When Your Heart Wanders Off

March 27, 2013 – This is an older post, published exactly one year ago.  Since then, I have been on two more trips to Belize and have left more and more pieces of myself there.  The same issues are weighing on my mind and my heart today, and in my homesickness for Belize, my heavy heart has no words other than these.  To my new friends who are visiting today, welcome.  I’m so glad you came.


At a riverside baptism in Belize.

Two years ago, I doubt that I could have answered you if you had asked me where Belize is.  I would have said, “South America?  Maybe?  Or Central America…?  It’s definitely in Latin America, I think….”  Given a map, I would have hovered my finger over the paper with uncertainty, eyes scanning for a tiny (or maybe it’s big? Who knows?) country somewhere south of here.

Today, if anyone asked me the same question, I would smile. I would smile and my heart would leap and I would get the same feeling I get when someone says my daughter’s name. I would hover my hand with absolute certainty over my own heart and would say, “Technically, it’s in Central America. Really, though, it’s right here.” I would place my hand over my heart and sigh.

It seems that Belize has taken my heart away.  Simultaneously, though, it has grown it a hundred times larger within my own chest.

A friend asked yesterday if when we are together later this week we could talk about Belize.  I told her that I am always glad to talk about Belize.  “Of course,” I said.  “It’s like my second child.”


Making friends with a beautiful baby girl in one of our makeshift clinics.

I realize how strange that sounds, and I realize that my dedication to a cause that takes me away from my family probably makes some people squirm.  It isn’t the most socially acceptable thing for a mama to travel to a foreign country without her family for a week at a time, a couple of times a year.  Believe me when I say that I understand that.  I understand that my absence is confusing for my daughter at times, and that my husband is put under additional stress because of these trips.  Believe me, friends.  I understand that all too well.

What I also understand, though, is that God Himself has called me to go to Belize.  I understand that every time I step off an airplane into the warm, humid air thickened with diesel exhaust and dust, I am there because God Himself sent me there.  As surely as I know my own name, I know that God created me with a place in my heart perfectly suited for the beautiful people of Belize.

Would I have ever expected it?  No.  Not a chance.  When the first Belize scouting team reported back from their trip, I was captivated…and then I realized that my captivation was something more.  My captivation was actually a calling, and to ignore it would be to disobey.

I signed up…got on the plane…and nearly 18 months after my first trip into the Central American rain forest, I’m packing for my third trip.  We leave on Monday.

It is a strange thing, this living between two worlds.  I live in suburban America, with my comfortable house and my oversized bed and my plush couches.  I drive everywhere I go, with my daughter in the back seat asking me, “Mommy, why do we need our cars?  And can we go to McDonalds and get an ice cream cone?”  And as I turn into the McDonalds parking lot, I answer her other question: “Sweetheart, we have cars…well, we have them because they make things easier for us and because it’s too far to walk…and did you know that in Belize most people don’t have cars?  They walk everywhere…even when it’s really, really far…” She nods her head in my rearview mirror because yes, she does know that.  I’ve told her many times.  I’ve also told her about Ingrid and Jessica and Carla and their tiny houses and their callused feet (“They don’t always have shoes to wear, you know.”)and their ravenous hunger when I pull out a smashed NutriGrain bar from my backpack.  She knows.  Oh, yes.  She knows.

Their picture is framed on the windowsill in my kitchen, where I see it and smile as I wash piles of dishes from extravagant meals.  Jennifer asks me, “Mommy, why are you hugging them in that picture?”

The only thing I can tell her to that one is that I hug them because I love them.  I love them because God created me to love them, and there is just no getting around that.


Sitting with my girls (Ingrid, left, and Jessica) at a revival.

And so I go.  Every chance I have, I go.  God faithfully provides the funding so that this stay-at-home mama with little to offer can go and hug on some little girls in Belize.  I hug them and I love on them and I pray with them.  I take them little trinkets – things that would be lost in a minute in our indulgent society but that are treasured in their hands that just aren’t accustomed to holding new things.  I take them pictures of themselves from past trips and I remind them that Jesus loves them and I make PlayDoh balls with them and I let them scribble in my journal because paper and pens just aren’t that easy for them to get their hands on.  I do it because God sent me there, and because when I went I left part of myself there.  I do it because I was made to do it.

One of the most beautiful things about it, to me, is that Jennifer does know.  My three year-old daughter does know about a land where there are little girls with dark eyes and dark skin and dark hair who live differently from her but who love beaded bracelets just as much as she does.  She knows that there are little girls there whose lives look very different from her comfortable American life, and while she can’t fully comprehend all that is different between the two worlds, she knows that there is another world out there.  She knows.  She is growing up knowing.

She is growing up knowing that her mama loves those Belizean girls.  She is growing up loving them, too, because God loves them and has placed them in our lives as surely as if they had been born into our household.


Translating in a medical clinic


Translating in a medical clinic

Belize has changed me.  It continues to change the way I live and the way I see our world.  I think, too, that it might be changing things around me in a sort of spiritual ripple effect that flows from my heart outward to everyone I meet.  I’m different because of that small country in Belize.  I’m different because of the beautiful people of that beautiful country in the western Caribbean.  I’m different because God called me from my comfortable seat in my comfortable church into the smoky, humid air of a tabernacle in Belize.


Worship in an open air tabernacle


Praying with a new believer in our sister church

I’m different because I listened.  I could have ignored that calling, but what I’ve come to realize is this: Ultimately, I am more afraid of doing something comfortable outside of God’s will for me than I am of doing something terrifying that God is asking me to do.  The comfortable thing may be good for a minute, but the outcome isn’t guaranteed.  The scary thing…well, it is petrifying…but ultimately, it will be good.

And so I go.  I continue to go, and yes.  It is very, very good.

I go with cards and bracelets and little notebooks and packs of pencils in my bag, each with the name of a specific Belizean girl on it.  I go anticipating some of the best hugs in the world.  I go anticipating a little piece of heaven as joyful reunions take place between God’s people long separated.

A few years ago, I struggled to even leave my own house.  Today, I am looking forward to praying with Belizeans in their homes.

Friends, only God can do that.

And so I will go, and I will see Him, and I will be changed even more.  My heart has wandered off.  I just follow where it leads.


Atop the Mayan ruins at Xunantunich


(Note: Those of you who know my family may be confused by my reference to Jennifer. As my girl gets a little older, I’m giving her a pseudonym anytime I reference her in my online space. When I asked her what name she would want if she could have any name in the world, she said Jennifer. So Jennifer she shall be! Here, anyway….)

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