"God began by making one person, and from him came all the different people who live everywhere in the world. God decided exactly when and where they must live. God wanted them to look for him and perhaps search all around for him and find him, though he is not far from any of us: ‘By his power we live and move and exist.’ Some of your own poets have said: ‘For we are his children.’" --Acts 17:26-28
It's spring in the Northern Hemisphere now! And though parts of the US are still trying to kick winter out of the door, spring breaks and Easter automatically symbolizes a time of renewal and new beginnings regardless of the temperature. If you're like me, I'm often looking for a boost, something to shift in my life when spring shows up. It could be as simple as watching the sunrise from my back porch.
It's also a time of big transition for many. Graduating seniors are preparing for their transition to college or a promising career in a new place. Families are 'spring cleaning' in efforts to sell their house and make a move in the summer. Engaged couples are frantically coordinating many moving pieces to merge two lives into one. For some, these transitions require moving across town. But for others, the change in season lends to moving to a whole new city, state or even country.
Regardless of whether you're approaching your first move or you've lost count, preparing emotionally and spiritually is key to having a successful transition when relocating yourself or your entire family. I'd like to share four insights that were helpful to me in my move from Northern Virginia to Austin, Texas in 2014.
1 - Visit the city and spend time with the locals beforehand
It takes a great deal of faith to pick up and move to a new place not having ever visited. For those on the mission field or in certain careers, like the military, the privilege of checking a place out first is usually not possible. I had the privilege of visiting Austin several times before pursuing a relocation since I traveled to Texas annually for work. While on a two-week business trip in Houston, I was able to visit Austin for the first time in 2013. I rented a car and took the 2.5 hour drive west for the weekend. I had heard great things about Austin, the people and the opportunities, but didn't know if I could see myself settling down in the city.
I didn't know anyone in Austin, or so I thought (it's a small world in our fellowship of churches). I reached out to friends in Dallas, who connected me with families they "knew of" in Austin. I got a response immediately from a family who opened their home and hearts to me. They handed over keys to the house and helped me navigate through the city. The sister made time to engage with me, not just provide a bed. She invited me to join her for yoga class and it was so cool to be a part of her life for the weekend. A single sister also invited me over for dinner. She shared about her life there and gave me advice on places to consider living. I am eternally grateful for these sisters for displaying the heart of Christ in Austin. Connecting with the church family gave me confidence in my decision to move into the Austin community.
2 - Have grace on yourself as you wean off of your former church and ministry
Maintaining connections with disciples who were a part of your life in your formal city can make the difference of spiritual life and death the first year in your new digs. It's easy to think that you're "out of sight, out of mind" when moving from a place. Moving into something new can be frightening. New relationships take time and energy. It can get lonely as you figure out your place in all that is new.
Expressing to my friends that I needed them was key. Prayer times with sisters and regular calls with my former co-leader were life savers. Texting and connecting with people that I had invested in in my old city helped me feel purposeful while navigating my new place. Praying for ministry events there and singing familiar worship songs from my 'homechurch' during quiet times gave me comfort. Sometimes it's just the little things that provide encouragement for your soul during the transition. And if you have the means, schedule periodic visits back during your first year and ask others to come visit you in your new hometown.
3 - Serve early in your new ministry...and work through disappointments quickly
Every ministry, church and city is different. Often times we fall prey to setting expectations based on what we've experienced in the past; good, bad or indifferent. For this reason, it's important to serve early. Don't wait until you are approached, but find a need and give. No matter how big or small a church is, there are always opportunities to serve.
Children's ministry was a way I chose to serve early. By serving early, I was able to connect with disciples in different seasons of their life. I also found a way to contribute to my small group. It had been newly formed shortly before I moved in so being together was new for everyone. It was encouraging to use my organizational and administrative gifts to create a birthday list and coordinate food for our gatherings.
I did encounter disappointment in my efforts to build friendships with others who did not reciprocate. And I confess that it took me longer than I'd like to admit to recover from those hurts. But now, approaching year four in Austin, I have healed and decided to give even more of my true self. I now seek to honor my commitment to be a loving friend and devoted sister regardless of the response or outcome.
If we don't recover quickly, these types of hurts and disappointments can damage our faith, tempt us to pull back and even take us out. And it can be easy to hide in a new environment where not many people know you. It's wise to be honest with yourself about any unrealistic expectations you may have of others based on prior experience. And then, honestly share with the people in your new circle how much you desperately want and need them in your life. Remember they are getting to know you and your needs as well, so be gracious and let them in. You might be surprised of the deep connections you are able to create. The type of connections we were created for.
4 - Connect with the community at large and decide to love it!
Find your place, define your personal ministry, just do it! Do that thing you've always wanted to do, but never made the space for in your former life. This is one of the biggest reasons I'm so grateful for being in Austin! It all started with joining Toastmasters International. I had the desire to be active in a local club for a while, so I made it a priority after I moved to Austin. And I'm so glad I joined!
In Toastmasters, participants share about their lives and their interests through public speaking. Attending meetings regularly provided a great opportunity to connect with other members, become a part of their lives, and learn more about the Austin area. After a short time of attending, I felt like the members were family. Some came to church with me, others invited me into their home.
And the icing on the cake are moments when I bump into someone I met through Toastmasters while I'm out and about! These moments are confirmation that Austin is 'home' now. Being in Toastmasters prompted me to walk out on faith and lead a Meetup group based on my passion for scrapbooking. Be intentional about defining your personal mission field where you live and be prepared to be WOWED by God (I Corinthians 3:7-9).
When prayerfully considered and wisely executed, relocating can provide a huge opportunity for spiritual and personal growth. It's totally natural to experience a range of emotions from hope and excitement to grief and fear of the unknown. Know that you're not alone in navigating life through the transition. More than likely many in your congregation came from somewhere else and would love to share about their own journey and lessons learned.
Ultimately we know as disciples this world is not our home (Hebrews 13:14). However as we discover the many facets of God that exist beyond our current reality, we draw comfort from Paul's words in Acts 17:26-28 no matter where we plant ourselves.
In the process of relocating? What's something you can implement now to transition well? Experienced a relocation in the past? What's a piece of advice you could pass on to someone else? Share in the comments section below.