Do you ever have those moments where you stop and look around and just think, “Where am I right now? How did I get here?”
Most the time I feel like I am moving too fast to stop and think about my life. But, occasionally, there are those brief moments, like on a drive to work or when a nostalgic smell passes by, that I take a step back and think – How did I get here?
When I first moved to Beijing, China in March of 2013, I worked at an education center called Romp’N’Roll for four months. It was mainly for kids age six months to six years old. You might be asking what do you teach a six month old? I still have no idea, but I did it. And let’s just say…it was an experience.
My (at the time) fiancé, Leif, found the job for me through a man who sat next to him on the plane ride from Chicago to Beijing. Turned out that Gary, my future employer, was in need of an American girl to teach at his center. Luckily for Gary, I was desperately wanting to be closer to Leif and, thus, in need of a job in Beijing. When Gary sent word of the opening, I hopped on the next plane to China. I had just graduated university and moved back from the Middle East – I was confident I could handle anything.
My first day of work at Romp’N’Roll I was handed my work uniform. It was a tie-dye shirt with a cartoon dog’s face on the front. As I stared down at the hideous apparel, I thought to myself, Where am I right now? Months earlier I was walking in the streets of Jerusalem while sirens filled the air. A year earlier I had been working with the Department of Justice in Seattle. And, today, I was in a colorful foam-floored business complex while Chinese children tottered and giggled around me. It was one of those pinch-me-I’m-dreaming-moments. But not in a good way.
It didn’t take me long before I was running my own classes. I taught art, music, dance, gym, and English classes weekly . To top it off, I taught alongside a Chinese translator and… a giant stuffed animal dog named Rompy. Rompy and I would direct the class through opening songs (such as Where is Rompy? Where is Rompy? Here he is, here he is!) and then read them a short story.
Go ahead, you can laugh.
After the typical opening, I would direct the kids into whatever activity we had next. The classes lasted about forty minutes each and then I would sit, twiddling my thumbs for the next seven hours. The center only ran about one class a day per teacher and going home early was never an option.
Any time I went to use the restroom, I’d find a grandmother holding her grandchild over the sink, so he or she could pee. Any time I went into the lobby, I would be surrounded by nannies and grandparents demanding a picture with their grand baby and the “pretty white girl”. And any time I was sure my class went well, I would find out I had done something appalling, like let a child paint a hat green. (Apparently it means the kid wants to have an affair, or something like that.) My time at Romp’N’Roll was anything but glamorous and I was constantly looking around helplessly thinking, Where the heck am I right now?
Here we are almost three years later and I’m having another one of those “Where am I right now?” moments. This month I hit the year mark for working at Keuka College. I’ve traveled for weeks on end, decisioned hundreds and hundreds of applications, and met more people than I’ll ever be able to remember. I’ve officially lived in Geneva for over a year and Leif and I are regulars at the Chinese restaurant across the street from our apartment. And all I’m left thinking is where the heck am I right now?
I guess I always thought my life was going to be something glamorous. That I was going to be an actress, an astronaut, the secretary of state, and/or a secret agent. But I’m not and sometimes I feel like a failure. I know I must not be alone in questioning my life course. I know others out there must be on a different path than they expected as well. But sometimes it just seems like everybody else has got it together and I…don’t. Maybe you’re surprised I’m saying this. Maybe my instagram feed or my smile has conveyed some sort of confidence that I’ve got my life all together. Well, be assured, I don’t.
Today though, as I sniffled and coughed through a sick day, I realized something.
I realized that, luckily, it makes no difference if I have my life together or not.
I realized that, luckily, the value of my life is not based on how it looks or even how it feels.
And that is something I will have to keep reminding myself every single day – especially when those “where am I?” and “how did I get here?” questions show themselves.
There’s beauty in finding the love and grace that surrounds you every day in the littlest ways. For me they are: family game nights, youth group kids, singing with my mum, buying flannel sheets with Leif, finding an extra fruit roll-up hidden in the cupboard, watching a new movie, sending a friend a gift, crafting with my little sisters.
I’m finding that once I focus on those beautiful moments, I have no time to ask “where am I?” because I’m right where I wanted to be all along.
I’m encouraged as I reflect on John 16:33:
I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart, I have overcome the world.
It doesn’t matter if I end up working at Romp’N’Roll the rest of my life. It doesn’t matter if a crazy person ends up becoming president. And it certainly doesn’t matter if I never become something of value in the eyes of the world. The world has already been overcome and knowing that, I can have peace.