Coming Home

Here’s the conclusion I’ve come to. My college, my dorm room, even the beautiful city surrounding me is not my home. Because my college, as wonderful as it usually is, will only be my college another year. My room that holds my homemade quilt and desk full of sticky notes will be empty by May. My roommates who share that room with me, the girls I call two of my closest friends, will eventually move out, get married, live their own lives just as I hope to.

Ultimately, I refuse to refer to my current address as my home because I refuse to let my home be temporary or conditional. And I don’t think I understood that until I realized how much I ached for the rest and stability that only comes with the place that my family is.

Here’s what my home looks like.

My home looks like my mother driving an eight hour round trip to bring me back with her. Me crying thinking of the Winne the Pooh quotes and yellow balloons she mailed me last week. Her taking me back to a green-roofed farm house with a dog and cat waiting between the white columns of the front porch she’s always wanted.

It looks little sisters jumping out from behind the couch to surprise me when I walk through the front door, the rough glitter from their cards collecting under my fingernails, my brother letting loose the comebacks and witty insults he’s been saving up for this exact opportunity.

It looks like pushing me and my sister’s twin beds together so we can watch Netflix under her flannel blanket and me rolling on top of her in her Batman onesie to wake her up in the morning, her groaning and whining and laughing all at the same time.

It looks like me riding shotgun in my dad’s pickup, the two of us driving through the trails behind the house, searching bare, blurring trees through the open windows, not even minding the country air hushing in. He parks the truck when he reaches the back corner of our 60 acre, snow-sodden meadow. When he slides out, I follow. He is walking, studying the slender dips in the snow left by deer, and I am close behind. Carefully placing my own boots to echo the manure stained prints his have left.

We don’t speak. There is only the rough scratching of his carhartt coat and the crinkle of wild grass being crushed further beneath our feet. The pine and January air making breaths sharper in my nose. We don’t hurry. We just take in the openness that, for now, is our own. The uninterrupted sky that’s started to dim, this overlooked landscape that has kept its stillness for decades.

This here is our moment. This land is our land. And in this place, in this time–everything about it is my home.

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Photo: Emma Sweere
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What We Find When We Go Looking

So I realize that it’s been two weeks since the start of 2016, and we’re all pretty much done talking about it. Trust me, I get it. So forgive me for not acknowledging that and throwing in my own two cents anyway.

In all honesty, I’m kinda ritualistic about the new year. Other people flock the gyms, but as for me, January is the month I pull out all the journals and desperately try to make sense of what I’m doing with my life. It’s a big, sometimes stressful task even though I personally think that the new year has unrealistic pressures and expectations already. It looks kinda like this:

I make the cliche resolutions list about the reading I want to spend time on and my handshake I want to improve. I set goals about the writing I want to get published and the internship I want to get. I even write up a yearly bucket list of the crazy wonderful things I hope will finally happen like Europe and road trips and whatever else I dream up. Quite frankly, it’s exhausting, and for some bizarre reason I get resolution and healing from that sort of process, but I wouldn’t recommend it.

The one habit I would recommend is really the only  thing I want to talk to you about in this post. See, being an English major, I like finding words for stuff. I like words in general and what they mean and what they represent. I like finding the right word. So not surprisingly, I do that for each year. For the last three years, I’ve selected a word that I want to make significant in the following months. It gives me time to focus on it and engage with it. It helps me to pay greater attention, which is the larger goal in the first place.

The word I chose is actually kind of anticlimactic, which is disappointing since I’m all about that flair and romantic drama. But the more I thought about it, the more no other word seemed to fit.

So that’s why 2016 is the year I choose to seek.

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You hear this word almost always in relation to a thing, an object. Seek advice, seek wisdom, seek beauty, seek the kingdom, seek something. I chose the word seek because I want to seek out all of it.

I don’t want to merely wait and accept what finds its way to me. Though I believe much of what is significant or meaningful to us seems to “find us” in a way, it’s much easier for illumination and discovery to stumble into you if you are also out looking for it.

