Naturally, I didn't have a clue.
I had no idea, for example, how long it would really take me to truly start taking in the culture on a personal level. To stop comparing everything to "how we do it", and just accept someone or something as different instead of better or worse. To realize that here I will always be an "extranjera", no matter how many years go by or what my residency status is.
To realize I will never completely fit in, and that that is ok (we aren't really supposed to anyway).
When I first arrived I had no idea what it was that I would have to offer. And never imagined it would take almost 10 years to figure it out.
In ten years my definition of ministry, evangelism and even what it means to be a "Christian" has changed significantly. Become my own. And I would like to think, less theory and more lived out.
I have loved and lost, and over again. Yet I've seen that God is so good, and gives the capacity and the grace to keep on taking that risk. Although it might take another ten years to be able to look in on sleeping children without a knot in my throat and that overwhelming wave of fear washing over me that they might not be breathing.
A few things I did picture were feeling more 'at home', improving language skills, and being able to relate better with the people around me. Getting involved in my community. Beginning to understand some of the bigger issues, and realizing there was very little I could do about them.
I am so grateful, though, that there are so many 'little' things that I can be a part of. Big changes start with little ones - relationships, making connections. A little time out of your day to listen to someone who really needs to talk. Offering english lessons to the neighbour's kids who need to keep up at school. Joining other parents to make changes for our children's education. Shopping local. Sharing life with kids who don't look like you so that people start to wonder what you are doing this for, anyway.
In some ways ten years just feels long. Pointing that jeep south with what was then most of my worldly possessions in the back seems like another lifetime ago. (At the time I was convinced I would never see Alberta again, because I was sure I would never do that drive EVER AGAIN. The same road that I've driven easily 100 times since.) Eons since I took on the 'job' of being a mom. Entirely too long since I've seen snow at Christmastime.
At the same time, though, it also seems like 10 years have flown by. Even though looking at how my family has grown tells me otherwise. There have been times where I have been overwhelmed with joy to be doing something I so strongly believe in. And others when I have cried out to God to make sure He was noticing what I had given up. ("Father and Mother, sister and brother...") Sometimes I miss my family and home so much it almost physically hurts. Sometimes I wonder what on earth I was thinking, while watching from afar as nieces and nephews grow up and life moves on. Wondering if what I am doing is even worthwhile.
Until, of course, I look into dark brown eyes that look to me for everything. Until I remember that I never would have been really content doing anything else. People have told me they could "never do what I do". (They are wrong, of course.) What I do is simply what God made me to do. Dreams are from Him, and when we are weak enough to see we can't but are willing to try anyway, is when things start to happen. This lesson I learn over again every day, and it is my prayer that I will keep learning it until my last.
I am so incredibly and utterly grateful for every single person who has stood beside me, laughed and cried with me, encouraged, loved and supported me these past 10 years. TEN years!! That is a long time. To say "Thank You" feels painfully inadequate. Your love is a testimony to the heart of God, and He sees and is blessed. I'm so glad God built us to need community, and that you are mine.
With so much Love,
(and an open heart to what God has planned next)