The Road Changes
The road back home was the same, yet different all the same. There was the church that had been there since forever, but much of the rest, at least to me, stood oddly new and unremembered. This road named after two towns – the one I was coming from and heading to – was a road I’d driven a thousand times, once upon a time. But today it not only looked different, it felt different, too.
And it also connected differently than it once did to the old roads I knew would lead me where I needed to be. Roads that I once could drive in my sleep. Many late nights I’d done just that, through eyes so tired they’d blur. And right now, the road was blurring again. Though not from tiredness. This time it was from straight up tears.
Not that I could explain exactly what had me sad enough to cry. No, not exactly. It was just that life could be so very hard to travel some days. Things you know and think you count on can often change in a moment. And if not a moment, then at least over time. People can change in ways you wish they wouldn’t. They get sick. Or, sick of you. They make choices that leave them no choice. They lose their way and we lose them.
Or, we can simply lose things we love and hold dear. We can lose faith. Relationships. Memories. Our own way. Or, we can lose all grip and begin to doubt that which we’ve always held so dear. Doubt the truth. Doubt any goodness. Doubt our future. Doubt the very change that’s taking place around us.
Yet, oddly enough, the one thing that remains inevitable – and for certain – in this life, is that very change.
And so, these old roads of home have followed the way of life and changed with the times. And I must keep moving forward on them until, as if on cue, more of the familiar finally begins to come into view. And with it, of course, more of the new.
Glaring back and daring me to doubt.
When did they change this road? Because where I once used to make a turn, I must now stay straight, traveling further out of my way. And while the road I just turned onto is the same, I’m on it much longer before I ever notice anything familiar. And when I finally see the bridge I’ve been looking for and think I know exactly where I am, I spy a brand new building looming large up ahead that gives me pause. What could possibly live there, tucked inside all that massiveness and bold hues of blue?! And what, for the love, is with all the traffic backed up on this bridge? I didn’t know traffic like this growing up way back when. Where in the sweet world could all these people possibly live? Though, I do remember those orange, clay ball fields down below. Same with the long canal that borders them, connecting two of this town’s one hundred, or so, lakes. Those really can’t ever change, can they? But, that place up ahead on the corner… the one that used to sell classic burgers. Well that certainly changed, because it now claims to sell this town it’s gyros.
And I’m rather impressed, as I make my next right turn onto the road that will take me through much of this hometown of mine, and sights both new and old continue to assault my senses.
Look! On the right. I swam laps and dove brave right off the high dive in that city pool. And, I remember a dance and a shared kiss in the building a little further beyond. And the property just adjacent to the pool was where I rode carnival rides and ate cotton candy and shared a few more kisses at the annual fair. But, where’s that mammoth, brightly colored orange – and also shaped like that fruit – dome where I watched a professional wrestling match (yep!) and bought my first pair of checkered van shoes and performed a fair share of cheerleading moves? I’ve heard that’s long been gone. Like it never even existed. Yet, I know it did.
Because I remember that, too.
Well, at least that car dealership across the street never left, even if it sits surrounded by all these new restaurants. And just passed that, up the road on the left, is the turn that takes you to the skating rink I spent many summers in and the mall where I once worked and spent way too much of my parent’s money in.
Or, at least it used to. But there’s no time to double check that now, because I’m traveling down this long, winding road, as it winds up my mind and memories with it.
Hmmmm… the wing place is where the old pizza place was. And my sub and frozen yogurt spots? Well, I guess they’ve been replaced by the next best. But that Italian chain is where it’s always been. And a once favorite drive through of mine apparently still serves proudly its two car lines of customers. And look at all the same shopping plazas, with both their new and old shops alike. At least my old Publix is still here, even if it’s slid down a bit from its original, centralized spot. It’s closer to where my movie theater used to be, actually.
But, seriously, how many movies did I watch there? All the Rockys and Star Wars, plus ET and Poltergeist and likely most every other classic from the late 70’s and 80’s, because movies were one of the few things to do. And once I got older, how many nights had I hung out in this exact same parking lot with friends until we were all forced to change venues by uniformed folks in blue, since we’d outgrown movies being a thing to do??
But, I still can’t get over all these drivers on this road. And I still can’t believe how different and the same it all seems. It’s hard to fathom changes and growth when you have all these memories that argue back.
Look over there! To the left. Yep, I could take that road to my junior high and high schools and my junior college, too, but I won’t.
