When my friends had said “comic book store,” I was expecting a brightly-lit room with the white linoleum covered in shelves and shelves of colorful volumes, with superhero enthusiasts sifting through titles in either a concise search, or a relaxed exploration of something new.

The small comic book shop in downtown Portland, Oregon, the name of which escapes me now, didn’t fit that picture, but it was still wonderful with its tightly-occupied shelves and blue carpeting. Even as I stepped over the threshold, I felt the beginnings of warmth creeping into that place behind my ribs where all my hopes and aspirations reside. I gravitated toward the first set of shelves to my left and pulled off the first thing that looked interesting. I flipped through it. A short graphic novel. After a few moments and excited comments, I replaced it with something else.

I moved about the store with my friends with a growing sense of reverence, encountering comic books, manga, and a great deal of graphic novels/short stories.

This place was good. This aspiration was good.

Just three months ago, I had decided to officially forgo my original plans of physical therapy in order to pursue writing and illustration instead. Previously, I had always expected I would enter a field heavily involved in science–like a medical profession–and even as my resolution increased, I was usually a bit tentative about such a drastic decision.

However, standing there with my red and blue scarf slung around my neck, rapturously browsing a bookshelf of graphic novels, everything seemed to hold so much more potential. Someday, I could actually see my work on those shelves. And in that moment, I knew the decision I had made three months ago was a good one.

Because in that store, I felt at home. I looked around, and I knew I had something deeply in common with the authors whose work filled those shelves. Under the surface of the soft, sweet smelling pages of books, the dreams of writers and illustrators burn wild. They are dreams that require taking hold of the fabric from which we are spun and pulling it into the physical, tangible world to touch others.

It is at once exhilarating and terrifying, as confidence and vulnerability collide–but such is the nature of that which has been entrusted to me.

And I am grateful for it.

To explore, to cultivate, to glorify the One who creates everything so thoughtfully, it is mine.

And it is good.

My Introduction to World Travel

I had been up almost all night.

Airplanes were so much more cramped than I remembered. The TV built into the back of the seat was malfunctioning so the light glared endlessly in my face in the dark. While the two passengers beside me had managed to doze off, I had been experimenting with all kinds of strange positions, attempting to pull my hood far over my face to block out the TV.

Suddenly, I remembered I hadn’t read something I was supposed to have read before arriving in Costa Rica. The plane would be landing in about half an hour. Hoping I had enough time and shoving back the complaints of my tired eyes, I pulled out my laptop and began reading. The space on the jet was so narrow, I had to crane my neck downward to see what was on the screen. I shouldn’t have worried about it at that point, but I didn’t want to be at a loss if anyone asked me about it (which they didn’t). I wanted to make a good impression at the university where I was studying abroad.

The article I read discussed stepping out and immersing myself in the foreign culture I would be immersed in. It would be a great learning experience, but it would also be confusing and uncomfortable. It made me nervous. What have I done…?

I noticed the sun was rising.

Clouds and distant landscape became buildings and roads as the jet descended in the twilight. I watched the ground with a growing sense of dread.

What have I done? I thought, feeling the fear latching onto my fatigued mind. I was in Costa Rica. I was alone. I had survived most of the trip, but it finally dawned on me how irrevocable this decision was. I would be staying in this country for a month. I had never traveled alone, much less on an airplane, much less out of the country. I would have to rely on my second language here. I had no idea how things worked. Oh gosh. What have I done?

I was shaking when I dismounted the plane. Disheveled and terrified, I trailed after the rest of the passengers down an empty hallway, descended an escalator, and followed signs into a larger area where we lined up for customs. I glanced around at every sign. They displayed both English and Spanish, but I stared at them as if I would soon forget my own native tongue. 

I was twenty years old, but I felt like I was eight. Or maybe six. I waited in line, concentrating on not letting my mortification show. My arms and legs quivered annoyingly, and I tried desperately to avoid shaking so hard I would draw attention to myself. I wasn’t panicking. I could handle this. I was an adult. A world traveler…

I wanted to be there. Even if I had had a choice at that point, I wasn’t going to back out.

But oh glory, what in the world had I just gotten myself into?

Studying abroad to improve my Spanish had seemed like such a great, inspiring, ambitious idea. I had expected the transition stage to be a little scary at times, but chock full of opportunities to grow. Clearly, I was thinking in terms of study abroad brochures. I hadn’t seriously understood how deeply the fear could stab.

Regardless of my anxious and sleep-deprived state, I passed through customs without a hitch.  They talked to me in English. I found my luggage and managed to locate the entrance of the airport. When I came out, people were lined up by a low wall to the right. Someone asked me if I needed a taxi. Diffidently, I said no.

A man asked me in English with a Spanish accent if I needed the police.

“What?” I asked.

“Do you need the police?” the man said again.

For a fleeting moment, I thought I was in trouble, or something had happened without my knowledge. Maybe I looked a little too traumatized.

Disconcerted and confused, I squeaked, “No, thank you.”

It was just a simple question, but nobody had ever asked me if I needed the police before. Apparently it’s just a normal service in Costa Rica.

Stinging with chagrin at my social awkwardness, I found my group waiting on the sidewalk with a large sign that said Whitworth University. They were American, and we spoke in English as we walked the short distance to a van in the parking garage. I was glad I didn’t have to try to break out my Spanish on top of my sleep-deprivation and unfamiliarity overload.

