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.

 

 

 

A Thanksgiving Toast

Dear friends and family,

To those near and far,

We’re sending our love

To wherever you are!

May today be a day

Where pleasures abound.

May you drink in the sights,

the smells, and the sounds.

May your turkey be stuffed,

And your cranberry jellied.

May you smile and embrace

The fullest of bellies.

May your visits be filled

With love and with truth,

And when it’s all over,

May your journeys be smooth.

But before we disperse

To our couches and beds,

Please raise your glass,

For these words must be said:

Cheers and Salud!

To friends old and new,

Please know in your heart,

We are thankful for you!

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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What Would You Do?

He is gangly, unkempt and expressionless. Over a camouflaged jacket are slung a few bags, carrying what I imagine is everything he owns.

I’ve seen a lot of homeless people in the 24 hours I’ve been in San Francisco and each time my heart aches a little. Over the years I’ve met, given money to, prayed with and befriended several people in the same position. I think of Eric, Deocito and countless other African American men I came to know through volunteering weekly at my Church’s soup kitchen.

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Perhaps that’s why I feel a certain connection to this man.

As he approaches, I try to make eye contact and smile; something homeless people tell me they rarely, if ever experience, but he stares straight ahead.

When he is about 15 feet away from me an empty soda can falls out of his bag behind him. He turns briefly but decides it’s not worth going back for and continues walking.

I decide to pick it up after I pass him, but before I do, I make one final attempt at eye contact.

Nada. He doesn’t look at me. But instead I hear an unmistakable sound. And then I see it. In seemingly slow motion, a white ball of spit comes flying in my direction. It arcs in front of me and I watch in amazement as it descends and lands perfectly on top of my right tennis shoe. Then it disappears into the cloth.

Wait, did I just get spit on?

I search the ground around my feet wondering if perhaps my eyes played tricks on me but there is no evidence of any wetness on the pavement. Nope, this guy definitely just spit on me.

As I try to process what just happened my mind races. First with indignation; what did I do to deserve that? Then, when the initial anger subsides I think immediately of other people I know who have experienced something similar – in particular, Jesus, civil rights activists and Vietnam veterans. I feel sad, knowing many endured far worse than this and they didn’t deserve it. And finally, I am simply in awe. How in the world did he manage to hit my foot with such accuracy? Does he practice spitting with moving targets regularly, or was this just his lucky day?

I say out loud the only thing that comes to mind. “Seriously?!”

I turn around, hoping for some sort of acknowledgement, if not an apology. But he’s already well past me, nonchalantly strolling down the street. It’s as if he’s completely unaware of my presence or he’s simply relegated my worth as a human being to nothing more than a spittoon.

The feisty, fearless part of me wants to confront this man, question his actions and give him a piece of my mind. The logical, realistic part of me knows doing so is not safe, smart or likely to accomplish anything constructive.

I’m struggling with an urge to respond in some way when I recall that incredibly difficult and unpopular Bible verse: “When someone strikes you on your right cheek, turn the other one to him as well.” (Matthew 5:39)

There’s no way I’m running after this guy and offering him my left foot to spit on, but I remember another verse in Matthew Chapter 5 that talks about loving your enemies and praying for those who persecute you.

Point taken, God.

So, I pray and ask Him to bless this homeless man, whoever he is.

There was a time in the not too distant past when someone spitting on me would have ruined my day, or at least my morning. But now there’s a resiliency inside of me because I know who I am in Christ. That no matter what other people say or do, I am invaluable because I am made in the image of God and loved unconditionally by Him.

As I continue walking I can’t help but think of the giant Red wood trees Natalie and I saw only a few days earlier.

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Besides being majestic, enormous and ancient, I learned that because of the tannin in their bark, they are supernaturally resistant to insects, fire, fungus and disease. I like to think of God as a “tannin” of sorts – giving me thicker skin and protecting me from some of the evil and hate in this world.

Of course, there are some things that can and do hurt me, just like a strong enough fire will damage a Redwood. We saw this firsthand with one particular tree. There was a large opening along the base where the blaze had burned through the thick trunk and hollowed out a 8-foot-wide and 25-foot-tall space within it.

The park guide told us that one hundred years ago this space was actually used as a “hotel room” of sorts that people could rent to literally sleep in a tree.

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Today, visitors can step inside to explore the space, which Natalie and I did.

But it won’t be this way for too long (relatively speaking). The guide told us that Redwoods heal themselves from the outside in and within 60 to 80 years, this opening will no longer exist, though the hole inside the tree will remain forever.

