On moving, settling, grief and hope

Moving from one place in the world, to another place in the world, is a very big deal. Even a deal-breaker. But God.

That’s this post in a tweet.

If you have time for more, read on.

When you relocate – or go through any kind of grief, trauma, or adjustment to a new normal – emotions you’ve never met will rise unbidden in your heart as you find yourself cut loose from the context in which you made sense to yourself and others.

You’ll know how God led you and why you moved, but you won’t yet know where you fit, or exactly what He brought you to this new place to do.

Some days, crippling homesickness will overwhelm you and the faces of your people will swim across your brimming eyes and you’ll ache with longing.

You’ll be bone weary from introducing yourself about a million times a week, and from putting 120% effort into everything you do to get, if you’re lucky, about a 60% return. This will shock and discourage you. You’re used to, mostly, putting in a comfortable 80%, and getting at least a solid 95% return, because you’re riding on reputation, relationships, familiarity, and knowing how to work the system. This is true of work, church, school car parks, dinner parties, play dates, cooking, shopping, driving and trying to get limescale off the shower door.

Despite this, astonishingly, a brand new life will begin to fill your canvas coloured by so many shiny-happy-normal things.

On Instagram, it will look like you’re crushing it, and in many ways you totally are.

Still, you’ll be gripped by the numbing, terrifying question of whether your soul will ever again catch up to your body.

Slowly, it does.

We’re six months into our family adventure. Early days. In the whole spectrum of a lifetime, six months is nothing.

But we’ve accrued a few perspectives to shore us up, and perhaps these will put wind in your sails as you cast off from wherever you’re currently tethered.

#1  ‘Settled’ is not the goal.

We’ve asked ourselves: When will we feel settled?

All the time, others ask us: Have you settled?

I’ve come to realize settled is enormously complex. It’s also not the goalpost we should be shooting for, because settling the way we use it implies substitution. As in, Have you managed to replace this home for that one?

Settling even implies, possibly, settling for second best.

The truth is, whether you’ve bounced around the globe all your life or never left your hometown, we’re all adrift in a foreign land until God calls us home. We’re supposed to feel unsettled. It’s eternity in our hearts.

So instead of frantically trying to settle, I’m just grateful for the comfort of increasing familiarity. And I’m trying to live by Psalm 143:

May Your gracious Spirit lead me forward on a firm footing.

Right now, this is where we find our feet. God got here before we did, and we get to travel steadily along the path He’s laid for us.

That settles it.

I’m also doing something I call Settling the Day.

When the sun goes down, I settle for simply Settling the Day by asking myself: Was today a good day?

It’s always a good day if there’s food and clothing and we get to sleep indoors, because these are all we need to be content.

It’s always a good day if there is also – and there always is, in big and small shapes and forms – adventure, music, learning, laughter, love and prayer.

#2  Life hasn’t ended. It’s changed.

In times of grief, we need to pause. Be present to the moment. Embrace the pain of transition so we can lay hold of everything the change will bring, knowing that, in Jesus, we don’t grieve without hope.

Also, as my sister says, grief is a kind of love. How marvellous, then, to grieve, because we’ve loved, and been loved, so very well.

Initially, I kept the curtains drawn on all I’d lost. I wouldn’t let myself even peek. I had to keep it together for my boys. I couldn’t be crying all the time and thinking what the hell have we done? Crack on, I told myself. Just keep doing the Next Right Thing like you’ve been telling everyone for years because if Mama ain’t happy ain’t nobody happy.

I started a fresh thanksgiving journal because I’ve done the experiment. I’ve lived habitually thankfully and proven Ann Voskamp right when she says thanksgiving ushers in miracles, healing and happiness.

But then a friend challenged me to open the curtains. Just a little. Every couple of days. Take a look. Feel the pain. Sit with it. Cry the tears.

Then close the curtains to cope. Put cream in your coffee and turn the music louder and hold hands and walk the dog by the river and pick blackberries from hedges and revel in the wondrous beauty and opportunity of inhabiting a new-wine, new-wineskins kind of life.

I was beginning to understand that thanksgiving wasn’t enough. I couldn’t let the grief lie stagnant. I had to let its turbulent rapids course through me too. So I started writing down lists of my losses at the back of the thanksgiving journal. At some point, those parallel soul streams – the pages of gratitude and grief – will meet in the middle, and I think they’ll meet me, healthier.

In the first brutal three to four months of (1) moving countries (2) in a global pandemic (3) accompanied by some separate relational trauma, I kept seeing alarming mental pictures – like, real PTSD flashback stuff. I was being tumbled helpless in waves. Cut off at the knees by someone with a lead pipe. Smacked face first into concrete. I’m not being dramatic. That’s what I kept seeing in my head, and how it felt.

So I chose (and keep choosing) to close my eyes to those horror reels and listen instead to truth tracks that sing things like,

This is not the end of our story, and we’re in good hands.

God knows the end from the beginning.

He’s our promoter, protector and provider, and He will fight for us.

