How Several Months of Travel Has Changed Me…and I Haven’t Even Left Yet

Photo: MO 2015

Susan B. Anthony once said about the bicycle, “I think it has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world. It gives women a feeling of freedom and self-reliance.” I wonder what she’d say about my new 46 liter backpack. Because I have never felt so free, about to travel the world for months living out of this tool.

Let’s start by recognizing that travel is a form of privilege, though you don’t need as many resources to do so as some purport. 

I am in a situation in which I have a particular privilege: I end a one year fellowship with a final retreat in Rwanda which includes a stipend to get home, whenever I decide that will be. A natural employment break, no quitting of job necessary, and landing on a different continent with a way to get home. I am humbled for this opportunity and all that’s led up to this. I hope to be a good steward of the resources I’ve been given.
I always knew I’d travel when this fellowship ended, but only recently did “a couple months” turn into a potentially five month plan. If all goes to plan-which I can tell you it already that it won’t be smooth like it is on paper now- I will be doing everything from assisting sport for development organizations, writing in monasteries, summiting a volcano, walking on an ancient path from France into Spain, and set foot on five continents. But even if none of that happens, I have already learned so much.

Because I am doing things I never thought I’d do because of fear or anxiety.

I’m trusting I will find a job when I return.

I’m learning to spend money I’ve saved and not feel guilty about it.

I am visiting embassies. And not because my passport was stolen.

I feel more independent than ever before and that we can truly get anywhere we want with a little research.

My geography has expanded ten fold. I can now tell you where all the major cities in France, Turkey, Nigeria, India, and Italy are located on the map.

I am learning how to be present and take things one leg of the journey, country, month, day, moment at a time. Because it’s only when I think about the entire five months that things start to feel overwhelming.

I am learning French. The metric system. The Schengen Ageement. Currency exchange rates. The history of pilgrimage. What day is cheapest to fly (when in doubt, it’s Tuesday).

Photo: MO 2015

Photo: MO 2015

I am learning what I need to do to calm down on those 1 AM restless nights, in which it is one as I type this (solution: Bon Iver, a light snack, lighting a candle, journaling and sitting Indian style with my eyes closed and palms open).

 I am learning just how massive of a behemoth colonialism was…or still is.
I  am learning that travel is not as expensive as I thought and having a spiritual awakening through SkyScanner.com.
I am learning how strong my non-anxious muscles are.

I am learning that if shit hits the fan and I need to come home earlier, that’s ok and I haven’t failed anyone- not even myself.

I am learning that wrestling with change’s shadows at 2 AM will be a part of my evolution, and though we will step on each others’ toes, we will dance.

I am learning that 99.9 percent of the world will treat you with an immense kindness and goodness, like when I had my first Skype call with a sport for development organization in Togo, where I’ll be headed in August. He spoke to me with the bit of English he knew. I spoke to him in fractured Frenglish, and he helped me with my accent. We used the instant message feature a lot and he wrote, “Do not be afraid. My family and my children will be yours and we will teach you French.” Tears welled in my eyes.

Because I was afraid. Looking at my flight options, I had two choices. Overnight layovers in countries where I was nervous for my safety. Or take a 2:30 AM flight.

2:30 in the morning? 2:30 in the morning!!! My anxious bells whistled. How will I sleep? It’s not safe to be out at that hour! How am I even getting to the airport!? The cacophony in my head snowballed. What if the pilot falls asleep while flying? What if we crash? 

You’re in an airport, a voice of reason chimed in. Where other people are there for the same exact reason you are. Plus, when’s the last time a plane crashed because the pilot was tired?

Nerves eased slightly.

The next day, I had another restless night and finally got out of bed to journal. I never look at the clock when this happens but I grabbed my cell phone to serve as light, and noticed it was 2:15 A.M. A quiet laugh came over me, then an unfettered loud one. You are alone. In the dark. In a city you know. With every comfort you’d ever need. Yet you’re wide awake. And you’re worried about how you will sleep on some flight? It was comical to me. That forsaken scary hour did not appear the least bit scary anymore. I booked my ticket as soon when I woke up seven hours later.

In addition to all I’ve learned and the kindness bestowed to me, I am hearing stories of people’s dreams, fears, and personal travels. Because when people learn of my upcoming plans, they often then divulge one of those three scenarios. How humanizing it is to share fears. How mobilizing it is to learn from others. How exciting it is to share dreams until the we’re lying on our backs staring up at the stars saying, “God, I can’t believe we get to live this life.”

As I go through waves of anxiety and excitement, my soul tries to speak beyond all the emotions. I feel my soul extending palms open, longing to stop spinning in the midst of my fears over the changes ahead. To accept uncertainty and even befriend it. There’s this inner space that speaks more gently than before, whispering a cathartic, “Just be.” And on days in which I feel as though I cannot muster up enough energy to get out one more word, a simple, “Just.”

