Just after takeoff, I wipe my face and my forearms voraciously– as if I can wipe off the Himalayas in a minute. Is a city stuck to my skin? Is a country underneath my fingernails? It would appear so. The tan line from shoulders-covered and modest pants, the hints of dirt from two months of sporadic cold showers. I just left a city and a nation that has plastered my mind for decades, even before I knew why they belonged to each other. They dance in my imagination as I try and reconcile those old daydreams of mountains, with the current reality that those daydreams have turned to my memories. I cannot wipe them away with a moist towelette. It just doesn’t work. They stick.
I’ve had a life-long craving for originality. I suppose we all do. That fear of the cliche, the disgusted shudder at the thought of doing something commonplace. It happens to most people– were were made for adventure, weren’t we? But I make the brash argument that this craving especially runs rampant amongst missionary kids. You are born into everything that people call “abnormal” and it is your normal. Moving countries is cliche, being a “missionary” is commonplace. You get so used to seeing people break “the status quo”, that they’ve become the status quo for you– one to avoid at all costs.
Hiking the Himalayas, holding Asian orphans, feeding the homeless a plate of rice– oh, give me something original, you cry. Yet you find yourself in those exact situations, probably wanting to throw up. No, not because you’re sick (you’ve travelled too much before to have the same bugs as everyone else) but because you’re afraid you’ve lost your chance to be original. You cringe– because aren’t you now the one you used to laugh at as a kid? Those “missionaries” who would come in and out every three months of your life, tell a good story, and leave? The ones you equally teased and despised– yet secretly wanted to be?
Secretly wanted to be.
I don’t know if you can imagine what it could be like to live in an airport and never go on a plane. Humour me, if you will. Try it for a second– hear the roar of the engines, the intercom making their “last boarding call”, the last rattle of suitcase wheels. Your bedroom overlooks the runway, the planes are landing and taking off. Yet you stay grounded– never challenged by the adventure of travel, never awarded the comfort of home after an absence. I didn’t know it, but in all my travel as a young girl between the USA, New Zealand, and Australia– I was that airport-stranded kid. I watched missionaries go on their trips to serve God, yet never went myself. My coping mechanism was to make a joke out of them (and never be honest that I wanted to go, too). In short, I stranded myself.
It’s interesting how we can be imprisoned, if not stranded, by mindsets. “I will always be left behind” and “my life is so cliche” had a pretty strong grip on me– until I started getting on a plane beyond my parents’ initiative. Cambodia wrecked me (what other word can you use but that?), New Zealand welcomed me (not just my passport), the Netherlands healed me (in the otherwise broken city of Amsterdam). In those three places– and the ten other nations I’ve visited– I’ve walked with people that challenged me, moulded me, constructed me. They didn’t leave me behind or overlook me. They became my closest friends. They lived with me in the cliche and somehow, we loved it.
It’s liberating that we can be so easily set free, or even launched to the sky, by people.
In my life-long craving for originality, I failed to see that it’s not the circumstances that create the novelty, but the people and the time that we live in. Would I ever have the fate of being cliche? With a pen in my hand, and a pen in every other missionary in history, we could never write the same story. Thousands of “workers” may have been to the Himalayas. We may have all trekked the same paths. But none of us can even attempt to avoid our originality– given to us by a creative God. I travelled to a region my friends had encountered before– yet with six guys, five other girls, a Steve Irwin action figure, and a crinkled New Zealand flag. We saw frowns turn to smiles in a corn field, a flock of goats that became witnesses of miracles, and young girls in a brothel come to see their Saviour. No one had these stories until now. No one.
Just before landing, I caught sight of New Zealand’s shores again. I breathed that sigh of relief that only comes when you see home after an absence. Yet in the past few months, the skies have seemed strangely empty of the stone that used to scrape them. The snow and cloud of the Himalayas now only collide in my mind. Is a city stuck to my brain? Is a country underneath my skull? It would appear so. I cannot wash them away with a scalding-hot Kiwi shower. It just doesn’t work. They stick.
At the end of the day, I may be living the cliche I always wanted to avoid (and secretly longed for), but Jesus is good at writing stories.
And turns out, this was the story I always wanted.
Tue, 30 Jan 2018 09:12:09 GMT