I’ve been living on the road since October 2014, traveling across the U.S. (and to four countries) to speak at events related to themes from The Invisible Girls.
When people ask me questions like, “Where do you live?” or “Where’s home for you?” I pause because I don’t have an answer. I live everywhere. I live nowhere. I don’t know.
I own a townhome in Portland, Oregon, which has been rented out to tenants for the past two years now. I had an apartment in California but I gave it up in October when the lease was up because I knew God was calling me to make traveling and speaking my vocation for now. And now it’s just me and a large wheeled duffel bag with 9 months’ worth of clothes, my laptop, my passport, and a few books.
When people hear about my transient life, I often get ooohs and ahhhs and aren’t you lucky’s. And I acknowledge how blessed I am to be on this adventure right now.
I also realize that the transience and the frequent speaking engagements come with their own complications. As a for instance…
Last month I picked up a rental car that smelled like cat pee and cigarette smoke. And I couldn’t take it back because if I took the time to do that, I’d be late to the event. So I had to suck it up. Three hours in a car that smelled like an incontinent, chain-smoking cat had driven it last.
Last week I was at an event in North Carolina to speak at a few events at a school here. The first morning, I was sitting in my rental car (that, thank the Lord, does not smell at all), and my contacts felt dry. So I pulled some eye drops out of my bag and instilled them in my eyes, and as I blinked, one of my contacts fell out and I couldn’t find it. My glasses were in my hotel room, which was a 15 minute drive from the event. I didn’t have time for a 30 minute round-trip drive before the event started.
Jesus, I prayed as I was sitting in the front seat of my car using the rear-view mirror to inspect my eyes, Please help me find my contact lens so I don’t stand on stage for 45 minutes squinting with one eye shut like a patchless pirate.
I looked again, and found the lens on the sleeve of my shirt.
I had an amazing time speaking at the event, talking to a group of middle school students about the Good Samaritan and the life of compassion that God calls us to. And then as they were leaving the assembly, one of the boys tripped and fell and broke his arm. So I set it and splinted him and sent him to the E.R. and then, a few minutes later, started teaching back-to-back composition classes.
Does this happen to Rachel Held Evans when she speaks at events? I wondered.
Tomorrow I have to get up at 3 a.m. to catch my flight, which is a pretty regular occurrence. I’ve changed time zones more times than I can count. I’ve been up for long stretches (my longest to date is 46 hours.)
There are lots of other stories that I will write more about later. I think the point is that no matter what life we have, it comes with its plusses and minuses. It comes with its excitement and its obligations. And it’s so easy to lose sight of the fact that everyone’s life is like that.
It’s easy for single women to glamorize marriage, and for married women to glamorize the single life.
It’s easy for childless women to glamorize the lives of moms, and for moms to long for a clean, well-decorated, silent studio apartment with a large ceramic bath tub.
It’s easy for people who aren’t in full-time ministry to glamorize the lives of those who are — and for those who are in full-time ministry to spend every birthday wish wishing they could, for one Sunday, sit anonymously in the pews.
It’s easy for people who have stable home lives to glamorize those who travel, and for those who travel to glamorize (and in my case, sometimes intensely envy) people who stay at home and get to retrieve their clothes out of a dresser instead of a suitcase, get to eat all their meals at the same dining room table, get to go to the same gym a few times a week, get to go to the same church every Sunday….
What I’m realizing is that all of us, no matter our situation, we have lives that are beautiful and complicated and blessed and hard. And it’s easier to glamorize the life we don’t have than to appreciate the life we do have.
And the win is to learn and practice contentment. To accept the hard parts and live into the good parts. To realize that there’s no such thing as a perfect life — for us or for anyone else. To walk with each other through the ups and downs of our lives, accepting life for what it is.
Sarah Thebarge has a Master’s degree in Medical Science from Yale and was earning a Master’s in Journalism at Columbia University in 2010 when she was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 27. After nearly dying, she sold everything and moved to Portland, Oregon, to start over. While still undergoing cancer treatments, Sarah developed a relationship with a single Somali mom and her five daughters, who taught her how to love and be loved again.
The details of Sarah and the Somali girls’ story of survival, recovery and redemption are recorded in her memoir: The Invisible Girls. All of the proceeds from the book are going into a college fund for the Somali girls. Sarah has written for The Huffington Post and Christianity Today. Her book was chosen as the First Year Experience book for incoming freshman at Mississippi State University, where she delivered the convocation in August 2014. She is also spokesperson for Vanity Fair Lingerie’s Women Who Do campaign and Compassion International.
Bring her to speak to your group or at your church event: Book Sarah Thebarge