I want to seek out the projects, the essays, the writing assignments that intimidate me me so I can better realize my own potential. I want to seek out the rough, unanswerable questions that can’t be summed up in Christian cliches and the ideas that can’t be simplified into bullet pointed sermon notes. I’m seeking for peace and a better sense of self after feeling like a part of me was buried in frozen ground with my 19-year-old cousin’s casket.

I suppose I’m searching for what we all are, to some degree. Seeking for what truly matters in the world and what I’m supposed to make matter in return. Looking for what makes me come alive and what that is supposed to do for the people around me. Hunting for the most vital, which is also the most terrifying. So I guess my greatest hope for myself, for all of us, is that may learn to seek without being afraid of what we might find.

 

“I am seeking. I am striving. I am in it with all my heart.”                                                                   Vincent Van Goh

 

The Eternal Heart

“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance…”              ~ Ecclesiastes 3:1-4

It’s painful for me to say that this post, in addition to this last week in general, has held nothing that I would have even dared to expect, and somehow, though I would rather write about anything else, nothing else seems acceptable to address.

Over Christmas, my family experienced incredible tragedy in the form of my cousin’s death. For the sake of our family’s privacy, I will not go into details, and I’m here to say not only that this post is not that story, but also that it is not my story to tell. I can only tell my own. And this happens to be part of it.

Until Christmas morning, I had never had to face death in this degree of closeness. Never had to experience grief in those circumstances or to that level. I’m afraid I’ve even caught myself in the past saying that I doubted whether I had experienced enough, known enough darkness to pursue the world of writing. Was this what I was asking for?

Shock is an emotion (if you can call it an emotion) that dulls and blurs all others. My mind has been thick with it and has left little room for me to feel anything else. I feel pressure to mourn, to grieve, to undergo a process that acknowledges these things, but I am utterly lost in what such things look like, let alone how to go about them. It’s easier for me to act strong for others, whether siblings, parents, or friends, ask how they are, but not nearly as willing to seek an answer for myself. I’m not always sure how to respond, and as a result, I’m learning my own process for coping. And it turns out that all I know to do is what I’ve done for the majority of my life, and that is to write it down.

So here I am. Two poured-over journals, fifteen pages of handwritten scrawls, an open Bible, and four hours in the loft of the town coffee shop have gotten me to this point, though I’m still not sure exactly what that is.

The first few days proceeding the news, the same thoughts kept replaying in my head, over and over again.

My cousin’s dead.

My cousin’s dead.

My cousin’s dead.

I kept repeating them with some hope that they would tie me to reality, make the truth of it stop hovering in the air and sink beneath my skin, keep me from drifting off into the world inside my own mind. When I felt myself slipping into normalcy, and saw how easy it is to do even in the midst of such turmoil and tragedy, I kept snapping myself back, trying to force something I don’t understand.

But I’m beginning to realize that seasons run together even more than we expect. Not only do we have seasons of weeping and seasons of laughter, but we experience them together, despite how unnaturally they feel. I am learning to mourn death and loss, but also allowing myself to laugh at my sister dancing around our room in her Batman pajamas. I will give myself these opportunities to reflect and grieve, to spend hours journaling by myself, to cry with close friends, but also appreciate the moments of my family gathered around the living room, making fun of the old Star Wars special effects. Treasuring the life, the moments, the continual and constant support and empathy around me.

I’m witnessing first hand that our souls hold more than we can measure, and our hearts are capable of greater suffering and greater joy that could ever be imagined or contained. Even the depths of suffering tend to make room to hold an even deeper love and a greater degree of life. We are creatures with eternity placed in our hearts, and like death, like anything of great permanence, we do not know how to understand it, but the thing is that we don’t really need to.

I may not know how or what to feel at times such as this, but I am determined to continue feeling despite my lack of understanding. We continue to live in the presence of death. We continue to laugh in spite of tears. We allow ourselves sorrow, and we make room for joy. We love in a broken world because the broken does not take away from the beautiful. And it is the encounters with the beautiful that I keep my heart open for.