Any friend, loved one, or acquaintance of mine can tell you that I love traveling. In fact, I’m all about it. Meet me and it will come up within five minutes of our conversation. When people hear my stories from traveling the world, they usually react in one of two ways. They either tell me I am crazy in slightly nicer words, or they comment that I am brave.
Here’s the truth: I’m not brave.
Yes, I have studied abroad, jetted off to a foreign country without speaking the language, slept on the couches of strangers across the United States, and shared the Gospel in a malaria-ridden country full of the potential for infection. On the surface, all of that seems really brave. Yet, I can’t help but tremble when I picture what happened in Brussels this week, or in Paris and Beirut last year, at the hands of ISIS. I can’t help wondering if something like that could happen to me. I picture myself being in an unfamiliar place, already feeling vulnerable, and confronting what I believe is surely the face of evil manifest in human form. The thought makes my stomach churn and my eyes water. It strips me of every ounce of bravery in my body.
But, I love traveling, and I don’t want to stop.
I won’t lie and hide the fact that, when I saw the news about the Brussels attack, my second thought (after sheer remorse for the families who lost loved ones) was hesitation about whether Colby and I should go up North this summer on our road trip. After all, we will be going to New York, Boston, and Philadelphia, three huge cities where anything can happen. They have huge populations, and their recognizable names make them easy targets. I’ve been silently struggling over the matter for a few days. I feel like there is a little cartoon angel on each of my shoulders, pulling me in two directions like they often do the protagonist in a Disney movie.
“Stay home. It’s dangerous. Think about what could happen. Where will the next bomb blow up?”
That argument compels me a bit. My little corner of the world is sleepy and quiet for the most part, and I have rarely felt unsafe in Smoky Mountains. I could cancel the trip and occupy my time with plenty of home projects, summer workouts for volleyball and cheerleading, or a slew of other tasks.
That voice is not the only one I hear.
The other says, “But, think of traveling. Your eyes sparkle when you see a city skyline. New adventures make your heart race. This is what life is about. Go.”
I’ve decided to listen to the latter; I will keep traveling no matter how dark and broken this world becomes. The logical part of my brain tries to justify this choice by reminding me that my chances of dying in a car wreck are astronomically higher than what could happen on a trip, but logic really does nothing to calm the anxious or the depressed. I have found true peace about my decision to keep traveling via changes of the heart.
I have not yet been everywhere, but it is still on my list. Here are a few reasons why:
- I’m stubborn. As ridiculous as it sounds, I refuse to let a group of terrorists make me live in fear. Traveling sets my soul on fire and it teaches me so much about who God is. They will not take something from me about which I am passionate. I refuse to give it up, and my tenacity is almost as characteristic of me as my love for travel itself.
Evil people want us to live in fear. If they strip us of the things we love the most, they’ve stolen the very threads of our identities. And, if they do that, they win. To honor the legacy of all of the people killed my terrorists world-wide, I will NOT let them win. I will focus on God and into my excitement about seeing Aladdin on Broadway and watching a Red Sox game from the left-field grandstand of Fenway Park. I will do these things in spite of them.
- Just like I refuse to stop traveling, I refuse to let groups like ISIS define Muslims for me. A current trend in mainstream media, the political landscape of the United States, and even among religious figures, scares me, and it is that ISIS somehow represents common sentiments of the religion of Islam. This could not be further from the truth. In case you are confused, consider skimming over this insightful article about how ISIS actually VIOLATES major tenants of Islam, the second biggest religious system in the world just behind Christianity.
I have read that article several times, but I do not need it to show me that terrorists are on a completely different wavelength than most Muslims. You see, I have a dear friend who is Muslim, and I met her through traveling. I couchsurfed in her home and met her husband and son. Please let me tell you a bit about her so you get a glimpse of the incredible woman she is.
Havah is from *drum roll, please* Topsail, North Carolina (Muslims from Arab countries make up less than a quarter of the world’s total Muslim population). She is an avid reader, enjoys lots of types of music, and appreciates the “handymen” of the South. She has an adorable little boy and a kind husband, and she runs her own business while finishing a Bachelor’s degree in Linguistics. She opened her home to Colby and me without question.
