Cream cheese spread – smooth and steady, broken only by the swirling pleats the knife leaves behind as it glides across the surface.
That’s what the clouds look like just to my left as I gaze down at them from United Airways flight 1259, the final stretch of a journey that will plop me back where I began four months ago at LAX airport in Los Angeles, California.
Every once in a while it looks like the knife ran out of cream cheese to push, and a piece of earth peeks through the monotonous white. Mountains, rivers, valleys, houses – so tiny they look smaller than the Barbie accessories I loved so much as a kid.
As I see ant-like cars crawling across the freeway, I can’t help but wonder what ordinary day or great adventure the driver is presently part of. Could they be part of both at the same time? I’m pretty sure I just was.
Looking back I can’t wrap my mind around the fact that I pressed pause on all that I was familiar with, packed a duffle, a carry on and a backpack, and moved across the world to South Africa for four months. That sounds like a pretty extraordinary adventure, doesn’t it?
And it was. But just as much as we crave the extraordinary, we were made for the ordinary. I think we are constantly wrestling through both. Looking for the other as soon as we’ve grabbed the one. The extraordinary gives us motivation and hope to push forward and the ordinary sustains us to keep on going, planting our feet on the ground and promising our careful hearts something steady.
So in the midst of my great adventure, my heart sought stability.
The extraordinary began to look a whole like my ordinary. Home was established in a foreign place; a sense of family was formed amongst strangers. Day in and day out ordinary things happened – I studied, ate, and slept. I experienced anger, hurt, frustration, and deep sadness. I felt great joy, triumph and made much laughter. I stayed up way too late watching movies and spent more than a few afternoons staring at the ceiling, wondering why I had come here in the first place. There were times when I didn’t think I could go on much longer without a hug from my mom and a Starbucks (first world problems – yes, yes I know), and there were moments when the thought of leaving was so unfathomable that tears sprung to my eyes.
And sprinkled throughout, many extraordinary things happened. I bungee jumped off the tallest commercial bridge in the world. I swam in the Indian Ocean. I hiked to the top of Table Mountain, one of the Seven Wonders of the World. Many days I bought a one-way ticket to Cape Town with no idea what the day would hold once I stepped off the platform. I encountered the Creator and Savior of the world in ways I’m not sure that I would have walking the streets of Phoenix or LA. I sat in the homes of the oppressed and heard stories of reconciliation and forgiveness that will continue to blow my mind for years to come. I got to know some of the most incredible human beings that have ever graced this planet – humans who truly left footprints on my heart as they dragged me up mountains (literally) and descended with me into some frightening valleys.
Extraordinary and ordinary flowing together. I really don’t think one can exist without the other. They seem to weave together to create this experience called life, making it something that we can dually endure and enjoy.
The final morning that I spent in South Africa, I climbed to the top of Elsie’s Peak – a mountain bordering Fish Hoek, the suburb of Cape Town that became another home to add to the collection I’ve accrued over my 20 years.
As I watched the sun peek its rays over the Indian Ocean for the last time, I could feel fear creeping its way into my heart. All I wanted was for my feet to spring roots that would anchor me in this moment, keeping me from leaving behind what had become normal to me.
There’s something about the life of a nomad that grips my soul.
…living out of a bag, taking public transportation, talking to complete strangers, never quite knowing how you will get to the next place, trying new food, barely sleeping because there’s too much of the world to see, finding yourself in the middle of nowhere…
I like that kind of normal. I like that kind of ordinary/extraordinary.
But as I stood at the top of Elsie’s Peak, tears dripping down my cheeks, I realized that going home doesn’t mean that I have to stop living this kind of life.
A spirit of adventure, the life of a wanderer, EXTRAordinary nestled right into the ordinary, is not limited to Cape Town or Africa or the United States or Scottsdale.
Having the courage to step into the unknown – whether that’s the bravery it takes to move to the other side of the world or the determination required to get out of bed and go to work day in and day out – THAT is what it means to be human.
Ordinary and extraordinary weaved together into the tapestry we call “life”.
Embracing that is what it means to truly live.
And that is the life that I choose.