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Saturday, April 19, 2014

Roots and Wanderlust

I never meant to put down roots.

My parents laugh when I say this, because I'm just four months into a teaching job.  Explaining to them how I feel stuck takes a bit of verbal gymnastics and the reminder that I've fallen just barely short of promising my adorable, 8th-grade, 1st-year, Spanish kids that I will shepherd them all the way through Spanish 4.  That's at least a four year commitment.

Advenuture beckons me like Odysseus's sirens.  A call that I can't resist, but that I'm chained to a palm tree on some once-exotic island called Adulthood.

Is that a tragedy!? The generation above me spent their lives trying to give me what they didn't realize I wouldn't want. A stereotypical version of the American Dream.  A picket fence in a cute neighborhood with two happy kids in a stable marriage.
Maybe I'm the weird one, though. Because I'll admit.  Many of my friends have done that.  And sometimes that looks kind of nice.
But mostly, I'm writhing under the tyranny of a consistent job while some unhappy wanderer inside of me pouts and asks when we can start saving for another adventure.
A still-alive insect pinned to the science project board.

For context, since I was 15, I've been in a perpetual state of travel.
Planning a trip, going on a trip, remembering a very recent trip.
But I haven't been on a plane since August, and I can feel my feet turning to concrete.  Only good for plodding up the stairs to my classroom where any number of my 53 students are waiting for me to talk to them in Spanish.  But then I'm spoiled.  At least I teach a subject that allows for immense freedom both in concept and content and one that provides me a constant opportunity to open eyes to life outside the picket fences.

Then again, as a follower of Christ, I have a burden to get them to see more than just culture and language.  I want them to see what travel is actually for.  And because I work with upper class kids, this is harder to do than I ever imagined.
Having lived most of my life sheltered from the dangers of wealth, I regard travel as something you do for a reason.  Not primarily for fun or vacation, though I had tons of fun on most of my trips. But mostly my travels were the result of a lot of prayer and a lot of work saving to make the dream a reality. I was an oddity in my class because I traveled.
Not so for my students who are already world travelers.  Their parents have treated them to escapades in Europe and the elite coasts of Latin America.  They have seen it all from the heights, and they are easily bored with what I still know to be fantastic.
Age obviously makes a difference here, but I clearly have a different perspective on travel than they do, because I've never been out of the country on vacation.
The eight graders are often shocked to learn that I was in Spain and never saw Madrid or Barcelona. "Why!?" they want to know.
Because I was there to learn.  Not just culture and language.  But people and ministry.
How do these image bearers think?  
How can I love them?  
How can I serve them?
I didn't do this perfectly, and I'm not saying that there's no place for a vacation.
But I am saying that when you go on a vacation your perspective is "What's in it for me?"
When you go on a missions trip, you're asking, "What can I learn?  How can I love?  What is God doing here?"

That said, I didn't see the side of Europe they saw.  God let me see what many of them didn't have the chance to see.  The not as pretty, but oh-so-beautiful people side of things.

How was it different?

I've never been in a gondola, but I've walked two miles to catch a bus to go to a Spanish class with no other English speakers in a tiny basement classroom...learning I'm not the majority in this world and in many cases, I'm the weird one.

I have never petted a giraffe or ridden an elephant, but I have watched pastoral life in Basque Spain and got acquainted with the same sheep for three months...learning that sometimes travel is just as boring and mundane as staying at home.

I've never been on a tour of historical Madrid, but I've rambled aimlessly through the foothills of the Pyrenees mountains on long afternoons with only my prayers and the presence of God...learning that solitude is vital to life at home or abroad.

I have sat on park benches talked with Romanian beggars in the streets of Beasain and tried to coax a smile from a broken human being...learning that the desperate are a picture of my desperation before God in the gospel, and that He responds with love and mercy.

I've never surfed in Rio, but I've been served Brazilian barbeque on plastic plates as I sat on concrete floors with dozen happy brothers and sisters...learning that fellowship needs no linen napkins and hospitality is giving the best we have out of our little resources.

I've never seen the Eiffel tower, but I watched little French children play on a playground and miserably failed to communicate with them...learning that it really is the thought that counts, but a little bit of language goes a long, long way.

I've never shopped in Marrakech, but I have listened to the throaty, acapella hymns of Moroccan believers finding joy in a God who is nothing like their old slave master Allah...learning that praise and worship isn't essentially an American thing.

I've never napped on the beaches of Cozumel, but I have trudged through the sand of Sonora and laughed with kids who never owned shoes while they marveled at the magic of a digital camera...learning that nothing that is mine is really mine for myself, but mine for the sake of loving others.

Last week three of my students returned from a week long missions trip to the Dominican Republic. They entered the room with their sunburns and smiles and yelled the colloquial "queloque" greeting to their teacher.  I heard them recount their memories and the stories of their experiences teaching English and trying to communicate with Hatians and Dominicans.

Something stirred in my heart again.  Something wild and suppressed. Something jealous and excited. And I had to remind it of who I am.  I am a wanderer.  But not in the way I see myself.  I'm a wanderer because I'm not home.  Even here, my roots are temporary.  They are an interim before the real kingdom comes to fill the earth with the glory of the Lord like the oceans cover the sea.
And until then, I'm still a foreigner, rejoicing in the moments I have to see all the beauty in this brokenness.  And though I don't have any airline tickets to anticipate right now, I'm engaging in the same thing as when I traveled.  I'm here to love my students.  To commit to them. To teach them to wander through the mountains and sit with the beggars on the benches.  To help them see that there is something more valuable than beach combing in Brazil and sampling cuisine in France.
There are the people who need the Love of God and our own hearts that need the reminder of our insignificance.

1 comment:

  1. This is written so beautifully, Emily, and it reminds me what the real purpose of all our travel, linguistics, and anthropology is all about.