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Notes on Leaving

March 19, 2009

Remember those giant flat wheelie-things on the playground that had a bunch of railings on them; one person would start pushing it in circles, then jump on and it would whirl around so fast that by the end of the ride, you felt like your eyeballs were in your toes, and you stumbled dizzily around, trying not to throw up?

My brain feels like that right now.

I have so much on my mind, and cannot seem to focus in on one thought without fifty others flooding in. All my thoughts are bleeding into one another, like watercolors. Big decisions are looming in front of me like skyscrapers and I feel so, so small. One passage from Donald Miller‘s Through Painted Deserts keep swirling around in my watercolor thoughts, so I thought I’d share. I love this book possibly more than almost any other book I’ve read, so when I come to big life decisions, I tend to come back to it again and again. What he shares in his author’s notes in the beginning has provided much insight to me and I find it very wise. I read it out loud last week, on the deserted beach, and I wept, both for its beauty and how much it frightened me.

…I could not have known then that if I had been born here, I would have left here, gone someplace south to deal with horses, to get on some open land where you can see tomorrow’s storm brewing over a high desert. I could not have known then that everybody, every person, has to leave, has to change like seasons; they have to or they die. The seasons remind me that I must keep changing, and I want to change because it is God’s way. All my life I have been changing. I changed from a baby to a child, from soft toys to play daggers. I changed into a teenager to drive a car, into a worker to spend some money. I will change into a husband to love a woman, into a father to love a child, change houses so we are near water, and again so we are near mountains, and again so we are near friends, keep changing with my wife, getting our love so it dies and gets born again and again, like a garden, fed by four seasons, a cycle of change. Everybody has to change, or they expire. Everybody has to leave, everybody has to leave their home and come back so they can love it again for all new reasons.

I want to keep my soul fertile for the changes, so things keep getting born in me, so things keep dying when it is time for things to die. I want to keep walking away from the person I was a moment ago, because a mind was made to figure things out, not to read the same page recurrently.

Only the good stories have the characters different at the end than they were at the beginning. And the closest thing I can liken life to is a book, the way it stretches out on paper, page after page, as if to trick the mind into thinking it isn’t all happening at once.

Time has pressed you and me into a book, too, this tiny chapter we share together, this vapor of a scene, pulling our seconds into minutes and minutes into hours. Everything we were is no more, and what we will become, will become what was. This is from where story stems, the stuff of its construction lying at our feet like cut strips of philosophy. I sometimes look into the endless heavens, the cosmos of which we can’t find the edge, and ask God what it means. Did You really do all of this to dazzle us? Do You really keep it shifting, rolling round the pinions to stave off boredom? God forbid Your glory would be our distraction. And God forbid we would ignore Your glory.

…no, life cannot be understood flat on a page. It has to be lived; a person has to get out of his head, has to fall in love, has to memorize poems, has to jump off bridges into rivers, has to stand in an empty desert and whisper sonnets under his breath:

I’ll tell you how the sun rose
A ribbon at a time…

It’s a living book, this life; it folds out in a million settings, cast with a billion beautiful characters, and it is almost over for you. It doesn’t matter how old you are; it is coming to a close quickly, and soon the credits will roll and all your friends will fold out of your funeral and drive back to their homes in cold and still and silence. And they will make a fire and pour some wine and think about how you once were . . . and feel a kind of sickness at the idea you never again will be.

So soon you will be in that part of the book where you are holding the bulk of the pages in your left hand, and only a thin wisp of the story in your right. You will know by the page count, not by the narrative, that the Author is wrapping things up. You begin to mourn its ending, and want to pace yourself slowly toward its closure, knowing the last lines will speak of something beautiful, of the end of something long and earned, and you hope the thing closes out like last breaths, like whispers about how much and who the characters have come to love, and how authentic the sentiments feel when they have earned a hundred pages of qualification.

And so my prayer is that your story will have involved some leaving and some coming home, some summer and some winter, some roses blooming out like children in a play. My hope is your story will be about changing, about getting something beautiful born inside of you, about learning to love a woman or a man, about learning to love a child, about moving yourself around water, around mountains, around friends, about learning to love others more than we love ourselves, about learning oneness as a way of understanding God. We get one story, you and I, and one story alone. God has established the elements, the setting and the climax and the resolution. It would be a crime not to venture out, wouldn’t it?

It might be time for you to go. It might be time to change, to shine out.

