Dear Ashley From Two Years Ago,
Hey, it’s me. (Or you, rather.) It is two years today that you have been here in Brazil (a year and a half in the Jungle) and I wanted to let you know a few things about this journey you are about to embark on. Go ahead and sit down. I know you’re tired with that baby girl growing in your belly and that two year old boy all wild and rowdy. I know you are experiencing the paradox of both utter excitement that your dreams are coming true and downright terror at the unknown that lies before you.
Let me assure you, this is normal and completely justified.
Here are some things you should know:
That little blonde-haired boy sitting next to you on the plane with his paci and airplane blankie? He isn’t as big as you think he is. He’s a little guy and he is going to prove to be both your sanity and source of insanity over the next several months. Enjoy him through and through because he is going to grow up before your very eyes and you are going to look back fondly on those times it was just three of you curled up watching Backyardigans in that 400 square foot air-condition-less apartment in the city with nothing to do and nowhere to go.
He will throw out his paci and trade in his Huggies for a mini-machete and Superman undies soon enough, so stop stressing the “when” of those things. Until then, let him have his paci in the line at the grocery store, even though it’s supposed to be just for bedtime now. Remember, he is trying to figure out what all these strange people are saying, too, so let him have his comforts. (By the way, stop stressing about him learning the language, too. He will learn it way before you and you will soon find your three year old correcting your grammar.)
That sweet baby girl curled up in your rib-cage that won’t let you sleep at night? You’re prayers will be answered in the affirmative and she is going to be the easiest baby God every created in the history of ever. You will survive giving birth to her in another country with a doctor that speaks your going-on-third language in a hospital where you feel painfully out of place. Everyone will think she is a baby doll when you take her out in public because that is exactly what she will look like. Hold her tight and rock her long because your life is going to get so busy soon that you are going to miss a lot of those moments and won’t even realize it before it is too late.
Your amazing husband and best friend? Your marriage going to have a tough go that first year. Life is going to get incredibly stressful and lonely and instead of leaning into one another, you’re going to push hard against each other. In fact, you are going to reach a point that you feel like roommates, simply coexisting. I know, you don’t believe it, but it’s true. Hang in there, because by God’s grace you make it through and you eventually find your footing again. You will laugh together and cry together and say, “What in the world were we thinking?!” more times than you can count. Lean into each other and remember you are both new at this thing called missionary life. Don’t be afraid to laugh and be quick to forgive. The seasons pass quickly.
Those plans to move into an indigenous village? Ain’t gonna happen, y’all. You will mourn your dream as you bury it, but trust me, later you rejoice. Life is hard enough in the small town you will move to and God is gracious to lead you elsewhere. And oh the plans He has!!
In fact, He will bring an Indigenous family to you. They will live with you for six months and it will be a stretching experience. Soak it in. You need these life lessons through this young family, lessons they don’t even know they are teaching. God will knit your heart with many of the indigenous people around you. Some of them with take advantage of you and turn their backs on you. Let it go. God sees. Others will teach you what it is to humbly serve, expecting nothing in return. You will see what it means to suffer for Christ and you will be stronger for it.
Which leads me to my next point and I hope you are still sitting down. In less than a year on the mission field, you will adopt a seven-year-old street girl… and she will undo all that you have ever known about love. She will steal your heart and you will beg God to make her your own. And when He does you will cry and ask Him to take it away. It is gong to be the hardest thing you have ever done. She will fight against your love. You will have to hold her down as she kicks and screams, demanding to go back to the street, after you just spent months fighting to give her your last name. God will put you through the fire with her and it will hurt. Don’t run away though. This, too, is worth it. He gives beauty for ashes.
There is more. God is going to give you a sweet lady in your life named Rosa. She will teach you to cut up a whole chicken and how to gut a fish (though she will laugh along with you when it takes you thirty minutes to do what she can do in five!) She will amaze you with her patience and awe you with her endurance. You will spend many hours talking and your kids will call her “Tia” (Auntie). She is going to be the Director of the Children’s Home that God is going to lead you to start.
Yes. Children’s Home. I know. I still think it’s crazy, too.
Your heart is going to break for the children on the streets of this town who have been abused and neglected. You will see their bruises and you will feed their bellies. You will bandage their wounds and you will give some of them the first hugs of their lives. You will lose sleep over them and you will pray for miracles. And God will allow you to be a part of those miracles.
During these first two years, you are going to be dumbfounded because you will come to realize something you never really considered before: you are totally ill-equipped for absolutely everything God has called you to do. You will fill inadequate as a mother. You will resist your role as wife. You will struggle to adapt to the culture. You will cry yourself to sleep many a night. You will get tired and lonely and scared and overwhelmed. You will miss family and friends back home. And also Chick-fil-a.
But you know what else? You will see God do amazing things. You will build strong friendships with people who look nothing like you. You will master your third language. You will learn what sacrifice really looks like. You will watch you kids speak multiple languages without even realizing that is STINKIN’ CRAZY! You will learn what ‘wife’ really means and it will become your favorite title.
And all of these will be to the glory of God for the very fact that you are inadequate. But with Christ, all these things are possible.
So relax. Laugh out loud. Soak it in. Endure.
It’s a beautiful journey you’re on. Don’t try to run it as you will miss too much. Just walk.
With still a ways to go,
P.S. And another thing. When everyone around you down here pretends they have it all together, don’t believe them. You will quickly discover that this missionary gig is full of just a bunch of inadequates who struggle with the same things you do. Be real. Be transparent. It will serve you (and others) well.