a war cry for freedom from routine and a bold determination to break out of the “box” I’m told to live in.

I have this idealistic image of myself in my mind– a bad-ass road warrior, a “She-Ra” of sorts, rebelling against all that is “normal and expected” and charging fearlessly into the unknown.

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Ok, maybe with a tiny bit of fear.

I’ve gotten many wide-eyed looks of concern, enthusiastic smiles, words of caution and confessions of jealousy when I share my plan with friends and family. The overwhelming majority of people tell me they would love to do something similar, though several have admitted that even if it was possible, they probably wouldn’t have the courage/guts/balls to do so.

I get it. Nothing about this experience is safe, predictable or guaranteed. It’s not logical, financially wise or routine. And yet, those are precisely the reasons why I am so thrilled about this adventure.

I don’t think that a risk-averse life with more money and lots of comfort is the recipe for true fulfillment; which is a good thing, because right now I’m living the complete opposite way.

Last week as we headed from Dallas to Tucson, there was one morning where we woke up not knowing where we would be staying that night. For two people, that’s not a huge deal, but having two dogs as well makes it a little more challenging.

Natalie went to work looking up vacation rentals and other such places online and managed to find a “casita” in Las Cruces, New Mexico. They were dog friendly, very reasonably priced and located just outside the town…on a farm.

Though I consider myself a southern belle, I certainly wasn’t raised with livestock. But for two days, we hung out with horses, chickens, roosters, some sort of alpaca like animal (we’re still not sure) and goats.

Does anyone know what this is??

“Alpaca-like animal” –  Does anyone know what this is??

Oh yeah, and the fattest pig I have ever seen. Seriously.

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Apparently roosters are early risers and insistent that those around them are too. But being awoken at the crack of dawn had its perks because I was able to see the most spectacular sunrise just over the mountains.

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There have been many beautiful, unexpected experiences as well as countless seemingly ordinary ones over the last week. Not all are noteworthy or glamorous. But here are a few of the things that now define our “new normal” on this road trip.

Natalie and I:

  1. Are often confused about the date, day, time zone and where exactly we are
  1. Make every decision – where to eat, stop, and sleep – based on pet friendliness
  1. Live out of a suitcase, spend most of our days in workout clothes and have no desire to buy anything else we will have to pack or find a place for in the car
  1. Visit gas stations, rest stops and dog parks nearly every day and are becoming experts at rationing food, water, dog treats and clean underwear
  1. Are starting to think home-cooked meals, comfortable beds and 80 mph speed limits are the best things… ever.

I think about this as I continue swinging and can’t help but laugh at my “new life.”

While I’m no longer ruled by societal expectations, I’m not exactly trailblazing or leading a rebellion against them either.

But then it occurs to me. Perhaps I don’t need to be “She-Ra.” Maybe I don’t need to buck against all expectations and routines, I just need to find and live by the ones that are healthy and empowering.

Like being Christ’s light to the people I meet on this adventure. Like being fully present and loving those around me. Like making time every day to pray, listen to God and become the woman He created me to be.

These expectations seem so simple. Almost too simple. But maybe, just maybe these are the kind of expectations we are supposed to have. The ones that we learn to love, not only because they bring us fulfillment and joy, but because they bless other people and make the world a better place as well.

 

 

 

 

 

Leaving It All Behind

I took a few steps back and surveyed the mountain of bags, boxes and baskets that filled the driveway. “There’s no way we have this much stuff…” I muttered to myself. The sheer volume of things made it look like we packed provisions for an Army. There were water filters, cooking supplies, bags of condiments, a box of wine, beach towels and clothes… so many clothes.

Today is day one of our worldwide adventure, The Great Enlivening. This morning, Rachel and I met in Dallas at her friend Sherri’s house. The plan was to quickly reorganize and re-pack my car before we hit the road and officially start our worldwide adventure.

“Thirty-minutes, tops!” I said to Rachel last night when she asked how long I thought it would take us to consolidate our cars. But now, it’s clear that we don’t stand a Popsicle’s chance in hell of only being here for thirty minutes. Plus, the laws of time, space and Toyota highlanders are about to pose a major problem for us.

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We have too much stuff.  Period.

We both arrived in Dallas with two well-packed cars that we meticulously filled over the last month with useful, sensible and high-quality items. We spent hours upon hours going through our belongings in Virginia and narrowing them down to what we would truly “need” on this journey. Everything sitting on this driveway has a logical, well-thought-out purpose. There’s just too much of it.

