I’ve sat down to write this post probably ten times in the last year. Each time I get a bit of my heart spilled on the page and then stop in my tracks, wondering if that’s really what I wanted to say. I put it away a few months ago and I’ve just been reflecting and praying about what God has taught me through this transition. What I’ve realized is that these are the same lessons He has taught me over and over through the past several years. Last month we celebrated our ninth wedding anniversary. Nine years. I’ve loved most of the parts of every one of them. But this one felt different than the others. Nine is not a significant number as far as anniversaries go. There is no “9 Years!” slot in the anniversary card section at Hallmark. It’s more of a stepping stone to the milestone anniversaries to come. But I soon realized that this is the first anniversary we’ve celebrated without some big change on the horizon. We’re not moving, no one in our family is starting school or a new job, and no new babies will be joining this family in the next 9 months.
Now we’re just settling in. And there’s something unsettling about that. Being settled doesn’t challenge me to lean in to God like being in the midst of transition does. I’ve come to actually like transition. I think it’s what God has used more than anything else to teach me about His steadfast love and unwavering provision. I’ve learned to trust Him through change.
Transition thrusts you in to clinging to the Lord. It can feel scary when everything around you suddenly feels different. Because big change does that. Even when it’s only one aspect of your life that is technically changing, it ripples through everything else. It forces you to reevaluate what is most important to put your time and energy towards. I think this is why “The only constant is change” is such a familiar saying. But it’s also not very comforting. The good news is it’s not true. We do have something constant to fix our eyes on when it feels everything we try to grasp or control or enjoy is changing. The only constant is God. He does not change. And that’s why clinging to Him in the midst of transition is what has made all of the change over the last nine years seem comforting – even familiar.
Over the past week or so at least three friends have commented that I’ve made this move to New York look easy. Which is really just a testament to God’s faithfulness. I can truly say I have not doubted that this is where He wants us to be. I may have questioned the reasons, but doubt has not crept in. I’ve clung to Him through transition – so my rock and comfort has remained constant, which is perhaps why from the outside it has looked easy. Of course there have been hard parts, but in His grace He’s pointed me towards lessons learned instead of letting me dwell on the uncomfortable newness. Lessons like:
…There’s a difference between having a plan and being prepared.
If Brett and I had a theme for our prayer life, it would be “Prepare us, Lord.” We have prayed this so many times in the past nine years. Medical training comes with uncertainty about where you’ll be for each phase. We feel incredibly blessed to have stayed in Seattle for the full course of Brett’s training. It enabled us to build a community of people we absolutely love and be in a city long enough to make it feel like home. Yet, at each new phase, we still prayed fervently for God to prepare us for what would come next. I used to pray that, then get out some paper and make list after list of color-coded plans or schedules. Sharpies were my best friend in the midst of transition. I wish I had kept all of those lists so I could see how few of them actually went as I thought they would. There were so many times I prayed that prayer but didn’t fully trust that God would answer it, so I had my plans in hand ready to take the lead. But God is faithful and good and promises to equip us for our journey. He prepared us in ways we didn’t know we needed to be prepared because we didn’t know the plan. In this most recent transition, I finally jumped in with very few plans. Of course there were some logistical things we needed to do (like securing a place to live, buying plane tickets to get here, and having a good supply of chocolate on hand) but I was confident that God had prepared us for this and we would be okay. My breaths have been a bit easier and deeper since I’m not wrestling with God about whose plan would be best. He did the preparing, which is so much better than my planning. This morning I was reading again the promise in Jeremiah 29:11 “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” I thought it was interesting that the very next verse (which I have often overlooked) says, “Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you.” (Jer. 29:12) God doesn’t say that he has a plan and that he’ll reveal it to us, just that he’ll hear us when we pray to Him. Trust that he has a plan and will do the preparing.
…Look for the things that make you smile, and if you don’t see them smile anyway.
If I wanted to point out all the things about this city that make me raise my eyebrows, scrunch my nose, or sharply guard my heart, it wouldn’t be difficult. I could make a long list pretty quickly. But I’m pretty sure Norah’s list of things that make her grin from ear to ear and sit up as straight as possible in her stroller craning her neck to see it closer would be twice as long. When I see the man on the subway who isn’t wearing any shoes and frankly smells pretty terrible, I look down to see Norah smiling big and complimenting him on his orange hat. I look back up and he’s smiling back at her just as big. When I have to hold my breath half way through a gulp of air because of some awful smell Norah points out the flowers in the planter boxes and wants to get closer to smell them. It’s actually not that hard to find trees, flowers, and plants here if you focus on those instead of the garbage bags on the street. And when I start to get frustrated about the sea of people we’re trying to get through on our way to the playground, Norah sits as tall as possible and yells, “The horses are here!”, when she sees even the tip of the horses ears through the crowd on the way to Central Park. We’re definitely not looking out our window each day to see the Bridger mountains constantly changing colors (how do they do that?!?!) or the sailboats dotting Lake Union on our way to downtown Seattle, but there are beautiful parts to this concrete jungle too. And when I start to feel like I haven’t noticed anything beautiful in a while, I just make eye contact with as many people as possible on our walk and smile (and if I’m channeling my dad, I say hello and start some small talk). I’m usually the first to smile, but they always smile back. Some even say hello.
