I was the new kid, sitting on the floor of my first-grade class in Spencer, North Carolina. I was six years old and my family had just moved to North Carolina from Camden, New Jersey.
A lady had come into the classroom with a tape player and a big smile. “Bonjour, mes amis!” she chirped.
“Bonjour, madam!” The class called back in unison.
I stared on, confused. What were they saying?
My heart started to race as I continued to wonder what was happening.
The lady pressed play on the tape player and led the class in a song that sounded like it was about the alphabet, but wasn’t the ABCs that I knew. A was “ah,” like what I would say when the doctor told me to open my mouth. H was “ash,” like what came on your elbows when you didn’t use lotion. Y was a whole word by itself and I couldn’t make my mouth say it. Z was “zed,” like a man’s name. I never met a man named Zed, but it seemed like it could be a man’s name.
At the end of the class, the lady introduced herself to me and said that she was our French teacher.
French. That’s what it was called.
I knew a little bit of Spanish, which I’d learned from the Puerto Ricans who lived on the same block as my grandmother in Camden, but I had never heard French. Instantly, I loved every part of it. The way the letters made my tongue lap the roof of my mouth, so softly. It didn’t make my head vibrate the way Spanish’s rolled Rs did.
French seemed like something rich people were born knowing. I had accidentally been invited into their club, even though I was wearing a cotton short set my mom had bought from Goodwill, and I hoped they’d never be the wiser.
In that moment, I knew that my life would be different from anything anyone I had ever known had experienced. It was as if a door had been opened and when I stepped out of it, I fell softly onto an open parachute called the whole wide world. The world was so much bigger than I would ever be, bigger than anyone I knew, even my really tall uncle who lived in St. Louis and not in Camden with everyone else.
I suddenly wanted to see the whole world. Where in the world did they speak this French if we were learning it in North Carolina? What if there were other languages that I had never heard? I thought.
It was a call to worship.
Worship is an expression of reverence and adoration, particularly to a deity. To me, travel (like writing) is an act of worship.
I first responded to this call during my junior year of college. I wanted to go to London to study abroad, but my academic advisor recommended a small school in the east of England. I reluctantly agreed since the school has a well-known creative writing program. When I arrived on campus, I was blown away the rolling hills whose beauty winter’s cold rain couldn’t wash away, only amplify.
Seeing God’s creation with one’s very own eyes, even if it’s just to verify that the creations exist, is the action that goes with every “God is good” thought. We weren’t there when He made it all, so seeing the world is like watching Him create all over again. You become more confident in God’s amazingness when you’ve seen the sun melt into the Pacific Ocean. It makes sense that God called humankind “very good” when you’ve walked on the thickest, highest portions of the Great Wall of China. It’s a sure thing that He provides for needs when you’ve seen flora and fauna flourishing in the desert of Arizona.
Now, don’t get me wrong — I understand that not everyone will get the opportunity to see the farthest reaches of the earth, due to financial, physical, or other limitations, and I believe that God shows Himself to everyone who is interested in seeing Him in some way or another. But those who can travel should.
Travel changes you in a way nothing else can. It instills patience, empathy, and fearlessness, three characteristics that most therapists would say make for a satisfying life. I can attest to that. After we climbed a real mountain in Arizona just last week, my husband and I stood at the summit, looking out for miles, beyond the desert that lies beyond the farmland that lies far outside of the city.
“Should we pray? I feel like we should pray,” my husband said. And we said a quick note of reverence to the One we believe created all of the beauty we were looking out at and also the mountain we climbed to see it all.
My husband and I had allowed experienced trail runners to jog past us as we clung to rocks for dear life. I wanted to be jealous of their speed, but I couldn’t: I had to take my time because I’d never done this before. I would have to be patient with myself.
Hardly any part of climbing the mountain was easy. I struggled a lot. It made me wonder if I had been skipping over other people’s struggles, failing to recognize how hard they’d worked to get to where they are. How many of those train runners had fallen like I had on their first-ever climbs?
At the end of the climb, my hands were dirty and my feet were exhausted, but I felt strong and invincible.
“This is scary!” A young girl kept saying as she climbed behind us.
“But you can do it!” I called back. “You’ll never be scared of anything again!”
I was joking, but part of what I said was true: climbing that mountain will never be scary to me again because I’ve done it.
I came, I saw, I conquered. I worshiped.