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“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood…”
I started thinking about Frost’s famous poem after reading a news article about 15 recognized restaurant chains that are facing major declines in their sales. One reason given for these declines is people’s gravitation towards grabbing take-out or ordering delivery. Restaurants are not the only businesses suffering from people’s withdrawal from the outside world: bookstores, movie theaters and retail stores are all having to face the issue of online shopping, watching, reading. What does this trend say about us as a society and as human beings?
The interesting thing to note is that while as a whole we are secluding ourselves within our homes, we are not completely withdrawing from all social interaction. We have created entire communities of like-minded people through social media. Entire conversations can be had on Facebook and Instagram; text messages fly back and forth; Skype and video messaging create a sense of connection that used to be had on walks through the neighborhood or on people’s front porches. We are social creatures and seek community like a duck seeks water; the longing is unquenchable. The question we must ask ourselves is this: are virtual communities the equivalent to physical ones?
I asked myself if the source of our community truly matters in the long run. Sure, it’s easy to look wistfully back upon Mayberry and wish for once was; but life is continuously evolving, right? There was a time when outhouses were all the rage. Do we really want to return to that? Moving forward means moving upward, doesn’t it? Maybe not. Speaking from personal experience, it is much easier to create a pleasant community on social media since I can hide the notifications I dislike; delete the comments that rub me wrong; block people who offend me. I can see what’s’ going on in other people’s lives without them even knowing I had stopped by and without having to exert the effort of saying a single word. Best of all, I decide what parts of my life people see and, of course, it’s only the picture-perfect portions. Text messaging is great too because I don’t have to write more than a few words at a time; I can stop responding at any time; I can resume the conversation at my convenience. Are you noticing what I’m noticing?
Convenience is not a bad thing, but it comes with a price. Virtual living may seem ideal: we can shop for everything from toilet paper to milk, send birthday presents, connect with friends, and entertain ourselves without having to leave our homes! But it’s purchased at the price of reality. We are losing touch with the rough, the raw, the real side of relationships. Sometimes the path of least resistance only leads to loneliness, emptiness, and weakness; the road less traveled is the one that takes us deeper, fulfills our longings and makes us stronger than ever before.
“…Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”
I opened her card and 4 stamps fell out; tears welled up in my eyes as I regarded this tiniest gesture of kindness and read her words of loving support. It was just a simple note and they were only 4 stamps, but the faithful love that emanated from them was balm upon my hurting soul.
This season that I’m in is a lonely one. I am far away from home and the isolation is heavy. It is a new experience for me to be in a place where hardly anyone knows that I exist. The people who do care about me are time zones away from me, living their lives. I hate the feeling of vulnerability that comes from depending on others to pause their busy schedules so that I can have some semblance of a social life. The endless unpacking, the cleaning that is becoming more necessary every day, the daunting tasks of finding doctors, dentist, a church and my way around this land mass are intimidating. I want to share how I feel, but I don’t want to sound like I’m complaining or unaware of the fact that seasons come and go, therefore “this too shall pass.” I know – but that knowledge doesn’t change the level of difficulty in my life at the moment nor its speed of passing.
Each season brings with it a unique form of harvest: flowers in the spring, hay in the summer, bounty in the fall, firewood in the winter. This season of isolation is bringing a unique harvest to me as well. I am finding myself much more in tune with the lives of others; there is something about one’s own pain that creates a unique empathy for the pain that others feel. I have even begun reflecting on the numerous occasions in my past when I was so consumed with my own full and busy life that I tuned out the hurt that belonged to others. I now realize that kindness usually requires the sacrifice of time because true kindness does not wait for convenience. I have felt the sting of the words “too busy” and am trying to delete them from my vocabulary so that I no longer inflict that hurt upon someone else.
We are all in a season. Perhaps you are in a season of plenty: friends and family surround you, good health is abundant, your cup is overflowing with every good thing. Perhaps you are in a season of sorrow: saying good-bye to a loved one, feeling the loss of a needed job, abandoned by someone you thought you could trust. Perhaps you are in a season of isolation, like me: in a new place or in a relationship or in your walk with God. Whatever it may be, seek the harvest that comes with that season. Store up the goodness, learn the lessons, and reach out to those around you. And no matter which season you are walking through, take time to be kind. It could be taking a video of familiar surroundings for a friend who is homesick, bringing a meal and some company to a mom with a brood of little ones or slipping 4 stamps in a card and mailing it. There is always more room for kindness in this hurting world.
I’m unpacking in my spare time. Today I decided to tackle my jewelry. Despite my careful attempts to keep those delicate chains from getting themselves into knots, they did it anyway. I spent about 45 minutes trying to untangle them and still have two more to go. Needless to say, I was VERY frustrated: “Oh! I have a list of the other things I could be doing right now!” “I don’t even want all of these necklaces!” “See how material things waste my time!” My thoughts and I ping-ponged together throughout my wrestling match with the jewelry.