Oh! It is important to note that Colby and I stayed with Havah and her family during Ramadan. If you are unfamiliar with the holiday, know that it is as significant to Muslims as Easter is for Christians. Fasting constitutes a large part of Ramadan, and Muslims can neither eat nor drink anything (even water) for seventeen hours. Havah endured this task this summer all while running her business and combating the blistering Albuquerque heat.
Guess what?! When we arrived at her home, she OFFERED TO COOK SOMETHING FOR US. Hours before she could eat herself, she wanted to make sure we were comfortable in her home even if it made her excruciatingly uncomfortable in the process. WHO DOES THAT?! I suppose you can take a girl out of the South, but you cannot take the southern hospitality out of the girl. I was and still am completely overwhelmed by this gesture.
Havah and I have kept in touch since last summer, and her friendship has greatly enriched my life. I would wager that most Muslims are as kind, compassionate, and empathetic as Havah, and I never would have met her if I surrendered to the image of Muslims propelled by U.S. media. This is why I need traveling… to overcome these ridiculous presumptions and get an accurate picture of the beautiful world we live in.
- I want to radiate joy.
One of my favorite things that I have learned about Christianity in the course of my short two years as a Christian is that God truly delights in our joy. We were never meant to live sterile, decaffeinated lives, stuck on the hamster wheel that is our routine. We were created for more than paying bills and dying and vegetating in one little corner of the world. We were made for the moments that make the world stop for a minute and take our breath away. I’m willing to chase those moments and overcome some fears in order to experience them.
I want to live a life of these moments, a life that points to Who God is. I want to love people so much that I cannot possibly contain all of my joy… I have to open up the floodgates and share it with everyone. I have known a few people like this in my lifetime, and none of them ever played it safe. Some of them have already left this Earth, but their legacies here are eternal, and I remember them by the things that brought them genuine happiness.
That’s what traveling gives to me… true bliss and contentment with the woman I’ve fought to become, the woman God created me to be. It also gives me a platform to share the Gospel, not in a condescending matter, but rather like the “city on a hill” God mentions in the book of Matthew. Speaking of the Gospel, one thing I believe many Christians get wrong about our religion is the meaning of the pivotal phrase, “set apart.” We may interpret this phrase literally and confine ourselves to our own comfy little bubbles, setting ourselves apart from the very culture we are called to engage with. We are so missing the point! When God encourages Christians to be “set apart” by our identity in Him, He does not mean being literally separated from the world physically or emotionally. He intends for there to be an essence to our being that sets us apart… something about us that obviously comes from a divine place. Whatever “it” is that sets us apart (I imagine some combination of a beaming glow and a raw sense of grit brought on by a series of struggles and triumphs), it was and is meant to be shared with the world rather than sequestered within our own souls. And, sharing this part of us with the world involves taking risk and pursuing our callings with reckless abandon. We are never promised safety.
I still get scared traveling. A downfall of humanity is how much we cling to routine and comfort, and I fall victim to the myth of security, daily. The human in me breathes a bit harder every time I board I plane, buckle up in my car, or meet a new person with a completely different background. Each time, I ask myself, “Will everything be okay?” and “Is it all worth it?” Daily, I confront the choice in becoming who I know I’m supposed to be versus leaning into the security and safety the world offers.
It eventually all boils down to this: my identity is ultimately in Christ. On Easter weekend, I am reminded of how much freedom He gives us. Because of that crucial part of my being, I get a spoiler for the ending of my story. It’s almost like middle school when I used to flip to the last page of the book to make sure everything turned out okay. I don’t want to spoil the story too much for the rest of you, but I will tell you this: it works out for my good and His glory.
It is not up to me to decide when I receive this happy ending. Obviously, the later in life the better if we’re talking about my preference. I would enjoy buying a home, adopting children from around the world, and continuing my career that I love, but I hope I would be content with a more abrupt ending should that be part of the plan for me. At the risk of sounding morbid, should something ever happen to be while traveling, I hope the people who know me convey, “She was just doing something that she loved,” and smile rather than wallow in grief and start living with caution.
The world seems bleak at times, but still I go.
Still chasing waterfalls.
Still boarding planes.
Still cherishing other cultures.
Still choosing to see the good in people.
It’s how I’m meant to live.
After gaining this overwhelming sensation of peace about our trip this summer and all of the future ones to come, I realized something incredible.
It wasn’t a little cartoon angel on my shoulder who convinced me to continue the crazy journey that is my life.
It was God.