Just yesterday, I blogged about how I was sensing the Lord's movement in my life, how things seemed to be picking up for me, and how I was feeling as if the Lord was going to bring some change into my life very soon. Today, I am still feeling this way, but I guess you could say that I am more settled now, more ready to begin this process. It is a process, after all, a process that has a beginning, middle and an end. The process isn't a quick one whereby you just "pick up" and go. No, this process, at the least for me, is a long, long, long one. I have been in the "moving process" now for six years. I have been in the "preparing to move" process for nearly ten. It seems that my mind has been focused on relocating for so long that I simply live in this "transition." I am not content to remain where I am because I am always thinking that the time might be right for me to "go." It is weird, really weird, but this is just the way it has been for me.
I've tried to figure it out. I've tried to get a handle on why the Lord would be pressing on me this need to move IF He didn't really plan for me to move. I mean, why put inside me this deep desire to move when really He just wanted me to set down roots where I am right now. I have been here in Phoenix for nearly 20 years (come November), and while I have come to terms with my life here, the truth is that I have never been happy here at all. I've never been content to live in Phoenix. I really didn't want to come here in the first place, but I saw Phoenix as the way to flee from all our problems. And, for a time, it happened. All the stress of San Jose melted into the hot summers of Phoenix. But then new stress developed, major new stress, far more intensive stress than what was experienced in San Jose. I knew I had made a mistake shortly after moving here. I knew that I had gone against the Lord's will for our life by leaving San Jose. I was sick -- almost to the point of death (twice) -- and I was so depressed that I had to go back home to get medical care. Yes, I was emotionally on the brink of suicide, even though I wasn't going to say that it was so. The only thing that kept me from committing suicide was my precious son, whom I loved dearly, and whom I believed was given to me as a gift. I was to shepherd him, care for him, and bring him up in the fear and admonition of the Lord. I knew that this was the charge the Lord had given to me, communicated to me, and I couldn't let anyone else take that responsibility from me. I stood my ground, recovered my well-being, and I returned back to Phoenix to live out a life that was never going to be blessed, never going to be happy, never going to be successful.
Of course, since that time, things have changed. I have become settled here. I have accepted the fact that this is the place of my choosing. I chose to come here. I chose to convince my ex-husband that this is the place we should live. In the end, I am the one that brought us here. I have learned to be content with this decision, and I have learned to put up with the heat and the hardship. But, inside my heart, deep within my heart, I always knew that this wasn't going to be my home forever. It was temporary, just for a time (a long time).
Now, I am a different person. I am a grown woman with a grown son (praise be to God), and I have a blessed new life. My home is shared with my parents, and while that is a trial at times, it is a good provision from the Lord. I have been blessed as my days transitioned from the old life to this new one. So much has changed for me. I have become this bold, dynamic, and positive person. I have thrown off the shackles that bound me, and I have stepped into a faith-walk that has required great sacrifice. I am growing, learning, and abiding in the Lord, and I am making plans for my future. I am still to remain where I am for a time, but the Lord has permitted me to consider life elsewhere. I have looked at cities and towns across the USA, from north to south and east to west. I have considered small towns and major metropolitan cities. I have considered what life might be like in these places, even pursued logistical planning to move on many occasions. Yet, still I remain right where I am -- no movement -- no change in my location.
I have wondered why this is so, why the Lord lets me plan a move, but then doesn't actually move me. For a long time, I just assumed it was my unwillingness to go. I mean, I have to be willing to go, and even with all the detailed plans, when it came down to it, I haven't been willing to let go of what I know as "home." Now, though, I wonder if this isn't really the case. I am sure my unwillingness to go is a part of the problem, but now I think that it is more a matter of His unwillingness to let me go. You see, I have said time and time again that I would go, that I was willing to go, agreeable to going. Yet, the Lord didn't move me. He didn't move me. There have been so many times when I could have been transferred, say with my job at UOPX or CVS, and the Lord didn't permit it. Furthermore, when I was living on my own, He could have opened doors at other jobs like United Healthcare, and permitted me to take a position in another state. I applied, I was applying like crazy, but the jobs didn't materialize, and the work never opened up opportunities for me to move.
Now, I am in this place. I am about to graduate with my PhD, and I am ready to take on a full-time teaching position. I can move, I mean, now is a good time to move. But, still, He doesn't move me. He doesn't send me anywhere. He says for me to be still, to wait, to remain for a time. So I remain. I stay. I sit still.
