Because of my dad’s military career, I grew up moving every 2-3 years. I was born in California, then moved to West Virginia, New York, Virginia, Illinois, then back to Virginia. All of this was before I turned 10 years old. I liked the constant movement and change of scenery. Every place was hard to leave but made me adaptable and able to make new friends easily. After my dad retired, I found myself itching to move somewhere after 3 years in Virginia; I was only 13 at the time. This “travel bug” has not gotten any better as I’ve gotten older. However, it’s been amazing to see how God has met me in the wandering and always been faithful.
During my senior year of High School, I was planning on attending Virginia Tech to major in business. It was where most of my friends and my boyfriend at the time were going to attend, and I liked the campus and location. I wasn’t totally convinced or felt like I belonged there, but it felt good to have a plan. In March of my senior year, my class took a trip to Europe. It lasted 3 weeks and was a total whirlwind – taking sleeper trains to different countries, spending 24 hours gallivanting through the Coliseum, eating pizza and gelato, then jetting to our next destination. The beginning of our trip was spent in Bratislava, Slovakia. While not typically known for tourism, we were in Bratislava volunteering at an orphanage and painting the inside of a local community center.
At the end of our trip, our contact there showed our group a video about a Discipleship Training School (DTS). DTS is a gap year program with the mission organization, Youth With A Mission. Something about the video grabbed my attention. I felt like I was supposed to put college on hold and do a DTS instead. The next day, traveling through Prague, I had made up my mind. I was going to put off college and do a DTS.
The Adventure Begins
When I got home from Europe, I researched programs with YWAM. I eventually decided on one in Colorado Springs, CO. After a semester at community college, I headed off to the mountains in the Spring. I had no idea how impactful the program would be or how much it would change my view of God. Through the 3 months of teaching and living in community, God became real to me. I could see what He was doing in my life and what He wanted to do in the world.
Over the second half of the program, we spent three months in Southeast Asia. It was eye opening to see how most of the world lives, trying to avoid land mines and eating rice for every meal. The street kids stole my heart and I cried the day we left the city.
We were debriefing on a beach, and I was praying for God to show me my next steps. Most of my group was going to pursue missions while staying in Colorado Springs. I knew it would be amazing to stay with my friends, but I didn’t feel that was where God was calling me. My initial plan was to head back to Virginia. I’d enroll at the local community college to take classes while readjusting to life back in the States. That didn’t feel right either. I just wasn’t done traveling yet.
2 Week Turnaround
A day after I prayed for God to show me what was next, I got an email from a staff member I met in Eastern Europe. The email was asking me to consider being on staff with them for their upcoming school. The school started in a month, and if I wanted to join, I needed to be there as soon as possible. As I read the email, I knew it was the next right move.
I came home for two weeks. While home, I touched base with my supporters, and God provided more than what I needed to fly to Europe and cover all my living expenses. It was nerve wracking! However, also incredible to see how He organized everything that I needed, including things I hadn’t even thought about.
Being on staff in Europe was one of the most challenging seasons I’ve ever experienced. As the season began, I felt like I had whip lash from bouncing from Asia to Colorado to Virginia to Eastern Europe, all over the course of a month. I was only 19, and I was in a leadership position guiding students almost twice my age. I also co-led a trip to Africa over the course of my 8 months there.
The 8 months came and went; my days were full and my faith and trust in God grew in ways I couldn’t have imagined. By the end of my time there, I was ready to be back in the states. It was time to ground myself and resume college.
A Rough Transition
What I didn’t expect was severe culture shock after returning home to Virginia. I missed my friends. I missed being surrounded by different languages, quaint European streets, daily markets and a community running after God. One day, I walked into Starbucks and felt nauseous after spending $5 on a Frappuccino. Everything was so clean and easy, and I started spiraling. I couldn’t go to church; it felt fake. The “missionary” label felt suffocating.
I started my community college classes and continued to flounder. After a year of running away from God, making mistakes, and feeling misunderstood, I got a scholarship offer from a small school in Manhattan, NYC. I visited and knew that’s where God wanted me next.
The Big Apple
I simultaneously loved and hated the City. My first year was tough. I was tired of moving around. I was also tired of making new friends and then saying, “Bye, see you never.” That year I focused all my time on my classes and spent very little time making friends. It was especially humbling being a freshman, as friends my age were starting their senior year. I was incredibly grateful for the life experience, but it was hard to connect with recent high school graduates.
