I was born and raised in Little Rock, Arkansas, where I attended a small private school from preschool to my junior year of high school. I grew up in the most beautiful home in a wooded area, where all of my friends would come over. Between soccer practice and karate, to school events and more, my two younger brothers and I kept my parents busy. I loved my community: I had amazing, bright, hilarious friends who I rarely went a day without going to Sonic with, sleeping over, or making Vines together. We were talking about colleges, our future weddings, and growing old together.
In April of my sophomore year, my heart sank as my dad began making pros and cons of moving to Gainesville, Florida the next summer. I’ve always admired my dad more than anyone - hard working, true to himself, genuine, faithful, and the first to suggest an ice cream run. He saves lives for a living - which is pretty cool. He was asked to begin the Pediatric Anesthesia Department at the University of Florida. I mean, how could anyone turn that down? Except that it meant leaving our home of 20+ years, our community, his current job, and more. It didn’t make sense to me. How could I not graduate high school with the people I had known since I was 4? How could I leave behind everything I knew that was comfortable, my friends that had been with me through everything, my grandparents, and everything I loved?
While my friends were sad, they supported me, promised we’d keep in touch, and made a joke of how I would become a “surfer girl” when I moved to Florida and date a tan, blonde guy (lol). I’d make lots of friends with amazing people, go to the beach after school, and live the dream in Florida. As the new school year began in August, I quickly realized that was not going to be the case. Making friends is hard. The people in this new school had known each other since birth - and they weren’t interested in adding to their group.
Junior year was my lowest low - I felt isolated, uninvited, and rejected. I was 1,000 miles away from my friends, and there was nothing I could do about it. My parents found a new church, and one Sunday in January, a guy named Paul got up to talk about the upcoming Spring Break Medical Mission trip to Matagalpa, Nicaragua. I looked at my dad instantly and told him I wanted to go.
I signed up, attended a few meetings beforehand, and showed up at 3:30 am in the church parking lot the morning of the trip not knowing a soul I was about to spend the week with.
A Home Can Be More Than a House
my journey to Nicaragua
When we arrived to set up the first clinic, the line was hundreds of people long, wrapping around the building and roads. Everyone dressed in their finest clothing, wide-eyed with big smiles. Our jobs consisted of rotating through triage, optometry, dental, and blood test stations. We were able to provide glasses, fluoride treatments, vitamins, and other medicines. I was beginning to pursue photography, so Paul let me sneak off to take pictures and get to know the families. The mornings were early, the days were long, but quickly I began to feel a sense of belonging I hadn’t felt since before the move. A group of several Nicaraguan children quickly became attached at our hips, following us around the clinic each day with constant laughter and hugs. The way these kids interacted with us was nothing short of intentional love and acceptance.
The other families took me in and called me their own. Every evening, we’d go up to the basketball court on the hotel rooftop and watch the sunset while we played basketball with coconuts we had picked off a nearby tree.
I have never been in a place with that magnitude of authenticity and beauty in my life. The people, the mountains, the sunrises and sunsets, everything. Julia, Anna, and I became close to a little girl named Linda, who radiated sunshine and unconditional love. Dallas befriended a boy by the name of Juan David. The two had a very special bond, and when we returned the following year, Juan David’s mother was first in line with a bag of beans in her arms waiting to gift to Dallas.
In America, we so often go through our days staying to ourselves, our normal routines, and our same group of close friends, not even knowing who lives on the other side of the wall of our apartment complex. In Nicaragua, the homes are spread out across hillsides with an open-door policy. Anyone can tell you the name of the family on the other side of the valley and makes themselves available to help each other at an instant when an illness comes up or help is needed.
Nica gave me a part of myself that Arkansas could never give me. It taught me that people and places aren’t black and white - our lives are fluid, and home can be more than a house. It can be a set of arms waiting to embrace you, a sunset viewed from a basketball court, a widespread smile, or your dad waiting on the porch with a cup of coffee. The way you love people matters - it takes showing up, being there through the ugly, and loving them all the same. Just because I moved didn’t mean I was going to miss out on the important life events of my friends forever. Praise God for facetime. Our bond is now made even more special that I get to share these experiences with my new friends. People move, grow, and change, but unconditional love always provides a home to return to no matter how far one travels. While it seems silly, I had always considered my heart to “belong” in Arkansas. Nicaragua now holds the safest place for my heart to rest, whether I’m across the ocean or not.
My dad and I were able to go on the trip together my senior year of high school, and our relationship has been infinitely stronger because of it. He still goes every year, and I’m lucky enough to go again this spring.
Nica will forever have the biggest piece of my heart that words will never quite do it justice. Be present with those around you, be encouraged to reach outside of your comfort zone, and don’t be afraid to love big - you never know how it could change your life.