The calendar of time left before I leave is thinning. And so are my cabinet shelves as I slowly begin to move out.This global house I’ve lived in with roommates from India and Canada is coming to a close. We’re throwing dance parties and cocking our heads on each others’ shoulders when we need to lament the passage of time. But inside, something is both stirring and simmering, heart hearkened to dismantling personal barriers. If these plans should suddenly foil, I will already have learned so much.

dream big

Photo: bit.ly/1JcMsEG

“Leave. Roll the word around on your tongue for a bit. It is a beautiful word, isn’t it? So strong and forceful, the way you have always wanted to be. And you will not be alone. You have never been alone. Don’t worry. Everything will still be here when you get back. It is you who will have changed.” –Donald Miller, Through Painted Deserts

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Restless like a Thousand Tall Trees: 4 AM Thoughts on God, Change, and Dancing

Copyright MO 2012

Copyright MO 2012

I rub my eyes, grainy specs of rheum collected around my eyelids from the five hours of sleep I’ve gotten thus far. I’m not sure what it was that woke me up, other than the fact that I’ve been restless these past few days with jobs interviews that might potentially require a move. I lay in bed, then flip over on my side. But after 10 minutes of this, restless builds so strongly that I decide to feel my way down the dark stairs to get a glass of water. I head back upstairs and lay on the floor in my dark room, reminded of a couple songs that always brought me comfort in moments of uncertainty like this.

Even when I more or less walked away from Christian music a couple years ago, there were always a few songs I couldn’t shake. Audrey Assad’s “Lament” and “Restless,” being two of those. In the latter piece, she sings, “I am restless, until I rest in You, until I rest in You.” And tonight, I’ve woken up at 4 AM completely restless, having made a couple difficult decisions already this year, and soon to face a couple more, perhaps even a move from a city I have grown to love with a nothing-can-stop-me-from-loving-you,-Do-You-Hear-Me? kind of love, as I picture the faces of kind, fully alive people I’ve met over these past few years here. A smile and small laugh appear on my face, thinking about the places these folks have taken me. Dance parties. Biking down the city streets at night cheering at the top of our lungs so free. We climbed trees together. Played ukuleles in each other’s backyards. We square danced, rolled down hills, and laid under stars together. I love them all and every moment spent together.

But as I sit here in the 4 AM darkness of my room, I realize that I don’t know how people facing even bigger life changes than me do it. People who are a few months out from marriage or children. People who are moving to cities much further than my potential move. In all of this, I realize how averse and resistant I am to change. How I am not a willing dance partner to change’s dance. So I try to dance without change, only I keep scuffing my toes in the dark. My steps are heavy and clumsy.  Yet from across the room, I see change dancing freely and untrammeled in the open space, creating beauty, something more compelling than my solo dance in the dark corner.Come dance,” Change offers. I reach my hand out into the dark and wonder if I will ever be fully ready to accept this dance offer.

So hand reaching out, but not fully clasping Change’s hand, I think back to those songs I was talking about earlier, feeling exactly like the singer’s lyrics. I love when artists speak those experiences into melodies that flood your soul with a visceral hurt so good until you are singing right along too.

I continue to sit here on the floor in my dark bedroom. All is quiet outside, while inside, my soul “Rustles like a thousand tall trees. Why is it easy to work but hard to rest sometimes?” Audrey Assad’s words come easy to my soul tonight. “Still my heart, hold me close. I am restless until I rest in you,” her voice continues.
It’s been a while since I felt like I have truly rested in god while all of life crashes around me, thrashing waves thundering in the dark seas of change or hardship. It’s been a while since I’ve known life without anxiety, since 2006, in fact. And that’s ok; I’m not expecting nor demanding for anxiety to go away from my life completely. But I do wish to develop my wellspring reserves of confidence and unshakeability to believe that I can handle each of life’s changes as they come. Because bigger life changes are sure to come, especially when you’re someone who thinks you’d like to be married one day and adopt two kiddos. But when I sit here on my floor barely able to make peace with the changes in my life already, I think to myself, “thank God I’m not there yet.” 

IMG_1613But maybe God can show me how. How to rest in the one who made us. Show me what that looks like, because I have long forgotten, and I am weary. Show me what peace in the midst of uncertainty looks like, because I know there is a better way than my own self devices. There is a simple beauty to be found here, if I choose to try and walk its unnatural lines. And doing all of this, though not comfortable for me, would make my life easier too, I imagine. I mean, what’s easier, to trust in my own fears and dwell in uncertainty? Or take a chance on “all things working together for good,” like they told me in pews and sanctuaries so many years ago.

I take a deep breath, ready to hop back in bed and try again. I don’t have any new answers to my questions about the direction I’m going. But I do have a presence I’ve asked to teach me along the way, to show me what this rest looks like.

I can only ask myself to courageously try and follow this presence, this voice, the same voice that promises to lead us by still waters and open pastures.
I can only ask myself to embrace the question mark, the semi-colon, the dot-dot-dot ellipses…
I can only ask myself to be brave enough to accept change’s invitation to dance in each life stage.

Because there will be many, many more changes to come. Maybe I’ll marry one day. Maybe I’ll co-parent one day. I will say goodbye to strangers that came into my life for an ephemeral, teachable moment, recollecting their faces in daydreams or while idling in traffic one rainy afternoon. People I love immensely will die, and it will be a change that I will never, ever, feel fully prepared for. Because some changes you simply cannot ease your body into like a cold swimming pool.

But tonight, I can choose to reach my hand out to God and to change and choose to take a little solace in the journey that I’m so resistant towards. Maybe tonight, I will go to back to opening my eyes on the roller coaster, instead of keeping them shut. I will trade clasped hands on the lap bar, for hands held high above my head in the free, open air. 

But for now I’m going back to bed.

I hope to see you in the morning, feeling less philosophical and more fun, ready to dance like mad in the spring sunshine.

shadow dance