I have been blessed to travel to Jamaica on two mission trips, in the summer of 2015 and the summer of 2016.

I had been on mission trips before, and I have also served in the military. So for me, I knew that what I could see might hurt, or that sometimes my heart could be overwhelmed with happiness. However, I never prepared myself for what God had planned for my heart to learn about myself through others.

I worked with the medical team on the 2015 mission trip taking notes for the doctors and meeting amazing women, men, and children that had traveled from near and far to see the medical team. Some were very sick and one man had never seen a doctor in his 73 years of life. It changes your thoughts, it changes your soul, to just listen to people.

The visit to the infirmary was difficult for me because I met some of the most amazing souls God had created, but my heart knew they needed so much to be reminded of his love for them everyday. That they needed to be hugged, sang to, have their nails painted, sat with, read to, and loved everyday. Each hug and kiss I received there was felt in my soul and the memories are beautiful.

I met a farmer in 2015 with six children. He was a mirror of myself. I have six children and sometimes as a mom you can get a little lost in the day to day things. He said everything I was thinking and so much more. He wanted what was best for his children and he was going to work his hardest to provide it for them. He trusted God to lead him and to grow his crops. He was truly allowing God to write his story. Praying with him is one of the best memories I have of my 2015 trip.

In 2016 I went to Jamaica and walked and talked with Jamaicans on the streets, in their houses, and in their cars listening to their life stories. We went to a school where I was given the opportunity by God to talk with other mothers. The amazing thing about motherhood is you can come from completely different backgrounds and countries, yet still completely understand what the other mothers’ experiences are like, because you have had the same ones. I took every chance I was given to hold a baby, to sing to the baby, and to pray with the baby that I was holding.

Jamaica will make your heart beat differently. I know that my heart will never beat the same as it did before I ever stepped foot off that plane.  Sitting with a young woman that had the same seizures as my oldest son and knowing that these seizures can be corrected with the use of medication……medication that young women will never receive. Her seizures were caused by a beating she received at the hands of her father, but she embraced her condition with grace and understanding. We were two women in the same church, two children of God and without words we could look into each other’s eyes as if we were looking into a mirror.

When I left her that day, my heart was so broken and yet so full of her joyful, graceful spirit. You see God knows how broken I am and loves me. This young lady knew my brokenness without me telling her a single story of my life, and she loves me for every bruise, scar, emotional, and broken part of me.

Jamaica is a big part of my story that God is writing and I pray that he will allow more chapters with every visit to a place so far away, but still feels just like home.

Director’s note: Shawna is wife to Matt, and mother to Ethan, Matti, Soren, Quinn, Gracie, and Sawyer. She attends Pardue Church in Clarksville, TN.