I passed the halfway point of my grant time in Bulgaria several weeks ago, but life hasn’t allowed a lot of downtime to put that into words.
Six months. Six months spent on this cracked cement in this country, in my country. Six months is a gasp of air, but in the same breath, it feels like a lifetime — a slow inhale that is held. Babies outgrow sets of clothes and lovers can tie the knot in a half-year, so yes, a mere blip of my life has been spent here, but my bones tell me I have lived a miniature lifetime in my small town of Silistra.
In August I flew across the Atlantic holding a two-stamped passport and two suitcases containing some clothes, blind confidence in skills I had not yet harnessed and an American-curated version of who I believed Jesus to be. It didn’t take long to have my confidence plummet and my knowledge of God blown up, and shortly thereafter He began picking up the pieces He was supposed to be holding the entire time.
The pieces of me that He has asked for long before I could hear His voice.
I did not realize it in high school when I was hustling to prove my worth in graduation speeches and I would have denied it in college when I continually applied to frivolous honor societies, but I have spent a lot of my life winning and striving-to-win at things that do not matter. Half-years and years and decades spent striving to achieve and produce and succeed. Sometimes meeting every goal and sometimes falling painfully short, but playing on a field that didn’t matter. Playing with equipment that wasn’t in regulation. Playing a game whose clock will hit zero on the dirt in this muddled world.
It could be measured in the tubes of mascara I blazed through as a middle school cheerleader or perfect high school grades or in the number of times I tapped the daunting three-quarter-refresh circle on Instagram as a 20 year-old, thirsting to know if the world liked my life as much as I thought I did. Tap. Two more likes. Tap. Three more. Tap. Nothing.
Tap tap tap.
I have an inordinate amount of alone time this year, more than my last four years combined. I have written and rewritten, listened to Podcasts and Spotify, some days’ time between teaching is spent reading or doing headstands. I’ve had language lessons and folk-dancing classes; I’ve drank with teachers during snow days and learned to make homemade баница (ba-neat-sa). Yet it was not until I sat — still, motionless and silent — tired from wrestling and running and wondering how to succeed as a teacher and American and human that I realized I was, yet again, trying to win.
Life radically changed when I accepted Jesus when I was 17. I wish I could tell you I stopped playing this game then, but truly I think I just switched arenas. I went from the field of knowing the starting line on our high school football team to the rink of knowing every trendy southern pastor — switched equipment from the cool parties to the proper coffee shops.
All the while, still secretly updating my Instagram likes, tap tap tap, slaving through internship applications and trying to make every freaking Panera worker feel loved because that is my duty as a Christian woman dammit.
It took me a while to forgive the old Erica. The one that sat with her unopened bible in her lap for five minutes then skirted out into the world. The one that believed said-moment was some kind of offering or sacrifice to the Lord. Five minutes of unopened scripture reading; yes, this is what they meant. She gives me a headache, a small throbbing on my left temple, but I love her. And one day the old Erica will be the one that’s typing this very sentence, and I’ll chuckle at her seeming desire to know everything and construct syllables together, but for now I’ll love her. Because while I’m waiting for the day that I can own up instead of point out, and breathe life into instead of shove breaths out, I’m walking forward.
These days walking forward looks different. While it used to be attempts to mass acquire skills that would be nicely-sewn rags to my God, these days it looks a lot more like solitude. It looks like taking off my shoes immediately when I enter anyone’s home, always having toilet paper in my purse, cooking with Mari. It looks a lot more like believing all things, all real and tangible things I need and desire are mine. That you and I, in the midst of being car-less, fiancée-less, job-less, girlfriend-less or parent-less, ring-less or degree-less, have all we need.
I have been working with bloody nails and calloused fingers to bedazzle, glitter-glue and add trim to a carpet square. A carpet square full of medals, compliments, decent plaques and nice words. I’ve renamed it a carpet square, but really it’s just a rag. A pathetic, wasteful, hilarious rag. All of my good works, my nice smiles, self-induced successes and accolades are rags, and here I sit. Sewing and threading like maybe, just maybe, this is what I need. This one, yes, this is what will do. This will complete my mess.
Yet the mess just shifts.
And now I sit in solitude. In a city I didn’t know existed a year ago. With people whose names I still struggle pronouncing. Witnessing kindness I didn’t imagine.
And somewhere between crying in my flat’s elevator and hiking Arthur’s Seat and spending hundreds of hours on Bulgarian buses looking at shepherds and farmers in wide-open fields, my soul paused.
My finger stopped clicking the refresh button.
My hand stopped slapping my own cheek when lesson plans failed.
My knees stopped quivering with anxiety in the grocery store line.
My body stopped, and I sat.
Jesus hasn’t been subtle in what He asks for, but for some reason I am slow to learn. Just painfully, like lethargically, slow. He wants me. He wants you. He wants us.
He wants me at His feet.
Picture from Kraków, Poland. I will post soon and give the people what they really want — lists with dry humor and travel logistics, pictures of food and city skylines and Erica in the same dang winter coat she’s been wearing since October (curse you, sweet Bulgarian winter). Until then, I hope you unbuckle your knees and sit at your Dad’s feet.
*This site, E (ericaboden.wordpress.com), is not an official Fulbright Program site. The views expressed on this site are entirely those of its author and do not represent the views of the Fulbright Program, the U.S. Department of State or any of its partner organizations.