The grass is always greener: Thoughts on longings and contentment

 

While she finished cutting my hair, the hairstylist said to me: “I’ve always dreamed of moving to Denver… but I’m scared that if I moved, didn’t like it, and then came back here, I couldn’t get my clients back.” It’s a familiar motivation in decision making...  fear. And I found myself wanting to cheer her on: “Don’t be afraid!! Just go for it! Even if you move out there and hate it, you will still grow through the process and you can always come back.” Perhaps it comes from growing up and living in five different cities before I graduated high school and moving a lot since then. Deep down, I realized that this fear could potentially keep her right where she was for the rest of her life unless she allowed the love of God and trust in Him to drive out that fear and step out in faith. And yet, I’m fully aware that while God may call you to go, He may also call you to stay. The point in the following post is NOT to elevate one choice (‘going’ or ‘staying’) as better than another, but simply to share where God has brought me.

 

Before children, my heart longed for adventure… a life that wouldn’t settle for anything less than God’s risky, outside the box kind of daily living. I was ready to get on a plane to go anywhere, do anything, risk everything. I made a commitment to go wherever, whenever, and however God would lead me.

 

And then I found a dream job situation just a couple years out of college. I loved it. It was the next best thing to living out this overseas adventure… as it involved equipping others to step into new ways of living, serving and loving others – both locally and globally. And then, my new husband and I felt this prompting for him to pursue counseling. So we prayed, we discussed and ultimately, we packed up our lives and traveled ‘out west’ to see what this adventure would hold. I grieved this dream job I left behind and the community of people who were a part of it.

 

I remember thinking: “I could NEVER live in LA” and yet, a few years in: I loved our community, our winters, our 1950’s apartment complex, our simple lifestyle, our work, our ability to take road trips to places along the ocean that would help us forget any stress that we experienced throughout the week.

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And after three and a half years of living in LA, we sensed that God may be leading us to eventually and finally, move overseas to do life there. So, we did what any couple would do and we quit our jobs, sub-leased our over-priced, non-earthquake safe apartment, and moved overseas for three months… oh, and we did this during my second trimester of pregnancy. Nothing screams ‘responsibility’ like stepping into the big unknown.

 

And after three months of surviving the humidity and heat of Central Asia, we moved back to California, so we could pack up and move back to Michigan, now 7 months pregnant, and we moved in with some very hospitable and gracious friends for a couple months while we figured out what was next for us. And that’s when the longing for roots began…

 

I remember our two months in the basement of our amazing friends home with great joy and thankfulness. But I also remember desiring a place that could be ‘our’ permanent home while we were quickly approaching our son’s due date. I set up a make-shift ‘nursery’ in their basement. Even though we would be moving just two weeks before my due date, I remember sitting in a rocking chair and surrounding myself with folded clothes, soft blankets, and cuddly stuffed animals… And I would just rock for a while and imagine what it would be like to hold my son and create a home for him.

 

Two weeks before he was born, we moved into a friend’s home where we would house-sit for 5 months. It was a great situation, but again, not permanent. My husband was building his private counseling practice from the ground up and I was using our friend’s nursery and home to be ‘ours’ for a brief amount of time.

 

We had Central Asia on our hearts, but we also had this tiny little boy who would look up at us with his sweet smile and bright blue eyes. The economy was down. It was a great time to buy… and we looked with longing at these homes in a place and community we loved and my heart ached for a sense of rootedness. The grass looked so green and it was {except for the 6 months of winter} … We were so close to making this decision to buy a home, build our dreams, raise our family, and live out our calling in a place that felt known. But just like the stirring to leave a dream job and great community when we moved to LA, we also felt this unsettledness in the idea of settling down. It wasn’t that we saw anything wrong with it, but for us and the way we were wired, we knew that if we didn’t make a move towards this adventure now, we might never have the courage to uproot, again, and do it.

 

And then we moved, after 5 months of housesitting, into a rental situation that I would call my ‘dream home.’ Built in the late 1800’s on a lane that fills with tulips every May, we moved into a neighborhood that was community-centric and full. of. life. and possibility. Tony’s private practice grew. We were finally feeling re-connected in the community after a year of adjusting back from our LA life. And we could see how we could be fulfilled right in our ‘own back yard.’ While we were renting, we knew that we could potentially buy this home someday — and as my son’s laughter filled that house and friends filled our living room and front porch on summer nights, I didn’t want to leave. I felt like we were home.

 

But we set out a fleece and said, “okay God, if you want us to move overseas — here is what would need to happen.” And every single one of those things on our list was answered. We had no excuse outside of simply not wanting to go. And honestly, on a lot of days, I didn’t want to. Maybe later.. but not now. We were finally feeling stable after a long time in transition. But sometimes, delaying a calling doesn’t feel like a good option — and again, there is the reality that if you say ‘no’ once, it becomes easier and easier to turn away from something that God means for you to walk in — whether it’s a new job, a new neighborhood, a new way of relating to those around you.

