Somewhere near the end of Tennessee and just before Arkansas I started to ask God to be with me, and he told me he always has been. It’s a prayer I pray almost by default: “Lord, give me this, this and this and please be with me. Amen.” But this time, I heard a response. Maybe it was because I was in my car and had nowhere to go or rush off to. I had finally turned off the music and was sitting in impossible traffic with no end in sight. But I felt God’s voice a little more loudly and a little more clearly than usual.
If you’re asking God to be with you in the future, to be with you right now, all the assurance you need is in the faithfulness he’s already proven to you. In many ways, this road trip that I’m on has been a reminder of his faithfulness. Physically revisiting the places of my past, college friends, high school friends and childhood friends has reminded me that even when it felt like he had left, he hadn’t. Even when I don’t remember his being there, he was.
As I inched along in the traffic monstrosity toward the Arkansas state line, I thought about childhood, adolescence, young adulthood and today. Though I couldn’t see it in my mind, I could sense a presence over and through those memories, something that was lightly holding me and something that made me feel safe. It was his faithfulness. His faithfulness that I was begging for presently I suddenly realized has been my constant companion.
I’ve always loved what Jesus told the disciples at the end of Matthew, “And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (28:20). Even to the end of the age. Be sure of this. I am with you. Always. It’s like four promises, and they are the only promises you will ever need, all in that one little sentence.
I’m not sure why it took a solo, 14-hour drive for the tangible nature of God’s faithfulness to become real to me. Maybe God has to get us very alone and very uncertain in order for us to succumb to a truth that has been in us along.
Years ago, in 2008, I quoted Donald Miller in a blog post about leaving home. It’s still one of my favorite pieces of writing on life and finding its meaning and finding its adventure. It ends with this: “It might be time for you to go. It might be time to change, to shine out. I want to repeat one word for you: ‘Leave.’ Roll the word around on your tongue for a bit. It is a beautiful word, isn’t it? So strong and forceful the way you have always wanted to be. And you will not be alone. You have never been alone. Don’t worry. Everything will still be here when you get back. It is you who will have changed.”
On Tuesday morning I’m going to pack up my car and drive from middle Tennessee to South Texas. I’ve not driven that bit of highway since I moved to Nashville five years ago. This time, I’ll drive it in the other direction. I’m not moving; I’m just going for a little while. I’m just going home, for a little while.
The desire hit me two weeks ago. I was sitting at my desk, writing and suddenly, I needed to take a road trip and that road trip needed to be to my home state and it needed to last longer than a week.
Traveling, wandering, exploring—that stuff has always been a part of me, but usually in the way that takes me away from home. Now, I’m desiring for the wandering and exploring to bring me back home.
I’ve always thought life had two options: settle in or near my hometown or move far away, far enough that I could only afford to return on major holidays. I’ve taken much pride in doing the latter, the type of leaving I quoted above. I’ve studied overseas, lived overseas and have lived a few states away for several years. And now, I can’t wait for Tuesday to get here. I can’t wait to see the familiar things and faces. It’s like I just want to sit in Texas’ lap and curl up in it for days. Odd imagery, but it’s how I feel. It’s how much I’m needing home.
I think my extreme ideas of life and where it should be lived are trying to find middle ground. I think I put “leaving home” and “coming home” at odds with each other when really, I should let them work together. The Bible says He has put eternity in our hearts (Ecclesiastes 3:11), and I’ve become really fascinated with that phrase. If eternity is truly in our hearts, then we’re longing for home, yet, we are longing to leave. Maybe our pull toward and away from home is simply an echo of this desire that is in us. Maybe we should give ourselves grace to be where we need to be when we need to be there, whether that be far away or close by.
They say you can’t go home again, but sometimes you have to. For me, I know it’s a job transition and a bunch of change around me that’s beckoning me back for a taste of familiarity. For others, it’s a tragedy or hardship or a celebration that’s making them long for the place they call home. I think it’s important to go (if you can) when you feel those longings. It’s important to remember those places and to reconnect with people you’ve slowly been letting go. Sometimes it’s time to leave and sometimes it’s time to go back.
