If I Met Me Five Years Ago

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?

Photo Source : Unsplash


  1. Monica January 13, 2015

    I love this Susan!  I was giggling and all teary-eyed as I read your post.  It made me pause and look back 5 years, 10 years, and then 15 years to that day my husband and I landed in Nairobi, Kenya.  Oh, what I would say to me!  So good and fun to reflect on things we’ve learned along the way…. like ‘squatting’ properly, hand washing clothes, and driving a land rover through a river that shouldn’t be driven through!  I giggle and get teary-eyed thinking about all the things I would tell myself….

    that through every health crisis (I can sympathize with malaria), through every transition, through every child born, through every ‘hello’ and every ‘goodbye’, through every village hike, through new friendships, through project shutdowns, through every single moment… He has been PRESENT.

    I am not the same person I was 15 years ago.  I am humbled by the work He’s done in me and through me.  Even in my ignorance, brokenness, idealism, frustrations, and confusion- somehow, someway, He’s let me touch the lives of others, and He delights in me.  Isn’t it great to be His daughter!?

    1. Susan January 14, 2015

      i love what you said, monica…”He is PRESENT!” in it all, the good, the bad, the ugly!   for me, thinking about the last five years was really healthy, made me focus on the beautiful aspects of it and the growth that’s come, since in the middle of day to day life, it just does not feel glamorous or good at all sometimes.  i would love to hear what all you have learned in 15 years!! must be a very long list!  also, i noticed your email address!  we work for the same org:)…

      1. Monica January 14, 2015

        Susan, yes! Same org then:) What a cool connection.  I would love to share more.  Still learning!

  2. Elizabeth January 13, 2015

    Love it! Made me laugh — pushing down the poo with a spatula, your children commenting that Mom is becoming a better driver.

    And made me cry — God noticing you, and being very, very loved in the midst of your failures (still working on accepting that one).

    And I smiled — not wanting to go on home assignment yet, loving the palm trees. I love the sky in SE Asia. I look up and see the same sky I knew in the Midwest. Just like Fievel sings in “Somewhere Out There,” it’s the same great sky. But the foliage? I love it here, better. Palm trees and banana leaves and bamboo shoots feel like my heart’s home. Even when I feel so alone and lonely and insignificant. Heaven must have tropical trees, yes?

    1. Susan January 14, 2015

      I’m still working on the “knowing-I’m-loved-no-matter-what” part, too.  My word for 2015 is “loved” because I really want to remember it and “remain in it” like John 15 says!

      Now I’ll always think about that Fievel song when I see the sky!  I like being back in the midwest bc we have gorgeous sunsets but the Pacific is gorgeous too, with its tropical beaches.  Places we live tend to wrap themselves around our hearts, huh?

  3. Ashley Felder January 13, 2015

    What a good reminder to look back when we first stepped foot in our new “home.” I swore up and down I’d never call it that. Now, I can’t not. And my kids only know it as home. We’re just finishing up home assignment and I know there will be new challenges when we go back to a new city. It’s like starting all over…again. But this time, I have a smidge more confidence. We have a 4 years of experience under our belts, 2 of those filled with language study. Here’s to not being a hot mess the first few weeks!

    1. Susan January 14, 2015

      Ashley, I’m praying right now for your transition to the new city!  It will be nice to go into this next term with, like you said, “experience under your belt.”  It really does help, to have already learned a lot on the oh-so-steep learning curve of the first few years!

  4. Cara Herzberg January 14, 2015

    Girl, you nailed it. I was nodding my head the whole time. God is transforming us. And it is mostly painful. But we will look more and more like his Son. And that is worth it all. Love to you!

    1. Susan January 14, 2015

      I was reading John 15 last night and thinking about the pruning process…  I feel like the past 5 years has been extreme pruning 24/7!!  Pruning is painful but hopefully it means bearing fruit that will last! Love to you, too, Cara!

  5. Grace L January 16, 2015

    Susan, I loved your post, and I have loved the comments of many others. It made me think what I would say to myself 15 years ago when I first stepped foot in the country I was called to serve in. As I thought about the many amazing things that God has brought about in my life and in the work here, I remembered a verse that came to a small group of us as we were praying in a hotel room. Epehesians 3:20 “Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine…” That’s what I would say to myself. Yes, this is the truth! At that point I never could have imagined what our loving Father has brought about. Whenever I get afraid for the future, I have to remind myself that He is still in the business of doing immeasurably more than all I can ask or imagine.


  6. susan January 16, 2015

    the scripture you shared, ephesians 3:20, is so fitting in regards to reflecting on our lives over time… thanks for posting and sharing a piece of your story, grace.

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