Ten years ago today, my sister Amy and I got up early in the morning. My parents drove us to the San Jose International Airport, my dad walked us to the gate, and then I stood and watched him (through my own tears) weep while his two youngest girls got on a plane to fly across the country alone to live with their grandparents for nearly a month and to start at a brand new school (in the middle of the year) only two days later. Our family was together when suddenly we were being flung thousands of miles apart.
The events that led up to that day were less than ideal... to be honest, they were awful. I really don't even want to dignify them with an explanation of the details. They're a decade old and why rehash sad memories? I have to mention them briefly only because they were the cause of the rest of the story, but this post is about what happened next.
Amy and I traveled all day. I wore a green and yellow track jacket from American Eagle. I held tightly to the cards and scrapbook made for me by the friends I had just tearfully said goodbye to the night before, after a basketball game and a trip to Taco Bell. Neither Amy nor I had a cellphone so I had to attempt to use a payphone during our layover (unsuccessfully) and then very reluctantly ask to borrow a stranger's cellphone so we could let our parents know we were okay. Looking back, I think I was a terrible sister because I don't remember checking on Amy or comforting her... maybe I did, but more than likely I was too wrapped up in my own teenage heartbreak to notice if she was upset. We finally arrived at Raleigh Durham Airport late that night, where Justin, our good family friend, was waiting. I had never been so relieved to see a familiar face in my life. The next day we went out to dinner with Uncle Mike and Aunt Lisa, and Sunday is a total blur. Even though being with Mamaw and Papaw was comforting, I just remember a mixture of fear, anger, sadness, and anxiety.
At fifteen, I thought that my entire world was falling apart. I guess technically it was... leaving all my friends and everything I was involved in- sports, youth group, music- and leaving the Silicon Valley to move 3,000 miles away to a reeeeally small town and a school full of what I snobbishly considered rednecks who wore the ugliest shoes I'd ever seen (Sperry Topsiders, actually... and of course now I own several pairs.)
I vividly remember waking up the following Monday and feeling like I would suffocate from the feeling of dread at the thought of facing all those people I didn't know at school (thank goodness for my cousins Stephen and Kailyn, but they weren't even in my class. A whole day full of strangers!) I know I'm not exactly shy, but really... a fast-talking girl from the West Coast stood out just a little bit. I lay in bed and just prayed that the Lord would get me through the day.
And you know what? I got through the day. I got through all the following days... and over the next few weeks and months, I made some of the best memories of my life. All the stress, fear, and uncertainty that characterized our last few months in California vanished as I thrived in a brand-new environment where people loved on my family. I made the best memories, played softball (badly), sang my first solo (thanks, KD), became friends with my future best friend (hi, Brookie!), and developed an important, lasting crush on my future husband (that ended very well.) Even though I attended and worked at Faith for several years later on, that season cemented it as "home" in my mind. Our family was taken in, loved, and allowed to heal while spending precious time with family. It was an oasis after a desert, and we are still thankful for it.
I can't believe it's been ten years since we left, since our family went through such a painful time, or since I truly experienced God's goodness and faithfulness for the first time. I missed my friends and life in California so badly- and I still miss those friends- but I've thought many times about what our lives would look like if we'd stayed. I wouldn't have made the dozens and dozens of friends I have now. Our family wouldn't have gone to Georgia, where more best friends (Sara!!) were made and countless relationships formed through the years at Berean. I wouldn't have attended Southeastern. I wouldn't have been able to sing in Faith's choir or have a regular order at Rudy's or wear Sperrys. I wouldn't have been able to spend precious time with Papaw in the last few years he was with us. Most of all, I would never have become friends with or had a crush on or eventually married Jonathan. And for that matter, I wouldn't be moving to Texas!
I'm still learning this lesson, but I'm thankful that God showed me early on that His love is real. He gave me parents who didn't allow our view of the ministry to be destroyed by a hard experience. He gave us friends who loved us through those six months of change and culture shock. He allowed me to have teachers who remain mentors to this day. He put me on the same side of the country- in the same school!- as the boy I'd marry. My plan and His weren't even remotely similar, and a decade ago I would have given anything to stick to my plan. But, as usual, His turned out so much better.
Ten years ago today, my life changed in a big way. I miss California... I miss San Francisco, I miss the weather, I miss Santa Cruz bonfires, I miss the A's and the Giants and the Warriors. I miss Jamba and Premier Pizza and Baja Fresh. I miss Rivermark and Montague Park. I miss Bears games and doing the stats for the Bulldogs. I miss garlic fries and lumpia and nachos and 7-11. I miss Camp Lucerne and the Youth Extravaganza. I miss all the older boys who stood up for me when the boys my age picked on me (and I miss those boys too.) I miss Syndee, Jenn, Gabe, Greg, Jordan, Stephen, Sammy, Allen, Paul, Jessica, Kim, Josh, James, Evelyn, Georgette, Kenny, Jake, Amber, Justine, Alisha, Matt, and Monica. I miss Mr. Carey and Miss Schweitzer, the Freds, walking to school, the neighborhood shuttle, and Youth Hour. I miss a time in my life where I made so many friends and had so many wonderful experiences. I'm so thankful for that brief time. Even though some memories aren't so happy, there are plenty of good ones.
One of my favorite songs by Mark Hall really sums it up best:
"If your eyes are on the storm, you'll wonder if I love you still,
But if your eyes are on the cross, you'll know I always have and I always will.
And not a tear is wasted; in time you'll understand.
I'm painting beauty with the ashes; your life is in my hands."
I'm so, so grateful that the Lord took something terrible and turned it into something amazing... truly "beauty from ashes." I would never have dreamed that a decade later, I'd be thanking God for turning my life upside down as a teenager, but I am. See, Squints? Everything turned out just fine. =)