Advent: week one

December 1, 2015 § Leave a comment

As some of you may know, I rather like Advent.

Last year, on an impulsive whim, I wrote a blog post for each day of the season, a spiritual practice that proved healing and expansive for me.

This year, I’m not so ambitious. Instead of writing about Advent every day, I’m reading about Advent every day, using the wonderful book Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas.

May I suggest it to you? It’s chalk full of great writers like Thomas Merton and C.S. Lewis and Henri Nouwen and Madeleine L’Engle and so many many more. I’m only a day into the season, and I’m already smitten.

But despite my decision to read instead of write this go around, I can’t resist the urge to jot down a few minor thoughts about Advent, loving it as I do. So, here goes: a thought (or two) on Advent.

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During Advent, people talk a lot about waiting. That’s because Advent, which means “arrival”, is the season in which the people of God wait for the arrival of God, both the celebration of His birth long ago and the promise of His return in the future.

We are all familiar with waiting. In fact, waiting makes up a good portion of our lives. We wait in traffic, wait at the doctor’s office, wait for emails, wait for packages, wait for dreams to come true.

Implicit in the idea of waiting is the belief that something is coming.

One doesn’t sit around waiting for someone who doesn’t exist to pop over for dinner. One doesn’t sit around waiting for rain in the desert. One doesn’t sit around waiting for money to grow on trees.

These things just aren’t going to happen.

But one does sit around waiting for a friend who promises to stop by after work. One does sit around waiting for the first snowflakes to flurry in Michigan. One does sit around waiting for the cherry blossom trees to bloom in spring.

These things will happen in a matter of time.

But what about God? Was God really born to a virgin in a manger? Was it really true when God promised He would come again? Should we wait for these things, or is that just so much insanity?

Part of me says it is. Part of me, the lonely part of me that has known God’s absence, the cynical part of me that knows promises are broken all the time, the hard part of me that says this is silly and can’t be true, those parts of me say it’s insane.

But another part of me, the peaceful part of me that’s been filled with God’s love, the hopeful part of me that knows God doesn’t make promises He doesn’t plan to keep, the warm part of me that’s moved by the idea of God making His way to Earth, those parts of me say, okay, I’m ready, I’m waiting. I may not understand it fully, but God’s mysterious and ineffable – it would be trite if I did.

So, how is this waiting thing going to go?

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Some days

November 25, 2015 § 4 Comments

Some days, you just need to go.

You need to call up your friend who lives far away. You need to pack a red duffle bag with a random assortment of clothes. You need to buy a plane ticket and get on that plane and fly to Colorado.

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Some days, when you feel twisted inside, when you feel a little like a deflated balloon, when you see a hundred looming question marks ahead, when it seems like you’re stuck in a maze and keep coming upon the same horrid corner, on those days, you need to take a deep breath of cold mountain air.

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You need to remember what you forgot.

You need to remember who you are.

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Some days, you need to spend time with a friend who knows you as well as you know yourself (and sometimes even better).

Some days, you need to drive a few hundred miles until you’re in the middle of nowhere and there’s nothing but you and the silence and the sky.

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Some days, you need to sleep outside in a tent to remember what it’s like to be vulnerable and afraid.

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And some days, you need to stop for bread and soup to remember all that’s nourishing and kind.

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You need to get up and go so you can return.

So you can face those giant question marks again.

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And so you go.

And so you remember.

And you are filled with courage.

And you are filled with strength.

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And you return.

And when you return, nothing has changed, not really. Nothing except you.

But that makes all the difference, you see, because you, you, are ready.

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(Almost) a quarter of a century

November 11, 2015 § 8 Comments

This week, I catch a plane from Dallas to Denver, flying north as the sun rises, landing in view of the snow-capped mountains, greeted at baggage claim by one of my closest friends who now lives here.

She is the kind of friend I hope everyone has at some point in his or her life, a friend who’s known me through the highest of highs and the lowest of lows, a friend who understands my single-line cryptic text messages sent in moments of despair, a friend whom strangers stop to comment on how happy we seem together, a friend who suggests road trips when we’re both feeling a little stir-crazy, a little unsure of what-the-hell-we’re-doing-with-our-lives, a little in need of wide open spaces and close companionship and fresh autumn air.