The limiting factor in this equation is space. Everything out here has to fit in the back-seat of my mid-sized SUV or in the rooftop cargo carrier. Oh yeah, and we need to have room for two people and two dogs!

“Okay, here’s the new plan” Rachel sighed as she silently came to the same conclusion I just reached, “we’ll just pair down, and leave anything we don’t take in the back of my car.” Rachel’s amazing friend, Sherri, graciously offered to keep the car parked in her garage while we travel. Although, as Sherri stepped onto her stuff-covered driveway, I swear I saw a look of “what have I gotten myself into” before she covered it up with her sweet smile.

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“Like this, do we need this?” I laughed as Rachel held up a bag of Tupperware. I sighed, what were we thinking? Actually, I know exactly what we were thinking – we don’t know where we’re going to be or what our accommodations will have, so we brought a little bit of everything we would need to be comfortable – and yes, Tupperware adds a certain level of comfort. “Uh… no” I answered, “I think we can ditch the Tupperware.”

We spent the next hour sorting things into “necessary” and “unnecessary” piles on the driveway. Two skillets, 35 dog toys, one volleyball, Mexican train dominoes, a box of thank you/greeting cards, several bottles of condiments, my guitar and way too many rolls of extra toilet paper were all deemed UN-necessary. While three laptops, my entire stash of jewelry, fourteen pairs of shoes (each), four bottles of ginger beer, and a picnic-style wine carrier (with glasses) made their way into the necessary pile. After the sorting was completed, somehow, we managed to fit our remaining belongings into the car with tetris-like precision. And a few hours later than planned, we were on the road!

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As we set-off, I was expecting to feel a familiar anticipation… like when I left home for the first time as an ambitious eighteen-year old. I remember the excitement as I drove away from my old life, filled with high-school friends, volleyball games and curfews, and headed toward a new life of unknown adulthood. I was so excited to leave it all behind. I can still feel the ease with which I turned away from everything I knew, charged headfirst into my future, and never looked back.

But today, I’m not the same wide-eyed, eager eighteen year-old. I’m a seasoned and polished thirty-one year-old. One who’s seen what this world has to offer, and what it can take away. And as much as I want to be consumed by the same naïve anticipation that I felt thirteen years ago, I’m not.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m incredibly excited and the happiest I’ve been in years; but there’s an edge to my heart that wasn’t there before. A lot has happened in my life to bring me to this place, and not all of it was good. I can’t help but think about all of the ways life could have turned out, and though I wouldn’t trade this amazing adventure for anything, it certainly isn’t where I expected to be.

Just as I’m pondering these thoughts and feeling a bit guilty for their melancholy undertone, something in the back of the car shifts and falls down. “We still have so much stuff…” Rachel laments. And she’s right. We’ll probably have to rearrange things when we get to our next stop. But at least this time, we’ll only be reorganizing the things we truly need.

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I take a deep breath and think back over the morning’s events, and while three hours in Sherri’s driveway wasn’t exactly my idea of fun, I feel good about what we’re bringing with us on this journey. Our load feels lighter. That’s when a thought hits me – what if I could do the same thing with my heart? You know, pull out all of the clutter, and repack only the good things… the necessary things. Like the memories that deserve to be replayed in my mind’s eye over and over again – endless laughter as Mugsy stole a fish from a bucket on the beach in Ocean View, thanksgiving’s where we played cranium and everyone fell asleep on the couch, eating grilled cheese and tomato soup while we watched “How I met your mother” for the hundredth time, and twirling around like fools on the beach in the pouring rain. “Yes,” I think to myself as I silently smile, “I could do that.”

I breathe a sigh of relief as I realize that I’m entering a beautiful new phase of my life, one where I can choose to move forward with only what’s necessary and good. Past hurts, regrets and unmet expectations don’t have a place in my future, just like how Tupperware, footballs and dog toys don’t have a place in my car. Unlike when I was eighteen, maybe this journey isn’t about leaving it all behind. Maybe it’s about leaving the right things behind and carrying a lighter load into the amazing future.

Have you ever wanted to leave everything behind and travel the world?

Yeah, me too. So, that’s what I’m doing.

