That wide eyed, bewildered looking girl standing at the airport five years ago with sweat pouring down her palms? The one who within three weeks will have experienced malaria, hospitalization, and her first earthquake? If I could travel back in time, I would take that girl by the hand, look her in the eyes, and tell her this…
Susan, your baby will be fine. Yes, you will get malaria while pregnant and be infused with a lot of medication you have never heard of, and he will be born in the developing world in a hospital you won’t see until a few weeks before his birth. But God will protect you and your child. In fact, soon you will be mother to three healthy babies delivered on foreign soil.
You will not always live in this second story apartment where your neighbors stand on the observation deck six feet from your stove and watch you cook. You will one day have a functioning toilet and not need to push down poos daily with a spatula. Your new house will have an enormous yard where the babies that are born will grow up climbing trees, eating starfruit, papaya and coconut off those branches, and catching butterflies and lizards.
You really, really don’t need to worry about money. God will provide for all your needs in surprising, amazing, abundant ways. Over and over again. (Even so, sometimes it’s okay to take matters into your own hand and hoard a small supply of mustard from the store when they finally get it in stock.)
I know you don’t like it when strangers stare at you, shout “mister! I love you!” or when you are photographed or followed because you are a foreigner. You won’t ever get used to that. In fact, wait until you have babies, photographing will be even more frequent and coupled with cheek pinching and multitudes of advice giving. Then wait until those babies become kids at the grocery store acting up. Yes, it gets much, much worse.
You’re lonely. It is hard to be away from family and the home you have always known. It will break your heart to open the baby gifts for your first child in your bedroom alone instead of in a room filled with people who love you. When you make Christmas cookies the first year, so far from your family, you won’t be able to hold back the flood of tears. There will be more times of aching loneliness in your future. Your life is not without real sacrifice and this will be one of your biggest hardships. But know that God notices and He will meet you in the midst of this.
You will learn to drive that stick shift. In fact, you will trade the tiny red Suzuki in for an ex-ambulance fitted with engine snorkel that is the size of a passenger ship. You will drive it off the road into a six foot ditch once but will have plenty of successful trips out before and after that. One day, your four year old will even say, “you know mom, you’re becoming a better driver.”
True, you and Michael are always hungry because you feel paralyzed when it comes to cooking. But soon, you will learn to cook in a whole new way. You will! You’ll can pickles and spaghetti sauce. You’ll make yogurt, sausage, English muffins, homemade bread, and barbeque pork from hairy chunks of a pig. You’ll whip up batches of tortillas and enormous pots of refried beans. Cooking will be a delight to you and you’ll become good at it, too.
Some days will you hate it here. You’ll dream of being teleported to an air conditioned shopping mall far away from the stressors of living as a foreigner. You will continue to have days when you want to hide somewhere air conditioned and never come out. But some days…you will look out over the white sands and turquoise Pacific Ocean and shake your head in wonder. You will hear the palm trees rustling overhead and see the flowers blooming, wild with color even in December, and think how grateful you are to be able to experience that beauty.
One day you will stop asking your husband, “Do you really think we’re going to make it here?” You will even plead with him, “Please! Let’s not go back on home assignment yet!” Because alongside hardship, loneliness, and frustration you will experience a rich and full life. You will find a sort of daily rhythm amongst the craziness of it. You will be stretched. You will grow. Slowly (and sometimes painfully) you are becoming who God intends for you to become.
Your work here, though exhausting, is purposeful and matters eternally. Despite your failures (yes, you will have many) you are very, very loved by the Creator and Sustainer of your life.
Oh, and you know what? After you’ve survived five years on the field? You’ll get a government visa for five more. Your family will celebrate with ice cream sundaes… and you’ll have a smile on your face and thankfulness in your heart.
If you could travel back in time and give advice to yourself when you first arrived on the field, what would you say?
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