Bill and I love America. We often say how grateful we are we were born in a land with endless opportunities and freedoms … which is why we simply didn’t choose to move to another country.
With hindsight though, God has been preparing us over the years, through the little things for the large.
But is there an age when the large is never before us? I don’t think so.
In 2017, our Portugal Path had yet to be map-worthy in our hearts and minds. It was then Bill and I began praying about what our lives would look like after he officially retired. For decades, beyond the Lord and our family, his life had been his work, his patients his mission field, just as teaching and my students had been for me. Handing in his one-year notice, gave us time—365.2425 days–to seek where and what the Lord would have us do next.
July 31, 2018, arrived and just as Bill had instructed, no retirement parties were given. He, however, did bring home a special wallhanging his nurse Kathy and office staff had given him.
Not sure where to hang it, I leaned it against a dining room chair directly in the path we take numerous times a day. Having a map of the world at our feet, along with Isaiah’s message: Here am I, Lord, send me, tended to widen our lens, offering us options we’d yet to imagine.
August 1, 2018, arrived with no marquis signs blinking in our front yard, no clouds in the sky spelling out His plan.
“Maybe you just need to experience some normal days,” I said, even while my days were packed full.
Under the heat of the August sun, Bill set about toiling (or so it seemed to me), transferring the Bermuda grass squares from our front acre to the back one. Each nightfall he tracked into the basement/laundry room, drenched in sweat and layered in thick red clay.
“Still glad you’re retired?” I’d ask, noting the messy path he’d made, clumps of red clay falling behind him.
A smile always formed and a nod followed.
With that, I’d also smile, realizing, like me, our upcoming quest together held no regrets.
There’s such freedom when we entrust our lives to the Lord.
Why is it some view it as an overwhelming sacrifice, one that runs against our true grain, distorting our lives into an unnatural bent forced into a too tight frame?
We are the ones who complicate it all, set on struggling with constraints we place upon ourselves by who we think we are to be or who others expect us to be, missing His creative DNA specific to us.
All the while, God means for us to be freed and strengthened through our obedience.
Our hope is always to remain true to His will
It was towards the end of October we got our first directional arrow, pointing us towards our new path. On this Sunday two beautiful young women were sharing about missions at our church. Shannon Chung, our church’s Global Outreach Director, was interviewing Sarah Grimes, who is part of the Campus Field Staff for Campus Crusade for Christ (CRU) at Oklahoma State University.
Sarah captured our attention as she was sharing about an upcoming mission trip to Italy. Hearing all of the work her group would be doing, that included developing relationships in the community, I was struck by Sarah’s message.
I turned to Bill and whispered, “I could be a missionary in Italy.”
Bill did a quick double head turn as it also struck him. I actually saw a light bulb moment taking place over our heads. Sarah had broadened our parameters of where and how we could serve the Lord.
Back home at our computer, I began checking on Sarah’s mission group. I learned CRU works through college campus ministries, meaning we were a tad too old.
Sarah not only expanded our thinking in more ways we could serve, but she gave us our first donation to be used for supplies for my art students.
Yet Sarah’s message led to my checking other mission groups. I found several who had start-up and established churches in Italy. After a couple of months of reading about the various mission groups and praying, I kept going back to the ABWE website. I was so impressed with their 92 years experience, the numerous ways they train and equip those going into the mission field, and the 70 countries where they serve.
The following happened:
- We decided to sign-up for a three-week Smithsonian journey to Tuscany for Bill’s retirement trip.
- I contacted ABWE.
- Alec Kocman—ABWE Director of Advancement and Mobilization—visited with Bill and me about the work being done in Italy. Yet, he also shared particular needs where we could possibly serve in Lisbon, Portugal.
- Bill and I went through hours-long steps for the application. Throughout the process, we were grateful with how serious ABWE’s criteria is to assure our commitment, stability, faith and hearts’ motives.