I am twenty-four and she is twenty-five, and so we are both right out of college in this strange in-between time where neither of us have our dream jobs and neither of us live in a city we truly love and neither of us are entirely sure we won’t be stuck for the rest of our lives telling well-meaning acquaintances who ask what we do that we’re “in transition.”

It is a stage of life where we have a lot of ambition and hope and courage, and piled on top of that a lot of fear and doubt, a stage of life so often caricatured by statistics and glazed-over profiles in newspapers and magazines: the generation of millennials-come-of-age who can’t seem to launch, can’t seem to move out of their parents’ basements, can’t seem to get full-time jobs, can’t seem to get off of social media, and can’t seem to accept that this is real life and real life is hard and you can’t always get what you want, but, oh by the way, this is 21st century America so actually you can have everything you want, you just have to either do something you love or find happiness in the small things while doing something you hate, and it will help if you eat healthy and learn these meditation tricks and buy a standing desk and then, then, all will be well and you really will look like that photo of the happy-go-lucky lifestyle blogger with over a million followers on Instagram.

Both of us are fairly level-headed and fairly well aware that these stereotypes are just that, stereotypes, and need not apply to us. But both of us are also “in transition”, and in need of each other and of Colorado’s open sky.

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Over the last few years, I have had countless conversations with friends and acquaintances around my age about how being in your twenties is just plain hard.

Usually, we talk about how up until now, everything in our lives was fairly mapped out: go to middle school, graduate; go to high school, graduate; go to college and, yes, graduate.

Now, many of us find ourselves in limbo. We have glimpses, dreams, visions of good and meaningful things we want to do with our lives, but how in heaven’s name do we get from here to there, and do we really have to take this boring office job or become a coffee shop barista or live at home with our parents along the way?

And even if we are fortunate enough to get the job we’ve always wanted or move to the city in which we’ve always thought would be amazing to live, suddenly, we see the cracks in the glamor and realize, okay, this isn’t exactly what I thought it would be. I miss my friends. I miss my family. I’m not quite sure this job is my vocation, or whatever, because it certainly isn’t filling me up to the brim.

I have been in both of these situations, and I think the word “hard” is apt. It may not be hard in the same way physical pain is hard or loss of a loved one is hard or poverty is hard or life as an immigrant is hard, but it is still hard, it is still confusing, and it still matters a heck of a whole lot when it’s happening to you.

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I am a Christian, and I have many Christian friends, and this is usually the part of the story where we start talking about finding fulfillment in God rather than our situations in life. We might bring up God’s will and how it is mysterious and how we never quite know exactly what He’s doing in our lives but through this suffering God is probably drawing us closer to Him, and isn’t that wonderful, isn’t that just peaches and cream?

I think it is. I really think it is. I think so, because I’ve been there. I’ve been at a low low place, where I thought I would be eaten alive by depression, where everywhere I looked I only saw creeping blackness threatening to tear apart my soul, and the presence of God was the only thing that kept me going. The words from the Psalms were my lifeline, hemming me in, behind and before, a healing balm, a soothing whisper, and yes, I was drawn closer into the mysterious presence of God during that time.

And yet, I don’t think it is blasphemous or uninformed or impious to say that a flippant answer like this doesn’t always feel like enough. Sometimes, looking for God’s will doesn’t seem like it’s getting me anywhere, and sometimes, telling myself that this is all part of a plan is a flimsy way of saying I’m trying to make the best of something that right now just doesn’t make much sense.

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My friend and I go to a park near her apartment and kick around a soccer ball. The sun is a high and bright November light. It is so warm, I wish I had packed shorts. We laugh as we reminisce about our crazy high school. We remember how I am no good at soccer. We toss around ideas for our upcoming road trip.

In the distance, the snow-capped mountains are one line of navy blue and another line of jagged bright peaks jutting high in the sky, a wall of solidity.

