July 30, 2013 was a bittersweet day. We, all fifty, woke up way before the sun & crammed ourselves, pillows held close, into charter buses aimed to take us from our final hostel with the beautiful view of the Pacific to the capital of Costa Rica & our flight home – the first leg, anyway.
I’m fairly certain Amy & I sat together and when the bus finally dropped us on the sidewalk well away from the airport door, I thought I wouldn’t make it lugging my bag packed with coffee & what little I’d decided to keep from 11 months of overuse up the hill and to those blessed baggage carts waiting for me at the door.
Soon after, I was embracing people who’d become family for the last time & headed for my Delta flight home, Miami>Atlanta, with my window seat perfectly selected to bring me the breathtaking first views of my favorite city skyline.
My fear, anxiety, and expectations rose with the escalator to domestic baggage claim & I was met by fewer balloons than I’d wanted and much less fanfare – my closest friends were even a little late because of traffic – and I immediately saw everything wrong, everything I’d missed, and everything no one could quite understand.
This is the ugly version of me coming home. I’d set myself up with high expectations and was immediately disappointed. I failed to see the huge hearts of those who embraced me right there on that tile floor, full of love & excitement & pure joy to have me home.
The next few weeks were full of sleep, first world things (like getting my hair done and my nails done, too, and a job interview on the mountain). I bought my sweet Sandy before I even had the job and moved to Rome before I’d been on southern soil for a solid month. This entire transition was a whirlwind. I felt homeless.
My first Sunday back at *my* church stimulated my thoughts for the next several months, starting with a question from Drew: How are you even here after all you’ve seen & experienced? Honestly, I didn’t know. I felt like a bit of a zombie, all dressed up in new clothes and shoes, hair done and makeup on. We were in a new place – a completely new building – and I felt like there were a million people I didn’t know. I was terrified of being clingy, so I just breezed in and breezed out, shutting down conversations left and right. Worship was miserable and I felt like we were all playing a game – a dangerous game of fake-it-til-you-make-it, dead on the inside, while people were really dying half a world away. How could we be corpses wrapped up in flesh, singing these songs and raising these pitiful hands like we knew, like we understood, like we could wrap our silly little minds around an immeasurable God from our little closet of a building? How could we illuminate the Light with our silly little stage lights & how could we be making a difference when all we did was sit and stand like the walking dead?
I felt like I was an alien in a place I’d served & loved for years – a place that became my family & home away from home so early in my college years. I felt like the worship was a show & the teaching too shallow to be what I needed, because I’d seen too much.
I became bitter and hypercritical of anything I could get my hands on, but all the while I was desperate for community, for a place to belong. My friendships suffered on all sides, though I desperately tried to hold onto the whispers of what they’d been before I’d left. I moved three times by January & barely spent any time at any of those places outside of sleep because I so dearly wanted to cultivate all the friendships I could – to make up for lost time, to prevent ever being lonely or left out. I was fighting a deadly fight, ignoring my health and well-being in an effort to just catch up.
A turning point came and went, but I can’t pinpoint the exact moment. It may have been in one of my long conversations with Rachel on the couch or in a phone conversation with Liz or in a blog or small group conversation about how love does. Maybe it was all of those things put together. Grace, not perfection. Margin. Love, not bitterness. Build up instead of destroying. By May, I’d learned to leave room for me. I moved for the fourth time to a place that feels a lot like home – doors open, couches and tables in abundance, and a swell roommate who likes watching 7th Heaven and reading People. Baseball season started again and we talked about it around the lunch table, much to my joy. I started feeling like I could climb mountains again, felt empowered to create, dream, and do. My opinions mattered and my passion came back. I think my heart grew three sizes in just a few short months.
Not everything is perfect, but Rome is home again and I’m creating things, laughing, hammocking, and enjoying the rain. My excitement for everything this next year will hold is immense. God is good. Tough years are appropriate. The joy is in the little things.