Ode to Liz Gilbert, or Gimme some of that Big Magic

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“When I refer to ‘creative living,’ I am…talking about living a life that is driven more strongly by curiosity than by fear.” I reread these words today in the opening chapters of Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic, and realized how much they have shaped my last six months.

I first read that quote last fall, having picked up the book a few weeks earlier. As she broadened the scope of what it means to live a creative life in her definition, I underlined it emphatically and murmured a fervent “Mmm!” That idea had been forming, not yet fully processed or put into words, but resonating deep within me- the thought that creativity is more synonymous with being human than something limited to the realm of “arts and crafts.” But it was empowering to see these thoughts in print by someone I had been growing to admire.

I first was inspired by Elizabeth Gilbert while reading her book Eat, Pray, Love when I was living in Brazil. I was borrowing the book, so I couldn’t emphatically underline, but I can remember on more than one occasion wanting to, forcing these beautiful paragraphs on my unsuspecting roommates, reading portions aloud while we were on the beach. I was moved by her brave candor and raw moments woven into witty storytelling. Fast forward five or so years. In a recent kick of podcast listening, I came across RobCast, and in one episode, Rob Bell was interviewing Elizabeth in his home in L.A. I was enthralled, listening as she conversationally shared these insights into creative living, wise, deeply and practically helpful, resonant. And plus, she had this deep belly laugh so infectious that it made me grin, just listening in my car! She struck me as a woman who had done the work to know herself deeply, a woman who was confident to speak her truth boldly and equally comfortable with her humanness and limitations. A woman who was pursuing this creative life with all of her being, in all its messiness and glory. And any encounter with such a woman marks you.

I found myself quoting her, bringing her up in conversations, of course buying her new book and even rereading her other ones. I squealed with delight when I discovered that she had her very own podcast, devouring the twelve episodes in a week. (While others are binge-watching House of Cards, you can find me, binge-listening to Magic Lessons.) A friend told me that Elizabeth Gilbert was my “patron saint.” (Along with another wise, deeply insightful woman, the lovely Brenè Brown…but I don’t have the space here to describe her impact on my life well… another post for another time.) I guffawed at this comment, but nodded my head. Liz Gilbert, a saint? I didn’t know if “holy” would be an adjective Liz would use to describe herself, but this woman most certainly is wholly- wholly committed to living in collaboration with inspiration, wholly invested in the process of being fully herself, wholly passionate about helping others to find the courage to say yes to the hidden treasures that lay hidden within. Yeah, I thought, she has become like a patron saint to me over the course of the last few months—not in the sense that I am idolizing her, or making W.W.L.D bracelets. But I am deeply grateful for what she has sparked within me, and the things she has shared in her books and interviews and podcast have guided me to decisions that will greatly impact my life.

One concept that has shifted the way I think in day to day life is the way she interacts with her fear. When creativity is involved, fear is a part of the process. Well any attempt at living an abundant life (again, creativity, choosing to pursue that which ignites your soul, same thing) will mean risk and vulnerability and the almost certain possibility of failure and heartbreak. To step out in creativity is not to be fearless, but to step into the process of acknowledging fear, and interacting with it—personifying it even. Rather than trying to fight it or even run from it, Liz talks to Fear, thanking it for the ways it has attempted to protect her, the times it has legitimately saved her life. After listening closely to what Fear has to say about any risky or creative endeavor (usually something along the lines of Who do you think you are? You aren’t fill-in-the-blank enough. What if x,y, or z happens? You’ll never be able to do that, or if you do, it won’t turn out well. Better just go climb into a hole and stay there) she calmly, patiently, lovingly responds. “Dearest Fear, I acknowledge that you are along for the ride, but you don’t get to call the shots. I appreciate that you are trying to protect me, but I’m not going to die here, I’m just trying to write a blog post/make an Easter meal for my family/attempt a new art form. The stakes aren’t as high as you’re making them out to be. I promise.”