…Know that it’s okay to be (mostly) okay.
When people ask how you’re doing in a transition, it always feels like there’s an expectation that you’re not doing well. Like you should focus on how hard it is or what you really, really miss. “I cried every day for a month when we moved here.” I heard this from two different women last year when we had just moved. I met both of them at parks while Norah and their children played side-by-side in typical toddler fashion. Both women smiled big and engaged easily. Both have been living here now for three years and presumably no longer cry every day. And both made me think that maybe I was missing something. Should I be crying more? I am good at it, after all. I’ve been known to cry at a commercial, a kind comment, even the thought of walking down the aisle on my wedding day, and of course at life’s tough stuff too. But I haven’t cried much since being here (other than during the finale of Master Chef -- something about finales brings the waterworks – and maybe after last year’s Super Bowl). It’s made me start to think that I’m just bottling up all of the parts of the move that have been hard and they’ll all come gushing out at any minute. And maybe they will. But I’m rejoicing in the fact that God has made this move so much easier than I would have thought, and that’s okay. There’s nothing wrong with me because I haven’t been crying every day since we moved. I certainly expected to cry more and feel a bit more unsettled, and as per usual God had something else in mind. This isn’t to say that I don’t have a Seattle shaped whole in my heart that is cuddled up next to the Bozeman shaped one that’s been there for twelve years now. It’s just that I’m doing okay. I’m enjoying the newness of it all. There are certainly moments of uncertainty and unease, but they are just that – moments. They don’t envelop the experience, they just pepper it.
…Say yes to as many invitations as you can.**
Meeting new people takes a lot of energy. And many types of transition bring new people in to your life. Moving is draining already when you’re navigating a new city and getting used to a new way of doing almost everything. But I’ve realized that not accepting an invitation isn’t going to make me any more rested or rejuvenated. When people find out we just moved here, they almost always offer some bit of information –either an invitation to join them or a tip to check something out. So, unless we actually have a conflict, I’m committed to always saying yes. Eventually the conflict might be that I just need some alone time, but for now every yes is an opportunity to build community. And because of that commitment I’ve met some great women through a Bible study, I’ve had some good conversations with a few other moms at playgrounds and some are even growing into friendships, Norah has a lots oflittle buddies in our building who she adores and I think their moms are pretty great too, we’ve checked out free classes and had picnics in the park with new friends, and we’ve enjoyed meals with people we’ve met at church, through Brett’s work, or just reconnected with. It can be tempting to say no because of awkwardness, lack of energy, or the person just doesn’t seem like someone I would like to hang out with, but really – what else do I have to do? We now run in to people we know almost every time we leave the apartment and there are few things that make somewhere feel like home more than recognizing people around you.
***I wrote that section just a few months after moving here, and I stand by saying yes often at the beginning of a transition. After you’ve had a baby, say yes to every single offer of help. When you’re starting a new job, take colleagues up on the offer to grab a drink or help you get to know a new system. But after a while of course saying yes to every invitation can get exhausting. I think the point of this is to not shy away from saying yes out of discomfort.
…Be the one to reach out and keep in touch.
There are often lots of “to-do’s” in the midst of transition, and adding one more thing to that list can seem impossible. But I truly think this is one thing that can make change so much easier. Reach out to at least one person a day that you want to keep in touch with. You may end up just leaving a message or not receiving a text back for a few days, but keeping those relationships from your life prior to a big change can ease the shock of newness. Even just a familiar voice on a voice mail can be rejuvenating. Most likely, those people are not going through some big change too. (Or maybe they are, in which case connecting will be good for both of you!) When God places you in transition, He doesn’t hit pause on the lives of everyone around you so they can support you through it. They’re not sitting around constantly thinking about how you’re doing. They have their own stuff, too. So reach out! I think people often don’t want to bother someone in the midst of transition because they don’t want to interrupt, which I guess is thoughtful. But when everything around you feels new and different it’s nice to be able to talk to a friend who can remind you that there’s a lot that can remain the same, too.
…Don’t compare. Remember that things aren’t ever going to be perfect.
This one is the hardest for me. It’s so easy to compare what life was like before a transition to what life is like in it and feel like you’re messing up all over the place. Whether you’re a new parent, you just moved, you’re in a new job, or starting school, it feels like everyone around you has it figured out. And like you had it figured out not too long ago. But neither of those things are true. It takes a long time to get to a place where a new way of life seems like something you’ve always done. We were in Seattle for 7 years, so of course it felt like it had always been easy there. But we didn’t even know our closest friends there until several years after we had moved, and our house still had a mismatch of hand-me-down furniture until a couple years before we moved out. God has this funny way of letting you enjoy being “settled” in a situation just long enough to get comfortable before he starts preparing you for some big change that makes you cling to him once again.
Maybe what He’s trying to teach me now is how to trust Him in the midst of sameness, or just tiny changes here and there. But part of me hopes that this next anniversary is celebrated with a change on the horizon. It seems like we’re due. And I miss that whirlwind that makes me rest in His unchanging grace and invites me to just be still and know that He is God. He has it all under control.