Nine years ago this week, my children and I hopped on a plane and moved across the country. The sunrise was incredibly bright through those long airport windows that morning. The kids shared a bag of powdered donuts as we waited, each of us with our own emotions. I’d moved before, big moves from one state to another. The mix of expectation and uncertainty were familiar for me and I did as I’d done as a kid – did the only thing I could think to do in order to survive and not crumble into messy bits of fear and sadness – I thought about the good stuff and ignored the bad. Some parts were easy to ignore, like leaving a house behind. A new one was waiting. But other things had to be stuffed, like leaving my family and friends behind. When you choose change, you choose loss – that’s the exchange – and I knew that dealing with the losses would have its day. Like I said, I’d done this before.
A whole lot’s changed in nine years. My children have outgrown me in stature, so I look up more than I used to. I listen more than I used to. My children’s needs have changed and I still care for them, but differently. From a distance, I think. Independence grows when it has the room to grow. I still care about a clean house, but less. I still care what I look like, but less. And since these two preoccupations were obsessive once, I’m thankful for less in these matters. I will always be thankful.
The neighborhood has changed. The neighbors on all four sides of us are not the same families who welcomed us to the neighborhood. Mr. Mike, the older man with the Corvette, still waves when we round the corner, but he shakes a little now. The dad a few houses down used to play basketball with his preschoolers, now he plays basketball with his middle schoolers. And his hair is gray.
When we moved it was just a few neighborhoods, an orange grove, and a ten minute drive to a grocery store. We used to go out as a family after dinner, crawl up on huge beams of concrete stacked in the desert west of our house and watch the sunset, but then dirt pushers came in and paved roads. Houses sprouted up as far as the eye could see, covering the horizon. Shops, restaurants, and a Starbucks were built – all the things we were told would come, we just had to wait. So weird, waiting. It lasts forever and then one day, the wait is over. Expectation and uncertainty for months or years, and then one day, it all changes.
But nine years later, the eastern edge of my world remains the same. Lined by empty desert and an unobstructed view of the Superstition Mountains, I’ve biked and run countless miles on the road where those mountains stretch. I’ve watched the sun rise countless times out there, too, and I know the little crook where the sun peeks out in the winter and the high point where it pops in the summer.
I was out there yesterday evening. This morning. This afternoon. I can see those mountains with my eyes closed. Sometimes I think my insides are a broken compass that only points East, because I’m pulled to those mountains every time I can’t see clearly, or my heart is heavy, or my mind is full, or my body aches from loss or disappointment. I’m pulled to those mountains when the wild pony in me just wants to run, gasp for air, and hate it the whole time because it’s uncomfortable, but there’s no other way to feel the finish – to feel something. Endurance of the heart, of the mind, of the lungs. Each demands discipline, demands that life be drained so strength can grow.
Conversations about polarizing issues didn’t characterize this year for me, but I struggled through many a battle with polarized thinking. I woke up feeling defeated before my feet hit the floor some mornings. I often found myself believing that nothing can change in a day, because waiting is confusing like that. The girl with big faith and big hope – some days I didn’t recognize her.
But I always seem to find myself on that road lined by desert. Those mountains have heard all the chunks of my soul that have yet to be written. When I think of God, I see those mountains.
Every evening, there’s a window of only a few minutes when the mountains glow purple and orange at the same time, reflecting the last bits of sunlight before the day ends. I’ve seen that reflection more times this year than any other. It’s reminded me to stay composed and stay put, continue doing the hard stuff, because that is the good stuff, the stuff that matters. My life is only a reflection of His love; my faith a reflection of His faithfulness.
Step 5. Reflect. Reflect on who He is and who He made me to be, so I can reflect His love to others.
When I remember 2020, the ever-changing year of uncertainty and distance, I will choose to remember God’s faithfulness, because I have seen it. It just looked different. Sometimes, it looked like those mountains.