I’m in Israel for a week. Some of my friends invited me to join them at the last minute, and I was in Europe already, and the flight to Israel was short and cheap, so I said, “Sure!”
Yesterday we took a tour of Jerusalem.
Our first stop was at the Western (aka Wailing) Wall.
It stands on King Herod’s Temple Mount, most of which was destroyed a long time ago. The cornerstone of the temple is owned by the Muslims, and is covered by the Dome of the Rock, which only Muslims can visit.
Jews are allowed to access the Western Wall, which used to be called the Wailing Wall.
A fence separates the men’s half of the wall from the women’s half of the wall. Our tour guide gave us small pieces of paper, and directed us to write a note to God, which we could roll up and leave in the crevices of the Wall. Then he separated the men from the women.
Last night I went to bed to the news that nine people had been murdered at a well-known African American church in Charleston, South Carolina.
This morning I woke up to the news that in spite of the racially-motivated murders, the Confederate flag is still flying in South Carolina’s capitol.
This is a problem.
A few weeks ago I was at my parents’ place in Illinois, spending time with them before leaving to spend 4 months abroad.
I had a conversation with them one night about the reasons I was excited to be setting off on an adventure, and the reasons I think it’ll be hard.
“It’s like the treasure in the field,” my dad said, referencing a parable that Jesus told.
That night I climbed into bed and re-read Matthew 13:44:
The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.
The next morning, I flew to Portland to speak at an event. While I was there, I had a get-together and said good-bye to friends that I probably won’t see until 2016.
I flew to Amsterdam, spent two days there, and then took an overnight train to Germany.
I was jet-lagged.
I didn’t have much money to spend because I won’t have an income for four months.
I schlepped my wheeled duffel bag (that has all my clothes for the next 4 months) into and out of the airport, on and off of trains, into and out of hotel elevators. I dragged it around for so long, I got knots in my neck and back.
I went to FaceTime my family and friends several times before I realized — I’m 9 hours ahead of them, so most of the time, when I want to talk with them, they’re fast asleep.
After a week of that, I started to pray, “God, I’m tired. I’m lonely. I’m miserable. I don’t know how I’m going to take four months of this.”
Until last week, I’d never been to Amsterdam, but I’d heard about it. More bicycles per capita than any city in the world. Lots of tulips and windmills. The Red Light District. Legal marijuana.
I was intrigued, so I decided to add the city to my European itinerary.
I took a red-eye flight from Portland and landed in Amsterdam at 7 a.m. I took a tram downtown, and got off at the stop that was supposedly near my hotel. The little streets and alleys tangled together and I got a little lost — which would’ve been fine except for the fact that I was lugging a heavy wheeled duffel bag that has all my clothes for the next 4 months.
I eventually found the hotel, checked in, dropped my bag in the room, locked my passport in the safe, and walked ten minutes to the center of town.
It was truly beautiful. Amsterdam has as many canals as Venice — who knew?
Last week, I flew to Europe to spend a month as the author-in-residence at an art school in Germany. But I have a thing for collecting stamps in my passport, so instead of flying straight to Germany, I flew into Amsterdam, spent a few days exploring, and then took the overnight train to meet the couple I’m staying with.
When I told people in the U.S. about my travel plans, several people asked, “Who are you traveling with?”
“No one,” I said. “I’m going by myself.”
I’ve travelled internationally enough to know that the first day I get to a new country, I’m usually fine. Even if I’ve taken a red-eye and not gotten much sleep, I’m usually so excited, the adrenaline fuels me for the first twenty-four hours.
The jet lag doesn’t kick in until the second day. And then it hits hard.
Last fall I flew to Paris with a friend. The first day was great — we arrived early in the morning and spent the day exploring the city. On the second morning, we got up and went to breakfast at a cafe just around the corner from our hotel.
Jet lag hit me hard. The exhaustion was so profound, I felt like I was going to throw up, pass out and cry all at the same time.
“You don’t look very good,” my friend said gently as we sipped our coffees and ate our croissants. “Are you okay?”
I shook my head. “Not okay,” I said. Because even talking was hard. After breakfast, we parted ways. I ended up going back to the hotel while she visited museums. I slept for a few hours and met her for lunch, and then for the rest of the trip I was fine.
So I knew that on the current trip I’m on, while I took the red-eye Sunday night and arrived in Amsterdam on Monday morning, it was Tuesday that was going to be hard. In spite of my best efforts — hydrating, staying up on Monday as long as I could, and taking a Tylenol PM to make sure I stayed asleep — I woke up feeling terrible.
Ugh. There’s nothing worse than jet lag, I thought as the exhaustion washed over me.
Last week while I was in Portland, my schedule was a blur of activities.
I sat down with a film crew that’s working on a series of short clips about generosity (I’ll let you know when it’s viewable!)
Then I surprised an elementary school whose teacher read them excerpts of The Invisible Girls this past school year.
It seems appropriate that the last speaking engagement I had before leaving the U.S. for four months (spending a month in Europe as the artist-in-residence at an art school, then three months serving at a hospital in Togo, Africa) was in Portland, Oregon.
Portland was the place I moved in 2008 as I was recovering from my cancer treatments. The place where I met the Somali girls I ended up writing about in The Invisible Girls. The place where I found God again (or God found me?) after my life on the east coast fell apart. The place where I fell in love with the silhouette of Douglas Fir trees.
The downside was that because Portland is so dear to my heart, it was not only the last, but one of the hardest, places to say good-bye.
I’m writing this post at 35,000 feet on a flight from Phoenix to Los Angeles. I just saw the Grand Canyon for the first time in my life! As I’m flying back, I’m thinking about bucket lists. And life. And death. And what it means to be alive.
I was diagnosed with breast cancer nine years ago.
I had two recurrences, five surgeries, eight rounds of chemo, 30 days of radiation, one year of Herceptin infusions, three years of Zometa infusions, five years of Tamoxifen and Zoladex, and now I’m half-way through another five years of Arimidex and Lupron.
I have doctors appointments every three months. There’s a blood test my oncologist can check to monitor my cancer. If the marker spikes, it means my cancer’s back and I need to start chemo again.
I did some research and found that checking the marker doesn’t improve your chance of survival. It just lets you know sooner that your cancer’s back and you might die.
“Why would I want to know my cancer’s back sooner if it doesn’t improve my survival?” I asked my oncologist.
“The only reason you’d want to know is if you’d live differently if you knew you were dying,” he said. “Like — if you’d want to quit your job and have time to parachute out of an airplane or fly around the world or spend more time with loved ones.”
“Let’s cancel the blood test,” I said.
“Are you sure?” he asked me.
I nodded. “I already live like I’m dying.”
I’ve been living on the road since October 2014, traveling across the U.S. (and to four countries) to speak at events related to themes from The Invisible Girls.
When people ask me questions like, “Where do you live?” or “Where’s home for you?” I pause because I don’t have an answer. I live everywhere. I live nowhere. I don’t know.
I own a town home in Portland, Oregon, which has been rented out to tenants for the past two years now. I had an apartment in California but I gave it up in October when the lease was up because I knew God was calling me to make traveling/speaking my vocation for now. And now it’s just me and a large wheeled duffel bag with 9 months’ worth of clothes, my laptop, my passport, and a few books.
When people hear about my transient life, I often get ooohs and ahhhs and aren’t you lucky‘s. And I acknowledge how blessed I am to be on this adventure right now.
I also realize that the transience and the frequent speaking engagements come with their own complications. As a for instance…