 

We left, again. We grieved, again. We started over, again. And this time, it was with an almost 2 year old and while 5 months pregnant with our daughter. I can still remember what people would say to us, “Wow, you guys are really brave” to which I would say with a smile, “or REALLY stupid.” I have come to believe that there is a fine line between bravery and stupidity, courage and recklessness. At the end of the day though, I knew that Tony and I’s marriage was stronger when we were completely trusting our Creator and stepping out in faith.

 

We moved overseas and found a place to live for 9 months. We loved it but it was temporary. The furniture wasn’t ‘ours’, we couldn’t change the decor, we would eventually have to leave. It became home – however temporary – and yet, at the end of that stretch of time, we were so ready to find a place to make ‘our own.’ After nearly 6 years of 7 moves, two children joining our lives, two countries, and three cities — we were ready to stay in the same place for a while.

 

Our move to our ‘own’ apartment in a fast-growing city of over two million was much needed. And we unpacked quicker than our friends could believe. We added extra touches of ‘home-ness’ that would help us feel more settled, however temporary or uncertain it would be, in a place that we desired to stay for a while. After three years of being a mom, I was finally able to ‘nest’ and dream about how to make a kid-friendly space and add colors to walls that would make my heart happy. It’s still a work in progress, but we made and now love our home… over the seas. And then… this unexpected medical diagnosis came to our attention – and we were overwhelmed by waves of uncertainty and another time of living somewhere else temporarily so we could figure out what was happening to my body

 

And here we live, and wait, and trust God with the stress of another ‘temporary’ situation — and yet, we are grateful for the ability to re-enter life lived and enjoyed in a community where there is so. much. love. We are excited to go back overseas in a short while, once we have more clarity as to how our medical needs may need to shape our work and life as a family. At the same time, I drive by houses for sale, now much more expensive than 4 years ago, and have the same ache for the same stability I desired several years ago. I long for simplicity. I long to buy a home not to be lived in now — but a place to come back to whenever we need it. After my diagnosis, I panicked and exhaustedly searched for creative ways to ‘secure’ a future of uncertainty and ever-so-gently, my husband reminds me, again, that we don’t need to cling to those things because God will provide all that we need in Him.

 

But I do often go back to what it is about a sense of home and belonging that makes my heart long for the predictability of a bit more quiet and consistent life. I don’t think these longings are bad, at all… nor the fulfillment of them. {Now more than ever I see the need to provide a sense of rootedness and stability for our children} But perhaps God’s answer is “not now, not yet,” or maybe, “yes, overseas”…  or possibly, not ever – on this side of eternity.” I think I romanticize the green grass that I can’t always feel under my toes as I walk on the hot, blistering concrete of our beautiful city surrounded by mountains. When I need perspective and a reminder to be grateful always, I walk 10 minutes, away from the sea of apartments, to the cliffs of the Mediterranean.

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I look to the mountains to thank God that even in unfulfilled longings, there are many that ARE fulfilled… beyond measure. There are rich friendships within a beautiful country. There are places of green to escape to that remind me of Michigan.  There’s the SEA!! There are many, MANY blessings of this crazy adventure of life overseas and I wouldn’t trade the ways that God has broken me and restored me for anything in the world. I wouldn’t trade the ways that He has humbled us in our marriage and parenting for all the confidence in the world of having it all together.

 

And as we’ve worked hard to make a warm and welcoming home out of our apartment in a city full of concrete (and beautiful people!) where we are learning a difficult language and seeking to honor the unspoken rules of everyday life, there is great joy in knowing that we are right we are meant to be… and if/when we ever are lead to return to life in the States, in the near or distant future, the grass will still be green — and it will be waiting for us. It’s not going anywhere. *And yet I know enough to know that even where the grass is green, there can still be discontentment and an ache for something more or different no matter who you are or where you are. I’m slowly re-learning that contentment and peace are not circumstantial, but completely dependent on where your heart is at with God.

 

If we don’t ever leave our home over the seas, I will trust that on the other side of eternity, I will have a sense of being home in Christ that nothing in this world could ever offer me and ultimately, only God can satisfy the longings of my heart for a sense of home because it is only in Him that I am secure.   And it is in this constant state of uncertainty that I find the certainty of my God. He is good. He is enough. He is steadfast. He is trustworthy.

 

“Hear my cry, O God;
listen to my prayer.
“From the ends of the earth I call to you,
I call as my heart grows faint;
lead me to the rock that is higher than I.
For you have been my refuge,
a strong tower against the foe.
I long to dwell in your tent forever
and take refuge in the shelter of your wings.
For you, God, have heard my vows;
you have given me the heritage of those who fear your name.

Psalm 61:1-5

 

 

 

 

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