It’s unlike me to bring only one book on an extended trip.
The night before departure I typically scour my personal library, planning to stow at least two novels in my carryon and one in my personal item. You never know which voices will best accompany you in your adventure, so it’s best to have options.
But when I’m packing for a week in Nicaragua I restrict my duffle to 20 pounds, and usually after all the essentials, that leaves me with room enough for one.
So, I didn’t bring my heavy Bible on this church-y missions trip. Sac-religious, I know.
But with our advanced technology (of which I rarely take advantage), I opted to download the NIV version on my phone to conserve space in my carryon, and in its place, brought along an essay collection by Alice Walker.
I have this knack of finding God anywhere and in everything. I’ve experienced Him speaking to my heart through the most unlikely people—overtly Christian or otherwise—and this was no different.
In one essay in particular, Walker writes about The Pause, defining it as “the moment when something major is accomplished, and we are so relieved to finally be done that we are already rushing, at least mentally, into the future.”
This wisdom couldn’t be more applicable to someone who recently graduated college feeling both accomplished yet self-conscious. I’m proud of what I’d done in four and a half years yet already exhausted by the bombardment of questions about future job prospects (I still don’t have any, thank you very much).
If I’m being honest, I intentionally left college without any plans because I wanted to challenge society’s perception of success. And if I’m being even more honest, the last thing I felt prepared for as a 22-year-old woman was networking and making decisions that would alter the next stage of my life.
So, this is my Pause: the universal place of stopping and reflecting.
Leading up to this, I hadn’t felt strongly about any job, city or artistic endeavor. My brain was clouded with so much possibility, excitement and stress that I didn’t trust myself making big moves. The only thing I felt confident about was returning to Nicaragua, so I followed that inkling, figuring it would be a better use of my time than sweating over applications, interviews and inevitable rejections.
So on January 8th, I boarded my first flight with lingering stress acne, dehydrated curls and post-holiday pudge all on top of internal convictions of a neglected prayer and devotional life. Yet as I read Walker’s meditations above the clouds, I suddenly felt grounded in my identity.
In the Christian life I’ve been told many times that I need only be still and wait patiently, ruling it out as easier said than done. But somehow Walker’s paraphrase of this theme of contentment read differently:
While I’m usually unenthusiastic about physical labor, I paused to laugh at the ridiculous measurements of skewed beams, as we held up sheets of drywall to the ceiling with burning, aching forearms.
While I usually tire easily (both physically and emotionally) from being with a group of people, I paused to enjoy their company and conversation.
While I’m usually intimidated by hanging out with children—especially in large bodies of water—I willingly jumped in the river with them (though I didn’t dive off of cliffs, like my brave friends).
While I usually seek the nearest barf bag during atmospheric turbulence on a rickety twelve-seater plane flying over Nicaragua, I paused to noticing that the forests of plush trees below looked like thick moss on a stone.
At the end of each long day, I laid in my bed with the chill of the shoddy air conditioner humming above me, excited to repeat the cycle of waking up early and staying up late with sore arms and sunburnt shoulders.
For the first time in my three visits, I felt most authentically myself. For the first time, I didn’t endure a battle of comparison: I felt no jealousy towards those who didn’t suffer from hyperhidrosis in 90 percent humidity, nor those who spoke Spanish fluently.
I Paused frequently enough to fill my heart with the scenery of a beautiful country and beautiful people. Over and over again, I Paused intrusive thoughts that wandered to my life back home, silenced anxiously meandering contemplations about what I would get myself in to when I returned. Instead, I gratefully drank in every experience like sweet nectar on a scorching day.
Being at the orphanage for a week never feels like enough, but I’m not sure any amount of time ever would. As every one of my trips wound down, I’ve felt this need to do more. Suddenly, feeding one meal to prisoners seems insufficient, refurbishing five classrooms insignificant and playing with kids for five days out of 365 seems nonessential.
It wasn’t until this trip that I recognized our team’s significance. It wasn’t until this time around that I Paused enough to notice that while the 11-year-old girls may not remember my name in between visits, they remember me as their amiga. And speaking for myself, seeing a friend for one week out of the year is better than not seeing one at all.
I didn’t go to Nicaragua to find answers about my future or necessarily gain wisdom on decision-making. I went there to enjoy this Pause instead of loathing it; to make a difference in someone’s life instead of wallowing in the uncertainty of my own.
In another of Walker’s essays, she asks the reader “To what children in what part of the world are you particularly drawn?”
I feel blessed to know that I have an answer to her question.
Feature photo by Marten Bjork on unsplash.com