Let me tell you about coming home.
I wake up in the morning to sunshine streaming in my window, a breeze rustling the tree right outside, birds chattering to one another, with Hamilton lyrics drifting through my mind – “Look around, look around, at how lucky we are to be alive right now.”
I wake up in a queen-sized bed surrounded by four pink walls in a room that belongs to just me. When I finally drag myself down the hall, I wash my face in a bathroom I share with my younger brother, with hot water and my own towel. I come down the stairs and pick from one of five or six boxes of cereal. At the touch of a button, I can make myself a cup of French vanilla coffee or vanilla caramel chai tea.
When I go upstairs to get dressed, I choose from an entire closet full of clothes and shoes, not counting the dresser drawers of t-shirts and shorts. When I leave for the day, I don’t have to shut my door to keep the cats out.
It seems like everything I’ve done these past few days has been another tally mark on the list of things that set home apart from the last five months. I texted a friend last Friday night, the moment I’ve felt most overwhelmed so far. “There’s so much space in America,” I said. “And so much stuff.”
Deadlines, e-mails, writing projects, books to read, quiet times, unpacking, cleaning up, talking to friends, and spending time with family. Have you ever felt like there is an intense amount of stuff hovering around your head, fighting tooth and nail for your attention?
I think one of my favorite parts of studying abroad was that it revealed the strings that hold those things up, crowding my thoughts and my time, and sliced clean through them. All of my stuff fell away in the reality of immersing myself in a completely different culture.
Coming home, I was completely prepared for the “reverse culture shock” – hearing everything in English, summer instead of winter, the fast-food chains and the pop radio playing and the everyday convenience of our culture. I wasn’t, however, prepared for the simple shift in the way I had been living daily life. Suddenly, instead of taking care of myself and spending most of my time alone, walking everywhere and relying on public transportation, I was helping out around the house and spending most of my time with my family. I had a set of car keys and walking became a leisure activity, not a practical one. Suddenly, when I don’t respond to texts or calls or emails, I don’t have the excuse of poor Internet or living in another country any longer. Just like that, all of my stuff came swirling up around me again. Those cords knit themselves back together the moment the plane touched down.
The thing is, there’s nothing wrong with the stuff that we’re continuously seeking to balance in our lives. A lot of my stuff – community, family, creativity, my education – are wonderful things. It’s just that I have this tendency to let my stuff tell me how well I’m doing in the game of life. I evaluate my own value – I define who and how I am in the world – by how well I’m measuring up to my own impossible expectations. When my head hits the pillow, my mind starts to swirl – Did I get what I wanted done today? What did I push off to tomorrow? How will I get it all done then?
When I listen to those voices, I base my identity in a self-made perfectionist’s false perception of performance. What’s worse, I tune out the voice of God which tells me that freedom, joy, and fullness of life are things that are true about me already, without me having to do anything but claim them.
If you hang out with me on this corner of the Internet very often, you might have noticed a theme in my last few blog posts. I walked away from Argentina knowing quite a bit more Spanish, but also knowing this: God made each of us with such intentionality. I really like the person He made me to be. Since being home, I’ve amended that statement. Study abroad taught me a lot about who I am and who I’d like to be, but most of all, it taught me that every day is a choice: to let who I am be dictated by my stuff, or to own who I am – or rather, whose I am and who He says I am. I think that means realizing something – the strings that hold all of our stuff around our heads aren’t really tethered to anything at all. If we let them go, they’ll fall, and we can walk out of the haze of responsibilities and requirements and into the freedom of being who we really are.