I am an experience junkie. There, I said it. I’m addicted to change, hilarity and the absurd, being stretched and emerging with ridiculous tales. I don’t know how I survived college intact since I took advantage of as many opportunities as would possibly fit into my schedule.
My sophomore year, I debated whether or not I should do a six month internship in a developing country. When I asked a trusted professor in his 50’s, he told me, “I think you should do it. If I died tomorrow, you wouldn’t have to mourn me at all for the amount of experiences I’ve already had in my lifetime.”
So I lived with a Ugandan family in a village with no indoor plumbing for six months, commuting into Kampala each day to volunteer at a Compassion International child project (don’t be too impressed–I mostly did filing and editing!).
But I thought of my professor’s words…
When I saw a woman balancing 20 pounds of water on her head and a baby on her back who would most likely never travel more than a few miles from her home in her lifetime.
When I saw dying women in the slums covered in flies and dirty children running all around them.
When I realized the girls my age that I befriended had to scrounge for food to feed me when I spent the night at their house.
And later in China, when my students’ dreams were to “go to America,” and I knew they would most likely only be able to take a job teaching back in their poor village and marry a man chosen by their parents.
|In Ningxia, China, with my student, the first in her village to go to college|
And I wondered: Would the sum total of their life experiences equal:
a less fulfilling life?
a less abundant life?
a less valuable life?
a less meaningful life?
Using my professor’s words, would the reverse be true of their “limited” existence–that we’d have to mourn their lives more because they hadn’t had the chance to go to summer camp as a kid, travel to 10 different countries or earn a Masters degree?
With every experience I am given, I am given more responsibility. I am held more responsible to tell other’s stories, educate those back in my passport country, to be the one voice in the crowd and in the church that can honestly say, “But it isn’t done that way everywhere.”
And I can honestly say that while these experiences are addicting, this kind of exposure to the world and the level of responsibility that it brings can be almost immobilizing.
I feel guilty that I can spend thousands of dollars travelling when it costs me $300 to educate a girl in Uganda for the entire year.
I am burdened when I think of visiting children in an orphanage in Tajikistan who were paralyzed simply because they were never held, sitting hours on plastic toilets in the courtyard.
I am sickened by the 12 year old Thai girls I saw in Chiang Mai in the arms of their 65 year old white tourist “patrons.”
And I ache for the countless women in China that were forced to have abortions because they would have exceeded the number of children allowed by the government.
Yes, I am an experience addict, but the more that I see of the world, the more I find that the experience math just doesn’t compute. Every life is a valuable life, regardless of the amount of experiences. That soot-stained old man selling sweet potatoes on the side of the road in China every day from 7 am to 10 pm is JUST as valuable as me.
God has gifted me with these opportunities not because I am more loved or valuable, but because He expects me to do something with what I experience.
This post is day 12 of the series “Re-entry: Reflections on Reverse Culture Shock,” a challenge I have taken to write for 31 days. Check out my other posts in the series:
Day 1: Introduction
Day 2: Grieving
Day 3: No One Is Special
Day 4: Wasted Gifts
Day 5: I Never Expected…
Day 6: Identity: Through the Looking Glass
Day 7: Did I mishear God?
Day 8: When You Feel Like Shutting Down
Day 9: Caring for your Dorothy
Day 10: You’re Not the Only One Who’s Changed
Day 11: 12 Race Day Lessons for Serving Overseas
Day 12: Confessions of an Experience Junkie
Day 13: Longing for Home
Day 14: Readjusting: Same Tools, Different Work Space
Day 15: Book Review: The Art of Coming Home
Day 16: The Story of My “Call”
Day 17: Is Missions a “Higher Calling”?
Day 18: And Then I Fell in Love
Day 19: Is God Calling You Overseas?
Day 20: Life Is Not Seasonal
Day 21: What I Took and What I Left Behind
Day 22: Groundless, Weightless, Homeless
Day 23: When the Nations Come to You
Day 24: The Call to Displacement
Day 25: Scripture Anchors for Re-Entry
Day 26: In the Place of Your Exile
Day 27: Resources for Re-entry
Day 28: A Time for Everything: A Prayer of Leaving
Day 29: Journal: 8 Months After Re-Entry
Day 30: 12 Survival Tips for Re-Entry
Day 31: A Blessing
(Day 32: Writing is Narcissistic (And Four Other Reasons Not to Write)–a reflection on this Write 31 Days experience)