So, Liz, if you are reading this, first of all, thank you. Your vibrant, belly-laughing, brave presence has blessed me deeply, both on the page and in spoken word. I wish I could take you out to lunch and talk about Creativity and Fear and dream about where our curiosity will take us next. I want to share with you how excited I am about the ways I am learning to also be more curious about my fear, to see what lies behind that knee jerk response of flight or fight. You’ve helped me to learn to be curious and “risk delight.” Patron Saint, kindred spirit, fellow brave soul looking for Big Magic, Liz Gilbert, I like you a whole lot.  

And dear reader, are you interested in taking some Magic Lessons? Because I think you should.

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The Poetry of Being Held by the Ocean

She loved the oceanFor me, being near the ocean necessitates contemplation. Whether I find myself on a stormy shoreline, heart giddy at the sheer power of the crashing waves, hair whipping in the wind, or under the shade of a palm tree, watching as soft sand gives way to cyan water fading into cobalt that melts into endless sky, when I am near the sea, my heart is brim-full and I feel the impulse to wax poetic.

Processed with VSCOcam with g3 presetAlmost a year ago, a road trip led me to the shores of Folly Beach in South Carolina. It was a sun-piercing day, a day of beginnings: the start of summer and the unfolding of a new romance. I waded into the water, feeling the waves jump up my very white legs as I came alongside the man with whom I was smitten. Timid hope blossomed in my chest as he took my hand and led me to where the waves were breaking. Raw and unceasing, they came crashing, causing us to stumble and giggle. “I have an idea,” he called to me over the roar. “Let’s name our fears with the waves and face them together.” I couldn’t tell if my heart leapt at the suggestion of vulnerability more from being a terrifying thing or the very thing my soul was longing for, but either way, I looked back at him and said a hearty yes. We yelled out the lies and insecurities and fears—bravely, fiercely, recklessly naming each swell as it came towards us and then bracing ourselves, hands held tight as we dove under, swam deeper, sometimes getting lost in the swirl, but still holding on. Each wave of fear came, we faced it, and it passed over us, melting into the shoreline behind. The undercurrent swept us a ways from where we had started and after awhile, all thoughts of not-enoughness and too-muchness, all insecurities and reasons of unlovability voiced, we emerged with the kind of contented exhaustion that only comes from reckoning with either the ocean or that kind of brave vulnerability. It was a glorious moment, one that I won’t soon forget. Like a poem incarnate, I felt like I was in the midst of a beauty brought into words that left me speechless.

Some of those fears voiced that day were valid fears. Ones that emerged just a few short months later, and our hands, so firmly interlaced that day on the eastern shore started slipping apart. A theme in our relationship was open-handedness. Choosing to hope, to be willing to receive, to step into possibility. But I suppose that another part of being open-handed is a willingness to let go, to release your grip if the moment, or circumstances, or differing seasons call for it. To love at all is to be vulnerable, and heartache is a part of that. I’ve known this cognitively for a long time, but this fall, I stepped into a deeper, visceral knowing of this truth.

IMG_9957Well, last week found me on the shores of another beach. Swimming in a bay with water so clear, I could see my toenail polish as my feet kicked back and forth in the calm vastness surrounding me. As I said, the ocean has a way of drawing out this contemplative poet in me. I spread out my arms and lifted my salty face to the sky, reflecting back on this past year. I was back in the ocean in which my heart finds delight, in the midst of liquid poetry once again. But this time, there was no hand holding mine; this moment of naming and claiming bravery was a solitary one. Rather than being washed in the familiar grief of loneliness, I felt embraced by the happy Trinity, swimming there all alone on this empty island beach. Deep contentment flooded my body as I floated there, feeling a voice whisper to me “I am here. I am Perfect Love that casts out fear. I love you, my Illuminated One.”

Someone recently told me that, when we are in the midst of fear, we have a need to seek out one of three things: protection, acceptance, or comfort. We look to satisfy these cravings in a myriad of ways, that is what it means to be human. If you look to the story of love unfolded for us in Scripture, we find that the Trinity meets our needs perfectly. Throughout the Psalms, God declares to us that he is our protection, our fortress and place of refuge. Jesus displayed radical acceptance to people as he walked out his life on earth, drawing near to the unloveable, all conversations and encounters were humanizing, hope-filled, tender. And the Holy Spirit is promised to be our comforter, One who remains intimately close to us, in the mundane and the radical, whispering truth and interceding for us when words are beyond us.

