It has been a long year. Looking back over my calendar, it’s almost surprising to find that the year had the same amount of Mondays as usual and that there wasn’t a hidden month in there somewhere. More so than any year in recent memory, this year has felt so disjointed that the only reasonable conclusion is that it contained multiple years in one, bound together by some mysterious gap in the space/time continuum (I’ve been watching a lot of Dr. Who this year). I’ve given each era a title, to worthily distinguish it from the others:
- The End (Jan ’14 – Sept ’14)
- No Man’s Land (July ’14 – Nov ’14)
- A Beginning? (Dec ’14)
The End was marvelous. Normal and full of life and celebrations and hard, messiness lived out in genuine community. Sometimes normal is hard to write about, so I’ll skip to the less-than-normal bits. The year began with The End in mind, although with just one end truly anticipated, the Good Lord thought He’d add some more, just to make the season true to its name. The first half of the year was filled with high school students – a full sprint to soak up all of their remaining time at home. Two retreats (one in the midst of having mono), d-group breakfasts at 5 Doors Down, coffee dates, last: track meet, concert, recital, performance, etc. Constant questioning about what other wisdom I had to impact during the days that were left. Senior night. And then suddenly, silence. They were gone. Graduation came and they left for camp, family vacation, immersion programs. And then they really left. For Alabama, Pennsylvania, Boston, Chicago, California. There were no more hands to hold in pews on Sunday mornings. No more lessons to plan or 12 hour days at church. Just silence. In fairness, this was always going to be hard. I have not known adult life without these girls. They’ve always been there to welcome me to church, to fill my free time, to occupy my prayers. I don’t know how to do life without them. In truth, I’m still trying to figure it out. Even when you know The End is coming, it still finds you unprepared.
But when you don’t know it’s coming, it can knock your feet out from under you and leave you dizzily trying to refocus a life that you thought you knew. In early spring, we decided to leave 5 Doors. It made sense – we were logical more than sentimental. Our lives were going different directions and it was the next clear step. So we tried to redistribute our kitchen and parse out the trinket shelves. But even when I was able to stretch my mind back and remember who the original owner of the Pride and Prejudice DVD was, I found it impossible to remember who I was apart from these women. How did I process life away from the black, candle-lit table? What did hospitality look like without a dining room table that could fit twelve? How could I sustain my spirit when entering a house to the hum of the refrigerator instead of laughter? I don’t have the answers, other than to say, I still don’t know. What I do know is that I thought moving would clearly be The End. That a new beginning was sure to follow. But the Lord had another end in mind first.
After Labor Day, my church added a third service on Sunday mornings. It is definitely safe to say that this should not have upended my life the way that it did. But upend it did. I finally lost my moorings. The one constant across my eight years of transient DC existence (and a rather changing constant at that) has been this church. When I tried to get rid of it, the Lord clearly had other plans. Yet when I longed for it to stay, and stay the same, the Lord’s plans again prevailed. I no longer saw the familiar faces I had grown accustomed to. I didn’t know where to sit or who to sit with or what my part was in the body. Added to the rest of The End, I cracked.
I fell into No Man’s Land.
I can’t recommend that you visit. It’s a dark place with more tears than sunshine. The exit signs are dim and flickering and the darkness leads you to believe you are all alone. My No Man’s Land was a vacuum, formed out of the backdrops of what was left after The End – lots of relationships, but none that I came home to. There were shadows of familiarity, until I actually focused my gaze and realized nothing was as it seemed. When I was home, I ate dinner alone. Laughter was replaced by the drone of the TV, until I started avoiding home altogether. I flitted around, visiting with friends, but perpetually feeling like I was catching up with them rather than growing our relationships. There were good things in this season, too – I began volunteering with Story Warren, Dan continued to be a source of consistency and support, I joined the admissions committee of the Fellows Program, and was able to travel more freely to Cleveland, Maine, New York City, Clemson and Nashville. But relationally, I was exhausted. Not from an abundance – as I’m more familiar with – but from a lack. Without roommates to process life with, or high schoolers to pour life into, my mind swirled around, constantly moving, but never getting anywhere. It felt like a wilderness with nothing but untended ground for company.
I think it was Christmas that saved me. Or, more specifically, it was Advent that shined a light in the darkness and let me see more clearly. Yes, my world is different now. Darker. But there are lessons to be learned in the darkness. One of them may just be learning how turn on the lights. In my No Man’s Land, the lights are called People and the first switch is called Hospitality. The first kind was a hospitality of life – to invite others (particularly my silent and isolationist roommates) into my world. In Advent, that meant invitations to decorate the house, eat Swedish gingersnaps, pick out a tree, watch Christmas movies. Although I got a lot of no’s, a few yes’s were enough to leave the lights on. The second kind was a hospitality of home. This house has always felt borrowed – I sit at a borrowed table in someone else’s chairs – so I have felt reluctant to invite others in. But darkness, my darkness anyway, is countered by company. So I opened my doors. We gathered and ate soup and watched It’s a Wonderful Life. Then, my d-group girls were home from college so we once again met for brunch. The house feels a bit more like home now. Not perfect, but more solid than a mere echo.
Although this year has not followed the path I imagined, and I would have strongly preferred to stay out of the wilderness, there is something profoundly beautiful about being pulled out of darkness during Advent:
The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined.” Isaiah 9:2
I am not alone. Emmanuel came down, not to immediately take away my waiting and my wilderness, but to wait with me as He makes all things new. It’s not much yet, but it just might be A Beginning.