(on becoming a Southerner and being okay with it)
It usually beings like this... "So - WHY did you move to GEORGIA?"
I have answered this question dozens of times since we moved here nearly three years ago. I remember standing in front of our house on that hot and muggy July day waiting (and sweating) for the moving truck to come rumbling down the street. After a few months of getting used to the accent, new places to eat and shop, and our neighborhood...things started to feel a little more like normal.
The simple answer to the WHY is that we came out here to visit my mother-in-law and family in the summer of 2007. We saw just how beautiful Atlanta is, how much there was to do with a family, that the housing prices were half of what they were in California, and it was a no-brainer. But though this is the answer I have given to many people since being here...it is not the whole truth. The fact is that God was preparing our hearts for a relocation since Briahnna and I got married in 2003. At first, we thought it would be overseas but it turns out the Lord had more for us to do in Pasadena. We were kept busy with our jobs (Mine at PUSD and Briahnna's at UCLA) and serving at our church (Foothills Community Church) and of course with the birth of our first born Jadyn. (On a side note...she will be turning 5 this month and I have to agree with everyone that it does go by fast)
It was uncanny how things kept falling into place for our move to Georgia. After the initial excitement of the possibility of relocation we agreed to spend a few months praying about it and make our decision around the new year. I had to tell my work pretty early on because various paperwork issues and obtaining references to find a job. I was confident in the school system because my brother-in-law (who has autism) attended schools in Cobb County and the district had an excellent reputation for special education. Briahnna's job was a little more tricky but with many hours of internet research she found a place where she was excited about. We came to visit in March of '08 and in one weekend secured a house and two jobs. Praise God!
Looking back...that may have been one of the times I have felt closest to God (preparing to move to Georgia). It seems like any time that I have ever been serious about seeking His will for my life...He has delivered. In addition, having Briahnna to share this journey with has been incredible. She inspires me to be a better man everyday and I am eternally grateful for her love and support as I try my best to lead our family in the right direction.
So...why are we here anyway? First and foremost I believe that our jobs are in line with the ministry that God prepared for us here. We have a heart for people who (in general) are misunderstood and marginalized (people with mental illness and severe disabilities). Sometimes I don't think that "counts" as a ministry but then I look at our paychecks (smile). To be very honest...we are blessed tremendously. From our house, to our cars, to our clothes, to our food, to our stuff...we have more than we really even need. We continue the process of scaling down and finding the simple life that we feel we are being called to. And not even just simplicity...but creating a culture in our family of giving to those who need it the most. I am encouraged and inspired by those in our small group who are trying to live this model out in everyday life.
On the way to a family camping trip in Savannah, Briahnna and I discussed just what God is trying to tell us now. Joining Northstar Church in Kennesaw has been part of our faith renewal. As some of you know, I have spent my whole life in the church and have participated in everything from Pentecostal to Methodist denominations. Experiencing a church that has community service and giving to those most in need be a top priority was a welcome change and for me restored some of my faith in the church body. Of course there is our small group (now known as The Outsiders) who at the core are our family (spiritual) apart from the only actual family we have in the area. We are all looking forward to seeing our Cali-Family on our trip back home this month. Three years does not seem that long now that I am on the other side of thirty. Even so...I miss home and I miss my family who I rarely get to talk to because of schedules and time differences. I thought I would never leave Southern California. But moving to another state has solidified my belief that it does not matter where you reside as long as you are connected to followers of Christ that are pursuing the same ends.
Perhaps God is trying change the way we have looked at the Christian life for so long...as "ME" focused. I know I have spent countless times sending up prayers that were only focused with what I was going through. I wanted my life to pass by without pain, suffering, or loss. But as we all know...that is not how life goes. And thank God for that...because without difficult times...I may never have known the grace and mercy of my Saviour. As our pastor says repeatedly "It's not about us." It is about loving our neighbor...the unloved...those who have no voice.
Perhaps God is trying change our priorities. Reflecting on the idea of the "pursuit of happiness" this 4th of July weekend...what kind of happiness are we trying to get? More money? More stuff? More success? More attention? If there is anything that we have learned in these last three years it is that the more we give away the happier we are. I am sure there will be another round up of things as we go through our house by summer's end that will go in the donation pile.
Perhaps God is trying to change how we think of the word "Christian". For many people, unfortunately, this word does not evoke feelings of love, compassion, and charity but of judgement, ridicule, and a particular political party. I wonder how many people who are agnostic/atheist or otherwise have not necessarily rejected Christ but His followers and what they do in His name. We need to reclaim what it means to be a follower of Christ and take His words in the Bible seriously that the most important things are to love Him and love other people.
When I was an Resident Advisor in college (APU) we went on something called a "walkabout" before the school year began. We backpacked 10 days up in the Ansel Adams Wilderness (near Yosemite). For 2 of those days we had a time of solitude. We each found a place to camp out and spent two nights by ourselves...all we could bring was a Bible and a journal and a pen...no sleeping bag. This was one of the few times I have felt God speaking to me clearly. He said (not audibly but in my heart) "if you want to know Me than know my Son". I know this is a simple enough concept but when I really think about what this means for me and my family it is a weighty matter. Jesus should be my focus and the more I know Jesus...the more I know my Heavenly Father and the more my life will look like Him.
So...I guess it all comes back to the Sunday School answer of "Jesus" (smile). So...thank you for sticking with me until the end. I may have lost some of you half way down the post but that is okay. I have come to like Georgia and the South, though I had many prejudices before coming here to visit. The accent has grown on me and so has the food...I have even found a couple of good Mexican places to eat. The scenery is gorgeous (if you don't believe me you have to come for a visit). And next time I get asked WHY we picked up and moved across the country...I'll ask if they want the long version or the short version. The short version being...Jesus.