We packed up the last of the boxes and put them in the moving van. My heart was heavy with grief. We were leaving Virginia. Leaving all I knew and was comforted by: my church of 14 years, friends and family, and the place where my sister and nephew were buried. I had spent almost my entire life in two cities which boundary lines touched. I knew the area where I lived in and out. I knew where to shop, what grocery stores had the best prices, where to get gas, how to dress for the weather, and how to fit in with those around me.
I thought I was ready for this adventure. After all, didn’t I convince my husband that this was the next step? Didn’t I feel God leading us to Philadelphia? Didn’t I know my husband, Mike, should get his master’s degree? I knew all the way to my bones that we were supposed to go and take this step of faith and live several states away as Mike pursued a degree at seminary.
Mike and I had been living apart for several months as he commuted back and forth to school in Pennsylvania and back home to Virginia. It was time for us to move up with him. We finally had a place to live and our youngest child, Samuel, was now somewhat medically stable.
Samuel had been born prematurely and was on oxygen for the first six months of life. At seven months he had a near death experience and was hospitalized in the ICU for a few weeks. He was intubated and not doing very well. Miraculously he pulled out of it. No need for the planned cardiac surgery or a tracheotomy.
When we told people we were moving they began to pull away. Friends became distant. We had promises of help that didn’t come through. The disappointment of friends failing to show up ate away at me. I was surprised at those who did end up coming. The brave and the few who helped us pack up and load the van was a tiny fraction of those who knew us. I left Virginia feeling very discouraged and unloved.
Our two small children, Libby, who had just turned two the week prior and Samuel, now 9 months, were loaded up in the car with me. The necessary medical supplies and toys to keep them busy on the trip were packed in bags along with snacks and diapers and wipes — enough to last us a week or at least the seven-hour drive.
I was so grateful to our friends Katie and Sean for traveling with us. My friend Katie rode with me and her husband, Sean, rode with Mike in the moving van. At least I would have something familiar with me as we traveled. Katie and I talked about life. It was a great distraction. It kept the reality of what were doing at bay.
Arriving in Pennsylvania was just the beginning. There were unfamiliar faces waiting to help us unload. People from the seminary served us by helping us unloading boxes. We bought pizza to thank those who had come and served.
The next day we were given a ticket and were fined for having a moving truck at our place on Sunday. Apparently it was illegal to move on Sundays. We had moved on a Saturday but decided to return the rental truck in the morning. Whoops.
I tried to begin unpacking but was confused and disoriented not knowing where I wanted things or how to even begin getting settled. I had never made a big move like this: small children, a different state, and a whole new life awaited us — new grocery stores, gas stations, schools, and trials. I had no friends there, no family, no church, and no sense of direction. I also had no self-confidence.
Over the next year and a half we were faced with many challenges. Samuel was hospitalized ten times by his second birthday. His respiratory issues were diagnosed as asthma, reactive airway disease, and chronic lung disease. He had speech delays and physical delays that required therapy and early intervention.
I knew we were doing what God wanted, but I had never felt so alone. I didn’t have many friends and the few I made I rarely saw. Cars broke down. We had only had one vehicle to use for a long time. Money was tight. Stress mounted. Between hospitalizations and Mike’s finals, I found myself continually crying out to the Lord, “God I need you. I’m so lonely. So overwhelmed. So scared and weak and tired and confused.”
Ten months after moving to Pennsylvania, I became pregnant. And what we thought would be one more child to welcome into our home became two — we were having twins. I had pregnancy complications and was confined to bed rest. I remember staying nights at the hospital with Samuel trying to comfort and console my son in pain. Caring for a child in the hospital is not conducive to bed rest.
I felt like I was in a desert, and yet, God was there. In the midst of my exhaustion and loneliness He met me. I knew and experienced a special time. A time that was set apart. I was removed from the distractions of friends and family and familiarity. God was specifically putting me in a place where I was stripped of all that I clung to that wasn’t Him. He was all I had. He was all my hope. He was what sustained me. With His help and strength I learned how to survive. I learned how to shop at new stores. I learned how to be a friend.
I joined a Bible study. I talked with other women. I laughed. I cried. Being in a place of pain allowed me to recognize the pain in others. I befriended someone whose husband was dying of cancer. I was comforted by those around me. I met some wonderful people.
When it was time to leave Pennsylvania, I wasn’t ready to go. Once again I would be moving with small children. I was on bed rest with the twins and not allowed to drive. A precious friend drove me from Pennsylvania with my children back to Virginia and instead of facing the unfamiliar I would be coming back to the known.
But it wasn’t the same and I wasn’t the same. God had changed things. I would once again have to adjust; maybe not so much to new stores and traffic patterns but to different circumstances … to the “same” people made different … and a new me.
I look back at the time I had in Pennsylvania with so many mixed feelings. I dealt with loneliness and trials in a fresh way. My life was very much in “survival mode.” The time there was very intense. The bad times helped make the good things even better. The contrast was so sharp. I recognize God’s hand preparing me for my present reality.
Mike and I now have five children. Samuel’s needs have changed from respiratory issues to being diagnosed with cancer last August. One of our twins has cerebral palsy. And we added another baby, our precious Peter, to the mix.
Our trials haven’t seemed to stop but neither has our God ceased to be faithful. He sustained us then and he sustains us now. He meets us in the midst of the desert — in the midst of the pain and sorrow — and He reminds us that He is here. He is the Great I Am. And He is more than enough for me.
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Ashleigh Slater, Founder & Managing Editor
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