But the truth is, it hasn't always been sunshine and rainbows. You used to be able to cut the tension between us with a knife. In fact, I think the rest of our squad would agree that our team was the most disunited team as we launched onto the race. But we persevered, we fought the good fight, we CHOSE to love each other. And man I'm so glad we did.
I met all of them at training camp (TC) in October 2016. In fact, I met our whole squad then. All 54 of them. 54 people is a lot. Naturally, I spent each day at TC intentionally setting aside time to build relationships. And I built some good ones. At the end of TC when they announced our teams, I looked around at the 6 people I was matched with. One of my first reactions was to burst into tears. (Sounds dramatic but we were also sleep deprived, food deprived, cold, uncomfortable, and emotionally picked apart!) I looked at them and wondered WHY? What did AIM see in them that they thought would work with me? Why didn't I get paired with any of the people I had so intentionally built relationships with? I didn't have anything against them except that I didn't know them at all. I was about to spend every second of the next 4+ months with these strangers! These are the people I would be living with, working with, sleeping with, grocery shopping with, laughing with, crying with, fighting with, singing with, dancing with, literally EVERYTHING you can thing of with.
I went into month 1 in Colombia hesitant but with an open mind. We went through a brief honeymoon stage that was full of fun and continuous laughter. But AIM knows that life is more than fun and games and forced us to face the tough stuff. They sat us down at debrief and asked us to talk all of our problems out. And we did. And it was hard. And it was ugly. And there were tears. Put 7 girls together and ask them to do everything together - it's tough! The love for each other didn't come easily. We had to choose it. Every day. Sometimes every hour. We had to learn unconditional love and practice it.
During month 2 in Ecuador, I could feel myself growing closer and closer to each individual team member. Things weren't perfect but I could feel us growing, together.
Month 3 in Peru has been our toughest month thus far with ministry and living conditions. But ironically, it's been our best month as a team. We've laughed so hard it hurts and have too many inside jokes to name. They know what to do when I'm grumpy or sad. They show me grace. They lift me up. I'm so proud of each of us for pushing through and fighting for each other. I wouldn't trade a single one of them and I'd pick them every time if I could.
Brittanee Danae - my fellow 29 year old. She's the mama of our crew. She seems quiet but don't let her fool you. She's one of the most fun girls and is always up for an adventure. She takes care of all of us and is the first person we run to at the first sight of any illness. She's examined more body parts than I'm willing to share and whether it's groceries or a llama sweater, she's always down to shop - and make killer bargains. You can hear her laugh from a mile away. I've seen her overcome adversity firsthand. She left for a bit during month 1 and we felt it. There was a piece of our tribe missing and her being back has made all the difference.
Delaney Rose - our sugar mama. She keeps us in line - with money, time, and basically all logistics. She's a rule follower so when we can convince her that a rule is meant to be broken, you KNOW it's legit. She has unwavering faith and is always willing to listen. She's Switzerland, always a calming force and non-biased party, and Lord knows we need that.
Emily Elizabeth can make me laugh all day everyday. Her sarcastic sense of humor is my jam. Sometimes all she has to do is give me a look and I can't control my giggles. She knows the Bible more than anyone I've ever met. I go to her with all of my faith questions and even when she doesn't have the answer, she'll follow up days later with insight. There have been nights where she has stayed up with me for hours calming my curious mind. But my favorite thing about her is her loyalty. When she loves you, she's all in.
Kalie Rose, the woman of many talents. A photographer, artist, singer, chef, graphic designer, barista, yoga instructor, friend. I could keep going but the point I'm trying to make is that we hit the jackpot with her. Along with her many talents, she has the biggest servant heart. She's the first to volunteer even when the job isn't so appealing. She listens and offers gentle advice. She never sleeps and will also never turn down coffee. Ever. I connected with her on the first day of TC and our friendship has been growing ever since.
Kelsay Renee - my fellow Texan! Our cowgirl. Our prayer warrior. I admittedly had false judgements about her before I got to know her. I didn't see how we could get along but boy was I wrong. She's one of my favorite people to be around. At only 22, she's incredibly full of wisdom. I know any advice from her will be Godly. She always directs us to prayer. When she talks about Jesus, you'd think she was talking about her best friend. And it's because she is. She's a talented videographer and she pushes me to be better. She encourages me and holds me accountable.
