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The Flip-Side of 504

August 20, 2012 | Caitlin Newell

Time is as wondrous and fickle a thing as any I’ve ever encountered. It moves altogether too slowly while simultaneously passing you by. And I realized the other day while on the interstate that in a hundred years, all of the people behind the wheels around me would be replaced with a whole new set of people, entirely different, yet incredibly the same, as the ones currently steering. And these people would be considering the same endless questions, would be enjoying the same endless joys, and would, as time goes, be replaced by their own sort of protege. 

All of these thoughts really do come from somewhere. Let me begin.

11 weeks ago I stepped onto a plane and sat in a window seat, near the back, that gloriously never had someone sit beside it. And I remember thinking, as the plane revved up the engines and traveled the first of many miles towards the west coast, I wonder if I’ll ever make it back...

And here I am, an 11-week-old west-coast-ian, still wondering that same exact question. No runway underneath me. No summer of wonders before. Just me. Sitting on the floor of my room. My broken window cranked open to hear the long awaited sound of the crickets, and the regrettably loud footsteps of the night walking tourists outside.

It has felt like an eternity since I last saw the Midwest. And I’ve had this discussion with others here, both of us agreeing that the fact of us entering the park in what, to all appearances, was winter, and now, 3 months later, seeing a fully blossomed summer - it’s almost as if we have been here a year. We’ve been here a year of seasons. 

A view over the Tatoosh Range from the summit of Pinnacle Peak.
The closer I get to returning, the more I think about all I have been able to do. The things I’ve seen, the hikes I’ve accomplished, the people I’ve met, and the memories I’ve made. Sometimes I like to look back through the pictures that I’ve taken, all the way to 11 weeks ago, and remember the events of what feels like last year. 

These pictures and memories force me to evaluate the Who I was and the Who I am, asking myself, “Has anything changed?” 

So I write for the purpose of evaluation, community, and introspection. 

I don’t need a place on the map to know I’m serving where I should be serving or doing what I should be doing. I learned that this summer. Not necessarily the “hard way,” but learning that has certainly been hard. I think sometimes we, being people, think we need the walls around us as a guide to make sure we stay in the lines and don’t get hurt. And if there were, in fact, a very specific place for all of us to be, then it would make sense to want to find it, because it would become that “wall” to be our guide, and consequently, the assurance of being safe.

And so it has been hard to force myself to live in the knowledge that the only safety guide is the assurance of my salvation and the grace in which I live. But we, being people, love the tangible assurances to life, and grace is only as tangible as the faith in which you live in it. You can’t lean against it as you do a tree, or hug it as you do your friend. You choose faith, you live in grace. The assurance, like so much of being a follower of Christ, starts inside, and affects the out.

So in the moments where my heart burns to get home, instead of focusing on the great desire to return, I’ve had to turn my head to the other side of the spectrum, and force myself to remain. Because it doesn’t matter where I am. I could be comfortable at home, and still have an aching in my heart to be somewhere else, to begin a new adventure. It isn’t that the solution lies in the plane ride towards Columbus. The solution is peace, and it isn’t on the map.

Just watching the mountain. :)
I know that almost everyone deals with countdowns in the same manner. I mean, look at us. How many apps are there for countdowns? Countdowns to birthdays, holidays, reunions, the weekend... As a race of mankind, we make an awful big deal about counting down to what’s next. And while I, in no way, will let my excitement about returning diminish, I have seen and been forced to analyze, in a healthy manner, my inability to remain while waiting

It’s that inability that calls to you at all hours of the day, demanding your attention, grabbing you by the face and turning you around to stare deep into your eyes and say, “How long now? How long now?” It’s that inability that can ruin your attitude with friends and at work, causing you to grow tired of your surroundings. It’s that inability that keeps knocking at my door. 

And I’ve watched it knock at others. This observance made me see that God doesn’t keep the knocking away, but he certainly expects us to handle it in a way that honors him. That honors the Spirit within us. And that way is different for everybody. Some may need to be outside more in effort to keep the focus off of the countdown. Others may need to be with others. Some people don’t even seem to struggle with the knocking. I decided to count.

Yes. The way I’m defeating the countdown is by counting. 

And for those of you who were at FNL last fall, 2011, I understand the complete and utter irony of this.

I have began lists, beginning with the number of days I have left. Each list is different, and focuses on separate ideas. For example: “25 Ways to Praise God,” or “23 Things to be Thankful For,” or “21 Things I Can Give More Of.” As cheesy as this may be, you would not believe how much my attitude has changed in the past week alone. I no longer dwell on heavy things, but am challenged to consider how I might be able to change. 

It’s been an encouraging alteration of focus, these little lists. A reminder that while we may go through trials and tests of various difficulties and types, we don’t have to be mastered by them. There is always a way out, usually requiring work and focus. But it’s out. And it’s good.

So, while I wait in anticipation, I also wait in sober mindset. Knowing that even though I may leave the national park, I don’t leave the memories I made within it. Those are things that follow me and cling to my being and mind like wet paper on a wooden surface. 

Besides this specific contemplation (there have been many more that haven’t developed enough), life here has gone at a constant and steady pace. I’ve been able to visit Tacoma with a friend, run a 5k in Seattle (and visit the EMP Museum in downtown), summit Pinnacle Peak, and have a couple good hikes to secluded areas for times of reading and napping away from tourists.

I still can’t describe the beauty of the land here as it deserves, and the closer my time comes to ending, the more I realize just how unique and wonderful it is. Such is the state of life: the threat of losing something brings into reality the joy it brought us.

But three weeks is a long time. 504 hours, actually. 

504 hours from now, I’ll be home. 

"Coming into this program, I did not realize the need for Christian missionaries within the U.S. This opinion quickly changed upon learning that there are no Christian churches in the area, and we were the closest option for Christian community within about a 45 minute drive."
– Christopher, Zion 2010

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