We go for a walk beside a sparkling creek, falling into step beside one another, continuing a conversation we’ve been having for years, one that began sometime in high school. We talk about our past, present, and future. We talk about our dreams.

Some of those dreams have become a reality. Some are still half-formed. Others are dreams we didn’t even know we had until they miraculously came true. God is surprising that way, I guess, always giving us what we need when we don’t even know we need it, always slowly revealing our insides to ourselves mysteriously over time.

This morning, I wake in the dark apartment to snow falling quietly. It is peaceful, a cold blanket, a fresh presence, and as I watch the flurries fall I think, we’re pressing into the uncertainty of a quarter of a century and together, in Colorado, under the sharp-edged mountains and the softly falling snow, all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.

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Small voices

October 30, 2015 § 1 Comment

“Excuse me.”

I look up, drop the front flap of the newspaper, quite startled to hear the small voice so close to my ear. I am deep in a story about justice in America, settled comfortably in a squishy armchair in a crowded Starbucks in Dallas.

It is Sunday morning, and I have come from church to read the paper and pass the time before meeting up with a friend who’s visiting from out of town. I am wound in my own thoughts, thoughts of the story and thoughts of the day and thoughts of my friend, when I’m jolted by the sound of the voice. “Excuse me.”

I look up to find myself staring into the eyes of a young boy. He is around eight, skinny, with messy brown hair and dark eyes. All this I see in a flash because my eyes are drawn to the white notecard he holds in his hands. It is a note, directed to me or anyone else in that coffee shop, a plea for food, something about cancer, the mention of a little brother — I do not read it, really, the words simply blur on the page. But I get the gist.

He is asking for help.

“Where’s your mother?” I say instinctively. Then I wonder if that’s the right thing to say. What if he doesn’t have a mother? What if he can’t understand me at all?

But the boy does understand and he does have a mother, or at least it would seem, because he gestures at a woman, frail and hunched, lumbering between the shoulders of the people waiting in line for coffee. She holds an identical white notecard, and pauses in front of a middle-aged man who says he has no cash to give.

As I see the boy motioning to her, I freeze. Fear and an automatic response kick in.

“I’m sorry,” I say. “I can’t help you. I’m so sorry.”

And as quick as he appeared, he is gone, swept out of the glass doors onto the rain-streaked streets of Dallas.

I sit there, numb, aware of the crinkled dollar bills in my wallet and my church down the street and the story I’d been reading about justice in America. I want to rise and follow them, but I do not. I know, even as I want to, that I will not.

Because the thing is, I am suspicious of the boy and his mother. I remember the story a tour guide once told me about a little gypsy girl in Spain. She pick-pocketed him and the tour guide, aware of the probability of such a thing, grabbed her by the arm before she could escape. In a flash, the little girl took off all of her clothes and stood there screaming. What could he do but let her go, wallet and all, lest he himself be accused of a crime much worse than stealing.

This story and others make me wary, make me afraid of being taken advantage of, make me want to protect myself before helping another.

But I do not want to be suspicious when the face of someone in need appears before me. For even if the little boy and his mother were scheming to get my money, that in itself puts them in a place of trouble, of spiritual and moral despair.

Faced with these kinds of situations, I would rather be like a person I know who jumps into action when someone is distressed, without regard for himself but only for the other. This person stops to help when a stranger’s car breaks down and automatically buys dinner for homeless men, no questions asked. I know there is a body of literature out there providing economic reasons not to help the poor and needy, literature that references things like incentives and personal responsibility and empowerment, and I do think such literature offers a modicum of truth.

But the face of that small child and the sound of his quiet voice remain in my head, and a thing inside me — call it God, call it my conscious, call it a well-off woman’s guilt — never wants someone vulnerable to disappear unreceived into an overcast city again.

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A life lesson from a dog

October 23, 2015 § 2 Comments

Every morning, after I drink my one to ten cups of coffee, I take Scout for a walk.