Because, I must be on this road to travel to another place. A second home of sorts. At least the family that lives there once seemed like that to me. Once upon a sweeter moment in time. And they’ll likely always seem that way to me. And today, I’m on my way to them because their father is now peacefully resting in his final, forever home. And I want to see them face to face. Hug them and let them know I love them and loved also the one so dear to them. I need it as much as they might. Because sometimes we just need the old, even if it’s not exactly the same as it was. And all these memories of this hometown make me miss more his home, along with his humor and laugh and infectious smile. Oh, and the sweet smell of pipe tobacco. Yet, I know he’ll live on in this family, who each possess his same wonderful sense of humor and laugh and smile, though maybe not the sweet smell of tobacco.
And, as the road continues, my tear blurred eyes realize I’m at the intersection where I used to turn to get to the home I lived in the longest. Where the corner fast food place that supplied a significant portion of my meals growing up still sits, plus our old gas station and bank, each renamed. And my mind recalls the time I once tried to drive through this exact light in my newly acquired stick shift car. I was just shy of turning sixteen and had stalled out after this particular light turned green. And, then I stalled again. And, again. Then refused to try again, for what seemed like ever, after stalling once more in the middle, and instead remained parked as car horns blared and my own crying blared even louder.
And tears really begin to fall, as I wonder how many times I’ve cried driving through this very intersection? I really hope this only makes two times, though I probably know myself better.
Well, at least the church where I attended my one and only VBS is still here, right behind that renamed bank. But, the place across the way that’s now a drug store? That used to be the only place you could get good Chinese.
And, I’m not crying now because I can’t stop for those egg rolls. It’s because I can’t stop all this change. It simply happens. And, neither can I stall out and stop moving forward because I can’t seem to get in gear. And anyway, some changes aren’t even that bad. Only a bit hard to swallow. Kinda like the large lump that’s currently wedged in my throat. So, I’ve just gotta keep moving forward and try to wrap my head around all these sudden changes and sharp curves and the slow inevitable, all without too much stalling.
Even through the tears.
Because this hometown of mine, with its main drag that winds around all its lakes and live oaks and landmarks alike, continues winding up my mind right along with it. And I’m grateful I now remember exactly how to get to where I’m heading, since the faces of people I knew and loved and lived among for twenty years are rushing into my head like the waves from all the ski boats on all these lake shores most weekends. One after the other, in memory of one thing or another, lapping up and washing over me fresh and free. And it feels good and sad and wild all at the same time.
And, I can smell the lake now. And I so want to go back now, but know that’s impossible.
We Also Change
Oh, look! There on the right! That’s the first apartment my sister and brother-in-law ever lived in. And the lake it overlooks is where I first stood up on a pair of water skis. And up there on the left is the street that leads to where this second family of mine I’m visiting used to live. And not too far up ahead, is the turn off to another street where my own family once lived for a while. And on the right is the restaurant where, as a little girl, my Dad and I shared Saturday morning breakfast dates. Until we no longer did. Oh, but the corner store, where we went to chat up the owner and buy cigarettes and candy bars after those breakfast dates, is now gone. As is the large, white and red painted mushroom table that used to sit so proudly by the tiny lake which – thankfully – still shimmers in view of both the old and new.
And I wonder who decides to get rid of something as iconic as that mushroom table? And the city’s giant orange dome that is now long gone? And I wonder some more why people quit sharing life and meals and hearts? And all at once I know and don’t know at the same time. Because, I’ve also changed. I’ve moved on. And I don’t always know exactly why I did. But, I also know I’m not in charge of someone else’s change.
Clearly, I’m not. Because I’m fighting through all these tears while driving through this changed and same hometown of mine on my way back to the home I now share with my own family after having just left some others I love with way too many things I’d change in an instant, but know I can’t. Like, family constants that are no longer and hard realities that have no answer and heated conversations, looming uncertainties, and time bombs loudly ticking. Though, I’m probably just being a bit dramatic because that’s who I can often be.
So I, and this (honestly unbelievable) traffic, will both keep winding along. Around more streets that bring more lakes and more memories and more temptations to turn. But, I fight the urge because I have this destination even if more of the sights, both old and new, keep springing into view, tugging at my heart…
That hotel right up there provided more opportunity than should be possible for teenage shenanigans. And right behind it sits only the premier destination for this hometown of ours. And although its name has changed, it’s really been the heart of this town and has provided much beauty and entertainment for this town and sits on the very same lake where the neighborhood I lived in the longest also sits. The same lake my friends and I played in for much of the time we lived and grew in this town. And I wonder if it’s possible to get filled up with so much good and sad and nostalgia and still be able to drive safely?
