Bilbo Baggins: “Can you promise that I will come back?”
Gandalf: “No. And if you do, you will not be the same.”
My Missionary community loves all things Lord of the Rings, including The Hobbit Trilogy. The exchange above comes from the beginning of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. Gandalf basically invades Bilbo’s home with dozens of his rowdiest dwarf friends, destroys it as they have a riotous dinner, and then does his best to convince Bilbo to embark on a quest to reclaim the dwarves’ mountain home.
That’s a lot to deal with if you’re a hobbit who likes his comfortable, orderly life right where it is.
The question that Bilbo poses strikes me every time I watch that movie. I see myself in Bilbo, my life wrapped up in that question.
Graduating and leaving Creighton last spring was one of the hardest (and most exciting) things I’ve done. Not that I wasn’t ready to start living the things I’d been learning about. Believe me four years of writing 10+ page papers makes anybody ready to strike out on their own. Rather, what was hard was feeling like I was uprooting myself for the millionth time in my life, leaving behind a place that had been home for four years.
But I put on a brave face, pretending to be as excited as some of my other classmates who couldn’t wait to get out of Omaha. I told myself I could do this, I would carry everything I loved about Creighton with me and then I wouldn’t miss it so much. I wrote about that bittersweet feeling, and of going forth to do meaningful things.
And you know what? Despite all of that, it took me from May until November to really be ok with that leaving. And always in the background was that question Bilbo directed to Gandalf. But it was between me and God: Will you bring me back? Will this place ever feel like home?
In my previous post, I shared my story. Growing up, I’ve had moments of feeling really at home in some places, surrounded by love. I’ve also had my fair share of feeling alone and not quite rooted anywhere. When you move, when you say goodbye to people and places you care about every few years, you start asking yourself, what lasts in life? What really stays constant?
So I can relate to all the subtle intensity of Bilbo’s question. If I go, will you bring me back? Will you replace what’s been lost?
In December, The Pines had a retreat for our high school campers. It was camp in a weekend, and a reunion for both long-time campers who love this place and summer counselors who poured in from all over the country to help staff it that weekend. Prior to the campers arriving, the counselors spent a few days just catching up and hanging out on camp.
One night, we gathered around a campfire by the lake to pray together and have a praise and worship session (no, we didn’t sing “Kumbaya”). The energy, the love and passion we felt for our shared faith, for this ministry and for each other overwhelmed me. I felt deep gratitude to have these people and this place in my life.
Later that week, we met in the Chapel to pray Morning Prayer together. It hit me: I’d been gathered together with some of the best friends I’ve had in life, brought under God’s roof, to pray, worship, adore and grow in this ministry together. God had made a home for me here.
This sentiment echoed throughout this past week when The Pines hosted the Catholic Camp Summit (a gathering of Catholic camp directors and missionaries from all over the U.S.). A group of people intensely passionate about God and outdoor ministry came together to learn, network, have fun and adore God together. We gathered in the Chapel each night for a talk and some praise and worship. Again, it hit me. I felt gratitude deep in my bones for being called here, for the gift of gathering with these people, for feeling surrounded by such love and energy.
Coincidentally, the theme of our Summit was “Radical”. Radical mercy, radical discernment, radical love. How to live out a joyful, radically Catholic life and share that with others in this ministry. “Radical” comes form the Latin word “radix”, which means “root.”
In these recent days of talking about the roots of our ministry, of ourselves, and of a radically Catholic life, I realized a few things.
- In the months of struggling, of joy, of long hours, outdoor ministry and community life, God has subtly been making this place my home. He has been rooting me here. And really, He started doing that way back in 2012, during my first summer at The Pines. I feel incredibly grateful for what The Pines means to me, for the amazing people who have become a part of my life because of it.
- Whether we go or stay, whether we’re called to a life of constant moves and changes, or we stay planted in one place all our lives, we find our roots in one thing that never leaves or moves or changes. Love.
I am amazed by the providence of God’s love and mercy. Every time I have to say goodbye to a place that has become home to me, the same pain and fear come creeping up: What if I never find this again? It feels like a constant loss in my life.
I’ve realized that this is a silly question.
Love goes with us, before us and behind us always, making a way for us, whether we see it or not. Of course there will be love and community wherever I go, if for no other reason than because God is the one who sends me forth or asks me to stay. And where I am, there He will be, too. Every time I’ve moved, He has had made a home for me, He has given me people who have revealed the depth of His love for me. And even if leaving The Pines in May means the same struggle and pain of saying goodbye and replanting roots somewhere else, I will always be rooted in God’s love. I may change, I may not be the same, I may not ever make it back to some places that were home to me for a while, but growth and the movement forward is worth it. It’s the adventure I’ve been called to.
What’s been incredible about this year at The Pines is that it’s revealed–and continues to reveal–true love, God’s true love, to me over and over again in ways I’ve never known. And in the midst of everything, when I’ve felt far away from the places and people who have been home to me, God’s sheltered me here. His love is abundant beyond anything I’ve known. My hope is to live into that love, to let my ministry flow from it, and to trust that when I move on from here, that love will go with me.
© Anna Ferguson and The Wandering Writer, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Anna Ferguson and The Wandering Writer with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.