I was scrolling through Instagram last night when I stumbled upon the following quote by writer and artist Emily McDowell. She writes,
“’Finding yourself’ is not really how it works. You aren’t a lost ten-dollar bill in last winter’s coat pocket. You are also not lost. Your true self is right there, buried under cultural conditioning, other people’s opinions, and inaccurate conclusions you drew as a kid that became your beliefs about who you are. ‘Finding yourself’ is actually returning to yourself. An unlearning, an excavation, a remembering who you were before the world got its hands on you.”
This quote really resonated with me. My college really stressed study abroad. From the moment I arrived on campus, I constantly heard about how studying abroad would change my life. I was sold.
I lived and studied in Valencia, Spain for a little over a month the summer before my final year of college. Although I kept a blog while I was in Spain, I never wrote a final post reflecting on my experience. Maybe this is that post, almost two years later. I am incredibly grateful for the time I spent in Spain; the lessons I learned, the sights I saw, and the people I met were formative in challenging and exciting ways. However, out of all of the souvenirs I crammed into my suitcase, what I didn’t find was myself. Living in a foreign country did not give me strength but harnessed the strength that I had all along. I didn’t find myself because it took living in a foreign country for a month to realize that I was never lost. It turns out that an ocean can’t separate you from your own heart. You can flee to the farthest corners of this earth, but your heart will come with you. My dreams, my fears, the things that keep me up at night, those came with me to Spain. In a post contemplating the power Valentine’s Day seems to hold over us, Jamie Tworkowski writes that the singer Bono said that his songs come from a “God-shaped hole inside of him.” I first read this piece years ago but I keep coming back to it. For it was in Spain that I realized that the bluest of waters and the sweetest of sangria could never fill the God-shaped hole inside of me. Those things will certainly try. I saw striking manifestations of the glories of God’s handiwork in mountains and oceans and cathedrals that once held worshippers in them many years ago. Yet I couldn’t shake the feeling that something was missing. Maybe I’ve been too embarrassed to say how horribly homesick I was while I lived in Spain, but it’s true. All of the excitement of life in a new country couldn’t mask a heart that missed home, community, and a sense of being fully known. I realized that there was a God-sized hole in my heart because only God’s very Self could fill that hole.
I am so grateful for my time abroad. I am grateful for my madre valenciana who I’m still in touch with, and for all of the friends I made along the way. My heart aches to go back to Valencia and explore other parts of Spain, but for different reasons. Reasons that don’t involve finding someone who was never lost. I want to go back because this world is vast and beautiful and I want to seize every chance I have to explore it.
I’ve talked about this briefly before, but boarding that plane one summer night two years ago was the craziest thing I had done up until this year. It’s a whole other crazy to pack up your life after twelve years in the same place and start afresh in a new city. As I’m approaching the end of my first year of seminary, I have been thinking a lot about rootedness, the places where we come from and the people who are home to us. It’s the running line in my family that it bothers them when I say that Richmond is home. But living in different places has taught me that my heart is big enough to hold onto several places that are home. Wilmington, where I was born and lived for ten years, Raleigh, through and through, the city that takes up the most space in my heart, Charlotte for a summer, Valencia for a month, Richmond, since last September, and many more places in the future that only God knows. I have roots in all of these places, and they have become a part of me. I am “found” in the people who are home to me and the places that have shaped me. The God-sized hole taught me that I am found most in God, fully known and fiercely loved. I have been “found” in God before the moment I was born. I have been named and claimed by the waters of baptism, raised in the Church, and marked as God’s very own.
Take the road trip, book the flight, explore all that this world has to offer, for we only have “one wild and precious life” (Mary Oliver). But I hope you do so knowing that you’re not lost. You have roots in the people who love you, the places that have shaped you, and the One who has claimed you as God’s very own.
Seize every day in the glory of its mundanity! Taste and see that the Lord is good, and live your life accordingly.