Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Overwhelmed, Under-appreciating, and Finding My Way Part II

Hello from Michigan! I've been home for a week and a half now and once again it seems that time is flying by. How is that I was waking up in the beauty of Jerusalem only two weeks ago?

I've been thinking about a good way to wrap up this experience for all of my faithful readers...but it's so hard! How do I explain everything that I've been feeling? Where should I start? I guess I'll start with "frequently asked questions."

When I see people for the first time I'm often greeted with a warm smile followed by "Did you have a fun trip?!" And this causes my heart to stop for a second because I want to say, "No." But that doesn't seem very appropriate. It's not that I didn't have a wonderful time, as I'm sure you all know from my previous posts, but it's that I wouldn't call what I've experienced a "trip" and I wouldn't describe it as "fun."

Instead of trip I would I would lean more towards calling it a journey or experience. This was more than just three months of my life. This was the beginning of something so much greater for me. I'm not sure what that means yet, or how it will look in my life, but I know that this journey is nowhere near to being over. I am still experiencing. I wake up and think about the new things I've learned and the love I have experienced. When I go to the grocery store I think about how strange it is that I'm just going about normal life like I never left. I drive down the highway and wonder what it would be like if everyone's eyes were opened to more of what happens in the world. I walk around the mall and wonder why I'm so consumed by consumerism and try to figure out how stop it. It's hard, friends. It's very hard.

So if I wouldn't call my experience fun then what would I say? There are so many great adjectives so much more accurate than fun. Educational works. Confusing fits. Life-changing is spot on. Let's start with educational. This was a semester abroad. I had a full class load. And I learned invaluable lessons from each class. But I learned from more than just books. I learned from people. The other students on MESP were all so unique and the lessons I learned from them blew me away. I love each of them dearly and miss everyone like crazy. The locals I met taught me about life in ways that I cannot explain. Life is lived so differently there and living it with these people opened my eyes to things I didn't know I needed to see. Dr. Doug and Patti taught me so very much. I learned about Godly love, grace, acceptance, vulnerability, the list could go on and on. MESP is so lucky to have such loving leaders. And on to confusing. This is hard to explain. The things I studied left me with infinitely more questions than answers, which isn't actually a bad thing. Like I said, my eyes have been opened to things I didn't know I needed to see. Seeing these things has caused me to question the way I've seen other things. It's been quite the domino effect. The Middle East is a very complex region and I knew that going into the semester, but what I didn't know was that none of the complexities have simple answers. I'm still coming to grips with the confusion I'm experiencing and I'm not naive to the fact that I may be living with this confusion for the rest of my life while I continue to look for answers. As for life-changing. I'm not sure how to explain this at all, mostly because I don't know how my life has changed yet. I know I'm a different person, but I don't know for sure what different about me. I'm still trying to figure all that out. My thoughts on religion are different. I feel differently about gender equality and what that looks like. The way I see the role of the United States government in international affairs is changing. But that's all I can tell you. I have different feelings and ideas but I don't even know what they are yet. The only thing I know for sure is that I am drastically and forever changed by the past three months of my life.

So...that's why I don't really know how to respond when someone asks me if I've had a fun trip. I wrote in one of my first posts of the semester that I was overwhelmed and under-appreciating and I'm feeling much like that again right now. Being back home is very overwhelming. When you hear about someone spending an extended period of time in a different culture it's obvious that culture shock is probably going to happen. But how often do we think about reverse culture shock? I know it wasn't really something that was on my radar, but I'm experiencing it first hand. I've found myself questioning much of my current reality. Along with these questions I'm feeling some guilt. I am so blessed. I am surrounded by friends and family who love me and have missed me just as much as I've missed them. How do I reconcile all that I've experienced with the life that felt so normal to me four months ago? It's hard to appreciate the simplicity of life for me while I'm constantly thinking of how hard life can be for other people. I don't have the answers yet. Life has a funny way of stretching us in ways we don't realize we need. I am stretched and it's painful, but if I'm being completely honest, I wouldn't have it any other way. I don't want to be comfortable. What I want is to be challenged. Each day waking up on the other side of the world challenged me in some way, so why did I think that coming home should be any different?

I'm not mad at people who have asked me if I had a fun trip, I've probably used the exact same words with other people. It's hard to know how to welcome someone home and what words to say to them. That's why I'm writing this post. These are things that are hard to say to people in the entry way at church or the checkout line at the grocery. But I needed to say them. So no, my trip wasn't fun. My experience was educational, confusing, and life-changing.