Guest post from…Caroline Macmber. After testing out the waters of tutoring and art education in the states, Caroline’s life changed in a huge way. For one, she got married, but in addition to this big step, she and her husband decided to embrace the exhausting yet wonderful travel life. Leaving everything behind, they have spent the last six months seeing what they can learn from this big wide world, keeping our eyes open for the many ways God speaks through other people and other cultures. Follow Caroline’s adventures at her own blog, Caroline Takes Flight.
Shortly after getting married, my husband and I embraced a shared dream for travel and headed for what has become an exhausting, wonderful, haphazard, inspiring, and CRAZY experience. After nearly six months backpacking the dust-clouded, noisy trails of Asia, our recent arrival in Guam has brought on some unexpected realizations. Unlike the other countries we’ve traversed these past few months, Guam is quite a bit like America, and is in fact somewhat part of America. (It’s all very confusing I think, no matter how often I have the locals explain it to me.) As an “unincorporated territory” of the U.S., Guam feels like being back in the Western world.
At first this was a bit of a relief, but it has come with some sobering realizations about the world we came from back in the U.S.
For instance, while taking a bit of time to hop on the internet this morning in a little coffee shop not too unlike those I left behind back home, I saw a stack of magazines from the U.S. While Drew did some work online, and since I hadn’t picked one up in literally months, I decided to dive into one of the magazines. “Women’s interest magazines.” You know the kind: brightly colored pages full of shoes and gossip and photo-shopped/air-brushed figures that began as women long before they hit the pages. Pages and pages of advice on how to be sexier, thinner, more important, richer…better. That magazine sucked up a good hour of my time, filling my head with things I didn’t have, and when I finally closed it, I had this sick and discouraged feeling. Was it a feeling of failure? Imperfection? Dissatisfaction? I’m not sure, but I was filled with relief to look out the window and see the beauty of Guam around me. It was like waking up from a nightmare.
It might sound like I’m exaggerating, but some of those articles seriously haunt me if I let them. I took a moment to remind myself that I am not surrounded by a cut-throat society that cares about how clear your skin is, how many calories you consumed, and whether or not you own the handbag, got the job, or wore the shoes first. Instead I am surrounded by coconut palms and the beautiful culture of the Chomorro people. I am surrounded by an awesome artistry of tradition, sun, and nature. In fact…I was so deeply involved in the beauties of this world and the people in it before picking up that magazine, that I had almost let that other world- the one where “perfection” is defined by unattainable standards of beauty and wealth- become invisible. I had almost forgotten all about it.
Six months in Asia had begun to turn my attention from tempting, but unhealthy distractions toward a completely different array of interests.
So today I concluded this: that whole world can become invisible if you let it. Yes it’s hard. No you don’t need to literally leave the Western world to leave its pressures behind. Yes the voice of media is strong, but no it’s not more powerful than I am.
Somewhere along the line, someone decided to fill these “women’s magazines” with things that do not give me strength, build me up, or lead me to goodness. Maybe this isn’t the case for everyone, but for me it felt like culture shock to turn my head from the things that have held my focus for the last six months to things that are deemed “of interest to women.” Over the last six months, I have been diving full force into my interests: travel, culture, the natural world, backpacking. I cannot deny that when I first left, it was so hard not to have a cute dress to wear every now and then or make-up to make me feel like I was keeping up with the trendy appearance of friends on Facebook. Even though my husband never missed a chance to tell me I looked good without all the make-up and stylish clothing, it was hard to abandon that interest in looking my best….or someone else’s idea of “my best.” But the more time that went by without investing in these physical/material interests, the more I realized that those things may not be “mine.” Did someone else give me those interests? Did someone tell me to care about looking as good as the other women around me, making certain that I am always the prettiest and most successful version of myself? Did someone tell me that “pretty” looks different than “natural” or that it looks different than “me?”
These six months abroad have been refreshing. In the markets of Cambodia I never felt like my clothes weren’t good enough. In fact…I rarely thought of them. In the pictures Drew took of me standing in front of a waterfall in Malaysia or walking down a street in Thailand, I began to think less of how an outfit made me look and more about whether or not I was smiling. Drawing pictures of the women in Sri Lanka, I didn’t feel self conscience about myself. I saw beauty without the feeling of envy that can often shroud it.
There’s something very complex at play here: more complex than just a magazine. The truth is, no matter where the interests came from or who gave them to me, I have interest in good and I have interest in bad. That is just true. I am drawn towards things that build me up and encourage me as well as those things that bring me down and make me feel weak. Think of it like the inclinations of baby sea turtles, attracted by the light of the moon over the ocean as well as by the artificial lights of the city. They’re drawn towards either of these lights, but one will bring it health and one will not. I can pick which light to walk towards, the natural or the man-made. I can invest in interests that nurture me and help me grow, or I can invest in the interests that make me feel sexy and powerful for the fleeting moment before a prettier woman walks by. I can pay attention to the demands of the media or I can pay attention to the design of my Creator.
Opening that magazine reminded me of this on-going tug-of-war. I think the discipline will be on-going, but it is in fact a discipline.
Working to make that world invisible is going to require a lot from me, but I think it will be worth it. I want to be genuine to the version of me God created, not the version of me the media created. For me it may mean literally avoiding television and magazines and instead investing in travel or art. For you it may mean something different. Perhaps Guam is like a practice-zone, prepping me for my eventual return to the mainland U.S. I’m grateful for it.