Do you know what it’s like to be on that last leg of a long journey? When you’ve forgotten how many flights and layovers you’ve had? All you know is that wherever you’re going, it is taking a really long time to get there? It’s always the very last, brief flight the gets me. Not the hefty, ten-hour one or the three-hour one after that, but the final one- or two-hour flight from Dallas to Nashville or from Atlanta to Nashville or, like yesterday, from Detroit to Nashville.
This Delta Detroit flight was a whopping one hour and eight minutes long, but before that flight was a 4.5-hour one and before that a 5-hour one and before, after and in between those was walking through terminals like a zombie looking for coffee and a grouping of chairs I could spread out on and contemplating asking a complete stranger what city, time zone and state I was in.
By the time I boarded my Detroit flight around 3pm, I had been flying traveling since 10pm the night before. I was in a state. Not only did I not want to talk to the people sitting on my right and my left, I didn’t want to look at them. I had no energy to acknowledge the existence of other humans. I was tired, I was hungry, I was achy and I refused to engage in the lighthearted attempts next to me to make conversation. I spent my hour and eight minutes with my eyes closed pretending to sleep and hating my life. If only the guys next to me knew how exhausted and ready to be home I was. I had been away for ten whole days.
When I don’t speak to those around me, I get very caught up in my own head. My problems become the worst problems anyone anywhere could ever have. I have the worst pain. I am the most tired. I’ve been traveling the most. I want others to know my story, but I do not want to hear theirs. So for one hour and eight minutes I blew up my tiredness and problems in my head until I was most certainly the one on that aircraft suffering the most and I believed everyone else should be catering to my needs and feeling sorry for me.
Because I refused to speak to the men next to me, I didn’t learn until we were landing that their exhaustion was actually worse than mine. The guy to my right had been flying for 23 hours (ten hours more than I had) and the guy to my left had been on the road for 18 days straight, was about to be home for two days, then hit the road again for another 18 days. Because I refused to speak to the guy on my left, I only overheard this information as he, without complaint, detailed it to another passenger. I only heard about the guy on my right who had been flying for 23 hours because he made a second attempt to engage me in conversation as we were landing, and I finally listened. He had come all the way from Manila, twice as far as I had come, and was in Nashville on business. This wasn’t even home yet for him.
This is what always gets me in trouble. I would rather sit and wallow in my pain than go out and listen to someone else’s story. As long as I don’t hear it, mine is worse, but every time I break out of the pity party—every time—I come out of myself, just far enough to get perspective on my “difficulties” and “hardships” that seem much less difficult and hard after I’ve listened. It’s not about comparing your problems with another’s; it’s about seeing yours in a different light, a more realistic and less doomsday shade of light. I wonder if the solution to our problems isn’t fixing them, but instead, is putting others’ stories before our own. I wonder how our perspectives would change if we began to listen less to the voices in our heads and more to the voices of the real people around us.
A weekend spent in the city I grew up in is always a string of hours spent remembering the things I had forgotten about home. This time it was the weather so characteristic of a south Texas summer. The dry heat and triple digit temperatures were something I took for granted until recently. I say took for granted because blistering hot and desert dry summers are truly a unique gift, only realized once you move somewhere like Tennessee that seems to have endless rainy summer days and a humidity that actually makes my body swell when I leave the house. Suddenly the jeans that fit perfectly four seconds ago, are snug and my skin is sticky in a way that makes me avoid brushing shoulders with others.
Texas heat and sun framed my whirlwind of a weekend trip this time. Despite the lack of human activity outdoors, I wanted to spend as much time as possible dripping in the air that’s mere feel transported me to summers of childhood and adolescence.
With loyal and understanding family, I trekked to a trail typically buzzing with runners and cyclists and walkers. We were the only car parked at the trailhead, of course.
