I’ve Come Here to Be

January 1, 2020

Happy New Year, dear reader.

While it may seem like I’m writing again due to some New Year’s resolution, it’s just coincidental to other circumstances. We recently landed back on US soil and have moved to the mountains of Virginia. We’re settled enough now that I can focus on moving forward. And moving forward for me certainly includes writing again.

Why have you not heard from me since we left for Honduras? The easiest answer is probably laziness. But I also have a compartmental and conservative temperament. When faced with a serious task, I choose (whenever possible) to focus just on that task. So, for the most part, while serving the church in Honduras, that’s all I did.

I’m not certain how much reflection you’ll see from me on my time there, at least at this moment. It was both a fruitful and challenging season—more challenging due to my own deep-seated insecurities than due to the location or the people. I shouldn’t devalue the gift in those lessons, so I will likely write more about them in the near future.

I will disclose that I’ll always treasure the people in Honduras: the native people and their richness of heart, their bright spirit in serving others, their optimism in difficult circumstances, their absolute flexibility and creativity to take what has been given them and live life to the full. And also, I’ll remember the people of Union Church where we served—there is a cohesion of generosity and fortitude in that community that I haven’t found matched in many other churches.

I return to the States humbled and a bit “in limbo” to be honest with you. I’m not sure what’s ahead. My wife, for reasons that surpass reason, continues to follow me wherever I go. She’s a miracle walking—always in love with wherever we move, finding instant community wherever she goes. To say I don’t deserve her is a profane understatement.

Between Two Straight Creeks

As mentioned, in this next phase of my nomadic wanderings, we’re currently staked in Virginia—to be more specific, Highland County in the town of Monterey. Founded before the Civil War, the town of under 200 (once known as Bell’s Place) was first described as “a patch of woods and laurel thickets on the saddle between two straight creeks.” It has since grown, but thankfully, not by much.

I hesitate to describe it in detail yet as we’ve just arrived. It feels like I must earn the right to write authentically about it by living here a while. I will say though that photos and video don’t compare to seeing it in person, even in this leafless winter season. Called Virginia’s Little Switzerland, the area does have that feel with valleyed hamlets and roaming flocks of sheep and cattle.

But the Swiss allusion should only be what gets you here. Once here, you’ll see that it deserves its own demarcation. More than an hour from interstates and dissonant commerce, it has in some ways an out west feel, away from the things of man. And yet as the county seat, the town of Monterey still has a thriving and active community that belies its small and isolated population.

Everyone we’ve met so far has been genuinely welcoming. Although I’ve already been told that we will be seen as Come Heres by the Been Heres—some with generational links spanning back near the birth of our country. But I’ve also been told that many Come Heres have been here for a number of decades and may shortly be equal in number to the Been Heres.

I must imagine that, like us, most Come Heres are here for a reason. Most of us don’t want to change things. We’re here to negotiate and perhaps find a home in what’s been here. We’re here to detach from the virtual and national and attach to what’s local and real. To embrace the slow, the organic, the grounding effect of the difficult and inconvenient. To think and live life firsthand again, or in some ways, for the first time.

I hesitate to wax too poetic about my own specific goals in this pursuit, even though I have many. I’ve done that in past writings and didn’t then live up to everything I set out to do. For now, I’ll just say that I’m still moving forward and haven’t given up satisfying my ache for resonant and authentic living. And so, while I’ll be journaling my progress with folks like you, I do want to be more a student right now than teacher.

Wendell Berry

In that light, I’m beginning to read and get to know the words of the Kentucky naturalist, Wendell Berry. I’ve put off reading Berry for some time, mostly because so many I knew thought he was “it”—and I tend to resist the latest cultural trend or what’s considered cool. But I believe most of the Come Heres of Highland County have come here because they share at least some of Berry’s naturalistic vision for living.

And while I feel a far cry from his earned intimacy with the soil and creation, I do think Berry’s language and heart are genetically linked with mine, and so I’ll be sitting at his feet a while amid these ancient mountains, valleys, and streams.

In his essay, Native Hill, Berry writes:

 “My mind is never empty or idle at the joining of streams. Here is the work of the world going on. The creation is felt, alive and intent on its materials in such places. In the angle of the meeting of two streams stands the steep wooded point of the ridge, like the prow of an upturned boat—finished as it was a thousand years ago, as it will be in a thousand years. Its becoming is only incidental to its being. It will be because it is. It has no aim or end except to be. By being, it is growing and wearing into what it will be.”

I agree with the idea, so present in Berry’s writings, that we can often best uncover the universal and eternal by paying attention to the God-made particular, in this case, by apprenticing ourselves under the frameless supervision of the natural, created world.

Unlike Berry’s stream-formed ridge, I too often micromanage what I’m becoming, morally, spiritually (that was a recurring struggle for me in Honduras). But if my supernatural being is in any way consistent with God’s natural world, I should understand that what I’m becoming is only incidental to what God has made me to be.

As God in his great wisdom has created me to be something—physically, emotionally, spiritually—then I should focus more on being than becoming. Or perhaps I shouldn’t focus on this at all. I should just release myself from trying to conquer creation and instead seek to envelope myself within its ancient mountains and valleys and streams. I should join creation as it sleeps and thrives, as it groans and heals and restores.

I shouldn’t shut off my brain and remain passive, certainly. But my first activity should be accepting and joining in God’s natural and supernatural rhythms, being a part rather than standing apart. Despite my human ability to question and wonder, I am still a creature of my Creator. And this God who created me is ultimately responsible for making me what I should be.

And so, this January 1st, I shall embrace my Come Here status. We have come here to Highland County Virginia, and who knows what 2020 holds in store?

My self-confidence at this moment isn’t terribly high. But I can rest in the fact that these high Virginia mountains cannot compare to heights of wisdom within the plans of my Creator.

If I’ve simply come here to be…then what’s to come is in his hands, not mine.

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About John Michalak

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An author and speaker, John Michalak has spent more than 25 years encouraging others in the areas of life-change and personal relationship. John’s inspirational book, 365 Devotions To Embrace What Matters Most is available from Zondervan publishing.

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