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full steam ahead

As the morning sun peaks around the blinds in my bedroom, I lift my head and thank God for another restful night’s sleep and for a new day ahead. This moment is very important to me. I try to ensure that I never take it for granted. I have vivid memories of nights when sleep was a tremendously terrifying experience. I can recall countless mornings when I awoke with bloodshot eyes and my body trembling, feeling as though I hadn’t found any peace in the night at all. Today, things are much better. Not because I am no longer susceptible to those restless nights, but because I trust wholeheartedly in God’s ability to carry me through them if they should choose to reemerge unexpectedly. My faith gives me peace. It helps me to understand that I am not alone, and that He will never abandon me. As I progress and heal from these experiences, I’m able to recall those nights when things seemed as though they couldn’t possibly get any worse, and I find strength in those memories. I survived the worst, and I’m still here to tell this story, and for that I am forever thankful.

After I say my prayer at the edge of my bed, I head over to the French doors in the bedroom and draw the blinds. The sun finds a break in the clouds and reaches out to me…beautiful. Another day…lucky to be alive. I hear a rumble in the distance and as I gaze out across the backside of the complex where I live I notice that a train is approaching. I wonder where its final destination lies? One thing is for sure, it’s not going to be here for long. Maybe a quick stop to unload some cargo and then off again? No, that can’t be it. The momentum generated by its powerful engine is telling me that this train has bigger plans for how it will utilize the tracks that lie ahead. Today it is just passing through. It’s pressing forward with purpose, leaving me and my wandering gaze in its rear-view.

As the engine roars out of sight, my eyes remain fixed on the tracks that it has left behind. I feel deflated inside. I had woken with a spring in my step and gratitude in my heart. But now, in almost an instant, I’m left feeling very uneasy. What’s just happened? How was that passing train able to engage me and in a matter of minutes spark such conflicting emotion inside of me?

I head out of the bedroom and make my way into the kitchen where I grab some breakfast. My mind begins to digest my recent mood transition as I sit down at the dining room table and peer once again out of the windows surrounding me. And then it all hits me. I slowly unveil the symbolism of that train, and I’m able to piece together what is causing me the pain inside. I recall the prayer that I said at the edge of my bed. I remember asking God to help me make the most of the new day…to seek opportunity in what lies ahead and to find the strength keep moving forward. Moving forward. That train was the ultimate symbol of this…embodying relentless pursuit of its final destination. And while it moved dynamically beyond my sight, I was left viewing what it had left behind.

I was left with the past…those tracks that had become all too familiar to me. I had run them a million times, and they had only led me back to that same lonely bedroom window time after time, leaving me longing for something greater. But fear was defeating my desire to run out ahead with a plan and a purpose. My dreams were being forfeited for familiarity. Because sometimes it’s easier to be comfortable and miserable than it is to take a risk and achieve true happiness. I had survived that way for years. But now, having rekindled my dreams through my faith, I was beginning to feel this tremendous conflict inside. I was asking God for the opportunity to move forward, and he was providing it to me…every day. I was being reminded of this each morning as I saw that powerful locomotive speed by my window. But to this day I’ve been too intimidated to look further down the tracks and explore what lies ahead, and that leaves me at a conflict with my purpose. I can only dream from this window. There is very little left for me to accomplish on the all too visible and treacherous tracks of my past. It’s about time to paint with a broader brush. Surviving is not living. God intended more for us in this life.

Over the course of the past ten years, I haven’t truly done a lot of “living”. But thankfully, I am able to remember what it felt like during the times when I did. When I was 18 and moved to southern California…those were some of the absolute best times of my life. Of course I was young and I was making mistakes, but I was free. I was independent, strong, and proud of my experiences. I took a chance and I embraced it, but during that time fear was not such an active part of my life. When anxiety and panic came knocking at the door, I began to resent my surroundings, and eventually I boarded that train headed full speed ahead back to the familiar tracks of home. At home I was comfortable. Not happy, not free, but comfortable. Surviving.

In the years that followed, my life continued to follow this pattern. I’d gain strength, feel inspired, hitch a ride on the next train heading out of town and start “living” again. After my return home in January of 2003, I ventured back out the following summer to complete my degree at the University of North Carolina. I was successful there, and while there were ups and downs, I was definitely playing an active role in my life again. I was embracing independence. I found the girl I thought to be my soul mate and fell deeply in love, and when I graduated in May of 2005, my future had never seemed more promising. And then, the slow retreat began…

After graduation, I wanted to live and work in a city in the northeast and my partner was open to suggestions. I chose Philadelphia over New York, Boston, Baltimore, you name it…truly because it was “familiar” and “comfortable”. After all, I grew up just a little over an hour outside of the city. Although I would have never been willing to admit this at the time, I chose it because it was less risky. If things imploded, I could run home. And after spending a year there, when the busy streets and job stresses began taking their tolls on us as a couple, I did what felt best…I grabbed my fiancé and boarded the next train home. We established new jobs, bought a house and settled down just five minutes from where I grew up. Comfortable and seemingly happy for the time. But back to the familiar tracks that ultimately led nowhere but down.

