That’s not a rhetorical question. I truly want to know.

Might you be longing for a loved one to get well?  A child to come back from dark places?  The untenable situation in which you live to finally end?  I long for this for you as well.  Your needs populate my prayers.

And if you were to ask me today, I would be longing for you. 

If you are reading this post, we most likely know each other and have history together.  I trust you and our friendship.  I have a place of belonging in your life as you have in mine. 

You already know that following our retirement from full-time vocational ministry this summer my husband of 42 years and my mom of 65 (well, she’s a bit older but that’s how long I’ve known her), relocated to a new region of the country. And we love it here, we truly do.

But even a long anticipated and entirely welcome move still comes as a total shock to the system. All the systems. Everything that gave structure and form and purpose to a former life has been dismantled and needs to be rebuilt.

According to recent statistics from the United States Census Bureau, over 35 million people move each year.  That’s about one-ninth of the entire population.

As many of us can attest, moving to a different home in the same community is stressful enough. (The sorting!  The donating and discarding of possessions! The packing!)

But relocating to a different state, region or even country kicks the stress level up to an entirely new level. Virtually nothing in your life remains the same. (New utilities! New insurance coverages of every kind! Different schools, stores, and services!)

Yet the biggest challenge is to satisfy the most compelling need of all: to belong. Why is the need to know and be known, to fit in, to belong such a powerful one?

At its best, the longing to belong is a positive force for good. We build communities for mutual support. We seek fellowship to know that we are not alone. (“You, too? I thought I was the only one!)”  We want to know and to be known, to be useful to others, to have a purpose and a place.

At its worst, the drive to belong can become destructive. Gangs become the family that members lack, or the one that supports their darker impulses. Tribalism divides neighbor from neighbor due to ethnic identification or misguided loyalty.  The us vs. them of political affiliation creates an uncivil war on social media.

Yet the need to belong remains legitimate. Relocation changes the equation of our lives – for a time at least –  from one of addition and multiplication to subtraction. 

I took out my wallet and keyring the other day and finally did the hard thing. I cut up my former library card and store loyalty tags and tossed my fitness center ID.  I had already surrendered my access card with the chip that beeped me into my office building each day.

Silly to hang onto them, right? Stupidly sentimental, and impractical besides. They had no value except as symbols of formerly belonging to a people and a place.

But I’m thinking of you today, and you give me courage. You’ve moved too, lots of times, and some of you have changed continents as well as cultures.

So here’s what I think you’d have me do.

  1. Choose to know even if not yet to be known.

I’m taking your advice!  On Saturdays I march myself to the local Farmer’s Market and greet the vendors by name. Jana sells organic poultry. Eddie has the best lettuce and tomatoes. Hank provides the fresh trout. Or I drive downtown and duck in and out of the shops, chatting with Ellie at the resale shop or Jackie, the mayor’s wife who’s recovering from foot surgery while running the antique store. Today I visited a local writers group where I met some lovely women.  I am getting to know our community a bit and that’s a start, isn’t it?

2.  Don’t wait to be invited. Issue those invitations yourself, girl!

OK, I hear you!  We are having three young pastors and their wives over for dinner soon and we look forward to coming alongside them with prayer and support. We also plan to go door to door to invite neighbors over for cookies, crunchies and conversation, an idea we picked up from our friends Dave and Carol when they moved.

3. Volunteer!  Helpers are welcome everywhere. 

Our new hometown has a fantastic community theatre, and I’ve signed up to usher this weekend.  With experience as a Div 3 swim coach, Mike is hoping to get involved with the Smoky Mountain Aquatics Club.  Once we settle into a new church home, we’ll be looking for ways to be of service there too. 

And that wallet that retirement and relocation emptied in more ways than one?  This week I added a new library card, rec center ID and grocery store loyalty card. When the clerk at Ingle’s asked for it, I was proud to showit to her. Made me feel like a local. Like maybe I belong.

Doesn’t take much to make me happy these days.