This time 3 years ago, I was heading home from a mission trip to Costa Rica. I decided to travel to this beautiful country with a group called e3 Partners on a trip where I thought I would be used to change lives. I could not have been more wrong about how that turned out.
Before I tell my story, it should be noted that Costa Rica is the most captivating place in the world. I’m not very traveled and I certainly haven’t seen everywhere, but I can say, without a doubt, Costa Rica is home to the nicest, most generous people you can find. Not only is the countryside beautiful but the people are genuinely kind and concerned about their neighbor. They are authentically happy and truly find the time to celebrate the beauty and essence of life. “Pura Vida” (or pure life) is the law of the land in Costa Rica and my Tico friends live this out every day and in every interaction with their fellow human. So, I can guarantee that I could travel the entire world and not find people I love more than Ticos. Plus, Costa Rica is home to the best food I’ve ever had (I gained 10 lbs on this trip) and always smells like a fresh rain. How can you say no to that?
I went on this trip a complete stranger to everyone – the leaders, the volunteers and the locals we were helping. We were already a small group and we were divided into even smaller groups so that we could each help a local church focus on building their attendees and spreading the love of Jesus. I was blessed enough to be volunteering with the Fernandez family who had recently opened a new church outside of Alejuela. I would be going door to door with the pastor, Rafa Fernandez, to help grow their church in the community. I was also paired with Be, my beautiful translator who was my saving grace during this entire trip.
Each day we would travel out into the city and knock on doors to have fellowship with the locals and talk to them about Jesus. Everyone was so kind and welcoming that I almost forgot about the hot sun and scorching humidity this Ohio girl was not used to. Many of the people we spoke to told us their stories and talked about life changing experiences they had and how grateful they were to have us in their homes. All this time I was still convinced that I was here doing all this great work for other people. And then, God blew my mind.
Rafa, Be and I were leaving a house when Rafa stopped me on the corner and (through translation) said something that shook me to my core. “God told me that your heart was sad because of your dad.” What? How did you know? No one on this trip knew that I was fatherless – I hadn’t even mentioned it. But this Man of God standing before me certainly did and it was only through a beautiful miracle that he could have known. Tears instantly flooded my face as I collapsed into his arms and cried like I had never cried before.
Through Be, Rafa continued and what I can remember through my sobbing mess went something like this: God wanted to let you know that your heart doesn’t have to stay broken – you don’t have to be sad any more. Your dad didn’t want to leave but he had to so that you could fulfill your destiny. God has a special plan for your life that could only be fulfilled with him leaving. Today, I am here, hugging you as your dad would have hugged you – loving you as your father loved you.
And that was it. It was the day that I had hugged my dad for the first time in nearly 20 years. Most of the time I spent sobbing on the street corner in Costa Rica is a complete blur. I couldn’t tell you if we were there for five minutes or five hours. Time stopped, life stood still and everything changed.
I can’t ever fully describe the meaning of that moment in my life. I’ll never be able to put into words with it felt like to have Rafa speak into my life in such a way or love me so fully without knowing me at all. I’ll certainly never be able to show my gratitude to everyone on the trip who made this possible – especially the amazing Fernandez family. But I’ll also never forget those words and the impact that they made on me. It was literally a life changing, earth shattering, you-can-never-be-the-same-after-this moment and life really never was.
I’d love to say that everything completely changed when I came back to America, but it didn’t. The world felt a little bit brighter temporarily and I was brave enough to make the move I felt called to in Charlotte. But, I was very much still the same on the inside. And honestly, many things got worse before they got better. The difference was that I had those words to hold onto. Your heart doesn’t have to stay broken. He had to leave so that you could fulfill your purpose. I am hugging you as your dad. Ultimately, I knew that I could never be the same after such strong words of affirmation were spoken over my life. I battled. I struggled. I fought. All of that lead to me to here and it all started with the decision to go to Costa Rica to help other people.
To my Costa Rica family, you’ll genuinely never know how much I love you. I don’t think I’ve ever loved people so instantly, so fully and so unconditionally in just a few short days. For those of you from America, thank you for taking this beautiful journey with me – I know that it changed your lives too. For those of you in Costa Rica, thank you for showing me a love I have never experienced before. For opening up your homes, your kitchens and your hearts. And to Rafa, thank you for letting me hug my dad one last time and giving me the strength to walk this journey. I’ll never forget that moment in time.
And if you’re fatherless and reading this story, you don’t need to go all the way to Costa Rica to know that your life has purpose. Being fatherless might define you but the beautiful thing is that you get to choose how.