Saturday, September 20, 2008

How We Ended up in Georgia (And Why We’re Leaving)

The year was 2000. The setting was a snow-covered mountain in northern Pennsylvania; the prop, a diamond ring.

David chose to ask me to marry him on this mountain for a very specific reason: he felt I deserved to see his hometown, the town to which we would move when we finished law school the next year, before I agreed to marry him. So, he took me there over a weekend in January when the temperature was a balmy 4 degrees so that I could see the town in all its glory. After meeting several relatives, traveling every street in town (seriously - there are 6 of them), and spending the day sledding on a beautiful pristine hillside, he popped the question. I don't know if it was the effect of the bitter cold on my brain cells, the blinding glare of the diamond ring/snow, or if it was just a momentary delusion in which I saw myself as a brave, adventurous person, but for whatever reason, I said, "Yes, I can live here!"

Now lest you misunderstand me, let me be clear: I agreed to marry David because I love him - a decision I have not regretted in at least the past 48 hours. (I jest, I jest!) It was not my answer to the "Will you marry me?" part that would come to haunt me; it was the "Can you live here?" part.

I should give you a little background about myself at this point. I tried to go away on a summer-long mission trip to Hungary when I was 16. I lasted 5 days. I started college at Auburn but transferred home after a semester. (In reality, my intent was to transfer to a Christian school, but it never happened. I finished my degree at CSU, which does not stand for Colorado State.) I finally succeeded at the summer missions thing the summer after I graduated from college, during which I lived for an entire summer in a warehouse/church in inner-city Chicago. I lasted the whole summer and loved it. However, the complete story is that I flew home for a weekend after one week so that I could walk in my college graduation, returned home 3 weeks after that because I needed semi-emergency surgery, and traveled to California to be my cousin's maid of honor during a few weeks after that. So, assuming there are about 10 weeks in the summer, I still managed to spend a total of almost 2 weeks with my family during that time. A few days before I was to leave for law school in Virginia Beach, my family and some friends got together to pray for me and bless me before I left. My big brother seemed skeptical that I would really go. I said, "Ben, I'm going. I'm packed! I have an apartment!" He said, "Yeah, but you haven't left yet." That statement held more meaning than he intended.

I did, indeed, leave that week and spent three fabulous years living in Virginia Beach. I made the closest friends of my entire life (all you have to do is call my name, and I'll be there . . . on the next train . . .) and never for a minute wished I wasn't there.

It was halfway through our second year that David proposed. I was still doing great then. We got married the summer before our final year of law school. The first few months, still great. And, then . . . downhill fast. I was suddenly gripped by an overwhelming, paralyzing fear of moving to Pennsylvania. I sunk into a depression, cried at the mere thought, much less mention, of moving there and being away from my family for even longer than I had already been. I just could not do it, and I was falling apart. Those of you who are married can imagine what a joyful first year of marriage this made for David and me. Let's just say we have great empathy for couples who struggle.

So, I was a wee bit apprehensive about moving to PA after graduation. You know, in the sense that the Sahara desert is a wee bit warm. As I said, the mere thought or mention of it would reduce me to tears, and since it was our final year of law school, there was of course, a LOT of talk about it. We had to apply to take the bar exam in whatever state we would be moving to, so I spent our last semester getting together the materials needed to apply to the PA state bar (which consists of your birth certificate, your driving record, your criminal record, your blood samples, your firstborn, etc.). I had talked David into agreeing to take the GA bar, too, but we could not take them at the same time because the days overlapped. (Most bar exams are 2-day affairs, given at approximately the same time.) The exams are offered only twice a year - in July and February - so we agreed we would take the PA bar in July and the GA bar in Feb.

Here's where things got a little better (ie, I got my way): because studying for the bar exam is theoretically full-time work and we had to move out of our university apartment when we graduated in May, we had no place to live. So, my parents agreed that we could live with them for the summer while we studied for the bar exam. We flew to PA in July to take the exam . . . but exam results are not issued until October. So, now what do to? Getting a job as a lawyer is tough when you don't have a law license yet, so that left us from late July to late October with little employment opportunities. We weren't in PA to look for jobs there, and we hadn't even taken the GA bar exam yet, so looking for legal jobs here was pretty impossible, too. By August we realized we needed to do something to put bread on the table and move out of my parents' house. Seeing as how David had gotten an oh-so-marketable political science degree, the job-hunting was pretty much left to me since I had a teaching degree and certificate and a yaer of teaching experience pre-law school to boot. So, I got a job teaching 7th grade grammar. (Grammar I love; 7th graders, not so much. No offense, Mal and Grant!)

Boy this story is getting long, huh? So, the teaching job committed us to GA for the year. By then end of that year, we had obtained law licenses in both PA and GA, David had gotten a job with a firm here, and I was pregnant! During this time, David was still knocking on doors (figuratively) in PA from time to time, but nothing was opening. So, he ended up in the DA's office, I had a baby and then went to work part-time for a law firm. Over the next three years, we would have three children, I would become a stay-at-home mom, and David would leave the DA's office to work for the firm he is still with today. (Our time there, sadly, overlapped by only a couple of months before I left to stay at home.)

