Five years ago this May, I packed up my Toyota Camry with the black tinted windows and moved down to Georgia from Connecticut. I did not have a real reason to leave my hometown, but I also didn’t have a reason not to leave. I was self-employed and making enough to cover rent, student loan payments, car insurance and a cell phone bill. I was young (and that’s the time when people tell you to get all the stupid choices out of your system). I knew about 2.5 people in Atlanta and I really liked the prospect of meeting more. I was living in my childhood bedroom after moving home from New York City and it was time to take another step.
I’d virtually toured a bunch of apartments in Connecticut towns with my boyfriend at the time. It was my best effort to tell myself I would stay, I would fall in love, and I would finally plant those roots everyone talks about. But there was a part of me that felt as if I were suffocating anytime I looked at apartments. Like I knew I was supposed to leave this place. I remember standing in the middle of one, the creaky hardwood floor beneath me, and saying under my breath, “This isn’t it. I’m not supposed to stay here.”
When it is time for you to move, you might not know it. That nagging to go somewhere else — that might be it. That feeling that won’t leave you alone, no matter how much you try to get rid of it? That might be it. But it is likely God won’t spell out the city’s name in the sky or set something on fire to get your attention. I don’t think God views our geographic location (where we may or may not end up) as a deal-breaker. Wherever there are people, you can fulfill what He has always wanted of you and it will refine you just the same.
Own your choice.
I’m saying this first because it’s where I messed up the biggest in my own move. I expected the honeymoon period to last forever and, when it didn’t, I took these new unsettled feelings as sign from God that I was in the wrong place, that I made the wrong choice. I threw myself a massive pity party and began inviting everyone to it.
Discomfort is a part of every transition. It’s perfectly normal.
Maybe don’t cross your arms and whine to other people about how much you don’t want to be in said place. It won’t make you the best of friends, I promise you that. I’m sure to some people I became the girl standing in the corner with the sulk on her face who was seriously bringing the mood down at every party by talking about how much she didn’t like where she currently was.
I’d go back to that girl and I would say to her, “Girl, you made the choice to be here. You’re a grownup. Either own the choice or leave but don’t bring the mood down with your wallowing.”
You’re a grownup. You make your own choices. If you don’t think it is time to leave yet then decide to own the choice you made. Lean into it, despite the discomfort, and see what happens.
Occupy the space.
This is the next step, after the wallowing is over and the pity party has dwindled. Own the space. You’ve owned the choice now own the space.
Set up shop. Do the things that feel really uncomfortable. Pick a coffee shop and go there on a mission to find your new favorite drink. Download an app that allows you to see where free events are happening around the town.
There will be a strong desire to retreat, to flee toward the couch and an endless Netflix binge. But here’s the thing: You’re here now. Yes, it doesn’t feel so familiar but you’ve made it. You’re in the clear. And wherever you go, there is magic waiting for you. There are people to meet. There are chance encounters to have. You need only step into the awkward and say “yes” to what’s about to come your way.
STAY WHEN IT GETS HARD. STAY WHEN YOU DON’T SEE THE HOPE ANYMORE. STAY WHEN YOU DON’T KNOW THE OUTCOME. STAY WHEN YOU’VE LOST YOUR WAY.
When I moved into my second house in Atlanta, my roommate gave me a big cabinet to fill up. She said to me, “Whatever is mine is yours so feel free to use it.” I took that invitation too literally and I proceeded to use all her dishes, all her appliances and all her silverware.
There was nothing wrong with this but there was also no skin in the game for me. Had she moved out, I would have had nothing to my name but a bed and a desk. I could never host people. I couldn’t offer people anything but a towel and a sleeping bag.
Dishes, to me, are a sign of permanence. They’re a way to say — I am choosing to own the small things that matter. You don’t have to get a whole dish set. You don’t even have to get enough dishes for a dinner party. But go to IKEA or Target and buy yourself a dish. Just one dish (2 if you’re feeling ambitious). This is the start. This is the beginning to owning your space.
Stay. Maybe not forever. But at least until it stops being hard.
Because it will get hard. Oh, it will get so hard. If I am being honest, I’ve YET to meet the person who moves somewhere new and doesn’t go through an awkward, sad, disjointed time of being stuck in limbo. If you’re that person who glided through transition like Nancy Kerrigan, then shoot me an email and teach me your ways.
In my own experience, there was a really thick and beautiful honeymoon season that I thought was everyday life. I patted myself on the back and was so proud that moving wasn’t really that hard. I think God is gracious to give some us that time, that softer landing, as we are adjusting.
If you’re new to the game, then let me be the big sister who sits you down and puts her hand on your leg just to tell you: Life is hard. It’s cruel and it’s brutal and it’s beautiful— all at one time. And if you can pop the illusion that it was all supposed to be butterflies and rainbows, then you’ll be fine. If you can accept that life’s hardships are what turn us into resilient little fighters, then you’ll be more than fine.
If you feel like running back to what is familiar then maybe that’s a sign to dig your heels in a bit and stay a little longer.
