This is the fifth article in our new 7-week series called “Her Story,” stories of ordinary women experiencing, overcoming, or choosing to do extraordinary things. This week’s story is from Nancy Raatz, who is a Missionary to Russia alongside her husband, Andrew, and their family. Image is from Johann Larsson via Flickr.

Her eighteenth birthday party filled our apartment. She spent the evening mixing, smiling, and laughing with her school friends. On the surface, it appeared that she had grown up with these students. In reality, she was the new girl, having moved to this city or to St. Petersburg, Russia just six months earlier.

In answering God’s call to serve in missions, my husband and I couldn’t have anticipated the journey for our three daughters as we travel life together. For our oldest, Elissa, the journey often felt  painful, yet here she stood at 18 years old, full of joy despite years that were often difficult.

At age seven, our first overseas move to Moldova shocked her. Immersed in a language and culture she didn’t know, she withdrew. She cried at night missing grandparents and friends.

Our second Christmas in Moldova, Elissa joined in the Christmas play festivities at church, but the lines she memorized in Romanian proved too many and too long. When she struggled to recite the lines at rehearsal, the other children and teachers laughed at her. Children’s church became an unsafe place.

Elissa found friends amongst other missionary and expatriate families, but their stays in Moldova were never as long as ours. Friendships became a revolving door. As a tween, more days were spent alone than with friends. At the end of seventh grade, her last local friend left Moldova for a different posting. During the years that followed, when most girls were having sleepovers and fun times with BFFs, days were spent without one friend in country.

In ninth grade, she asked if she could paint a verse on her bedroom wall: “He will yet fill your mouth with laughter and your lips with shouts of joy” (Job 8:28). She found the verse at the bottom of a journal page. It spoke a promise to her. The laughter and joy didn’t exist in her life but the promise did.

Without friends her age, she poured herself into the women and children at Freedom Home, a home for survivors of trafficking. She loved them and made them her sisters. She planned parties for the children. She danced with them, held them, and loved them wholly.

She found friendship in summer interns. She watched them and learned from them.

God began to fill her life with his joy and peace. He began to show her that he is faithful, and that he created her uniquely.  As she began to understand God’s love for her, she began to love herself and so love others. This knowledge changed everything. She found peace amidst strangers and made friends easily. She found joy in who God created her to be.

The extraordinary is often found in the ordinary. I’ve learned extraordinary lessons about the way Jesus lived and loved from my daughter. I’ve learned about kindness to others. She accepts and loves and cares for those around her deeply, whether or not they seem to deserve kindness. I have learned about offering compassion to others who are lonely and needing a friend. She’s taught me to forgive easily and to remember that most people’s harsh actions toward us come out of their own pain. Yes, these are lessons I’ve learned from my daughter.

Elissa’s birthday party with her schoolmates in Russia celebrated “the new girl.” Her new friends already love her because she gives herself for them and loves them. It is clear that this is how she will live her life as an adult.

1 John 4:19 states, “We love because he first loved us.” We are able to love others because we understand that God loves us first.  We can then pour out his love to others completely.

How do you need God’s love to change your heart so that you can fully love others?

To read other articles in our “Her Story” series, click on these titles: Seeing God in Loss by Judy Miller, The Best Lemonade Maker by Tabby Finton, Full Circle by Carol Battista, The Art Show by Shari Harris, and Rock Bottom Recovery by Kathy Banta