We dare not lose our sense of wonder or our soft, uncynical hearts.

There’s enough time to do God’s will – enough time for the adventure of loving people and building Kingdom. There’s no rush. Go easy and light – like His yoke.

And, kudos to Jon Acuff:

Everything is always working out for me. Because,  Romans 8:28.

#3  Your calling is irrevocable.

In times of transition, it’s easy to doubt your calling or lose sight of it altogether.

People used to come up to me in Checkers to thank me for my latest preach, or get me to sign a book. Not so much here. Again, not looking for pity. Just being real with you. It can make a girl wonder. And none of us is above having to re-evaluate our identity every once in a while, and settle it – for reals – in Christ alone.

There’s a powerful something connected to surrender: the laying down of hopes and dreams and self at the foot of the cross where Jesus laid down His life. After the sacrifice, comes the resurrection. Embedded in that truth are so many reasons not to give up when there’s been a stripping away and things look bleak.

Also, Scripture is filled with prophecies that took hundreds, even thousands, of years to materialize. Some are yet to be fulfilled. Prophecy is always a process. Live patiently. If God said it, it will come to pass – in His way, time and strength, and for His glory.

So, if you’re the potted shrub transplanted into a garden and fertilized expectantly with prophecy, promise and hope, you may not bud any time soon. You may even look dead. But don’t think nothing’s happening. Even in the dark, His presence wraps around your roots as they find spacious places to stretch out strong. A life planted in God will bear fruit. It can do no other.

God sees your desire to see His Kingdom come. It’s ok to come to Him – floundering, fearful – and ask Him to re-ignite you and remind you of all the ways He’s wired you – irrevocably – and led you into His purposes. The One who called you is faithful, and He will do it.

Also, our best years are ahead of us, because –

#4  There’s always eternity.

Moving away from one context and into another compels us to find peace and purpose in the broader context of eternity.

Take heart. You’ll meet new people in your new spaces and God will enlarge your heart to love them without loving your old people any less and you’ll look forward to a future where there will be no more separations and no end to the kuier.

No matter what happens in the blink between now and your final breath, in the end there’s Jesus and perfect joy and though we’re all unfinished symphonies, He will resolve the final chord of your earthly opus.

He’s got you.

You’ve got this.

. . .

Happy weekend to you, friend!

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  1. So good Dalene.
    Praying for you my friend, that God will give you patience to endure.
    He will never leave you, nor forsake you.
    Love you lots.


  2. Hello Dalene, I’m loving your hopeful posts even more of recent. You guys left SA a few months before us, and at the time we didn’t even know we were leaving yet, and had decided to put our dreams of immigration on hold for a while! In February everything showed us God had other plans for us and we arrived in the UK in 15 May! We have settled in a tiny little country town in Wiltshire (Devizes) and your post today, came at such a perfect time! The past week, left me feeling lonely and missing home more than ever! I throw myself into work (I’m working remotely for my SA company which is ending at the end of the coming week,) because it’s the only familiar thing I have! But I think the reality of it ending as well leaves me frightened! So your blog today was perfectly timed and in every way what I needed to face the next chapter of our immigration!
    I think our next step, which is starting tomorrow is to find a church for our family to fellowship in! It’s been a while since we have been in an actual church – for obvious reasons! But tomorrow we are going to visit a new one, and we praying that God guides us to the right one! It’s so difficult, the churches in our local town are tiny and we really miss our old community, so this is going to be a tough search. But because we believe God is going to help us find a home among fellow God loving friends!
    Any way, thank you for sharing your real moments, and for reminding me, that it’s ok to feel a little scared and unsure sometimes, but to be comforted that God is always in control.
    Lots of love
    Bronwyn Hall

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Just what I needed to hear today. Currently halfway through our quarantine period in a London hotel, going a bit stir crazy and feeling all the emotional feels. Immigration is not for sissies! Thanks for giving me the new perspective I needed.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. When the Lord moved us through the Army to Pine Grove, I was a mix of emotions. Why here? It doesn’t feel like home to me/ all the faces to get to know and I wasn’t in my comfort zone of usual surroundings. What I had read sounded like my thoughts back then, 12 years ago. Gods done much and much more is coming. More changes will be coming. Thanks for sharing. Im going to be okay, God has been faithful!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. “grief is a kind of love.” i love that. I have transitioned across different countries about 7 times in last 10 years. Sometimes I wonder whether my lack of grief is lack of love or some sort of dead-on-the-inside mechanism I can’t control. But maybe it’s grace and excitement for the new. I am deeply grateful that you get to steal a moment every now and then to grieve and to cry and to process. It reminds you that you are living fully, boldly and courageously, tenderly and kindly. If i could do one thing for you today, it would be celebrating being different, celebrating where you have come from and what shaped you. Even if there’s only one person at the party. Much love to you all.


  6. I’m one month into our relocation, and your comment about lime scale on the shower door hit home. Thank you for sharing this with us. It has given me hope in a time where I’m grieving, but I’m happy. And I can do both.

    Liked by 1 person

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