I am thinking today that all of this moving, this sense of moving has been for one purpose. It has been to show me that my desire to move is more about "change" than really about moving to do His work. I have always liked to change things around, to rearrange furniture, to paint walls, etc. I like the temporary feeling of 'newness,' of 'freshness,' that comes from small changes. In this way, I think of moving as changing my lifestyle, changing the way I do my daily life. It is true, of course, that change brings a sense of newness, especially when life has gotten really stale. Now, though, I do wonder if the deep desire to move was predicated on my poor decision to come to Phoenix, and my willingness to run away from the life I have had here.
It is interesting to reflect on my motivation in this way. You see, for a long time after I had separated from my husband, I couldn't imagine moving so far away from him. I know -- weird, right? I know a number of women who have been divorced and the first thing they do is move far away from their ex-husband. For me, even though I was glad to be free from that marriage, I still had deep emotional attachment to my ex-husband. I still cared for him, about him, and couldn't imagine living far from him. In time, those feelings subsided. I still see him occasionally, but we have little to do with one another. We don't talk on the phone; we text. We don't spend time together outside of the casual "hello" at a function featuring our son. It is as if this part of my life is dead now, and I have no feelings or need to remain connected to him. I am sure it is natural, the death of a loved one, even the death of a marriage, takes time to settle. The feelings don't subside overnight, and as everyone grieves differently, for different periods of time, only the Lord knows when the "time" is right for moving on.
Secondly, I struggle to leave my parents behind. I struggle now that my Mom needs more care, and my Dad is in failing health. My head says, "Just wait this out. Just wait until it is over," even if that means staying here for another five or ten years. I don't want to do this -- I don't want to put my life on hold until they pass away. I have thought about this a lot lately, especially after my brothers' came to visit this past weekend. They are very content to allow me to sacrifice my life, to give up my freedom to remain as caregivers for my parents. Yet, I am not content to do this nor do I think this is the Lord's will for my life.
Last, I have waited here until my son graduated. First, it was until he finished high school. Now, it is until he finishes college. I didn't want to uproot him in the middle of his schooling, so I waited. I waited until I could get all my little ducks in a row. I needed the money to move. I needed a job to move. I needed a place to live. It seemed like there was always a reason why I couldn't go. I didn't have the resources (I still don't). I didn't know where to go. It was always something, always something.
Dissatisfaction and Moving
As I think about moving, I hear myself saying, "If you are so dissatisfied with life in Phoenix, then why don't you go somewhere else?" Yes, I should take my own advice. I have complained, griped, and stated boldly that I wanted to move, and yet I do not move. I have tried, planned, imagined, envisioned the whole process, from start to finish, and still I do not go. Why? Why is this so? I guess partly it is because I don't want to repeat the past, especially the mistakes I made in the past. Let me explain...
My cousin recently lost her husband after many years of marriage. They had relocated to Phoenix a few years back and were happily living here. They had bought a lovely home with a pool, had a fishing boat, and for the most part, were enjoying their semi-retirement. Then her husband got sick, cancer, and he died. She couldn't bear to live in the house anymore so she sold it. She left her family (my family) and another cousin with whom she was very close to move to the other side of the country. She has been there now two years, and she says she is happy most days. I can tell that she is not really happy. She has a lovely home near the ocean, and she seems in good shape. But, she is not happy, not really happy at all. I felt that she was moving to leave the hurt memories of her life here in Phoenix behind. It was her way of dealing with the loss of her husband. She packed up and she changed scenery. I think she really did want to go, really wanted to try this new place out, but in hindsight, I think she realized what she gave up to move. Despite the pain, the suffering, and the sorrow here, she gave up family and friendships simply to find solace in a new place.
I don't want to do this same thing. I don't want to leave Phoenix and go some place else simply to avoid the pain I experience here. I don't want to try a new place, hoping it will solve all my problems, when the place is really not the problem at all. It is the mindset. It is the way we think and feel when we are in the midst of trial, turmoil, or temptation. Yes, I think there are times when we place a lot of faith in a move, when we think the move will change our circumstances and improve our life. The problem is that while this might be true to some extent, it might also not be true at all. Moving to move is never a good idea. I guess -- unless you were young and had no life to begin with -- then moving may be fun, exciting and an adventure. But when you are my age, in your early 50s, moving comes with a great cost. There are many things to consider when starting over, and the place, while important, is really the least of the concern.
