This past weekend I had the great privilege of traveling to Northern California to stand beside my best friend from college as she pledged her life and devotion to a truly wonderful man. Their vows made everyone cry, I assure you. The whole affair was nothing short of steal-your-breath-away. The venue, a gorgeous vineyard in Redding, California, provided one of the most stunning backdrops I’ve seen thus far, and for a moment, standing in the warmth of the afternoon sun, wrapped in its unseasonable glow, I recalled the rain I’d left behind in Portland and wondered, in a weak moment, if I had in fact made a terrible mistake.
From the time I was a young girl I’ve been thoroughly enchanted with the idea of travel; by the sheer expansiveness of a world that lay in wait for me- by the great unknown, surely begging to be known. Adventure- I could hear her beckoning me from the four corners of the globe to come and turn over her rocks, exposing the earth’s rich history in all its untamable, boundless beauty; inviting me to breathe it in like air, and breathe it out like a blessing.
And eventually, I would.
Eventually I would board planes, chasing the sun till my feet met the cobblestone streets of Europe; I’d head underground and hop on subways in search of the secrets told by a city that never sleeps. I’d take buses and cabs and boats and I’d tread by foot the same soil traveled by countless others who’ve come before me. Sometimes those travels would leave me standing in awe of the relic beauty and robust hisotry present in the ancient, Gothic architecture of France. Other times it would have me caked in the dust of poverty, arms intertwined with the fragile limbs and bodies of orphan babies as I rocked and sang them to sleep in the sticky, marshy African air, praising God for his Common Graces- faint breezes like a whisper, evening rainstorms as a reprieve from stale heat, the reviving nature of human touch- which He generously bestows to all without partiality; all of which I so thoroughly overlook in the midst of my Western comfort.
And still, there is no denying I’ve only begun to skim the surface of all that is to be explored in the vast expanse of creation. Many have seen much more than I, and could speak with far greater authority to the world’s many wonders. God willing, my journeys are far from over; there is certainly so much more I pray my eyes bear witness to before my lips breathe their final hallelujah. There’s something inherently stretching involved with traveling to new places: a palpable reminder that the world is far bigger than my daily perimeters extend; that it does not revolve around me and my trivial, selfish agendas. It helps ground me in the hope that there is still much to learn and discover in life. It’s humbling in so many ways, and this is good. I need humbling.
But even so, I often find that these same experiences tend to breed something of another nature within me as well, that is, a spirit of discontentment. I would argue that our exceptionally mobile and digital age has contributed to a fear of commitment that largely exceeds the generations before us. As our options for travel and consumption have vastly expanded, there is tremendous temptation to flea or escape when life gets hard, or a little scary, or even just too routine. We begin to ask ourselves what else is out there.
What exactly is behind door number 2 anyway?
As our journeys expose us to far away, exotic places, there creeps in a gnawing thought that haunts us: perhaps we have been cheated in some way; perhaps life is keeping some grand secret from us, for surely we were born in the wrong city, state, country, era, body and so on and so forth. We’d rather envy the greener grass in another’s yard than cultivate our own. And we begin to believe the lie that what we have is not enough.
It’s an age-old story really, and I regret to say how often I feel this way.
But on Saturday, when I landed in Portland, something instantly felt different. I pondered what it could be as I slowly made my way up the steps and through my front door. I trudged my belongings upstairs, exchanged my California garb for a more appropriate fall sweater, then immediately headed back down to the kitchen to make myself the first good cup of coffee since my departure three days earlier. Then, in an effort to unwind from a busy weekend, I grabbed my mug and journal and made my way to the front porch. And as I sat there, breathing in the cool, fall air, watching the clouds drift lazily across a sky of vibrant blue, something strange began to happen: it was as though I began to unfold in that moment.
If you know me, you know I am not exactly a details person. Generally speaking, I’m so often in my head, distracted by my own thoughts, that my external surroundings just sort of pass me by in a blur. But on this particular afternoon, it was as though all my senses were heightened: I noticed the way the sunlight streamed through my kitchen window as I made my coffee, reflecting off the water in my aero press, casting its light onto the countertop in a lovely dance; I couldn’t help but smile. I wondered if the trees had overnight decided to light their tops ablaze, exposing their autumn hues, or if I’d simply missed it until now. It was something like making the switch from cable to HDTV. Everything came into precise focus. Everything, and I mean everything was beautiful. I felt almost as though I’d put my skin on again- the skin that’s mine, and mine alone to wear- the skin that’s comfortable and at ease. And it hit me as I sat there sipping my coffee, that this thing I was feeling, this peace and alertness to all the beauty around me, it was the feeling of coming home. And I had to give pause to the moment and thank God, but for his perfect wisdom and goodness, I’d still be searching for such a place.
For surely, of all the roads we travel in life, few are as satisfying as the roads that leads us home.