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Life Lessons From Kwaj

As we have been traveling, I’ve spent time reflecting over the past 5 years I spent on a tiny island in the Pacific. So many wonderful memories mixed with frustration, excitement, adventure, and a whole host of other emotions. As I have been processing, I’ve identified several life lessons that I don’t want to lose sight of. So here they are. There are so many more, but these rose to the top for me.

Roi Gabby M

You are not going to like or get along with everyone. In bigger cities it’s easy if you don’t like someone. You avoid them. And it’s not hard to do. On Kwaj, you bike everywhere and stare each other straight in the eye almost on a daily basis passing on the bike, in the grocery store, they are on you soccer team…They don’t go away. I think this is the way God intended it to be. We NEED to learn to overcome our dislikes to find commonalities and mutual respect for each other. Even if we don’t agree. I’m convinced that sometimes we need to be forced to learn forgiveness and grace because in our society today avoidance and passive aggressive behavior reign. So get away from passive aggressive behavior and suck-it-up to have a real conversation that will ACTUALLY help you overcome your obstacle.

Kwaj Emon Friends

People are loving. People are jerks. The same people who love you to your face will probably have negative things to say about you to their friends at some point. Kwaj is a heightened microcosm of this. Especially when I worked with almost every family on island for work and leisure, it is inevitable that someone isn’t going to like the way I do something. And inevitably they will voice that opinion to someone. And after enough people have voiced their thoughts through the grapevine, it will be passed along to you. Because this is a reality….toughen up! The thing is, I love the Lord and I try my darndest to be prayerful in everything I do. I try to be purposeful in everything I do. AND. I make mistakes. But because I love the Lord, I’m focused on living my life for an audience of ONE, Jesus. Don’t get me wrong, when you hear the gossip it doesn’t feel good. And it’s hurtful, but the life lesson here is to thicken your skin and don’t be afraid to confront someone that may not see something the way you do. Confrontation can be scary, but usually it is the MOST productive way to open communication and learn or understand a new perspective. And be kind even with others are unkind to you.

Try new EVERYTHING. One of the greatest lessons I learned from Kwaj is to try new things. After high school and college it’s easy to get set in our ways and not branch out or think “that’s what I did when I was younger.” I must say that I never thought I would dance again after college. I just didn’t think it was in the cards nor would I have the opportunity to teach. What was I thinking?! I love dance! And I had forgotten how much joy it brings me, which is why I danced in the first place. In addition to dance, I had so many opportunities to learn a new skill, like SCUBA, or completing a mini triathlon, or hula, or cooking Thai food…the list could go on an on. Kwaj reminded me to expand my mind and never stop learning. Get over your self-perception or your fears and put yourself out there!

Be present in your community and invest in others. You’ve probably heard the phase 10% of people do 90% of the work. It is similar on Kwaj and in a small town you know who is willing to put in the time for the community. You also know who hermits themselves and doesn’t invest in their community. As I said earlier, I got to know pretty much every child and student on Kwaj. But sadly, there were still a ton of parents I never met or that I never had a conversation with. If your child or student is spending a lot of time with a dance teacher or a youth mentor or any adult investing in your child’s life….YOU SHOULD KNOW THEM! Yes, I just yelled that. Be present in your child’s life, in your community, and find a way to give back. Here’s the take away: selflessly pour yourself into others.


Grow where you’re planted.

All that to say, there were significant amounts of uncertainty the first 2 years on Kwaj. And really, it should never have worked out the way it did. After we left Kwaj in February, we were invited to do a Skype call with a church in Florida from a pastor who had been watching our blog. One of the questions was, “how do you have so much trust in God?” I did a really crappy job of answering this question and I am still contemplating where my trust comes from. But here’s what I do know: God is consistent. And every time I have allowed God to work in my life without trying to control it, God has provided a better way. One pattern I observed was that some people would arrive on Kwaj and straight up hate the island, while others would love it. I learned that many of the people who hated Kwaj began to associate a place with their happiness. If they could just move off island, then they would be happy again. I just don’t think you can associate happiness with a place because happiness is a fleeting emotion. I wonder what would happen if those people had arrived knowing that God had placed them right where he wants them. Would that have changed anything in their life? If a place is going to bring you happiness, you’ll be moving a lot in life. A side thought, God isn’t in the happiness business; he’s in the joy business. You were placed on Kwaj for a purpose….grow where you’ve been planted.