I have looked at more than 500 homes over the course of the past ten years. I have imagined purchasing them, living in them, decorating them. In all of these homes, from inexpensive to very expensive, I have never once felt like I was "home." I never once thought, "this is it!" No, I saw lots of potential, lots of nice neighborhoods and country life, but never once did I feel like I had found the place where I would be content, happy, and settled.
Am I placing more emphasis on the place, the city or town, then on the work the Lord has called me to do?
That is a tough question, but one that I think is worthy of pondering. You see, I do think that I have placed a lot of emphasis on the place. I have put "place" at the top of my list, my needs list, for the past ten years. I pray, "Lord, where will I go?" I ask Him to clarify, to show me, to lead me to this place so I can go there and do His work. Yet, I already know what He has said to me. I can do my work, I mean His work, anywhere. I need to be within driving distance to an airport, but I also can live anywhere because the work I do doesn't require a specific place. I will work on my own, do my own work, so there is no "organization" with whom to be employed. Furthermore, outside of teaching, whether on campus or online, my only "need" is a job at a college or university. I can teach anywhere, so long as I can get hired (LOL!)
Moreover, the place is not critical to anything I do. So in essence, I am free to move about the country as the Lord opens doors for me. I don't have to go to Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, or Atlanta to do practical or ministry work. I can do it right where I live -- so here in Phoenix or there in the deep south. I don't need anything special to do this work. I have everything I need. I have my computer, my books, the Internet, etc. I have what I need, short of a house and an office, but other than that, I am good to go. I can pack my things and move tomorrow. I can set down, sign up for Internet, plug my things in and presto! I am back in business.
Furthermore, as far as my son goes, he is in a similar way. Of course, he prefers to have super fiber optic high speed Internet for his stuff, but generally, he needs a room to sleep in and work in. He can work from home as a musician, studio recording engineer or he can get a job doing some other practical work. He is pretty flexible. He doesn't require much to be moved either. This makes both of us very adaptable. Yes, we do have some preferences, but as far as needs go, we are easy movers.
Preferences -- That's the Rub!
I have always said to the Lord that I am particular. Well, in truth, He says this to me. I am particular, which just means "exceptionally selective, attentive, or exacting" or "fastidious or fussy" (Dictionary.com). I know what I like, and I want what I like. Well -- I would prefer to have what I like -- let's just put it that way. The Lord knows that I am intensely focused, very detailed oriented, and as such, I tend to want things to be a certain way. I am a bit OCD, which doesn't really help me much, and can get in the way when it comes to making decisions. Also, I tend to vacillate for a time. I analyze everything to the "nth" degree so my mind becomes pre-occupied by details. This tendency can get me stuck in a rut for a time, and until something shakes loose, I will continue to fixate on the details. Usually, it is a crisis of sorts that pulls my head up, and then I see how deeply I have been digging for answers in the wrong places. Then, after some fresh air, the answers come to me, and I realize that I almost missed the clues simply because I was so determined to figure things out my own way.
How do I stop this madness? How do I find my contentment in what I have and not in what I may have down the road?
I think the key here is to recognize the pattern of behavior. I need to realize three things:
- Moving is not about the place, it is about the mindset, the mental ascent that agrees to consider things from another perspective.
- Moving is not about the place, but about the people who live IN the place.
- Moving is not about adventure, though adventure can be part of the package. Rather it is about purposed and productive work -- going, doing, being -- is purposed and it is planned.
This means that moving is never about changing the scenery, leaving problems behind or looking for a place to solve a current issue or concern. No, moving is always part of the process of growing. It is part of the process, that is all. It is not the end-all or the be-all. It is simply part of the process of life.