During all this time, up until Fall of 2006, I would hear him on the phone with his dad in the other room talking about plans for living and working in PA, and I would fall apart all over again. (David's dad graduated from law school with us. He and David went to law school together with the intent to open their own firm afterward; call me the monkey-wrench.) I spent the first six years of our marriage living, quite literally, in abject fear of moving to PA. I wanted nothing to do with it. I wanted to live near my family, have my mom to help with my kids, be here to watch my nieces and nephew grow up, have all the comforts and familiarites of my hometown at my fingertips, and last but not least, live within 1/2 hr of actual stores and restaurants! Any talk of PA left me shaken, afraid, and quite honestly bitter and angry. It made much more sense to me that we stay here since I have siblings and David does not. His parents needed to just move to GA to be close to their grandchildren since ours are the only ones they have. Makes sense, doesn't it? Meanwhile, David and his parents kept playing the "God card" - they felt like God wanted them to live there and that we were "supposed to" move there at some point. Thanks a lot - how can you argue with the God card, right?

So, after six years of marriage here I was resenting David for wanting to put me through the pain of leaving my family, resenting his parents for expecting us to do that, and pretty much creating a mile-wide chasm between myself and my husband. It would have made sense during this time for me to have prayed for God to change my heart about the whole thing . . . to help me desire the things my husband desired, to give me peace about following my husband and supporting him in his goals and plans. Plans, he wouldn't hesitate to remind me, that he fully disclosed when he took me to that mountain and proposed all those years before. He had wanted to make sure I would be able to live in that tiny frozen speck in the mountains, and I had said I could. How frustrating this must have been for him, I cannot imagine.

Despite my fear and resentment, for reasons unbeknownst to me, I suggested in the Fall of 06 that we take a family trip to David's hometown. We had not been there since we got engaged, and none of his family had seen any of our children. (Except his parents, but they have been living in Harrisburg - about 4 hrs from the hometown - since after law school, so that was where we always visited.) We drove to Harrisburg first and spent a couple of days at his parents' house. Then we headed up into the mountains.

I was prepared for battle. I fully expected David to hail the virtues of the town the entire time we were there and to try to convince me that it was where we should live. I was ready with my defense. My guard was up, and I would not let him penetrate it. Bring it on, honey, I know this is what you're going to do.

Nope. Silence. We were there for three days, and in a display of probably the wisest self-restraint anyone has ever shown, David said not one word about moving there. Not one word. I was stunned.

But, Someone else spoke to me instead. David's arguments I could resist. His mom and dad's arguments I could thwart. But, there is One whose words cannot be resisted no matter how hard we try. Over the course of the three days we were there, God and God alone, totally and miraculously changed my heart. I saw the town and his family with new eyes. I would be okay. God would go with me, and I would be fine. He gave me a peace that is truly beyond understanding.

God was steadily working in my heart the entire time we were there, but I didn't say anything to David until our final day. On the morning we were packing to leave, we were standing outside (in the bitter October cold and snow!), and I said to him, "If you really feel like this is where we need to be, I'm okay with that." You could have knocked him over with a feather! What??!! After six years of crying and hyperventilating when he even mentioned PA, suddenly I was fine with it? We were both utterly amazed. I knew that this peace had come from God and that He had given it to me mercifully. I had not asked for it. I had only ever prayed that God would change David's heart and that we would not have to go. Never had I asked for my heart to be changed. But, doesn't God always give us what we need even if we're too foolish to ask for it or to recognize it?

That was two years ago next month. Yet, here we are in GA. Over the course of the past year I would wonder why God didn't open doors for us to move right after He gave me peace about it, but we would discover the answer to that. If we had moved to his tiny hometown prior to this year, I probably would have died because my life-threatening health condition would almost certainly not have been found in time. Turns out God had us here for a reason, and now that I've had surgery and my health is good, doors are opening and signs are appearing at every turn that let us know the time to go is soon. I could not ask for a sweeter blessing from God than this peace and like-mindedness with my husband. How terrible putting up the for-sale sign would have been if I were still in the state I was in two years ago. How miserable it is to live life full of fear and resentment, and how great and gracious and merciful God is to give us what we need despite our protestations.

So, I was right all along that we ought to be in Georgia, wasn't I? In the end, though, does that really make me right? No. I read a verse during that final semester of law school which convicted me: I Peter 3:5-6, which says, "For in this way in former times the holy women also, who hoped in God, used to adorn themselves, being submissive to their own husbands; just as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord, and you have become her children if you do what is right without being frightened by any fear." (emphasis mine) That pierced my heart, and I knew then that the right thing to do was to support my husband and to ask God to help us want the same things and to give me courage and peace. But, I didn't. I stubbornly resisted. God did not need me to be bitter and resentful for us to live where He wanted us. He did not need me to stubbornly refuse to submit to my husband and to do everything I could to manipulate circumstances to keep us here. He could have kept us in Georgia without any help from me. I was wrong even if the place was right. Thank God for his mercies that are new every morning.


Holly Rutchik said...

I just spent about a half hour on your blog reading your amazing story. My husband and I have experienced similar things in our short marriage. What a blessing to read the story of a women who has been through the health issues and back--and ok with living by the hubby's family--two things I really need to work on. Thank you, for sharing and showing the face of Christ in your story.

Ms. J said...

Becky-Jo! I wondered why you moved to PA. Did not know that was your husband's home state. How funny, it's also my husband's home state :) Alex is from Langhorne, just outside of Philly! And I had NO idea why you left AU, girl, after I rode with you, in the middle of the night, after ripping the back seat out of your car, to deliver some stinkin' birthday balloons, lol!