A year ago this month we watched the sun rise over our Minnesota home for the last time.
Driving out of our idyllic suburban cul-de-sac, the one with 30 neighbor kids, home of water balloon fights, Nerf wars, Fourth of July parades, corner lemonade stands and backyard marshmallow roasts, we paddled West on a river of tears toward the unknown.
When we arrived at our new rental in Oregon, the boys looked around.
"Where are all the neighbor kids?"
My heart broke afresh. There were no neighbor kids, not the kind that played outside in untethered masses. We were alone.
I'd moved enough in my life to become acquainted with loneliness. I knew what it felt like to walk into a school or a church building as the tentative newcomer. Even in my mid-30s, the feeling wasn't easier. What had changed was my understanding of the process.
When God set Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, he did not intend for them to stay. A place that brought forth flowers and fruits spontaneously would never allow for the kind of growth Heavenly Father had in mind.
We needed noxious weeds, battering storms and bodies of flesh to knock us to our knees. The entire point of leaving the garden was to help us remember our infallibilities, so we would turn to God and find redemption through Christ.
Life is full of leaving the garden experiences: when we go to college, marry, start a new job, lose a family member or fall ill. Anytime we are forced out of the comfort of Eden we are given a chance to grow and prove our faithfulness.
We have to dig deep and find what we are made of. Of course, the byproduct of leaving the garden is that we never return the same person. Much like the hero's journey, the hero finds she is not the same person that embarked on the initial adventure.
In J.R.R. Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings," Frodo must leave the Shire to destroy the ring of power. When his mission is complete, he realizes he can't return, not in the same way. He is not the same wide-eyed Hobbit that left full of anticipation and innocence.
At the end of trilogy, Frodo tells his friend Sam "There is no real going back. Though I may come to the Shire, it will not seem the same; for I shall not be the same."
This week, we went back to visit friends in Minnesota. It felt like coming home. It felt as if we had never left.
And yet. After weeks and months of tears post-move, Oregon also feels like home.
In fact, in our family conversations we've talked about the opportunities that have come through our move: an internship for my oldest son, a newfound love of running for another; good violin teachers, a strong church youth program and a blessedly short commute time.
Minnesota has notched a place in our hearts. Those friends and memories are from a time that seems gilded in golden light. But we are not the same people we were a year ago. My kids have learned what they are made of. Even I, in mid-life, am still discovering what I'm made of.
And for that, I shall not be the same.