I sure am trying to make it possible, as the road winds on, right past more roads and places holding more memories than my head and heart can contain, and then on past the other Publix where my husband and I shopped for that brief stent of time we adulted together in this hometown. Until – finally – the road curves ever so slightly and I see the neighborhood where this second family now resides and I must make a turn.
And I also must gather myself, because I need to give of myself. Which, honestly, has never come easy for me. I’m more of a taker, sadly. But, this second family of mine is sadder than I. Grieving and remembering and holding themselves together through smiles, partly by the grace and love of others, but mostly because that’s really just who they are. And I’m grateful to be a small part. And as I realize I’ve come empty handed, I’m even more grateful they’ll smile and laugh it off. And remembering all the other laughs and memories we’ve shared could probably keep me smiling for the remainder of days.
See, this daughter of theirs and I once brought home two kitten brothers on a whim after telling our parents they were left in a restaurant’s parking lot, but really there was this sign that read “free kittens” and we wanted them. And for a long span of time, no one saw one of us without also seeing the other. And we shared clothes and secrets and secret looks and hair products and parties and sleepovers and beach days. And we snuck out more times than should be mentioned and traveled more road miles than teenage girls ought and sung loudly more wrong song lyrics than we’d care to admit and she was one of only four people at my wedding and she has seen every single side of me and still chooses to be my friend – to this very day – and it really still floors me that she’d keep me around. And, this family had the best snacks around. And Thursdays were her mom’s grocery days and many weekends were for middle of the night “Kitchen Floor Picnics” when this mom’s groceries would be raided and celebrated right there in the middle of the kitchen and, as the title implies, tables were never required. And this dad’s Cella chocolate covered cherries were always on the menu. As was all other foods containing as limited amount of nutritional content as possible. And I’ll never know if this dad ever knew we shared both the love of chocolate cherries and the actual eating of his personal stash, but I’d like to think he wouldn’t mind. And since hearing of his passing, I’ve bought a box and enjoyed a few in his memory. Which I’ll also carry with me until I’m carried to my final resting place.
We carry, forever, the people that have carried us.redeemedruth.com
Along with all the memories of this hometown. Their home and my home and all the beautiful people that live here and the beauty that surrounds this whole town here. Because we carry forever the people that have carried us. And we can’t stop the memories, good and bad, just like we can’t stop the change.
And while sometimes we may actually want the things that change to stay the same, or we may really wish and pray for life to never be this hard for ourselves or for those we love and have loved, or we may want what we know and not what we don’t, we are not in charge…
And, we never have been.
And I’ve written all this with the hope that I can assure us both that it’s okay that it is this way.
Because – JESUS –The One Who Is in charge, IS present in all the change. And, He’s the only part of it that can be trusted. Through all the tears and regrets and both the good and sad memories. In each and every winding, swirled up whirl of life, HE is present. And I know this like I know these memories of mine, because He has honestly changed me and this life of mine.
Jesus is Present in the Change
Jesus’ presence changes us.redeemedruth.com
It’s the very presence of Jesus that changes us.
And, at this time of year especially. At Christmastime, especially. As many are taking the roads back home, especially, accepting – if even through tears – all of what’s changed and what’s stayed the same, that we have an opportunity to see His presence and prepare for His coming, and then anticipate another road home.
Our final road home.
Because this world will not be it. And this world does not contain it. We all have a forever home and that sinless baby, born of a virgin on Christmas Day, has ensured at The Cross for all who would believe it, that this hard, broken down world never has to be it.
And, although sometimes we can’t help but swirl up memories on those roads home. And, we may even stall and get stuck or ball tears that won’t stop or choke back lumps that wont budge. And, we may want a change that never does come or to stop living lives that hurt the hearts we love, there is still One that can be trusted with it all. One that is strong enough to bear it all.
One that laid bare in a barn to save us all.
And Christmas is about this One Soul, solely. And He will take all your memories and messes, your friendships and failures, all your changes, losses, doubts, tears, and fears, and turn them for your good. For His Good.
So, lean in this Christmastime. Give in this Christmastime. Take time to hear Immanuel this Christmas, because He is God with Us. Present in the change. Loving us through the change. Changing us by the very change we often push away, simply because He wants us in His very Presence.
And, with that, I’d like to wish you a very, Merry Christmas and a most blessed New Year ❤