What My Kids Can't Unsee

We were driving down the main street of the town my husband is currently working in, and I glanced to the side of the road to see a man walking alone and shirtless. His worn jeans hung loosely around his waist, and he was mumbling and gesturing to himself. The sight was nothing new, the town a gathering place of vagabonds, homeless, and drug addicts. The passerby's muttering to themselves, the women long hardened from years of drug use, these sights have become so painfully common to us.

We were unprepared for how travel would change us.

Naively, I thought we would avoid a travel rotation in a "rough town." I thought I could, armed with Google and my own intuition, surmise what would be a good location and what wouldn't. I was wrong.

I watched out the window as I saw the man pulling his pants down as he walked by our car, nearly exposing himself as my 7 year old also looked out the window. "Look away" I yelled as I sped up.

It was a conversation I wasn't ready to have, and yet, being in this area has led to many conversations and questions.

Why are there so many homeless? Can they find work if they want it? Why are there so many of them? Are they hungry or thirsty?

These conversations are SO. HARD. because we have a hard time relating to those outside the barrier of our car and instead place them in the OTHER category. But still, we must find the humanity in people whose lives look so different from ours.

My heart hurts for these broken people. I still don't know how to have these conversations with my kids and also protect them from what they may not be ready to see or hear. These conversations are about more than homelessness, but also about privilege.  We have enough to eat, a roof over our heads, a steady paycheck, and our kids are learning that these are great blessings in our life. Kirk and I were fortunate to have supportive parents that helped launch us into adulthood with values and direction. There is so much disparity in this country and travel is a window into how others' live.

I can't protect my kids from everything, and I consider myself fortunate that we are in a position where I can protect their childhood to such a high degree; I know other parents may not be able to, and my heart aches for those families. My perceived level of control, however, is still a carefully constructed facade, and the walls are thin and wobbly. Privilege or not, I couldn't stop by child from seeing a man nearly expose himself because it would've required avoiding the town altogether.

So often travel is seen as glamorous or beautiful.

We travel because through it we are experiencing intense growth and not always of our own choosing. Staying stationary in a familiar place is not necessarily safer either. I do the best I can to protect my children and trust God to do the rest.

We are part of this world for a reason, not to avoid others whose presence scares or pains us, but to find ways to reconcile the hurt and to heal the broken. I don't have the answers on how to fix the problems of the world, but I start in my home, having difficult conversations with my kids.

In the end, my baby girl was spared from seeing a man expose himself. She went on chattering to me about a dream she had and looked the other way. I silently breathed my thanks and prayed for this town so hurting with generations of pain.

Mama, why did you tell me to look away?

This is travel life, my friends. It's not Instagram worthy, it's not a constant backdrop of jaw-dropping locales, but it is changing us, one tough conversation at a time.