A few weeks before our 16th birthday Dad came home with a video.
(I say our because in case you didn't know, I'm a triplet.)
My brother, sister, and I sat down with Dad and our uncle to watch the video.
The video told the story of a group of people who had traveled to Mexico to do humanitarian work.
The video documented the week this group spent working alongside a tribe of native Indians from Mexico.
Some of the group members were interviewed and asked this question:
"Who benefited the most from this experience? You or the villagers?"
Every single person answered the same way, "I benefited the most."
When the video was over Dad looked at us and said, "This is what you are getting for your birthday.
A trip to Mexico to do humanitarian work."
That week, spent on the side of an extinct volcano, working with those people, changed me.
It wasn't a temporary change. It was forever.
Dad and I went back the next year, to the same village, and spent another week plowing fields and teaching the people how to plant potatoes.
And then Dad spent the next 10 or so years, traveling with groups to Mexico...giving them the same experience I had had.
And when each of my siblings turned 16, Dad took them with him.
I lived my life: I graduated from high school, I went to college, I went to NYC as a missionary for my church, I went back to college, I studied Spanish...and all the while I had thoughts of Mexico in my mind.
I had such a desire to go back.
I had such a need to go back.
One night I was talking to Dad and I said, "Dad, we are going to Mexico after Christmas. And I need you to help me pay for it."
Amazingly, he agreed.
That trip inspired a change in the plan I had laid out for my life.
Instead of going to graduate school I moved to Mexico and spent three months living with a family and helping with humanitarian efforts.
I'm not going to lie.
It was a hard three months.
I was sick most of the time I was there, and speaking Spanish 24 hours a day gave me constant headaches.
But I wouldn't have changed that time in my life for anything.
For the next several years I went back to Mexico at least once a year.
Every time I went it was with the same humanitarian organization.
I took groups of people from the United States to different villages and in each village we did a different project.
After having gone to Mexico 9 or 10 times I had the opportunity to take groups to Guatemala twice.
The scenery was entirely different, and the people spoke a dialect I couldn't understand.
But the experience was the same: life-changing.
These experiences, the people I've met along the way, the opportunities I've had...
They've made me the person I am today.
It was in Mexico that I fell in love for the first time.
It was in Mexico that I fell in love for the second time.
It was in Mexico that I got my heart broken.
It was in Mexico that I broke someones heart.
It was in Mexico that I learned how tough I really was.
It was in Guatemala where I met the person who would hurt me the most in my life.
But it was that same person who prepared me for Jason.
It was in Guatemala where I made the most amazing friendships ever, and then lost those same friends in a horrible plane crash.
And it was in both countries that I learned to love...and to give my whole heart...to people I may never see again in this life.
It's been two years since my last trip out of the country.
It's been two years since things with the humanitarian organization changed, and my opportunities for service within that organization were no longer available.
I mourned the lost opportunity.
And I've missed my family ... the one in Mexico.
This morning I booked plane tickets for Jason and I to go to Mexico in February.
Plane tickets that will take me back to my home away from home.
We won't be going with the purpose of doing humanitarian work.
Not this time.
But if things work out, we will go to the villages where I've spent so much time, and Jason will be able to see the place that holds a part of my heart.
And for now, that's all I can ask for.