A small golden light

"I hope that in the future they invent a small golden light that follows you everywhere and when something is about to end, it shines brightly so you know it’s about to end.
"And if you’re never going to see someone again, it’ll shine brightly and both of you can be polite and say, 'It was nice to have you in my life while I did, good luck with everything that happens after now.'
"And maybe if you’re never going to eat at the same restaurant again, it’ll shine and you can order everything off the menu you’ve never tried. Maybe, if someone’s about to buy your car, the light will shine and you can take it for one last spin. Maybe, if you’re with a group of friends who’ll never be together again, all your lights will shine at the same time and you’ll know, and then you can hold each other and whisper, 'This was so good. Oh my God, this was so good.'"
Iain Thomas, I Wrote This For You

The mystery of a golden light has remained with me for weeks. What if there were a light indicating the people I’ve met and places I’ve been that I will never see or return to again? A sobering thought. And yet—life without a golden light suits me just fine. I like being surprised, and returning to a place to which I thought I’d said goodbye, and discovering that what I thought were lasts weren’t lasts after all.

The United States of America and I are still reacquainting. I don’t want to forget what it felt (feels) like to see my home with eyes caught in between two worlds. There is a lot wrong with the land I live in, but there is a lot of wonder, too. Broken and wild as the country is, I am grateful to be American. Living in Kenya was harder than I let myself admit, but the good, refining kind of hard. Some days I swear my life overseas was a dream, and others I wake up startled to be in Oklahoma.

Life lately has been so full I can hardly write about it. I met a boy, for one. He is kind and gentle and we are embarking on a hard and slightly scary but happy journey. It simultaneously surprises and makes me giddy every time I think about it. I’m happy, I truly am. A year from now I have no idea where I’ll be and depending on when you ask me, I’m either terrified or absolutely thrilled. Mostly the latter. There was Christmas, and it was beautiful. I’m reading five books at once and laughing a lot and making time for people I love and cracking stupid jokes and drinking more coffee than is probably healthy (or necessary). Cleaning out the excess, cleaning out my soul. Relishing in a hug here, a hand held there. I think, how stupid I was to take it all for granted.

2014 cracked me open, broke and rebuilt me, refined me, rooted and grounded me. Again the golden light. Reading through journals from one, two, three years ago and I think I must be living some sort of wonderfully impossible dream.

A Holy Journey

"Oh, do not pray for easy lives. Pray to be a stronger man. Do not pray for tasks equal to your powers. Pray for powers equal to your tasks."

—Phillips Brooks

This ground I walk on—it is good. It is sacred. My “flesh gets numb, but the soul doesn’t.” * 

Home was a place to which I knew I would return—didn’t I?—and yet words betray the feeling of boarding my final flight home to Tulsa. Thirty hours of travel makes you think about much. Mostly about gratefulness, and grace. Contentment, too. I am happy, here at home. Have I said that before, I wonder? I was unsure how I would adjust to being home. There has been reverse culture shock to overcome, but mostly being home is safe and warm. For now I am back in the fold.

More clearly I am realizing the inevitable changes of being away. For myself, I know I am more appreciative. No, not simply appreciative—I am extraordinarily grateful, the kind that causes you to gather everything you hold dear and grasp it close close close. 

The end of this journey, I will never forget. 

What a gift, reunion. Beyond exhaustion, in need of a shower and a clean set of clothes, and yet there was unspeakable joy bubbling within. Smiling at the businessmen too busy to look up from their phones, smiling at the little girls clutching their mothers’ hand, smiling at the man selling newspapers. At first I walked fast to my family standing at the other end of the airport, then slowed a moment to take it in. A holy journey.

Remember this, I told myself. This is sacred ground you walk on. 

*Book of Sketches, Jack Kerouac

On my way

I didn't think much farther than the last hug. I said my goodbyes and left and now, with nine days remaining, I am on my way back to where I started.

I nearly wrote, "back where I belong," but that's not true, because I have found another home.

The weeks and months leading up to my departure this past June played out in a blur. Scared or Nervous were not words I allowed in my vocabulary until I was sitting at my gate in London waiting for my flight to Nairobi. There, the magnitude of the journey suddenly manifested itself and it took my breath away.

And it was hard, those first weeks. The last month I spent with my family and the familiar was spun out of magic, I swear, and the sudden change was rocky.

But oh, how faithful the grace of God was, and how worth it it all was.

And now, what were lasts are turning into firsts.

Lasts are funny, hard, and bittersweet things. Once you get over the initial sadness you feel excitement beginning to bloom over firsts that used to be counted as lasts: kissing your sisters' foreheads for the first time since leaving, first breakfast with your dad since coming home, first lazy Saturday at home with your mom in six months. It's enough to make me giddy.

Leaving is the hardest part.

The girl coming back is not the same one that left--but in quiet ways that maybe only I notice. A different sort of outlook, a clearer realization of what I hold dear.

To know me, you need to know my family. And yet, this is the first time my family can’t relate to my experiences, the first time I can’t say “remember when” because they weren't here. It’s not just people they’ve never met or a place they’ve never been to, but an entirely different world that, if you’ve never been, is hard to imagine, let alone describe.

(I say this in a matter-of-fact way, because I know I am not the first person to experience such a feeling, and because this is part of spreading your wings.)

Still, I wonder how I’ll adjust to being home. It’s nearly impossible imagine. I facetime with my family every Saturday and my heart races every time I think about seeing them at the other end of the airport terminal--and yet, I’ve gotten used to being on my own. I have made peace with it, grown to like it, even.

The last line of a quote by Nick Miller keeps looping through my mind: “Travel is ‘maybe I don’t have to do it that way when I get back home.’” And it’s true, you know--you get to meet all these wise and well-traveled people and somehow you get so lucky as to glean from their experience over a cup of coffee. After awhile you realize that there is more than one way to live life, and, not for the first time, you wonder: who says you have to abide by only one culture?

I feel so small compared to those aforementioned wise and kind and well-traveled people, but I'm learning as I go. I have to remind myself that I'm yet eighteen and trying to make sense of the world is what I'm supposed to be doing. There is still so much to see and do and learn...and Kenya? I'll be back.