A year ago today I finally, finally, finally landed in San Diego – a moment I had equally dreamed about and dreaded. After 6 months in Malawi, an unexpected week in Uganda, and a freezing layover in DC, I was back! I was home! Or…. was I? I had no idea where “home” was any more.
I walked off the plane …and straight into a bathroom. Where I hid for about 15 minutes. I knew my parents, my friends, and my girls were all waiting for me at the exit of the terminal. And yet, there I stood, unable to pick up my overstuffed carry on bag and carry on with my life. Hugging myself, I tried to prepare for all the attention, all the hugs, and all the people I was about to encounter. Simultaneously, I was trying to avoid it. I was terrified. I stared in the mirror, wondering who the girl was looking back at me.
I eventually walked out. I eventually ran down the escalator, into my mom’s arms. I got all the hugs I had been craving, I got to see the smiles I had been missing. I even got my long awaited burrito – hand delivered to the airport. It was scary and it was wonderful; it was healing and it was triggering. As I re-entered into my closest community of people who know me best, I realized the scary part was I didn’t know myself anymore.
And, in some ways, that’s been the past year of my life. In some ways, I’ve been that girl, hiding in the bathroom, for the past 365 days. Trying to prepare for what feels like the impossible. Wondering where she is. More importantly, wondering who she is. I’ve struggled for so long to find a new normal – in this midst of transitioning back to America, transitioning out of college, transitioning into “real life” – and rebelled against the idea that nothing will ever feel normal again.
This past year has been exhausting. It’s been filled with way more questions than answers, way more uneasiness than happiness. As my transition into “adulthood” was about as far from textbook as possible – my first full time job was working by myself out of a home office, while simultaneously going through reverse culture shock, and most of my friends had already adjusted to post college life ahead of me – I felt isolated in a whole new way. Living on the other side of the world, in a completely different culture? That’s isolating. Moving back into the middle of your community, into the middle of your favorite city? You don’t expect that to be isolating. I didn’t know who I was. I didn’t know who I wanted to be.
I thought I found answers, and then they seemed to dissolve before my eyes. I thought I found footing, and then I found myself knocked down once again. I got my heart broken – by so many different things, in so many different ways, over and over and over again. I felt like I was constantly running a marathon, only to get my feet swiped out from under me. Community was a struggle. Relationships were foreign. Life was so difficult.
It was a year of wandering. A year of wondering. And it wasn’t all bad – I saw God show up in so many things, I saw His fingerprints in so many areas. I knew He was at work, always. It just happened to be painful work. I had growing pains. Oh-so-many growing pains. I was shedding off years of shame, years of guilt. I was learning new rhythms, I was growing into a new skin. Baby soft skin, precious to the touch, and yet also extremely new and extremely vulnerable. I was an infant in some areas of life, learning the basics of what I saw those around me do with ease.
I feel like I’m finally coming out of a year long desert season. And that doesn’t mean my life just magically got better or I’m not expecting any hardships in my near future. It means I’ve come upon a promised land of sorts – but there’s still many battles to be fought. I may be done wandering, days of living on manna behind me, but that doesn’t mean I’ll automatically be feasting tomorrow. Even the promised land takes work, even the promised land holds pain.
A lot of people ask me, “Do you miss Malawi?” YES. Yes. Everyday. In the strangest ways. I mostly miss the people who became family, the community that held me at some of my most vulnerable points. But I miss some places, some buildings, some roads. I miss the sunsets and the fields and even, at times, the dirt. I miss the bench I used to read on and the fabric market I visited far too often and buying chips on the side of the road. I miss how normal life was to me in the most un-normal of circumstances.
A lot of people ask me, “Do you want to go back?” YES. Yes. I don’t know if I’ll ever move back. I don’t know when I’ll go back. But, one day, I will be back. I think I miss Malawi in the way most people miss college – it’s a season of life you look back on with fond memories, a season you at times wish you could relive, and yet a season you know will never happen again. It’s a life changing season, but it’s still a season of the past. I can go back to the country of Malawi. I hope to go back and visit the people. But I know I can’t go back to who I was, to where I was, a year ago.
A few people have asked me, “Do you wish you never went?” Oh goodness. The past year would have, arguably, been a lot easier if I hadn’t left. My post college transition, my first job, my community – so many things would have been less difficult if I hadn’t gone. Some days I focus on that – some days I ask God, “Why in the world did you send me? Why then?” And yet, as I look back on the past year, so many things wouldn’t have ever come about if I never left. Various moving blocks had to fall into place to build me into who I am at this moment, to bring me to this very spot. And for that I am forever grateful.
This past year has felt like a decade. This past year I’ve asked more questions and sat in more silence and felt deeper pain than I ever have before. It feels like I stayed in that bathroom. Staring at a stranger in the mirror, craving connection with those closest to me and yet hiding from them at the same time. It also feels like I’m finally coming out. I don’t have all the answers and I don’t know what’s up ahead, but I know it’s something good. Because I know that He is good.