IMG_7390Perhaps my most favorite quote is a poem from C.S. Lewis’s The Great Divorce, the opening line being “The Happy Trinity is her home, nothing can trouble her joy.” These words are my anthem, a recurring theme. They rung true so deeply in that moment swimming in the sea this week. In this break before what will possibly be a heart wrenching and bittersweet end of a season, I found myself in this bay, protected from the waves of uncertainty and crashing fear. I was swimming in this depth of unparalleled and unending acceptance. And I was smiling under the warm abundance of sun, basking in the glow of the presence of constant comfort. Another tangible poem of a moment that sunk deeply into my core, a moment I am unspeakably grateful for. I will leave you, dear reader, with this beautiful poem I came across a few months back that articulates this moment so eloquently:

Lie back, daughter, let your head

be tipped back in the cup of my hand.

Gently, and I will hold you. Spread

your arms wide, lie out on the stream

and look high at the gulls. A dead-

man’s-float is face down. You will dive

and swim soon enough where this tidewater

ebbs to the sea. Daughter, believe

me, when you tire on the long thrash

to your island, lie up, and survive.

As you float now, where I held you

and let go, remember when fear

cramps your heart what I told you:

lie gently and wide to the light-year

stars, lie back, and the sea will hold you.

-Philip Booth

Create the Course You Wish to Take in this World

It has been so instructive to live life alongside the brave, tender-hearted, vivacious, the one and only Jordan Siebenmorgen.  One of the most generous, hospitable, and well connected people I know, as well as my roommate of nearly three years, she has taught me a lot about bravery and connecting with others. For her, it comes from a near decade of setting down roots in a city, saying yes to adventures, and confidently following her curiosity. She has this uncanny knack for finding out people’s stories. If she’s intrigued by someone, or interested in what they do, she’ll ask them out to coffee. “I had lunch with some doula’s today,” she told me the other day offhandedly. At my inquisitive look, she added, “I don’t know- I could see myself being a doula one day!” And that is Jordan.

IMG_6251As I started thinking about stepping away from teaching, the thought of trying to find a “something else” felt very daunting. I mean, I’m an elementary teacher. What does that qualify me to do? I wanted to be open to possibilities, to finding connections that would help lead to what was next for me. I made a mini resolution at the New Year to use the first few months of 2016 to take a page from the book of Jordan and reach out to people who inspire me, possibilities that intrigue me, and experts who interest me. For the last two months I have tried to reach out to someone every week, to meet with them one on one, to sit and listen, to get curious and watch closely to the other wealth of possibilities that opened up as a result.

I met with a friend who is an editor, who inspired me to think about a job as a writer. I have encountered several women who are traveling or have traveled in the past. Women who gave practical, honest, encouraging advice of what to do and how to do it well. Who shared their stories of bravery and heartbreak. I got tea with a girl from my church who was about to leave for an extended travel across the world with her husband. This was the catalyst for me to actually start dreaming of my own travels.

When we listen well to others stories, told courageously, we are changed. There is such abundance around us, in the lives we exist between and among. I have found that connection multiplies when we open ourselves up to listening and humbling ourselves to ask for what we want. I’m writing this post from a hostel in Puerto Rico. Somehow, traveling Allie is so much more brave, so much more able to submit to needing help and asking for directions or advice of where to eat dinner. But in the comfortable rhythm and environment of home, we can slide into familiar ruts of independence. I wanted to intentionally step out of that as I prepare for my upcoming adventure.

