And so my prayer is that your story will have involved some leaving and some coming home…my hope is your story will be about changing, about getting something beautiful born inside of you…
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: Leave.
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
There’s something therapeutic about going back to the places I came from, to the land I love and miss. Last week was wonderful. And it was bittersweet. It was such a joy to reunite with old friends and family, to visit my favorite places, to be back in the familiar. But throughout the week, a sinking feeling lingered. I have to leave again, I have to say goodbye again. I didn’t know how hard it would be – especially since I had already done it before. But this time, it was harder for me to leave Pittsburgh than it was 3 years ago, when I moved to Florida to marry my best friend. Perhaps the time away has helped me to appreciate even more what I had there. Or maybe it is that my time away has showed me how hard it is to establish such a strong community, to nurture deep, meaningful relationships. Whatever the mix of many reasons may be, a piece of my heart will always live along the shores of the Ohio River.
It was such a joy to be back in Pittsburgh. I forgot how much fun it is to drive on curvy, hilly roads. As I traveled between visits throughout the western Pennsylvania hills, the lush, vibrant landscape was a welcome change of scenery. The place just seems to exude vitality. I made a stop at my alma mater, Grove City College, to visit my dear old coworkers there – the visit was a reminder of how much can change in a few short years. New buildings, new people, new customs. As I opened my car door after parking on campus, the herald trumpets sounded – what a welcome. (My arrival coincided with the processional for Opening Convocation, but we’ll pretend it was just for me.) The rest of my 48-hour stay in Pittsburgh was packed with more visits – I wish I could have had more time with all of you, but it was so wonderful to see as many of you as I did.
I spent the latter half of the week on Chautauqua Lake, the first official visitor to my parents’ new home. Although their house is not the home I grew up in, it is in a familiar neighborhood and area that I have loved my entire life. The new Ortendahl homestead is near where my dad works (and where I worked for 6+ years) and also near to the camp I grew up going to and later worked for, a place with many fond memories and beautiful scenery. The new house has a lovely porch that is perfect for afternoon reading/naps/daydreaming. It was good to see my parents happy and enjoying their current place in life.
It’s comforting to be in the presence of people who know your past, who know where you came from, what made you into the person you are today. As I reconnected with people representing all stages of my life – my childhood, college, grad school, and no-longer-a-student life – I was overcome with a sense of gratitude for being known and for being loved. I’m so thankful for you all. My life is truly greater because of your presence in it.
As I returned to Oklahoma, I savored the joy and comfort that my trip had given me. I came home to my sweet husband and two wiggly-with-glee puppies, who nearly jumped out of the truck when they saw me at the airport and attacked me with kisses. I’m so thankful for my little family, even if we’re isolated and removed from all that is familiar. With each year that passes, I grow more confident in my relationship with Ben and what we can endure. Our years together have been rife with challenges, but we have overcome them together.
As we’ve moved around the country, my concept of home has changed. As my parents have moved, I’ve lost my nostalgic attachment to a particular place – their home is my home, wherever it may be. I secretly hope they’ll stay in New York, because Fredonia/Chautauqua Lake will always have a hold on my heart. It’s where I began. Pittsburgh has long-been my second home, thanks to frequent visits to see my family throughout my childhood and, later, my decision to study and work in the area. It’s where I figured out who I was and who I wanted to be. Oklahoma is my home, simply because of Ben. He is my true home. Oklahoma is teaching me more about who I am and who I want to be. Oklahoma and I are still working on each other…slowly, but surely.