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Photo by Martin Garrido

By Tina Teng-Henson

For years, my wise younger sister would hear my husband and I plan our trips back East to see beloved family and friends, raise her eyebrows at the ambitious itineraries we’d set, and listen empathetically when a few weeks later, we’d be back to the relational rigor of our lives, no more refreshed than before. Over time, she would ever so gently extol the benefits and attributes of what she would call “a real vacation,” which involved a getaway to some new place, with fresh tastes and unique experiences to be enjoyed, interspersed with downtime and rest — to actually return home refreshed and restored.

So when it came time to plan her next vacation, she decided to invite us to come along — all four of us. Her plan: Maui, Hawaii — mid-November of 2017 — a weeklong vacation — to celebrate my husband’s 35th birthday — and to do one last big trip with our two kids before number three came along in the spring.  It was a good plan, so off we went!!  And Hawaii was just as we’d always heard people describe: wonderful weather, splendid sunsets, tall palm trees beside blue skies, and crystal clear waters.  Even though I was 5 months pregnant, I had an adventuresome spirit and wanted to explore what I could — and this included the world under water.

I was strangely excited by the possibility of learning how to snorkel while there. Snorkelling was something I’d never aspired to, and something I’d had very little exposure to. Telescoping out a bit, I need to explain that I had quite suddenly stopped working in full-time Christian ministry just a few months prior, and it had been a tender season of reflecting on all the factors that had led to that particular decision. For the past 12 years, I had served in a variety of capacities (parachurch/collegiate ministry, church plants, established churches, chaplaincy) and had spent 9 of those years studying for a Master of Divinity degree. To be perfectly honest, the biggest part of my identity was deeply wrapped up in what I was doing for and with God and his people.

But snorkeling? That was completely and refreshingly orthogonal to all of that — and since it was novel, new, and would require some fun physical exertion — I was totally game.

I tried on the gear for the first time, fitting the mask over my eyes and nose, and inserting the mouthpiece so I could breathe through the tube. It felt awkward and uncomfortable, but I mentally coached myself to relax as much as possible and trust that the system would work. With each attempt, my ability to take in oxygen through my mouth with deep, steady breaths improved — and I began to really enjoy what my eyes were taking in.  There were striped fish and little fish, schools of fish, and mounds of coral. Clouds of sediment would swirl about, and tiny bubbles went everywhere. At some point, a gentle sea turtle paddled past me just two arms-lengths’ away, and I couldn’t believe it wasn’t scared to have me be so close to it in the water.

Breathing underwater became prayer, as I marvelled at God’s creative design of the ocean world.  It struck me that I had never ever been interested in underwater exploration, or marine biology, or oceanography — and as I paddled my flippers back and forth and breathed deeply, in and out, a question floated up within me. “Lord, what do YOU think I should do with my life?” And I felt an immediate response: “I really don’t care what you do, I care much more about the person you’re becoming.”

That has stuck with me in this extended season of gentle ongoing vocational discernment perpetually going on in the background. In the foreground is a sometimes raucous stay-at-home mom-life with a wonderful husband, two preschoolers and a third baby due in about five weeks. Day in and day out, I’m making the best meal I can out of the food in the fridge, fighting the forces of domestic entropy (as Bronwyn Lea once said so well), and seeking to be a faithful friend to the special people God’s already put in my life.

I honestly never thought following Jesus would bring me to a season of life quite like this one, even though I hoped and prayed for years for marriage and children and all that jazz. We’ll see how long he has for me to be in this space, as I feel as though I’ve just entered into it. But I’m grateful for the freedom I felt when I heard the Lord’s words to me — and I’ve really enjoyed the permission to think about all sorts of different ways of being…because what matters to him in the end isn’t where I work or what I’m called there, but who He is making me out to be through it all.

Tina Teng-Henson has been blessed to learn + grow alongside so many different people, in so many places: Long Island, NY — Harvard College + the South End of Boston — Nairobi, Kenya and Lanzhou, China. Tina, her husband, and their two children live in northern California. 

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