As you can read on my “About Me” page, my past year or so has been one drastic life-changing event after another. I graduated from college. I interned in London. I planned a wedding. I got married. I moved to Portland. I started grad school.
These are all wonderful things and I wouldn’t give up any of these experiences. However, they haven’t been easy, either. All change involves giving something up, sacrificing, setting old things aside. Change involves taking on what is new, unknown, and unfamiliar. It can be scary and lonely.
I know it is good that I’ve finally left my parents’ house and taken responsibility for my own life, but life isn’t easy. I miss my family, my friends, my dog. I miss the comfort of always knowing exactly where I’m going (literally and metaphorically). Here in Portland I have the strange sensation of half-stumbling/half-running along, getting lost and constantly asking, “Where am I going next?” I miss stability. I miss simple, familiar things about California. I feel guilty about not being happy here, when it’s something I took on out of my own free will.
I’ve never been in this position before. When I studied abroad at Oxford, and then again when I lived in London, I missed my family sometimes. I had bouts of homesickness. But what I’m experiencing now is not just a bout. It’s a chronic disabling disease of homesickness. When I was in England I knew the date of my return ticket home. When I was feeling blue I could turn on one of my favorite movies, make myself a cup of tea, indulge in a scone with clotted cream and raspberry jam, snuggle under some blankets and wait for it to pass. Here half of the problem is the fact that I don’t know when I’m going home. I don’t know if I’ll ever live in California again. My husband’s job is here, and he has prospects of getting an even better job, one that he will really love. And Portland is a good place for my career, too. My husband is brave and adventurous, and wants to start life with me in a place where we have all the best opportunities to figure out how we want to live our lives. I should be right there with him, and three months ago I was. But I’m terrified. I don’t want to miss important things in my family’s lives. I don’t want to miss my best friends getting engaged or married. I don’t want to miss the births of their babies. Even if I’m sometimes able to visit, it is inevitable that I simply will not be able to do everything. And then when I think about this, I’m afraid that the homesickness will never end. I’m afraid I will live like this for the rest of my life.
I know this thinking is dangerous. Without realizing it, I could slip and slide into a depression. This risk is even greater because Portland is gray and dreary 2/3 of the year, and I come from the land of eternal sunshine. I don’t want to sound melodramatic because I’m not there yet. I have some fight in me. But let’s face it, we all know depression is a real thing and it could happen eventually. It’s very common here in Portland.
It’s easy in this situation for people to say that this is a time that God is using to grow me. I am walking a well-trodden trail, and others who have gone before me have come out happy and better for the experience. My initial reaction is to say (politely): Congratulations to all the strong people who did it. I, on the other hand, will wave my white flag and take the next flight home, thank you very much. This is one growing experience that I politely decline, like declining a promotion.
If only I could take that road. But I made the mistake of reading C.S. Lewis, and when you read C.S. Lewis you have to expect that you will be kicked in your metaphorical, stubborn butt. Here’s what C.S. Lewis wrote in A Grief Observed while he was grieving for his wife, Joy:
“How far have I got? Just as far, I think, as a widower of another sort who would stop, leaning on his spade, and say in answer to our inquiry, ‘Thank’ee. Mustn’t grumble. I do miss her something dreadful. But they say these things are sent to try us.’ We have come to the same point; he with his spade, and I, who am not now much good at digging, with my own instrument. But of course one must take ‘sent to try us’ the right way. God has not been trying an experiment on my faith or love in order to find out their quality. He knew it already. It was I who didn’t. In this trial He makes us occupy the dock, the witness box, and the bench all at once. He always knew that my temple was a house of cards. His only way of making me realize the face was to knock it down.”
When I read this, I instantly saw myself. Of course, if Lewis could’ve chosen, he wouldn’t’ve been in that situation. Unlike him, I am in this situation (like most predicaments I face) because I volunteered for it. Still, it is not something I am happy about now, and it’s not something I can escape. And even if I did volunteer for it, that doesn’t mean God didn’t play a part in bringing me here. Perhaps in a few months, or a few years, I’ll be able to say I was brought here “for such a time as this.”* Maybe this is something God knew I needed to deal with. Maybe, like the good Shepherd that He is, I am being led through this valley where my ability to see around me is short and I am being forced to grab onto His hand and let Him pull me along. This is an opportunity for me to draw closer to Him than I have been. But in all my thinking that I described above, I have not been trusting God. I have been fighting being here. My temple is a house of cards, and it is being knocked down. I feel like a child sitting in the mess, wailing about it. I need to get up and work on building something more permanent that will not be so easily knocked down next time.
You’d think that with all the times God has provided for me, I would understand that He has my best interests at heart. But I am a stupid sheep. I don’t feel like the shepherdess that I was in my dream about a month ago. God has provided for me in innumerable ways. I can tell you stories of times when I knew that things were happening in my life not at all coincidentally, but because He was watching out for me.
When you realize you’ve been trying to take control of your own life and not allowing God to lead you, refusing to let Him show you His love for you, there is only one thing you can do.
And so I do. This is my confession. I have screwed up. I’m sorry, Father. Please help me to trust you. I know you love me and I have so many reasons to be thankful. Help me remember. Amen.