As I look back over the past year, it's almost hard for me to fathom all that has happened and evolved. It's been an expansive, life-shattering, grace-filled year. The year started out on the road with some friends. On New Year's Eve we were headed back from a Christian conference called Onething in Kansas City. This trip was where l first developed the insatiable desire to travel. There was something freeing about being West of the Mississippi. We slept in a friend of a friend's house, who we vaguely knew, with three of us to a bed. We ate delicious food that I eventually discovered had come from a dumpster. We lived like hippies. We walked down city streets and beside the freeway downtown in coveralls, flannels, and sweaters. We drove through the night and stuck our heads out the windows to look up at the most beautiful stars I've ever seen, in the Illinois sky. The conference itself wasn't quite up my alley, considering that there were folks convulsing on the floor and whatnot. But it was the experience of living in community, trying new things, and exploring new places that transformed me.
From that time until I left for China in May, life was pretty joyful. The most alive and joyful I've felt in years, actually. It was lovely. I had a sense of belonging and purpose.
Whenever I was first approached and asked if I'd be interested in studying abroad in China, I said yes. The thought in my mind immediately afterward was something like this: "Shit. Shit. Shit. There you go lying again. China is the last place I would ever want to study abroad." However, the more I thought about the prospect of China, the more I began to like the idea. It was a crazy idea.
May rolled around and for the first time in my life, I hopped on a plane and went to the other side of the world. I remember when we landed in Beijing, frantically trying to figure out where my belongings were and how to go through airport security. I remember the sound of our suitcases rolling out of the sliding door and onto the concrete outside of the airport. I remember the initial smell of China. It wasn't necessarily a bad smell or a good smell, just a smell. Like the smell of my childhood church or my grandmother's house, it had a smell. Something I'll always remember.
Life was incredible in China. Everything was an adventure-- ordering food, mailing postcards, running, riding the metro, and getting to know new friends. I wanted to stay there. I missed my family and knew they missed me, but China had my heart.
I was reborn in China.
On a weekend trip we went to the most beautiful place I've ever seen-- Emerald Valley. The mineral deposits on the bottom of the stream are a beautiful turquoise color. As a geology nerd, I was in heaven there. The waters were crystal clear. Million year old rock cliffs were towering above us. As we walked up the trail beside the water, something told me "you need to get in there." I wanted to jump in, but I had seen the signs warning us not to in addition to threatening looking security guards. "Besides, I don't even have an extra pair of underwear," I thought. I heard a splash and looked over to see a friend, who I love and look up to immensely, coming up out of the water with her hair plastered to her head. It was quite a ballsy thing to do. I had to follow suit now. The security guard yelled at her in Mandarin and then sent us up the trail. When we got further up and there were no security guards to be found, I decided to go for it. I thought to myself "this is going to be peaceful. Like a baptism," right before I slipped on a rock, fell in, and was immersed. Something shifted in me, though. I felt free and content as I was.
Now that I think of it, I almost feel like that experience perfectly describes the past six months of my life.
I'm continually falling, busting my ass, being brought out of my legalistic ways, and into freedom.
I think my belief system and worldview were the foundation of my identity for a lot of years. To watch that whole belief system crumble and to begin to question and doubt a lot of things I once held to be foundational, was painful. I'm not exaggerating when I say that this past six months has literally been one of the most difficult seasons of grief I've ever been through. To watch some of those beliefs go was like losing a piece of myself. Those beliefs were there when the shit had hit the fan in my life. They were what I held onto when there was nothing else. When 90% of your friendships are built around a belief system, and then suddenly yours begins to evolve, friends become distant.
I've been angry. I've been depressed. I've had what from the outside looking in, appears to be an existential crisis.
This wasn't the kind of baptism I asked for. If someone would have told me all that would happen after China a year ago, I'm not sure that I would have had the guts to hop on the plane.
At this point it feels like I'm learning how to walk again. Learning how to fall again. Learning who I am again. Learning how to pray again. Learning how to love people again, except, this time without an agenda. Learning how to follow Jesus again. Learning how to be inclusive. Learning how let go of the boxes categorizing "us" and "them." Learning that the grace of God is so much deeper and wider than I initially thought.
If I had to do 2014 all over again, I would, with antidepressants in tow, do it all over again. Because it's been well worth the trip.