Dental Drilling: Anybody Else Not a Fan?

“I’m sorry, how many cavities did you say I have?” I ask.

Surely I’ve misheard her.

“Eight,” she responds with certainty and at the same time a tone of apology. It’s obvious that this Mexican dentist doesn’t want to tell me this any more than I want to hear it.

“How is that possible?” I ask incredulously. “I’ve gone to the dentist every six months my entire life and I’ve never had a single cavity.”

“Well, at lot of times in the U.S., dentists wait until you need a root canal or crown to deal with things like this because the payout is better,” she explains. “But I want you to see for yourself, so I’m going to take some X-rays and photos.”

“OK,” I respond, silently praying that somehow she has this all wrong. After all, I was just coming in for a simple cleaning.

But minutes later she shows me the x-rays and the photos she’s taken with my iphone. There are in fact several, tiny, brown and black spots on my back molars – which I’d noticed before but assumed were just stains.

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“Luckily they haven’t gone past your enamel yet,” she says. “But if left untreated, over time they will go deeper until they cause you pain and require much more extensive treatment.”

I can’t argue with the evidence so instead I stare at her, processing a multitude of thoughts and emotions until they spill over… into tears. That’s right, I’m a newly-turned 34 year old crying in the dentist’s chair about some cavities.

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Why? Well, besides the fact that I just canceled my dental insurance last month and I’m afraid this might cost me a small fortune, there’s this other “little” factor called my ego rearing its ugly head. You see, I’m the girl with the “flawless smile,” the “perfect teeth,” – at least that’s what I’ve been told my entire life from dentists, friends and even perfect strangers.

For years, I’ve proudly worn my “no cavity” status like a badge of honor. But now, it’s been snatched away. And replaced with a “scarlet C.”

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And not just a “C,” a “C” with a BIG 8 in front of it!

Besides being embarrassed about my situation and response to it, I’m also angry that my American dentists never breathed a word to me about this and now, with no dental insurance, I’m having to deal with all of this in a foreign country.

“I know this is difficult to hear,” the dentist tells me handing me a tissue. “You don’t have to make a decision today, but it’s my job to tell you this so you can take care of these issues before they become more serious.”

I ponder her words and my bank account before I take a deep breath and respond.

“Can you fix all of them today?” I ask.

She nods.

“Then let’s do it.”

There’s no point in delaying the treatment. After all, why would I want to let problem areas fester when I can take care of them now?

Being a cavity virgin, I have no idea what is going to happen, which explains my shock when the dentist (without any prior warning), tightly squeezes both sides of one of my cheeks with her fingers, takes a gigantic syringe and sticks the needle into my flesh.

The prick isn’t bad, but I feel a slight burning sensation as whatever is in the syringe fills my cheek.

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This happens three more times until she has effectively numbed every corner of my mouth.

I feel my cheeks growing heavy and fat, until I’m sure I look like a chipmunk.

“Isth thaa novocaine?” I try to ask, realizing that my tongue is no longer functioning properly. As a kid I had a terrible reaction to too much nitrous oxide which resulted in me throwing up all over some poor dental tech’s hair – a big, permed 90’s “do” if I remember correctly.

“Yes, you aren’t allergic to it, are you?”

I shake my head no but inwardly I think, “Well, it would be too late now if I was!”

After a 10 minute cleaning (apparently despite my 8 cavities, I don’t have a bit of tartar on any of my teeth), she begins the drilling. See video below.

The sound isn’t pleasant and I don’t realize I’m tensing every muscle in my body until after she’s given me a brief reprieve. “Breath. Relax.” I tell myself. Though I never understood why before, I’m beginning to appreciate why some 75% of adults apparently fear going to the dentist.

I think of Natalie, who had her cleaning before my appointment and is out in the waiting room. I send her a text: “Go head and get something to eat. Long story – it’s going to be a while.”

“Why?? Is everything ok?” comes the response.

I want to tell her the truth – that I’m currently dealing with 8 cavities, 4 shots of novocaine, an emotional breakdown and most likely a few more hours of what I would describe as a form of mild torture. But considering the dentist speaks English and can read what I write, I simply respond:

“Yep. I’ll let you know when I’m almost done.”