Scout is a border collie, a good-looking dog, if I do say so myself, with a half-white, half-black face rather like the phantom of the opera’s, the cutest wagging tail, and the brightest eyes that literally will melt your heart if you let them.

I hesitate to call him my dog because he was technically a Christmas present from my parents to my younger brother who then passed him along to my mom when he went to college who then passed him along to my grandmother who I happen to live with.

Still, Scout follows me around the house when I’m at home and has recently taken to sleeping in my room, something he used to reserve only for my mom and grandmother, who are both willing to hand feed him from a spoon, so even if he isn’t my dog, I seem to have inadvertently become his human.

I usually find walking Scout in the mornings a bit of an ordeal.

This isn’t because I have to get out of bed early to exercise. I am one of those strange breed of people who love both mornings and exercise.

No, it is because Scout finds everything along our way THE MOST INTERESTING THING IN THE ENTIRE WORLD and absolutely has to stop to inspect it.

We are barely out of the front door when Scout must stop to snuffle through the bush that borders the neighbor’s property. Then, we cross the street and he must do his business on a utility pole. And then, it’s a few more steps before a patch of ordinary grass must be thoroughly sniffed.

I always know when Scout will stop because he always inspects the same things every time: the patch of green ivy, the especially-gnarly-and-strangely-maroon-colored rock, the particularly large trunk of a live oak tree, and the pile of cut branches that’s been there forever and is probably infested with snakes.

What he’s looking for, I never know.

What I do know is this: no matter how many times he’s looked at that bush or that street sign or that concrete curb, it is still fascinating, it is still a marvel of existence, it still commands his full attention as though it were THE MOST INTERESTING THING IN THE ENTIRE WORLD.

Sometimes, waiting for Scout provides opportunities for thinking.

Last weekend, while Scout tangled his leash in a particularly prickly bush, I thought about one of my favorite writers, Annie Dillard, and her book, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, an enigmatic account of her experience living in a cabin on the edge of a creek in the Appalachians.

In it, Dillard says that when she was a child in Pittsburgh she used to hide pennies in the sidewalk around her neighborhood, then draw chalk arrows pointing toward the hidden pennies for passersby to find. As a child, she thought any pedestrian would be delighted to find free money lying about, but as an adult, she wonders how many people actually cared about finding a penny, let alone bothered to pick one up.

“It is dire poverty indeed when a man is so malnourished and fatigued that he won’t stoop to pick up a penny,” writes Dillard. “But if you cultivate a healthy poverty and simplicity, so that finding a penny will literally make your day, then, since the world is in fact planted in pennies, you have with your poverty bought a lifetime of days.”

I think about this passage as I untangle Scout from that bush.

I think about how Dillard seems to be saying that the way we look at the world changes the way we experience it.

If you look for hundred-dollar bills on the sidewalk, you’ll be sorely disappointed. But if you look for pennies, before long, you’ll have a jingling collection.

In the same way, if you look for miracles or adventure or unusual occurrences on an ordinary street in a suburb of Dallas, you’ll probably be disappointed. But if you look for dew-dropped blades of grass or red-breasted cardinals or patches of multi-colored pansies, you’ll find yourself filled with delight at the splendor and mystery of the created world.

I am, of course, no good at this. While Scout races out of the front door straight for that neighbor’s bush, my response is something like, for heaven’s sake, Scout, we’ve seen this bush a milliton times, will you come on!

But then I pause and remember Dillard’s words and think, no, wait, look around, don’t expect something different, don’t expect anything at all. Instead, look at that bush and that tree and that patch of lawn and you’ll find the sparkling copper pennies that will make you rich.

Or, at least in Scout’s case, you’ll find some delightfully sniffable blades of grass.

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Friday meditation

October 16, 2015 § Leave a comment

I will fold your heart gently in a white paper packet. I will crimp the edges to tuck you in. Like a child in bed, you’ll be safe, surrounded, encircled in smoothness, protected within.

With soft white sheets I will surround you, so fragile, in the palm of my hand. You’re my tiny walnut, my baby apple seed, my uncrackable lady, my Me more than Me.

