I'd felt the call of God to go, but on coming back I questioned Him. Why, God? I mean, Thank you! We had so much fun, we met wonderful people, had extraordinary adventures, did things with our kids we'd never dreamed were possible in this life...but surely God, surely it was about more than having fun, and making some great memories? Surely I need to...respond...somehow, in a way that benefits the Kingdom...? Surely, God?
It's an unsettling feeling, having emotions you can't understand, and a future you can't fully see. I don't remember ever feeling so full, and so empty, as I did when I returned from that trip, and I denied my emptiness out of a sense of needing to show my gratitude that such a trip had happened.
Eventually I found myself again, threw myself into the relentlessness of day-to-day, started writing again. Moved on with other projects. Finished a novel. Got a new job. Allowed the enormity of our two months away to sink into the obscurity of a handful of funny anecdotes and some beautiful memories.
And then, the other day, I started pulling out thoughts, notes and ideas for a new novel.
"Write what you know!" the experts tell you, and my head hurts at that thought, because what I know is dull, boring in its smallness. And when I search back over the deep emotions that come out of the depth of my soul the things I find are these silly, small stories of rich-white-middle-class-privilege, of being a tourist in another, rich-white-middle-class country. Who cares?!
It's not in a "suddenly" that I get it. The revelation creeps in over time, over months, weeks and days as I gradually allow the emotions to replay on the surface of my mind:
- the sense I had, upon coming home, of not feeling able to acknowledge my emptiness and grief at returning because I had been so blessed and so many had never been, may have been a tiny drop of what my grandmother felt in 1941, bringing home one baby when she'd carried and birthed two.
- Losing my husband and youngest son for an hour in Disneyland, him carrying my phone, my wallet and my hotel key, with the knowledge that literally the only thing that could connect us again was prayer - that gives me the tiniest glimpse of some of the emotions my refugee friend may have felt when returning to his home village, separated from his parents, and was forced to march into a refugee camp in a neighbouring country.
- Landing in Canada from the US and finding that I couldn't access the funds in my travellers VISA card, and the sickening realisation that the money I had on me was the only money I had - and without access to my VISA I couldn't buy food, a new SIM, or hire a car - that feeling of sudden trappedness gave me a tiny glimpse into what displaced people may feel, of a hardened world bent on going about their daily business without noticing the pain of others around them.
- Not being understood, on my language being "different", and "wrong", and my choice of words leaving me misunderstood and lonely. For an Aussie girl from an Aussie family, whose background has only ever been English-speakers it's given me the first glimpse into what life must be like for those who come and have to learn another language in order to be understood, and who feel like they lose a part of themselves once they're divorced from their own language, their own culture.
The other thing my small stories have given me is a whole packet of seeds to plant books in the future. Planted in the garden of my imagination, these little seeds can grow into characters and experiences I never could have imagined previously. I'm not sure as yet what shape of garden these seeds will grow into, but right now I'm planting and watering, and praying. And thanking God a million times over for His gift of these empathy-seeds, that I never knew were possible.
What about you? Are there small stories in your life that inspire you to write bigger ones?