honesty.

i’m not sure where to start. not with this post, in life.

more like i don’t know where to re-start.

you probably know that in october 2013, my wife kelli and i moved to chicago and i sort of assumed that’s where i’d be right now. i assumed i’d be there for a long, long time. i didn’t assume we’d own a house in michigan a year later and be looking for paint colors and fixing stuff around the house and shoveling snow off the roof.

i wasn’t expecting to be here.

living in chicago was a dream of mine for over 20 years. i always knew one day i’d live that dream. i didn’t see leaving the city as being part of any plan really.

i guess life can take you by surprise when you aren’t expecting it.

and it’s been hard. real hard. i’ve never really experienced anything quite like what i’ve been experiencing the last few months.

it’s strange to feel homesick. before leaving chicago i’d never experienced this before. i’ve now experienced it every day since we moved. it’s that sick to your stomach, heartache, desperation type of homesick. in one year i became a chicago guy. sometimes people say “oh james is from chicago…” or “you’re from chicago right?”… i don’t object.

i’ve been silent on here the last couple of months because in life, we are conditioned to only speak about positive things. even if it isn’t true. i’ve struggled with this a ton. i’ve learned a lot about positivity and looking on the bright side of things. and i’ve learned a lot about being honest. even if it’s just with myself.

but let’s be real.

if i’m being honest with myself, i can say that in fact, i don’t really like not living in chicago. that’s simple enough and probably a surprise to very few.

i want to go back and live there again, for good this time. i miss the hustle and the noise, but not the traffic. i miss the connections and friends and the community we were a part of. i miss the way kelli and i began something new together there. i miss the bars and restaurants within walking distance and taking our puppy to the dog park. i even miss going to church in chicago at willow chicago, which is no small thing for me. i truly love that community.

the thing i thought would’ve been easy would be taking our life there and the changes we made and the experiences we had and implementing them here in grand rapids. i figured we’d just pick up where we left off and it would be no big deal.

it’s actually been a big deal. it’s been impossible.

it’s not that people here have changed, it’s that we have changed. kelli and i aren’t who we were when we moved to the city. we became better versions of ourselves, together and individually. basically, we grew up. we found our spot, no matter how hard it was. we forced ourselves to be more, to live and experience. we learned to go to different grocery stores besides meijer and family fare. kelli discovered trader joe’s. i fell for mariano’s. i’ve even switched allegiances to the bears. it’s okay lions fans, don’t worry about it.

living in grand rapids is not bad. it’s really not. i just don’t want to compare. we have good things here and there is plenty to look forward to. i am excited to spend the summer near the beach again. the beer in grand rapids is the best. we don’t have to get all geared up to take the puppy out for a walk three times a day, though we probably should. it’s good here.

it’s just that, it’s not everything i want. good is okay, but i want great.

and i feel selfish for wanting everything. i feel wrong for wanting great. but why?

by the time we moved, i was already starting to feel nauseous about it. riding in the u-haul with my father-in-law, we talked about how much i didn’t know if i really wanted to move from chicago. actually i knew i didn’t. i told him that. i told him that it seemed like a great idea and an awesome opportunity for kelli and i but now i didn’t think it was really what i wanted. my boss in chicago was even trying to give me my old job back, without me asking for it, and i wanted to take it back. it was too late. the house was already being prepped for us and our belongings were in a 24 foot truck.

we’ve been gone from chicago just over 4 months now and it’s been the toughest 4 months i’ve experienced in quite a long time. the thing about not being there is that it re-affirms for me that that is where i want to be. i wish that i had that affirmation before i decided it was a good idea to leave. in fact it probably was a good idea, for someone else.

i’ve learned a lot about honesty. i’ve learned it’s tough to convey. i’ve learned a lot about making decisions. i’ve learned that sometimes making decisions doesn’t always make you feel better. life changes don’t always feel good.

i’m trying to put together the pieces of my life here. i’m trying to understand what this all means for kelli and me. we are woven together so much that it’s not just decisions that affect each other, our thoughts do too. i’m trying to understand what the future holds, even though i spend much of my time trying to dictate it. i’ve learned to be honest with myself, even though it’s not just about me.

 growing up is not for the weak.

turn off the music and drive.

writing really hasn’t been my friend this year.

it’s not that there hasn’t been a lot to write about, there has. i’ve experienced more in the past year than in any year before. it’s just that this year has been overwhelming in so many different ways.

it’s been the best year of my life.

it’s been the hardest.

it’s been the saddest and the happiest.

it’s been the most stressful.

i’ve struggled with looking for the big picture and finding the little things.

i’ve seen the best and the worst in people.

i’ve seen tragedy strike more than once. the types of things that happen to people in the distance. not to people you love.

i’ve wanted to write books about this life and i’ve vowed to myself to never write again.

