Having recently made a big move across country, I learned some significant lessons through the process. Moving from Illinois to Oklahoma has been a far bigger adjustment than I expected. Here are a few lessons I learned along the way:
Climate Change Is Real! No, I’m not talking about the climate change that we see debated on our Facebook feeds! I am talking about moving from one climate to another. There are far reaching effects beyond temperature and types of precipitation to consider. For instance, all the trees look foreign in my new hometown. That doesn’t sound like a big deal, but believe me, I feel like I’ve landed on an alien planet. In addition to the trees, you’ve heard the expression the grass is greener on the other side? Well, I don’t know if it’s greener, but it is very different. There is a wispy grass that I’ve never before laid eyes on and the heartier grass here in Tulsa, looks like what we would have called crab grass in Illinois.
Sure, I knew there would be tornadoes here, but over eighty in a month’s time? I hadn’t counted on that. Everyone warned me about heat, but in my research, Tulsa was only about 5-7 degrees hotter than the Chicago area. My experience was more like 10-12 degrees. Of course a region can’t be judged by one calendar year, and I was encouraged often that there were many “abnormals” this year. The truth is, most places have their good and bad when it comes to weather.
These adjustments definitely remind me of the scripture where the apostle Paul tells us how he has adjusted to changes in his life. He writes, “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation,” Philippians 4:12. For my purposes I could say, I know what it means to be freezing or sweltering!
Unfortunately, we often base our joy on how comfortable we are. Our joy must be more than skin deep, and definitely should go beyond our surroundings and environment. You can choose to be content and truly experience the best of where you are, rather than constantly longing to be elsewhere.
I’ll never forget seeing a silver lizard streak across my path shortly after moving to Tulsa. No one told me there would be lizards, or armadillos, or tarantulas! The wasps and roaches here look like something from a horror movie. They are huge! This definitely took some getting used to, and the scripture about “all creatures great and small” has taken on new meaning. However, I have found that as I wrap my head around the fact, that I have indeed moved to another ecosystem, I am in awe of the great creativity and mastermind of God! Seeing a different environment has allowed me to see a different facet of the Creator, and I am in awe of his excellence!
Let’s talk about food. Remember when the Israelites left Egypt? One of the first things they missed was the food!
“The rabble with them began to crave other food, and again the Israelites started wailing and said, “If only we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost—also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic. But now we have lost our appetite; we never see anything but this manna!” Numbers 11:4-6.
Although God provided for them, he wasn’t pleased with their complaints and comparisons.
I really had no idea how different the food can be in different regions of our country. I can’t order pizza here. I didn’t realize how ambiguous the term “pizza” can be. There are no Italian beefs or sausages to be found. However, the barbeque here is fantastic!
Often, when experiencing these kinds of transitions, the temptation to compare where we’ve come from with where we are can be a struggle. When we move somewhere different, it helps to have an open mind, and to be careful not to judge everything compared to where you’ve been. It’s true, I might crave Chicago-style pizza, but if I only focus on what I don’t have, then I’ll never truly enjoy what I do have. Madeleine L’Engle wrote in her Wrinkle in Time book series, “Comparisons are odious.” Someday, on a visit back to where you have come from, you might even hear yourself boast about a dietary delight from your new home.
Even simple transactions like getting a new driver’s license or license plate can be wildly different than your experience elsewhere. Here in Oklahoma, the agency for license change and plate transfers has a different name, so I didn’t even know what to Google! It was a more pleasant experience than I had been used to back east, but not knowing the drill can be a source of anxiety.
I think that describes much of the changes one experiences in a major move. There can be a lot of anxiety because nothing seems familiar. Grocery stores and government agencies are different; processes and required paperwork are different; sometimes there are different words used for familiar items…like soda and pop…I often feel like an outsider who is not included on several inside jokes. There is a certain pride that comes from being a native from somewhere, and it can be very easy to make those who have recently relocated feel silly when they mispronounce names of places, or don’t know locally common knowledge.
I was reading a blog that I follow recently, and the point was made that many transitions, especially geographic ones, are associated with stages. Some stages might include excitement, fear, grief and assimilation. If you are considering a big move for you and your family, remember, things will probably be far different than you’ve imagined. Some of it will be better than expected. Some of it will be worse than expected. Most of it will just be different than expected. But different isn’t bad, it’s just different. At first, it might be exciting to see all of the new places and things, but if you’ve lived a long time in your previous geographic location, expect some grieving. It’s normal and ok. But don’t stay there. Step out to discover the blessings that God is providing for you in your new setting.
God never changes and he promises to walk with us through every challenge. Psalm 139 reminds us that there is nowhere that we can go to escape God’s presence. Although we may feel isolated, we are never separated from God and his love. It simply isn’t possible to escape God’s great love for us (Romans 8).
Our home is not limited to one area of geography. Home is wherever God has called you to be. Don’t despise where God has planted you by dwelling on the negative. It is hard to find joy in a anew setting if you are always complaining about the new reality. Stop comparing where you are with where you’ve been. Trust that God has led you to where you are and enjoy the ride!
Rev. Dr. Rob Toornstra
Dr. Robert Ritzema