A quick heads up about this post: it's a long one in which I'm painfully transparent and brutally honest.
It's interesting telling the story of our move. There's the "before" side of the move, while we were still in New Mexico getting ready to go, and the "after" side, here in Michigan settling in and trying to find our place.
On the "before" side, there were questions and comments along these lines:
- Why are you leaving?
- I/We don't want you to go.
- Do you know how cold it is in Michigan?
- You realize how bad the winters are there?
- Why would you leave all your family and friends?
And so on. You get the idea. The majority of those questions came from a place of sorrow. And it's understandable - we were moving across the country, leaving behind friends and family.
The "after" side is much simpler. Most of the people involved in the "after" side are the people we've just met or the people I'm working with. With the people I'm working with, they knew about it months ago (I worked remotely for about 8 months before the move). With the people we've just met, there's always the question of "why," but with a different response. Usually something along the lines of "that's amazing" or "you're crazy."
Regardless of the side, let me take the liberty of putting my own interpretation on these and summing it up in one question - "why leave the stability, safety, and love of friends, family, and church in New Mexico?"
That's the real question - the one underlying everything else. The "why" question behind all the sorrow, fear, anger, excitement, and wonder. And yes, depending on who was asking, each of those emotions apply (and then some).
The answer is both simple and complex - because we had to. Keep reading if you want to understand that.
Anyone who knows me (I mean really knows me), knows that I didn't like New Mexico. I was ten years old when we moved there. I had neither any say nor choice in the matter. For 24 years, I was in a place I didn't want to be. I like greenery, rain, snow, four full seasons - in other words, not the desert. The older I got, the more it wore on me. That's not to say good didn't come from it - I made some good friends over the years, met Kim and got married, gave my life to Christ, had our three boys, served in our church, had some crazy adventures - the list goes on. Plenty of good came from those 24 years.
There was always the internal conflict that I didn't want to be there, though. Several times over the years, I prayed that if New Mexico is where God wanted me that He would take my desire to move and give me peace about being there. You know what happened? Nothing. The desire to move and feelings never changed. I fought depression at times, crying when I would look out my window and realize the view never changed. I resigned myself to the fact that that may be where I was supposed to be, all the while clinging to some distant hope of one day moving.
Seven of those 24 years, I was a pastor at our church. I've come to realize that most people have no real idea what pastors deal with. Not only are pastors trying to help everyone else however they can, they're also dealing with their own struggles. And sometimes (oftentimes, really) those struggles are incredibly painful and lonely. But you're surrounded by well-meaning people who say, "God will see you through it. He won't give you more than you can handle. Just keep praying and pressing in." Yeah, it's true. God WILL see you through it. There's no doubt about that. But do you know what the problem with that statement is? It's total bullshit spouted by someone who either doesn't know how to help, is afraid to help, or doesn't want to help. Yeah, I said it - I warned you this would be brutally honest. You want to know what the truth of the matter is? Maybe, just maybe, the one who makes that statement is the one who God sent to be the answer. God created people to be in relationship, not to be alone. Sometimes YOU are the answer and miracle that God provides in a situation. And as far as the part about God not giving us more than we can handle, that's a lie, too. If we could handle everything, we would have no need for God. I could say a lot more about this, but I'll save that for a separate post.
Looking at my time as a pastor, during those seven years, I was also doing something I wasn't called by God to do. I never once doubted my calling as a teacher, and that's still evident to this day. From the time I was told I should become a pastor, I questioned and doubted that. Yet I did it because of the counsel I was given, thinking it was the right path even when I didn't believe it. I've learned much since then. The people placed over you as any sort of authority (whether a pastor, a boss, government official, etc.) don't have your relationship with God, they aren't walking your path, and they aren't living your life. If you want to find fulfillment, you have to follow God's path for your life, even if that means going against what someone else thinks you should do with your life. Those in authority over you (especially spiritually) should be helping you make wise decisions and guiding you on that path, even if it goes against what they personally want.
Let's fast forward to the turning point of our story. In 2014, my family went on a 16 day road trip across 23 states and DC. While we were on that trip, between staying at a friend's house in Virginia and dinner on the patio of a restaurant off the St. Clair river in Port Huron, Michigan, Kim was ready to go. Before that, we had talked about moving, and she was "okay" with the idea. That wasn't good enough for me, though, because if we moved then, she would have been in the same situation I was while in New Mexico. So I waited. And this trip was the turning point where she actually wanted to move. Not only that, but when we asked Marty Jr. and Aidyn what they thought of moving, they were both on board, too. Timothy was too young to have any real input, as he was only a year and a half old.
After that trip, we started trying to figure out where we were going to move to. In February 2015, I changed careers from a dental lab tech to a web and app developer, working remotely for a company in New York. At the time, we thought our destination was New York. In June, we put our house up for sale. Long story (another one) short, the move to New York fell through as the company I worked for fell apart, but by that point, everything was already in motion for us to move.
During that year and the first half of 2016 leading up to our move, I felt like Abraham. And God made it incredibly clear to me - that was His intention. You see, God called Abraham out of his country, to pack up his family and all his belongings, and go to a place where God would show him. God never told Abraham where he was going, just that he was to go. God wanted Abraham to place his faith and trust completely in God, to leave the familiar and comfortable life he had become accustomed to, and follow God on this journey. Only after Abraham obeyed, did God show him the way.
That's why I say we had to go - in order to be obedient to God, we had to go.