As the necklaces broke free, one by one, I felt such immense relief, though. I don’t even know how I managed to work all but two from their jumbled mess. I suppose I focused on one chain at a time, shook the whole mess once or twice, changed my position on the floor a few times, and just kept working at it. I reluctantly put the remaining two aside to make lunch for myself and the kids, and as I did so, I thought about what I could glean from that exasperating experience. Overall, I figured there was little redeeming value in pulling apart necklaces when I could have been doing something much more meaningful with my kids.
However, my thoughts kept returning to how that pile of bling closely resembles…ME! In any given day I have so many emotions, thoughts, feelings, dilemmas, etc. that when I lie in bed at night, I feel like a jumbled mess. It is impossible for me to figure out whether I truly soaked in the life that was waiting to be lived that day. The consistent desire of my heart is to live life to its maximum potential every single day, and that means being obedient to Christ in all He calls me to do. Unfortunately, despite my best efforts to keep my focus on Him, my own thoughts, emotions and desires begin to intertwine themselves together and…well…I’m left with a bunch of tangled necklaces.
The cool thing about all of this is that “He who has begun a good work in me” will be faithful to complete it. When all is said and done, Jesus persistently smooths out, works out and shines every bit of this messy creature called ME and loves me while doing so. That is a promise that I need to remember at the beginning and conclusion, and every moment in between, of every day that I live.
(I’ll try to be a bit more patient with those remaining two chains this time around.)
As hard as it is to say this, today has been a rough day for me. Why? Ha! I wish I could give you a list of tear-worthy reasons, but I can’t. There has been a series of minor disappointments and irritating challenges over the past couple of days that finally got me down, but that’s it. Petty. Very petty. As I whimpered and whined through my day, all I could see was a grown up version of my two-year-old throwing a tantrum. That hurt.
At one point in my vent, my son said, “You can talk to me, Mama.” This came only a few short hours after he did his routine morning inquiry of, “Are you feeling better today? You’re not dizzy or sad or ti-word, Mama?” These precious words from my child are blunt confrontations of the example I am setting for the eyes that are upon me. That kind of hurts too.
When these moods hit me, for whatever reason, I always feel on the outside of all that is worthwhile. I hear my kids singing, laughing and cooing; I can feel the comforting hand of my husband on my shoulder as he tries to encourage me and solve my problems; I can sense the passing of the day – the only day I am guaranteed to live with my loved ones – and yet I’m not a part of it. That really hurts!
In the midst of all my needless sorrow, I received a refreshing phone call from a precious friend. She reminded me of God’s goodness and sovereignty. It is very true that “all things work together for good for those who are called…” and today falls under the heading of ALL. I needed all of these hurts because that’s one way the pruning and refining of my character happens. I need to see that I don’t handle disappointment or alterations to my plans all that well. It’s necessary for me to be convicted of my weaknesses in order to help my children through their own. I cannot turn a blind eye to the impact that my sinfulness has on my family. This kind of hurt is humbling and drives home the important lesson that I don’t have it all together, but I have a Savior who most certainly does.
A couple of months ago, right around the time we found out that we were moving, I was gazing out my bedroom window. It was my favorite view from our apartment because it reminded me of the wilds of Middle Earth: moss-covered crags sweeping down into a valley filled with multi-colored trees; leaves ballet-dancing to the ground while the sunlight glittered across their surfaces. I could count on this view at any time throughout the day. Initially I was mourning the impending loss of such a view and then a thought tiptoed across my mind: “My heavenly Father created this entire world. No matter where I go I will find beauty that I can enjoy because it is all His. I can be at home wherever I live.”
Today I am recalling this memory because I have begun finding that beauty just a few short days into our journey away from the Islands. We are currently residing on a sprawling ranch; it’s a breezy day with many rich scents riding the currents of the wind. I can’t help but bask in it. Twinges of excitement tickle my spine as I think of the enchanting sights, delicious food and tantalizing smells that are waiting for us on our upcoming road trip to the next destination. In my quiet moments, I was reminded that I have always wanted to explore these great United States and now that very request is being granted. This opportunity is truly a gift from the God who loves me.
It goes without saying that I am homesick; if I could have one wish it would be to do all of my traveling with every single one of the people I love right beside me. Unfortunately, some wishes can’t come true; however, I am going to do my very best to share my journeys, adventures and thoughts with my faithful readership so that you can be a part of it all as much as possible. After all, every Hobbit needs a friend when setting off on the road through Middle Earth.