After 2.5 years in the city, I was itching to be overseas again. The non-profit work I did left me thirsty to be abroad, being in the thick of hard yet meaningful work. I applied for an internship program with International Justice Mission, and to my surprise, was accepted. A month after I graduated college, I was on a plane back to Southeast Asia.
Dirt & Grime
It was another adjustment to living for a year in Southeast Asia. It was dirty, the work was painstaking and taxing, and I found myself stuck in another rut. I slowly started making meaningful relationships and stepping outside my comfort zone. I saw myself let my guard down so others could come in.
While I was visiting Cambodia to renew my visa, I reconnected with my college crush. We both happened to be in the same city, at the same time. We decided to go on a date. It was totally dreamy, and I felt like I was on the Bachelorette––temple tour, lightning storm, wandering the sleepy, muggy streets. I prayed that one day we would be in the same country permanently, at the same time. Maybe then we could officially date.
My internship was sprinkled with travel. Anytime a ticket went on sale, it was easy to recruit friends for another adventure. We traveled to Bangkok, Taipei, Kota Kinabalu, Ho Chi Min and more. My travel bug itch was satisfied (for the time) and it was incredible to see different parts of Southeast Asia.
And finally, time to breathe
After my internship ended, I moved to the Midwest. My soul needed a break. The constant movement over the last 10 years left me longing to be present and somewhere more long term. As much as I loved constantly planning my next adventure, I needed some breathing room––time to do nothing and come to grips with the condition of my soul.
It wasn’t pretty. I was impatient. It took months longer than I expected to find a job. When I finally found one, it was in an office. I was bored out of my mind. My identity had become my next adventure. Sitting at a desk answering insurance calls was close to the most boring thing I could think of, but it’s exactly where I needed to be.
During my travels, I’d often thought of this verse –
“Jesus replied, ‘Foxes and dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.’” (Luke 9:58) I felt I had nowhere that was “home.” I had moved around so much that being in the same place for more than a year felt unnatural.
A few months after moving to the Midwest, I started dating my college crush (finally) Marriage came quickly after. I started getting the itch to go somewhere together. We found ourselves trekking to the basecamp of Everest not long after.
The trip to Nepal was different than any trip I’d ever gone on. It wasn’t just because of the staggering beauty and intense hiking. It felt like I forced it into being. This time wasn’t natural like other times I traveled, and a lot of the expectations I had were not met. After we returned back home from this trip, I knew that God was telling me to cool my jets (literally) for awhile. The next trip we go on, it will be super clear that He is guiding us to it.
There have been times where I felt the nomad lifestyle suits me perfectly. Still other times I wished I was in one place for my whole life. I wouldn’t trade my experiences for anything, but it hasn’t always been easy.
I’ve had to learn to be content without an adventure on the horizon. I’ve lived in the Midwest 5.5 years now, and it’s been a steep learning curve of finding the joy and excitement in the mundane. Having a baby has intensified this learning.
It has been surprisingly painful to not base my identity in where I’ve been or where I’d like to go. The last 5 years in the Great Plains have taught me that my identity is not based on the stamps in my passport. The places I’ve been are a part of my story and have shaped who I am today, but the experiences themselves are not my identity.
I used to feel the need to push my stories on people. I could tell they weren’t interested. Even still, I just had to let them know that I was different and had been all these places. Instead of shoving stories down people’s throat, I try to be more interested in asking questions and genuinely getting to know them.
Grateful for each season
The world is a great, big place. It is beautiful and diverse. I am confident that our adventures as a family aren’t over. However, I’m thankful for the lessons I’ve learned about embracing the seasons that I’m in. This baby season may be a little slower and less flexible, but giggling with my 1 year old is a whole different type of adventure. I’m thankful for the past, excited for the future, and fighting to live in the present.
Becca Van Cleave is a writer with the case of the travel bug. She has lived in Europe and Southeast Asia, and is moving to Arizona with her husband and 1 year old daughter in a few weeks. She is a stay at home mom who dabbles in recipe-making and watercolor painting, while trying to curate a minimalist, peaceful home.
You can find her blog at http://minimalistmama.online/ and on Instagram as @_minimalist_mama_.