I wasn’t particularly interested in getting another degree. So rather than relying on my official credentials to take me to “the next thing,” I have created my own “communiversity” of sorts. Right now my “professors” are the people on the periphery of my life that are doing incredible things. People who are in the midst of trying to figure things out just as much as I am, but are generous enough to share where they’ve been and what they’ve processed along the way. And I recognize that their stories are not to be replicated or imitated, as I will be busy living my own unique tale, but in asking and observing, in receiving their wisdom and following up on their “you should check out….” suggestions, I am in the process of metamorphosis . Inspiration is starting to take shape. Also, a syllabus of sorts has started to form from various book suggestions, podcast recommendations, and movie commendations. I’m finding I need to orient my free time to create space for these inspirations to come and take root.

This is such a beautiful way to live. And the more I open myself up to receiving from the generosity of other people’s stories, the more I see. Serendipitous conversations delight me on a daily basis, switching my mindset from one of surprise to one of open-handed expectancy.

So who is it that you need to ask out to coffee? Which experts do you need to seek advice from? What course are you wanting to take right now? We coexist, brush shoulders, and share life with incredible storehouses of wisdom. We live a world that doesn’t require a college class in which to expand our horizons. Thank God.

Allie’s Quarter Life Crisis/Adventure (Part 3)

There have been many conversations over the course of the last month, started with a shaky breath, followed by a quick spill of what I’ve been thinking, what I’m hoping to do, and why I feel the need to take the rest of this year to travel and figure out what’s next. As I shared yesterday, it is a vulnerable thing to share a dream just starting to take shape. 

Yet I have been overwhelmed with the support and delight and encouragement I have received on the other end of these heart-spilling soliloquies.  The exuberant acceptance and tender encouragement of dear friends has been so emboldening, reassuring as their hands reach across the table and interlock with mine. The giddy smiles spreading wide and the celebration has been the kindness of God incarnate to me. I don’t know if my mom can even know what her words meant to me as she said to me on the phone a few days ago, with confidence and the tenderness only mothers can intone: “Allie, I trust you. I know that you are going to be okay, and that this will be an amazing experience for you.”

Yes, I am heading out on this solo trip, but I do not go alone.

DSC_0443I have been overwhelmed and truly delighted by the opportunities for connection that this trip has already provided. More people than I can count have resonated with my ramblings and ponderings that I’ve been processing out loud, both through this blog and in person. It’s astounding how many people are in similar places. Not necessarily about to uproot and wander for awhile, but so many people are in the midst of transition, knee deep in trying to figure out what they want and who they are. As C.S. Lewis so puts it so succinctly, “friendship … is born at the moment when one man says to another “What! You too? I thought that no one but myself . . .” This is why I am writing. Why I will try to continue to be transparent and think out loud with you, why I want to keep hearing your stories, to listen well and sit in the midst of the narratives with you. The catharsis that comes from reading or hearing or encountering someone articulate something that is deep within you trying to be understood is beautiful. Those moments of connection are something I am deeply drawn to and something I would be honored to be able to provide to others.

I want to say, at the outset of this, dear reader, that I want to live out loud on this blog, to invite you in on this journey. I hope not in an Instagram-worthy, glossy edit of my whirlwind adventures, but rather an honest reckoning with all of the beautiful and confusing and uncomfortable and unforgettable moments along the way.

IMG_3804I discover so much about myself through travel and also through writing. As part of the motivation for this trip is to enter into engaging with creativity, in risking and growing as a writer, I’m asking you to share my stories, the posts that resonate with you, with others. This blog has already been a platform of connection in surprising and beautiful ways, and I want more of that. If you have ideas of where I should go or what I should do, I want to hear them! If you’d like to connect more and dialog about the crisis adventure you find yourself in the midst of, please reach out. I would love nothing more.

Many people have told me that I am brave in doing this. I never know how to respond to this remark, wondering if it’s true. I don’t know if bravery is the right word. I just am coming to find that the cost of risk and vulnerability, choosing to pursue that which ignites my soul, while it isn’t cheap, is a much more rewarding risk than the cost of living in fear. There are moments of needing to choose bravery, but as I look up I see the army of courageous people all around me, owning their stories as well. And for that, I feel enCOURAGED and unendingly grateful. 