Marriage, lust, temptation, divorce. I am hesitant to write this section as I know many people effected by this, but I feel led to share what I’ve observed and learned. Here’s the deal, cheating and divorce happens all over the world, but many times you don’t see it play out first hand. On Kwaj, you know the gossip and details of peoples lives…and it is painful. The number of Kwaj couples I’ve known in 5 years who have cheated and divorced is staggering. On Kwaj, it’s really easy to get to know people. You see them everywhere, you have meals with them, you play sports with them, you go to the bars with them. It becomes easy to begin to like someone or lust someone and then for that to lead to actions. Because of what I’ve witnessed, I have created the following guidelines for myself as I navigate my own marriage.

  • Boundaries: It’s okay to have friends who are the opposite sex, but spending significant time with that person, without my spouse, is not appropriate. I have set boundaries for myself and friends of the opposite sex to protect not only my marriage, but also to protect my friendships.

  • Friends: The number of times I’ve watched my friends stand on the sidelines and allow their friend to cheat is sickening. I’ve heard the phrase, “it’s their life” a lot. That is ridiculous. When I stood up in front of 400 of my closest friends and made a covenant with God and Jason, they were there. They witnessed what I signed on for. And it is absolutely appropriate for them to hold me accountable. The word “accountability” has fallen on hard times in our society. People are afraid to hold each other accountable and we don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. And as I mentioned earlier, we will find ways to avoid difficult conversations. The lesson here is to be thoughtful in the company you keep. I want friends who will hold me accountable to my commitments.

  • Fight for your marriage: You are not always going to “feel” in love. Again, feelings come and go. For those days that I’m just not “feelin’ it”, I have to do something for Jason to show my care for him. And over time those feelings return. If you think you’re always going to have butterflies, that is not realistic (and to be quite honest, you’d just end up nauseous). If you think of your marriage like a muscle, you need to exercise it to make it stronger. It takes time and effort. Marriage is a beautiful, messy adventure. Enjoy the ride and find the beauty in the difficult parts.

Roi Sunset

*Please know that I understand everyone has a different situation and I am not passing judgement on anyone. I’m simply stating what I desire for my life, my friends, and my marriage.

More options = more opportunities for bad choices. On Kwaj you have limited stores and food options. This is a really good thing for me. The more restaurants I have to choose from, the more I will eat out and the more bad food choices I tend to make. Because of limited options, I have learned to love cooking and trying new recipes. It has become an enjoyable pastime. Although many people will complain when the stores run out of what they want, I found it to be a fun challenge to be creative with what I have. Also, with fewer stores, I couldn’t fall victim to instant gratification. You have to wait at least 2 weeks for mail, which is a good thing! You learn to plan months in advance for a party or event. It really keeps you on your toes and constantly thinking. I LOVED it!

Stretch yourself. So I would be remiss if I didn’t share about what I learned from my job on Kwaj as it was my purpose in living there. I worked in Child & Youth Services for almost 5 years and the last 2 years I oversaw the department. Now when people think of kids, they think sunshine, flowers and rainbows. It’s an EASY job. Not so. Here is the down low. CYS is the most over-regulated, over-inspected department. Not only was I to be an expert in all ages of childcare, but also in security background checks, medical everything, food and health, accreditation, fire and safety, HR processes, and don’t forget to write down every conversation you have in case of a lawsuit, and read your 200 daily emails on all the changes you have to make, oh and find some times to take care of all the kids. I could go on and on about the insanity of CYS, but the thing is….I LOVED it. 


Find the silver lining. Life on Kwaj can be quite difficult, despite what pretty pictures might show on Facebook. There is a lot of drama and political crap that can be really overwhelming. But here’s the deal. There is drama and difficult junk everywhere. Always look for the good around you. One of my biggest regrets was not saying thank you enough. There are so many wonderful and good people on Kwaj and they need to be told thank you. I wish I would have done that more. Kwaj is full of good and beautiful people and things, so don’t forget to be thankful for this little slice of paradise.


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