Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Rejecting Wanderlust

As a child, my deepest desire was to visit Indonesia, my father’s home. Once I checked that off the list, I wanted to see the rest of the world—every inch of it—besides perhaps, some of the  chilliest parts. I had what is known as wanderlust, what Webster defines as a “strong longing for or impulse toward wandering.” It took a good deal of wandering before I found a healthier way to view the world.

In the summer of 2012, I set off to go to Ecuador for five weeks. Before leaving (and to be terribly honest, spilling into while leaving), I read the required reading for the trip, a collection of writings by the missionary Jim Elliot who had ventured to Ecuador at around the same time and for the same reasons that my grandparents moved to Indonesia. Elliot made manyprofound statements, but one of the most famous, and most powerful in my life, is the command, “Wherever you are, be all there!”

I went to Ecuador and I was. I lived there for five weeks—truly lived. I woke up early in the mornings and ran. You read that right. I, Jenna Pinkston (a) woke up on my own will (b) very early and (c) ran, as in moved at a faster pace than a walk for multiple miles. More in line with my traditional character, I also stayed up late every night and blogged. Perhaps that’s why it’s easy for me to write about Ecuador. I’ve already assigned it so many words.

And in between my runs and blogs, I tried new foods, experimented with language, made new friends, wandered new streets, and learned about the world and myself. I missed little about “home.” I was all there. But then I came home, and for that journey, there was no required reading.

And I wasn’t all there. I realized that, when I looked at a world map, which I often did and still do, I’d left pieces of my heart all over the place. In an Indonesian smile. In a set of particularly empty eyes in China. In a 22 year old woman trying to turn her life around in Costa Rica. In a tent in Haiti. In the hands that yanked the hair on my tender head of a child in New Orleans. On our bench in the language department of a university in Ecuador.

And here I am, wherever I am, making it my mission to be all here.

No matter how much I’ve left behind in my travels, I’ve gained more. The experiences that have created me make me an increasingly complex person with more insights, experience, love, and self to give. So I gather what’s left of me and what has been built on and I use it here, because, ultimately, adventure is dependent on attitude more than location and willingness more than happenstance.

The word wanderlust, a deep desire to wander the world, is thrown around social media as a romantic and desirable notion. Just do a quick Pinterest search and marvel at all of the lovely hipster edits of photos of far off places and romantic travel quotes that always tug at my heart. However, as the second part of the word, “lust,” implies, it is a longing for something that may not be rightfully mine.  I propose a deeper way of experiencing, one that abandons notions of false entitlement. I am an advocate for intentional living wherever you are, even, and for now, especially, in Indiana. When you leave, by all means leave, and when you return, return changed but intact.

I had spent my whole life wanting to be elsewhere, justifying my discontentment with a love of travel and a love for the world. These loves are value, beautiful, and part of my identity, but they are excuses for discontent only for as long as it takes to propel me into action. For the times where I must stay, I choose now to do so contentedly, continuing to love life.

My father worries about me, but not in the ways you might expect. Sometimes, he worries that I am not free enough. My first response to such concern comes from the words and the promise of Jesus as told by his good friend John, that if He makes me free, which He does, I am free indeed. That is a freedom of spirit and living that no one can ever take away. Freedom, like adventure, is not all about the scope of my wanderings. It is about choice. If I choose to stay for a time, I’m no less free than if I chose to leave.  

When I think about the things most captivating about travel, it isn’t the architecture or the views or the foods. It’s the hearts of the people.

So many of the adventures get bypassed when I choose not to be here. When, instead of being on the bus, my mind is already on campus. When my soul skips to break or student teaching or anywhere I’m not. I believe that what I and many people love so much about travel is who they are when they are out of their comfort zones and away from the familiar. I challenge you, and I challenge myself, to live everyday life in the boldness and urgency of travel, making strangers into friends and scheduling time for adventure.

Even in new places, things quickly lose their charm and become routine. Wanderlust shouts “move on” whenever that happens. With that mentality, I could never be content in a place for more than a few weeks. I am learning to listen to a quieter voice, the voice of love, which often begs, “STAY.”