I posted a while back that my family and I recently traveled to Africa, where we spent the majority of our time at New Life Homes in Swaziland because we sponsor two beautiful children there and wanted to meet them.
We were also fortunate to be able to spend another week in South Africa, where my family frolicked in the Indian Ocean, toured a Zulu village, fed elephants, pet cheetahs and lion cubs, ate impala and water buffalo and garlic snails (okay, only my kids on this last one…I’m afraid I can’t get myself to like escargot), and safari’d our hearts out.
We loved it. The landscapes, the animals, the people… especially the people. Though the continent is riddled by poverty and disease and dark spiritual forces, the people must be among the warmest and most generous we’ve had the pleasure to meet.
Before I left, when I told my agent of our travel plans, she remarked that our trip was sure to be a before-after event. “Before we went to Africa, . . . .” “After we got back from Africa . . . .”
She was right.
Here are some ways I mark the differences:
I embrace a more relaxed pace. You’ve probably heard of it, maybe even experienced it for yourself–if so, probably outside what is considered the Western world. In Swaziland, this beautiful phenomenon of a relaxed life-pace is fondly called Swazi-time. It says: Slow down….savor life a little…everything will happen in its own good time. It’s a lovely way to live, though I will admit it takes some getting used to if you’re not accustomed to it. And of course, it’s easier to do when you’re on vacation than when you return to pressures of “real” life.” But I find myself making conscious efforts to retain the spirit of Swazi-time today. For example, when a few weeks ago I traveled a half-hour to another town to purchase new dance shoes for my daughter, the store had the right ballet and jazz shoes in stock, but not tap. Which meant I’d have to schedule another trip to pick those up. Before Africa, this would have exasperated me because it wasn’t efficient. It would have seemed to waste my time. After Africa, I was much better equipped to accept the imperfection of the situation, to know that it wasn’t a big deal, and to believe it would work out just fine. (Of course it did.)
I’m more present to the moment. When I was in Africa, I had a troubling awareness that I wasn’t truly appreciating my moments to the fullest. Part of this is a natural consequence to being thrust into sensory-overload situations. When everything is new and different, there is just no possible way to absorb and savor it all. Still, I had a wish to enjoy things more deeply. Now that I’m back inside the familiar, I find I’ve retained the desire to fully experience life and–because I was stretched–am more capable of doing so. Even when I’m doing mundane things like folding laundry and preparing dinner. Maybe especially then.
I worry a little bit less. Before we left, I worried most about our family staying healthy on our trip. Aside from my prayer that Africa would be a life-changing experience for all of us–especially our kids–this was my biggest request. Guess what? We stayed healthy. No colds, no stomach issues. Yes, my son did come home with a single dot of ringworm on his forearm, but he considers this more of a souvenir than a problem. Beyond health issues, there were other things I worried about prior to our departure. That all the logistical details would work out (on a trip this size, they were myriad). Guess what? We got everywhere we needed to go on time and in one piece. In fact, so many things worked out so much better than I could even have imagined I wondered, Why do I always expect the worst when I might instead hope for the best?
Lest you think I’m implying that one trip to Africa and hey, presto! I’m a changed woman, let me clarify: I am a changing woman. The process began before I left (books like Bread and Wine and blogs like Sober Boots helping me along), and it continues now that I am home.
What I’m trying to articulate here is that I believe travel–especially the stretching kind that takes you outside your comfort zone–is something like parenting. Both are sanctifying–that is, crucibles that refine you, molding your character into a finer version than the one you had before.
Not that sanctification can’t happen otherwise. But what I’ve found is that travel (like parenting) has the tendency to speed the process along.
After words: I’m not the only thing changing around here. In the months ahead, expect to see some differences on Story Matters too. While I’ll still be doing book reviews, there won’t be quite so many of them in order to make room for stories that matter: about people and groups who are making a difference.
Speaking of people making a difference, when you have 15 minutes, I’d encourage you to watch this award-winning documentary short that tells you more about New Life Homes.
Finally, I’ve shared what two of my crucible experiences are. What about you? What takes you through the refining fire faster than you might normally go?