I sat rather stiffly in the van, watching the scenery out the window with wide eyes as the Whitworth assistant drove aggressively in the early-morning traffic. Everything looked so different. Narrow streets, uneven roads, low buildings crowded along hills. A man was selling newspapers at an intersection where a side road met the highway.

Each of the unfamiliar faces in the car was so much more at ease than I was. They had either been there for a month already and were returning from home, or they had traveled before. I hoped we would be great friends by the time this month was over.

We made it to the Whitworth University campus on the beautiful, forested Monte de la Cruz. Before too long, I was napping in a drafty room with cold tile floors, trying to process everything that had happened. Another student was staying in the room for the time being, but I think she was trying to catch up on sleep too. The next day, I would meet my host family.

I felt like a lost six-year-old again, curled under a fluffy blue comforter on the bottom bunk, sick to my stomach, exhausted but restless. 

I still couldn’t believe I was so far from home.

Church Musicians’ Kid

The service was starting. Piano music melded with the organ, whose sound issued from the ranks of pipes at the back of the sanctuary above the entrance.

On the far right side of the room, a group of pews crowded behind the organ. The organist’s fingers bounced along the double rows of keys and her shoeless feet danced over the pedals below. On the pew closest to her, I sat with my two sisters, occupying myself in as well-behaved of a manner as I could muster. Sometimes I had something to color. Sometimes I flipped through the hymnal. Sometimes I just sat there in excruciating boredom.

We would wait through part of the service until children’s time, when all the kids went up on stage for a short lesson from the pastor. After that, we headed back down through the sanctuary, out the double doors, and down the green carpeted hallway to the sunday school rooms in the back of the church. When the service had ended, the kids would return to the sanctuary to find their parents. My sisters and I would wait for the postlude music to end before rejoining ours.

My dad was the pianist, my mom the organist. My parents have always been musicians, and my sisters and I have attended the Sunday services of the churches where they worked for as long as I can remember.

For this reason, whenever I’m asked to identify my specific denomination, I am uncertain how to reply in a concise manner.

I grew up in the Methodist church, but my family is not Methodist. I went to a Lutheran church for a while, but I am not Lutheran either. I went to a private Christian school for the majority of my childhood, which I believe was Pentecostal or nondenominational. I never found out for sure, and though I identified myself with them for a while, I don’t anymore.

My parents worked at the same Methodist church for a good portion of my childhood before deciding it was time to leave. When we had finally said all our goodbyes, I thought we could be regular church-goers for once. But it wasn’t even a year before my parents were called to yet another Methodist church in a nearby town.

Ten years later, my family is still very much integrated into this church. My dad is the pianist and the choir director, my mom is the part-time organist and head of the Sunday school. My older sister is in charge of the nursery, and I lead praise and worship with the kids, as well as a small group for grades 5 and up. I go to that church every Sunday, but I still don’t consider myself a member. I followed my parents’ work there, and now I work there too. Don’t get me wrong, I care about the people, but I still don’t feel like it is my “home church,” per se. Sometimes I fear it will always be this way.

My last year of high school, I started attending an Assembly of God church with my friend, and over the summer I got recruited to lead worship. I almost felt I had found my niche, but I still couldn’t make that distinction without significant reservation. I still didn’t feel as comfortable there as I would have liked to. The next summer, I led worship again, but I wasn’t particularly excited when they had asked me.

I have come to realize that I always feel really awkward in church, like I’m being watched. I also somehow keep ending up on the praise team.

I wonder if this is a bit like pastor’s kid syndrome. I remember knowing full well my parents were important figures in the church. They were well-liked and well-respected. They still are. People love them, and they think well of my sisters and I by association, and I often feel pressured to be on my best behavior.

Because church has always been somewhere my parents worked, it just continues to feel that way for me. I enjoy playing worship music, but I somewhat dread being asked to lead worship at another church, because then I fall into my parents’ footsteps, like I am doomed to never have a “normal” experience. From the moment I agree to use my guitar for the greater good, I feel the pressure and obligation weighing on my shoulders.

I just want to go to church with no other purpose than going to church. Nothing special. Nothing extra.

Lately, I find I just want to slip unnoticed into the back of a sanctuary or auditorium, worship my heart out, consider the sermon, and slip out again. No questions asked. No conversations had. No offers made. I just want to come and leave without anything having been scheduled or arranged, or no performances made on my part.

I admire those people who have grown up in a certain church and who identify with all the people there, fit in well, and have a generally wonderful experience. I have always had trouble making connections in a church. No matter how warm or welcoming the congregation is, and no matter how much I appreciate it, I always end up feeling like an outsider barging in on a tight-knit group. I can pretend I’m a part, but I never really am, and when I  manage to get myself to a mid-week service, it’s because I have guilt-tripped myself into going. Good Christians go to church after all, don’t they?

At one point, I just got fed up with all the discomfort and self-coercion.

I still haven’t found a home church–and I’m tired of wanting one. Maybe I don’t need one, or I’m not thinking about it in the right way.

I believe the church is essential, and I know all the reasons for it in my head.

But for the time being, they’re just words.

For the time being, I’m waiting for them to mean something.