My fiancé left me in a calculated and tactless way during the summer of 2007. A couple of months prior to her departure, she mentioned to me one morning that she “didn’t know if she wanted to get married, own a house, or live in Pennsylvania anymore.” I was devastated. She continued by saying that she “missed Florida, the beach” and really everything that was not characteristic of our current surroundings. It was coming down to me making a move nearer to her home to save the relationship. She knew I wouldn’t go, and I did too. I had been adamant about it. I couldn’t leave my comfort zone, so I described to her all of the reasons why hers was wrong. I made no effort to compromise. And she did what she had to do. I can’t blame her for that…I only wish that she would have been more honest and handled it with a bit more class, because it broke my heart.

I found myself alone and distressed, but comfortable…still surviving. Having digested the heartache for a couple of months, I soon began living again. I met a girl on a weekend visit to Chapel Hill, and we began dating and ventured off on a long distance relationship for the six months that followed. But a compromise and a move was going to be necessary soon. Not me. No, I couldn’t leave the familiar tracks. Plus I owned a house, so I had established roots…that would be my excuse. So my girlfriend moved north. We ignored all of our relationship issues which had become extremely apparent since we had begun living together, and in time, we got engaged. A couple of months after, she too was on her way out and heading back to Florida. I was left with the pieces. It hurt, but I could survive here. I at least knew that.

In the months that followed, I found some strength in my friends and I began to feel a bit more inspired again. I needed to get out of my house and hop on that next train. It was time that I started living and began taking some risks. I was in my mid 20’s and life was beginning to pass me by. I started contemplating a move to the DC area, but quickly my search narrowed back to Philly…and ultimately, I settled 20 minutes down the road in Wyomissing. I justified my extended stay in Berks County by examining the costs of living and by asserting that it just made more sense financially. The truth is that I was scared. Fear won the battle, again. And this was familiar territory. So I shouldn’t have been surprised when I watched yet another relationship crumbling before my eyes on Valentine’s Day of 2011. I shouldn’t have been shocked to see my best friend abandon our relationship of more than 15 years for the comfort of the abuses he sought on those familiar tracks. I should have expected a trusted acquaintance to forfeit the maturity he had developed during his time away and turn his back on me when he once again became comfortable at home. These tracks, they lead nowhere.

Because this place…it’s the “home” of heartache and broken dreams for me. I’m not placing any blame, and I certainly don’t see myself as a victim of circumstance. I chose those relationships; I sought them out. And I made the decision to live here, and come back, time and time again. Why? Why am I so attached to this place? I think it’s because it’s small town. Nothing really changes. For the most part, the people, they stay the same. I could find many of them at the same place this Friday night as they would have been when I left them for California at 18. They’ve aged a bit, but for the most part they look the same, speak the same, and embody the same old habits. The town never really evolves. Sure, we’ve added a few new restaurants and shops, but there is very little movement or initiative for change. Comfort and familiarity win the battle here. Day after day, and year after year. And that’s exactly why I returned time after time. Because up until just recently, I feared change as much as nearly everyone else in this sleepy community. I hid in the comforts of my surroundings, and found excuses not to deal with myself.

But then faith became a part of my life. And God revealed to me when I was most vulnerable the person that I am inside and the person who I wish to become. He gave me the strength to wipe the slate clean, address my weaknesses, and change for the better. He showed me a purpose that corresponded with my beliefs and the passions that resided deep inside my heart, beneath all of the fear that had been holding me hostage for years. He showed me that there was a whole lot more to life than those same old tracks in plain view just outside of my bedroom window.

It’s amazing, but the faith that I found in my darkest moments…it has given me the opportunity to dream again and to want more from life. To seek deeper meaning and fulfill a purpose on course with the priorities that I’ve found for today and for my future. My faith has allowed me to gaze out of that window with a desire to hop on board that train with a new destination in mind…one that corresponds with ME, and with living, not with fear and mere survival.

So tomorrow, as I watch that engine roll on by, I’ll know why I’m left feeling conflicted as it disappears from my sight. I’ll understand that comfortable is a dead end road, and I’ll be reminded of my purpose and my vision for a brighter future. And I will get to work on fulfilling it. Because I finally am able to trust that I am on the right track…full steam ahead.

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