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Allie’s Quarter Life Crisis/Adventure (Part 2)

Yesterday I shared with you, dear reader, my plans to travel for the second half of 2016. I’ve never been one to make ten year or even five year plans. Any attempts to decide what my life is going to be like has fallen short of what the adventure has been thus far. I’m more of a six-month out planner. I don’t know what I’ll be doing a year from now. No idea whatsoever. But I do have a vision of what I hope to be doing 6 months from now. And that plan is really exciting to me.

IMG_9076It’s been quite interesting, telling others my news, watching their knee jerk responses and feeling the shock waves of their responses. Many, many people have been so excited with me, supportive, and inquisitive listeners. Some people have received this news with wide eyed shock that swiftly switches into a launch of logistics, firing a barrage of questions. How are you going to afford this? Are you going to go alone? Where will you stay? Can your car take that kind of trip? What mileage does your car get? What color is your car? Other people have expressed sympathy that my current career, that which I got a college degree for hasn’t worked out in the long term, and they receive my news that I’m switching gears with a wary assessment of my mental stability. Other still have gone into solution mode, trying to “fix the problem” by suggesting a change of scenery or moving to a different school would make me feel better. These reactions have been hard to receive, have caused confusion and hurt and doubt.

I find two driving factors that motivate my actions, my thought life, my choices. At my core, I want my outer life to line up with my inner life; what I believe, what I value, what seems authentic or true. I want a life that is congruent with who I am. Self aware to a fault, I can sometimes agonize over situations where this doesn’t seem to be the case. For those of you who speak Myers Briggs, I’m an INFP, described this way on this website: “As an INFP, your primary mode of living is focused internally, where you deal with things according to how you feel about them, or how they fit into your personal value system. Your secondary mode is external, where you take things in primarily via your intuition.” So that’s why it’s jarring to me when my external realities feel incongruent with my values and desires. It’s why taking an extended cross country trip feels less scary than staying in a job that is really draining to me.

While that is the driving force and ultimate core of me, there is another factor that can weigh heavily in my decisions, my thought life, my choices. It’s my desire for others to think well of me, to find me desirable, wanting to sense their approval. While I have grown a lot in this arena and believe that I am less driven by people pleasing than I was even a year ago, it is still a battle I will continue to fight for years to come.

So as I share this news, and I sense other people’s a) disapproval b) anxiety or worry over the logistics or safety of my choices c) their impulse to fix me, or even d) jealousy over my opportunity, I have had to reckon with my desire for people’s approval, and the isolation and loneliness that hustling for this has caused. I can recognize that the myriad of reactions and responses I’m getting are all valid and make sense. I can see reason to ask questions, and a natural curiosity of how this will all work. I don’t think traveling cross country, alone, for several months would be a wise choice for everyone, and could easily be seen as a cry for help or a running away.

Here are some things I want to share with you, some things I know and believe to be true about myself and this journey I’m about to take:

  1. I need to be okay with “I don’t know.”

I’ve learned a lot about certainty these past few months. It’s a painful process to loosen my grip on attempts at certainty, but even more vulnerable to admit those I-don’t-knows to inquisitive left-brained question askers. I am someone who has one foot planted firmly in practicality, strategy, wanting to have a framework and an action plan and the other foot dancing in spontaneity and a deepening appreciation for being out of my element. This is an adventure- and the nature of adventures is to step into unknown territory. Certainty isn’t a part of the deal.

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  1.  I am not running away.

I wondered about this at first and didn’t want to say yes to this trip if it was just me being drawn to this bohemian free-spirited hippy life as an attempt to escape staying in something hard. Considering my motives was really important to me as I made this decision. Here’s the thing: I love Kansas City. And Kansas City loves me back. We’ve got a good thing going here. I am in a healthy rhythm and I know how to thrive here. And I know that there will be a cost to this reality of traveling; it will be uncomfortable and lonely at times. I am trying to be realistic. I was listening to a lecture by Cheryl Strayed a couple of days ago, as she was describing her own Westward Trek on the Pacific Crest Trail. Others wrote about her saying that she was running away from some hard circumstances in her life. She corrected that assumption, saying “It was not a running away–it was a running towards.” I believe this journey will be an encounter with the one who calls me Beloved, a deepening knowledge of who I am, and what I was made for, an unfurling of my wings, and a growing trust and practicing dependence that we are thrown into when we travel.

