I was fresh out of grad school and decided that if I just wore high heels and scarves I’d be taken seriously in the classroom. Because at 5’2″ and just a few years older than my college students, I needed something to communicate big words like “authority” and “stature” and “smart” and “serious.” I walked around that campus with the air of someone who knew what she was about, who knew her subject matter and who knew how to teach.
But I felt like I was playing a giant dress-up game called life.
And then real life happened, by which I mean, life in the dailyness of washing dishes, and learning how to love, and making the bed, and grocery shopping. Life full of the glorious mundane. And then there is the life that happens when you add lives to your own, and spend your hours changing diapers, and making dinner, and trying to make meaning from the crying, the napping, and developmental milestones.
So slowly, as we moved from Los Angeles, to San Diego, to Salt Lake City, and as I moved from student to professor to mother, this “game” of life took on a bedrock finality where I had to concede I was, in fact, grown up. I didn’t need high heels or tomes on my bookshelf. I had a mortgage and a minivan full of kids to prove it.
It just took me to my mid-thirties and seven moves—one international—to begin to feel at home in myself.
Each place has whittled me down based on who I am becoming in each place. As I turn the pages of my past selves, each place holds for me a tender space with an accompanying nostalgia akin to flipping through old photo albums. Each place gives a geography to the chapters of me.
Each place we’ve lived has shown me more of who I am and more of who God is. Each has evidenced a terrible beauty. The painful beauty of becoming. Every home has shown me how wide and deep the Kingdom of God is and that there are good gifts in each spot; that there are always people who need you and whom you can connect to one another. Each place has stripped me a bit bare.
Los Angeles laid claim to my know-it-all-ness, as I put on my grad school knowledge like a scarf and found it lacking. For all the learning in the world couldn’t tell me about marriage, and sacrifice, and how to balance work with new motherhood. San Diego showed me my idol of my self-sufficiency as I floundered with two children under two. I felt helpless and at sea, having left the pats-on-the-back of academia and instead, spent my days pushing a double stroller up and down hills at the zoo.
And now, in what many consider the conservative capital of the US, I have been given bravery in Salt Lake City. It’s a city dominated by the LDS temple, the center point around which the city’s grid system is based. And yet, there are other factions which orbit that hub—factions that challenge, and augment, and move gracefully around the dominant religious culture. It’s made being a Christian here something exotic; and even with the pressures of four children, a college ministry and a dominant religious culture of which I’m not a part, Salt Lake City has birthed my voice.
Places do that. They push and pull at who we think we are and stretch us into who we are becoming.
Places, if we let them, usher us into a multi-orbed story, where in each new place we carry our past layers, have the freedom to shed some old ones, and to don new ones.
Places finally take up residence in our souls, not for their amenities and attractions, but for how they birth us into new people. And how, after awhile, we can look back at each place with a certain fondness after the terror of becoming has abated.
So as I string those dear places together—as connected dots on a world map—I’m reminded that there is no space that is too unlovable, too hard, or too unattractive. And, as we anticipate another move this summer, I’m looking forward to another dot on the map that I will weave my story around, and in whose stories I will be woven.
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