This past weekend, my Denver roommate and I loaded bags and blankets and snacks into her car, and drove east on I-80 for a few hours until we reached this place.
It’s a place where you can really breathe. The sky is vast and beautiful, uninhibited.
Organized fields of green cascade in every direction, interrupted only by grain silos and co-op buildings, dusty dirt roads and the brick skyline of downtown shops and businesses.
Rush hour is, as a friend of mine often put it, “more like a rush minute,” as cars and trucks head home along Burlington when the clock hits 5:00.
Life is no less complicated. But it is somehow slower. Simpler.
It’s a grace-filled pace.
This place is where I spent my happy, reckless, animated college days. Where I got my first job, and quit my first job. Where I had my first kiss and first heartbreak. Where I was blessed with lifelong friendships and incredible mentors.
And where I learned to lean on the Lord more fervently and fully than I ever have before.
It’s where I first learned the meaning of grace – in my heart, not just my head.
The weekend was an absolutely perfect Labor Day trip.
We spent the night in the college apartment where my sister lives, bags in our hands and under our eyes, but our hearts full.
We went for walks and visited old, familiar places as well as the new downtown coffee shop and the updated places on campus. We ate raspberries and marveled at the sticky, humid heat. We walked around the park and took pictures of the sunflowers. We went to the little boutiques downtown and the old mall.
When we got hot and tired, in keeping with a much-loved college tradition of mine, we went to Sonic for happy hour slushies.
We trekked to the Nebraska State fair for a country concert and a fried peach (if anything on this planet is evidence of God’s goodness, it’s a fried peach!)
And we saw friends. Oh, so many sweet friends! One of my best friends from college, who happened to be driving through town Saturday night. My church family and small group, filled with people that mentored me and loved me during some hard and crucial seasons. My sweet pen pal. My friend and former coworker, who invited us around her kitchen table for coffees and croissants topped with fig jam and brie and basil (SO yummy).
The days blended together and spilled over with laughter. Life felt slow. The trip took on an old, sweet, familiar rhythm.
Life un-rushed. The pace of grace.
See, when I was last in this place, I might not have described the scenery this way.
When I last called Nebraska my home, I was having a hard time. I struggled with anxiety and depression. I felt a whip-lash as many of the things that formerly formed my identity were no longer around. Change shook me hard, and I mourned the passing of old seasons. I felt like God was hard at work tearing out stuff I would have rather kept buried in the garden of my heart.
Turns out, God wasn’t just weeding. He was also in the business of planting some stuff. And in the past year, I’ve seen the fruit of that planting.
God has planted peace. Where I once felt anxious and fearful, God has taught me that failure is not fatal.
God has planted community – deep, deep down. With roots. I have come to love and cherish the close friends that I have in a way that is not dependent on what any of us can give or take. I have learned, though imperfectly, to lean my relationships on the pillar of Christ, rather than the false pillars of people-pleasing. This has been transformational for me.
God has planted confidence. For much of my life so far, I have believed that my story is secondary to the stories of others. I’ve been told – by others, and by the lies in my own head – that the things that others were doing were more important. I used to believe that my story didn’t matter.
But. God has written on my heart in fresh ink that everything matters in his kingdom. And when you start the desires of your heart with his kingdom? All the best fruits of this lifetime will be added.
Finally, you guys – and I say it with an unshakable assurance – God has planted grace.
He has shown me that he sees me and values me with a love that is unparalleled in this universe.
This pace of grace – it isn’t an easy one, I’m learning. But it’s fruitful.
As I walked through town last weekend, revisiting friends and memories, both bitter and sweet, I got to see the art of God’s handwriting in my life come full circle. I felt an incredible joy as I realized the purpose in the planting that happened so many months ago.
Just one big redemption story being written day-by-day, moment-by-moment.
And with a sense of comfort and relief and peace, I am finally letting go of the fear and grief and guilt that I once held on to, an act that has been long overdue.
So, thank you to the sweet community that loved me well, this past weekend and many many weeks before. Thanks for welcoming me back to this place.
To the place where green earth and blue sky form a straight line on the horizon. The place where dusty dirt roads take you to the warmest of homes, the warmest of memories. The place where seeds are planted, harvested and shared.
The place that set the pace of my heart.
The pace of grace.