This past fall has been an adventure. Like a fish out of water, I was dropped in a foreign country to work and study a major domestic policy issue (often late into the night) and publish a piece about how to fix the said issue. Having no idea where to begin in search of any solutions or how to make my writing more worthy of consideration, I at times stumbled into an apathetic coma. The problems were too big, I was too small and I might as well let the experts do what they do.
Then, after hitting the snooze button one last time, I chose to grow up instead of give up. And in the process I learned to adapt.
That word- adapt, seems to define my experience here. In so many seasons of my life I wasn’t able to find my footing in fresh surroundings with strange new people. I wasn’t good at being a foreigner.
Perhaps those times prepared me for this one.
The Japanese poet Saigyo once wrote
“Every single thing changes and is changing always in this world. Yet with the same light the moon goes on shining.”
A perfect metaphor of our relationship to the Redeemer. Our guiding light.
I see now that I am not tethered to my street address, but to something greater, something… immaterial, something you cannot find on a map or paint a picture of in your mind.
The tether knots at my soul and pulls me forward in this life. It both softens and sharpens me through wildfires and wilderness, peaks and valleys, meadows and coal walks. I change and I remain the same. With every breath I become better. With every step forward I can see how far I’ve come. And through it all I follow the tug of the tether.
I learned that moving forward means packing light. Shedding old skins. When intimidation nearly crippled me, I had to drop my anxiety and grow confidence from scratch. When fear of the future drifted into my mind, I had to let go of my crystal ball mentality and instead embrace the reality that I was living a life many people have only dreamt of. No longer could I see challenges as things to get through, but rather as opportunities to make something happen. None of this I have perfected by the way, but I am learning to.
I made sure I did not forfeit the cultural experience for the academic one or vice versa. There were days to engage with art, music, survivors of war, and days to study, research and grow intellectually.
But in the end, in every experience, I was led by the guiding light, something I can only see now in hindsight. As I confronted culture shock and language barriers, my faith was a channel I could turn to for understanding. Despite living in an pretty homophobic and somewhat racist community, I took comfort in the awareness that my God has carved my name in his palms and has counted the number of hairs on my head. I abide in him and he abides in me. I draw near to him and he draws near to me. My heart breaks, he mends it. I get angry, he forgives. I forget, he never does.
In a few short weeks, I check out of this place. Holding tight to His tether and carrying all I’ve collected in this wonderful region, I am sure the path I am treading is leading somewhere. I glance back, not at my mistakes, but the messages I took away from them. Not at every test I flunked, but at every teachable moment I received. How I have changed, how I need to change and how I have remained the same. And while I may not know where this road will take me or what the next stop will look like, I have trust in the guide. My feet are ready for the next coal walk.
“If you would attain to what you are not yet, you must always be displeased by what you are. For where you are pleased with yourself there you have remained. Keep adding, keep walking, keep advancing.” ~Saint Augustine