I’ll open the cage of your heart oh so gently. I’ll hold your caked blood in the center of my hand. I’ll kiss it away sweetly, new warmth to be given. I’ll heal, I’ll straighten, every wrinkle within.

I’ll twine you up, like spun cotton candy. I’ll blow you away, like grass in the wind. I’ll fold you up in a white paper packet, set you inside, where no thing can get in.

Church beneath a tree

October 12, 2015 § Leave a comment

A little while ago, I wrote about my experience attending a tree church in South Sudan over on Seed Effect’s blog. I’m finally getting around to posting it: you can read the story at this link or below.

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Sunday morning, we pile into two SUVs and drive down the bumpy dirt roads of Kajo Keji to attend a church beneath a tree.

The church is made out of a blue tarp hung over sticks. We sit on a combination of wooden pews and broken plastic lawn chairs. It is a small space, hot inside, but with the early morning sunlight shining through tears in the tarp, a slight breeze, and the sound of birds in the trees, it is peaceful.

Children dressed in colorful patterned clothes sit on the dirt floor. Some of the girls, as young as elementary school children, have babies swaddled on their backs.

The South Sudanese in this church worship by playing drums and colorful shakers, singing, dancing, and clapping. They immediately welcome us into the worship, some of the women clasping our hands and jumping up and down with us. The music changes, and they are singing slow and deep, “I surrender my problems. I surrender my sickness. I surrender my weakness.”

They begin to pray out loud. One young woman closes her eyes and tilts her head back, fervently whispering her petitions to the sky. I can’t understand her, or any of them, but as the praying ends I hear, “Thank you, Lord, thank you, my father,” and I think, whoever told me South Sudan was a place of suffering had it wrong. These people are filled with the Spirit. They are blessed.

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But after the service, when we are mulling about beneath the leafy tree, Rachel, one of our team members, relates a story: one of the churchgoers, a 19-year-old woman without a husband, has just asked Rachel to take her baby back to the United States.

Rachel suggests the mother would miss her daughter, but it is clear the mother realizes the life she can give her baby in South Sudan is not the life any mother would want for a child.

There is sickness here, and little medication. There is poverty. There is war. There is death.

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A man comes up to our group and asks for a Bible. He says his name is John. He’s already drunk two two-liter bottles of beer that day. He is barefooted, wearing torn and dirty clothes, his eyes red and bleary, his breath rank.

Before giving him a Bible, we ask why he wants it.

He says God told him to read Psalm 31. We ask him if he believes in God, in Jesus. He says he knows who Jesus is, but does not believe in Him. There is shame and hurt in his eyes.

John’s friend stands beside him, a friend who was formerly a drunk but changed after converting. This friend urges John to accept Christ, to give up drinking, but John does not want to. He says the drinking helps him forget his pain. When we ask what pain he wants to forget, he does not answer, but he does let us pray with him. He kneels on the ground as we place hands upon him.

All I can do is whisper, over and over, the Jesus prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on this man, John, a sinner.” Why would John be so moved to speak with us, to ask for a Bible, to read a powerful verse like that? I am saddened at his state, the loneliness and hurt in his eyes, the inability to find peace.

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Before I came to South Sudan, many people who had been here before told me that South Sudan has the same darkness and light as the rest of the world, it is simply exaggerated. I think they are correct. There is joy and poverty in Dallas, too, but the joy of the South Sudanese against the stark poverty of their lives throws sin and grace in a bright light, revealing both our need for the Lord and His presence with us.

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Over the weekend

October 5, 2015 § Leave a comment

I shared these on all of the usual social media sites this weekend, but in case you missed them, I had the privilege of writing two stories for The Dallas Morning News which appeared in Sunday’s paper.

The first was this profile of Missy Williams, cofounder of Seed Effect, the organization I traveled to South Sudan with last August (which, if you read this blog, you haven’t heard enough about lately!).

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Missy went from being an interior designer to cofounding this remarkable microfinance organization with her husband. I recommend Seed Effect to anyone looking for a charity in which to invest.