I kind of think the same is true for me. Going through a divorce was like a fire that penetrated my heart, leaving me open, vulnerable and hollow inside.

But God has and continues to heal me. And the new space in my heart has given me a greater capacity to be filled by God’s love and share it with others.

Which I think I have. Or at least I try to.

When I tell Natalie about the spitting experience, I do so with more amusement than anything else. Like me, she’s fairly shocked by the story, but considering San Francisco is a city where people to this day walk around completely nude, I guess we shouldn’t be.

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I had all but forgotten the incident until just the other night when we watched the movie, “My Big Fat Greek Wedding.” If you’ve ever seen this movie, you may remember there are two scenes in it where people get spit on….and it’s a good thing! Apparently in the Greek culture, it is a way to ward off the devil and wish someone luck or bless them.

While I’m pretty confident this homeless man didn’t spit on me with the same intent, it did bring a smile to my face and offered me a fresh perspective. Though it didn’t seem like it at the time, perhaps this experience really was a blessing in disguise. After all, it challenged me to a greater level of humility, allowed me to empathize with others in a new way and ultimately, offered me a chance to demonstrate Christ-like love and forgiveness.

I don’t know if I’ll ever get to the point where I want to be spit on or slapped in the check for that matter. But I hope I do become the kind of person that is willing to turn the other one. That I am willing to suffer if necessary, knowing that in doing so I am united with the sufferings of Christ.

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Because even when I am burned and left empty and exposed by a “fire,” I know that God can heal me, if I let him. It may happen slowly, I may never be the same on the inside, but I truly believe this is how it’s supposed to be. After all, the empty place in my heart doesn’t have to be a wasteland of pain, regret and bitterness. It can become a storehouse of God’s love, mercy, peace and joy.

And that is a good thing.

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Embracing the Unexpected

“Hmm, that’s weird… the gas light is on again,” I mumble to myself.

I just filled up the tank two hours ago, and I’ve only driven about 250 miles. Normally a tank will last for at least 350 miles before the light comes on. I guess I’ll pull off at the next exit and fill up again. I’m driving by myself from Tucson to San Diego today. Rachel decided to stay in Tucson for an extra day to visit with her friends and is flying to meet me tomorrow.

I’m in the middle of nowhere Arizona, right next to the Mexican border. I passed through three border patrol stations; which are basically checkpoints where the agents ask you where you came from, where you’re going and if you’re smuggling any people or drugs in your backseat. Each time I stopped, the agents looked skeptically at my overflowing car and asked me a few more questions than normal. I guess it didn’t help that when one agent said “What do you do for a living?” I answered with an uncertain “Um… I guess I’m kind of a travel blogger?” Apparently, this is not the sort of response they’re looking for. Yet despite my questionable answers, overflowing vehicle and barking dogs, I was allowed to continue my journey to California.

As I’m approaching the state-line, I start to see huge windmills dotting the horizon, cloudless skies and a mountain line in the distance. “We’re home puppies!” I exclaim to the dogs, who are sleeping in the back of the SUV. I moved around a lot as a kid, but I consider California my home. My mom was always adamant that no matter where we lived, we would go back to visit family in California every summer. Some of my favorite childhood memories take place against the backdrop of the Santa Cruz tide-pools. I know that we’re only going to be here for a couple weeks, but I’m still overcome with excitement to be home.

Santa Cruz tide pools

Santa Cruz tide pools

Vrrrrrrrrrrmmmm!

I’m quickly snapped out of my California daydreams by the sound of my RPM’s skyrocketing. I have the cruise control set at 78 mph but all of a sudden my RPM’s are around 5,000, rather than the typical 2,500. “Oh no,” I think to myself, “I’m three hours from San Diego, by myself, and I have a car full of stuff… this isn’t going to be good.”

I drove the next few hours with a sense of heightened awareness. Paying attention to every little nuance my car had to offer. I made it to San Diego safely, but based on the noise, the lagging acceleration and the rapid decrease in MPG’s, it was clear that something was wrong.

“We’re not exactly sure what it is,” Ryan, the Toyota guy, says “it might be the exhaust, the brakes, or the transmission. Prepare yourself to spend around $3.5k.”

“Ugh,” I think to myself as the wheels of panic started to turn in my mind, “that’s a major financial hit, and we haven’t even left the country yet!” I take a deep breath and try to quiet my mind. When I signed up for this adventure, I knew there would be bumps in the road, I just didn’t think they’d come so soon.

