We were eating dinner at a small and dim middle eastern restaurant on one of our first nights in Bucharest. Our professor, leader, guide, smiled kindly at us, weary travelers having just crossed the ocean for this semester in Transylvania.
We were talking about how to be respectful of the culture we were entering, how to fit in, how not be an obnoxious American.
You might need to think about not wearing that, she said to me across the table, pointing to her eye, if you want to not stand out.
I was twenty and a college junior. I wore patched pants, thrift store t-shirts, Dr. Martens Mary Janes, and stickers by my left eye. This was not going to change, but I smiled and nodded politely just the same.
Two months later, I was calling my mother and asking her to send over more stickers, not because I had worn them all, but because I had given almost all of them away. Children would sidle alongside me on the street, slip their hand into mine and then point to their eye and ask sweetly, sticker?
What the professor had feared would set me too far apart, had actually been my quiet way in.
I was so far in, I came out with Hepatitis A, Mono and a raging case of head lice (one that left a short Romanian woman muttering Dear God, Dear God, as she pulled each nit from my head.)
This was me, during the week I shivered and sweat through the night. The week I had to have a fellow student help me wash multiple doses of poison shampoo through my hair.
Do you see the sheer misery? The exhaustion? The despair?
Sure, I remember quite vividly, the children rushing to get me blankets, the soothing hands of the fellow camp workers on my forehead, the humility in needing help to the shower, and how cold, cold, cold water felt on my feverish skin.
But mostly, more than anything, I remember this:
I remember making children smile. I remember telling them that God loved them. I remember singing worship in another language as though it was as natural as my own.
I remember knowing, without a doubt, I was where I was supposed to be, in that moment.
And I remember not wanting to ever leave.
Today, we’re in the middle of something and nothing all at once.
There are children, my own children, scattered throughout the house this morning, each working in their own way. Lila reading chapter books and doing double digit math, impressing even herself. Alex is happily moving through fourth grade work and taking his time to do creative side projects that involve drafting plays and creating reading comprehension worksheets for his sibling to answer. Asher has begun to sound out words on his own.
There is a sign on our lawn, a listing online. Our house is on the market. We are in the middle of hoping, of wondering where our next footfall as a family will lead us.
We’re in the middle of this, these happenings, this holding pattern of living and waiting, circling our options. We are.
But, I would be lying if I didn’t admit that there’s a part of me, still with the sticker by her eye and a bold sense of the world being so big and so wide-open for adventure, who is not so ready to sell and buy (again) and settle down in a more permanent way.
There is still the part of me, who opens her mailbox and finds the Heifer International mailing, reminding her of the promise to donate again this year, and who pulls out the picture enclosed and knows in an instant, without reading a word, that this family is in Romania.
It’s a photograph of people I’ve never met, in a village I never visited, and yet, it tugs at my heart like it’s home.
And it reminds me again, that the feeling of knowing you are in the place where you are meant to be, is something that my heart has known and can know again. Perhaps it’s even something my heart might already know, if I’m just quiet enough to sit and listen.