A couple months ago, I was in another country and all the roads in the town were dirt roads and it was rainy season, so as I stepped out of the truck into squelchy red clay, I warned a fellow passenger, “Step lightly.” He chuckled that this situation is ridiculous chuckle and asked me, “Is that your motto?” Funny thing was, it’s something I had been thinking about a lot. Since summer, even. I felt like I was jumping from place to place, community to community. And it’s really tempting to just avoid investing when you know you won’t be someplace for very long. But, “As a dancer,” I told him, “It’s actually really important to bend your knees every time you land.” And if Gordon College has taught me anything it’s the value of being present–be here now. And I’ve always been proud of my ability to be in the moment. I thought it was my superpower.
I’ve been abroad for over three months now, but this past week, I got hit with my first wave of homesickness, and a nice bout of food-sickness to go with it. At first, I thought to myself, well, the stomach is the seat of emotions, and I was just really feeling the longing for home, for friends, for something familiar and comfortable. And I was. But I was also feeling my intestines protesting to whatever it was I ate or drank. This is probably TMI, but it’s going somewhere, I promise. So I took some Imodium, which allowed me to travel and function like I needed to. But as my stomach started to bloat, I was more and more aware of all the things I was “holding in” and holding onto: words left unsaid, bitterness, anger, and an ache for my communities at Gordon and back home.
On the 5th day of illness, I was talking to a woman who had been traveling back and forth for a few years now, who was about to embark on yet another season abroad. And she seemed to be aching in the same way I was–for a home and a community where she could finally plant herself and not have to say goodbye again. She mentioned the importance of decorating her room wherever she was. “Making new friends” was a piece of advice she repeated but I recognized solemn, almost bitter, undertones in the phrase. She told me about her family’s Christmas tradition of writing poems for each other, but not knowing what to write anymore because she hadn’t seen them in a year. She hadn’t really had enough time in one place to form a Christian community, either. This week, I really resonated with this woman. I can’t do this long-term, I thought to myself.
The feeling hit a climax on the 5th and final hour of my bus-ride back. We started taking switchbacks through hills and I was weather-beaten, exhausted, and nauseous. And I thought about transition. How it does exist. There will be times when, other than a nice sunset and some mountain views, the majority of the ride will be spent gritting my teeth and praying my way through. Times when I won’t be content in the moment so much as in the hope that it’ll be over soon. And that’s ok. Because faith, hope–these are Jesus-sanctioned, future-oriented joys. Twice this weekend I read:
Forget the former things, do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland … to give drink to my people, my chosen, the people I formed for myself, that they may proclaim my praise.
We won’t be wandering in the desert forever, friends. Maybe some of you thrive on the nomad life, but I’ve learned I have a longing for a home, for a community I don’t have to say goodbye to. I’ve always said that it’s not really about the people, but God Who is constant is loving me through the people he puts in my life, for however short a time. And I stand by that. But I also know there’s probably a lot more transition ahead of me, and the challenge is in loving God back by investing in the people and the places I’m in. He’ll provide the streams, no doubt. But do I trust Him enough to grow where I’m planted, to bloom, knowing I’m going to be uprooted again? Do you?
Below are some consecutive vignette-like poems I wrote on that bumpy-bus ride. Not all the details will make sense without context, but maybe you can relate to the feelings behind them.
We’re all a bit battered and jostled and tousled,
Covered in dust,
Stickers and stamps and sewn-on tags too,
A couple minor tears but not terribly bruised,
Infused with the smell of the fumes
Everything else kind of is too,
From hanging it all on the line.
Old wine skin, new wine.
I keep asking for more time.
What am I Saying?
When we get there
Why do I keep saying we?
I guess there’s Christina
…but then it’s just me.
When we get there it’ll all be better, ok.
Ok? Grass always greener?
I’m scared to say.
I Forget Her Name
Poems are hard to write in English.
And I haven’t seen my siblings all year.
Tu me manques means you are missing from me,
And I haven’t had time to put pieces in here.
That’s what always gets me through.
There’s that we again–
It’s me and You.
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.