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I dreaded turning 40 my entire life. That number always seemed like a lifetime away! Well, it came knocking on my door, and I have to say I didn’t handle it very well. Okay, I freaked out. I tried to hide it on the outside, but on the inside things changed. Wow, I never thought I’d be a cliché, but so much of what people say about turning 40 is true!
I began to look back on my life – the good, bad and the ugly. I spent quiet time alone reflecting on the way things were and they way things are now. I noticed physical changes (oh joy!) as well as a shift in my attitude – for the good, I think. I became less concerned with what people think of me. I’m not motivated by people’s approval nearly as much as I used to be. I began standing up for myself. I realized that I cannot be everything to everyone all the time…and that’s okay. I’m a lot more relaxed because I see things from a different perspective – hopefully a little wiser than before.
After pondering the past, I turned my focus to the future and joke that I’ve got one foot in the grave. Well, based on statistics I do! This weird sense of, I have to do all the things I’ve ever wanted to because, tick tock, time’s a wastin’!, crept into my thinking. I felt a surge of self-imposed pressure to fulfill dreams and finally write and complete my bucket list right now.
At the same time, my husband is a few years older than me, and he has been swept in the undertow of being the primary provider for our family for so long he just doesn’t know any different. He likes his position in life, though he stays continually tired.
He was a bit numb to a mid-life crisis because that takes extra time and energy he doesn’t have. On the contrary, some strange alarm went off inside me and I felt like a racehorse just waiting for the life’s gate to spring open.
What was I do to with myself? I had a bad case of mid-life crisis! What in the world is the remedy? We’re not “stuffy” people so buying stuff isn’t going to fix it. I’m not going to do anything foolish as the cliché goes. But where would I be able to put all of this electrified energy and sense of urgency to do something completely out of my norm?
Enter…a mission trip to Africa.
I never saw that coming! Who knew God had been working behind the scenes for many months to prepare our family’s hearts to go on mission. We were as surprised as the friends and family we told. But, we could not deny that this was exactly what God was sitting on us to do. So we did.
Let me just say that when I look back on who I was pre-Africa, and in full-blown mid-life crisis mode, was utterly resolved in 2 weeks. Just by reading the above of what I was feeling, it was all so self-centered! A mid-life crisis usually is. After all, it’s all about us.
There is nothing wrong with wanting a change in one’s life. No one can blame someone for wanting shake up the norm a bit or fulfill a life dream. But, the entire difference rode on the fact that a mission trip is designed for us to serve – not be served.
If we are to live like Christ, we must think like Him. Matthew 20:28, “…the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
I was standing at a crossroads in life and was tempted to make the second half of my life all about me and my time and what I wanted to do. My human nature was screaming its demands! But, then we stepped onto the plane bound for Kenya. I left my home, family and friends behind. I also left part of myself. I stepped off the plane in Kenya and, from that moment on, everything changed. Not just for me, but for my husband, too.
For two weeks I watched my man of 22 years be on the verge of laughing or crying 24/7. A part of him awakened – the part that craves life. He rediscovered a passion for being part of something larger than himself. A passion for helping others, sharing Jesus’ love, and living life to the fullest. He also emerged an entirely new husband and father. We all liked the former one, but this one has zeal for godly leadership in all ways of daily living. Even his physical countenance changed. I could not stop staring at him the entire trip, because I watched him morph from tired to totally alive.
I shook off my mid-life pity party over everything I haven’t been able to do, and saw, without blinders, this great big world God holds in His hands and the possibilities it possesses. I fell in love with the Kenyan people and created bonds with our American team that will last a lifetime. Where my previous focus began to shift on myself, God used this mission trip to gently turn my face back toward His Kingdom work and toward the life that is waiting for me after this one passes. I have always loved people and diversity, but serving on mission exploded in me a passion for others. I LOVED serving, helping and assisting the Kenyan folk and our team. Although I had no idea what I was doing, I was willing to do whatever was needed and we made memories that will carry me the rest of my life. On the flip side, my heart utterly broke over the poverty Kenyans endure every single day.
Serving on mission was not something we sought out so much as it was what God called us to. God calls all believers to serve in some capacity, and we should all be seeking opportunities. This was a huge lesson I learned. It is the most humbling work I’ve ever done. We serve locally as well, and that is also needed, but there is something very different about leaving all of our creature comforts, language, culture, everything we understand as our normal, and go somewhere we don’t fit in, yet are so warmly welcomed by those waiting to greet us to work together for a common good – God’s will. It is a truly unique experience that simply cannot be replicated at home.
A vacation trip of a lifetime is an incredible experience, and there is nothing wrong with that. We’d all love to take one! But, I saw how vastly different vacations are from mission trips. I’ve never been so tired, so drained, so energized, so alive – all at the same time – in all my life. Our trip had purpose and meaning. The work we began will long outlast the memory of us being there. I like to watch the Travel Channel with Samantha Brown, Anthony Bourdain and Andrew Zimmern. I’ve learned a lot as an armchair traveler about the difference between simply being a tourist and immersing oneself in a different culture and experiencing it from the inside out. I’ll take immersion any day.
We are gearing up for our next mission trip this summer, and I can hardly wait to get started. I left a piece of my heart in Kenya and will again on this trip I am sure. When we look at the world through God’s eyes, and see His unconditional, relentless love for it, we must simply be a part of what He is doing no matter where or when. There are so many bad things happening in the world right now. But, traveling with God on mission allowed me to see there is a whole lot of good being done as well.
I may have left part of my heart on mission, but I brought back hope, empathy and an intense desire to serve those who need a helping hand. It’s how Christ lived. He commands believers to do the same.
(Jesus) said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation.”
~ Mark 16:15
My only regret is that we waited so long to go. If I could rewind time…but I can’t. However, serving on mission is something I really look forward to doing as long as I am physically able, and that gets me really excited about the next half of my life.
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