It was a blessing to spend four years in Portugal. We made our home along the Lisbon coast. As we prepare to move to Germany, I can reflect on our time in Portugal. I am grateful for my experiences in this country and I am especially grateful that our daughter was able to blossom here: she learned the Portuguese language and made so many friends. My husband and I are also blessed to have done the same.
For me, what I will remember most was rekindling both my faith and my love of running. Before moving to Portugal, I had been in a dark place spiritually for many years. I did not want to believe that God had plans for me and my life and that he would use me. I thought that a purgatory of mediocrity and listlessness had imprisoned me – I was numb and uncertain about everything. (I know it’s a bit dramatic, but it is how I felt!) But God had plans for me and my self-pity and he is true to his word:
In Jeremiah 29:11, God says, “For I know the plans I have for you… plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
When I moved to Portugal, I learned that God was not done with me yet. He had plans for me and for my family that would forever change us.
Since moving to Portugal I have been able to finish my Master’s Degree – it was a lingering project that I needed to finish. When I completed my studies, I embarked on a PhD program at the Catholic University of Portugal in Lisbon. If not for a friend’s recommendation, I would not have applied to UCP. He assured me that some classes would be in English and the school had a stellar academic reputation. He was right.
I prepared myself mentally as best I could for a PhD program, but I feared that my weak Portuguese skills were not up for the challenge. There were times that I doubted my sanity when I tried to make sense of a lecture only to realize that I could not. And that is where faith and really cool friends come in. I am grateful to my UCP classmates for all of their help. Sometimes my classmates served as translators. Sometimes they were motivators. But most of all they shared their love of international relations and European politics. I am grateful for my colleagues because they made my experience in Portugal richer.
I am also grateful that I could run. Boy did I need to run. It was a great way to handle the stress and enjoy the Lisbon coast, which has running trails along the beach. Running was a way to escape the stress and uncertainty and a way to also embrace the life that God had given me. It was during one of these runs that I decided that I was going to run a half marathon. Encouraged by my friend Leila, I decided to sign up for the Portugal Half Marathon. A year later I signed up for the Lisbon Half Marathon and although I have written about it many times, the races were not pretty, but I finished them. I was so happy to accomplish those goals.
In addition to running, I was able to write a book that I hope inspires women to run and connect with God. The book, called Running For Your Life! A devotional for women who run slow, walk fast or jog with reckless abandon. The book shares personal stories and it also serves as a motivator for women to reconnect with their faith. I used to think that I wrote that book for other women, but I now believe that God led me to write that book to motivate me. The words I wrote helped me as I ran, attended university classes or tried to do other things that I felt called to do, yet too fearful to accomplish. I have re-read chapters of my book to motivate myself. I figured that if it worked then, it could work now. And work it did.
But more importantly than that, I have been able to watch my little girl grow from a shy toddler to a more confident tween who enjoyed visits to Kidzania, KFC (tower burger!) and European travel. She enjoys church Sunday school and she asks me the most profound spiritual questions while I am in driving the car in traffic or trying to back out of a parking space. LOL! She also enjoys telling me all about what she learned about God and the bible (Thank you Mrs. Colleen and Riverside International Church!). She is also much more confident than I was at her age and excited about her move to Germany – because “they have swimbads and skiing, mommy.”
In the hustle and bustle of life, I have often felt as if I did not have enough time to do what I wanted; but sometimes I focused on what I was unable to do instead of what I was able to do. I also forgot to focus on the fact that God is able and that I can do anything with his help. God has helped our family grow closer to him and to learn a lot more about the world we live in. I am grateful for my husband, who also studied at UCP with me, for helping with my daughter. They developed weekly rituals of Wii games, movies and other projects so that I could get my school work done. He even stayed with her in the mornings or late evenings so that I could run. And more than that, he made me feel OK about not being the perfect homemaker. I could only be the perfect me.
So it is with tears that I say goodbye to Portugal, our lovely home and life here. I know that when God closes one door, he opens another and I look forward to what awaits us in our next adventure in Germany. I am grateful, I am wiser, a bit smarter (at least about the international political system thanks to UCP) and I know that God loves me and has plans for me. He also has plans for you too!
Thank you Portugal! Thank you heavenly father! Hello Germany!