They came and took it all away. The books and bookshelves; the pictures on the walls and the photo albums in the corner; the dishes, the decorations, and the dining table; the toys from the nursery, the clothes in the closets, and the cat tree in the hallway; the cedar chest with all of my childhood keepsakes, my wedding dress, and the boxes of cards and letters that I have collected through the years. My life was packed into boxes, carried down 3 flights of stairs, loaded into crates, and is headed across the ocean to my new home.
It’s an eerie feeling to see all of your most treasured possessions wrapped up in brown paper and carried away. I couldn’t help but think about the Oregon Trail strewn with the belongings of settlers headed to new territory, symbols of desperate attempts to hold on to the hope of surviving. As that fleeting thought crossed my mind I wondered why my bare apartment was creating such bleak images in my head. I want to embrace the change, seize this opportunity for continued growth, and be thrilled by the adventure – what is holding me back?
I pondered and pondered over the weekend: as my neighbor vacuumed my floors at 9:00pm so that I could set up my kids’ beds; as I was surrounded by loving friends and family at a surprise farewell party; as I soaked in the natural beauty of the valley where I’ve lived for my entire married life; as I took my final communion at the church in which I was raised. Finally I realized that my pain comes from leaving the place where I know I’ve lived well. I have an established community, a respected reputation, and a history. Now I’m going to some place I have never been where I will need to build a life from scratch among people I have never met. It’s daunting and I don’t know if I can do it.
It’s true that it’s not going to be easy. Yet instead of focusing on the life that is in those boxes and brown paper crossing the ocean I need to focus on what didn’t go into them: the friends who loaned us their car for 6 weeks; the friend who spent nearly 3 hours helping me stage for the movers and made me laugh through my tears; the friends who text me on a daily basis with Bible verses, prayers, and words of support; my dedicated family who answers our calls at every hour of the day and night; my brave husband and adorable kids who will become my world more than ever before; and me – yes, me! This move is an opportunity for me to discover how much grit and courage lies within me. The Lord has begun a good work in me and He promises to be faithful to finish it. I think that when I’m unpacking those boxes I will be doing so with a fresh perspective. I think that it won’t be so much unpacking my life as it will be unpacking reminders of God’s faithfulness in the past and knowing that it will continue wherever I go.
It’s Good Friday. I was prevented from attending our church’s service tonight despite having planned on going all week. The heavy weather, grouchy kids, and that bitter disappointment worked together to bring my spirits quite low…the tear-filled kind of low. Sometimes I feel like I’m always having to let go: of my plans, my free time, my personal space, my rest. Moving is taking me to an entirely new level of letting go, a cutting deeper kind of letting go: of my family, my friends, my home state, all that is familiar. I don’t like it. I find it scary. I think I am frightened of what will prove to be lasting; perhaps every thing that I thought was strong and unbreakable won’t be. What will be left? And if it is all so transient, what does that say about me? Am I so insignificant that the memory I leave behind will be as permanent as a footprint on the sand? Have I invested and committed and encouraged and been vulnerable only to be forgotten?
It’s almost humorous how moving can inspire such introspection. Or maybe it’s just that first move away from home. But as I sat and pondered all of these thoughts in my little reading corner tonight, nursing my baby before putting her to bed, I recalled a recent comment my mom made to me: “Can you believe that these are YOUR children? They aren’t your baby dolls or other people’s kids or your students. They are YOUR children.” I brought myself back from all that introspecting and settled my mind back into my living room. The baby locked her eyes on me and started cooing one of her most fervent little melodies; the oldest actually got excited that his little sidekick sister wanted to play cars with him (miracles do happen!!) and she was trying hard to not bug him (too much). It filled my heart to have them all around me, so content, and to have an unread book just within reach. And then a flood of little thoughts surged through my memory: my son rushing into the kitchen to detail his sister’s food falling to the ground and how the dog ate it up; the 18-month old’s upturned face and puckered lips offering kisses before the bedtime story; her instant urge to climb into the empty suitcase; his clever idea of making a road for his cars out of plastic lids; the deep adoration they have for their baby sister and their enthusiasm over her every coo, smile, and cry. I have a treasure trove of little memories like that.
These little individuals are the people with whom I can be real, invest in, pour into, and to whom I can promise to remember forever. However, this will require me to let go once again, but this time it will be the letting go of the instinct to hold back. Moments before I gave birth to my little Joy, I realized that I hadn’t given all I had to pushing because I was still concerned about how it might look to the other people in the room. I suddenly didn’t care anymore and mentally yelled, “Just let go!” And with that I pushed my little daughter into the world. THAT’S the kind of fervor with which I want to raise my children, love my husband, and live for Jesus. I no longer want to worry about how embracing the adventure of life will make me look to those around me; and I certainly don’t want to hide from my own potential. To love them in the way they need it the most I need to be the authentic me and that’s who I am on my way to meeting when I move away from home.