Denver, Sandusky, Chicago, Grand Rapids
Listen. This is not an instruction manual. There is no secret formula hidden in here. There are different solutions for different problems for different people. Every trip or vacation will not yield mega life change that looks and acts like ours did. I’ve been to lots of beautiful places and have returned largely unchanged and unexpanded. And that’s okay. Every experience doesn’t need to inspire a dramatic makeover and intense soul-searching quest. Our hearts need different things. Right now, for instance, I could swear my heart is begging for an all-inclusive resort with lavish poolside views and little to no physical exercise. And I’d bet that just two Monday’s after I return from said dream vacation, the afterglow of it all will likely get snuffed out by folding laundry and filling up the gas tank. But on the other hand, the same experience might save someone else’s marriage. Everyone’s daily bread is different, for different days.
There are all sorts of mystical reasons why we knew that a sabbatical in Portugal was right for us, which is why I believe it worked for us. I’ll save those stories for another day, but in a nutshell there were repeated pokes turned pushes guiding us to the wide, clear path towards Lisbon. So unless you are getting thick hints and grandiose invitations from the Divine (God, Spirit, intuition or whatever names you use to describe those guiding nudges) don’t expect every vacation or trip to the Bahamas or move to Seattle to solve your problems. What that is, is an expensive band aid that will probably end up falling off in the hotel pool somewhere.
Clay and I have talked about this a lot. We could have moved to Denver or Sandusky or Chicago and we would have been just fine. I also think we could have stayed in Grand Rapids and that ultimately wouldn’t have broken us either. Abusing the marrow method to tolerate something as big as ‘our whole life’ would not have been a sustainable way to live but eventually we would have figured out a way to move past the marrow induced depression phase to make it work. We could have sacrificed a thing to gain a thing. Or maybe a different door would have opened up and we would have found life-giving moments of big joy elsewhere. Who knows. I don’t think that there is one right path. I think that God is good enough at his job to use us where we are.
Which is why I cringe whenever someone refers to our move to Seattle as an ‘obedience to God’s calling’. That isn’t to say that I don’t see value in the phrase ‘God’s calling’ at all, because I do. I understand that God ‘calls’ us to love our neighbor, and to actively take part in the world’s redemption, etc. Those are big callings but there’s fluidity and autonomy. And the inverse of not being obedient to these callings is loneliness, and selfishness, and greed, and lust. Which, I believe, is what the scholars call Hell.
But as a writer who is picky about semantics and words, the phrase ‘being obedient to God’s calling’ in regards to specific decisions such as moving to Seattle, makes me want to hyperventilate. Life and Purpose are hard enough for me to navigate without fear of wildly screwing it all up. Let alone the added stress of having to decipher if The Almighty Creator of the Universe called me to Seattle in an official capacity. And if He didn’t, then that must mean I heard wrong, which then brings on all sorts of holy panic:
Did I screw up the redemption of the world because I misinterpreted the signs and signals and moved anyways? If He didn’t call me to Seattle then am I being disobedient by being here? And if so, then where else is a Seattle-loving sinner like me supposed to be instead?
To that anxious spiral of madness I say, “no thanks.” Clay and I both agree that we did not move because God called us or told us to. We are not here following orders. I think that’s okay–– every decision does not need to come with a lightning bolt.
If I think of Seattle as a gift or an invitation, though, it eliminates the anxiety of misinterpreting altogether. With an invitation there is no right or wrong choice, no obedience or disobedience. One could say yes or no to an invitation without fear of being the worst human sinner ever. I also like the visualization it evokes: imagining that every invitation Clay and I received was posted up on our refrigerator door, and simply put Seattle was the one we (& our intuitions) paid the most attention to.
At the risk of sounding like I’m contradicting myself, I should share that as soon as we accepted this invitation, heaps of grace, provision, and pulsing certainties gushed towards us from every angle. Monstrous tasks, like selling our house, fortuitously fell into place. I can’t say these provisions appeared out of nowhere, because I do have a hunch: Clay and I prayed a lot, especially about what the heck to do with our house. We prayed about selling vs. renting, how much to sell for, whether or not to get a realtor, when to put it on the market, etc. And in no time these prayers had answers very quickly; many of these concerns (and other) became non-issues.
For one, we ended up selling our house to our friends (without using a traditional third party). Romantics will hear that and think “how lovely and heartwarming.” Realists will hear that and think “how awkward and awful.” It absolutely could have gone both ways. At the time, the housing market was just starting to plateau after a steady upswing. Sellers were encouraged to be greedy, and buyers were expected to pay thousands above asking price; thanks to supply/demand and outrageous bidding wars.
Selling our ‘for sale by owner’ house to friends, in that market, certainly sounds like more of a trap than a friendship bracelet. And yet, it was the easiest negotiation of my life, as there were hardly any negotiations in the first place. It turns out the offer that was presented to us– unbeknownst to our friends– just happened to be our best price, almost exactly to the dollar. Upon hearing the offer, Clay and I politely excused ourselves into the living room to ‘discuss’ it, which we did. But mostly we were just making ‘mind-blown’ gestures and exclaiming “that’s our best price! what are the odds!” We wouldn’t have wanted to accept anything beyond that, and felt absolutely no desire to ask for more. Everything about it felt right.
So we walked back outside to excitedly accept their offer, and that’s how we sold our house: lounging in the sun on our back deck, discussing the sale no more intensely than if it were a laid back dinner party. Poof. Our gracious God said let this house be sold and our house was sold. The whole thing was comically and miraculously effortless in many ways. (Tremendously overwhelming in other ways though, make no mistake.)
Throughout the entirety of our moving process (and my entire life), there have been dozens of testimonies, equally astounding and identical to that one. How we sold our second car, for instance, or how we found our apartment, and so on and so on. Clay and I certainly did a lot of leg work, but Divine assistance did the heavy lifting, most definitely. I believe that with all my heart.
I’d rather not start an evangelical debate here, so I’ll remind you that this entire memoir is mere speculation. In other words, these are things I tell myself in order to sleep at night. So take this with a grain of salt, but I can’t interpret this grace and provision as if it were our reward for being obedient to some mystical calling; at least not with a straight face. Did the Almighty Creator of the Universe bless, guide and graciously support our decision to move in tangible ways? Yes, and I will evangelize that always. But does that mean that the Almighty called us to Seattle? No, I don’t think so; because I don’t think we would have been punished if we had chosen to stay.
In my mind, I loosely hold to the idea that there is parallel universe out there where one Clay and Katie Brinks accepted an equally respectable invitation that allowed them to stay in Grand Rapids. I applaud their dedication to make it work and admire the loyalty. I don’t doubt that grace and provision surely prevailed for them too, as their different invitation to stay was no more righteous (or punishable) than our different invitation to move. And although we are loving Seattle, I find it hard to believe that choosing to stay in a wonderful place like Grand Rapids could be twisted into any sort of punishment for anyone.