All that I have been, all that I have thought myself to be, all that identified Bonnie is gone. Well, not ALL, because of course Ron is here with me. But the place that gave me identity is gone. I am in a new place, so how do I define myself here? The house where I raised my five kids, the climbing tree, the volleyball court, the people who know and love me and I think respected me are far away. Here I am unknown. Here, nobody knows my life, my history, my family or my awesome kids, or how I mothered them. So, what it boils down to is, how do I define myself: Who am I? What shapes me?
These are my journaled thoughts and feelings as I yanked up roots in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, and journeyed to Cordoba, Argentina. Living in Bolivia for 24 years, I knew how to not just survive, but thrive. I had raised five lively, feisty children there, faced crisis both personal and ministry, and learned to love the warm people of Bolivia. I knew how to function in Santa Cruz. After 11 years of serving with my husband in field leadership, I was the ‘go-to’ person. I could recommend doctors and dentists, as well as caution against a few. I knew where to shop for the best buys, including which market sold the small baskets that I bought yearly for the MKs and single global workers at Easter. My role was clearly defined.
My husband and I were known in the church community. Living and working on the seminary campus for years not only helped us to build relationships with future pastors, but it also gave teaching opportunities as we lived among them and the students watched us interact as a family. We had a voice that was heard when we spoke about family, about marriage, or about raising children. They had watched us and knew both our faults and our strengths.
Now I am far away. Here I am unknown. Here, I have no history, no credibility. How do I make the change? How do I leave a place that deeply shaped me and allow myself now to be shaped by a new place?
This journey began while we were settled in our life of leadership in Bolivia, keeping all the plates spinning and the balls juggling. A creative restlessness or a holy unrest began to tug at our hearts, and we began to sense that there might be something more on the horizon. As we meandered on our personal journey, God was leading others on their own journey and preparing capable leaders to come alongside us in Bolivia. Soon God made it clear that an invitation to serve in Argentina was the direction He had for us, and that the capable leaders He had prepared were ready to assume leadership in Bolivia, freeing us from that responsibility.
We took the leap into the unknown and found that He went before us and knew all about our unknowns. Before we could go forward, we needed to go back in our memories and embrace all that Bolivia and her people had meant to us. Visiting the village of Asencion, the home of our heart and the place where we first served, gave us the privilege to say goodbye not only to the home where our youngest was birthed but also to many friends and church leaders who continue to serve and work in the area. We were blessed to have time in Santa Cruz to say goodbye and thank-you to the many people who had enriched our lives in the more than two decades that we served there. Before we could begin well in Argentina, we had to leave well in Bolivia, recognizing the pain of leaving while at the same time looking ahead to what God had for us.
Sorting through almost 24 years of goods accumulated for a family of seven seemed like an overwhelming task, but with oldies music blaring and feet set to dancing, we tackled the process. Each item was more than just an object to deal with—it was a memory of a lifetime with my family in Bolivia. So, while the music buoyed me up, I took time to thank my Father for the many wonderful years and opportunities I had in Bolivia. I shed a few tears too, as I parted with not only special memories, but also special people. Rather than get stuck in the past, I chose to dance with the music and look to the future and all that God had for me in Argentina.
(For me, the easiest way to deal with the great yard sale was to engage help. Rather than dicker myself with people over prices, I asked a Bolivian friend to run the sale. She and her family priced the merchandise we had sorted, and then they faced the public on sale day. They were thrilled not only with first dibs on many of the sale items, but also with a percentage of the sale. I was happy to not have to deal with pricing and dickering on the day of the sale.)
Finally, after all the goodbyes were said, our physical journey began. Thirty pieces of luggage ranging from carry-ons loaded with books to laundry baskets full of pillows—all that was left of 24 years in Bolivia—filled the back of the beige 1986 Chevy pickup truck. Topping the odd assortment and protecting it from the occasional shower was an old canvas tarp whose color had by now faded to a dingy gray. As we pulled out of our yard, a group of family, friends, and colleagues bid us farewell, sending us on our way with a prayer for God’s protection and asking for His guidance.
God did go before us as we faced border crossings and many searches. Finally, we arrived in Argentina, and before too long we found a place to hang our hats and call HOME. Then the reality of the change hit me. Now what do I do? Where do I go? Who do I become in this new place? I found answers and comfort in His Word. I journaled:
- Thursday, May 7, 2009
Psalm 31:3 You are my rock and my fortress. Therefore for Your name’s sake, lead me and guide me!
For Your name’s sake—for the honor and glory of Your name—to prove the integrity of Your character and who You are—lead me and guide me. WOW!! Your leading in my life reflects on Your name. And Your character is true, so Your leading will be true. Hallelujah!
- Saturday May 9, 2009
Once again I’ve meditated on Psalm 31:3. You are my rock—a firm foundation, a strong place, a solid place, a dependable place. And You are my fortress—a place of refuge; a safe place; a place to find comfort, rest and peace. You are all that for me—help me to believe it and to live it. Thank You that I can find rest in You and thank You that You are my solid foundation—firm whatever comes my way. You are my rock, my fortress, and I rest in You.
- Tuesday May 12, 2009
Jeremiah 24:60-67. For I will set My eyes on them for good; I will build them and not pull them down, and I will plant them and not pluck them up. Then, I will give them a heart to know Me, that I am the Lord. And they shall be My people and I will be their God for they shall return to Me with their whole heart.
Father, in these days of insecurity, of redefining myself, give me a heart to know You. And help me remember that You have set Your eye on me for good.
Throughout the process of getting settled, I tried to keep some routine. Meal time is important to my husband and me, so I tried to keep the routine of sitting down together at meals. Walking together is a way for us to connect and keep abreast of what is on our mind and hearts, so throughout the change we kept up our walking routine. We tried to keep as much normal as possible, in the midst of change. Even though we were alone in Argentina for Easter and the kids and grandkids were gone, I still fixed up an Easter Basket for my husband and baked our traditional Lamb Cake. I found that these routine activities helped to ground me in the present while remembering the past.
I embraced the newness. In this new place, I am not burdened by expectations formed by years of global worker presence. I have freedom to find how God wants to use me here, freedom to become all that He wants me to be here in Argentina.
Yes, there are challenges in this new place. Yes, I must carve out a place for the new person I am becoming. Yes, my heart at times yearns for the familiar. Yet I have chosen to explore all the possibilities God has for me in this new adventure and new journey. First, I recognized the depth of my connections in Bolivia and mourned their loss, taking time to say goodbye to all those I had come to love. Then, I tackled the task of sorting, selling, packing…with music! My husband’s oldies on my new Bose kept me singing and trying to dance while I sorted. I ‘called in the troops’ and asked for help with the overwhelming task of selling. I tried to look ahead to all that God might have for me instead of getting stuck in the past. Third, I recognized the difficulty in the new place and remembered that God was guiding and that HE had His eye upon me for good. I embraced the unknown and found joy in the freedom of change. I found comfort in His Word. Also, I kept routines and traditions, anchoring me to the past as I faced the future.
Finally, I remembered who I am in Christ….
…So what it boils down to is, how do I define myself? Who am I? What shaped me? And the answer must be—I am a child of God. I am a sinner saved by grace. I am the beloved daughter of almighty God—redeemed through His love and mercy and grace. I am His and He is my God. Thank you, Father, that when all around me changes, You never change—You are the same yesterday, today, and forever.