For the first 18 years of my life I lived in Columbus, Ohio. For 17 of those years I lived in the same house. I attended two churches and three schools in all that time, surrounded by the same people. My parents had a solid and affectionate marriage (unless they attempted a home improvement project together), and I knew very few families affected by divorce or death. My childhood was a picture of stability. Ohio is a great place. The people are friendly. The housing and groceries are affordable. The weather isn’t unduly harsh in any season; and if you’re a college sports fan, Columbus is Mecca. Ohio is generally so well liked by its inhabitants, that people who grow up there tend to stick around for college. Then they start careers and nurture families there. As a middle schooler, I noticed that no one ever left. Well, that’s a bit of an exaggeration – some went to Carolina beaches for summer vacation, and in extreme cases a Ohioan might go to Indiana or Illinois for college – but everyone seemed destined to boomerang back.
I loved my childhood in the heart-shaped state, but when I pictured my future, I hoped for a bit more variety than the Midwestern suburbs I called home. Even if just for a while, I wanted to fly far away to something new. To experience new smells and flavors, and people with stories different from my own. I wanted my life to be big and vibrant, or at least for a little while, broader and more colorful than the corn and soybean fields that are Ohio’s backyard. So at 18, I chose an adventure.
In a graduating class of 500, I was one of two to choose California for college. I attended a small, private school in a quaint, coastal city. There I met people who used words like stoked and dude in everyday sentences the way I used the words happy and Ben. Girls went to class with bikinis under brand name cutoffs and tank tops; guys wore board shorts, t-shirts, and flip-flops stained with salt and sweat. Everyone looked beach-ready, but in a glossy magazine photo way. I’d never owned a pair of overalls in my life, but next to all the tanned, sleek bodies with their casual sophistication, it was as if every outfit I owned screamed farm girl!
Those four years at the beach were difficult but good for me. Despite my Midwestern-girl-next-door vibe, people were generally friendly and accepting. In California I discovered a love for learning and for the avocado. I learned that seafood is edible and delicious when fresh, that cyn is the abbreviation for canyon (that’s an embarrassing story), and that God wanted me to be a pastor. Even though I felt constantly oafish, that feeling got me to a moment every young woman needs – the moment when you look in the mirror and see yourself for exactly who you are, with all your strange beauty and glorious awkwardness, and you lift your chin and say, “This is who I am. And this is good.” And then you step into the sunshine and live.
Those early years in California helped me realize that life is too short and too important to let comparison or insecurity bridle me. I will probably never be thin. I will probably always laugh a little too loudly. I will continue to be more interested in maintaining my friendships than I am my appearance. I’ll bore people at parties with stories about my nieces and nephews. I’ll occasionally cry at work. I won’t stop myself from being goofy near babies. These are just a few of the things that make me, me. Sticking out in California helped me see myself. Because I felt the love of God shining on me even when I felt awkward, I was able to love myself in all my oafish glory.
That profound movement from insecurity to acceptance made me confident and courageous. It turned me into an adventurer who chooses newness and change, and who embraces discomfort and awkwardness, because those things are markers on a treasure map for the soul.
Though I think of it fondly, I never moved back to Ohio. Since my leap to the left coast, I’ve moved a total of 12,377 miles. I’ve lived at 11 different addresses across 5 states and Canada. I’ve lived in neighborhoods where being white and speaking English made me a minority. I’ve joined churches where standard potluck fare was spam and sushi rather than the chicken casseroles and apple pie of my childhood. I’ve also been able to travel to 18 countries on three continents.
This adventure has enriched me, but not without cost. I now have the eyes to see things like white privilege, poverty, racism, and systemic injustices – domestically and around the world. These are things you can’t unsee. They come with some nasty emotions like anger due to a sense of powerlessness, and a grief so thick it stains like mud. As painful as this descaling of my eyes has been, the good news is that these 12,000+ miles have enlarged my heart. My ability to listen well and be compassionate has expanded along with my worldview. Now I don’t want to only meet and hang out with people like me; that’s comfortable but boring. I’d rather seek out people who are different from me. I want to hear their stories, to laugh with them, to discover what makes them tick, and to have their friendship increase my vision for God’s handiwork.
Each new place, people and culture, has marked me in some way, but none have changed me fundamentally. I’m still Corrie – a friendly, somewhat clumsy, unsophisticated, indoorsy, Midwestern girl – but now I’m layered with other landscapes, stories, and experiences. When I look in a mirror now, I see the same person I was at 18, but there’s a shimmer. Like the moment when colors burst and blend as you slowly turn the barrel of a kaleidoscope, there’s a richness to me that wasn’t there at 18. If you look and listen carefully, you can see it in my gaze and hear it in my laugh.
The best way to learn a new neighborhood is to go out and get lost. Leave the GPS at home and go wander. Walk down a quiet side street or get in the car and take five random turns, just to see where they lead. It’s a little scary to do this, especially in a foreign country, but when you do the feelings of being lost and out-of-place fade quickly. Habitual wandering makes unknown landscapes familiar. And one day you will realize that those unassuming side streets are your best route home.