“You get a strange feeling when you are about to leave a place, like you’ll not only miss the people you love but you’ll miss the person you are now at this time and this place, because you’ll never be this way again.”
In my 22 years of life, I had never planned to live anywhere but Milwaukee, WI. I had grown up in the same house from utero to 18. The furthest I had ever lived from my parents was 20 minutes when I lived on the east side to go to college. I love my city, the fact that Lake Michigan was a mere 20 minute drive from my childhood home, how I could walk anywhere that I wanted to go, that almost everyone that was important to me lived within a half an hour drive. Growing up, I imagined getting married and living in my hometown, starting a family, working for companies in buildings that I had seen my whole life. Never being more than 30 minutes from my parents, siblings, nieces or nephews. And all of these thoughts made me happy. Milwaukee is my home and has my heart.
While Brandon and I were planning our wedding, we also discussed what we wanted for our marriage and for our lives. Brandon being a military brat and having spent 4 years in Milwaukee was ready to move on to a new place. We knew that we wanted our family to be a part of camping ministry, something that really connects with both of us on a deep level. As we started to look at camping jobs, we knew that finding a year round job in Milwaukee county, let alone Wisconsin would be hard with the cold, snowy winters. When Brandon found Alliance Redwoods, a camp in the Redwood forests of California, he was very excited to share it with me, to which I asked him why I would ever want to move to California. We had talked about working somewhere in northern Wisconsin, or possibly somewhere else in the midwest like Michigan or Illinois, but CALIFORNIA? That would not be an easy drive for us to see my family. We couldn’t even really fly easily back and forth. At least, not for cheap. After he told me about ARCG, I put it behind us. There was no way that I could live that far away from my family. And that was that.
I can’t pinpoint where it changed. Maybe when I couldn’t find anything that seemed to fit us so well and had as many great opportunities and benefits. Maybe it was being able to tell how excited Brandon seemed about the opportunity. Surely, the holy spirit was changing my heart. One day, I told Brandon that I had been considering the camp in California and I thought we should apply. So, onto the application process we went. Even during this time, I kept it in the back of my mind that even if we got job offers, we didn’t have to take them. We would just wait and see what happened and make a decision when the time came.
Well, the time came and we had a serious decision to make. We had had our interviews and learned more about the camp. Both of us felt really good about the opportunity, but I just couldn’t shake the impending doom of leaving my family behind. Anxiety grew as the deadline was approaching to give our final decisions and make plans to move cross country in just under a month. We couldn’t deny the great opportunity in front of us, so…. We told our families of our decision and prepared to leave.
Christmas day was one of the most emotionally draining days I think I have ever had. At this point, everyone knew this was our last get together for an unknown amount of time and that in just about 48 hours, Brandon and I would be packing up and moving to California. We opened presents, ate, laughed and talked together. The hour grew later and the inevitable was approaching. Brandon had been tracking a bad winter weather storm that we needed to get ahead of if we were going to make it to his parents house in Omaha before the storm. It was time to say goodbye.
My niece Megan was the first person that I hugged goodbye. She was quiet and had her face in my stomach. I could hear her say “I don’t want you to go…” and then the waterworks came. How can I leave her? How can I leave my other niece and nephews? My sisters? My brothers? Parents? Friends? How could I just leave them all behind? I felt guilty, knowing that I was needed and that I was going away. I was sobbing. My nieces were crying. My sisters were crying. I almost called it all off right then. But I knew that we had to press on.
I have never been one to make big, irrational decisions. And my decisions have always been based on how it will affect others, my loved ones, the people around me. That is why this decision was so hard. Because this decision was for Brandon and me and for our future. In making the decision I knew that people would be disappointed in us, that people would be sad to see us go, that people might even be hurt. But I also prayed with everything in me that people would understand. Or if they didn’t understand, that they would support us, knowing that we felt called to go. Praying that people would know we didn’t make the decision lightly or on a whim. Praying that people would know that we were hurting too.
I don’t think I have ever cried as long or as hard as I did as we left my sister’s house and as we packed the last of our things. I sobbed as Brandon vacuumed the rest of the apartment, wiping waterfalls of tears from my eyes as I tried to help get everything done. It was like looking through a car windshield during a torrential downpour and the windshield wipers are doing nothing but pushing the water around, not clearing any space to see through.
Once we arrived to our new home and started to get settled in, we learned that we had almost no cell phone signal, no land line, and no internet. As if I hadn’t been emotionally wrecked enough yet, I now had to contend with only being able to talk to my family through wifi when we were at camp. And that it would only be in the pockets of time that we had in between trainings and work. During devos with the team, any time people asked if there were prayer requests, I wanted to ask for prayer for homesickness. Sometimes I would but sometimes I couldn’t even think about asking before my eyes would well up. I had never known true homesickness before and I had it BAD.
Thankfully, facebook kept me in contact with my siblings and friends for the first couple of weeks we were at camp without any kind of communication hook ups at our trailer. I called my parents when I could get a signal. Once we got internet at the trailer, I facetimed my sister. I was so excited to finally see her face. Being a twin, we had never been that far apart for that long (I think it was about a month at this time.) As soon as her face popped up on the screen, I cried. She told me not to cry and tried to make a joke like she always does (and I love her for it). The relief/comfort that I felt from just seeing her face, even if it was on a screen, cured my aching soul for that moment. I knew that things were going to be okay.
Homesickness is a hard thing to explain. People say that distance makes the heart grow fonder. But what about when your heart is already filled to the brim with love and fondness for the place you call home, for the people that are in it, for the memories that compile it? People would tell me that each day got easier and that I would learn to cope with being away from home, my friends and my family. Honestly, I don’t know that I ever really did learn to cope. I think that life got busy and distracting, but being away from home didn’t become something to conquer. At the same time that we were away from home, Brandon and I were building a home, our own home and our own life in a new place. I think that is the scary part yet beautiful part. That while we are making our own new memories and having new experiences, our loved ones back home are doing the same thing. And the place we called home was changing too. And it is impossible to go back to a place, a time, a person and have them be exactly the same as when you left. That is sometimes the hardest thing to swallow because change can be hard. And all we can do is pray that as we are changing, God is allowing our friends and family and homes to change too, but to change and grow with us so that when we are together again, it’s like nothing has changed.
I have learned that home can be more than one place. It can even be a person. We leave parts of us in all places and all relationships that we have.