A Cost Of International Proportions
I remember when I got engaged five and a half years ago like it was yesterday. Dan proposed on a pebble beach at sunset in Southwest England near where he grew up. He’d promised to propose if I came to England to see the life he had and meet the people dear to him. When I arrived, he took the diamond off me from my moms wedding band, (which I had inherited), to have it set, and sneakily ordered the one thing my friends had told him was my only – secret – childhood – proposal – dream… A bouquet of naturally green roses. No, not dyed or sprayed. They grow in particular parts of the world and require special ordering. I think they are beautiful. When I discovered them as a young girl, I had cherished the idea of my someday Prince Charming proving his love by his effort in finding the rare roses to present as a token of his undying affection for me. Oh the whimsical ideals of a child. As a teen, my high school girlfriends closely guarded my secret with private jokes of delight. Someday… Yes, someday he would come for me. And we all knew it.
Well, he did come, all the way from England to California. And I was aghast yet not really surprised when he walked in my front door one day declaring with an indistinguishably thick accent, his name, which sounded very much like “Danielle”. In fact, it was Daniel. Aka, Dan. (Don’t worry, he learned to say it American style after a few people started calling him Danielle.) He had come to be a student at the same ministry school as me. I was alarmed that I would have dared to fall for someone who had no American citizenship! He was British! Surely I was complicating my life!?! Yet the moment he’d stretched out his hand to say hello, I had to grasp the stair railing to keep from getting weak as I heard my mind declare inside with an air of finality that I would marry him. I am sure I was all shades of red.
I am also sure you could see coming what I will say next. Yes. I did in fact only have one specific, “I will never…” in my life. I’d often confidently declared I’d never live outside of America! Now those words choked in my throat as I tried to wrap my brain around a potential life outside of America. There are embassy rules for international couples and we didn’t qualify to live in America at the time we intended to marry. We did dream together of being in England for a season and then back in America to maybe start a family before settling in England again. We intended to move back to California for a while after getting my dual citizenship. And we still plan to at the right time for a season Lord willing but at any rate, choosing to love and marry Dan came with a clear cost of laying down everything I knew and held dear, to pioneer a new life for myself with him in England. A country I had never been to until the week before we got engaged!
Just a warning, if you know me personally, what comes in the rest of this post may make you uncomfortable. Every bit of it is vulnerable, honoring and true. Now, where were we? Oh yes…
I had always known deep down that I was made for great things. We all are and I believed it. Before I’d met Dan my life was doing great things. I was honored to play a key roll in my surrounding counties loving on troubled youth giving hope and mentorship. I was actively speaking in schools, prisons and organizations leading thousands of local youth to make healthier sexual and relationship decisions. When my mom was diagnosed with cancer, I came home full time to look after my sister who was 10 at the time and care for my mom alongside my dad. It was a trying time and when we buried her after one and a half years of intense cancer fighting, there was nothing to do but make life as “normal” as possible for my sister. I decided to go to ministry school a year later and felt excited for a change in life pace – a chance at getting back to some of the great things I loved doing. And my year was life changing in the best way possible. But, it brought with it a reality of not going back to the things I loved but what felt like starting all over – moving to England.
I began to count the cost in my head daily even secretly writing lists of pros and cons. As is the case with many things, realistically counting the cost can often equal far less than the actual cost that will be incurred. I think God is gracious enough to sometimes blind us of what tomorrow brings so we don’t fear a mountain we can move one shovel full at a time.
The reality was, I could not shake that I would go to the ends of the earth with this man regardless of its cost. When the time came, I accepted Dan’s marriage proposal along with my moms diamond newly set and a beautiful bouquet of green and purple roses. I learned later that the reason he’d proposed the night before I flew back home was not because of the diamond setting but because he was waiting on those green roses to arrive! I went home and in a matter of weeks, we’d filled out over thirty pages of a VISA request to get embassy approval for my international move, I’d sold nearly everything including my car and set off for Northern England, where he had just relocated as a youth pastor. I had a few quiet moments before leaving where I cried out wondering at the cost ahead of me. I felt like I was abandoning the life I had known to start all over with the hopes of resuming it with Dan someday. I remember touching the dirt on American soil for the last time before leaving and wondering how long it would be before it happened again. And yet, I knew I could brave the unknown for the sake of joining lives with my love and somehow making a positive impact on the land I was becoming acquainted with.