I left the dental lab industry when I was at my prime, 15 years in the industry. Before I left, one of the owners of the lab I worked at said I was a "master of my craft." Between being comfortable, safe, and limited both in challenge (within my field, there wasn't really anything new to do/learn - dentures haven't changed since the 1970s) and financially (the only way I could have really earned more money was by owning my own lab, and I had no interest in that), it was time for a new adventure. Something I had dreamed about for a long time. Something less "safe." And if you think that mentality is irresponsible, it couldn't be further from the truth. That mentality is the foundation of innovation and transformation. My transition to web development was basically lateral from a financial standpoint, but with much greater possibilities in the future. While change scares a lot of people, I generally embrace it. And when change is within my control, I do the best I can to play it smart - my career transition was a year and a half long process.
Much like my dental tech career, the rest of my life had become more or less comfortable, safe, and limiting. Comfort and safety are nice, but it quickly leads to mediocrity, which is incredibly limiting to any sort of growth. Once you're in your comfort zone, it's hard to break out of that, push yourself, and reach higher. My primary personal core values are integrity, excellence, and service. On top of that, I'm adventurous by nature. Mediocrity is anathema to me. Yet that's what much of my life had become - doing the same thing, day in and day out. Routine and habits can be beneficial, but it's also easy to get stuck in them.
In our church, since we were planning on moving, Kim and I were focusing more on the individual relationships we had with people, rather than making sure we were at all the meetings, worship practices, etc., so we were taken off of the various schedules and effectively taken off the ministry/leadership teams. I don't mean that in any negative way (even though I know some will take it that way) - it's completely understandable given the positional expectations, but the irony of it isn't lost to me. Being in that situation, we were no longer active participants in our church.
While the break after several years of ministry was nice, it was also uncomfortable. I find value and purpose in active participation/work - I'm not one to sit on the sidelines and do nothing. That being said, it was also an opportunity to get outside the church and minister in other ways. During that downtime, I met someone at a coding meet up group and we quickly became friends. We would regularly meet at coffee shops to work on projects, hang out, and talk about life. A couple months after we met, he told me that if I was a preacher, he'd actually go to my church, because he liked my down-to-earth style and views. Given my past as a pastor, that was hilarious. It was also revelatory to me - not in the sense that I should become a pastor again, but to what and where my ministry work is.
Through a series of answered prayers, revelations, and confirmation after confirmation, God made it clear it was our time to go. It wasn't just that I wanted to (still) after all these years, but it was our time as He had ordained. We prayed about, looked around, and researched areas we were interested in moving to. We ended up choosing the Grand Rapids/west Michigan area. A couple months after the New York company I worked for fell apart, I found a job in Grand Rapids. A few months after that, I found an apartment in Spring Lake, Michigan, that had just about everything we were looking for in our transition home. I didn't know it at the time, but it was also one of the apartments Kim had looked at before and was hoping to get. And on top of that, our house sold, pretty much at the last moment before it was foreclosed on, and 2 weeks before our move to Michigan. I don't believe in coincidences - that was all God's handiwork, working things out at just the right time.
At church, the Sunday before we moved, a friend told me he thought this move was going to allow me to find myself. I couldn't agree more. Leaving the safety and comforts of the familiar is probably one of the best ways to see God move and to find who you truly are. Self-discovery is a life long journey. It's not something you just stumble across and are instantly enlightened. Who you are constantly changes as you grow and learn. Your views and values today won't necessarily be the same as they are in 10 years.
Lets look at the other side of the move. As I write this, it's been 3 months since we moved. I spend a lot more time outside than I ever did in New Mexico. I regularly go hiking in the woods next to our apartment. We've gone out to the beach a few times, a lighthouse, a lighted musical water fountain show, and a drive-in movie theater (I may have been a bit giddy about that last one), to name a few of our outings. The lighthouse and one of the trips to the beach was actually Marty Jr.'s idea, which is funny, because he loved the outdoors in New Mexico about as much as I did, which is to say, not at all.
We found a new church on the second Sunday we were here. 15 minutes into the service, during worship, it felt like God whispered "welcome home" to me. After service, Kim and I talked about it and she felt the same way. It's funny how we found it. On the way home from work that week, I was waiting at a stop light. I looked left and saw the church right there, so I checked into it when I got home. Once again, God led us to where we needed to be. And pretty much every Sunday since we started that going there, I've gotten confirmation in one form or another that this is our home.
As for my job, as I previously stated, I worked remotely for about 8 months before we moved, so the work itself hasn't really changed. I'm in the office 3 days and work from home 2 days - it's a decent balance. The drive is a bit long (about 35 miles each way) but the scenery is great. Driving on foggy mornings is pretty sweet, too. It's been fun working in the office and talking with everyone personally, rather than through email or Skype. And since I'm in the office now, I've been given the opportunity to teach a few of the other people there how to code (taken the opportunity, really, since I volunteered to do it once I found out they were interested in learning). As much as I enjoy coding, teaching it ranks up there as one of my favorite parts of the job.
I've been getting involved in the development community here, as well, through the meet up groups, a couple conferences (BarCamp and WordCamp), and a hackathon (GiveCamp). At BarCamp, I led a session about how to build WordPress plugins. At WordCamp, after meeting and talking to some of the people there, a couple of them recommended that I start doing talks/teaching sessions (for that conference). Then there's GiveCamp, where I worked with a team of people to build a website for a local non-profit over the course of the weekend. That was a lot of fun and I met some awesome people there. It's amazing what opportunities come up when you put yourself out there and make yourself available.
There are still some things missing, but those are just a matter of time. As it is though, after only 3 months of being here, I can definitely say the blessings of obedience to God's call have shown. I'm constantly amazed by His faithfulness and how He's working. And I can't wait to see what else He has in store.