“Two days.” Toyota-Ryan says. “I’ll get it done as quickly as I can, but I need at least two days to figure out everything that’s going on with the car.”

I take a deep breath, and try to look at the bright side of this equation – I could’ve been stranded alone in the desert, but I wasn’t, I made it to my sister’s house in San Diego and my car will be fixed in two days. Besides, there are worse places to be stuck than San Diego, California.

When Rachel arrives, we try to make the most of our time with my sister, Katie, and brother-in-law, Nick. Their house is a cozy, warm and welcoming California bungalow. And if you’re not familiar with the definition of a bungalow, I’m pretty sure it means – a home that is entirely too small for four people, four dogs and three cats. You guessed it, Katie and Nick are animal lovers too.

That night, I’m about to head to bed on the couch when I notice that Nimitz won’t stop whining, crying and staring under the TV stand. If you’ve met Nimitz, you know that this is his universal language for “I put my tennis ball under here and now I can’t get it… help me!” So I get up, walk over to the TV stand and reach my hand underneath. I start feeling around for the fuzzy, familiar shape of a tennis ball, when I touch it. It’s hairy and wiry, and it’s definitely not a tennis ball.

I quickly make my way to the master bedroom and knock, “Um… Nick!” I say franticly, “I just touched something under the TV stand and I don’t know what it is but it was hairy and it moved!” Nick, being the big, strong, navy-man that he is, jumped into action and went out into the living room, where he discovered what was under the TV stand…  a rat.

Rachel and I bolted into the spare bedroom, shut the door, and jumped onto the bed. It turns out that there’s a limit to our bravery, and that limit is a rat.

This was basically us...

This was basically us…

From inside the spare room we hear Nick, Katie (who’s apparently much tougher than we are) and the dogs working feverishly to corner the rat.

“There he is! Get him Nims!”

“Wait, he went behind the couch!”

A few minutes go by with this soundtrack before I hear Nick say, “Oh, ok… Problem solved!”

Rachel and I yell from the spare bedroom “Is it safe to come out?” and after several assurances from Nick, we finally emerge. I walk into the living room and ask, “What happened?” then Katie and Nick filled us in on how the rat raced from the couch to the buffet and back to the TV stand before he realized he was cornered. Then he tried to make a break for it! He ran across the living room towards the front door when – bam! Mugsy nabbed him. I won’t describe what happened next, but let’s just say – the rat is no more.

We spend the next few minutes laughing as we recount the whole scene – Nimitz’s bloodhound-like nose, Mugsy’s fearlessness and the two self-proclaimed “adventurers” hiding in the guest room. After that it’s time for bed, so I wash my hands for the 37th time and lay down on the couch. Like I do every night, I write out a prayer to God. I thank him for time with my sister, and ask him to take care of the little rat’s soul. I like to think that all of God’s creatures have a place in His kingdom, even the icky ones. And finally, I ask God to help with my car. I tell Him that I’ll spend my money however He sees fit, but it would be great if it weren’t on a new transmission!

The next morning, I get a call from Ryan, who tells me that my car is done and he even threw in an oil change for free.

“Thanks!” I say, “But tell me, what’s the damage?”

“Well,” he says with an upbeat tone, “it wasn’t nearly as bad as we expected. Just a simple exhaust leak that we could fix in-house! It’s only $483.”

“Now that’s a number I can handle!” I hang up the phone and tell Rachel the news. We’re both visibly relieved and after we pick up the car we decide to celebrate with lunch in San Diego.

When we get back to Katie’s house, I check the mail and some of it’s for me. I nonchalantly open the first letter, and when I look at it, I gasp.

“What is it?” Rachel asks.

I look over at her, holding the envelope in my hand and a smile spreads across my face. “It’s a check…” I say, “for 492 dollars.” I stare at the check in amazement, “I guess I overpaid my personal property taxes a few months ago.” We both laugh and know that this was no coincidence.

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That evening, I laid down and wrote out my nightly prayer. I thanked God for all of the ways he blesses me, but mostly, I thanked him for the beauty of the unexpected. It comes in many forms, sometimes it’s a rat when you expect a tennis ball; but sometimes, it’s a check for the exact amount you needed, right when you needed it. I have a feeling that there will be many more unexpected moments on this journey, and that’s ok. All I need to do is have a little faith, lean in and embrace them.

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.

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