Move much? I did, when I was a kid – every few years through elementary school. My dad worked for an international company, and by the time I was ten I had moved four times. I loved it and looking back on it, I’m glad we lived in a variety of places. It gave me an ability to adapt to new situations, a love of traveling, contacts all over the world, and a sense that the world is small enough to explore. At ten I moved to a Boston suburb where my parents still live, so in my adolescence and teenage-hood I gained a sense – and the benefits – of a life with roots and community.
I’ve lived most of my adult life in New England as well, pretty close to my parents and in-laws. But within the last six years, my husband and I have made two significant moves: the first to California and the second to Virginia. I was pro-move both times, and I like the adventure and life experience of adapting to a new place and community. And I’m glad for the places we get to live – great spots with a lot to offer. But man, moving is hard work and, at different times and ways along the process, it can really do a number on you.
Before we moved to California, a colleague of mine with ample moving experience gave me some input. “It takes 18 months to fully settle into a new location, and the phases generally go like this. Phase I (first 6 months): disconnect; disconnecting from the former location. Phase II (second 6 months): no connect; you’re no longer connected to the old place but not yet very connected to the new place either. Phase III (third 6 months): re-connect; establishing yourself fully into the new community.”
Helpful, yes. Depressing? Heck yeah… because a whole year and a half is a long time. But true? More or less, I’d say yes.
This week – twelve months in, opening the door on Phase 3 now – I found myself going back to read words I wrote in the wake of our first move, reminding myself of the Bible’s many relocation accounts, and of things God spoke to me about me the first time:
“‘When you’re new to a country and don’t speak the language well,’ my father told me, ‘you lose your personality. Your humor, intellect, interests – you can’t communicate any of them.’ I experienced this firsthand during a college summer spent in Germany and found it one of the most frustrating parts of being a foreigner.
Having just moved my own family across the country, however, I’m seeing that the loss-of-self experience doesn’t only apply to foreign moves and language barriers. It’s part of the process of being transplanted. I’m used to the people in my day-to-day life knowing me – my personality, views, character. But suddenly they’re all are invisible to those around me. Of course they emerge as I form new relationships, but it’s a plodding process that requires time. And the months of establishing community and a life can be lonely and draining.”
In an insta-world, we come to expect insta-everything — even insta-community. But that’s not how it works. Friendships are built as people accumulate experiences together, and this only happens in the spending of time together. There’s no compressing time, and no way around it: process can’t be rushed.
Moving gets me thinking about Mary, too, in the early years of her motherhood. These are words I wrote 18 months after our first move at Christmas-time:
“Christmas in its true sense is all about distance and alienation. Think of Mary, far from her Nazareth home, probably longing for her mom or sister as the labor pains set in. Awash in Bethlehem’s unrecognized faces and removed from the comfort of the familiar. And embarking, no less, on a woman’s most unfamiliar event: birthing her first child.
It’s uncomfortable, sad even, to be far removed from loved ones at special times like Christmas. But that space is a God-filled space. Why does God delight to give us what we do not wish for and wouldn’t choose? Because it’s Better. It’s only in those spaces that He can bring us the true gifts, those we don’t know we need and don’t want. Mary may well have wished, as she lay in the stable’s hay desperate for her Son to be born, that she was at her parents’ back in Nazareth. But what God chose to bring her that night, far from home, was Whom and what she needed. And not just she but the whole world. Sanctification, after all, literally means “set apart,” and being set apart often involves distance.”
And here’s the thing: it wasn’t just the Bethlehem move Mary dealt with in her early mothering years. After she’d been there a short time, God called her and her little family away again – this time to Egypt. And then a year or two after that, they made another move to Galilee (back to Israel, but a new city). So three moves in less than five years. She was a relocation expert by the time Jesus was preschool age.
Moving can be especially tough on a mother. She’s adapting not just for herself but for her whole family as well. Mothers are kind of the home-based connecting arm for the whole family– engaging in faith community, looking for couple and family friends, working to plug everyone in and foster friendships all around.
This was what God had for Mary in her early mothering years, as a kind of foundation for all that she would experience in following years. The horizon opened for her on new places in the world – she got fresh eyes on humanity and on community. And she got too experience being the new girl in town, life as an outsider. Wisdom-building experience… and hard. But God was enough. During her moves she must have grown in reliance on Him as her constant and her source of strength. All this would have helped make real the thing that her Son’s death in her later life would amplify: heaven is what it’s about, our true home. Stay focused on eternal realities.
God provided what she needed as the holy family moved and moved again, despite all challenges. And I’m thankful. I need to see and commandeer the truths Mary lived for myself; I need to pray it all back to Him. Because in it all, the Father must have whispered to Mary the same thing He says to me as we round the corner (this time around) on moving’s “phase 3: reconnect”: “My grace is sufficient for you. My power is made perfect in weakness.”
Originally published January, 2013