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Editor’s Note: Missioner Catherine Sullivan shares how she’s had to shift her concepts of family life during her transition from her home in the United States to her new home in Cochabamba, Bolivia.

I have always been very close with my family. They were my first prayers upon waking, my last prayers before sleeping, and a recurring prayer throughout the  day. If ever I travelled, or was not with them, they still occupied a major portion of my mind.

When I decided to spend at least two years of my life as an overseas missioner  with Franciscan Mission Service, I knew that my previous concept of family life had to change a bit. I had to make room in my heart, in my mind, for whatever new family God had decided to make me a part of in Bolivia. I knew I had to learn to love my family differently, and find a way to let them go.

At first, I imagined this would be a difficult and painful process, one where I would have  to train my mind to think less about those people whom I love so deeply. However, as with most things, God has granted me so much grace in this process and it has been a time of growth and a time of great love.

I have been living with a host family here in Bolivia since my arrival a little over a month ago. They have officially taken up residence in my heart and my mind. I have cooked, cleaned, eaten meals, watched movies, played games, joked, and chatted aimlessly with them. I have also listened to the stories of their lives.

My host mother’s mother passed away just last year, after four years of struggling with a crippling illness. One day, while we were making brownies in the kitchen, she began to talk about her mother. My mind and  my heart were completely with my host mother in that kitchen listening to her stories. I was not thinking about my sister’s upcoming wedding, my new niece’s milestones, or my father’s success at work. God had granted me that.

Catherine and her host mom

Catherine and her host mother

In letting go of my family at home, I was able to get to know my host grandmother through her daughter’s stories. I heard about how she raised her seven  children in a one-bedroom house in the Campo, how she built her own wooden stove and used it to bake fresh bread every morning before the kids woke up, and how adventurous she was. Even at 75, she was riding on the back of her son’s motorcycle to visit all of the major cities in Bolivia. And at the end of that conversation, when my host mother had tears in her eyes, I told her that I was so looking forward to meeting my grandmother one day, and we both knew how true those words were.

My family back home in the US has not completely left my heart, my mind, or my prayers. This process of “letting go” has only allowed me to expand my heart in order to allow new families, new friends, and new communities to fill it.

Reflection Question: Relationships are an essential part of being human, but it is important to have a balance with the various people in our lives. How can you maintain old relationships but still make room for new ones?