My writing journey began oddly enough. I never aspired to be a writer, nor particularly enjoyed the task. I did it when I had to. Never did I journal or hope to be on the school newspaper. English was not my major in college (rather, Psychology) and only once did I get stuck in a graduate assistantship in the English Department— not by choice.
After 10 years in church work, my husband and I felt a very strong calling to serve in Mexico as missionaries. We packed up our five children, our dog, our travel trailer, and everything we could fit inside and on top, and drove the 4,000 miles from New Jersey to La Paz, Mexico.
There we developed a ranch (Rancho el Camino) that reaches kids in impoverished villages. We served nine years there and many, many stories were birthed. But those early days were painfully difficult. We lived off the grid (no electricity), in the middle of the desert, in a cement structure that had been abandoned for 50 years (Lots of things move into an abandoned house). We lived with a pump for our water and a generator for our lights. We had scorpions and rattlesnakes, cowbells and coyotes. We also had gorgeous sunsets and the brightest canopy of stars at night. Those were the beginning days. Those, as someone once said, were the glory days.
We used horses to share God’s love with the village kids. Amazing how walls are torn down with unconditional love. You would think we would learn better from our animal friends. But those are stories for another day. My writing journey began with a pitchfork in hand and the smell of sweet hay and dust swirling at my feet. The story just came. Unexpectedly.
During our first few months in La Paz, my daughter and I had been riding near the Mexican Charro (rodeo) within the city limits (pre-ranch days). To make things more interesting, we chose a labyrinth of footpaths barely wide enough for us, let alone our horses and journeyed in a tangle through fields of wild desert brush until we had become delightfully lost.
In the middle of the bramble, my eye caught sight of a backpack. Just a backpack without an owner. Not discarded… but dropped or left, maybe. The pack was fairly new and seemingly stuffed with important items… books for school, I imagined. Even on horseback, we couldn’t see over the bushes to look for the pack’s owner. So we continued, hoping whoever had forgotten it would find their way back to it.
A few twists and turns following, our path was suddenly blocked by a very large Mexican man. My horse startled. I waved a pensive hello. The man did not move. Nor did he smile back. His scowl said, “Leave… leave now.”
My daughter and I turned our horses around and rode back faster than we had ridden out. My thoughts gripped my heart. What if there was a child? What if something bad had been happening? What if I had been the only hope of stopping whatever it was?
When we reached the road. I noticed a policeman standing by his car. I should tell him, I thought. But what are the words? How do I even say backpack in Spanish? (Mochila, I know now). But then? How would I make any sense that would be understood in my broken Spanish? What if I was making the whole thing up in my mind?
So, I did nothing.
But the scene never left me.
And one day, in the corral, I had a story. Not a story about the Mexican man and the backpack, but one of my own. One that allowed the fear and confusion to have a voice, and the story to end in victory. One that redeemed the oppressed and freed the exploited. Fiction, but oh so real. Because in each of us, there is a freedom waiting. A victory to hold onto. A redemption to unfold.
The story is in all of us. Every day that you wake… every day you have breath in your lungs, you have a choice. To believe in the brokenness that tries to define you. The labels. The titles. The inadequacies. Or to believe in the victory. The truth that is real. The identity that is beyond you. Not determined by who you think you are, but by who you truly are. A child of the King.