This last weekend was a milestone for our family. It all started 11 years ago. Eric was stationed at Ft. Bragg, NC and I was a senior in highschool. We fell in love (I’ll save our love story for another day) and began dreaming. We dreamed big. Eric’s dream was to be a medical missionary in Africa. He had spent an Easter in the Congo on a deployment and had fallen in love with it. As he had talked to the pastor after the Sunrise service about how he could come back and serve these people, the pastor explained how badly doctors were needed. Eric had really enjoyed being the medic for his unit so he began to entertain the idea of going to Medical School. So far he only had 2 semesters at a bible college completed, so it would be a long road. But one we both felt was where God was leading us. So we got married the fall after I graduated from high school. He likes to call me his “war-bride”. He had one year left to complete his enlistment. So, me 18, him 23, we started our life together. It wasn’t long (like 3 weeks) and I was sick and puking my guts out. Yep- I was pregnant. We had decided to not “try or not try” to have children. So I went from being full of energy and ready to take Eric’s hand and fly to the ends of the world to being curled up in a ball in my bed with IV’s running through my veins trying to keep me hydrated. It was a long 9 months. Most of my friends had gone off to college and none of them were married and having a child, so I was pretty much on my own. And poor Eric. Here he had thought that getting married would be a fun great adventure, and instead he had a very sick wife who couldn’t cook, clean, or even just go pick out a christmas tree. We both think that surviving that first year of marriage made us stronger for the trials that were yet to come.
So after 9 long months, with Eric constantly on the brink of deployment, I gave birth to a beautiful baby girl. Motherhood was quickly my new job. As I think back to those first few days and years, I can honestly say I don’t think I really had a clue. It didn’t come very natural and life was flying so fast I never really had time to sit down and figure it out. Over the last few years, so many of my girlfriends have asked me what books I read when Laura was born. What would I recommend, what works best. I never read a single book, never really asked any questions, come to think of it, never really even gave a thought to motherhood. Somehow, by the grace of Jesus, I survived each day.
So with a 3 month old, we packed up our little house and moved across the states to Oregon. Here we stayed for 2 years while Eric completed his degree in pre-med. He was able to transfer some of his education while in the ARMY towards his degree which shaved off about 1 1/2 years. After he graduated, we packed up 8 suitcases and now 2 little children (3 and 1) and climbed on a plane to Kenya for 6 months. Here Eric would work alongside the missionary DR. This was our “trial trip” to the mission field. All Eric could think about was getting back to Africa with his family. I had never left the east coast before this move to OR. So we said our good byes and began our next adventure.
Our 6 months there were trials bigger than we could have ever imagined. Within 6 weeks of arriving, Ben was so sick that he had lost 25% of his body weight. What was once our BIG, happy, one year old, boy was now underweight, lethargic, and cried nonstop. The days were blistering hot. (We lived 2 degrees north of the equator) There were scorpions and hunting spiders that we needed to constantly watch out for. There was a terrible drought. So bad that within a week of arriving our well went dry. We were constantly sick with different GI bugs that we got from the water. We were living with a nomadic people tribe who only spoke their native tongue. And lived in palm huts with no running water or electricity. They made clothes out of goats skin and had hunted every wild animal around. So there were none left. We had no vehicle, so were dependent upon people to get a ride. And cooking…that was a full days chore. Oh, and laundry. Hand washing cloth diapers full of dysentery with water carried a mile from the river.
But we also had good times. Eric loved every minuet that he spent working at the clinic. The more he learned, the more passionate he was about medicine. We saw God work miracles. From sending the rains to our parched land to opening the witch doctors eyes towards Him. We saw life and death. We learned to let go and give to God all that we had. Even our sick little Benjamin.
When our 6 months were over, which at times felt like 6 years, we returned to the states for Eric to start medical school. He was more excited than ever to become a doctor. Our focus had changed from doing long term missionary work to short term trips where he could run a clinic for a couple of weeks at a time and then head back to the states until he could take off on another trip. Upon arriving back home however, Eric learned that he hadn’t gotten in to med school. He had been in Kenya during the interviewing times and hence was crossed off the list. Heartbroken, he decided to teach math and science at a small private school for the following year while he reapplied.
Being around helped. He was accepted the following year to a US school in the Caribbean. So this time we packed 10 bags and 3 children and flew off to the crystal blue waters and white sandy beaches of the Caribbean for a year. Eric loved every minuet of the lectures and labs. He was thrilled to finally began his career in medicine. But… our family paid a huge price. Once he started school, he pretty much disappeared. Other than taking Sundays off, I quickly became a single mom. He finished his first year in the top 10% of his class, but the price paid was great. It had been a rough year for me. Completely removed from family and friends again, learning a new way to live “island style”, a miscarriage, and now pregnant again and so sick I could hardly function, it was time to sit down to discuss and pray about where we needed to go from here.
Eric decided to take a leave of absence from school. We packed up our bags and flew back to the states to try and figure out where to go from here. A friend of Eric’s suggested he apply to Dental school. (His friend was a dentist.) He would have to start over, but it seemed like it would be a better fit for our family and would also work well for our desire to incorporate mission trips into our family. So that next year was spent applying to Dental School. He needed to stay in school so that the loans would stay in deferment, so he enrolled at the University of Oregon in the Human Physiology Department and got his MS. He was able to transfer some of the med school classes over, so that he graduated in one year. We laugh looking back. He only applied to 5 dental schools. Not nearly enough to give your self a good chance and choice to getting in. But with money so tight and applying so costly, 5 was all he did. He got two interviews and one acceptance. So, Loma Linda University School of Dentistry it was. So once again we packed up our house, and this time drove, to our new home in a place we had never thought we would live… southern California.
Moving into that little house with 4 years ahead of us felt like an eternity. There were so many things to learn and figure out. Southern California is somewhat it’s own culture. And even though Eric knew that Dentistry was the best choice for our family, there was a part of him that grieved leaving medicine. He had chose to lay his dreams and passions to become a doctor aside to put his family first. I don’t want this to sound as if he was miserable. When we sat down during his leave of absence from med school, we talked about what our goals were that we had set when we were engaged. Our pastor that did our pre-martial counseling had asked us to write a mission statement. What we wrote was simple. “To raise up our children to love Jesus and to serve Him more than we do.” To train their little hearts to always look to Jesus and to love to serve others. To be compassionate to those who are hurting and to give to those who are in need. In order to do this, our lives must reflect this. They must see in us Truth that we are speaking and teaching to them. So, with our mission statement fresh before us again, the decision seemed pretty simple. Eric needed to be around to help me with our 4 (at that time) little children. Not on call nights and weekends, residencies, or extra long work days.
The first year of Dental school was a breeze for him. After having a year of med school and a MS behind him, his foundation in science was very strong. This gave him time to be with us and have somewhat of a “normal” life even though he was in school. Eric quickly fell in love with dentistry and found it to be more than just “drilling and filling”The next three years seemed to fly by. And then all of a sudden I was mailing out graduation announcements.
So, 11 years later, we are not where we had dreamed or planned on being when we started this life together. But, I think all the U turns and detours that God sent us on along the way were all part of the grand plan. It helped us hone the direction of where he wanted us to be in the end. So now that we finished up this chapter and are beginning the next we can’t wait to see what’s in the pages ahead of us.