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.

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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One crazy idea…

It was a warm summer evening in Norfolk, Virginia.  The soft buzzing sounds in the air told me that several flies had made their way into the house and were driving Rachel and Nimitz crazy.  “Come on Nims, get him!” Rachel chanted as Nimitz jumped and snapped his jaw at one of the little buggers.  I never really participate in these fly-murder sessions. I was raised in true California style, and was taught that if I wanted a fly to leave, all I had to do was ask it nicely.  And if that didn’t work, then the two of us had to learn to coexist.  Rachel on the other hand, received no such upbringing.

Aside from the inordinate amount of flies in the house, there was nothing notable about that night.  But little did Rachel and I know, that the next day our future would look completely different.

We were in the midst of planning a move to Dallas, Texas. A few months earlier we decided that Dallas would be a great place to launch the new side of our business, facilitating corporate retreats. Dallas has a burgeoning economy with a ton of young entrepreneurs just like us, but most importantly: Texans aren’t afraid of a little God in their business. And that’s what makes us different, we believe that God isn’t something to be compartmentalized on Sunday mornings. He permeates our personal and professional lives (He made them after all!), and we’re better off when we include Him in the process.

Moving to Dallas made personal, professional and spiritual sense; and both Rachel and I had lived in Texas in the past, so it was an easy choice. All of the life-logistics for moving away from Virginia were lining up with unexplainable ease. Within a week, I sold a property and rented my home fully-furnished for an extended lease. Our work with our business clients in Virginia wrapped up effortlessly and it seemed like everyone we knew couldn’t stop raving about Texas.

But despite the ease with which our loose ends were tying up in Virginia, nothing seemed to be lining up in Dallas and we were only two months away from our desired move date. So on this evening, we did what any normal, type-A, over-producers would do, and decided to figure it all out on our own. So we took to the Internet. I scoured craigslist, Zillow, Trulia and any other site we could think of looking for a place to live in Dallas. Rachel started “facebooking” every person she knew in Dallas, hoping that someone would have a lead for us. Yet we discovered… nothing. Feeling frustrated and a little like we’d fallen down a rabbit hole, we decided to stop. I turned on Scandal, poured a glass of wine and tried to turn off my brain. Rachel went to go take a shower and we figured we’d regroup tomorrow.

Twenty minutes later, Rachel came tearing out of the bathroom, her hair dripping wet and told me to turn the TV off. Now I’m not a fan of anything that interrupts Scandal, but something in her tone told me I should comply. She looked at me and said “we have to pray about Dallas.”

She was right. Rachel and I often fall into the “I can do this on my own” trap, despite the commitment we’ve made to consult God in our decisions, big or small. We stopped what we were doing and prayed. We asked God for clarity, vision and guidance. And He answered our prayer. But as we’ve come to know, the answer wasn’t quite what we expected. He told us to fast.

This wasn’t just an instruction to abstain from food, God told us to fast from distraction. About a month earlier, we both decided to start a “dating fast” so that we could focus on God’s plan for our business without the distraction of men, but we knew that God was calling us to an even higher level of focus. We spent the evening discussing the other things in our lives that distract us from God and his purpose for us, then we settled on eliminating television, alcohol and abstaining from food once a week. We decided that the fast would last one month. I wish I could say that the inspiration for the timeline was divine… but the truth is that I wanted to be able to watch TV and have a beer during the Raven’s first game of the regular season… which was exactly one month away.

We started our “distraction fast” the next day, and as I quickly discovered, I was much more addicted to TV than alcohol! I didn’t miss my New Zealand Sauv Blanc’s nearly as much as I thought, but I missed my cheesy, silly sitcoms more than I ever expected. It took a few days to adjust to the new normal, but I quickly noticed a fresh level of spiritual connection and awareness of God’s presence. It was like tuning in to an amazing radio station that can only be heard when everything else is quiet.

During the fast, God gave me new clarity about his purpose for my life, in the immediate, and the long-term. But most importantly, He challenged my faith. God asked if I was truly willing to follow him wherever He would lead me. I pondered this question for a few days, before finally answering with an emphatic, Yes!

After this, God quickly revealed the new plan. He told us that we were going to travel. Not a short trip, and not a comfortable vacation. We were going to travel around the world and live among different cultures… ah! What?! The idea of this adventure was incredibly exciting, but there was one hesitation: money. Rachel and I are new business owners, barely covering our expenses some months and not covering them at all in others! How was I going to afford an around the world trip with an indefinite timeline?

And this is when we stepped out into the faith zone. We may not have disposable income, but one of the perks of being a 30-something, is that you’ve worked long and hard enough to stash some cash in your retirement funds. Enough cash for a year or so of sensible, world-wide travel. God asked if I would follow him wherever he would lead, and I’m on board. The worst-case scenario is that we spend every dime we’ve ever made, have the most amazing year, come home and get jobs. But the best-case scenario is that countless lives are enriched forever, we have the adventure of a lifetime and God teaches us what makes up a full, engaged and ENLIVENED life.

I don’t know exactly where this journey will lead, or what it will look like. But it’s going to be an amazing adventure.

By: Natalie Hunter, 10/8/2015