I'm not good at endings - ending jobs, ending a book I really liked, I didn't even like ending high school. I wish the good things just kept on and on. Maybe this is because new things are hard - new rhythms and routines and ways of being. It's the perfectionist in me that panics a little (a lot) over things that are new and unfamiliar and rather than see them as exciting, my initial gut reaction is to see them as a new way to feel stupid and lose my illusion of control. I'm sorry, it actually hurt to type that, but that's the honest truth. Maybe you know the feeling.
I say all this because I moved out of my apartment last week. I lived there, alone, for seven years, and I’m not trying to be overly weird about it but Aaron will testify that I cried many times (and many more when he wasn't around). I put it off until the very last minute and actually waited for him to start sorting my things because I didn’t even know how or where to begin. Remember the series finale of Friends where they all stood in the apartment and remembered the special things that happened there? I get it now. I stood in my apartment last week and as we took more boxes out I thought about the last seven years inside those four walls.
When it was finally empty, Aaron and I laid on the floor of the living room. “What’s your best memory in this apartment?” he asked. I started crying.
“It’s not that any really good things happened here,” I said. “It’s the person I became here.”
I was 25 when I moved into that little apartment. When I first walked in with my mom, I remember feeling disappointed. The carpets were dingy and gross from the previous tenant, the counter tops and cupboards all had a sticky layer of grime on them, and, unlike my last place, it didn't have a washer or dryer. It was also smaller – a definite downgrade, while other people my age were buying whole houses. On top of it all, I was so lonely without anyone to talk to or come home to at the end of the day. After living with my sister for two years and living at home prior to that, I was alone for the first time in my life.
I quit my job shortly after moving in and that left me even more lonely and then also very broke. I struggled to pay my bills. I borrowed from my parents. I gave my own plasma to pay for groceries a couple of times. Even when I finally got a steady job, I was upset that it wasn’t my dream job. I hated myself those first couple of years. I constantly wanted to go back to when I was 15 and start everything over from there. I fantasized about what life would be like if I could do that – if I could erase so much of who I was. I felt abandoned and forgotten by a God I said I loved and I railed against him. I didn’t see how my life would get any better than those four walls and my solo-living. Each year I signed a new lease, I felt despair and heartbreak. “Is this going to be forever?” was the only question my heart could ask as I signed my name, year after year, on a document tying me to that 653 square feet for what seemed like another stretch of eternity.
It wasn't all awful obviously. There were good things in my life too. I don't want to paint a picture too bleak because I wasn't constantly sad. And, of course, the whole point of this is that over the years I learned to love that apartment. Management replaced the carpet and I learned the new rhythm of taking my laundry to my parent's house. Even though I had enough quiet alone time to make all the mothers of small children jealous, I learned to love that too. As we sorted through my stuff and put things in boxes, I told Aaron how important it all was because of the hard work it took me to get there. I told you – I was broke at one point. I had literally no spare change. So as I slowly started making my way back out of the pit, I would buy one “luxury” thing at a time - luxury meaning non-essential. I bought one bar stool at a time because it’s all I could afford. I had mismatched dishes until I was 30. I read a decorating book that changed the way I viewed that space – changed the way I made it my own and I was so thrilled when I completed my gallery wall because I thought it turned out so cute. Aaron said that when he walked into that apartment the first time it felt magical – homey and cozy - and that felt really sweet because I worked hard to make it that way.
I’m 32 now and I turned in my keys a few days ago. More than just the pictures hanging on them and the furniture between them, the walls of that apartment hold so much of me - of my sadness and joy and growing and learning. Of my journey in trusting the Lord - finally and completely. They hold the story of my walk through a lot of wilderness. Those walls are well acquainted with tears. They hold heartbreak and grief. But they also know a lot of laughter. They know love. I fell in love at that apartment over some Facebook messages with my favorite guy. They know prayers – SO MANY PRAYERS. They also know sleepless nights, late night phone calls, the smell of Kenra hairspray, and all the words to the movie, Ever After.
One thing I can say is that I am proud of the woman I am now. Seven years later and I don't even recognize the girl who moved in there. I grew up in that apartment. I feel like I became an adult in that apartment. I worked out my salvation in those four walls. I learned confidence and independence and how to do the hard and holy things of life. I became a woman who knows herself a little better - who knows the Lord a little better. I became a woman who can say that God has been faithful - even in the midst of my doubt and anger and frustration and insistence that he must not see, hear, know, or care.
Last week as I vacuumed the floors one last time, I prayed for whoever might move into that space. I prayed that they might meet God inside those walls like I did – that they might learn and grow and become more of who God made them to be. And to whoever lives there next, the light bulbs in the ceiling fan in the bedroom slowly come unscrewed when the fan is on so you’ll have to twist them back in often. And you'll have to learn how to shake the key in the front lock so the door will open. Also, the orange ladybugs. Oh my gosh, the ladybugs. Somehow they are always around even when maintenance sprays for them. It’s a great mystery. I see them nowhere else in my whole life except the window sills of that apartment and it is a wonder of the world as to where they are coming from but they are yours now. Godspeed.
We moved my stuff out of my apartment over the course of about three days and when I spent my first night back at my parent's house I was all of the known emotions at once. I laid in bed feeling homesick and I didn't know why. I told my sister as much and she texted me back, "You had your whole heart in that apartment." It's true. I did.
In an effort to find some peace, I opened my Bible with the old stick-your-finger-in-the-middle-and-open-it method. I landed on Isaiah, so I turned to my favorite chapter and in the quiet of this new temporary space, God spoke over me the words of 43: 18-19,
“Do not call to mind the former things,
Or ponder things of the past.
“Behold, I will do something new,
Now it will spring forth;
Will you not be aware of it?
I will even make a roadway in the wilderness,
Rivers in the desert.
I'm sure someone theologically smarter than me will tell me I'm cherry-picking a verse to make myself feel better but I don't care. It reminded me to not look back because I'm not headed that way. Don't wish parts of your life away, don't dwell on what happened before, don't call to mind former things. Life isn't back there. It's all ahead of you.
I might not be good at endings and maybe you aren't either, but we are called to look forward, not back. I know He'll make rivers in the desert because I've seen him do it in that apartment. He made a roadway through the wilderness. So I'm clinging to that verse as I'm headed into new things - better things - ready to make memories in a new space. Hopefully one without orange ladybugs.