They say a picture is worth a thousand words. I have a favorite picture; it speaks to my heart. It reminds me of who I am and from where I come. It brings me joy and tears. It challenges me to enjoy my journey, to trust God outrageously, and to love unreservedly. It is a photo that speaks to me of what is important—and what is not. It makes me cherish what I have learned without even knowing why or how I learned it.

This photo speaks of togetherness, and of family. It is one of the few photos we have of all seven of us kids together. It speaks of goodbyes, the countless goodbyes that are one of the hardest parts of the missionary life. When we got into a canoe with all our luggage, often cardboard boxes, it meant that there was a plane to meet―a float plane that would take us from our village life and transport us back to our mission life where we went to school. This picture represents a more difficult goodbye—the goodbye that my folks had to say to my oldest sisters, and that my sisters had to say to us and to the only life they had known. They were off to the United States to live with their grandparents and finish high school. Sacrifice—this picture speaks of sacrifice.

I asked my husband what he saw when he looked at the picture. His response? “Fun! You all look like you are having fun!” Oh, how I connect with that. We loved our life in the Amazon jungles of Peru. We embraced the adventure of it and also the hardship that so often came with it. It was normal. It was crazy. It was FUN! We worked hard together, and we played hard together. We prayed hard together. There were scary times; there were sad times. I do not, however, remember canoe trips as being either.

You do not see any life jackets in this picture; there were no life jackets back then. Sunscreen was yet to come. Often the canoes were uncovered. The sun burned us. The rain soaked us. The winds sometimes made us cold. The benches were hard. There was certainly no leg space, and the only time we got to move was when we came to a place where the river was blocked by a log, or where it was so shallow that we had to drag the canoe through to deeper water…or when someone had to find a bush to go to the bathroom.

It was all normal. We embraced it. We exulted in it. Fun always seemed to include some element of pain. We mostly did not complain. It was just life. We were tough. We were not afraid. It was just, well, like I said, normal!

Looking back on our childhood now, I think of the huge doses of faith our lifestyle required for my parents. Hours and hours of journeys in conditions just like this picture. Broken motors, unseen logs that struck holes in our boat, careless speedboats that sometimes raced past our canoe and threatened to dump us all into the river. Holding babies hour after hour, sitting in a boat loaded to the gills, no freeboard, no way to change position. Could I have done that? Would I have done that?

It speaks of commitment. Commitment to obey the call on their―our―lives. The call was not just for mom and dad, but for the family of seven they raised in this adventure called obedience. This picture speaks of a commitment to live in simplicity. Things were not to be accumulated. Things were practical and useful, but people were what mattered. I had a four-inch “Karen doll” that I remember carrying on a journey just like this one. She was tiny and had a haircut just like mine; frankly, although she was not very pretty, she was small enough to get to travel with me wherever I went.

We lived outdoors as much as we lived indoors. Hard work was a part of life. Mud and rain, snakes and bugs—all were part of our life. We knew which snakes to avoid and which ones made good pets. We had no fear of squishing the mud between our toes; we knew how to let the stingrays know we were coming their way so that they would get out of our way! We had our first machetes by the time we were four or five, and we knew how to use them to chop wood, cut grass, and kill snakes.

This picture speaks to me of so many things. God is faithful. God is good. He has blessed me with an incredible heritage and a family who loves freely still. He protected us in ways we never knew. He showed us over and over again just how much He loved us by the way He cared for us. He taught us to love the beauty of the amazing world He created, with the diverse cultures and peoples He put into that world. He gave us what was truly important in life.


© 2013 Thrive.


Question to consider:  Tell us about your favorite photo.  Why does it mean so much to you?