Now that I have thought about it more, I realize that I have looked to the place in some ways like that of a desired outcome. I looked to the place and thought, "my life will be better there." Now, this is not to say that moving to a new place will improve your circumstances, because there are times when it can do that. For example, if you take a promotion at work, moving to a new office could net you more income, more responsibilities, better career options, etc. Moving, thus, could be a step up to a higher quality of life. But, there are no guarantees. Happiness doesn't reside in places or things, rather it resides in the Lord and in His work. The key to happiness is to be settled and content in your relationship with the Lord. The natural outflow of that relationship will be to generate happiness or contentment (satisfaction, fulfillment, etc.) in every area of your life. This means that what matters most to the Lord is for us to be content in our relationship with Him first and foremost. Second, the Lord desires that we find part of our sense of happiness in the relationships with share other people. Our families, our friends, our church, our peers and coworkers all contribute to our overall sense of happiness, of well-being, of contentment. Things can provide satisfaction too. Jobs, for example, can provide challenges too, in a good way, so we can derive satisfaction from them. Working and serving people in ministry can also bring us great joy, a sense of accomplishment, and a feeling of valuation and worth. But, happiness itself is not to be sought in anything save the Lord.
Thus, I realize that all my efforts to move, to relocate, were partly fueled by my desire for change. I have wanted to experience "newness," a fresh change of pace, and moving was the thing I felt would do that for me. Now, though, I see that while moving in and of itself is part of God's plan for my life, it is just part of that plan. It is not THE PLAN. No, the plan involves His work, and therefore, I have confused moving to a new place as being integral to the plan itself.
My head gets it. I understand what I have done, and why I was doing it. Now, I need to retreat some to reflect on this truth. I need to realize that God hasn't moved me yet because I wasn't ready to go. I might have been willing, and even, agreeable; but I had the wrong mindset. I was placing too much emphasis on moving, and not enough emphasis on what the Lord was asking me to do once I got there. I wasn't thinking KINGDOMLY, rather I was thinking very WORLDLY.
Setting Everything Straight
Now that I have my mind back in check, I realize several truths that need to be considered further.
- God has provided a great career track for me. As a teacher, I have the opportunity to do work anywhere in the country, even from home, and I can do this work until I am ready to retire.
- God has opened doors for me here in Phoenix, though temporary and part-time, but nonetheless He has blessed me in my career start.
- God has provided opportunities for me to grow as a scholar, a researcher, and even now a published author -- all as part -- of His way of making me ready to become a Professor.
- God has made it possible for me to remain here, temporarily, while I complete my degree. He has given me comfort, shelter, and a way of life that is conducive to being productive.
- God has made new friendships for me, mostly at a distance, so that I would see that my life is not tied to a single place. My life is filled with many good people who live all over the USA.
- God has ordained a special friendship for me, a loving companion-like friendship that has provided for deep emotional support and love.
- God has given me the blessed option of caring for my aging parents, and He has provided a way for me to do that now.
- God has made a way for me, for ministry and for work, and this way is beginning to take shape, to come to full and to fruition.
- God has given me every gift I need to be able to do His work. I am well-approved, ready, and prepared (equipped and trained) to begin His work.
As I think about all that the Lord has done for me, I realize that where I am today is part of this process. You see, whether or not Phoenix was the "best" move for me to have made back in 1996 is really immaterial at this point in time. It is "what it is" so to speak. It may not have been the best decision, but it was a decision made, and a decision lived. My life has produced good results regardless of where I have lived. I mean, God used my life here in Phoenix to bless others. I may have endured great suffering, difficult and trying relationships, and even the failure of a marriage here in Phoenix -- but PHOENIX -- wasn't to blame. The place was just that -- a place -- where I happened to be living at the time. The place is nothing. It is a dot on the map of life.
I see now how I have made the place into something more mysterious and magical than it really needs to be. I am often the one who will say to others contemplating moving that there are many "good places" to live in the US -- if you are willing to consider them as such. Sometimes we think the only quality of life is in this place or that place. And while that may be true if you are seeking worldly things (hype, money, fame, etc.); for the Christ-follower, however, the place is just a spot where the Lord allows you to rest, to catch your breath, to learn something new. It is just part of the journey we take, following after Him.
In this way, I see that my journey is to follow Him from where I am today to where He wants me to be tomorrow. Spiritually, I am to follow Him all the way to Heaven. I am to follow Him until the end of my days, and that may mean that I stay put in one city for 20-30 years. Or it may mean that I pack up and go every couple years. It really will depend on His desire for ministry, for work, for meeting the spiritual needs of the people in the places He chooses for me to go.
I guess in all, I have come to understand that wherever He leads me, I will go. I will live, do, work, play, and be content -- but not in the place -- but in the fact that I am doing what He asks me to do. I will work unto the Lord will a full heart and a willingness to go and to do His bidding. He is my Lord. I go and I do as He commands me to go and do. Selah!