“Our hope would be that Seed Effect would be a light in South Sudan, a place of stability, as much as we can, in an unstable environment.”  – Missy Williams

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The second is this photo essay of 15 women facing breast cancer, which I worked on with one of The Dallas Morning News photographers.

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This is one of the more powerful stories I’ve worked on. I interviewed 12 of these women back-to-back, and hearing about their illness, how it’s affected their lives, how they’ve found peace and strength in the hardest of times, it was nothing short of remarkable.

“Breast cancer was honestly one of the best things that ever happened to me. Although I hate [that] it happened, I really am thankful for my perspective on life changing to where I don’t stress about the small things.  – Erika Young

Hoping you enjoy these stories and have a happy start to your week!

Resolution ramblings

September 30, 2015 § 5 Comments

After taking the summer off and volunteering in South Sudan last August, I resolved to write a new blog post every week, a resolution I hoped would renew my love for writing and ingrain the discipline in me. A friend encouraged me to do it, and so far, it’s worked out pretty well.

I have loved writing a new post every week, finding myself overflowing with thoughts I want to share, overjoyed when I receive a kind note from someone who connected with something I wrote.

But this week, I find myself staring at a blank page with no idea what to say.

Oh, I have lots of thoughts, that’s for sure. A dear friend told me lately, “I say this from the deepest part of my heart, Lizzie, but sometimes, you’re your own worst enemy.  You tend to overthink things and drive yourself crazy.” This is absolutely true. I fixate on some thing and cannot let it go until I’ve wound myself into a ball of nerves.

I have done this lately. I find myself feeling like a rubber band stretched taught, about to snap. I find myself feeling like a cactus — get too close, and you might get pricked.

But these thoughts and emotions hardly boil down into a coherent blog post.

Which is why this week’s post feels like a bit of a copout, and maybe it is.

Or maybe it isn’t.

Maybe you feel this way at times, too. Maybe you know what it’s like to need to stick to a resolution even when the resolution feels hard and empty. Maybe you know what it’s like to feel as though you’re made of sharp silver needles sticking your insides. Maybe you do. Or maybe I’m just going through a neurotic phase.

Either way, I’ll post a few pictures to make up for this rambling post. From my recent trip to Southern California:IMG_5962

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Looking for home

September 23, 2015 § 2 Comments

For the last two months, I’ve lived, more or less, out of a suitcase.

I spent several weeks working with a nonprofit in South Sudan. I vacationed in North Carolina with a friend. Now I’m in Los Angeles, visiting my brother who’s on fall break from film school.

Living out of a suitcase is not a bad way to live. In fact, most of the time, I rather like it. I feel inspired and energized when I travel; I feel restless when I don’t.

But all of this packing and unpacking, taking off and landing, driving and stopping to fill the tank with gas, all of this leaving and returning and leaving again, all of it makes me rather desirous of home.

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I grew up in a military family, with a father in the Navy and a mother in the Air Force, so moving is second nature to me and home is a relative term. Growing up, I moved every year or two of my life until I turned 13. Even after living in Fort Worth all through high school, I attended college in Michigan, traveled during the summers, and have lived in three states in the two years since graduation.

My mom likes to tell this anecdote that explains how integral moving was (and still is) to my life:

When we settled in Fort Worth, I began attending a new school. At the start of the semester, the teachers gathered all of the eighth graders into the gymnasium to play a game that was supposed to help everyone get to know each other.

They passed out several rolls of toilet paper and instructed each student to tear off as many sheets as he or she liked. Some of us took one or two squares, several took half a dozen, a couple unrolled great swaths of white paper. When it came my turn, I unrolled a long strip, probably ten sheets long, and handed the roll to my neighbor.

Then, the teachers explained the game: we were to go around the room sharing one fact about ourselves per square of toilet paper. There I was with this long strip of paper, wracking my mind for interesting but not too weird facts about myself, wishing I’d been less ambitious and only taken one sheet like the girl sitting beside me.

I tend to freeze up in moments like this, and I was freezing up then when it hit me: there was something I had done at least ten times. Move.

