I remember asking Mark, “Who will pick us up at the airport, your mom and dad?” His eyes twinkled a bit as he replied, “Oh no, not just my parents…they will be there along with my siblings, their spouses and kids and possibly a neighbor or two.” I thought he was kidding. As we stepped through the door of the jetway there was a small crowd of Mark’s family and friends holding up score cards: 9.8, 9.5, 10, welcoming me to Portland for the first time.

Recently, I returned to Portland and stepped through the jetway door again, feeling very aware that so much life has been lived in the twenty-nine years between then and now.

I was in Portland for work with an added bonus of seeing friends at the end of the trip. An unexpected change in plans for my friends left me alone for the day on Sunday, alone in a city that has always been “Mark’s home.” It felt a bit odd for me to be there alone. I found myself feeling frustrated, tired and wishing I could have just flown home with the rest of my team who left early Sunday morning.

There was a nudging invitation I felt to consider how I wanted to spend the day, “What would it look like to honor the reality of where I am?”

I headed out and chose to spend my day remembering.

I have transitioned in and out of Portland several times during my lifetime, including more than once while being married to Mark. We lived there when we were first married and again about sixteen years ago. The city has changed over the years and while there were familiar sights it felt different this time; traffic was heavier and the skyline was altered by new towering structures. The absence of someone to share it with left me more aware of an aching loneliness than the sweet aroma of nostalgia.

Leaning into that ache and letting it wash over me without trying to lessen or brush it off lead me to start honoring the many transitions and all they have included over the past twenty-nine years, including this year.

The streets of Portland became a bit of a map for my heart. The quietness and space allowed the weight of it to be felt in a different way.

Mark knows the streets of Portland like the back of his hand. There is never any question about who is leading the way, who is in control and who is the bottom-line when we are in Portland. The city is filled with his stories, his adventures, his friends and family, his antics and his disappointments…it is his city. The best parts of him and the most wounded parts of him are rooted there, and I have known him and loved him now for what is starting to feel like a lifetime.

I made my way around the city, I knew enough to have a sense of where things were and the roads to take to get where I wanted to go; but Mark would have driven without hesitation, confident of the quickest route and the surest way to go. His confidence allows me to rest and enjoy the scenery and take in the beauty and joy of where I am.

Without him, the weight of responsibility for navigating it all felt heavy and joy was harder to feel.

The day began to feel like a metaphor for the past year or so. My confident, driving husband has not been himself, and I have felt the weight of responsibility. “For better or worse, richer or poorer, in sickness and in health” taking their place in our relationship in tangible ways. I have known it was costly, that the heaviness and struggle of the year were bearing down on my heart, but that day on the streets of Portland I began to honor it.

I drove to the Starbucks in our old neighborhood and walked through the cold rain past several little shops, remembering as I walked, my heart felt heavy and rain soaked as I breathed in the smell of warm coffee. I stood in line listening to the conversations around me, pondering my own hearts condition.

Heavy, grievous, hard and rich all apply to my last year.

A text from Mark dropped in, “Be strong and be kind to yourself.”

On the counter near the cash register was a reusable cup for sale, the holiday cup. On the side was the word JOY…

I chose to buy it.

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The year has been heavy, grievous, hard and rich. And still, there has been JOY and there will JOY again, again. Choosing honor means choosing it all, including the JOY.

“Joy is the infallible sign of the presence of God.”

― Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

Defiant hope was to buy that cup.

I am choosing to drink out of it daily.


DSC_0512Tracy Johnson is a lover of stories and a reluctant dreamer, living by faith that “Hope deferred makes the heart sick but when dreams come true there is a life and joy” (Pro. 13:12).  She is the Founder of Red Tent Living.  Married for 28 years, she is mother to five kids.  After a half century of life, she’s feeling like she may know who she is.
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