It’s been three years since moving to the Northwest. A long distance relationship of two years brought me to the evergreen state with its mountains on one side, the coastline on the other, and granola and coffee shops in between. I’ve quickly grown to love this place and look forward to returning to it again, but for now it’s back to Pennsylvania where family lives.
Mom died last year, and though coming back home for a few years was in the plans before all that happened, her death affirmed the desire to spend some time with family. I’m the baby in the bunch, almost an only child by some standards, with a brother 13 years older and a sister a handful more on top of that. Some of my nieces are going to graduate high school this year. When did they grow up? My dad is looking to retire next year from the military and mentions it almost every phone conversation. I left home with parental anticipations of a new daughter-in-law and now return to a widowed father. Things have changed more that expected.
Naomi is leaving her security back on the West, and not being the best with change, we decide that a two-week road trip would aid in the transition. We have a Subaru packed up and weighed down, a few friends to visit, twenty some mixed CDs and audio books, plus 5,000 miles before we arrive. There are no jobs on the East waiting for us, just people. And the way life works, saying hello to some friends means saying goodbye to others.
There is no better time to think, reflect, pray, and, of course, nap than over a road trip of this proportion. We leave the West close to full moon and should be settled in the East once the new moon hides. I wonder to myself what that symbolism could mean about my time of transition.
Circa 397 miles
Tonight I felt small. The pass over the Blue Mountains with its snow and dirt and dark is what did it. Tractor-trailer trucks were pulled over to the side, chaining up. One was even being towed. I felt alone, driving up the pass in blizzard-like conditions, and, though sparse, welcomed the white headlights behind or the red taillights ahead to keep me company. It seemed primitive and mysterious as I clenched the wheel questioning what sight the dark was hiding on the other side of the guardrail I tried not to slide into.
The sensation reminded me of what I took from A.W. Tozer’s book The Knowledge of the Holy, which I finished right before the trip. The book drives you to think of God’s character and attributes and if we would take time to meditate on them, we would become awe-struck by His otherness, again both with fear and wonder.
When it comes to God, every person, in part, must be agnostic–or better yet, a mystic. For an agnostic can be apathetic while a mystic passionate about the beauty of the unknown. Yet, thanks be to God for sending His Son in the flesh, lest we all be atheists or pantheists. And thanks be to the Son for not leaving us as orphans but sending the Holy Spirit, lest we be left to our own destruction and devices, suffering from dementia and amnesia.
Circa 586 miles
The mountains, though still large, turned into rolling hills. They are laid bare for the most part, covered in white like a bride with a secret; vulnerable with no trees to hide their true nature. They are well defined, whether in youth with curves or age with wrinkles and crevasses; smooth, with no harsh or jagged peaks. Those mountains know who they are.
Before we left, our pastor took us out to lunch and was trying to describe how his concept of holiness has been changing. Morphing from a do-this/don’t-do-this model to an identity issue, he said that the most holy and righteous thing we can do is be who God made us to be. We are to be conformed to the likeness of Christ–uniquely conformed. It is hard to wrap my head around that. How can followers be distinctively different from each other, yet be specifically like Jesus?
Somehow, I believe its true. Maybe the enigma is rooted in a shallow view of freedom. Maybe we’re scared (rightfully so) of who we are as fallen people but even more scared of the freedom that comes with the truth of “Christ in me”.
Circa 2,057 miles
A side trip yesterday put us at the Grand Canyon. As you stand on the edge of the rim and take in the vastness of it, you feel like you are going to fall into it or maybe that it is somehow going to swallow you into itself. Interestingly, however, because of the sheer grandness of it you almost think you can reach out and touch a canvas backdrop that would expose it as fake. But it is sincerely there. I suppose that’s how it is with items more complex than what we can comprehend–we doubt that they are authentic, whether people or events or God. The problem is that the things are the most difficult to explain are also somehow the things that awaken life inside of us.
Circa 3,357 miles
A three-day layover in Houston has us visiting Naomi’s grandma. I got the car checked out and the brakes cost an unexpected 400 smackers. I sit on the curb next door to the mechanic at a closed down Chinese restaurant waiting for the work to be finished. Financial strain has me thinking about mediocrity again.
I survey the landscape of mediocrity and, though I feel the creeping temptation, I know I do not want to settle there. I don’t want to merely accept a job that pays bills but brings no satisfaction to my soul, or a marriage that is committed but not connecting. I don’t want to have a freedom that looks more like laziness than liberty, nor a life of spirituality that has the form but no substance. I truly value faithfulness and understand that these years on earth won’t always be peaches and cream, but I don’t want to negate the divine spark or breath that turned inanimate dust into a living being. I want those black and white days from It’s a Wonderful Life with its violent lovemaking and passionate necking, where money was mainly important only to help others.
All of us have been sold the American dream, but what we really need is a dream of our own–or better yet, a dream God birthed into us. And that dream can be confusing because fulfillment can be found anywhere from being a stylish cultural arts director to a godly janitor to simply a father of three and husband of one. The normal Christian life should be anything but mediocre since we carry the Spirit of Christ within us.
Circa 4,628 miles
Damien Rice lowers his tone and sings, “Time is contagious, everybody’s getting old.” For one reason or another, it’s easy to forget that others are changing too. The people I left three years ago are not the same. There has been death, marriage, babies, and everything in between.
Even if it’s what everybody is anticipating, I don’t want to go back to the guy I was three years ago. Nor do I want to hold my friends and family to that expectation either. Changes will come and—whether people, places, seasons of life, or even myself—I should appreciate things for what they are, not criticize them for what they are not.
It’s now Don Chaffer’s voice in my ear, “We’re a strange old pair, me and eternity.” I suppose the whole redemption phase of history is a time of transition. Maybe, looking back from eternity, I’ll somehow miss these times of instability and musings. Maybe.