I actually wrote this post a week ago, but just posted it today. If you’d like something sarcastic and cynical, please scroll down to my previous post about being in love. If you’d like something serious, read this post.
Nov. 23, 2009
This past weekend, I went up to San Luis Obispo for a visit. Since leaving America a year and a half ago, SLO was constantly on my mind. And there I was… in that place again.
As much as any place on earth could be considered home, SLO is my home. I have not been able to come to a place of calling Japan “home,” yet (even in the earthly sense). SLO is still home to me. This isn’t meant as a slight against my parents. Their place is like a second home. It was home as a child, but as an adult, we find homes in new places away from our parents. And I feel too out of place in Southern California. I feel like those on the Central Coast understand who I am and are like me. And my church is there.
In that place, I have experienced deeper bonds of friendship and deeper wholeness than any other. They are my tribe, my family. I have a place of belonging there.
And so, quite predictably, as soon as my jet lag was recovered enough to drive those 260 miles, I made my way up to San Luis for a weekend. It was a good weekend. My heart still burns from it.
I’ve been nervous what it would be like going back, whether I would feel utterly out of place or whether I would be received into the waiting arms of my friends. It was the latter.
What I found
Going back was not as emotional as I imagined over the last year and a half, when it was always on my mind. Rather, SLO is, after all, an earthly city, so my emotions were still mortal emotions and the people were mere humans. It is not heaven, though it sure feels close, sometimes.
It was a joyful time. With those I was closest to, it was like just picking up our relationships where they left off. It was as though there were nearly two years of news to catch up on, but they hadn’t changed that much. Some were married, some had babies, but they were still those I have loved.
It is the revival that defines that city to me, the work that God is doing. The passionate prayer of the saints. The ministering saints. God is at work, and it’s like stepping into the Great Awakening when I go there. There is no place like it on earth. It’s not the beauty of that valley that was so wonderful, neither the laid back atmosphere. No, the uniqueness is in the revival, that which I was swept up in and left stranded by on the mission field.
That revival is still happening, and it was good to step into it for a weekend. The fact that so many people were doing well made for a good visit. It was also fun surprising people who thought I was still 7000 miles away. I feel refreshed and more ready for what is next (my deputation down south, here). And of course, I can’t wait to go back for a few months starting in January.
A year and a half ago, leaving SLO was the hardest experience of my life. I’ve never lost a parent or close family member, but that departure, that 出発 was like the death of all my best friends, followed by my entering a strange and lonely society alone. I suppose that’s one reason why I expected my return to be so emotional: it was like receiving them all back from the dead.
Why must I continue on this path? I do not know what leaving that place again will be like when I do so in March to return to Japan in April. How do my feet continue down this road?
Whatever my feelings are; wherever my heart is at, I am a realist. The ideal is one thing, but I know enough of human existence and life to know that our good memories are always better than the events themselves.
And in addition, even if we do find ourselves in an ideal state, that state cannot last. What would I do for a job in SLO? How would I emotionally deal with the constant departure of college students? Even if I had stayed, it would not have been as good as I imagine. Despite that I am envious of those whom God blessed to stay, I know that they have life problems, too. If I would have clutched SLO like a treasure of mine, I would have lost it in the end. Perhaps now that I have left, it shall remain as a place of refuge for me to return to in times of need.
In addition, once we have left a place, it falls into an axiom that I live by: There is no going back to the Shire. You cannot return to the glory days or whatever happy memories you have. You’re better off pursuing new ones. But yes, I have written of that in the past.
The Road Ahead
It always comes to this point when I mourn leaving a place, does it not? To me, SLO is like an earthly picture of the Eternal City, that which I long so intently to see. The affections that I have for it are those that only that City deserves. So, then, in my mind, the New Jerusalem and San Luis Obispo get confused at times, and that’s why that town means so much, too much to me. For however fine, it cannot hold even the basest comparison to where I journey.
So then, I have my reason to press on. I leave the place of my desires and longings because I know that it is not the true place of my desires and longings. I can leave that good city because I journey to a better one. I can leave that earthly city to journey to an eternal one. I have the strength to leave that valley, because my destination is Zion.
Even today, driving home, I was longing more intently for another departure, the departure to that City. Perhaps because I experienced such beauty this weekend, I was able to imagine and long for it more clearly. It is that ability to imagine that keeps me longing.
Oh, my friends, my loved ones. Do not weep for me. Our parting is but brief…