It was noon and pushing 100 degrees. Any sane San Antonioan was inside protected by their air conditioning units. Not us, we were walking the dry trail, cut out by dry trees and dry grass every step of the dry way. And I did not feel tired, nor overheated, nor desperate to be back inside once I re-discovered the heat of that noon sun. No, the thing I felt most was comforted and comfortable. I began to remember things I had forgotten. Things that had happened in similar temperatures during Augusts from years ago:
-floating on tubes in the Guadalupe River, the water line so low in places we had to stand up and walk half the way, carrying our tubes over our heads and rocks cutting the bottoms of our feet
-self-inflicted sunburns, deep red due to my reluctance to get out of the water and reapply, and due to my Irish ancestry that blessed me with fair skin
-waking up early for the first day of volleyball two-a-days, preparing to be in pain for the next two weeks before school and season started
Visiting home in the summertime again after so many summers away, made my once normal, regular south Texas upbringing a well of memories in a place suddenly magical with its steam rising off the asphalt in the afternoon after a surprise rain attack that lasted approximately 14 minutes. Fourteen minutes of rain is a most welcome surprise for a city that sees it and feels its relief far too sporadically. My mom and a few others in the restaurant even applauded when it started.
Water and everything it is for us and does for us can only be truly appreciated in a city like San Antonio, in an area like south Texas. The hill country, we call it. Though the hills are low compared to many others and on them the grass is a light brown and the trees struggle, these hills are my favorite. That trail carved by the dryness might even be my favorite type of beauty, not for its aesthetic qualities but for the backdrop that it provided a childhood of more joy than is typical for many children, with its share of confusions and mess-ups and heartaches of course.
Growing up I would look at those hills from my rooftop on nights I was thrilled to be alone with time to think, on nights with friends when we “discovered” a new constellation and named our secret club after it, on another night when we spied on my sister and her boyfriend and I wandered for a long time what it be like to have one. And on a night when I finally did have one and we sat on the rooftop together and I somehow knew that would probably be the first and last time we did.
Those dry hills surviving the summer in such a triumphant way greeted me as I returned just a few days ago, as the old and mature adult that I am now. But those hills know, they know more than anyone or anything that I’m still Andrea, the 13-year-old spending too much time alone on the roof thinking about things she didn’t understand then and still, for the most part, doesn’t. And the real beauty in those hills is not a plethora cedars but their steadiness. That they don’t leave. And that they are always there when I come back.
I’m moving houses, that is, not cities or anything. Neighborhoods, yes, but nothing too drastic. About eight miles north of where I am now. I just counted, and in my lifetime, I have lived in ten houses, two dorms, and one condo in four different cities. I have had, not counting family, thirteen different roommates and one roommate’s dog (that was short lived). It would appear that I move a lot and that people don’t like living with me. I don’t really believe that last part but I mean, look at the figures, not really sure if I can defend myself.
So I am soon moving again. Into a neighborhood I’m looking forward to getting to know and out of house that has been overtaken by mice. Ceaseless construction+wooded area=rodent party at our place.
This time, I’m being organzied and actually packing many of my things in boxes. With labels.
At least it’s labeled.
I’ve often said something I’m not sure I mean, and that is that I can’t imagine living in any one place for a very long time. I do mean it in the sense that imaging being in one place for more than a handful of years makes me want to run for the hills. But I don’t mean it in that I’ve now lived in Nashville for nearly 2.5 years and I do not feel like running for the hills.
Makes me wonder, am I beginning to appreciate that thing called stability? I don’t know when this appreciation started making its way into my psyche but now that I am dreading the packing of my things and learning of new streets and places, I’m realizing it has. Maybe I’ve gotten just enough long of a taste of it that I’m realizing it’s not so terrible. I don’t want to spit it out.
And who knows, maybe one of these days not too long from now I’ll finally be able to say “Yes, I could see myself here for the next five years.”
A question inspired by this weekend’s events in which I found myself in an unfamiliar setting with many unfamiliar faces. I volunteered at Young Life camp family weekend. My job along with several other girls about my age was to care for toddlers while their parents attended seminars and worship services. I was a last-minute fill-in for a volunteer who had to backed out and the only person I knew was my roommate who had signed up to help weeks ago.
As the weekend progressed, I found myself conflicted as to how much I should be getting to know the people I was volunteering with and the families I was working with. The camp was about 36 hours long, so was it worth really getting to know people? I also wondered how the families were getting to know the other families, knowing they would part ways in so short a time.
