I stepped out of my room and pulled my coat tighter around me. Sitting on the ground, I leaned back and gazed up at the sky. I had the strange sensation of disorientation that is not common to me during my usual star gazing sessions. Trying to get my bearings, I found my eyes scanning from horizon to horizon trying to find anything that was familiar. I recognized no patterns of stars, no distances between them. No pictures or star markers to signify where one constellation ends and another begins. It was the strangest feeling…to be lost in one of my most familiar activities. If not for the moon, I would have been entirely without grounding and even my friend was not in its usual place.
Ecuador is in the Southern Hemisphere, and therefore the sky is completely different. And even though I knew this to be true, it did not truly sink in until I was seeing it firsthand. Realizing that what I learned in school was actually accurate was one of those moments when head knowledge becomes reality. It was like when you recognize a picture from a description you have read somewhere, and then you see the real life version. It is a bigness that you cannot get from a book. When you stand at the Grand Canyon, or circle Mt. McKinley, or sail on the ocean, there are not words to describe all that the senses experience. You just have to be there to feel it. Seeing the Southern sky was like that for me. I have only known HALF of the stars and that was mind blowing to my pea-size brain.
When I am overwhelmed by life, or there is some “big” issue I am dealing with I need only to go outside and look up to remember my place in the world. It is a perspective adjustment and I just love that God put it all up there to show me how enormous he is, anytime I need to be reminded. But on this night, under this new sky, the feeling of my smallness was mixed with a sense of lost-ness. The beauty was significant, but the disorientation was at the forefront of my mind. I was grasping for anything familiar on which to hang my hat. Somehow in a foreign country, where everything is different from home, I was looking for my comfort zone in the sky… and not finding it. I did not know how much I rely on the heavenly diagrams to guide my heart home until this moment when, to me, they were not as they should be.
One thing I have learned over the course of my life is that when something stands out…a feeling, or a thought, or a word on a page…take note. This feeling of being a fish out of water was a strong one in the chilly night air of Quito. Not one familiar thing drew my eye and yet my eye kept seeking out that to which it was accustomed. I think it is natural to seek comfort, and I don’t think there is anything inherently wrong with that. But what if in my attempts to find the familiar, I miss the stretching of my comfort zone? What if seeing and doing the same things over and over again desensitizes me to the plight of those around me?
For me, I have found that sometimes it takes me being in an unfamiliar place, with unfamiliar people, and unfamiliar transportation, and unfamiliar foods, and unfamiliar plants/animals, and an unfamiliar language, and unfamiliar neighborhoods to open my eyes. My senses are heightened and I become acutely aware of what is happening in my surroundings. A woman selling gum to provide for the baby strapped to her back. Children desperate to be loved climbing into your arms without a word. Families in poverty, grateful to receive a hot meal. A boy’s laughter at a gringo attempting to paint soccer league logos onto his face. People who smile when they see for the first time through new glasses just given to them. A boy’s grieving heart, broken at the loss of his dad, clinging to hope found in a woman with the same loss. There is no language barrier at such moments. Love speaks all languages. Shared pain and shared joy are bonding tools in the hands of God.
Are there such needs here in the U.S.? Maybe not to the extent you see in other places, but yes there are all of these needs and more. Do you have to go to a foreign country to help others? Absolutely not, but you do have to leave your comfort zone. And if you are anything like me, I do not do so easily…because it is, well…comfortable. Maybe you can see the needs around you daily without ever leaving home, but I am slow and need some disruption in order to find compassion. Stepping into a space that is completely different in every way, even down to the stars overhead, causes me to feel lost and maybe a bit lonely as I long for my home sky and familiar routine. Then one night, as I tried to teach myself the constellations via the Night Sky app, I saw a shooting star…the only familiar sight in the sky all week. I know that it is scientifically just some debris burning up in the atmosphere, but it is breathtaking nonetheless…just as beautiful, is my mindset that is being burned away and my comfort zone which is crumbling around me in a blaze of glory. In that moment God speaks and says, “I am here too. Even in the stars.”