We woke up on July 3 and remarked "exactly one year ago today we got here." I think back to that morning, and can't believe all that has happened in 365 days. The day we arrived, none of our bags came, Damari threw up in the car on the way into the city, and my eyes were puffy from crying sporadically throughout the night, but God had been faithful. In spite of the chaos and the lump in my throat, I felt peace. It was a deep, deep peace that comes only when we are obeying the Lord's will for our lives.
Our teammates had come before us and made all of the beds, left us a basket of food, and made sure the house was clean. When they learned that our bags didn't make it, they brought over a box of toys that afternoon. Our kids had their first play date that afternoon in our new living room. We felt welcomed immediately.
The days that followed were a blur. I went grocery shopping for the first time in this foreign country with no contacts or glasses (I had foolishly put them all in our packed luggage, thinking 'I'll pull them out as soon as we get there'). I stood about 3 inches away from the shelves, squinting at all the labels in Spanish, trying to determine which brands were most cost effective, and what some of the strange food even was.
We went everywhere as a family. We set up our home together, made meals together, ate together, explored our city together. God used our first month in this country as a healing time for our little family of four- the months before our departure were so chaotic and busy with goodbyes that we hadn't really connected as just the four of us in a while. Add onto that the emotional intensity of moving so far away, and we needed some intentional, uninterrupted time together. As I look back at last summer, I am so incredibly thankful for that quiet, peaceful first month- it bonded our family together and prepared us to do ministry together here. That tone that we set in the first month has lasted, and I couldn't be more thankful for that.
As the weeks turned into a month, and then into two, we settled into a routine here. At first, the kids and I (maybe especially me) cried spontaneously and without warning. It was like reliving the 6-week postpartum period all over again. The first holiday that we missed was my dad's birthday, and I remember thinking that my heart was going to fall out of my chest when I called him on FaceTime to wish him a happy birthday. As time has gone on, it has gotten a bit easier to miss holidays with people we love, but my heart always aches when we miss major events and milestones at home. It reminds me to look forward in anticipation to Heaven, when goodbyes are no longer part of what we deal with.
The school year started, and with that, so did our ministry responsibilities. The year has not been without it's challenges in ministry, but we have been so unbelievably humbled to be part of God's larger plan for Ecuador. Aaron is so gifted in building relationships and creating unity, and God used that gift to help us transition into being part of the Youth World team. Aaron is also able to impact youth in such a unique way, and his influence on the young people at Casa Gabriel, Alliance, Quito Quest, and Living & Learning affirms my belief that we have been called to do ministry here. For me, learning to mix teaching with deliberate ministry has been both amazing and stretching. Learning to integrate my faith into my lessons has brought me to my knees many times, but I am astounded at the depth of the young people I get to work with every day. Their questions are raw and honest, and they are earnestly seeking to learn what it means to follow Jesus. It's an honor to walk beside them as they do that. Another joy I have is opening our home to our teammates. I love that our home offers a safe place for our team to come- they come for meals, for coffee, to play with our kids, and most importantly, to get filled up.
Aside from our ministry responsibilities, God has called us each of us to major growth this year. I'll let my family recount their own growth, as I think it's important we all share our own stories. All I can do is share my own. For our entire family, being part of community has always been a priority for us. But coming here, community takes on a whole new meaning. For those of you who know me well, you know that being a perfectionist and a people-pleaser are ingrained in nearly every fiber of my being. Transitioning to a place where my co-workers are also my kids' teachers, where my teammates are also my friends, and where adopted aunts/uncles/grandmas/grandpas/nieces/nephews come from every facet of life, caused my perfectionist tendencies to flare in ways I hadn't experienced before. Very early on, the Lord asked me if I would be willing to walk this road of healing with Him. He challenged the core of my identity, and asked me if I would be willing to place my entire identity in being His daughter.
I whole-heartedly said yes, and He began his work. He very systematically went through every area of my life, from my role as a teacher, to my role with the Youth World team, even to my role as a wife and mother. Each time, he asked me, "are you willing to give this up to me? Are you willing to allow the chaos, and imperfection in this area, to stand independently of your identity and value?" It has not been an easy process, and I am in no way "done" with this process- I think I will fight perfectionist tendencies for my whole life. But the Lord has brought me so far in just one year, and he continues to peel the complex layers with me in such a loving and gentle way. I'm not sure that I can say I'm "excited" for the next stage in this growth process, as that word leaves out the difficulty and the challenge that comes when God prunes me. But I can say that I am ready, and that I am beyond grateful that I have a God who takes such personal interest in my faith walk. And I absolutely can say that I am excited to continue growing into a woman who shows Jesus more clearly.
When I think back to last July and reflect on all that the Lord has done in us and through us, I am amazed. Our kids have flourished, though saying goodbye to visitors and learning to live away from family has been a huge challenge for them. Aaron and I feel so affirmed that in our obedience, God is using our strengths and giftings here. It has been quite a year, but we are thriving. There's no better place to be!