“Welcome back! How was America?” If I had a dollar for every conversation I’ve had this past month that started like that… It is weird to think that just over a month ago I was dancing along the streets in Disney World, and yet here I am procrastinating doing university readings. It has been an up-and-down month; one of yearning to be back in America yet being excited for what this year will bring; sunny days reminiscing on cherished memories, but sleepless nights of “what ifs” and “if onlys.” Sara Groves sings a song, Painting Pictures of Egypt, which I have used so many times in my life to encourage me to be present in my current season and allow myself to grow – without constantly clinging to the past and glorifying what was – and this season is no different. I know that my time in America is over (for now), that there is a purpose to me being here, and that the ‘what ifs’ are just that for a reason but walking into this season has been an experience I have never been through before. I have physically returned to Egypt after a year of mentally trying to avoid it.
So, how was America?
I prayed at the beginning of 2017 that God would take me back to who I was as a child, to who I was created to be and that is what my year became. It was a year of falling in love – with myself, with God, and with the people around me. I experienced how the joy of the Lord is truly my strength in the curveballs life threw me, and how they did not knock the wind completely out of my sails – for once. I felt the true value of community and what it feels like to be unconditionally loved for being unashamedly me. Most of all, I allowed myself a year of selfishly chasing dreams that 12-year-old me had dreamt up, and left God room to blow those dreams completely out of the water. It was a year of giving my plans and dreams to God and letting Him work them out in His ways and in His timing.
Austin was an escape, a city God called me to in order to heal and restore me. Looking back at photos from the beginning of last year, although I physically looked good, behind the tiny, toned body was a broken soul. In those photos is a girl that did not believe in herself, understand her worth or have a grip on her identity. Through the year of not having my sport, home town or family to place my identity in, I was challenged to be my most vulnerable self and let people in. Through this experience I discovered myself alongside those who I was meeting. I was able to see the many times that I had sold myself short or tried to dilute my true self in order to fit in or gain people’s approval. I recognised that what I pretended was a laziness to cook, was a mask for me trying to force my body into a shape it was not made to be in – to impress people whose hands I had placed my worth in. I was so caught up in a fabricated reality that I had created to escape the everyday pain of life, that I missed God constantly calling me back to Himself.
Kanakuk was a bubble God placed me in for six glorious weeks to intensely surrender my insecurities to Him and place my identity and worth at the foot of the cross. It was a time of learning how to be an intentional friend, to care unconditionally (dealing with lice and night terrors for four weeks really pulls out the most impatient version of yourself by the end), and most importantly – how to let go of my inhibitions and just have fun. I was asked on one day off, “Petro, you don’t trust easily do you?” This caught me by surprise, because I normally find myself trusting people too easily, until I realised what the question was really saying – that I do not trust people with my true self and the ugliest parts of me easily. Cue a time of me wearing my heart on my sleeve and my friends not needing to ask how I was doing – because I was oversharing anyway. I learnt that the ugliest parts of me were not uglier that everyone else’s, and that being open about my past opened doors for closer friendships and freeing conversations.
Travelling allowed me to appreciate different ways of life, histories and the gift that it is to have homes and family all over the world. It opened my heart to dream even bigger than I had ever allowed myself to before and recognise potential in a life that seemed limited before. It made me appreciate the beauty of my island home and the care-free life I had as a child. Most of all, it made me appreciate my parents for teaching us that the world is our oyster and that we deserve the world, and my dear big sister for never backing away from tough conversations and ensuring that our friendship remains a priority.
The girls around me inspired me to always be the best version of myself, to embrace my love for beauty while keeping it real in my active wear and how to be a reliable friend. The guys I met challenged me to step up to the mark of a Godly woman, while realising my true calling to be (and I quote) “one of the bros.” The families I met blessed me with insights into what a family could be, while allowing me to appreciate the gift of a family that I have been given. The university allowed me to see my capability as a student and to be proud of the school you attend. Watching sport every weekend let me readjust my identity as an athlete; letting me fall back in love with the thrill of competition and the burning of muscles and lungs – instead of being defined by an outcome. The Fourth of July opened my eyes to the beauty of loving your nation, but the importance also of desiring to see it grow.
Returning to Dunedin has been challenging, but it has allowed me to experience the growth and healing that took place in 2017 and take on this city as a whole person. So, America, thank you for providing me with a year of rest and people to love and miss, until next time! For now we focus on making the most of what Scarfie life has to offer. Never forget though – Hook ‘em forever!