It’s been a long and unexpected journey to get to this point. A devout Catholic, successful military officer, turned full-time missionary, I branched out to start my own coaching business on the heels of my own marriage falling apart.

Divorce was never part of my life plan. I assumed by 33 I’d be happily married and a stay-at-home Mom to at least three unbelievably adorable children. But God didn’t abandon me in the hurt and confusion of my painfully unmet expectations. Instead, He began to shift my perspective and show me the beauty and potential in a life that while far from “ideal,” was ripe with potential and crying out to be lived fully.

ENLIVEN. One simple word. One enormous mission. God gave me this word.

“I want you to live this enlivened life and teach others to do the same,” He seemed to say.

Besides being unsure about exactly how to do that, I knew with every fiber of my being that this was – that this IS – my life’s mission.

I already know there are many people who need to be “enlivened.” A few years ago that was me. Life was good, but I wouldn’t say it was great.  And certainly not exceptional. At that time I couldn’t put my finger on anything specific that was missing or askew. By societal standards I had all the necessary ingredients for the ideal existence: health, good looks, financial security, a job I enjoyed, a beautiful home and a handsome, successful husband. But that’s all I was really doing – existing.

There was a silent longing for something more, a quiet desperation within that I hid behind a bright smile, a polished resume and the seemingly perfect Facebook profile. All the things that should have satiated this unnamed need were failing. Temporary distractions were just that. But I continued with the status quo, hoping that the vibrant, fulfilling life I’d always imagined enjoying was just around the corner.

Then my marriage began unraveling, forcing me to reevaluate my entire philosophy on… well, everything.

I’ve written a 217 page book on the three-year journey God led me on to rediscover hope in the midst of the most excruciating heartbreak I’ve ever experienced. Perhaps one day I’ll actually publish it. But I did rediscover hope and much more – an insatiable desire to embrace this experience called life and boldly and authentically drink every drop of it. Which leads me to today.

The remnants of what was once a stunning four-bedroom house is now easily contained in less than half of a 5 by 10 foot storage space in Norfolk, Virginia. I may not have a husband or kids, but God sent me Natalie, and with her two dogs, we are a family of sorts. Despite sometimes being mistaken as a couple, we both have hopes that wonderful husbands and children will one day be part of our future. But for the present we have each other, and an incredible opportunity and shared passion to travel the world and really live this enlivened life to the extreme.

“What are you going to do? Where are you going to go?”

These questions are the usual response when I tell people about this very loose plan. And while I sometimes give a brief overview of what I think the future holds, the truth is, I have no idea. I don’t know where this journey will lead much less where it will end. I’m hoping it will be to all 7 continents. But whether or not that happens, I’m confident of one thing – it is going to change me in ways I can’t yet understand and I will never be the same.

I left Virginia, my home of more than 11 years, last week and with stops in Alabama and Louisiana to visit my family, I just arrived in Dallas, Texas. In my car is what I believe I need for the next five or six months until I can get back to my storage unit and change out my wardrobe.  Truthfully, I don’t really need 90% of what I brought. I’m just not ready to let go of all of the comfort of my somewhat normal, former life… at least not yet.

Somehow I think that will change.

Natalie will be joining me in Dallas in a few days with our furry traveling companions, Nimitz and Mugsy. That’s when we will combine everything into her car (I’ll leave mine parked in a friend’s garage) and start making our way out west where this great adventure will officially begin.

Unbridled excitement, joy, hope, fear, uncertainty and anticipation are just a few of the emotions I’m currently experiencing. I’m rational enough to know that there will be many trials along the way, unexpected obstacles, moments of frustration and, no doubt, tears. My cracked windshield is already proof of that. But I also know there will be indescribable moments of captivating beauty, awe-inspiring encounters, laughter that elicits tears and memories and friendships that will endure forever.

THIS is the great enlivening. This is what I have been waiting my whole life to experience. And this is what I want to share with you.

Over the coming months Natalie and I will be chronicling the highs and lows and random in-betweens of this epic world tour! We hope you’ll follow us here and keep us in your prayers. And if you want to join us or come visit wherever we may be – here is your open invitation. We’d love to have you!

The great enlivening isn’t just for us… It’s for you too! So, here’s to all of us and the unknown adventure of a lifetime that we are about to embark upon!

P.S. Scroll to the bottom of this page and click on the “subscribe” link to get our latest updates! 🙂

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