I'm Glad I Stayed

I thought about leaving my Orlando life behind last summer. Staying with friends in Colorado during a work trip in July, I imagined being grounded there again for the first time in what felt like a million years. Between and after meetings, I savored time with friends who have known me for nearly two decades. These friends have become my family and have loved me through and through for so many years. Returning to a regular rhythm with them was seamless and restorative. The trip bookends found me with Mom and Dad, taking in landscapes of summer green acreage and Rocky Mountain grandeur. I wondered what it would be like to build a life there—to return and begin anew.

My imagination took me as far as flying back to Florida, quietly packing up my things and sending them on a big truck, westbound. I'd hop in the car and hit the road. I didn't plan to say goodbye. I remember feeling like it wouldn't matter anyway. Work could be accomplished from a distance. Friends, well, I didn't know what to think about most of them. Feeling so disconnected and invisible, I figured I'd sort out any sore feelings on the phone later. Maybe I'd even come back to visit eventually, I reasoned. Maybe.

Nothing was holding me here and I could have gone, I suppose.

When my friend picked me up from the airport, we somehow ended up on the wrong road and took a longer way back into the city. I felt grateful to curl up in the passenger seat of my car as he navigated the course. A safe friend, indeed. The extended time provided by our directional oversight was so welcome. "I don't really want to be here," I told him. There were very few people I shared that with at the time and even since. I didn't really know how to be here and I didn't think I wanted to be here anymore.

A two and a half year journey down an unknown road was wearing on me. Work challenges felt heavy. Relationships, foreign. Deep loss from back-to-back shootings in the City Beautiful followed, weeks later, by the sudden death of a beloved friend rocked me into alertness and dropped me into an abyss-like grief. And I felt acutely alone and really, really lost.

My friend who died was a huge champion of me and a fresh direction I was moving toward in my career. Her enthusiasm and hope on my behalf meant so much to me as I continued to take baby steps forward. The loss of her and her presence in my life left an unmendable gap. She was gone and none of us could do a thing about it. (It's so true that our lives matter—so much more than we might ever comprehend...)

Looking back, I'm glad I stayed, though.

The forward path has looked a lot like this photograph, taken in the early morning on a rooftop not long ago. I think life is like this—there are many paths forward. We have choices and we make decisions. We can make them from places of pain or from hope. Often, I find we make them from a mixture of the two, honestly.  But prayerfully, we allow hope to carry us in spite of our pain. 

Pain has a way of dulling our senses and all at once, making us more aware. If we're willing to sit in it and really feel, I find that we can heal. Instead of running away, perhaps we stay. Instead of staying stuck, perhaps we take a step forward in one of the directions we're considering. Our motive in the choice is key. Why we're doing what we're doing matters. And, in the end, I know this is the reason why I didn't leave Orlando last summer. I would have been running away.

And now 2017 is here. I plan to do the inspired work of keeping my feet planted on the path I'm on right now. I anticipate there will be days when it's difficult. Building something from scratch brings its challenges for sure. I realize I have to keep letting people in—even when they appear disengaged or disinterested. What we've experienced in our stories influences the way we perceive the people in our lives. It's important to note that here, I think. Give people a chance to love you this year, if you would. I'm still learning. Maybe we can grow together in that way.

I told someone recently and I'll say it again here: I'm tired at the start of this New Year, but oh so hopeful. The sheer number of courageous steps I've taken in the past five months has really shown me how far I've come on this journey. I have felt surprised by my boldness and bravery. None of it has come without effort, though. And that's why I'm hopeful. I have seen my own ability to make hard choices to heal and to grow and I'm convinced that I will do more of the same in the days to come. For what it's worth, I hope you will, too.