In 2017, my family set its sights on leaving Georgia. We had an idea of how we wanted life to look, but we weren’t terribly particular about where the difference took place. I was of the mindset ‘anywhere-but-here’ and Hunky was of the mindset ‘wherever-will-take-me.’ We tried California, Nebraska, Virginia, Michigan, Wisconsin and even Canada, to name just a few. Our attempts were met with varying degrees of interest, but we never made a love connection.
The funny thing is, even though we cast a wide net, we had a very narrow window. We believed that there was one path for us to take, and only that path, that calling was our vehicle to the life we wanted. We had a plan, a map, and we were set to follow it to the end of the journey.
Then in September, I began working at our local public library. It was just a part-time gig, to begin with, a few hours a week since my kids are grown and in college, a way to re-enter the wider world since we didn’t know what would come next…when we left Georgia.
However, my job didn’t go the way I planned. It wasn’t just something I enjoyed or was good at – though it is those things – it awakened something in me that I didn’t even know was there: a deep and abiding love, not only for the work I was doing but for the place I was doing it. For the first time in ten years, I felt anchored to a place almost as deeply as I felt anchored to a lifestyle or a belief system.
This caused a bit of tension with our leaving plan.
But we pushed forward anyway because our window, our vision, was still too small to see any possibility of finding happiness in this place while maintaining our lifestyle. Even though things got harder, and heavier, nearly unbearable, in some ways, I was thriving in my new job. Its voice was louder than the other voices taking inventory of my shortcomings, my wrong beliefs, feelings and ideas, and demanding conformity. In a storm of uncertainty about the future, my job was a life raft, keeping me afloat which in turn helped to keep us all afloat.
We weren’t willing to quit, but we were also unable to let go of our plan. So we floundered and flailed, unable to find happiness in a life that no longer fit.
Have you ever known anyone who lost a lot of weight, maybe yourself, even? For a while, everything fits as it should and then things get a little loose, so you tighten your belt one notch, and then another. Your clothes flap around you but you wait, because even though things don’t fit, you know you aren’t done changing. Anything you buy now will probably be discarded too soon to make them worth the money and effort. But one day, you wake up, and there is just no wearing anything, not one thing, you had before, no matter how much you loved it at one time. You can’t keep wearing the same clothes. You must find something new.
By February, that’s where we were, absolute crisis, jumping through hoops like circus performers in order to hang on to what we had until the door magically opened for us to step through – to step out of Georgia.
Which is why we never paid much attention to the escape hatch we were already standing on. When it finally opened beneath us, we were momentarily startled, but not really surprised. In fact, after the initial shock, we were overwhelmed with relief. It’s as though someone handed us a treasure and said, “Here, I found this. It was already with your things. So it’s yours.” Georgia was still for us, still on our map. It was ministry we had to release.
I won’t lie, my prayers to leave Georgia balanced equally with my prayer to just not be part of church leadership anymore. This was my dirty little secret. I didn’t just want to leave a place. I wanted to leave a mindset, a doctrine, a behavior pattern, an environment that was toxic to me. The things which fit, no longer fit. The ways of thinking were no longer my ways. But the space to be different in any way did not exist. I felt trapped. The clothes weren’t too big, but far, far too small and all my imperfections were spilling out for everyone to see.
I wonder now, in hindsight, what might have been different if we’d had the courage or the bravado to widen our vision, to believe there is more than one right path to take, that calling evolves and changes, and that who we are isn’t defined by our station. In my head, I know these things, but I didn’t live them. They weren’t my practice.
It’s June now, and as for Georgia, we’re all in. The shock of leaving church didn’t upend and send us tumbling across the wilderness. Rather, it forced us to push roots down deeper, to strengthen and grow quickly. I think we may even begin blooming soon. Our narrow window closed completely. Instead, God ripped the ceiling off and said, “Here, take a look at this sky. Better yet, step outside those walls and start really living out here in the world. It’s a place I’m especially fond of.”
Funny, it’s a place I’m especially fond of now, too. Finally.