Thursday, December 29, 2016

The Last Shall be First

I have read the saying that you have to lose yourself in order to find yourself. There are passages in the Bible that speak on how the first shall be last and the last first. And those all intertwine.  

This year, I had the privilege of experiencing the meaning of all of those words.
Going to Colombia was my most life-changing experience ever.

 It has become a marker in time like none other in my mind. I have had several pivotal moments in life- we all do. The moments where time seems to stand still, if even for just a brief second, and we capture an experience so life-changing it is difficult to explain to others. The experience can be bad or good. In this case for me, it was most definitely good.

 When you remove yourself from all you know  (in essence, as the quote above says- losing yourself),  the experience becomes one which reshapes you and helps you see yourself in a whole new light. Such was Colombia for me.

 For 10 days, I packed up very little clothing and headed to Brisas del Mar, Colombia in February 2016. I really did not know my teammates, as they all were from Cincinnati. I certainly did not know anyone in Colombia. And I was endeavoring into a completely foreign experience, but one that has completely redshifted my life perspective. I did not know what to expect. I would not have cell service or email. I would not be "mom" for those days - to my children, anyway. I would not be the wife. I was simply "Rachael". And I needed that experience. From the time I was 19, I have always had a role to play in life which has become part of my journey and story. I was married young. I had babies young. And while those are part of who I am, they do not define me. When you chose those experiences at age 19, I will not lie- it is hard to discover who I am. It's something I have wrestled with for years. I had desires to do things- like travel overseas or go get my college degree- but in light of being a wife and a mom, those desires felt selfish and out of the question. I have always been a dreamer, but I did not always put those dreams into play. I hold a job and felt it strange to take time off to do something I really wanted to do.
 But 2016 changed all of that.

 Because in 2016, I knew I was called to go to Colombia. Without a doubt in my mind, I endeavored into the trip. Not knowing the people never frightened me. I was more intimidated about raising the amount of money and hesitant about leaving my family behind for a bit. However, they were on board with the trip and I knew if it truly was a place God was calling me, then He would provide the money. I have told the story in previous blogs back in February, so I won't repeat myself, but it was such a neat answer to prayer how God provided those funds at all the right times. My faith became bigger than my fear. And little did I know how much my time in Brisas del Mar would change me.

 I really want to capture the depth of the moment, but like any other experience so life changing, it is so challenging to put it into words.
 When I left everything behind, even if just for a few days, I was really able to discover myself.
 I am still Michael's wife and Elizabeth and Joseph's mom of course, but on that trip, I was able to really see myself through God's eyes for the first time in years. I wasn't worthless or stupid or incapable. By His grace, I was confident and able. I wasn't labeled or trapped by the emotions of anxiety and depression, but I was free to laugh and be me. I wasn't scared (well, maybe a little bit) to speak the language, but I found courage to translate. I didn't hesitate to share myself with others, but I opened up in all new ways. Just typing these words brings tears to my eyes for how marvelously God has worked in my life through this year and this experience. It's true, I didn't have my normal responsibilities for a few days,  but in serving others, we often find our true selves. That was the case for me.

 The people of Brisas ,who have nothing, taught me everything I needed to know. They saw me for who I am, not for what the world tells me I should be. They loved unconditionally. The children who don't know what it is like to have a different pair of shoes for every day- or even a pair of shoes for some of them at all- taught me what possessions really count. It's not about things or titles or money or positions. Life is about people and time and memories and love. Life is too short to be consumed by fear (I am working on this one still....) 
  The people of Brisas taught me it's ok to make mistakes and laugh at myself. They taught me what service means. We went there to serve them, and they served us. One woman washed the feet of a few others. The youth faithfully served our team snacks every day. The men worked alongside us in the dirt, some of them with no shoes on their feet at all.

 In Brisas, I found healing from some wounds that had marred the vision of my path. They became healed scars that now tell a story of redemption and grace and beauty. In Brisas, I remembered a long-ago calling I once had laid on my heart to serve those of the Latin culture, which has now turned into my return back to college to get my degree in Spanish so I can translate, in whatever capacity the Lord may allow. In Brisas, I wept tears of joy as I found new strength in letting go.

 Coming back to the States after such an experience, I was determined to apply all these beautiful lessons I learned. When immersed in our own culture again, it is hard to do this, as we Americans live so differently, but it has been neat to to see what I have been able to apply. The transformation of my heart has not always been an easy one to display, but as the year has gone along, the transformation has continued.

 I do not know if or when I will be able to go back to the village of Brisas del Mar, but I do know that the people there and my time in that third world village changed my perspective forever. My time in Colombia was most certainly the highlight of my year. I lost myself for a few days, and in essence, found who I am. I am of course a mom and and a wife and an employee and a runner and a writer. Those are parts of what make me me. But at the core... I discovered the beauty of what makes me me. Not my responsibilities or "labels" but the core values that exist within me. Applying them to my life has its own set of challenges, but I have learned to lean into the strength of God through that.

 It is becoming harder to sum up 2016, but this experience for sure reshaped my vision. And I will forever be grateful for the people of Brisas del Mar. And the team with whom I got to experience it.

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