Gaithersburg, Maryland, is where I lived for nearly two decades. I moved here when I was 22. This is where I started a family and where my three kids were born. This is also where I pastored and where I thought I would grow old and die.
It’s been a long time since I’ve been back—over six years, I think. That was before I knew where my season of unraveling would lead me, before my marriage ended, and before my beliefs shifted.
Almost everyone I saw on this trip asked, “What’s your reason for being here?” It felt odd to admit that I had no reason except to see them. “I just came to see friends.”
I remember thinking when I bought my airplane ticket that I didn’t want to wait for a funeral to go back.
I didn’t need an excuse; I could just go.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from people. Anger? Probing questions? Judgment? Indifference?
Instead, I was met with so much warmth, kindness, and grace. I was embraced.
I am learning that people don’t have to agree with everything I’ve done, or even be entirely happy with me, for us to have a meaningful connection (or reconnection).
I used to have such a long list of common beliefs required for “fellowship.” I don’t have that list anymore. I don’t care where you go to church, or if you don’t go to church, or how you vote, or even if you like me. I don’t always like me so we have that in common.
For me, it was worth the risk of rejection (and sure, I did receive a tinge of that) to have the chance to take this little “pilgrimage of revisiting.”
It’s important for me to say that this kind of trip isn’t for everyone. My experience happened to be positive. A different mix of interactions might have made it painful. And maybe it was all about timing; this is just what I needed right now. I might not have been ready for this a few years ago.
Being back in Maryland after a long absence brought back a lot of powerful memories. It helped me tap into an era of my life that I sometimes feel disconnected from.
Our stories are all a mix of good and bad, pain and beauty. It’s easy to overlook the bad in a kind of whitewashing of personal history, pretending everything is fine when it isn’t. I have sometimes felt pressured to do that under the guise of faith, singing “it is well” while staying in an unhealthy situation, when I needed to admit “this sucks” and move on.
Conversely, it’s also possible to retrospectively focus only on the negatives in your own history and choose to see only the thorns, no roses, no beauty. And that is its own kind of dishonesty.
I am trying, in the years I have left, not to let the bad overshadow and swallow up the good. That requires holding very opposing truths in tension. This person deeply hurt me—and I also had moments of profound significance and joy with them. I was traumatized by this organization—and I also had moments of deep camaraderie and transcendence there.
Black and white thinking says I have to label every era of my life “good” or “bad.” Nothing is that simple. Reality is filled with a melancholy palette of beautiful shades of grey.
Driving the roads of Gaithersburg helped to remind me of the good. And there has been a lot of good. A lot of grace. And for me, this has come in the form of people. Wonderful, dear people. Sitting across from them was healing.
I wish I could have seen more of you on this trip. If we missed each other, please don’t misunderstand. I purposefully didn’t book things far in advance; I let it unfold. I wasn’t sure whether I’d feel energized or discouraged walking down memory lane.
I wish I could have seen you and given you a hug. I would thank you for the authentic good times we shared. Yes, the disappointments existed, but so did the moments of joy.
I hope you’ll remember me in my best moments. I hope you’ll forgive me for my failings.
Sending you so much love.
Don’t wait for a funeral to reconnect with old friends.