This drilling continues again and again. Intermittently she tells me “open a bit wider,” and I attempt to, though I swear my jaw is going to break if it hinges open any further.

For two hours she meticulously removes every last speck of decay from my teeth and then refills them until finally, she announces: “NOW, you have perfect teeth.”

She takes a few more photos to show me and I have to admit that she did an amazing job.

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This makes me smile, but when I do, I realize the whole bottom half of my face is numb. I hope I’m not grimacing. Or drooling.

“Tho, when can I eath?” I ask. It’s 3 p.m. and after a morning run and yoga, I’m starved.

“Not until you have feeling back in your mouth. You might bite your cheeks or choke if you do now.”

As if on cue my stomach rumbles in protest. I nod my head sadly and pay the $280. This day certainly didn’t turn out the way I thought it would, but while I can’t say the experience was enjoyable, I know it was necessary.

The truth is that sometimes there are “cavities” in my life that are easy to overlook. Areas that, while seemingly innocuous or surface level, can turn into much more serious issues over time. If not dealt with properly, these little “problem areas” will go deep, attacking the very core of who I am and requiring a much more extensive removal process – one that will undoubtedly strike a nerve and cause a great deal of pain.

Like this dentist, God wants to bring them to my attention. Not to shame me or cause discomfort, but because he want to remove the “decay” from my life. He wants to ensure my health and help me strive toward Spiritual perfection – the only kind that really matters.

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When I walk out into the waiting room, I can see the concern on Natalie’s face.

“Thith hath been the moth ridiculoth denthisth appointhmenth ever,” I explain.

I see the corners of her lips curl as she struggles to keep a serious expression.

“Oh, iths funny alrigth,” I respond as we both crack up. “I sounth like a completh idioth.”

I tell her about everything (as best I can) on the drive home and we have good laugh.

I know even after all this work my teeth aren’t “perfect” and they never will be. And that’s OK. That even with all of my brushing and flossing, I will likely have other “issues” to deal with in the future.

But this experience reminded me that there’s nothing to be embarrassed about if I do have a few more “cavities” that need to be dug out. The process may not be enjoyable, but every time I face and work on my own shortcomings, I’m making progress – which is the most important thing.

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And who knows, in the end, it might even be something I can laugh about.

 

 

“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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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Patience, Positivity and Deep-Fried Dough

There are a lot of amazing things about living in Mexico. Since we arrived, Rachel and I have met some of the kindest, most selfless people I’ve ever known. We’ve eaten amazing food, learned the language (ish), and enjoyed the peace that comes with a slower pace of life. But living the expatriate life is not without it’s challenges, and today is no exception.

In fact, the biggest challenge we’ve faced since living here has nothing to do with Mexico, and has everything to do with the United States. Rachel and I live about thirty miles from the US/Mexico border crossing, and we cross it pretty frequently. There are certain things that we just can’t do in Mexico; for instance, buy dog food, go to Trader Joes, drink Starbucks and withdraw from an ATM that dispenses dollars, rather than pesos (dollars are preferred in this part of Mexico). So every week or two, we plan a day to drive up to San Diego and do our chores.

Crossing the border into the States is completely and utterly unpredictable. It can take us anywhere from five minutes to five hours to drive through the customs and border patrol inspection stations. We’ve tried to logically deduce when there will be the least amount of back up based on commuter schedules, weather and holidays; but it’s of no use. So we always plan about three hours of “wiggle room” into our schedule, just to be safe.

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So today, Rachel and I are making our way to the border, and I’m praying for smooth sailing. Unfortunately, we pull up into the line, and it’s bad… really bad. We’ve learned to gauge our wait times based on our distance to the checkpoint – a quarter mile = 1 hour, a half mile = 2 hours, more than a half mile = at least 3 hours.   And today, we’re in the longest line I’ve ever seen.

And the longer the line, the more vendors there are on the street. There are hundreds of people selling anything you could ever want: burritos, blankets, NFL jerseys, statues of the Virgin Mary, tostilocos (pic below), jewelry and iPhone cases, to name a few.