  1. The last five years were not a mistake.

A friend of mine asked me if I thought I had picked the wrong career. I thought about it for a minute and then replied “No! I am grateful to have been a teacher for the time that I have. I have grown in ways I never thought imaginable and have felt deeply satisfied by my work. If I were to remain a teacher, that would be something I’d regret.” It is not uncommon for people in our generation to switch careers. In fact, it’s statistically expected. I think that is such a privilege that I don’t want to take for granted.

  1. I am not a hippy. Or a loner.

While this is an unconventional move for a twenty-eight-year-old white girl from the Midwest, what I’m discovering is that this is very doable. That other, responsible, good-head-on-their-shoulders people are doing this, more and more, in fact. I still plan on having health insurance and finding a source of income. I also know and deeply believe in the value of sharing life with people who know me well and will love me enough to ask me hard questions. I want to stay rooted in live-giving relationships and connect with people along the way.

  1. This is my story.

A big theme that keeps coming up in conversation and in various things that I’m reading and listening to is the idea of life as story, and the necessity of owning my story. I can see evidence of the process of this being worked out in my life over the past few years, letting go of narratives that I thought my life would be, stepping into new ones. Part of this process has meant battling against comparison, that thorny life-choking weed that we can so easily be ensnared in. Though I don’t always functionally believe it, I need to keep declaring to myself that comparison kills joy. That my life is meant to be lived by me, and that is a full time job.

I want to thank you, sincerely, for reading, for coming alongside me, for supporting me, and listening to my story. I am so eager to keep moving forward, and to share the messy glorious process with you. More on that tomorrow!

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Allie’s Quarter Life Crisis/Adventure (Part 1)

In the spring of 2011, this girl: a bright eyed, bushy tailed, recent college graduate came down to Kansas City, a place I would come to call home. After a flurry of interviews and timid exploration of the city, I found myself in the Human Resources department of a school district I love, accepting a job as a third grade teacher. As I signed a contract, and the surreal “real life” that had been anticipated for all those years started to shift into focus for me. There had always been a clear next step, with defined parameters. Graduate high school. Pick a college. Student teach. Graduate. Find a job. I had successfully checked each item on the list and become an official adult.

Living in Kansas City, as a third grade teacher has been my reality for five years now. I moved down here not knowing a soul and started from scratch. It has been exhilarating and exhausting, lonely and lovely, empowering and enlightening, this entering into “adulthood.”

IMG_1440My first year of teaching, I thought I’d be a teacher for life. It was overwhelming and at times an all consuming job, but I loved it. Building a community and making a new city feel like home took time and required a lot of bravery, but over time, I found people that I connected with, and felt like I belonged in this “city of fountains in the heart of the country.” By my third year in this new rhythm, I felt more in love with the city and with the people I was sharing life with, but started to feel discouraged by the insurmountable and ever increasing expectations placed on me as an elementary teacher. I would be relieved when I remembered that I didn’t have to do this job for the rest of my life. I thought I had a few more years in me, but I understood how and why so many teachers get burned out. I told myself and others that if I ever didn’t love what I did, I hoped I had the bravery to quit and try something else. I realized that moment of needing to be brave and try something else had arrived this year. It was sad, even though I could see it coming on the horizon for awhile. Even more so, it felt scary. There was no clearly defined next step that there had always been. I had to ask myself the terrifyingly open-ended question: If not teaching, then what?

I took some time to sit with that question and really listen. I have learned a lot about myself and have grown into being able to be more open and honest with God and myself. My roommate and dear friend Jordan had asked me awhile back the question: When do you feel most alive? My reply:

  1. When I am going on an adventure, whether that’s a road trip across the country or exploring an undiscovered hiking trail in Kansas City.
  2. When I am connecting deeply with people in life-giving conversation, especially one on one.
  3. When I am engaging in the creative process, whether that’s painting, creating a collage, or writing a blog post.

