You can no longer live in a place, yet that place can still live in you.
From 2004 to 2007, our family lived in a little house outside of Dayton, Ohio. Earlier this month I visited our former abode for the first time in nearly twelve years. When I rounded the corner and saw that humble tri-level home, I teared right up. I could see tiny James and Ethan climbing the crabapple trees and running rings around the house. I could see toddler Faith chasing them, always trying to keep up with her big brothers. When I drove past the house, I could see all three kids playing on the swing set out back underneath the towering maple tree.
Until that visit a few weeks ago, you know what I usually reflected on from our family’s Dayton days? My bonafide exhaustion from chasing little people. With my husband’s busy work schedule, I was terribly lonely. By the time I found friends, we weren’t far from moving again. I also struggled with the exasperating weather that frequently draped heavy clouds, cold and damp, over everything, including my mood.
Sure, I could name good things from that time. Our church family, whom I still miss, for one. My friend, Sherri, and her daughters, Allie and Cassie. The fall festivals, chock-full of some of the best-tasting pie I can remember eating. Ever.
But in my memory bank, the Ohio years held more hard than happy. And while that’s true, it’s also true that going back and standing in a sliver of our family’s history reacquainted me with many good memories.
While the cloudy skies were (from my perspective) a shadow side of living in Ohio, the ability to grow good things there was a strength. The frequent moisture meant our grass stayed green year-round. In the summer, the peonies and tomatoes grew with little to no effort on my part. As I stared at our former residence, I could see how my good man and I grew good things well beyond flowers and fruits. With a whole lot of effort, we grew three children from seedlings to saplings. We grew a sturdier marriage and a hospitality philosophy that sheltered everyone we welcomed inside our home.
There’s a passage of Scripture in which Paul tells the Ephesians: “I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better” (Ephesians 1:17).
That trip held several telling moments in which the Lord revealed His goodness to my family and me in the past. So, I stood there on that janky, uneven sidewalk outside our old house, tears streaming down my face in gratitude for all the blessings of before that I couldn’t even name till long after.
Like the shock of a sunny Ohio day in March, my trip back took me back to all the ways God’s grace showed up for us daily. Somewhere around the year 2040 — if I’m still drawing breath — I’ll probably say the same of 2023. Time softens the edges of the past, as it’s wont to do. But it also gives us a perspective we can’t always see when we’re neck-deep in the daily demands of our present life.
My trip to Ohio didn’t only reveal good things I couldn’t see at the time. It also revealed how God has turned many of the hard circumstances — the shadows of those years — into beloved strengths. My loneliness led me to learn how to befriend others and to keep persevering in the practice when I’m not successful. My immersion in little ones repeatedly led me to Christ and full-on dependence on Him.
During that time, too, my faith blossomed and burst forth in a way like never before.
What I really want you to hear is this: If you’re in a season that is particularly difficult, I’m so sorry. If that season is heavy with hardship that makes it hard for you to name what’s good right now, I understand. While Scripture rightly tells us to be thankful in all things, it’s harder to see those good things when you’re snowed under, doing your best to get through. In the struggle, know that God wastes not one drop of your difficulty. After a time, hard seasons can break open into beauty, even if it takes you a while to see and name it.
God is renewing your strength and vision day by day, season by season. He is not idle but actively moving in your life so that you may know Him better. Part of that is showing you and me how the hardship that seemed so unnecessary before can grow into future blessings rising from the mystery.
In that, we see how a place and all we became there can live on in us long after we’ve left.
I’ll continue to look back at my memories and response like Jesus’s mother, Mary, treasuring things from those years and pondering them in my heart. But I’ll also be more diligent about being thankful for what I have so I can treasure that today, not only at some distant point down the road.
I’ll be thankful that God redeems all my hardships, using them to help me better know Him and His extravagant faithfulness.
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