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“I guess this wasn’t the best day to bring the dogs with us!” I say jokingly to Rachel. We usually leave the pups at home, but today we have a ton of errands to run, so the they are coming along for the ride. This is their first time crossing the border back into the States, and I’m a little nervous that all of the vendors surrounding our car are going to freak them out.

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“Oh my gosh, look at Nimitz’s face!” Rachel exclaims as she snaps a photo of him. He’s seen the vendors and is giving his best “What the hell is this?” look.

 

“Alright, I guess we just have to settle in and wait.” I lament. We’ve crossed the border enough to know that there’s no use in getting frustrated, especially not this early in the game.

But today, the wait is taking longer than I expected. I look at the clock and realize we’ve been sitting here for well over two hours, and we’re still at least a half-mile away from the inspection station.

“Ugh… This is the worst!” I exclaim and put my head on the steering wheel.

“I know,” Rachel says, “and now I have to pee.” This isn’t good. The border crossing is basically a line of cars on a highway with some pop-up vendor stands along the side. Finding a restroom, let alone a clean one, could prove to be tricky. “I’m going to get out and see if any of these vendors have a bathroom.”

“Ok,” I say, “I’ll be here!”

I watch Rachel walk over to one of the vendors, and it seems like she’s having some luck; until I see her turn around and walk back to the car.

“What happened?” I say.

“They wanted 75 pesos for the bathroom! Can you believe that? That’s like 5 dollars, and I am not paying 5 bucks to use the bathroom.”

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She gets back in the car and we continue to wait, but word of Rachel’s full bladder must have traveled quickly, because a few seconds later, a woman approaches our car window and lets us know that there’s another restroom that only costs a dollar. Armed with this information, she grabs a dollar and walks back over to the bathroom lady. I see her go inside and when she gets back to the car she tells me that on her second visit the woman changed the amount from 75 pesos to 75 cents. I’d like to think this was a simple miscommunication, but I think we know better.

We sit in silence for a few moments, looking around at the miserable line, before I turn to Rachel and say, “Well, it’s clear that we’re going to be stuck in this line for the rest of our lives, so we should at least eat something!”

I see a woman walking down the street selling churros and I flag her down. If you haven’t had churros, they’re these deliciously amazing strips of dough, deep-fried and then covered in sugar. “Yes, I think this is what we need!”

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We sit in the car and start munching on our churros, when suddenly, the entire mood in the car shifts. We start laughing and joking about the reality of our lives in Mexico. Then, I pull up to another vendor and ask for a bottle of water, I jokingly turn to Rachel and say “I wish I was ordering tequila instead of water!”

She gives me a mischievous look and says, “maybe we can order tequila… this is Mexico after all!” She rolls down her window and asks a woman if she has tequila. The woman replies with a laugh and says, “No!, Yo no tengo tequila!” but when she sees the disappointed looks on our faces she breaks into perfect English and says, “but if you seriously want tequila, I’ll get someone to bring it to you.”

We laugh and decide that taking a tequila shot from a random stranger on the street is probably a good way to get kidnapped, so we decline. But then Rachel turns to me and says, “Wait! I have an open bottle of two-buck chuck in the backseat from last night’s fiesta!” We have a quick discussion about the legality of drinking a bit of wine while in the car, and decide that since we’re only moving about 15 feet every 20 minutes, a small sip will probably be ok.  We start rifling through the glove box and find a couple of pre-wrapped glasses that we undoubtedly snagged from a hotel during our road trip. We each pour a splash of wine, grab a churro and toast to our new life.

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We spend the next hour talking, laughing and doing a lot of people watching. We even discuss the logistics of starting a flash mob at the border, and wonder if we would end up on YouTube, or in jail.   But finally, after three and a half hours, it’s our turn at the inspection station. At this point, the two-buck chuck and the churros have worn off. But the way we turned something miserable into something enjoyable will stick with me. It’s a skill we’ll need a lot over the next year as we travel the globe.

So as we pull through the inspection station and into San Diego, I can’t help but think – of all the ways I imagined starting 2016, this wasn’t one of them. I never thought I’d be living as an expat, and preparing for a journey around the world. But today, even with my four-hour commute, this is the only place I want to be.

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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.