Moving Forward, Looking Back
Tomorrow marks 3 years since I moved from Nashville, TN, to Colorado Springs, CO. I have written about this move more times than I can count (see here and here), and every year, I anticipate this milestone for weeks beforehand. I reflect on the past few years, get lost in thought, and anxiously hope that I'll have big words to proclaim when the day rolls around. You see, every year, I hope to say the same thing:
I moved to Colorado, and I never looked back.
But three years in, that still feels like a lie. I desperately want to be able to say that I've finally come full circle and everything feels perfect. For a long time, I have felt like a broken record when someone asks me about my experience here. Colorado was hard. Colorado is still hard. Is Colorado always going to be hard? I'm either blunt with my delivery or sugar coat my feelings with a line like, "It's been tough, but there are SO MANY GOOD THINGS, TOO!" Acting as if my words will become more authentic if I say them louder and with a smile.
Here's the real truth: Colorado is hard, and so many good things have happened, and I do not regret one bit of my move here. It's hard to regret anything that you know, without a doubt, God has had His hand in. And yet, I feel unsettled when I take the time to reflect because I wrestle with the fact that home is not the first word I use to describe my experience. Home is the word I close my eyes and grit my teeth and will into existence, only to find that I'm not quite there yet. I feel constantly stuck in a growing period, instead of settled and able to embrace a new normal.
The change I experienced in Nashville was a slow molding process. It swept over me like the summer humidity; heavy and foggy and an all-over warm feeling. The lessons I learned were gentle and forgiving, full of time to reflect and respond differently with minimal, albeit meaningful consequences. Nashville shaped me, little by little, experience by experience, into the person I needed to be during that time.
But my Colorado move, Colorado was rapid. The change was as stark as the first time you step out of the 22 hour car ride and breathe in the dry air, gasping for the bits of oxygen you didn't know you'd miss. Colorado felt more foreign to me than any international vacation ever had. It was like someone had thrown a bucket of acetone over my life, and for a long time, I stood there, cringing as the layers were peeled away and the imperfections in my values were uncovered. Everyday, I felt there was a new spotlight pinpointing the truths I thought I'd known so well, but now I wondered if I really knew anything at all.
Three years later, I sometimes wonder if I've made any progress at all in my mid-20s life crisis, but then I think about my insides. On the outside, not much has changed. I'm still dressing the same, minus a few preppy outfits that don't fit into the unique style of the Rocky Mountain region. I still talk and act and behave in patterns that I practiced for the first 22 years of my life, but the last 3 have instilled a distinctly different pattern of thinking and values into my core. I'd be lying if I said there were still days that I don't ache for the easy of "normal". You know, staying in the same place, getting a traditional job, keeping close to friends and family. But every time I catch my mind wandering to the "could have been", I think about the change in me. If Nashville was a molding period like a potter and clay, Colorado has been an iron in the fire. It's hurt and burned and stripped away habits I thought were necessary, and it's shown me that the exact glue I thought was holding me together was actually just a crumbling in my values that didn't have to be there in the first place.
I'm not out of the fire, but if I have learned one thing, it's that I've never been more thankful for the refining process that God has put me through in Colorado. Refining always has the potential for pain, but if I had learned these lessons later in life, there would have been so much more time wasted not really living. Not really seeing with a clear perspective.
My mom always says that God uses our hard times to shape us into the people He needs us to be for the next season. If I hadn't said yes to this calling, there's a chance I would be "happier" some days. And more stable. And more comfortable. But you know what I wouldn't be?
As I recently read in Brene' Brown's book "The Gifts of Imperfection", we can't un-see patterns. Colorado has shown me all the patterns in my life that were actually poison:
Striving for perfection.
Using shame as a method of motivation in myself and others.
Seeking success above all else.
Prioritizing material wealth above emotional wealth.
Regardless of the words I want to share on the anniversary of my move, the ones that reassure others (but mostly me) that life is neatly tied up in a bow, maybe the lesson here is that looking back isn't an indicator that you shouldn't be where you are. For so long, I viewed my reminiscing as a sign that I was unhappy where I am or constantly regretting my decision, and that's not the case at all. More than ever, I can confidently say that my life is moving forward in Colorado - I cherish the relationships I have built here as much as the ones from previous seasons. I couldn't imagine the person I would be without this move.
Looking back has given me the context to see the progress of how far I've come and how much richer my life has been because of this transition. So, if you're stuck in a season that still doesn't feel 100% perfect, maybe the solution isn't to keep striving to answer all the questions and fix all the problems. Instead, realize that your new normal may be far less predictable and far more messy than you ever anticipated, but that's how we become the people we are meant to be.
As Paul Kalanithi said in his memoir, When Breath Becomes Air, "If the unexamined life was not worth living, was the un-lived life worth examining?" Looking back allows us to examine the things we are learning and apply them to the future joys and challenges. Colorado has taught me that there is far more joy in leaning into your season, be it difficult or easy, than striving for a sense of complacency that will soothe but never satisfy.