Our brief summer break has come to an end. It only lasted for a little over two weeks once Brian completed summer school and I finished my summer courses. We were able to stop in Portland for a night to visit Sara Houy. Brian and I both really enjoyed the little we were able to see of Portland and hope to go back a few more times before we’re done with this Northwest adventure, considering Portland is only about 3 hours from us.
I have a list of blog topics piling up in my journal, but it’s taken more than a handful of days to get back into the rhythm and structure of our life here. Brian is now back at school attending teacher training and seminars while I’m trying to ease the girls back into our normal routine. We all officially start school the day after Labor Day (including Krisalyn). Though I don’t feel like my mind has had enough of a break from the intense reading load and introspection demanded by my grad school studies, I’m relieved to be getting back into what has become normal life for us as a family.
Despite the fact that rest and relaxation seemed to evade us on our recent California vacation, I was somehow still able to pause and reflect on a few things that occurred to me during those brief moments of living with presence. There was some sense of peace that permeated throughout this entire family gathering. This may not seem that out of the ordinary for others whose sense of belonging is rooted in their family. For most of my life, however, I have been painfully aware of strained relationships and ruptures in connection. Something felt different on this trip. I don’t think it’s something I can really put my finger on…but as I was contemplating this surprising new presence of peace, somewhere out of the deep crevices of my mind came a memory of an excerpt from my favorite Henri Nouwen book, The Inner Voice of Love:
There is a deep hole in your being, like an abyss. You will never succeed in filling that hole, because your needs are inexhaustible. You have to work around it so that gradually the abyss closes. Since the hole is so enormous and your anguish so deep, you will always be tempted to flee from it. There are two extremes to avoid: being completely absorbed in your pain and being distracted by so many things that you stay far away from the wound you want to heal.
This little excerpt has been significant in many ways in my life. I was introduced to Henri Nouwen on my first youth trip. It was spring break and I had only been a self-proclaimed Christian for just under a month and had just made the decision to give up my position as Captain of the varsity cheer squad and to home school my senior year in high school. Instead of helping run cheer tryouts for the incoming students, I wound up in this tiny house with about 50 other kids (whom I hardly knew) in an unheard of town in Southern Colorado called La Veta.
I fell in love with La Veta the second we pulled up to the property and I realized you couldn’t see another house no matter which direction you turned. Aside from the beginnings of life in community with those who would eventually become incredible friends, my introduction to Nouwen was one of my greatest memories of La Veta. Dave had picked up this little green book just prior to the trip. He must have seen that I was hesitant to fully engage with this new group of friends and so he handed me the book and instructed me to read the first excerpt. Up until that point I had been enmeshed in reading the bible, soaking it up like a sponge and trying desperately to make sense of what had been happening in my life. With little understanding of things like prayer, fasting or mediation, the bible was my sole form of connection to God. Reading Nouwen was different, though no less powerful. It was through reading these few sentences that I discovered the ways in which we experience God through one another. As I read Nouwen’s words, I felt as though he must have known my life story because what he said reverberated against my heart in such a way that I was unable to speak for several minutes. My voice was lost somewhere in my throat and camped out there creating the largest lump imaginable.
Now, just over 12 years later, I realize that Nouwen’s writings still speak straight into my heart and soul. My high school years consisted of being nearly swallowed up entirely by the dark abyss of pain and agony. My young adult years swayed toward the opposite approach – never entering into the abyss, but rather living a life of religious and spiritual distraction so as never to face the void that I always knew still existed. But in the recent years I have been circling the abyss and though the journey has proven to be rather difficult, something is changing. The wound is no longer oozing blood. The pain isn’t quite as pervasive. It has become a quieter pain. A pain that, though it still remains and probably always will, it now serves as a reminder of what God has done for me. A pain that gives way to beauty…and peace. That is what I experienced with my family this summer – a peace amidst the pain…a peace that surpasses all understanding.