I haven’t always been so thoughtful regarding this type of thing. Throughout my school days I went on countless weekend trips with my youth group and school and various camps. At all of them, I probably met knew people, got to know them, and didn’t hold back only because I knew our relationship would be short-lived.
But this weekend, I was acutely aware of it. I didn’t pry too much into the other volunteers’ lives when we ate meals together, I didn’t go out of my way to introduce myself to them if I wasn’t working directly with them, I didn’t even learn some of their names until the morning we left. Why was I acting this way? Is it from my near quarter-of-a-century’s life experience that has taught me friendships take energy and energy was not something I had after a long week at work? Was it because I’ve gotten too comfortable with my social circle in Nashville and felt no need for expansion?
Or was it because investing in others’ lives takes dangerous amounts of vulnerability, and who actually volunteers vulnerability?
“I tapped the cold window with my index finger, ‘squashing’ dilapidated track-side farmhouses as my eyes focused then unfocused on each structure the slow train eased by. I leaned the side of my head against the glass watching my finger tap, tap, tap. There was a book in my bag, but I didn’t reach for it. I didn’t have to read it. I only had to read it if I wanted to, and I didn’t want to. So I gazed and wondered who lived in the large old farmhouses in this particular region of France my train wound through. I had plenty of time to learn–a year in fact. A year felt as long as the train as I was on. I knew where it begin but who knew where it ended. It didn’t matter and neither did the book in my bag. I was on the cusp of the infamous and much anticipated Gap Year.” –an excerpt from my Gap Year journal, if such a journal existed, if I had ever had one.
But I didn’t. A Gap Year, that is. No. Instead, I, as most of my American friends, applied like mad to colleges throughout the first several months of my senior year in high school. Began four years of undergrad the fall after my spring high school graduation. Applied like mad to various grad schools throughout the first few months of my senior year in college. Began grad school the fall after my spring graduation from college and began working my first real job before I even had my thesis results. I believe I took a ten-day break between handing in that beast of a paper and day one of the new job.
I forgot something: to take a breath. The Gap Year has been embraced by the culture I so frequently allude to in this blog. It occurs between one’s final year of high school and the first year of university, if one so chooses to attend, or a career. In my experience, it is more common in England to take a gap year than to not. Seventeen and 18-year-olds choose to spend that year in different ways: traveling, volunteering, aid work. The point is to experience a bit of life before throwing yourself into studies, which as it turns out is not real life.
What would this country be like if we all took a little time off to figure ourselves out in those oh so formative years of age 17 and 18? How many would ultimately decide to attend culinary school instead of a big state university? How many would live in another country and stay there to help out a while longer? How many would realize they actually want to major in art, not finance?
We might be a little happier, a little more at peace, a little more understanding of the world around us. Is it too late?
After a year of traveling (that ended almost this day last year) in which I hopped cheap planes at the last minute to reach remote places like Santorini or Barbastro, I forgot how to find charm in the place least remote to me: my hometown of San Antonio, Texas.
This past Labor Day weekend I got to bring four of the loveliest Nashville girls I know home with me. Two had never been to Texas and none had ventured into the vast cultural experience that is San Antonio. I did things I never would have done had I gone home without them. And I saw the beauty of my city in a way I never would have had I simply done the usual: mall, favorite Italian place, mall, church, maybe the mall…
I didn’t even bring my camera, thinking, “What do I have to take pictures of? I lived here for eighteen years and come back all the time.” Regretting that logic now. (Although staying out from behind the lens did allow me to soak moments up extra good.) We did all activities tourist: ate good Mexican food , listened to a guide explain the significance of the Alamo while warning us to keep our hands inside the river barge at all times, and even day tripped to what I call the Nashville of the Southwest, Austin.
Home is always nice, but when seen through the eyes of a first-timer, it’s that much nicer. The tortillas tasted better, the sun shone brighter, and I finally understood why San Antonio is the tourist attraction that it is.
My friend Ahsley is running a summer-themed guest-posting series on her fantastic blog, and here was my contribution. I hope to hear a few distant echos of “amen” after you read it. There’s something about traveling with a group of people you can be completely uninhibited with…