Dan found a stone home, (100+ years old) prior to my arrival and gave the place to me while he lived across town before we married a few weeks later. Weddings are planned an average of 1-2 years in advance here in England and I had arrived just a few weeks prior! Thankfully we’d at least awkwardly booked a church a few days before our engagement! I was living hundreds of miles from where we were to be married and had no idea how to dial a British phone number let alone understand the varied accents I encountered once people picked up the other end of the line!
I’d been thrown in at the deep end. I was alone in a house with complex skeleton house keys and doors I could not operate to save my life. I had a new battle between imperial and metric which made my unmathmatical head spin! Cooking, a love of mine, now reduced me to tears regularly with frustrating calculations for my every kitchen move. Lets not talk about the mini sized refrigerators here. And, I couldn’t figure out where things were which I would normally buy at the food shop. I was simply told to look in the “most common sense place.” Why was I not informed it is common sense to store eggs on a non-fridge shelf in the baking area? Or that several of the things I was asking for had different names in this country? Zucchini was now courgette, for example. Shall we mention I had no “tumble dryer” the first 2 years of our marriage? My house felt like a laundromat I could not escape from with clothes drying on every radiator available. Having come from sunny California to a part of England which was parallel with halfway up freezing Canada, I had a hot water bottle with me nearly every waking and sleeping moment for my first year. To top it all off, I was no longer a licensed driver! My freedom felt stripped of me and my cultural comforts were long gone. I was scared and the cost felt so great!
Meanwhile, I had only email to contact people back home. International phone calls were too expensive and Skype hadn’t found its feet yet. I started Facebook but rarely heard from anyone. One person especially close, told me matter of factually that because I was moving out of the country, our lives would no longer have anything in common or cross paths. Most others simply didn’t bother. One even visited practically in my backyard and never told me. I found out through Facebook. It was as if the world really was flat and I had ventured into the unknown slipping off the planet and thus inaccessible to those left behind. One faithful lifelong friend wrote me when possible until Skype offered international phone numbers a year after I got married. I got a California number and speaking to my dad three times a year joyfully became a thing of the past. My friend is still the only one from America who regularly calls to say hi and I am so grateful for her. A few others call randomly and a couple have sent care packages too! I am grateful for those who do take the time to care for the relationships not right in front of them. Especially in what has easily been my most difficult season of life due to a long term illness I’m recovering from.
When I arrived in England, initial interactions with Brits brought two things up repeatedly… “Why aren’t you loud and obnoxious like the rest of your country?” And of course there frequently came all the usual slashing jabs at the failures of American government. Brits would say it was all in good fun but I wasn’t feeling the welcome or love for who I was – American. Where was the hospitality like I knew it back home? It was different here and although people were doing what they could to help me adjust, I was overwhelmed and really felt how “odd one out” I was. I had grown up as an elders daughter of a church of 5,000 which my family was centrally involved in. My grandpa had been an elder in years prior. When we moved away, it was to join a church my aunt and uncle pastored in California. Again, we were centrally involved without delay. So when I moved to England, I suddenly felt very, very alone in a new country.
Our first year of marriage brought huge hardships which moved us from very North England to Southwest England, back up to Central England and finally down to a new location in the Southwest where we are now. One move is enough to set you back financially and make you start all over building local friendships. Huge moves, betrayals, jealousies, insecurities, financial injustices, a health collapse, church and work trials all hurled at us. More than once we were venomously told to “go back to America where we belonged” that, “England didn’t need or want us”. My battle with a health collapse had made me vulnerable and us isolated. After all, who wants to remain faithful to a friend who is no fun for years on end or her husband who is busy caring for her out of necessity. But, we knew we were in the land of hope and glory; that God had brought us to this land and even if it gave up on us, we would not give up on it or the people. A few would not be responsible for ruining what God intended for us in England. Nor would we bend our convictions or morals for the whims of those who wanted us to compromise for their own gain. We clung to God and each other and He was faithful to still perform miracles in our midst through it all. The cost was of international proportions but a new resolve had come. No amount of betrayal or outright bullying would cause us to back off of the love we had for England and her people. We became free to minister in various churches around the country as God opened doors for us and we were so honored to see Him touch peoples lives through our time with them.
