The house was quiet, save for those creaks and groans that all houses have (especially in the cold of winter) and the occasional rustle of a brother or sister turning in bed. The pale glow of Christmas lights fell across me, mingling with flashes from the TV. The fireplace flickered warmly as I tried to stay awake for my early-morning flight.
There was only me this late Christmas night. I had said goodbye to my older brother, his wife, and young niece. They had driven the entire previous day in order to get home before I returned to my job in Kansas City. There was my sister, my mother, and two little brothers, one of whom would stumble out of bed to drive me to the airport. They lay sleeping while I sat weeping, for I did not want to go.
I was six months into living on my own, in a new city for the first time ever. I was doing what I loved and making new friends. But it wasn’t home yet. This was home. And I had to leave it.
Change is something I’m still learning to deal with. I haven’t been alive long, only a measly twenty-seven years—at once so old, yet so young. I don’t know what it’s like to do something long-term; the longest time period I have ever spent on one thing was college, and that was only five years. I don’t know what it’s like to move to a new place, make new friends, and then leave those friends. I don’t know how to gracefully, graciously transition from one season of life to another.
Or at least, I don’t fully know, because that is something that comes through practice. But I’m learning. And that night as I cried and asked the Lord why I had to leave, he taught me something new.
“Life is full of oases,” he said. (That’s oasis, but plural.)
Growing up is one oasis, an especially long one. For me, my growing-up oasis was amazing. The Lord blessed me with incredible parents and siblings, lifelong friends, a church family in which to grow and mature, and a hometown whose wildlife and setting is mindblowingly beautiful. High school is usually another oasis, and then college.
An oasis is a place where you are safe. You have people who care for you and love you. An oasis is the warm arms of your father, the laughing and excitement of a night-out with friends, the silent car rides where no one needs to speak to cover up awkward silence. An oasis is the heavy covers of your bed during winter, the sound and smell of soup simmering on the stove, the deep breath you pull when you see something so beautiful it steals your breath away and you realize that here, now, you are truly, fully content.
But Life moves on. Transition, a new season, change—we try to gloss it over with many names, but we all know it. We all know the feeling when we pull back the blankets and the cold air hits our skin; we all know the feeling when we toss our graduation hats in the air and then realize you’ll most likely never stand next to these people again; we all know the feeling when we give Mom and Dad one last hug and drive down the road one last time, that road you could navigate in your sleep, that road on which you’ve walked barefoot and whispered to God and the stars, that road you’ve screamed at and begged for answers, that road, that road, that road….
We turn the corner, and the oasis slips from view.
Suddenly we are not safe. Suddenly we are adrift. “It was sea and islands now; the great continent had sunk like Atlantis.”
We arrive in the new place, but it is not home. There are people, but they are not friends. But we somehow know it’s right to be there, so we stay and smile, and eventually laugh and eventually make our own jokes with new friends in new places as we drive on new roads. And before you know it, you’ve found another oasis.
This is Life, you see. In his wisdom, God decided to let Life change and shift because he wants us to grow. He wants us to be stretched and transformed into the likeness of Jesus, so he uses the seasons of life to forge new things in our hearts. And he knew it would be hard, so he gave us oases.
An oasis is not meant to be a permanent location. It is meant to be a strengthening time for the journey ahead. God brings us up in childhood and surrounds us with love and family and friends, and then he pushes us out. We form new relationships and grow differently as new people pull us in new ways, and then we are pushed out. And then we are stretched and strengthened again, and then pushed out. And then strengthened, and then pushed out.
“It’s natural,” Daddy said to me as I cried in my living room that Christmas night. “Don’t fight the change; I want to use it! Cherish the oasis you were in and let it strengthen you for the journey I have planned next for you.”
Oh, we won’t be naive—this does not make the change any less painful. But know that the oasis you are in, or have just left, or are heading toward, is meant to propel you forward, and then again, and then again, until we at last reach those distant shores where there waits an unchanging Father, with unchanging love, and always open arms.
Then, surely then, we will enter rest, and never leave.
– “Sea and islands” quote from Surprised by Joy, by C.S. Lewis