“There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered.” (Nelson Mandela)
This past week we rented a car and made the long drive to Toledo, our first trip back since we moved to Kansas City. It was a short trip, just Wednesday through Sunday (and that includes driving time), jam-packed with as many visits with people as we could fit into that time frame.
It felt a bit surreal, coming back after eight months of building life half-way across the country. So much life happened for me there in Toledo. That first night we drove through the city, passing so many familiar places, remembering street names, flipping through memories like a photo book. Some things had changed since we were gone – a house or two painted new colors, a Sonic where we remembered a parking lot, a few businesses closed and a few more opened – but for the most part everything was the same as we remembered it.
On Thursday we drove up to Maybee to see my family, then up past Detroit to share Thanksgiving dinner with Derek’s sister’s family, then back to Maybee for the night. The next morning I wandered around the house – the house where I spent the first almost nineteen years of my life – while I waited for Derek to wake up. So much was the same as I remembered it being when I lived there – the same bookshelves, stacked with the same books and random knick knacks, a box I remembered sitting on my dresser years ago (now filled with rosaries), the photo I took of my sister when I was in high school still hanging on the wall, the cuckoo clock (unmoving and dusty now). Mixed in with all the old, familiar things were new additions since I moved out – a bigger TV, a Justin Beiber poster in my sister’s room, our wedding photos.
On Friday we visited my grandparent in Monroe, then drove south to have lunch with Derek’s mom in Bowling Green. On the way we stopped at the house where Derek was born and lived when he was little. It’s a used car lot now, but we wandered around a bit and Derek shared memories about the house. In an upstairs window, we noticed the same duck curtains that hung there when Derek and his brother shared that room.
On Saturday we celebrated the marriage of our friends, Tim and Theresa, with some of the old ACT crowd. After the reception, a group of us went back to the ACT House. The house looks a lot different now – new paint, new curtains, new furniture – but there we were again, gathered back in the living room where we shared so much time and life. It was kind of funny to gather there again, all of us grown up and scattered around the country now. Derek and I are married now and living in Kansas City (where we first visited with these same ACT friends). Chris and Katie will be married soon, as will Brittany (as well as several others from the old group). Daniel graduates next month and Sam graduates this coming spring. And Ginger is in Arizona, working full-time. Crazy. We sat and worshipped together for a while, Derek and Chris on guitar and the rest of us singing or humming along. As we worshipped, I was so struck by the love of God for us. Here we were, back in this place where I radically encountered God more than four years ago, where we became family and community, where we ran and stumbled and struggled together for that short, intense, and completely life-altering season. And though we’re scattered now, look at the way God has pursued us through it all! It was an incredible moment of reflecting on the goodness and faithfulness of God in the work He has done and continues to do in our lives.
So much of the trip was a return to familiar places. And yet, in some ways, everything was different. Perhaps most of all, Derek and I are different.
As we prepared for this trip, I spent time reflecting on how much I have changed in these eight months in Kansas City. The transition to a new city and new community engulfed our lives in a sort of refining fire, those first few months in particular, burning away lies, false perception, and old crutches, and then opening us up to the painstaking process of rebuilding the foundations of our hearts (still a work in progress), rooting and grounding us in the love of our Abba and the truth of who we are in Him. Our marriage has grown and changed so much, too, during this time, drawing us closer together in the transition and deepening our commitment to each other. I was excited to go back and share what God has done in us since we left. That growth must be more evident than I realized because several people commented on it, both on the deeper unity they recognized in our marriage and the greater freedom and steadiness they saw in me personally. Though I knew already that God had done a significant work in us since we left, it was encouraging and affirming to hear other people share how they saw that in us as well.
Our return to Toledo was also bittersweet in what it revealed about friendships we had there. There is a sense of distance that has crept into many of our friendships over the time and distance, a quiet moving on as we all enter new stages of life. I know it’s natural and inevitable, but I still grieve over it. Other friendships were as vibrant as ever, though. We stayed with our friends Jeff and Kristina – a beautiful couple that shares our love of worship, adoption, and creative things – and their two little boys (not so little as when we last saw them, though!). When we walked into their house, it felt like we’d only been gone a week. That night we stayed up until two in the morning, talking about their life in Toledo and our life in Kansas City, about community and ministry and how things change. We are so blessed by their friendship and still talk about how great it would be to live in community together someday. Saturday morning I shared coffee with Amanda and her mom and sisters. And Saturday night I talked for a long time with Katie, another one of the few friendships that seem immune to the erosion of distance and life shifting around us. I feel so blessed in that as well.
And somewhat unexpectedly, this trip confirmed the rightness of where we are right now, here in Kansas City with the Boiler Room. Often over the past eight months I’ve found myself homesick for the community I remembered in Toledo. Our visit back reminded me that, though I love the people there and everything God had done and continues to do in these communities, we are so blessed by the community and life we’ve found in Kansas City and everything God is doing with us here. It felt good to come home to Kansas City again.
Home. There’s that word again. What is home anyway? The place I was born? The places I grew up? My current address and place of residence? Perhaps it’s simply a place where I feel fully alive, less definable and mysteriously spread out over the country, popping up in unexpected places and moments.
So now we’re back in Kansas City again, the trip back smooth except for the jolting discovery that I left my purse – containing my wallet, my bible, my last two journals (only covering the last month and a half or so, thanks to my obsessive journaling tendencies), and both digital cameras I was given this weekend (is it strange that I feel worse about those than my wallet? :-P) at Subway in Effingham, IL. I called yesterday morning – after not getting through the night before when I realized it was gone (we think they must have just closed) – and the woman who answered hadn’t seen my purse but said she’d call if it turned up. I’m praying for a miracle there. In the meantime, I’m learning again what I truly can do without.
And Thanksgiving made me realize that we’re coming up on Christmas. We’ll be spending Christmas here in Kansas City this year, having used our traveling funds for this Thanksgiving trip. I’m actually excited about decorating the house (we have a 20 year old Christmas tree from freecycle and I plan to make some snowflakes and paper chains and perhaps a few other simple homemade decorations) and getting to establish Christmas traditions for our family, not to mention that we get to share them with Shelby and her kids this year.