Surrounded by cardboard boxes stacked like a child’s fort in the garage, I lift the dusty lid off the one marked Shelly’s Keepsakes like a child opening a birthday gift. I think I might know what is inside but I’m expectant, breathing shallow, awaiting a surprise in the contents.

Cloth covered journals lie beside old photographs and mementos from high school and college. The orange and black tassel from my graduation cap, a magnetic name tag from Eastern Airlines with my name and campus representative engraved in it, the silver C pin I wore on my white lab coat behind the Clinique counter — they all harken me back.

But it’s the small navy journal I pull to my lap that does some good work toward transcendence. Words describing two weeks of my young life traveling through nine countries in Europe, my first cross cultural mission trip.

As I read about rolls of crusty bread with jam and real butter for breakfast in Austria, the lone castle in a wide expanse of rolling hills in Romania, breathing thick exhaust from cars while driving through Hungary and bathing in Poland from a bucket in the kitchen of a house, I remember. God’s presence was palpable with us through the uncertainty of each city we visited. The same way He is with us now as we prepare to move to London.

Then, we were bravely transporting Bibles in the interior walls of the cars we drove across the borders of the Iron Curtain, boldly risking our lives for faith in our Savior. Visiting underground churches packed with so much humanity we could barely breathe for the beauty of it. Our cheeks hot pink with the power of the Holy Spirit cutting away any language barriers.

Now we are bringing 25 years of ministry experience to a country where less than 6% of the people attend church weekly.

As I bend over the travel journal, H startles me with an exclamation, breaking through the mental trip I’m taking through Eastern Europe. He holds a small piece of paper ripped from a notebook between two fingers and says, “Here is a note from you with a picture you drew for me on it.”

He’s reading from one of the few journals he’s actually penned — thoughts about our tenth anniversary in Nanaimo, British Columbia, where we were gifted with someone’s time share at a nature resort – when the slip of paper falls out.

“Are you sure it’s from me,” I ask him. “I don’t remember drawing you anything.”

He is confident in his assessment. And so am I, after inspection.

On one side of the folded paper, I ask him a question “Isn’t it interesting that you said you felt called to an apostolic ministry and that is YWAM?”

He answers, “I thought the same thing. Who knew? (God)

On the other side, I draw a hand with an X in the middle. The hand is God’s hand; the X represents both of us. And underneath the picture I write, “This is how I feel right now!”

We joined YWAM in California after seminary in Tennessee, accepting an invitation from the international director to attend a yearlong internship for young leaders. Much of what we learned during those early years remains a sturdy foundation for our marriage and work.

Some things are unchangeable in God’s economy. Often we don’t recognize how our circumstances mingle with the eternal until we look back with binocular vision. And see we’ve been known intimately every single step of the journey.

I wrote that note 24 years ago. We remain in God’s hands, fulfilling the call he placed on us from the beginning. It started with a yes we’ll never stop uttering.

Life is an adventure when you risk boldly, like opening a familiar box expecting to be surprised by the contents.

IMG_9487-2Today, I am giving away a copy of Emily Wierenga’s beautiful memoir Atlas Girl, a page turner full of exquisite detail and inspiration. With a heap of honesty, Emily shares about brokenness through an eating disorder, an insatiable hunger for love from her parents and redemption through the selfless love of her husband. As she travels from Canada to Africa, Asia to Australia, South America to Europe, she finds home in the clutch of a Savior in the last place she expected. It is a transparent story of risking boldly and hope that doesn’t disappoint.

For a chance to win Emily’s travel memoir, answer one or both of the following questions in the comments. Where is your favorite place to live or travel? How has God used your past to speak into the future?