Spring settled in a bit late, but the dew of late May mugginess and colors budding in the vegetation breathed some overdue vitality here. You’re beginning to take image of who I knew you to be when I first touched down on Kansas Street, five years ago. Before that, you met me as a transitioning young adult and I’ll admit, you didn’t leave me with the best first impression. Rumors of your dank, industrial ambiance deterred me, but your people met me with gracious hospitality and an invitation into a divinely appointed experience. By the time I came down here, I was excited to see you again. Moreover, I anticipated spending the next couple years of my life here in your company.
I got to know you very well over five years. I learned the cadences of your streets – how they buzzed with adrenaline and teenage spirit every fall on the eve of a new school year, how parking near Mugby was sparse, that east side of the big lake is indeed not a driveway, and to always look another time at the uncontrolled residential intersections. The air you breathed out felt piercingly colder and scorchingly hotter, yet those spring breezes felt even more tranquil than I ever experienced before. The trains were an admitted nuisance, but in return, it meant longer conversations with dearly beloved people in the front and back seats of my car. It meant more cymbal crashes when the breakdown hit, and long ways around. The abundance of mom and pop eat ins, industrial prowess, academic residence, and historical character coalesce into a truly unique landscape. And I saw God truly exist in all of them, in very special, very unique ways.
In turn, you’ve gotten to know me and watch me grow up here. And, I sometimes wonder if it was at all hard for you to watch me those first two years, especially. Did you ever weep when the incandescent glow from a second story window told you I was addicted to pornography? Were you hurt when I silently cursed your ground and people when times were turbulent? If so, I’m sorry. On this other end I realize those rash emotions were expressed out of immaturity, I was a jaded young leader, and brand new Christian trying to reconcile an addiction that haunted me. I never meant to make your people feel hurt by my callowness. Did you ever feel my anxiety in the cracks of your gravel when papers were due, conversations needed to be had, and life decisions needed to be made? Did you ever feel like scolding me when I reacted out of anger, displaced my emotions, and burned bridges? If so, thank you for your patience and I’m grateful for your forbearance. I can probably catalog many times when I probably deserved more severe chastisement for it.
Matthew 7 and Hebrews 12 describe God as a Father who gives good gifts to his children and is a disciplinarian that delivers righteous justice with a merciful undertone. Winona, you were the fertile ground for those things to happen in your wards. The metamorphasis I underwent at 20 years old, meeting Jesus and transforming as a roommate, friend, brother, son, and leader were necessary, hard at times, but ultimately gratifying as I look back on those lessons reserved for this time of life on this side of now, 25 years old. The vessels for those changes at Pleasant Valley Church, Celebrate Recovery, full time manufacturing, coffee shops, mentorship, and platonic brother/sisterhood were grown in your soil and the people I met through all those avenues kept that soil well tilled by their hospitality, forbearance, encouragement, support, and love of Christ. I became and still realizing the vision of the man that I aspire to be. I will never be able to adequately articulate how formational this was and is for me. Those people will forever carry a place in my heart with warm affection and friendship into the following stages of life.
At this point, our relationship has changed. In a way, I’ve been reborn and raised in the cradle of this valley, maturing as a young man and therefore acknowledging my forthcoming transition. It’s not easy, I’m sure there’s a part of us both that would want to continue the way we are. I’ve grown to love the familiarity. But, in the spirit of honesty, things began to change over this last year. When I step outside my apartment into the bedlam of Friday night transit in the intersections outside my front steps, sit down for a cup of Pickwick at Mugby on a Saturday morning, or inhabit familiar outdoor spots by the lake, I think to myself… maybe you’re not you anymore. The buzz of tweenage rebellion isn’t electrifying anymore, even as a spectator from my second floor window. Kickapoo Coffee still tastes like peace down my throat with every hot sip, but the faces I used to know there have faded into ambiguity as time slowly absconds them to new chapters and beginnings. The lakes have become this beautiful reminder of how life can find ways to stand still when things change above, below, and beside me. Though things dramatically shift, sunsets burn orange and burgundy with beauty behind the bluffs. But, as I’ve thought of it, I think it’s more of I’m not quite me, anymore. With no condemnation, I say it as an assent of we’re growing apart. It’s natural. And I think we’re better for it.
Before I can comment on anything further on the matter, it’s necessary to say that one of the greatest gifts I was given is the woman I will very soon marry. The beauty in your landscape was a canvas that we painted our relationship on. Every brushstroke of long walks, drives around town, game nights with friends, plenty of good food, drink, discipleship, support, love, and encouragement from wonderful people culminate in a masterpiece we will fondly admire like a portrait on the wall that will age beautifully with time. For that, I am eternally grateful.
So with that, my time here is ending. Though my zip code will change, you will always be home in a way. If there’s anything left for me to say, it would be the echoes a letter written with a familiar sentiment as I amicably leave you…
Looking in the rear-view mirror at everything that I’m leaving behind.
I know this is right, I know it’s my time.
Now is my time to escape this weathered town and what this place is all about…
…And I don’t know, I don’t know if you’ll ever understand. You can say that it’s not worth it.
And you can say, you can say it’s a wasted life.
But the memories, I’ll take with me. These memories, they’ll stay with me.
Holding onto the past each day leaves me empty, wanting everything to be the way it was
There are better days to come, I just have to, I have to let go of the things that I have done and the ones who have moved on.
I’ve gotta get out of here, but the memories I’ll take with me. Everywhere I go, to everyone I know. These memories will stay with me. I’ll escape this weathered town and what this place is all about.
The memories, they’ll stay with me.
You’ll stay with me, Winona. Until we see each other again.