Dear Grand Rapids,
In August of 2016, I arrived here with big dreams and hopes that you would be my home and a place of new beginnings and adventures. Instead, we’ve had a complicated relationship from the very beginning, with my feelings wavering between hatred, love, and mere toleration. I have now lived here for three years and I can finally admit that you are growing on me.
This may be cliche, but I just want to say that it was me; it wasn’t you. This entire season has been so difficult that it was really impossible for me to separate the circumstances from the places in which they happened. It’s not your fault that grad school sucked or that we live in a tiny, crappy apartment without A/C. It wasn’t your fault that everything in my life has been an uphill battle since arriving here. That church has been a place of hurt and exclusion instead of healing. That work has stirred up doubts and questions about my identity and purpose rather than providing direction or reliable income. That my body failed- physically and mentally- and the easy answers I wanted would always be just out of reach. That the community and friendships I so desperately needed would develop through an incredibly slow process requiring more energy than I could give. That the biting cold and terribly gloomy days of winter would stretch into half the year. Oh wait, no. Winter is definitely your fault, Grand Rapids.
And yet, I’ve grown roots.
My roots are deeper and stronger than I ever wanted them to be. I came to Grand Rapids ready and excited to get rooted in a place, but instead this place has been my refining fire. Every time I felt ready to poke some leaves above ground and grow something good, a fire came along to burn it down. Life here has made me a firefighter, constantly on the lookout for the next blaze. And so instead of putting down roots and pushing out flowers at my job or with my community or in a church, you have forced me to put down roots in Jesus. Every fire that burns away the green leaves on the surface sinks my roots down deeper below ground. I’ve been discouraged over and over again with setbacks on the surface, but I am confident that God has used this season in Grand Rapids to deeply root me in His love.
Now that I’m rooted in Jesus, I’m less afraid to pop up flowers in temporary places. Getting invested in a new church family, starting a book club, pursuing friendship with new neighbors, and giving my best attention and energy to my students. Grand Rapids, you have freed me to live in the present, knowing that these things could be taken away at anytime, but that loving them fully is totally worth it.
You have also helped me put down roots with a person. My husband has been fighting every fire right next to me since I moved here and I’m more convinced than ever that Jacob is my home. Finding home with a person is so much better than home in a place.
This has been a season of loss, but also new growth. Grand Rapids, you have taken so much from me, but you have also been a source of great gifts. I want to thank you for giving me summer concerts at Meijer Gardens. Thank you for sweet neighbors who share walls in the crappy apartments, and also share life. Thank you for Martha, Alejandro, Geronimo, Marleny, Raquel, Anais, Maria, Nelson, Guillermo, Iman, Muhammed, Ignacio, Gil, and countless other students who have brightened my life and given me a reason to go to work. Thank you for your abundant coffee shops for quiet study or meetings with friends. Thanks for all your Thai restaurants and the most amazing vegan ice cream from Love’s. Thank you for trips to the beach on Lake Michigan and picnics at Reeds Lake. Thanks for the opportunity to learn new skills- baking at Rise, pottery, spiritual direction, and the enneagram. Thank you for connections with family- both new and old. Thanks for blueberry picking and farmers market shopping. Thank you for the churches that brought us dear friends and showed us new ways to be the body of Christ.
When I worked for Rise and delivered baked goods around the city, I would drive through your streets admiring the golden sunlight streaming through the buildings and watching the city wake up to start the day. A weird sense of pride and admiration struck me on those donut delivery drives and it has been slowly growing ever since. There’s nothing like the smell of fresh baked goods and early morning light to make you love a place.
Grand Rapids, in the three years that I’ve lived here, you haven’t changed much. I am the one who has changed and now I am ready to love you as you are. You are not at all what I expected, but I’m grateful for the ways that your fires forced me into deeper intimacy with the Lord and stronger relationship with my husband.
Our days are numbered and yet I am determined to love you wholeheartedly for the rest of them. Others may know you as Beer City, Cool City, or the River City. To me, you will always be the city of Roots and Fire. Thanks for being my home for these past three years.