I went to college at the University of Colorado at Denver, an extension campus of CU located in downtown Denver. Throughout my time there I commuted to campus via public transportation. I enjoyed those rides—people watching, listening to music, reading a book; not being responsible for getting from A to B. There was one stop at Osage street that had these old brick builidings converted into lofts. I always imagined myself someday living in a space like that—a little bohemian, a little industrial, surrounded by the lights and buzz of the city.
Between classes, if I wasn’t in a practice room playing piano, I would walk over to Larimer Square, a cozy historic block with shops, retaurants, and loads of charm. My favorite spot was The Market, a local Denver icon that served everything from coffee to lunch to fancy desserts. I loved to sit on the patio and observe those passing by, to admire the twinkle lights streaming between buildings, the hanging plants decorating street lights. I have vivid memories of those days: the route I walked from campus to cafe, the pattern of traffic and street crossings, the sound of the espresso machine grinding coffee, the familiar faces I’d see behind the counter.
The summer after I graduated college, Erik and I went to Florida and stayed in his family’s coast house for about five weeks. It was supposed to be a time for me to relax and have fun, a reward for completing four years of working and going to school. I had big plans, too—to read and write music, to be creative and enjoy the freedom of zero responsibility. But it wasn’t that easy. It was actually really hard. I was accustomed to going full speed all the time—working, studying, meeting deadlines—and then all of that stopped. I had no momentum, no framework to hold me in place, no creative juices flowing. We hauled my huge keyboard in our tiny car over 1,600 miles and I think I wrote one song. I had too much time on my hands, too much time to think—a time when I was already struggling with anxiety. And I was also bored: the house is remote, located near a small-town fishing community in the Florida panhandle.
Most of my time at the coast house was spent thinking about what was next, meaning the next stage of life I was entering as a college graduate. I was ancy to get home and start looking for a job, wondering how it would all pan out. (It so happened that I got a great job right away upon my return to Colorado, though I quickly found that my real-world job was significantly less than cracked up to be.) Now, I kick myself when I look back on that time. What a waste, I think. Because I was preoccupied with the future and even present fears, I prohibited myself from living fully and making the most of that experience in Florida. I daydream about doing it all over again.
But we all do this—obsess about what’s next. Whether it’s finishing school or getting married one day; becoming parents or retiring; taking that trip of a lifetime or getting a better job. There’s always something on the horizon taking away from today, stealing our attention and short-changing the present.
I don’t live in one of those cool lofts with exposed brick walls and high ceilings. I can’t walk to a local cafe and eavesdrop on the table next to me or wander city streets. I don’t have one of those urban roof-top gardens, and my car is not a bicycle. I never thought I would live where I do now, in rural, Northeast Texas; that I would have to drive twenty-five minutes for a Starbucks latte and over an hour to shop at a natural grocery store. This wasn’t my dream life or even on my radar of possibilities.
I’ve been thinking though, what if the coast house is a metaphor for life? A place that isn’t what we’d thought it’d be, that doesn’t meet our expectations. A place that makes us want more for what’s next rather than what’s right now. What if the place we’re in now—the job, the kids, the relationship, the location—has so much more potential and fullness, but we’re too far-sighted to see it? And what’s more, is that years from now, we will look back on this place we’re in—much like I do that summer in Florida—and we will mourn for what we’ve wasted. We will see what it could have been and will kick ourselves for not making the most of it.
Barely a day goes by that my mind doesn’t wander through the streets or parks of Denver, recalling the architecture, landscaping, or graffiti I often passed by. Or I’m taken back to places I’ve hiked with Erik or my mom, or the neighborhood I grew up in (walking connects us to place in a peculiar way, which I someday hope to write about). Maybe there’s something to this longing for Colorado, or maybe it’s just a bad case of chronic nostalgia. Either way, it pains me double that in missing it, I miss what’s here.
I tried something the other day, when we got back from Washington and I was especially missing Colorado: I prayed, and something different from the usual, which sounds more like, Lord, help me handle this homesickness, I give these emotions to you. Instead, I prayed that God would help me to love where I live, the place I’m in—both location and otherwise. I prayed that I would find a connection to the land and nature around me, much like I am connected to Colorado, that I would find the beauty and fullness right before me.
It’s changing, I’m changing. The fullness is unfolding.
I live in a hobbit house in the woods where the trees are faithful and wise. I have a garden full of kale and collard greens and herbs. I take walks down our county road and admire the horses and deer in nearby pastures, the grazing cows and overgrown vines. A chorus of birds and bugs and rustling leaves surrounds me. And though I can’t ride my bike to teach yoga, I do love my Subaru.
So maybe you’re like me and you’re not where you thought you’d be. Maybe your life is different than dreamed. Maybe you’re bored or anxious, restless or overwhelmed. Maybe you’re convinced that the next thing on the horizon is just what you need, the antidote to all that’s lacking. If so, let me tell you a little secret: that next thing is not all it’s cracked up to be. You’ll still be you in all of your brokenness and fears and insecurities, and though the next thing be shiny and new for a time, it will soon lose its luster. Life will resume to its normal guts and glory, the ordinary emptiness we so feverishly try to fill.
So I urge you, instead of hoping in whatever is next, hope in God. Pray that he change you and open your eyes and heart to the life he has granted you right here and now. For a while I did not pray this because, deep down, I didn’t want to embrace the life I have now. I didn’t want to love this humid, buggy, mountain-less place. And deep down, I know that not even the Rocky Mountains or Larimer Square will quell my longing, but God alone.
May the God of all peace, the Satisfier of Souls, fill you with his love, and may he show you how to love your lot, whatever that may be.