Once in a team-building exercise our group was asked to create a cover page for our autobiographies; I drew one of those signposts with multiple arrows all pointing different directions, and titled my “book” Neither Here nor There. I grew up in a family that moved to a new house, new city, new state every three years or so. I attended three elementary schools and three high schools, and somewhere around seven churches by the time I went to college.
Then I married a minister-to-be, and we went to his seminary. Then it turned out HE was married to a minister-to-be, so we went to MY seminary. Then it turned out I was in fact married to a Navy chaplain, and we began a whole new life of relocations, every three years or so. Now I’m raising kids who will attend multiple schools and churches; who will someday look back on a life that feels “neither here nor there.” Or maybe a life that is: here, and there, and there, and there, and there…
We talk about this a lot in our family. To be honest, we may oversell it a bit: It’s an adventure! Look at all the new things we get to do! Look at all the wonderful friends we’ve made! Try this delicious local recipe! Snap a family photo in front of this landscape, this skyline, this historic site!
And it’s true, it is an adventure. But it’s also true that sometimes, moving on is a heartbreak.
Other times, it’s a relief.
Usually—it’s a bit of both.
For me personally, it’s also a constant readjustment of my sense of call and vocation. Every move marks a new phase of our family life and my life as spouse, mom, and minister. While my husband fits into his newest Navy job description, I wonder how to fit my gifts and my dreams to the needs and opportunities of our newest community. Sometimes the opportunities are slow in coming. Sometimes I’m too hesitant (the introvert’s curse!), and take too long to seek out kindred spirits, and to discover where I might serve or how I might grow in a new place.
Recently we visited one of those local Landscapes, one of those Historic Sites that fill our family scrapbook, and I snapped this photo. Amid the moss-dripping trees of South Carolina, the Old Sheldon Church has stood since before the Revolution. It’s been destroyed twice; the ruins of its columns, walls, and pulpit are surrounded with crumbling gravestones. I didn’t expect to find a description of our life—maybe even a description of my own calling—on its walls:
leave feeling Old Sheldon
is not worse, but better
for our presence.
This is now my prayer: “Let us leave feeling this place is not worse, but better for our presence.” When we move away from each of our homeplaces, we are certainly changed. We carry new experiences and lessons and friendships with us, safely packed in bubble wrap, ready to unpack for the next new community with its own unique needs that will challenge us and frustrate us and delight us in all new ways.
But we are not the only ones who are being transformed as we come and go. Here, now, on this sacred ground, in this place with a history we have not witnessed and a future we won’t be part of—for the short time we are here, we make a difference to this place. When we let go, when we walk away, our fingerprints and footprints remain. For better or worse.
God, let it be for the better. Amen.