I am a man with a foot in two places. And I think it's right where I'm suppose to be, right now.
Last month, Wendy and I traveled to Seattle for a few days. It was the first time we'd been back after leaving five years ago. And it was a great trip, full of memories and reminiscing and friends and longings. I love that city, and everything it holds for me. I grew up there, forged a marriage there, became a father there, and solidified my vocational calling there. Seattle holds a lot of meaning for me. And while it's no longer my home, I feel at home when I'm there.
I live in rural, Northern Michigan, and have for 3.5 years. It's a beautiful, life-giving, yet sparse, place. It's full of beauty and brokenness. It's where I've grown up some more, where I'm learning to be a pastor, and a father, and a husband, sometimes in ways that are too difficult and painful for me to acknowledge. But I'm learning. I'm growing. I'm leading. I'm serving. (you should come join me here).
And I'm grateful for both these places. For all the places I've lived. Hillsdale, and Fort Wayne, and Canby, and Texas, and Huntington. I'm grateful for all these places, what I've learned, how I've suffered, how I've grown. I don't wish to go back to any of them. They taught me what I needed to learn in that season. So I'm grateful.
I'm reading this Brené Brown book called Braving the Wilderness, and it's so good. The theme of the book is all about what it takes, what it means, and what it looks like, to find true belonging, no matter where you are.
Brené says that true belonging takes an incredible amount of courage, because it often means standing alone. Knowing who you are, being confident in who you are, regardless of how people are responding to who you are. True belonging is a posture of grit and strength and steadfastness in a world that begs us to feel anxious and lonely and lost. "Be afraid" the world tells us. True belonging, on the other hand, says "know who you are, know your place in the world, and be yourself, regardless of what's thrown your way."
For me, that means lots of quiet time, lots of thinking and reflection. It means enduring the loneliness of life, knowing that I am often sized up, especially given my role in the church, but very often not truly known.
People have opinions ABOUT pastors, but very few people KNOW their pastor.
To a certain extent, that's how it is, and how it should be. But it is a very lonely place to live from.
Henri Nouwen says that "worrying causes us to be all over the place but seldom at home. One way to express the spiritual crisis of our time is to say that most of us have an address but cannot be found there. We know where we belong, but we keep being pulled away in many directions, as if we were still homeless."
We are not at home. We THINK that home is marked by worry and fear and anxiety. But to be at home, to truly make a home in the world, is to be at peace with where you are, who you are, and what you've been given. It is to truly be yourself, and to belong to where you are.
I'm still working on this. I hope you are too.
What keeps us from truly belonging to where we are and who we are is usually as simple (and complex) as one word.
Brené Brown says it like this: "Pain will subside only when we acknowledge it and care for it. Addressing it with love and compassion would take only a minuscule percentage of the energy it takes to fight it, but approaching pain head-on is terrifying. Most of us were not taught how to recognize pain, name it, and be with it. Our families and culture believe that the vulnerability that it takes to acknowledge pain was weakness, so we were taught anger, rage, and denial instead. But what we know now is that when we deny our emotion, it owns us. When we own our emotion, we can rebuild and find our way through the pain."
At the beginning of chapter four in Braving The Wilderness there's this quote from James Baldwin: "I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain."
We are terrified of the pain we feel. It's why so many of us are overwhelmed, overweight, over-medicated, overworked, and over-religioned.
We want anything that will help us numb the pain, walk around it, and hope that it will go away.
But pain doesn't go away by ignoring it. The only way you can get pain to go away is by stepping into it.
But in stepping into it, it marks you. Deeply.
And this is where my faith in Jesus comes in.
Jesus literally embraced the pain of the world, walked straight into, and felt the entire weight of it, so that we no longer have to be controlled by it.
We will still feel pain. But we no longer have to be beholden to it. There is another way. A Better Way.
So what does this have to do with me and Seattle + Roscommon County?
Seattle was a season of deep pain, but deep healing for me. It holds so much hope in so many parts of my life.
I take that deep pain, deep healing, and deep hope with me now as I live and lead in Roscommon County. There is deep pain here, and the deep pain can only be faced by those who have faced their own deep pain.
Everything else is an inadequate bandaid.
Part of my learning here is realizing how little I actually know. I have so much to learn, and so much more growth to embrace.
There's always another invitation to step into the pain in my life. But as I do that, as I step into the pain of my life, the pain of others, what I've come to call The Most Difficult Path, that's where real healing begins to happen.
This is The Most Difficult Path.
And you're invited to step into. When you're feeling alone, and anxious, and controlled, and worried, it may be you're being invited to deal with pain. Maybe not. But, I've found for me, that's often what it has been.
You need a guide to do this kind of work, so I implore you to find one. Make it a priority. You're worth it, you know.
And if you need a place to lay down some roots, may I invite you to where you're heart comes alive and in so doing can bring some healing into the world? For me, for this season, this is Roscommon County. There's so much goodness here, even though I often feel like I don't belong.
But I'm reminded often that I belong everywhere, and nowhere. I belong to myself, the self that God is knitting together in my life, as I continue to step into pain and brokenness.
I belong there. Right where the beauty and the brokenness intersect.
This is truly The Most Difficult Path, but it is the only place I can be while I do my living, if I want to truly live.
So may you see your pain for what it is.
May you embrace it, and chose to learn from it.
May you step into The Most Difficult Path.
And in doing so, may you find something of the healing and connection that you so desperately long for.