After seven hours on the road, we pulled into our driveway and sat silently in the car for a moment. Our family had just spent a blissful weekend in Los Angeles, a place we had called home for fifteen years before moving to Northern California.
“We’re home,” I said, looking out the window at the district parsonage. My voice sounded thin and unconvincing.
“Except that it doesn’t feel like home.” This comment was from our eldest, and it was understandable. His sophomore year had been overshadowed by months of eating lunch alone—a far cry from the new friends we had assured him he would find at the beginning of the school year.
“Except that everyone we care about is back there.” That was from our second child, a sensitive soul who holds relationships deep in her heart.
“Except that my best friends don’t live here.” Our third child still felt the wounds of leaving her friends behind, and was trying hard not to be angry with God.
Our youngest snored obliviously in his car seat.
That was about a year ago. A lot has happened since. Our family trudged through my cancer treatments, my husband’s serious eye and hand injuries, new schools, new jobs, a child’s crisis of faith—all while disconnected from our spiritual community, the church family that nurtured, supported, and cherished us all these years since our eldest was but an infant.
Transitions can be hard—the heart-wrenching, tear-jerking, spirit-crushing kind of hard. Every new experience—whether it is making a new friend, eating at a new restaurant, sleeping in a new bedroom, working with a new staff, or sitting in a new church—is a reminder of everything you had to leave behind. The weeks, months, and sometimes years it takes for the unfamiliar details of your disoriented life to become a new normal can be painfully lonely and confusing.
But a season of transition can also be a time of growth. Tempered faith, fervent hope, and newfound strength can emerge from the heap of ashes as a chapter of an old life is closed. The lessons we learn can only be learned in conditions where our securities are snatched away and our souls are laid bare, vulnerable to the elements. The lessons that I have learned—that I am still learning—I share here in the hope that they will help others to navigate their own liminal spaces:
1. Be wary of your shadow side. When your sense of security is taken away and you no longer feel safe in your environment, your tendency to be aggressively protective of what you do still have control over may heighten. Self-preservation instincts kick in, sometimes at the expense of the very relationships you need to survive. I noticed that our children were more particular about the way something was done, and power grabs to control each other became more prominent. My husband and I became more territorial about things that were important to us, making compromise more difficult to reach. Acknowledging and managing these feelings in ourselves, as well as recognizing and empathizing these feelings in others, goes a long way to protect the unity and harmony of a group transitioning together.
2. Have a mindset of abundance, not scarcity. It is tempting to occupy your thoughts on what you have lost rather than on the potential of what you have gained. During and after chemotherapy, I could have easily fixated on all the things that were wrong with my body—loss of hair, loss of appetite, loss of a breast, brain fog, weakened stamina—rather than all the things I had in abundance: the years ahead of me, the love of my family and friends, a clean bill of health, and knowing a God that is faithful and good. This is not merely positive thinking in the sense that we enter into denial about reality. Instead, it is an attitude that cultivates joy and gratitude in our hearts for the ways we are blessed. Yes, there is absolutely a place for grieving what is lost. It is good to look back and remember precious memories, treasured friends, and cherished spaces. But attachment to the past must not be an obstacle to moving forward in the present and dreaming about the future.
3. Be patient and manage expectations. Our first Christmas away from LA, we invited some new friends over for dinner. It was an evening filled with feasting, playing games, singing, and exchanging gifts with lovely, good people. Yet, after we said our goodbyes and closed the door behind them, my heart felt empty and sad. The evening left me grieving for my dear loved ones “back home.” It wasn’t the same. The deep connections were absent. The safety found in familiarity was lacking. But, of course, how could I possibly compare one Christmas dinner to the richness of fifteen Christmas dinners spent together? I realized I would have to be patient and consider the time needed to build a new beloved community. This was also true regarding my transition toward health after cancer. It was frustrating not to be able to do the things I used to be able to do with ease. Having patience and allowing time to heal my body was something I had to remind myself to do every day.
4. Start rebuilding. Allow a moment of feeling sorry for yourself, but then roll up your sleeves and get to the work of rebuilding. It is tempting to curl up into a fetal position or hole up in your bedroom, lamenting what is gone. But unless you are intentionally out there rebuilding a new life and going after a new normal that brings joy and satisfaction, you will get stuck in the transition. One of our kids despaired over the difficulty of finding new friends. Partway through the school year, he made up his mind that he didn’t need friends anyway and gave up completely. It is easy to let despair overwhelm the desire to thrive. It is easier to tell ourselves we don’t want it than it is to try and fail to achieve it. God told the Israelites to continue building houses and planting gardens, to get married, and to have children even while they were in exile—a transition that took seventy years. Likewise, in our transitions, we should continue to invest in the things we value.
5. Make God your home. God has often used the transitions in my life to turn my attention back on him. I have gained a new sense of security in God’s protection. I have rediscovered my identity as God’s daughter. My need for fellowship was satisfied in God’s presence. I learned to abide in Christ and make him my home. As the people of God, I suppose it is true that we are all in transition. As aliens and strangers in the world, waiting for Christ’s return, we are invited to dwell in God and make him our home.
Often in our most uncertain moments we learn that God’s faithfulness is certain. In God’s promises, we find that we can thrive, even—nay, especially—in seasons of transition.