It’s getting to that time of year that I start to really think about how much the past 365 days have held in those 24 hour blocks of time – the bright days, the painful moments, the confused parts, and the flashes of complete clarity and provision. Something about the holidays prompts reflecting, a settling in, to take a deep breath into the drama that unfolded in the days before.
Sure, there’s still over a month left in 2016, but I’m already six new albums of Christmas music deep, and I’m already planning what I’m hoping my week back in the hometown for the happiest holiday will look like. And although the holidays can sometimes make us frantic and overwhelmed and move us quicker than our feet can keep up, there’s something about the ritual of returning that serves as a reflection of where we’ve come from.
This is the ritual I’ve come to realize is absolutely necessary for my understanding of who I am and where I’m headed: simply going home. I grew up in a really small town in the Midwest, where there isn’t much to do except drink beer, talk about deer hunting, and listen to the farming report at the local diner. It’s a simple place that I haven’t always loved and certainly haven’t always appreciated.
But there’s something about my hometown that can be recreated nowhere else but in the small boundaries with the streets I know all too well. You see, my hometown is my ground zero to the story of my becoming. It’s the place I was knocked down to a position so uncertain, so confused, so out of control, I barely knew which step to take next to turn it all around.
But I did take a step. And things did turn around.
And the reason I still live and breathe today is because of the work I had to do with my hometown.
It really has nothing to do with that place, though. It has everything to do with finding the reflective parts of my life there– the parts that serve a mirror to who I am now. These are the cherished places or people or things that are a reflection of where we are headed, and perhaps they’re a tiny sliver of hope for the promises that have yet to be seen.
I could count on both of my hands the number of things that have changed about my hometown since I moved away almost eight years ago. What’s changed about me, though, is innumerable. I can’t even begin to name and call up the ways I’ve grown and changed and shifted. It’s called the becoming and it’s far too dynamic to quantify. And although I can’t measure tangibles or write up a report, what returning back to my hometown year after year after year is, that I can see with such clarity what in my life has been rebuilt in to since my story’s greatest attack.
This year, all of this feels particularly relevant. A few years ago, I began the practice of choosing a word for my year. So instead of coming up with a list of resolutions that are bound to be forgotten after a handful of weeks, this word serves as a lens to view my days and experiences through.
And let me just warn you that the best way to hold these words is open-handedly and open-heartedly, because the understanding of the word changes rapidly from the beginning to the end. Last year’s word for me was unbound. I thought the year would be marked by freedom – chains being smashed all over the place, a renewed view of who I was, and deep forgiveness in the places it needed to be given.
But what happened instead was that everything seemed to fall apart once again. It wasn’t your classic everything is crumbling, though. This seemed to be a methodical, oddly controlled, and purposeful stripping away of people and places and experience of my life. Yet it left me exhausted, confused, and hurt in many ways.
Into the new year, this year, 2016, brought a word that, to be honest, I was afraid of, not understanding the intensity of it. But it felt right, so I grasped on and prepared for the adventure.
This year was the year of aftermath. And although it seemed to be intense and rough, what my experience has been is that it’s been a year marked by new growth, by provision of promises, and by a settling of the dust of unbound. This year in particular has been one that has completed various arcs to my story, has settled unresolved answers that I haven’t had in years. Because it’s in the aftermath that we have nothing but dust to look at. It’s where we started. And it’s what offers the most clarity in the direction we’re heading.
Throughout unbound and throughout aftermath, what I’ve learned the most is that nothing in the lives we live is permanent. And it was designed that way for a reason. We are created for a purpose on purpose to receive what life has for us fully. And when we fill the gaps of what we don’t understand with stories we’ve made up to make ourselves feel better, more comfortable, and more protected, we miss out on the growth and change and opportunities our lives naturally provide for us.
So we get a choice. We get to choose where we plant our feet. We get to choose what we put our hope in. We get to choose what we believe is truth in the aftermath of the unbinding – the unbecoming – about ourselves and about the world around us.
There’s one thing I think we can all agree on – our days and weeks and years rarely unfold in the ways we think it will. It’s not always what we believe we want and deserve. It’s seldom our direct choice either. No one chooses rejection. No one chooses abuse. No one chooses an accident. No one chooses a miscarriage or a fire or a diagnosis. No one chooses these life-altering experiences. But what I do know is that somehow, someway these are the very things that flip us over and push us around for our good, for a benefit, for us to be at ease.
This, dear friends, is the bittersweetness of becoming. It requires us to find those mirror-reflecting places and run back to them, just for a time, to understand where you’re headed. It’s rarely without pain, but the aftermath of it all is beautiful. Our becoming asks us to take what doesn’t make sense and sit with it, hold it loosely, and grow from it. Because, sweet soul, I promise you that this life we live has little to do with what happens to us and how we understand it and has everything to do with who we’re fixed on at in the middle of the aftermath.