Making hard decisions about whether to stay or leave our volunteer work abroad.
December 2014

I’ve had two or three seasons I can identify as my lowest points ever. It always revolves around making hard decisions. One of those seasons was in the midst of doing amazing volunteer work for Mercy Ships. The problem? Ruben and I did not agree about our future with Mercy Ships and the time to decide had arrived.

The time would come when we’d leave our floating, beach-front, multi-purpose home. The question was whether we’d return or not.

Christmas 2014 was month four on board and I was crafting an epic list of ways this experience didn’t live up to what I’d hoped it would be. I was thinking about all the cooler things I could do in the states while earning an income and living comfortably. I could have the best of both worlds. I could serve and work, all while being near my family. I had plenty of time to make up my mind one way or the other, but I was strongly leaning to one side.

Plot twist: I have a husband.

Not only that, but he was asked to commit to two additional years in a new security position. He could see how he’d have to let go of some of his personal goals, but also saw the new skills he’d learn and experiences he’d have. Instead of gripping tightly to his plan, he felt compelled to let go (cue Frozen soundtrack) and trust that God had a better plan.

I knew Ruben loved working in this Christian community. His heart for the people we serve is evident in his conversations with me; I don’t think I realized what a heart of gold he had when I married him.

I, on the other hand, had a heart of lead. I didn’t care about the lessons I might learn and I didn’t want to let go of my plan for the future. I just wanted out. I didn’t think working on this ship was for me. I was also caught off guard by the timing; I didn’t expect to decide our plans for August in the middle of the previous December.

I wanted to cross “international nursing adventure” off my bucket list and go home.

God had taught me a few good lessons, but they had been painstaking. No more lessons! I could see the potential for God to shape and mold me on the ship; I knew I wouldn’t last if he didn’t do inner surgery on me. I felt like a child. I was so utterly miserable in spite of the abundance of my blessings. I remember feeling like I had everything in the world people dream of and had never felt more darkness. I felt like kicking and screaming until I got what I wanted.

The deadline to respond was a couple days away.

I couldn’t forget all the time I had spent following my dreams. Dreams of making it through nursing school, studying abroad, getting a great job, finding a husband, nursing overseas and working with Mercy Ships… I got the chance to do all that and no one ever denied me or discouraged me.

Maybe this time, it wasn’t about me, or my dreams, or the fact that I was miserable.

I know my power as a woman. A miserable, complaining, Ivanna could easily have convinced Ruben to come home. I could’ve “put my foot down” and made him feel like he was neglecting his wife by choosing to stay on this ship and keep me miserable. However, I knew that would be manipulative and I could see selfishness painted all over that path.

So even though every self-accommodating, self-centered gene in me wanted to leave, I told Ruben I would support his desire. If that’s what he really wanted, then I would be by his side and I would learn to love this place dammit. Ruben wanted to stay, so we stay.

It felt like I was jumping off a cliff.
Making hard decisions feels like jumping off a cliff; it goes against all self-preservation instincts.
This goes against all self-preservation instincts.

It went against every attempt I’d ever made to be Miss Independent. It went against all the little feminist voices in my head, but it actually wasn’t so hard.

God honors those who lift others up. He brings to the front of the line those who allow everyone else to go ahead. He honored my choice by immediately blessing me with immense peace of mind. I had a positive attitude that I hadn’t been able to muster up for 4 months on my own. Therefore, loving Ruben turned out to be the easier, less painful choice.

God honors those who lift others up. Click To Tweet

It wasn’t submission out of faithful duty, but because I love Ruben and I knew that God loved both of us. I wasn’t simply trusting Ruben; I was trusting God to take care of me, too.

He wants to chisel our rough edges to transform us into something beautiful and refined. So by submitting to Ruben, I was actually just submitting to God and his redemption story for our marriage and individual lives. I think God wants to use the Africa Mercy and the phenomenal people on board to refine us into what God envisions for us.

Time to walk the talk

Fast forward to April and it’s crunch time. Seven days until we leave our floating, beach-front, multi-purpose home for two months. We’re gonna get on a bus to Tana, the capital, and drive for 8 hours. Then wait for 8 hours. Then board a plane for 11 hours. Then board another plane for 8 hours. Then I will take a train to Rochester for 6 hours. Good thing I am blessed with patience.

There are friends to see and junk to pack away. There are final hurrah’s and paperwork to fill out. We are heading home only to peel ourselves away again after 4 short weeks. It’s self-inflicted, too; we chose this path.

We’ve had to remember how and why God called us to come back to this ship. When the doubts set in, and pressure builds up, we recall that we could have chosen many alternate paths. We say we feel “called by God” to be here. While that’s true, it’s also pretty darn subjective. Some people would question how anyone can say God “called them” to one opportunity over another. The absence of an audible voice from the sky does present a challenge. However, what God does call me to is written in his guidebook for abundant life and that’s to love Ruben well.

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6 comments on “Making Hard Decisions: Diary of Miss Independent”

  1. Thanks JP, very glad to hear from you 🙂 I'm sure if Ne-Yo wasn't wearing a hat in that video, I wouldn't have wanted to be "miss independent" so bad when that song came out. Miss you!!

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