Then it happened… In 2010, we were invited (expenses paid by a dear friend), to a weekend retreat with friends on the edge of the fjords in Norway. The goal was to get away with God and each other. While there, a beautiful Norwegian young woman asked to pray for me. It was here, away from England and America that God did something deeper in me. I had come to England with arms wide open to it as if to embrace it with love. But it was here that the tears flowed freely as I got a revelation that I had not enlarged my borders. I had not made room in my heart to be a national of both nations; only to love them equally. And one nation of people had deeply hurt me while the other had abandoned me in a time of great need! I wept as I realized I didn’t have to be the happy national of just one nation. I could enlarge my heart to not just love two countries but embrace them both as my own. That flight home, I came back to a nation I called my own. I had finally and fully counted the cost and found it worth fighting for, not against.
We began to have even more impact through our ministry on those around us and life truly brought simple joys to us which I know have only been through living in England – not America. It took time to realize that life and its various trauma’s had brought my health to a near full collapse. Some say it had collapsed at the point I was bed-ridden 5 long weeks. At any rate, when specialists were finally able to determine what was wrong with me, we had to stop everything indefinitely to recover my health. I share a bit more about my health on my about page. Life as I’d finally come to know it in England seemed to stop suddenly. I felt so stretched having to learn details to keep me well all the way down to memorizing the names of various chemicals I needed to read food labels for to avoid. I needed to not just learn to be okay with a new diet but embrace it as a way of life. I needed to enlarge my borders again.
I am finally now a dual citizen which means I hold two passports and two nationalities. So will our children someday. I am loyal not only to the American flag but the British royal crown too. I have enlarged my borders. Not just in my physical paperwork but also in my heart.
Sometimes, it can be easier to simply love from a distance what we need to embrace. Sometimes God brings more into our life and it doesn’t look like abundance when it arrives. It’s like baking bread. You are given ingredients and it is your responsibility to turn it into a loaf worth eating. Even then, you can choose to make a quick loaf of cheap and basic bread or give the ingredients your time and attention to make an artesian loaf worthy of any fine table. Sometimes we mistakenly store ingredients brought into our life yet fail to make anything with them. (Great way to make them go rancid by the way.) We think by bringing them into our house, we’ve done enough. We cry out, “I’m storing the stuff in my house! What else do You want from me!?! I’m giving you space!!!” How great of a cost is required anyway!?! No one, not even God, requires a cost to be taken. Yet without it, ingredients for a good life may simply never make it into our pantry or be made into the great life that is available to us. We choose every day, and with the authority of the trials behind me, I say that counting the cost is okay but choosing to thumb your nose at baking and saying its not your expertise, is like waving at a great life and saying you don’t care to try and dance with it.
How does one enlarge their borders anyway? Isaiah 54:2 says just how and I particularly like the simplicity of the New Living Translation.
Isaiah 54:2 (NLT)
“Enlarge your house, build an addition. Spread out your home and spare no expense.”
In the New King James Version they put it this way…
“Enlarge the place of your tent, And let them stretch out the curtains of your dwellings; Do not spare; Lengthen your cords, And strengthen your stakes.“
So it is true. Enlarging our borders is not selling our house and moving on to bigger and better things. It is building an addition to what exists in our life with no reserve of the personal costs involved, so it can be the very best possible. It is not having to abandon what we have come from. I had feared that all which was good about me and what I had become was directly challenged by the additional things God was adding to my life. It may seem impossible to “lengthen your cords” considering rope comes in particular lengths. But all things become possible in a friendship with an unchanging and faithful God. Besides, I think pinterest might say how to make a rope longer anyway! You can do it. Might I add that what additions I’ve spared no expense on, have become my favorite rooms in my internal house. I’ve counted the cost. It is worth it.
You are loved,
P.S. Will you do me a favor? If you took the time to read this, would you mind saying so in the comments below here on the blog? I’d love to hear from you.