- We read books to help us understand cultural differences. We took several required online courses.
- We had FaceTime and Skype conversations with some of the administrators and directors in the US and Portugal.
- We were invited to visit their school and churches in the Lisbon area.
- One thing after another—like Gideon’s fleeces, if you will—secured us we were on the right path.
- In May we spent several days with the Portugal team at the Lisbon school and surrounding churches. Some, like Marilyn and Jon Rust, have been in the Lisbon area since the mid-80s, raising their families while also enlarging their family through their community service.
- We loved the people and what they were doing. We felt at home.
- In June, once our trip concluded with the Smithsonian group and we were back in the States, we attended a pre-field mission development in Harrisburg, PA.
- We heard a lot of great speakers, interacted in hands-on activities and got to know others devoted to missions.
- At our table, Bill and I took extensive notes, my right elbow continually bumping his left elbow (he’s a lefty), and I kept thinking, Does it get any better than this! At 65 and 67, we’re still learning, growing, and being used by the Lord!
- For those we met, I could call out the many individuals whose devotion to serving in missions blessed us and encouraged us.
- Our application was approved at the international headquarters and the Portugal Team voted to invite us to join them.
- The most circuitous and rocky section of our path has been learning how to go through the visa process, spending untold number of hours trying to get my computer (not me) to fill in the forms. (Numerous calls later I learned their program doesn’t work on Macs.) We flew to D.C. for our interview and discovered we needed to use a different form. When I couldn’t get the forms to format on a PC, I went to the library and typed in the answers–old school–with a typewriter I had to dust off. (To those who have never used a typewriter–no corrections could be made and the ribbon ran out of ink, so I had to return a few days later.) Seriously, no real complaints, just an appreciation we are able to do this.
- We have sent in the bundle of required forms and now are waiting for our visas to be approved.
Spiritual or Real? Can we be both?
Bill and I were asked to share with our home group from church about all that has happened. Bill commented how the people we met in Lisbon and in Harrisburg all impressed him because “they were so spiritual.”
I had to think about that one because I saw them all as being so real. With more introspection I realized my initial rebuttal had more to do with my connotation of the word spiritual. For me spiritual had an “esoteric, set-apart” quality to it.
I needed to correct this misnomer. Real is what spiritual should be.
I can best describe the ones we met in Lisbon and Harrisburg by a passage by Oswald Chambers:
A person who has the right relationship with God lives a life as natural as breathing wherever he goes. The lives that have been the greatest blessing to you are the lives of those people who themselves were unaware of having been a blessing.
How we learn from others’ sacrifices
Before moving to Lisbon, Heather and Kyle Farran, now regional director for ABWE Western Europe, had served in South Africa. Heather, a nurse, and Kyle, a pastor, served young women dying of AIDS. Their three daughters were also involved, giving them experiences that deepened their lives, cultivating hearts of great compassion.
Abby, their eldest, has a website Thoughts of a Third Culture Kid that offers our young people (and us) a phenomenal perspective. She’s funny and wise. Please take some time to read and share, especially with those you know in high school and college.
Music Moves Us
If you need encouragement figuring out your next steps, here’s a song that spoke to me over the past 2-3 years. I played Casting Crowns’ “The Very Next Thing” almost daily.
Keep in mind, we can change the world one person at a time. One example: I recently ran across an article in Christianity Today that shares how one heartfelt song changed the course of a murderer’s life.
I’ve been thinking about this new path and where it’s taking us, shaking up all normalcy, and the security of familiarity. Bill and I are excited about meeting new people, learning new cultures, sharing what we’ve learned in our layers of life so that we, in turn, can learn from others through their layered life stories. We would appreciate your prayers.
P.S. Others who are not really retired
In this article, I interview three people—Janet Fotioo, Mary Senander, and Steve Floyd—who choose to reach out in their corners of the world. Each will inspire you how young old can be.
On the Art page, I include some photos from Tuscany.