DSC_0153As I prayed about, wrestled with, journaled, and processed with friends what to do next, a dream that encompassed all of these things started to emerge. One that was almost too good to be true, that I dismissed it at first. But the idea persisted, and I kept seeing encouragement or inspiration pop up in conversations, books, podcasts, and dreams, too many times to be discounted as coincidence. I started to consider it as a something I can and will pursue.  So here it is, folks: After the school year is over, I am hoping to take a few months to travel within the United States, stopping at cities that I’m curious about for a few weeks at a time. During these months, I hope to find a job that I can do remotely while also carving out space and time to grow as a writer and consider what the next season will look like, and where that should be. I want to travel slow and simply, relying on creative (and safe) accommodations that are cheap or free.

What I don’t want to do is to just jump into another 9 to 5 job that offers security and comfort, but isn’t something that aligns with my strengths or passions. What I don’t want to do is stubbornly dig in my heels in what I thought the narrative of my life should look like rather than being open to unexpected possibilities. What I don’t want to do is make a decision based out of fear or what I perceive others are expecting of me at the cost of stepping out into deeper trust and abundant living. While I think this time of travel will be temporary, a stepping stone to being rooted and finding belonging, this upcoming year has provided an opportunity of release and the freedom to go, so I’m going.

About a year ago, I was sitting in an airport, on my way to Ireland, across from a woman in her late sixties. We got to talking, sharing our travel plans. She was on her way to England for a funeral of a dear friend she had met when she was traveling the world in her twenties. She lit up as she shared her life story–how at eighteen, she had left home and spent the better part of a decade traveling around the world, working at farms, earning enough money to go to the next place. She looked me squarely in the eyes and said “I think you should travel. I’m so glad I did. It made me a better mother, a better wife, a better human being.”

I was intrigued. “Wow. Tell me more. What do you mean that it made you a better wife and mother?”

“I did all that adventure, and figured out who I was. By the time I met my husband I knew what I wanted. I didn’t ever resent him or my children for the adventures I wasn’t able to go on, because that was a part of me. Not that all of my adventures ended when I started a family, but I feel more rooted now because of the traveling I did before.”

I felt inspired by this woman, but not merely because she traveled. I was impacted by encountering someone looking back on their life, so grateful for the risks they took, able to bear witness to the fruit of stepping into her story and how that affected her life and the lives of the people she came to love and care for deeply. I’m not looking to be saved by spending the next few months traveling, but I do want to be someone who enters into her story, wholeheartedly.

IMG_4871The details of how and when are starting to take shape, but there are still a lot of unknowns. It has been fascinating to see how I’m already stepping into this. As I talk about it and share this news with others, it becomes more real. It has been very humbling and vulnerable to share this “plot twist.” In a way, it has felt like a “quarter life crisis” although, I say that with my tongue very much in my cheek. I’ve been walking through a grieving process, in admitting to myself that I need to be done as a classroom teacher, that my rhythm and sense of normal that I’ve built up over half a decade is coming to a close. And yet at the same time, I feel more strong, more fully myself, more healthy than I ever have, and it is with a deep peace and steady confidence that I am moving forward into this unknown territory.

I think a lot of my twenties have been a steady barrage of transitions, which could be viewed pessimistically as a decade long identity crisis, or it can be seen as a beautiful song with various movements and changing tempos, but also with a familiar melody running throughout.

I had dinner with a friend from college last night, and shared my travel plans with her. It was so beautiful to see her perspective, as one who has known me and seen glimpses of my life throughout the past 8 years. “Allie, this makes so much sense. You talked about wanting to travel when you were in college. You had your doubts about whether or not you wanted to teach then also. I’m not surprised by this in the least. This choice lines up with who you are.”

I think she’s right. While this isn’t what I was planning or what I expected to be, this is congruent with who I am.