Sara Taylor - my little Sarita. She's the leader of our team. She wouldn't have chosen this role for herself but I'm glad that AIM did. About a week after TC I realized that her name was meaningful to me. In 2005, during the mission trip that lead my heart to missions, I met an orphan named Sara. I still think of her often. The Lord putting me on a team with a leader named Sara was like a little nod from Him that I am where I'm supposed to be. Then during month 1 we had another revelation. Sara has an estranged older sister who she longs for. Guess what her name is? Jessica. And she's my age. Oh, and Sara's middle name is Taylor. Yea, God knew what He was doing. Month 1 we had to share a bed with each other, month 2 we shared a bunk, month 3 our beds were beside each other and somehow we always end up sleeping next to each other at whatever hostel, floor, etc that the race leads us to. She drives me crazy but also fills my heart. She's my cheerleader. She steals my stuff and does my hair for me most days. She's the little sister I never had.
I wouldn't have picked them then but I'd pick them over and over again now. God knew what He was doing. His plans are always, always better.
Please say a prayer for us as we go into month 4 in Côte d'Ivoire - which will likely be our last month together as a team!!! And since our God is a big one, capable of all things, say a prayer that maybe our team will stay just the way it is. :) #SaveSelah
As I pressed submit for my last blog post I was interrupted by an American voice. It was a man (Mark) and woman asking for the wifi password (I was sitting at a coffee shop). We started talking and long story short - he's a pastor from Montana here with some of his youth group. They offered to let us use their hotel showers!! After about an hour of conversation, we accepted his offer. We walked for about an hour to his hotel. We had the best showers and could not stop talking about how it was a total gift that we crossed paths. Mark wanted us to meet his friends and invited us to dinner. We ended up at a Peruvian restaurant with around 25 people. Person after person came into the restaurant, each having their own story about how they met Pastor Mark and many of them not knowing each other. So we sat there, all coming from different paths, speaking different languages, but all connected by this crazy, God-loving man, Mark! I was seated across the table from a man who works for the same ministry that we were supposed to be at THAT DAY (what?!?). He also knows the man who is hosting us! I often looked around the table at the many different conversations happening. We were seated at this table because we didn't have running water. How crazy is that?
The next day a group of young adults came over to our house for worship and fellowship. We sang our hearts out in our open-air living room, we each prayed for the safety of Peru, and I got to share some of my story. I think it was exactly what all of our hearts needed. As we sat in prayer someone ran up the stairs to tell us that the water had been turned on! We ran to the faucets and realized it was only on in the kitchen. Still full of excitement, we improvised and acted fast. As soon as our guests left we got to work. First up – we flushed each toilet a million times. We washed each other’s hair in the kitchen sink while the other half of us used buckets of kitchen water to shower our bodies in the bathroom. And then we switched. We filled any empty container that we could find with water from the sink, just in case. We cleaned any and all dishes. It was quite chaotic, pretty crazy, and like nothing I’ve ever experienced. The water eventually turned off again but we didn’t let it steal our joy. We went to bed that night with happy hearts and clean bodies. My face hurt from laughing so much and it’s now one of my favorite nights on the race.
My squad leader, Alyssa, said something to us on day 4 of no running water. She said, “We aren’t here to see howother people live, we’re here to live with them.” And that stuck with me. It’s one thing to see a natural disaster on TV or see photos of people from across the world. It’s easy to go on with your day without feeling like these things can relate to you. But that’s not what we’re doing here. We’re living with and beside the people of Peru. We’re doing life with them. Peru has been promoting the slogan "Una Sola Fuerza"/ "One Single Force", and that's what we are. The country is hurting and so are we.
I’m grateful that we’re here.
After 6 days, we now have running water. We hope it stays this way but the reality is that the rain is not stopping and the temperature is not cooling. Although my team is safe in Lima, there are other teams in other parts of the country that are getting hit hard by these floods. Peru hasn’t seen floods & mudslides like this in over 20 years and Lima hasn’t seen temperatures this high in a long time. We need your prayers.