“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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Leaving It All Behind

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

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

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

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We have too much stuff.  Period.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Somehow I think that will change.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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