When I was about eight years old I told my parents that I was going to be a missionary some day and live in some exciting country that was not America. To be fair, this happened about three days after throwing a going away party for family friends who were leaving to enter the mission field, and I thought that was pretty awesome. So even though I’m not planning on entering the mission filed anytime soon, I’ve still managed to hold on to the goal of moving out of the U.S., and in about fourteen months I’m planning to move to England. The funny thing about this, though, is that the thought of leaving isn’t quite as simple as I thought it would be when I was a kid.
The first (and last) conversation I ever had with my friends about my wish to live abroad stands out crisply in my mind, even though I was 12 when it happened. There were four of us, we were in seventh grade, and this meant that we weren’t sixth graders anymore so we could claim a corner of the jungle gym to sit and talk without anyone telling us we were in their way. That day we decided to take the spot right above the less popular of the two slides. Like most of our conversations, the topics of the day centered around the boys in our classes, the upcoming drama production, and how much we loved having our own lockers that year.
Soon we were talking about what we wanted to do when we grew up, and our answers ranged from marine biologists to teachers, except mine. When I declared my goal of living abroad after college (yes, I knew I was going to go to college), all but one of them looked at me like I was crazy. The questions flooded through and I was overwhelmed with their reactions: “But why would you want to live anywhere but Michigan?”, “What about your family?”, and “Are you crazy? What if your husband doesn’t want to move to a different country?”
At the time I was a bit too young to understand why my friends reacted in such a way, but, looking back now, I can see where they were getting these concerns. You see, I come from a place and a particular section of American culture that says building families in the community you grew up in is a good thing. Most of my extended family lives within three hours of each other. As a girl, I received a few concerned looks when I declared that I wasn’t getting married straight out of high school, and when I insisted I wasn’t a hopeless case I was usually met with smiles and bobbing heads that said “this poor girl is doomed to a life of celibacy.”
I want to be clear and make sure you know that I am not saying that there is anything wrong with staying in the same community your whole life. There is nothing wrong with getting married young and starting a family. College is not for everyone, and I know this. Community building is so important, and we need strong relationships and cooperation to do that. But I also know that not everyone is called to the life their parents lived, and I know that I’m one of those mold breakers. I love the community I have grown up in, but isn’t it possible for me to be part of a community outside of this one? Maybe even a community that I can serve better than the one I am in now?
But just because I’m moving to England doesn’t make this easy. When I came home from Oxford I would have done anything to go back, and I’m still looking forward to moving there for more than a semester. I actually had a really hard time readjusting to living in America the first few months of this year, and I’d be lying if I told you I was happy to be home. When I found out I was accepted to my grad program of choice, all I kept thinking was “I get to go home,” but this time ‘home’ wasn’t Michigan.
But now the post acceptance-letter high is wearing off, and I’ve been left with a strange mixture of doubt and assurance. I know that England is where I found home. I know that it’s where I’m supposed to go next year. But now that I’m leaving for more than a few months, I’ve found myself realizing how much I really do love Michigan. I’m seeing things in a strange and hazy new light, and I think it’s a good thing, but it’s making me question my decision. I wonder what will happen if my mom or brother need me and I’m on a completely different continent, so I’ve been trying to spend more time with them. I think of not getting to hug my grandparents each week, so I’m finding excuses to stay the night at their house. I’m appreciating the Saturday nights with my cousin more than I ever have. I’m even hugging my dog more than usual.
I know how strange this might sound to you, I mean I do have over a year until I leave. But this isn’t a little decision, it’s one that changes everything. Night after night I’ve asked God “are you sure? Am I making the right decision? Is there anything that can keep me in Michigan, even for just a little bit longer?” But every time I ask I’m met with a calm assurance that everything will be okay, and I have to trust that this is true. I am so excited to move to England. I’m terrified. But I’m ready, even if I still have to remind myself daily that I am.