I want to repeat one word for you:


Roll the word around on your tongue for a bit. It is a beautiful word, isn’t it? So strong and forceful, the way you have always wanted to be. And you will not be alone. You have never been alone. Don’t worry. Everything will still be here when you get back. It is you who will have changed.

Donald Miller, Through Painted Deserts

12 Comments leave one →
  1. March 19, 2009 10:00 pm

    About two years ago I ventured away from home, drove two days across the States, and started life on a different side of the country. It was a long time coming, and several groupings of words pushed me forward (, these ones from Miller being some of them.

    I still get goosebumps when I read these words from our long lost brother Don. I pray that they will give you strength to do what you have to do, and I look forward to hearing about what happens.

  2. Caroline permalink*
    March 20, 2009 2:51 pm

    Thanks. ๐Ÿ™‚ You’re someone who I think I can talk to, like really, really talk to, about this.

    Would you ever be up for coffee sometime?

  3. Caroline permalink*
    March 20, 2009 2:54 pm

    P.S. I loved this:

    you’re feeling ambiguous. you’re crossing a threshold, and you’ve left this place but you haven’t yet entered that place. and you’ve closed this chapter, but you haven’t yet opened the one in front of you. you’re not your old self anymore because you’ve been plucked out of the matrix of routine and relationships that helped define you as you.

    and so you’re not your old self anymore, but you’re not yet your new self. you’re liminal. you’re on the threshold. you’re ambiguous. you’re just…not. you’re not only in no-man’s land, you are in a profound way no man. you’re just in-between. and that is very difficult to take. i think it explains the classic reaction of god’s people on their wilderness pilgrimage right after they were released from egypt.

    – greg lafferty

  4. March 20, 2009 7:00 pm

    We’ll work something out on Sunday.

    Isn’t that Lafferty quote great? It came from a teaching at Mars a couple years ago and was exactly what I needed at that time.

  5. this0side0of0the0truth permalink
    March 20, 2009 7:06 pm

    Once upon a time, in the middle of the night, without notice and with barely a reason or a dollar, I ran from Michigan.

    I never looked back. It was the best thing I ever did.

    But you know that story, or at least part of it. Sometimes it is hard to change things, it seems to come to me easier than anything else in the world.
    I never fear stagnation because Miller and a million other people are right. Change comes and if it didn’t we would surely die in some way.

  6. Caroline permalink*
    March 20, 2009 7:10 pm

    Noelle, I am grateful to have you as a friend. ๐Ÿ™‚ You are good for me.

  7. Sandra permalink
    March 21, 2009 8:47 am

    Yeah, don’t be like me. Get the hell out, kid.

    But really, it ain’t so bad, especially if Michigan is where you’re “supposed” to be. For now.

    I feel somewhat cheated because God knows I tried so hard to leave, but it didn’t work. I tried SO hard. But fair isn’t always equal, and because you always get what you need, you just do a goddamn good job while you’re there and, yeah, don’t look back and all those cliches we tell ourselves.

    I’ll understand it later, I s’pose.

  8. ratsekad permalink
    March 21, 2009 2:03 pm

    Another quote I enjoy… that kind of applies here, is this:

    โ€œWhen people ask me what they should do to become a writer, I seldom mention books. I assume the person has a love for the written word, and solitude, and a disdain for wealth โ€” so I say, โ€˜You want to be a writer? First leave home.โ€™โ€
    โ€“Paul Theroux, Fresh Air Fiend

  9. Caroline permalink*
    March 21, 2009 5:45 pm


    It feels like whenever I seek and pray to leave, God’s answer is always “Stay.” It’s frustrating, isn’t it? I don’t know…I feel like that’s my mantra these days. “I don’t know.” But I suppose in some way, it always will be. My friend Andrew said last night that God doesn’t usually give us clear answers because He wants us to trust Him, and if He gave us clear direction, then it makes it too easy. I have a rough time with that. It’d be nicer if God made things easier.

    Hopefully we’ll both understand later.
    Love you.

  10. Caroline permalink*
    March 21, 2009 5:46 pm


    …I like that. ๐Ÿ™‚ I do believe Mr. Theroux might be right. The question is “when….”

  11. Sandra permalink
    March 21, 2009 5:55 pm

    If you do stick around… I’ll be so glad:)

  12. Caroline permalink*
    March 23, 2009 7:47 am

    Well, start cheering.

    I emailed Reunion last night and told them that for now, I am staying put. For various reasons. I’ll tell you about them this weekend.

    It seems that despite my efforts, God has plans for me here and now.

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