I’ve started this post in my head probably a hundred times over the past few months, intending to put my thoughts to word. I wanted to write down my deep epiphanies and enlightening reflections in my year since Kenya. But ever since I’ve been back I’ve had a bit of writer’s block, in blogging and journaling. It’s a bit different to blog about lions and slums and culture shock than to blog about homework and classes and Michigan winters. Kenya feels like a lifetime or two ago. Yet, just one year ago, I was either on United Stated International Universities’ campus, dreading my classes, or on the road going somewhere, maybe on a trip, maybe to Karen C Primary School, or First Love, or Kibera. I was probably with Katie, Kirk or Ellie. Maybe I was hanging out with Anna and the adorable kids at First Love. Maybe I was sitting in the teacher’s lounge at Karen C, waiting for something to do. Maybe I was in the car with Maina, talking about life and Kenya and America. Chances are I was homesick, and missing Jared, and my family, and feeling lonely, and struggling to have a good attitude and to find joy in my circumstances. I was probably counting down the weeks/days till my flight home. I probably ate some naan. I probably got up early to Skype somebody back home. I think of Kenya everyday. Did that really happen?
Katie, Kirk, and I get together every so often here in Grand Rapids, and sometimes Ellie joins. We go to Cornerstone’s Sunday night worship service, Evensong, or to Katie’s house, and catch up on each other’s lives. Then our conversations turn to Kenya, inevitably. We usually tell the same stories, reminisce about the same things. In a month or two, they’ll both graduate and move on. I’ll still be in Grand Rapids, still thinking of Kenya. It’s been good for me to have them near and available to reflect on our experience with.
Which is where I found myself on Wednesday, sitting in Katie’s kitchen with her and Kirk, eating fresh-baked cookies, talking about Kenya, sharing our photo books with each other. As we talked, I found myself realizing that we each had truly different experiences, though we were on the same trip. We had different goals, different opportunities, different struggles and trials, different hardships and fears, different joys and triumphs. I think one of my struggles in Kenya was the feeling that I was supposed to be having a specific type of experience: that I was supposed to feel happy and excited about everything, because, after all, this was a trip of a lifetime. Which it was. It’s taken me the better part of this past year to accept that it was okay that I struggled. No I didn’t always have the best attitude, or wasn’t always joyful about everything. That’s the beauty of grace and mercy, God still loved me and stuck with me the entire way. I was often made to feel guilty by people around me for having a hard time in Kenya, which honestly lowered my confidence in myself. There were/are some insecurities I developed about my personality, about who I am. Like there was something wrong with me because I didn’t thrive in Kenya.
I think one of the hardest parts of coming back to America was not really having a solid community to come back to, aside from my family and Jared. Not having a huge support network of people who know me well enough to feel affirmed in who I was after feeling so dejected and defeated in Kenya. Ohio is familiar, Grand Rapids is familiar, both kind of home. I know people, I know the places. But it has been awhile since I’ve had those people who know me deep enough and still accept me. I think part of that is how transient my life has been for the past few years, and even all my life, with growing up in three towns. And to be transparently honest, though I am more introverted, that has been really hard. Not that God hasn’t put people in my life to encourage me and keep me going, but as high school friends drift away, as college changes and nears the end, my support community has shrank. It’s almost like my re-orientation back to life in America was only partial. I’ve grown to appreciate the friendships I do have, the little conversations here and there that are like a refreshing drink of water. I sometimes wonder what it would have been like to come back from Kenya and start fresh somewhere else.
But then I remember the positives and the good things of this past year. I had two summer jobs I enjoyed, and God provided for another year at college without loans. I’ve been able to use my parent’s car all year for internships. He provided a job here at school thanks to my wonderful friend and mentor Kathy. I really lucked out and have been blessed with my roommates, especially for moving in with strangers. Most of my classes this year have been with excellent professors who remind me why I want to teach social studies and English as a Second Language (ESL). This semester I am doing my ESL practicum at the Potter’s House High School, a diverse, urban Christian high school. I work with 9 students from 4 Latin American countries and 4 African countries, in ESL reading, writing, math and biology. I never thought I’d teach math and science! I was hired to be a guide for a program called Christian Adventures for the summer, through Cran-Hill Ranch, north of Grand Rapids. I’ll help lead groups of students and adults on outdoor adventure trips in and out of Michigan. My relationship with Jared is wonderful, and his friendship means so incredibly much to me. For my senior year, I have one semester left of classes, and then student teaching. I will get to live with my freshman roommate Sandy, and (eventually) one of my freshman suitemates, Hillary. Especially this second semester I have felt more at home in Grand Rapids. These are all good things.
And I still think of Kenya. I don’t have an interest in going back. I don’t think Kenya is one of my heart places. I think everyone has certain places, whether is a country or a state or a town or a small community, like a school or camp or organization, that they really connect with at the heart and gut level. Those places that are always with you that you can’t wait to go back to. In one way Kenya is a heart place, simply because I learned so much there, and it will always be a part of me and a part of my story. I got to see and do so much, got to meet wonderful people like the Idagiza’s, the First Love crew, my roommate Stephanie, and my student teacher friend Dorcus. But at the same time, it is not a heart place in the sense that I yearn to go back like some of my group does. Jared and talk often about our future, and if going abroad is in it. I don’t see myself living in a long term setting overseas anymore, but I caution myself in saying that, because I don’t know where God will lead me/us in the future. It’s a challenge for me to accept the cliché “grow where you’re planted”, as I wonder where my next heart place/places are.
Kenya taught me and grew me and stretched me. I am a different person than I was on March 26, 2014. Which is how life should be isn’t? Like Paul in the Bible talks about, we, especially as Believers, are not supposed to stay stationary in our lives and faith, immature and incomplete. We are supposed to experience struggles and trials, to learn joy through them, and to become more mature in our faith. Though it was not how I hoped, Kenya did do that for me. The beauty is that even something that monumental and prominent is not the end. I still have as long as God gives me on this earth to grow and become more like Jesus. Though I mess up, though I struggle to live how I should, there are still new mercies each day, and God still walks with me as I try to walk with Him. As I look towards my last leg of college, towards challenges with finishing up, challenges with adulthood and learning to live in the “real world”, I can look back on this, this thing in my life and know that God is faithful and will help me through anything. This crazy, terrible, wonderful, once-in-a-life-time thing… As time goes on, as memories fade, as wounds heal, I can look back on Kenya and know it was for my own good, and that it is proof that my God is real and cares for me and loves me though I am imperfect and don’t handle everything like I should. Happiness is not my primary goal in life. Though I like planning and organizing, life can’t be scripted and I am not in control. So I’ll keep moving, keep trying to follow Jesus, ask forgiveness when I mess up and try to do better. Asante sana, Kenya, for what you taught me, for what you showed me, for what you helped me understand about the world. I will always remember you.