Thursday, June 15, 2017

Growing up, I always knew the unofficial sign that summer had arrived.

One cool Thursday evening, just as the sun had set, I would hear the resounding "booms" from our home, and rush out into the backyard. If I looked hard enough, across the other rooftops towards the high school downtown, I would see them. Fireworks, slowly floating and exploding above the high school stadium. If I listened closely, I could hear the music over the loudspeakers, cheers and air horns between the cracks of pyrotechnics. The newest alumni of Dinuba High School had just received their diplomas, finishing their high school career and signaling the start of summer.

In a small town with only one high school, graduation is a big deal. Every class before you would sit in that huge stadium, in pasty green caps and gowns, and step away from one season into another with their classmates. Diplomas were handed out like passports as you traveled from "Senior" to "Class of..." Your home for the past four years was now a finished chapter, and as summer began, so did a new season for you. I heard those fireworks at the start of every summer, and I watched them fill the night sky when I graduated too, as I stepped foot into another summer and another new season.

For me, graduation fireworks signaled that the summer season had begun -- school would soon be out and the days would grow longer, the classic Central Valley heat would drive folks indoors until the cool evening hours came, and life would take on a different pace for a few months. When I would watch those fireworks crash and light up the sky from my backyard, my spirit would soar. Summertime is finally here.

June and July are a few of my favorite months of the year, and for good reason: I love summertime. It is my favorite season, and the one I look forward to every year as the cold winter months begin to give way to a refreshing spring, and eventually, summer.

Like clockwork, things would begin to shift and change around me when summer arrived. Sweaters and jackets would be stuffed into my closet, awaiting cooler weather, while I would pull out my shorts and tank tops, swimsuits and baseball caps. In an attempt to escape the brutal heat of the Central Valley, we would venture out to the coast, resulting in foggy morning walks along Pismo Beach and exploring San Luis Obispo with old friends. Our local fruit stands would begin selling bags of peaches, plums, and nectarines -- they were never in short supply in our kitchen. The smell of fresh baked cobbler or pies would be a constant scent around the house, and a typical nightly dessert for our family. Now that school was out, my friends and I would count down the days to summer camp, awaiting the sweet smell of pine trees and the mountaintop, anxious to see familiar faces and spend a week (or more) in one of our favorite places. I would imagine the dance parties that lasted long into the night, and remember the sky full of twinkling stars so beautiful, it was like looking into the face of God himself.

Summer is an important season to me, beyond the beautiful simplicities of fresh fruit and summer camp. The coming and going of seasons sets a cycle, a routine that repeats itself and creates stability and predictability. Summertime is an inevitable part of life, and I'm lucky it's one of my favorite times of the year. As a child, I loved summertime for warm weather and family vacations. As an adult, I still cherish those things, but have come to value so much more.

To me, summertime means space -- to rest and recover from busy months of school or work. Even as an adult, who still has to work during the summer, the shift in weather often prompts a shift in routine, to hold space and rest as important pieces, and to give them the due diligence they deserve. Sometimes it feels like we take the rush into the holiday season beyond November and December, and realize we haven't exactly slowed down until June hits, and suddenly the year is half over. When I was in college, it always felt like spring semester flew by faster than fall, and then I found myself completing another year and starting another summer. It often seemed like I blinked and wondered where the heck spring went, because I had just finished putting away my winter decor when summer showed up at my doorstep. But it came with space, and I have always tried to use that space to rest and recover during the summer months.

Sometimes it means utilizing that space to explore, such as the summer of 2013 I spent in Boston with my older brother. On a whim, I spent three months in an unfamiliar city, exploring every day and trying to escape summer thunderstorms throughout the sticky, humid, weeks. I worked in a new industry, meet new people, and let myself become another face in the crowd of a busy New England city. It was refreshing, in the way that space and rest can be, but this time I was pushing myself out of my comfort zone and taking risks. That summer will always hold a special place in my heart, and I often look back on it fondly.

Summers have been months of transformational growth. Independence was planted in my soul at a young age, but it took root and grew over the summer months when I lived and worked at camp -- the first time I spent an extended time away from my parents and my home since graduating from high school. I learned how to take care of that soil so my newfound freedom would allow my independence to grow healthy and strong. My independence would seep into other areas of my life beyond my personal well-being. Learning to maintain friendships, handle difficult relationships, seek out the Lord on my own, and take responsibility for my faith. The summer months helped transform me into my own person.

But through it all, when I think of summertime, I think of familiarity and coming home. Coming home from college, camp, a semester abroad, graduate school - there hasn't been a summer in my life that hasn't included at least a few days at home, in the house I grew up in. It's the place and space I know best, and I am thankful, so thankful, my summers involve "coming home."

Summertime and coming home go hand in hand, and when the summer months arrive, I expect a sense of familiarity to settle in. The same way I settle into my childhood bedroom, in quiet little Dinuba, or how my days begin to slow down to accommodate the unrelenting heat outside. The familiarity of my home was my only foundation when I was struggling through the re-entry process after spending four months studying abroad. It provides comfort, predictability, and just the right amount of freedom to help me hit reset before the fall arrives and a new season begins.

I didn't expect this summer to include this much time at home. I'm still trying to figure out what my next step is, in my career and life in general. But I'm thankful for this summer at home, and what I'm learning as I settled into the quiet and simple routine of summer I know so well. This is space to rest, to explore. Space to pull up roots of anxiety and fear, and continue to tend to the soil to help my independence grow strong once again. Space to let myself breathe in the comforts of home, and summer, allowing the familiarity to heal wounds and ease my mind. Space to prepare for whatever is next, whenever it comes into my life.

Someone once told me, "That's the beautiful thing about seasons. They always end and another always begins." This inevitability of seasons, the cycle of time that never ceases to stop, gives me just the right amount of hope.

I guess I'm thankful for this summer, and the strange opportunity I have to hit "reset" before whatever's next comes along. Someday, this season of uncertainty about my future will end, and a new one will begin. It's the same way summer inevitably comes to a close, and fall arrives, usually with the looming thought of winter and the holidays in quick pursuit. And maybe, when that time comes, I won't be at home and looking for part-time jobs at coffee shops. Maybe I'll be somewhere new, doing something new, and perhaps as someone another new season begins.

This summer is unique, but I'm just trying to take it as it is.

God has placed this season in my life for a reason, and I believe the best I can do is honor it by being present here and what is before me. It means soaking in the familiarity of being home, the same way I'm soaking in the sunshine as I cool off in our backyard pool. It means not thinking about how stupid hard the last six months of been, and start thinking about how amazing the next six could be. It means throwing my energy into my creative projects and content, because I love this process and practice. It means continuing to hope, in the way that hope is the firm expectation that God will do what he has promised. The same way season always begin and always end in their same faithful manner, year after year, something tells me God works in the same way too.

Seasons come and go, and this one will too.

But I think I might keep the peach cobbler around for a little longer this time.

Respectfully submitted,