the thing is. this is life now. i realize with a nice swift punch to the gut that adulthood is not always easy. in fact it’s usually not easy. that’s what makes the good times so good.

yesterday i took the morning and afternoon to drive. i turned off the music. i didn’t even listen to sports talk radio. i just drove. i needed the silence. i recommend that you do this at least once a year. just shut up and drive. and not on the highway. i drove down to southern michigan and drove up the coast of lake michigan. two weeks ago my wife and i were driving along the coast of the pacific ocean. i almost like lake michigan more. anyway, i drove and drove. in silence. sometimes you have to shut off the noise. sometimes you just have to shut yourself up.

it’s not that life can be chaotic. life is chaotic. that’s how we do it. that’s how we like it. that’s how we drown out whatever is going on around us. when i was driving yesterday, i was reminded about the little things. i was reminded of how lucky (blessed) i am to live in this beautiful state of michigan. it truly is full of hidden gems. (detroit’s demise does not tell the real story of this state) how the breeze from the lake feels so refreshing. how driving through little coast towns that no one has heard of can remind you that there are people everywhere and you cannot possibly be the only one going through whatever it is you are going through.

that’s the key. perspective. the worst is feeling alone. like no one else has gone through what you are going through. the best is not that others are also struggling or have struggled or have seen the worst or ugliest in others just like you have. it’s knowing that you aren’t the only one with this story. it’s knowing that with all these little hidden gems around you, it’s quite impossible to truly be alone. sometimes we just have to turn off the music and drive.

what are we here for?

this past sunday night was an unseasonably warm evening in grand rapids and my wife and i decided to take advantage of it. i mean, it’s december and it’s michigan so if you aren’t taking advantage of near sixty degree weather on a weekend, well… that’s between you and God i guess.

anyway, after enjoying some great pizza (the two of us basically ate the whole thing in one sitting) from this little pizza shop around the corner, we started our short walk back to our home in heritage hill. as a backdrop, you have to understand this neighborhood in grand rapids. like most cities, if you go a mile or two in any direction, the demographics can change mightily. where we live, as the name heritage hill suggests, are a lot of historic homes from the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. this region of the city is home to any of the following: homeless people, hippies, “scene kids” (or better… kids who don’t like to shower, “shotgun” cases of pbr at parties where everyone is wearing tight black skinny jeans or plaid shirts that literally haven’t been washed since 1984), businessmen and women and a whole lot of college students.

so now you have a little visual of the setting.

as we walked, a man shouted towards us… “hey guys wait, wait guys!” repeatedly. he was holding up something that turned out to be his wallet but in the darkness of the evening it was hard to tell. my wife and i were both a little unsure of the situation so we continued walking while turning back to see what the man wanted. He told us “i have my id i can show you! here is my id! here is my id!”  trying to prove that he was legitimate. obviously in my skeptical brain, i knew i didn’t want anything to do with the man and told him that i had nothing for him. after i had repeated that i did have any money to give him, which he said he needed for food, he slumped a bit and turned back around and wandered off.

we kept walking and discussed what happened and once we turned the corner, we had changed topics and went on with our evening… except that the encounter stayed with me the rest of the night.

i couldn’t help but wonder what i could have given him. we all have had this type of conversation with someone. probably many times.

what do you do in this situation? what is the proper protocol? are we supposed to do what i did, which was nothing? should i have given him our last slice of pizza and called it good so i could feel good that i was feeding the people on the streets?

i guess i was struck by the thought that even if i had given the man money or food or literally the shirt off my back, it wouldn’t have been good enough. i mean, what are we really looking for in life? sure, there are the physical things: food, water(beer) and staying warm. but is it that we really want? i couldn’t help but think, “i should have just talked to him like a human being, asked him his story.” i’m sure he has a story. we all do. i’m guessing that he would have thought that i was weird at first, but why? probably because most people don’t take the time to ask about him. you know how it is, when you ask someone “how are you?”, you don’t truly want to know how they are. in fact, i bet most people would roll their eyes and keep looking at the time on their phone or take a fake phone call to get out of the “conversation” if the person actually started telling them just how they were.

my overall thought came down to this, what do we really value in life? do we look out for others? do we put the onus on the homeless (“go out and get a job!”, “do something for yourself”, “have some self-respect!”)?  what are we really here for?

it can be easy to make a pledge to feed the hungry, give those who are thirsty something to drink and find them somewhere to stay when it is cold outside. but is that enough? i don’t ask this as a challenge. i’m asking this because i’m not good in this situation. i want to run the other direction most times. i just know that that is not the answer. i just am pretty certain that just going about doing good deeds so that i can pat myself on the back won’t make me care about anyone any more than me turning my back and walking the opposite direction. if all i am concerned about is making sure i feel like i have personally accomplished something for someone else, have i really done anything at all? is that all we are here for?