This post may contain affiliate links. Post title inspired by Alexandra Kuykendall’s book, Loving My Actual Life.
The past three years
This post feels like a massive personal accomplishment, and I’m not yet done with the first sentence. You see, the past three years have been challenging. Actually, challenging doesn’t cut it. Words like awful, exhausting, defeating, lonely, miserable, depressing, and deflating capture more of the truth. Moving is never easy, but uprooting three summers ago was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.
Leaving Austin in July of 2015 meant giving up everything. (Or, what felt like everything.) The city I had grown to love, all of my friends, my job, my church, the future I’d dreamed up there–everything. When I lived in Austin, I told a dozen people how I had plans to live there forever. How I’d already picked out the schools I wanted my kids to attend, already chosen where I wanted to buy a house, and already imagined my ideal career path in the city. My future was set and I was in love with it.
And then I met Riley. And we dated and got engaged, and suddenly I had a person in my life who mattered far more to me than my well-calculated plans. Over the course of our engagement, we had endless conversations about where we’d live once we got married (we dated long-distance). After settling on Austin, where I lived, Riley began to apply to jobs. And apply and apply and apply he did. And nothing. I often liken it to standing in a room with 50 doors, each one bolted shut.
I remember the first time we talked about living in North Texas instead, in the small town where Riley grew up and was working at the time. Though I was nervous and slightly unsettled about moving, I was willing to live with Riley anywhere so that we could be together. I’m still willing to live with him anywhere. And so, two weeks before our wedding, I packed everything up and moved out of my beloved apartment in Austin. I cried for the first hour of the four hour drive up north, and then almost every day for the next two years.
When reality hurts
After the unpacking and wedding dust settled, reality set in. It felt like I had finally woken up after months of living in a haze. This was my new life. In a teeny, tiny town. Living in the middle of nowhere. No friends. No family. No church. Nothing. When I say I was miserable, I mean I was miserable, miserable, miserable, miserable, miserable. My emotional pain was so deep it physically hurt. I didn’t even know pain like that existed until this experience.
Now, if you’d told me about this kind of pain before I’d actually walked through it, I would’ve called you dramatic. But those of you who know, know. Totally uprooting your life doesn’t come without a few scars. It is painful and so, so hard.
I felt lonely like I cannot say. I felt like I was letting my husband down because I was so unhappy. I was furious with God. I was sad and withdrawn. I cried every day, all the time. Miserable, I’m telling you.
Time and work
Time doesn’t heal anything without work. I had to confront my feelings and deal with them. (I continue to.) As the months went by, I didn’t magically start feeling differently. I put in the time to actually figure out the root cause of my misery, which was that I didn’t trust the Lord. Which is insane! Because He has been faithful to me like I can’t say. (Read through my other 600 or so blog posts to see how He’s moved mountains for me in the past.)
But that was the truth–it felt like somehow, God couldn’t redeem my life here. Well, I’d think, this is the one place on earth where God can’t work. And I thought my days of seeing miracles and God’s hand were over. Gainesville: the one place Jesus can’t meet me.
But gently, and slowly, God changed my mind. He reminded me how He’s been faithful before. He put the right people in my path, the right books in my hands, the right words in my ears. And slowly my heart started to turn. My loneliness started to feel more like a gift than a burden. Maybe there’s something for me here after all? It was almost a terrifying thought. Am I actually going to choose to be happy here? To be content? Here?
Yes, I actually am
Yes. I actually am going to choose to be happy and content here. Though I’d like to never relive these tough years, they have been full of blessings like I can’t say.
Riley and I became our own family here. We’re rock solid. We love each other wildly, and because we’ve had to wade through some really hard junk, we understand and love each other in a way that a peachy life doesn’t allow. I feel like these years have been an advanced marriage course in a lot of ways. And we’ve made it, and we’re better than before. Turns out, when you don’t have a single friend for hundreds of miles, you figure out how to communicate with your husband. Who knew?
I built a business here. I can’t believe where I am today–it’s where I’ve dreamed of being since I started my first “business,” a summer day camp, at age eight. All I’ve ever wanted is to work for myself. And I’m doing it! How great is my God.
Living here has taught me–no, forced me–to slow down. Life in a small southern town is the opposite of fast-paced. And I’ve learned to love and appreciate that. I don’t live my life at a breakneck speed. There’s time for long dinners and slow mornings and afternoon naps on the weekends. We take walks and bake homemade bread and watch silly YouTube videos just because. I genuinely love this aspect of small town life. It makes me feel healthy and alive.