You don’t need to go as far as tattooing the word “STAY” on your body. If you did then you wouldn’t be any crazier than me. Before I boarded a flight back to familiarity, I stopped into a tattoo shop with my best friend. She held my hand as I laid across the table and got the word “STAY” pushed into my ribs. This was irony, as I was leaving directly after this appointment. But to me it was a reminder to stay in the fight:
Stay when it gets hard. Stay when you don’t see the hope anymore. Stay when you don’t know the outcome. Stay when you’ve lost your way. Just stay in the fight for your life because it’s the most important battle — the fight to stay here and figure out how to be hope to the others who are struggling to see the point.
Accept the help.
This one requires humility. It requires you to take off all that bulky armor and accept the fact that you need people. We all need people. God didn’t design you to be alone on some solitary island. God didn’t even waste five seconds before creating a helper for Adam. We’ve been called “helpers” since the beginning of time so why do we fold up our arms and claim we can do it all on our own?
A beautiful part of this life is showing up to help and be helped, with no expectation that you’re owed anything. No need to turn icy or turn people away because you’re too proud. We’re all too proud and it’d be a victory to stand at the door when people knock, with their meal trains and flowers, and let them in.
I think we get too good at standing in the way of letting others love us. Just step back, unfold the arms, and allow yourself to be loved by others. You’ll need help to make it through this transition. You will.
It’s worth saying twice: Accept the help.
Find a church and accept its imperfections.
Church might not be your thing and that’s okay. If it is your thing, then make that one of your first missions: to find a church where Jesus is preached and you feel like you could make a friend or two.
Don’t look for the church that will single you out as the bright shining star. Don’t look for the church with the best-handbrewed coffee. Don’t look for the church with the best graphic design. These things don’t matter nearly as much as the mentioned about:
Is Jesus the focus?
Do you see a potential friend?
If you can answer yes to these things, then good graphics and donuts are simply a bonus.
I’ve grown to believe churches — groups of people who gather in buildings and have a logo and a social media account — are just like people. They’re everything to you until the day they hurt you and then you want to swear all of them off. You felt it the first time someone hurt you badly and you will feel it again when a church hurts you.
This is why I tell myself to accept the imperfections because they will always be there. This doesn’t mean “stay in a toxic environment” or “stay when they burn you badly.” But I think we have to stop running from the church when we hear something we don’t like or we don’t feel like the people are welcoming enough. Maybe you’re meant to be some sort of catalyst in that place. Maybe God has something he wants to change through you. Maybe you leaving is running out too early, before the really good stuff can unfold.
The church is never going to be perfect because places where humans meet up never are. We can just go ahead and strip that adjective away from the description. But just because something isn’t perfect doesn’t mean it can’t be life-altering, special, necessary and pivotal when it comes to the road you’re walking with Jesus.
Invite others in.
This goes back to the help part of the post. I’ve learned one of the best things I can do with the doors I’ve been given is open them wide for others.
To open the doors for others does not come with a prerequisite that I be perfect, always put together and never without makeup on. If that were the case then I would never open the door. It’s the reality that what I have to give others is enough. Even if I don’t have furniture or a hot meal, I can offer people the gift of myself. An ear that listens and a cup of a tea.
We have this neighbor, Bebe, who is often knocking on the door because he is hungry. He is the sweetest man and he asked me, a week before Christmas as we were moving in, if I would cook him a Christmas dinner. I happily said yes.
He followed up several times before Christmas.
On Christmas Eve, I prepared him a roast of sweet potatoes, chicken and green beans with honey mustard drizzled on top. He wiped that serving dish clean.
But that was a special occasion. I’m smart enough to know I cannot cook a killer roast every day of the week (or even once a week, if I am being real with you). That doesn’t mean I have to stop serving altogether just because the moment isn’t picture-worthy.
Now I make Bebe a lot of sandwiches. Because that’s often what we have for lunch— a lot of plain, ordinary sandwiches.
But you know what? It’s not about the type of food. It’s about the gesture. People want your ordinary. They want your plain. You don’t have to filter or edit parts of yourself in order to invite others into your world. Just open the door, even just a crack, and see what God can do with the light you let in.
Don’t think for a moment He isn’t with you.
This is a big one for me. Ever since I decided I believed in Jesus and relinquished control of “my plan,” I struggled with the fear that God wasn’t for me.
I thought if I went in the wrong direction, then God would abandon me. I thought if I said the wrong stuff, then God would give up on me. Sometimes, I still grapple with this contorted view of God and I have to remind myself God is a lot of things but He isn’t the game maker in the Hunger Games.
I had to learn that God bears no resemblance to imperfect people. He made them and he fashioned them in his likeness but he isn’t shifty or shady. He doesn’t have ulterior motives. He isn’t looking at me and waiting for the bottom to drop out.
He likely sees me and his big, ol’ heart breaks to know I’ve been wearing lies like layers of clothing ever since we’ve met. He knows I don’t need all the layers but He knows I am afraid to find out what I would be like if I didn’t protect myself with lies that keep me circling empty territories I’ve memorized by heart.
To take off the layers takes time. You must go one by one with them. But, in the meantime, He’s with you. He’s never not with you. He’s with you and He’s not covering His face in His hands to block the shame. He’s not dependent on where you go on a map. If you leave today with a suitcase in hand then He’s with you. If you unpack tomorrow and never look back, He’s with you. If you go somewhere new and you try to make it home but it just doesn’t work out, He’s with you.
The geography isn’t worthy of all your trust but he is. The house isn’t worthy of all your trust but he is. The future isn’t worthy of all your trust but He is.