My passport is set to expire next year – which means I’ll have to renew it once I get back from Peru. I look at the girl in that passport photo and sometimes I don’t even recognize her. My co-workers tell me she looks like my evil twin. They have no idea.
Aside from being significantly skinnier, that girl is blonde, naive, and on the verge of falling off a dangerous cliff in her personal life. That girl believes that if she wants something bad enough, and waits long enough, that it’s bound to happen. That girl is incredibly entitled. She is beautiful, but feels very fat. That girl is afraid to step out of her comfort zone because any small step could fundamentally change her relationships with her friends and herself. That girl is me, and is not me.
A United States Passport is good for 10 years and I’m honestly amazed and shocked at where these years have taken me. When I first got that little book I never expected to use it has much as I have – I mean, I hoped I’d be a world traveler, but I didn’t really expect it to happen. I definitely did not expect to use it to come face to face with painful emotions, unjust circumstances, and world shattering poverty.
The first time I got that passport stamped? I was headed on an Education First Tour of Amsterdam and Paris. I went with friends and coworkers. I saw majesty, opulence, history, and splendor. We explored the Hall of Mirrors in the Castle at Versailles. I walked where Anne Frank once walked. I got lost in the Louvre. And I remember hating most of the trip. I was the newest friend among our group, and the youngest. It was a major culture shock for the only child in me to be with a group for that long. I remember feeling left out, and I remember being very whiney. I don’t imagine I was much fun to put up with. I remember the food being bad and Paris smelling of urine. I remember being glad that I decided to go, but not really enjoying it in the moment. Despite all that, I don’t regret the trip and wouldn’t trade those memories for anything. Your first look at a country other than your own is important – and that trip laid the ground work for the way that I travel today.
Yet, when I got home, I promptly put my passport in the safety deposit box and forgot about it. For 7 years it sat unused. I had almost forgotten where I’d even put it when I decided to visit my sponsored kids Emily and Josué in Ecuador.
I cannot begin to express the differences between the two trips. The second trip – I went by myself (in as much as I didn’t know anyone else on the trip. I did join a group with Compassion International in Miami). I saw poverty. I saw homes with no water, no heat, no electricity. I saw children who fought daily to survive. I saw mothers with no way to provide without the intervening help of Compassion. I stood with one foot in each hemisphere. And, among it all, I saw hope. I saw joy. I felt joy. This time, I traveled with a much more open mind. I had an attitude of yes. I made an effort to not complain, not whine, not be an “only child.” And I connected. I connected with the group and with myself. I loved on & hugged my sponsored children every second I could. I cried with the other sponsors and I rejoiced with the other sponsors. I ate delicious food and I felt joy.
And now, as I look back, I realize that without the bumpy years between the trips, the girl in the passport photo would have never ventured to South America. I realize that without the trials and the tears, the years with no international travel, the years with young hope and honest dreams dashed, that girl would not have the desire to help the least of these. She would have played it safe in the life she constructed in her head, and she would have missed it all. So yes, that skinny blonde in the photo, that’s me.
And, no, it’s not me at all.