Some of the happiest days of my life have been found in my baby years. I have gotten to have three biological children and I just loved when they were babies. Their sweet vulnerability, watching them begin to take in the world around them and getting to be the center of their existence through those first months is a precious thing to a mother. The way that they smell and the softness of their hair and skin alone dictates an affection that is indescribable. Sure, there are hard things about having babies. My first son didn’t sleep until he was 2 ½. Two of my three refused bottles, so I was bound to them in a way that sometimes felt suffocating. And the very amount of stuff and effort that a simple afternoon out entailed could be exhausting. However, all in all, and perhaps in a rose-colored way that time affords, it is such a precious period fixed in my memory.
I do distinctly remember a shift happening in the way that I viewed each of my babies when they turned one year old. When a room full of adults gathered round to see what this child in a highchair would do with their first access to buttercream icing, things where starting to change. These little people could now toddle around; they were exploring in an independent way and locks on cabinet doors needed to be installed. Scaling steps and furniture meant that they were no longer looking to me to give them their stimulating experiences each day – they were taking it into their own hands. It was time to be weaned. It was time to come to the table and join the family as a kid; the fragile baby days were being overtaken with rough and tumble toddler years. It was still precious, but different.
Our family celebrated the one-year anniversary of moving to England this week and I am having some feelings reminiscent of my babies’ first birthdays. When people ask me what it is like to move your family to a new country, I often say, “It is like having your first baby. You can prepare yourself, gear up, read books, etc., but no one can really tell you or prepare you for what a huge life change it is.” It has been a vulnerable, fragile year. There has been the taking in of a new world and a lot of inconsolable crying. My three oldest aren’t babies anymore and the reality of moving your life in the middle/teen years is more than hard.
Adventure has always appealed to me. I believe the love of it is in my DNA. As a kid, I can remember being secretly excited when it would rain on vacation because that meant that we would be doing something unplanned. I love seeing new places and having new experiences. I love that my husband is the same way. We don’t naturally shy away from risks, because the thrill of what might come to be is worth the leap.
However, if I am honest, I had become weary of the adventure at some point during this infant year in a new culture. My soul has felt so very stretched during the past few years of church planting, adoption and moving across the ocean, that it has begun to feel like it might break apart. Don’t get me wrong, we do not lack any comforts here in the UK – there are oh, so many other places in the world that would have been even more of an adventure! However, what I am comfortable with is not here. I have begun to dread looking for something in the grocery store that isn’t to be found. Improvising is no longer fun after a year of doing it. I miss seeing people I have known all of my life. I miss Target. It is absolutely ridiculous how much I miss that store. Pathetic, materialistic and so American, but I miss the combination of the smell of Starbucks and those red bullseyes like crazy.
At the same time, I do like England a lot. At moments, I have actually wished that I was from here, as it is such a lovely a place, I wish it was a part of me and my history. But, almost daily, I am reminded that I am a foreigner. My speech betrays me.
In June, our church and mother church (church that planted our church) went on a retreat together. It was over-the-top great for us because our good friend from our hometown, Tim, was the speaker at the retreat. His lovely wife, Jen, and their two boys came along too. This visit from friends who we have known and have journeyed with for years was like a gift of the very best kind. It was therapy to recount our experiences of moving here to these trusted ones. The first night that they were with us, both Tim and Jen prayed over us. It was a Spirit-led prayer and by its end I knew that these friends genuinely cared for us and that God had seen us. He had seen every tear cried, every anguished moment of desperation over our kids’ grief and every hurt that we had sustained as a result of being out of our element. My theology told me that He had seen and walked us through this but hearing those words out of the mouths of people who hadn’t been here, but who spoke as though they had, validated my faith in the God Who Sees.
At the last session of the retreat, Tim spoke on words “advent” and “adventure”. The word advent means “the coming of someone or something”. The word adventure literally means “we don’t know what will come”. Tim spoke on the Christmas story in June, because the point needed to be heard. Jesus was coming. God was doing HUGE things. A guy named Zachariah wasn’t up for adventure as he needed more proof than an angel appearing to him to know for sure that God was really coming. In contrast, Simeon had an adventurous faith that immediately believed that God was fulfilling his promise in Jesus.
As I continue to process my own life adventure, I know for sure that God has come. Our initial big adventure of planting a church in the town where I grew up felt like it had happened by accident, however had I known at the outset what it would entail and how hard it would be, I never would have consented. It is unimaginable to think of our life without the richness of walking through that with God at our side. I would never want to part with that experience, all that we learned and my love of those people. Adopting our second daughter is another adventure that I never would have been brave enough to sign up for had I know how difficult it would be. If I had known how often I would find myself sitting my car in empty sections of parking lots just crying while we waited to bring her home, I never would have had the guts to send off that first application to the adoption agency. She is now our shiny-eyed, always-pressing-the-envelope, preschooler who has brought so much joy to this difficult year. I shudder to think of missing out on the adventure of her.
This adventure of moving to the UK is not as delicate as it was a year ago or even a few months ago. Three weeks ago, my husband and I both passed our UK driving tests. We have logged many months of dread over this. (I am not being dramatic to say that I would have rather repeated natural childbirth than take that test!) But here we are, like a couple of toddlers – legally allowed to be mobile after the use of our US license expired this week. We have finally unpacked all of the boxes. Our four kids are in three different school (two of which have changed), but we are happy with where they will begin their next terms in September. Our city is feeling familiar and our house like home.
Sometimes, adventurers in western culture are depicted in magazines and advertisements as invincible, strong, can-handle-anything kind of people. But just as new parents don’t really know what they are getting into, a real adventurer is just an ordinary person who is willing to not know what is coming. By being vulnerable before God to the point of willingness to follow him into the crazy hard, this is how to really adventure. Setting out without knowing how you are going to make it through unless he advents, that is when you are afforded the most amazing view of seeing him come to you in the adventure, because he is the God Who Sees. And so, we enter the toddlerhood of this journey, up for the next year . . .thankful for what the past year has meant, looking to him to give us the daily grace and strength for it and knowing that no matter what it feels like, living this adventure of faith is the only way to really live and grow.