We’ve found a church and a church family we love. After praying for months, God led us right to it, and we have grown immensely because of it. Our community is small but loves people something fierce.
With so much proverbial white space, I’ve learned who I am and what’s important to me. I’ve also learned who I’m not and what’s not important to me, which is even more significant.
Though I am by far the more Type-A personality in our marriage, I’m also much more of a dreamer. Riley jokes that he’s like a puppy–contented and happy all the time, no matter what. He’s not lying. On the other hand, I’ve always dreamed big dreams. I’m an achiever. I want to write a book and get it published. I want to buy a bunch of land and build a house from the ground up. I dream about starting and running a summer camp or a Bed and Breakfast. I’d love to live abroad or travel for an extended period of time. Sometimes, it feels like half of my mind is dancing around in these dreams while I go about my day. (Sometimes, it feels like my entire mind is dancing around in these dreams while I go about my day.)
Sadly, I stopped dreaming about anything when I was walking through the thick of my misery over the past couple of years. Being taken to the absolute end of yourself doesn’t often lend itself well to dreaming. It lends itself to barely making it. Surviving.
But, as I’ve prayed for years now, I’m no longer just surviving. I’ve started to dream again like I used to. We talk about doing things here, building things here, further rooting our lives here. God has given me glimpses into our future that make my heart quicken. I don’t feel like every month ahead is full of dread and disappointment. I feel hopeful and excited about the future, like there are big things to look forward to.
There have been few people who have walked with me through this entire journey. I get it, I really do. For months on end, I was struggling deeply. Every phone call was bad news and brokenness. I watched as friends pulled away after telling me to “Look on the bright side!” Changing friendships are hard enough, but they were excruciating in my loneliness.
It’s for that reason that I so greatly appreciate the friends and family who have stuck with me. Who have let me grieve the life I thought I’d have openly. Who have listened without spouting off advice. Who have trusted God to change my heart instead of lecturing me to change it myself.
We must let hard things teach us
It’s like I always say: we must let hard things teach us. And I’ve learned a lot–about the Lord, my marriage, myself, and other people. Moving from a great big city to a place where I can literally hear cows mooing from my front porch is a hard transition, to say the least.
Something I’ve contemplated a lot lately is that I want to be a woman who digs her heels in. Who stays when it’d be easier to leave. Who fights when it’d be easier to withdraw. Who pushes into hard circumstances instead of letting them push her over. No one is called “strong” or “brave” for fleeing every time things get hard. I can think of people in my life like that–who flee and retreat every time a situation becomes challenging. I want to be the opposite.
Falling in love with my actual life
It’s wild to me what God can do with a heart in His hands. The circumstances that made me so miserable aren’t wholly different; in fact, some circumstances remain exactly the same. Little by little, however, I’ve surrendered to Jesus, and little by little, He has restored my love, hope, and joy.
Lately, I’ve been surprised by my own feelings and perspective. I often wake up excited about my future here! I can’t wait to see what God will do with our lives and family in this place. Those of you who have followed along since the beginning know what a massive statement that is.
I really am falling in love with my actual life. The pity parties are over and done with. The feelings of insecurity and isolation gone. The anger and exasperation I once felt has been replaced with peace and excitement. I want you to know that God can redeem and restore any situation, any relationship, any circumstance. What He’s done for me He can do for you.
I write this post as a metaphorical turn of a life-page (something I think is very important). A new chapter is beginning–one of restoration and redemption. One of laughter and joy. One where we’ll no doubt encounter sadness, frustration, and pain, but where we’ll choose bravery, courage, and hope.
I am such a deeply, fundamentally different woman than I was when I walked down the aisle three Julys ago. The experience of the past few years has shaped me for the better–like a jagged rock being smoothed. I still have a long way to go, but my goodness am I proud of how far I’ve come. Look at me falling in love with my actual life! I’m moving into the after. Praise the Lord!
// In what ways are you falling in love with your actual life?
Related blog posts:
- My Loneliness Was a Gift
- Let Your Life’s Pages Turn
- I Am Living the Before
- Assume She’s Lonely
- Hope When You Can’t “Find Your Tribe”
- Discontentment Follows You
- I am Not a Victim of my Circumstances: Thoughts on Abundance
- When You Don’t Want to “Catch Up” Anymore
- When Friendships Change
- Here’s to Being Obedient When You Don’t Feel Like It
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