Crossing Thresholds

We’re moving to Portland this week. Now you’re probably asking yourself, “didn’t you move forever ago?” Yes, except we made a six month pit stop in Olympia, WA to live close to family while figuring out some logistics. Fifteen years ago, if someone told my teenage self I would be moving to Portland someday, I would have said “Now, where is that again exactly?” And I can’t say that I had ever thought about Washington state before meeting my boyfriend (now husband) at 18 years old. I’ve now been to WA more times than I can count, in fact I have been living here for the past 6 months.

Being from Chicago, I have memories of laying in bed at night, dreaming of living in California someday. Literally California dreaming. Imagine…a place with beaches, palm trees, never a day enduring the hell known as ’20 below zero’ plus my 15 year old self would have been psyched about the possibility of running into someone like Brittany Spears or Leonardo DiCaprio. My mom would respond to my whims with something like “there is more to life than weather”. And like moms are sometimes, she was right.

But I did grow to love all those seasons, even appreciating the bitter winters for its benefits of beautiful snowy scenes and the feeling of warmth by a fireside or hot tub only achieved by being thoroughly, completely and utterly cold. There is an unmatched feeling of joy each day as you watch the world around you unfurl from its winter grip and open up to spring along with all its spoils of green grass, flowering buds, warmth, new life. With utter amazement and inner awe, I watched this process and love the way it parallels my own life at times. As growth swells inside me, I find I have no choice (on the good days) but to unclench my fists and let peace smother me like the welcome warmth of spring after a ruthless winter of the soul.

All the seasons exist in the Pacific Northwest, but the harsh lines between them are blurred. You don’t come out the other end feeling like a hard-fought warrior, deserving every last spoil and indulgence that summer brings. The truth is, I’m not complaining about it:) but it’s not the weather that got me to Portland because life is about more than weather like mom says. It’s about love and family and beauty and life callings. In the end, it is love that brought me to where I am. Never did I think I would have been that girl who got married right after college but here I am. And as Matt and I grew up, we did so together, shaping our dreams as a unit rather than individuals. Never did I think we would have so many amazing adventures together, but we’ve only just begun.

I am grateful for the many thresholds we have crossed together and individually. I can say that now looking back but I can’t say I was too thrilled about some of them in the moment because life and it’s big changes can be hard. While I would say that I think its important to live in the moment because Now is all we really have, I would say it is also important to reflect on the great thresholds in your life retrospectively. Sometimes when I look back, all those little life events make much more sense than they ever did in the moment. I’m going to take it one step further and anticipate looking back retrospectively at the many thresholds at which I presently find myself.

There are different kinds of thresholds. There are the fast approaching ones that smack you upside the head before you know what hit you. The news of a death or life altering car accident of a loved one will do it. When you stand on the other side of that threshold, everything looks different than it did before. As the late writer, poet, philosopher John O’Donahue states, “suddenly everything that seems so important before is all gone and now you are thinking of this. So the given world that we think is there and the solid ground we are on is so tentative.” Because before you received that news of sudden loss, you were planning on doing something super important like washing dishes or paying bills, but then you look around and those things don’t matter. Your mind is somewhere else because that’s what happens when you go from solid to tentative ground.

Then there are the thresholds that emerge slowly like becoming a parent which can take anywhere from 9 months to years and years of planning and trying depending on your situation. You know it’s coming, and you have time to prepare but in the end, nothing can prepare you for a threshold-type life event except for going through it and coming out the other end alive.

There are other ways of categorizing thresholds too. Like the kind you choose to engage with and the kind into which you were dragged. Regardless of whether my own big life changes have been intentional or not, and regardless of whether it happened in a moment or over many years, I have found one thing to be true. What I have always had is the choice of how to respond.

Moving across the country seems to fall in the category of chosen plus slow and anticipatory with a side of craziness. Because really, it takes a crazy person to uproot yourself and family from all you know and love and choose to enter into a new way of life with no idea of how it will greet you. I know this because I have done it before. And I did not do it well. My first big move was from Chicago to Bolivia and it was not pretty. If there was a defining first moment of that 2 year journey, it was probably sitting on the plane after saying goodbye to my family, sobbing on my husband’s lap as I watched the Chicago skyline fade into the distance. I felt crushed. And things didn’t get much better. Sure, I had my good moments but the whole time was overshadowed by gloominess. There were some extenuating circumstances that would be waaaaay too long to detail here but in the end, I am responsible for how I reacted to it all. But God is good, and regardless of how I reacted to this threshold, it was used for good in the end. After experiencing beautiful and generous hospitality from friends in Bolivia, I came home and reevaluated what I wanted to do in life. What I really wanted to do was help newcomers in my community to feel warmly welcomed into an unfamiliar place. I began to work with Refugee youth, helping them and their families get accustomed to life in Chicago. After knowing the feeling of being a foreigner taken in by kind people in Bolivia, it felt like paying it forward to extend that hospitality to others in my own city. In turn, I learned a new way to respond to life when it gets tough from my refugee friends. Most had been through unimaginable difficulties and trauma, yet were grateful for things that I had forgotten to appreciate. After having lost so much, dealing with many new things in a foreign city and with no possibility of even returning home, I was amazed to see that gratefulness abounded.

I now find myself at the brink of more new thresholds: new city, new baby in August, new house, new way of life. Right now I am in the days that I will someday look back and reflect upon. So what am I going to tell myself about how I did? How do I not make the mistake again of crossing a threshold poorly? What does it look like to cross well? I’m not quite sure yet but I think it is a moment to moment choice. I’ll remember how my refugee friends chose gratefulness. When I look back, I hope to be proud of myself for handling all the bumps well. These further words by John O’Donahue give me comfort:

“I think when we cross a new threshold that if we cross worthily, what we do is we heal the patterns of repetition that were in us that had us caught somewhere. And in our crossing then we cross on to new ground where we just don’t repeat what we’ve been through in the last place we were. So I think beauty in that sense is about an emerging fullness, a greater sense of grace and elegance, a deeper sense of depth, and also a kind of homecoming for the enriched memory of your unfolding life.”

Yes to all of that, please! Life really can be beautiful as it unfolds. May you and I find ourselves reaching new depths as we emerge into the graceful and elegant fullness of life on the other sides of our well crossed thresholds.

I’ll meet you there.

(Find those John O’Donahue quotes from this On Being podcast episode:

On Being, John O’Donahue, The Inner Landscape of Beauty)

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