At 18 years old I packed a backpack and a journal (pre-internet and instagram) and landed in Germany with $1400 in my bank account—the measly insurance payout I received after totaling my well-loved Nissan Pulsar, the “Silver Bullet”.
With my Lonely Planet guide book and a neon highlighter in hand, I sat in the train station flipping pages and scanning departure boards, haphazardly looking for convergence. Which train should I board? I was on my way to the Alps for two months of snowboarding.
The truth is, I had no idea what I was doing or where I was going. I certainly didn’t know how my life was about to be turned upside down.
Fourteen months later I returned to Oregon bearing a significant affliction: wanderlust. It plagued me, occupying my dreams and dictating my newfound goals in life.
Something happened during my time abroad: as I explored the world, I began discovering myself. I couldn’t get enough of either. It was the first time I tasted what it was like to be free in my own skin.
This is no new song I’m singing. For centuries adventurers have waxed poetic about the unmatched ability for travel to unlock the deep places of our soul and awaken our minds and imaginations. Nothing exposes your worldview more than exploring the worldview of others. It’s intoxicating and sobering, a paradox to be sure.
While teetering on the fence between adolescence and adulthood, my time abroad was so much more than hostels and bar-hopping, train trips and moped exploration; it brought with it spirituality and context, passion and purpose. I found community for the first time in my life. I took risks. I learned to be comfortable within myself. I fell in love.
I was on the invincible side of 18 and lived in such a way that rattles the nerves of my far more responsible, subdued, adult self. But in many ways 18 was the best year of my life. I learned what it meant to grow wings and start using them.
Nearly twenty years and forty nations later, I don’t need convincing that my wings are strong. I’ve used them to circumnavigate the globe in ways I never dreamt possible, and I hope to always use those big, beautiful wings of mine. They are a part of me—not the definition of me, but as real as my lungs and all those old journals filled with the mysteries of Auschwitz and the sunsets of Santorini, Greece.
And you have them, too. Everyone has wings, I believe. Some mightn’t have had opportunity to spread them in the ways I have. But they’re there, begging to be unfolded, inviting you to see the world, to learn, and to learn some more. Until I had children, the most profound teacher in my life was travel. Travel has stretched my imagination, messed with my paradigms, and unlocked wonder and understanding I could have never received in a classroom.
My friend Tsh and I (and others) have talked about the concept of wings and roots and how those two needn’t contradict one another. I want the kind of life that makes room for mixed metaphors, a life that doesn’t choose one at the expense of the other, but gives place to both, knowing each serve a purpose and meet a longing within us for our true home.
The scriptures tell us that our home is in heaven* and I’ve come to realize in my twenty years of flying that no searching—or staying—will fully quench the homesickness that lingers just under the surface of the human heart. Being homesick for heaven causes us to search and wander; it also causes us to burrow down and let our roots grow.
For twenty months now we’ve been living out of suitcases. I’ve lost count at the number of beds and driveways and zip codes we’ve called our own.
When people learn we’ve been living in and out of a caravan they usually comment about how they’ve always wanted a taste of the gypsy life. And I get it. I’ve felt that for twenty years (and likely always will).
But these days, as I’m folded up small in our “tiny house on wheels” (as my littles affectionately say), I long to rest my wings and grow some roots.
Since packing our bags nearly two years ago, Ryan and I haven’t missed our old town or the streets we used to walk at dusk. But we do miss the house we started our family in—a boxy Queenslander home with weatherboards that desperately needed a make-over and the impossible yard that always struggled to grow grass, no matter how much cajoling and tending and garden-whispering we did. It wasn’t so much the walls and the floors or the space itself, but the memories that were created there, the family rituals, the friends around our table, the holiday traditions that are harder to replicate when life feels uprooted.
We’re creating memories now too, of course—defining our family as the ‘wild ones’ who pull their home behind them to places we once only thought of as dots on a map. But we’re ready for home; we’re ready for roots.
“Home is where the heart is.”
“Home is wherever I’m with you.”
“Home is where you park it.”
These sayings are sweet and sentimental and, yes, partly true. But home is also where you have a sock drawer, family photos on the walls, and gift wrap stashed in the hall closet behind the vacuum cleaner. Home is where you can walk to the bathroom in the dark without having to deliberately visualize the layout of wherever you’re parked or paused.
I hope I will spread my wings and travel until it’s physically impossible for me to do so; I never want those gorgeous, broad wings to grow brittle or begin to grow back into my skin. But as much as I love the tea plantations carved into the side of the Himalayas and the baths of Budapest, the mud paths of the Solomon Islands and the cobbled passageways of Moroccan bazaars. . . I want to be home.
“From little things, big things grow.” This has been our family motto this year. We’re living small in order to live big and from our tiny, mobile house we’ve let some little roots sprout from the seed of dreams finally given permission to germinate. But soon—we hope very soon—we’ll transplant our little seedling family into a garden where we can put down our roots and grow—really grow—and begin to bear new fruit.
We’re in search of home while making the most of our path to get there.
Wings and roots, we have—and need—them both.
Note: A friend of mine, Amber C. Haines, just released her first book, Wild in the Hollow, and within her story and her poetic prose she explores the idea of “finding the broken way home.” If you haven’t yet read her work, you’re missing something magical and potent. (Read my review here or buy it here.)
* Philippians 3:20, Hebrews 13:14