Sunday, January 17, 2016

finding home

Remember that song by the Dixie Chicks?

Wide Open Spaces.

Fifteen years ago they called.  I answered.
The wide open spaces of the Arizona desert welcomed me not by hugging me warm and tight but by quietly ushering me into her vastness.  I arrived seeking a graduate degree but left having found so much more.

In the beginning, I felt lost and alone.  I had lived my entire life among the pines and oaks of the east coast.  Those dusty mountains covered in cactus and cholla felt foreign to me.  The bougainvillea were of slight comfort.  Their bright color and familiar flowers swayed in the hot breeze like small flags of hope.  At the time I didn't know what to hope for.  When you're lost, there is much to be found and it's hard to know where to begin.  I had to begin with me.

The more I hiked the rocky trails, the more I realized that shade and shelter are rare in the desert.  More often than not you are left completely exposed under a sunny southwestern sky.  The true condition of my soul was exposed during those years.  There were times when I thought that scorching process might kill me.  What was buried deep within me wasn't pretty to look at - just dull and dirty like the surrounding earth.
Over the years the desert grew beautiful to me.  So did my soul.  Though dry and brittle, it's muted colors stood in stark contrast to the cloudless cerulean sky, the towering palms and the snow-capped distant mountains.  The desert possesses surprising strength and I began to see a humility in her that reflected great beauty.  She never bombards you with bold colors and bright lights, but instead sits quiet and solid under your feet in natural shades of brown and muted green.  You learn to see the subtle differences.  Your eyes are sharpened in the process, better able to discern the subtleties of this life too.  A pot full of poppies doesn't compete with a desert landscape, but is instead offered a simple canvas on which to open technicolor blooms.

When our plane landed at Sky Harbor airport earlier this week my eyes drank in the views.  I didn't feel lost or alone.  I felt at home.  Sometimes home doesn't come easy.  Sometimes you have to step into great big scary wide open spaces and allow yourself to be completely exposed, allow room for the contents of your soul to spill and maybe even break.  I have believed in God my entire life but I found him in the desert.  Or maybe he found me.  When my own ways led me to a dead end he was there, offering his.  I've been imperfectly following them ever since.
The kind of home I found in Arizona is the kind of home you never leave.  You carry it with you.  After all, home isn't really a place, it's a person.  And so all the places where you have found Him magnify His presence.  It's why I can feel at home while wandering the McDowell mountains of Arizona and also the Blue Ridge of South Carolina.  He stretches coast to coast, and beyond, if we have eyes to see him.   If we dig deep enough to discover him.

My worlds collided this week.  My Clemson family gathered in my Arizona home.  It felt like some kind of redemption, some kind of intricate weaving of the delicate threads of my life.  It felt like all the hard places were softened and settled into the muted landscape around me - a story to be told in a whisper - as a simple canvas upon which God's glory has been painted over the years of my life.

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