“I trust that someday the lights are going to come on for me.” — An old Jewish blessing said when a Scripture couldn’t be understood
My family and I were at the airport, all my belongings stuffed into two suitcases. I quickly embraced my parents and my sister, afraid if I lingered too long the tears that were hugging the backs of my eyes would spill out onto their shoulders. After spending a year fundraising, I and my suitcases were moving to Athens, Greece to assist refugees. While it was hard to say goodbye to my family, I couldn’t wait to get settled into the one place that had ever felt like home.
Six months later, I would find myself back in America, walking down a long airport terminal toward my dad. This time, it didn’t matter how long the hug lasted. I was crying before I even got to his arms.
For some unknown reason (or a slew of possible ones), I had been unable to secure a resident’s permit to live in Greece. The country I had sold almost everything for hadn’t wanted me, and I wasn’t sure where to go from here. As a good Midwesterner, I was taught that if I work hard, I could do anything I put my mind to. Except, immigration systems don’t respond to hard work or willpower. Even though I knew it wasn’t my fault, I couldn’t help but feel like I had failed. My self-confidence was shaken.
My first year back was painful, as I tried to fit myself into American life. I spent mornings staring at my closet trying to remember what kind of clothes I liked to wear. My cheeks would turn red as the Greek “excuse me” would naturally fall from my lips as I brushed against someone in the grocery store. I spent hours thinking and journaling, to make sense of an experience that felt so brief and purposeless.
Meeting with my spiritual director, she mentioned I should take a day and go to the nearby state park, bring some colored pencils and draw out what I was feeling. Black. That drawing would be all black, I thought, my angst on level with a teenager’s. I didn’t go.
A few months later, when she brought up the drawing idea again, I took her up on it. I bought a canvas and some paints and began to slowly let my hands paint what my mind couldn’t say. Its blues and peaches and creams swirled together on the canvas—without a spot of black—and it gave me hope.
I have discovered it isn’t so much finding the one place I fit, but rather, the various parts of me that fit everywhere. I throw greetings in Farsi to my Afghan friends, and eat rice with them on the floor. I talk Dierks Bentley with my Southern friends, and slide back into my South Dakotan accent when I’m with my family. I enjoy great coffee in Portland, and become elated by snow in the Midwest. And whenever I get a little too animated, I’m reminded of my time in Greece, and I smile to myself of how it has stuck with me.
My favorite definition of hope comes from Merriam-Webster: to hope is to “expect with confidence.” My transition from living abroad to being back in America was tumultuous and left many unanswered questions. Something I had worked so hard for and loved so deeply was gone, but I am expecting with confidence that at some point, it will make sense. These moments of clarity, when I see how my time abroad has enriched my life, I am given a little more confidence and a little more hope.
Hope can’t exist outside of pain. If everything was going well, there would be no need for hope. Yet, in our times of pain, hope is not our natural response. Rather, we may throw ourselves pity parties. We paint our pictures black. Hope is a choice, and a brave one at that.
However, hope isn’t like throwing a coin into a fountain, eyes closed and lips whispering a wish for things to change. Rather, hope is a call to action. Brian McLaren distinguishes hope from a wish in his book, We Make the Road by Walking: “Desires, hopes, and dreams inspire action, and that’s what makes them so different from a wish. Wishing is a substitute for action. . . . In contrast, our desires, hopes, and dreams for the future guide us in how to act now.”
In my situation, I had to face my pain, but I also had to put it to good use. Working with refugees in the U.S., I discovered a community that was well aware of the complicated and unreasonable aspects of the global immigration system. Not only did I find a place where I felt understood, I offered them the gift of understanding as well.
Today, my painting with its blues and peaches hangs on my bedroom wall. It’s not done, and I know my journey isn’t either. But I expect, confidently, that someday my time in Greece will make sense. Like the old Jewish saying—someday, the lights are going to come on for me, too.
Lindsey Boulais lives and works in a low-income community in Portland, Oregon. Find more of her writing at lindseywithlove.wordpress.com.
Krispin Mayfield is a therapist in Portland, OR, and loves capturing the beauty of his neighborhood through photography and music.
Find his work at: https://themaidenname.bandcamp.com/
Kendra Marian is an advocate for the marginalized and is passionate about the church loving its local and global community. When she isn’t outside exploring city life or a hiking trail, you can find her curled up with a book and a cup of tea.