Thursday, June 26, 2014

This Nomad's Heart And Why I Keep Running

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It was May of 1990 and my high school graduation gift from my parents was a one-way ticket to “as far as I could get” from them.  I said those words, dripped bitterly from my lips, my tone toxic, “When I graduate, I don’t care where I go, just as long as it’s as far from here as I can go… and as far away from you as I can get.”

My parents were good. In fact, everyone I knew were good people. And they all told me to be good. But try as I might, good didn’t seem to be my forte. Quite frankly, it seemed a dreary way to be. Danger and adventure. Something bigger than me. I decided to run away in search of something more daring.

More daring than good.

Earlier in the year, the subject of going away to college came up. Although college was the last thing on my radar. I only wanted to run away and never return.  But when they said they’d buy my airfare if I went to Pensacola Christian College, well, that sounded like a sweet deal to me.

To go from Utah to Florida put about 1,966 miles between the try-hard-to-be-good-life and I-just-know-there’s-gotta-be-more-life.  Besides, I knew the couple hundred bucks I’d saved from working concessions at football games and Amway rallies wouldn’t get me far.

I packed my clothes in the new luggage they bought me the month before for my birthday and I smiled surly when I realized how much they gave toward my prodigal plans. Exactly seven days after graduation night and that fifth of defiance that ruined everything and nearly took my life, we stood in front of the loading gate. My dad’s eyes filled wet with love and my mom’s tears landed wet on my face as they pulled me as close as I would let them, my heartbeat barely audible behind the thick wall I’d built around it. It was hardest to say goodbye to my little sisters, Catherine and Rebekah, and my little brother, Timothy. I felt guilty for abandoning them, for running away and not taking them with me. So I piled more bricks to secure the emotion from seeping out and, renewing my resolve not to care, I turned and walked toward the plane.

After reaching cruising altitude, I opened the envelope my dad handed me back at the gate. It accompanied a small package of something wrapped neatly in printer paper and when I opened it, I chuckled aloud at the sight of a 12-pack of peanut butter cups – an inside family joke. His perfect script across the page, always, always short and to the point: We love you and we’ll be praying for you. So I cried. Tears sloshed right over the top of that wall I so diligently built and I spent a good while on that first part of the flight wondering how they could possibly love someone as rotten as me, someone who refused to love them back and then used their money to run away to a far off place.

Florida is humid. I walked across the tarmac with my carry-on swishing my tie-dye skirt. My long, straight hair still shone a tint of dark purple and my nose still had a tiny red spot where I had removed the nose ring the day before. I was greeted by a man in a suit and how he knew who he was looking for I have no idea. He escorted me to the baggage claim area and helped me retrieve my luggage. And we drove to the school mostly in silence. I think I focused on the humidity.

I guess there’s a whole lot more to this story. Oh, probably a whole book. Because someday I’ll have to tell the whole story of how when I got there I cried solid for two whole weeks. Sometime I’ll tell you about dancing in the moonlight on the beach and surrender and redemption. The phone call home on Father’s Day to ask for forgiveness, repentance running freely down my cheeks.

There was that moment when, disgusted, I came to my senses. I realized that for all my running and searching I managed to land in a field, feeding my folly, the stench of self-absorption unraveling resolve. And I decided I’d return to my Father… perhaps He could make something redemptive out of the ruins.

Now I know. Forgiven. Loved. There’s this feast and celebration with music and dancing… and I feel myself drawn to it.

And even as I write this, my heart is beating wildly. But it’s audible now. No walls. But still a nomad’s heart.

I’m still running. Not away anymore. But toward.

I keep running toward the celebration, the adventure, this journey toward Home. I love the days in which I get glimpses of Eternity caught in the beauty of relationships. I’m eternally grateful for my parent’s unconditional love that wouldn’t give up on me. How the Orchestrator set me in the family perfect for me and then gave my parents the courage to let me run.

…So that I’d learn to run toward Home.

These days, I’m running toward Home with my husband and four children, collecting memories as our Dad gives us opportunity to travel and experience places near and far. We’re watching sunsets at the North Sea… dancing with children in Dzuwa, a village in the African Bush in Malawi… drinking tea in Tangier, Morocco… walking in Krka National Park in Croatia… trekking through the mountains in Tansen, Nepal… eating crepes in Paris… rock climbing in Vantage, Washington… horseback riding in Spain…  Our mission is to love and serve people wherever we go and whatever we do, in hopes that we’ll point them toward Home, too.  

Emily T. Wierenga, award-winning journalist and author of 4 books, has released her first memoir, Atlas Girl: Finding Home in the Last Place I Thought to Look. They say the book is like “Girl Meets God” meets “Wild” meets “Eat, Pray, Love.” Emily pens words that resonate with her readers. You can grab a copy here.


  1. I learned a lot about you and about life through this post :) I enjoyed it! Well done, Sharon!

  2. Ok. You made me cry. Perfect redemption, it rings in every word.