I’ve always hated the phrase ‘real life.’ To me it always suggests that my joy is silly and that when I finally grow up, I’ll know enough to see that delight was only a mirage.
Everyone was worried about me coming home from the World Race.
What would culture shock look like on the other side of an experience like that? What would happen when ‘real life’ set in?
I suppose they had reason to worry.
For 11 months, my life was one long string of adventures. I got to play the slightly dirty heroine, tossing my pashmina over my shoulder as I climbed onto the elephant’s back.
I hopped from city to city, country to country, continent to continent. In a matter of days I could be barreling down the road on top of a bus in Nepal and then sipping a Tusker beer under a thatched roof in Kenya. I could be rafting the Nile in Uganda and then sliding down the river in Bangkok past the colorful floating markets.
It was amazing and hard and beautiful and all happened in the most deeply stunning places in the world. Sounds and smells and sights and tastes tantalizing every bit of my being, romancing and swaying me to the world’s steadily beating heart.
As I prepared to come home, I tried to drown out the warnings of the people I had left behind.
“It’s different,” they told me, “life in the states just doesn’t look the same as it has for you this last year.”
I thought they were wrong. I thought that I had unlocked the lie of monotony, that I could find joy and contentment and adventure in any situation. I thought that I could squeeze my eyes shut really tight and avoid the negative parts of life, only seeing the glitter that seeped through my eyelashes.
And I hate to admit that they were right.
Life is different on the other side of the World Race.
There are no elephants in Gainesville and my pashminas are only there to keep me warm in the cool Georgia rain. When I drink a beer, it’s inside of a restaurant- not under a thatched roof in Kenya.
They were right- all of them- anyone who thought that coming home would be different and hard. I just thought I could avoid it.
I honestly thought that the comfort of soft, clean sheets and really good food would provide that deep contentment that I had grown accustomed to.
I’m realizing that contentment doesn’t come so easily.
But that’s true everywhere.
The World Race wasn’t easy. I was far away from my family and friends, a full 14-hour time difference sometimes. I could never go anywhere on my own and ate rice almost every single day. I slept on the floor accompanied by ants, mice and bugs I don’t even have a name for. I slept in a tent with sweat pouring down my face, desperate for a fan or a bucket of cold water to stick my sweaty head into.
And on the race, in the midst of circumstances I couldn’t control and deeply uncomfortable days, I had to learn to choose joy. I had to learn to look for the good parts and grasp onto them, seeing them as the provision and grace and love that they were.
I had to learn to cultivate contentment, something that was a constant decision and took lots and lots of practice.
And that’s the difference between my life on the World Race and my life today.
I chose joy and now I don’t. These days I expect joy to choose me, landing in my lap without any action, decision or effort.
It just doesn’t work that way.
So although people were right in saying that my life was going to be different, they weren’t right in implying that discontentment was inevitable.
Contentment is a choice and I’ve just been choosing against it for the past several months.
And so yes… being home is different. And some days it’s really easy to look at the other side of the fence, whatever may live on that side, and wish that life looked more like that.
It’s easy to think about how glamorous it was to be on the race, or how exciting life would be in a different season. But it was also really easy to fantasize about hot showers when I was rinsing in Cambodian water that smelled like garbage.
This is a new season- full of new tastes and smells and luxuries and challenges. Just like each month of the race. Just like any other season. It’s a new season full of growth and a whole new opportunity to learn what it means to choose joy, especially when you don’t feel like it.
It’s a brand new chance to learn that contentment can be found anywhere; you just need to lie down in the green grass for a while.