After the girl beside me stated her single fact, I began tearing off square after square, listing place after place where I’d lived: Virginia, Washington, Germany, California, Boston, Washington, D.C., Virginia again…

The teachers thought it was funny. Several of the students’ eyes grew big. I felt slightly embarrassed for marking myself as different from my Texan peers, peers I was supposed to befriend, and was relieved when my last square of toilet paper somersaulted gracefully to the floor.

After attending that high school for two years, making some friends, going to the Valentine’s dance, acting in a Jane Austen play, I began to feel restless. I loved Fort Worth. I loved the sprawling grassland with its scraggly mesquite trees, I loved the pool in the hot Texas summer, I loved our neighbor’s horses, I loved skipping Friday night football games to hang out with my friends instead, but we’d been there for so long.

Wasn’t it time to move again?

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Since graduating from college, every place I’ve moved I’ve wanted to make my home.

When I moved to Washington, D.C. for a journalism internship, I wondered: could this be my home? I loved the history, the ornate buildings, the excitement of the metro, the museums on the National Mall, the tree-filled parks, my little room in the house with the dark green trim.

Yes, I thought, this could be my home.

When I moved to Santa Barbara to write for the city newspaper, I wondered: could this be my home? I loved the adobe red-roof buildings, the sparkling blue ocean, the palm trees, the craggy mountains, the dolphins swimming offshore.

Yes, I thought, this could be my home.

Now I live in Dallas, and sometimes I wonder: is this city my home?

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When I first moved to Dallas, I did not think it could ever be my home. Everywhere I looked I did not see Dallas. Instead, I saw what Dallas was not.

Dallas was not palm trees or ocean waves or coffee shops near the beach. Dallas was not hiking trails or wild bluffs or purple-tinged mountains. Dallas was not sunsets or seagulls or wineries in the hills.

Dallas was not California. Dallas could never be home.

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But I’ve lived in Dallas for over a year now and in many ways, it is my home.

It is my home because it is the address I use when buying books from Amazon or signing up for a library card. It is my home because my grandmother lives there and (when I’m not living out of a suitcase) I live in her house. It is my home because I have friends in Dallas whom I love.

Despite all of this, I am still restless, I am still unsettled, I am still desirous of a more permanent home.

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 When I feel this way, I sometimes think of Parmenides, the Greek philosopher who was so disturbed by the constant flux in this world that he conjured the idea that while everything appears to be changing what exists is actually one unchangeable entity, what his successors have dubbed the Parmenidean One.

I think about the Parmenidean One because I think I get why that’s so appealing. How nice to think that all of this flux, this moving, this change, this restlessness is just an illusion, that what actually exists is something firm, something solid, something to rest upon. I think it’s that solidity, that firmness that we so desire when we think about home. That’s what home is. It’s the place that’s comfortable and safe, where one is provided for and loved and knows who he or she is.

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Through all of this moving and living out of suitcases, I think I’ve learned a few things about home.

One is that age-old cliché: home is where your heart is. This is true. Dallas is not my home because most of the things I own happen to be there. It is my home because so many people I love live there. Another city could easily be my home. Any place I go can feel like home for a week or a day, if there are people I love with me there.

Some places feel more like home than others, no matter how many people you love live or don’t live there. I am in California this week, visiting my brother, and I am remembering how much I love this place. The sun shining here makes it easier for me to stave off my proclivity toward moodiness. The easy, laid-back culture makes it easier for me to keep myself from spiraling into my usual self-perfecting anxiety. I always feel more at ease in Southern California, more comfortable, more myself, more at home.

Nevertheless, I am still restless, and I know this is a restlessness that cannot be cured. It is the deep desire, the insatiable hunger, the needy neediness of the soul for the real home, the true place where we are fulfilled. It’s a restlessness I will always feel, and so will you, no matter where you call your home. It’s a good restlessness because it moves us not to feel satisfied with what is here, but points us onward toward a more perfect and permanent place beyond.

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*Photos from my recent trip to Los Angeles.

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