“What the caterpillar calls the end of the world, the creator calls a butterfly.”
When wounds begin to heal instead of just hurt, it’s sweet, tender process. There are moments – like when the sun shines, the palms blow, and the mountains stand – that I breathe it all in with a deep thank you – one that I could not have even begin to muster even a year ago.
When I left the Midwest, I gave up a lot of me – a thriving career, proximity to my family, cultural mobility. Yet I also saw clearly that the loss of my own personal benefits meant an entirely new reality for my family: an environment that would value my husband for his skill more than his skin, that would offer my children the opportunity to grow up in a more diverse environment, that would challenge me to see beyond the familiar. While I knew it was the right thing to do on so many levels, it still wasn’t the easiest pill to swallow with regards to my own personal gain. And yet, the path became so clear that I just kept walking (or perhaps more precisely, limping) all the way to California.
There are times since we arrived that I’ve felt like a popped balloon – blown into pieces from eight years of living in a place in which my most developed spiritual disciplines became speaking courageously, persevering, and hoping. To say the least, it was not an easy place to live even though it was my home. Most of those years were spent begging God to either deliver us or change our hearts about living there.
When my daughter was one, she had a severe staph infection which resulted in a two week hospital stay and surgery in children’s hospital. There were moments before her diagnosis when we didn’t know if she would live, or if she would have to fight a disease like cancer or rheumatoid arthritis. Thankfully, the whole thing was resolved with no long term ramifications, but the day we finally left the hospital, we felt numb and weary, as though we’d been through a war. Even in the midst of her illness, it hadn’t been hard to see the blessings in the whole situation. We had access to medical care. We had competent doctors. We had insurance. We had kind nurses whose shoulders I cried on. We had family to help. We had friends who prayed and brought food. Our daughter had been healed. We acknowledged all of those things, and were so deeply grateful for them.
But even though there was so much goodness, we were still exhausted. The hard parts had been just as real to us as the good ones.
Some experiences are difficult to share because the battered parts of our lives can sound so depressing. We look better when we share our triumphs rather than our defeats. Lest I sound like there was no goodness to our Midwestern years, let me share a bit. We loved our jobs and pouring into the lives of our students. There is nothing like watching young adults become flourishing, thoughtful people who care deeply about the world, themselves and other people. The strong spirits of the friends who loved and supported us through those years will long linger with me. My children know and dearly love their grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. They have roots in my home and know what it is to trek across an empty cornfield and make angels in freshly fallen snow.
But, like having had a seriously ill child, the hard parts were just as real as the good ones. And, as I heal, sometimes those hard parts feel so very real that it’s difficult to imagine that I’ll ever fully understand God’s purpose to land us there for such a long time.
What I do grasp is the unexpected joy that sneaks up on me as I make a home here, in this place where God pulled us to. It comes when I stand in front of my students and quietly observe how we understand each others’ experiences of relocating, recovering, healing, and making a new home. Sometimes a tear sneaks into my eye as I watch them fight to learn English – a crazy-hard language – at age 60, and then brokenly explain to me how they pray to God to stop the war in their home. It comes when we go to a park and relax because there are no confederate flags threatening our existence as an interracial family. It comes when my children hear me speak Spanish and beg me to teach it to them, and when my daughter tells me how her best friend shared homemade sushi with her at lunch. It comes when my brother calls with plans to visit, and clearly shares my love for adventure as he plots his family’s trip West. It comes when we’re flying down the eight-lane freeway into a sunlit valley and I feel a freedom that I could not have ever created for myself*.
“It’s ok to be lonely as long as you’re free,” wrote the late Rich Mullins. I learned this first in the Midwest, and I’m learning it again here in the California foothills. We’re still new. We’re still learning and establishing (which brings plenty of awkward and lonely moments), but the wounds of the past are slowly healing, and God is providing for us in ways I would have never dared to dream. While I know not what tomorrow brings, I’m so very grateful for this quiet joy that today holds.
When I began this blog seven (!) years ago, it was my effort to connect with others in similar situations at a time when I felt very culturally isolated in my life. Given my new life change, life doesn’t feel nearly so isolating anymore, so I’m currently having an internal debate about the whole point putting of my words here. Consequently, I might not be around much here until I figure this out, but I did want to at least write an ‘end’ to the story that began here, both to give credit where it is due and to provide some closure on this part of my life.
*These moments occur nearly exclusively when my husband is driving. I am still slightly petrified behind the wheel on the freeways here and find it difficult to feel anything but fear when it’s my responsibility to keep us alive on the road…