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Geography Lessons

  • by Camerin Courtney Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2009 1 Jan
  • COMMENTS
Geography Lessons

It doesn't compute with my GPS system, which I affectionately refer to as Navigation Nora (I like to think of her as Dora the Explorer's less animated, more mechanically inclined sister). Nora doesn't understand how I could want to have two separate addresses listed under "home" in her memory banks.

There's the "home" I recently visited over the holidays in Kansas City, where I grew up and where my parents, my sister and brother-in-law, and my niece and nephew live. And there's the "home" in the Chicagoland area, where I've lived and worked and developed community over the past 15 years, pretty much my whole adult life.

The fact that 526 miles separate these two homes becomes extra evident about this time every year. I've just spent Thanksgiving and Christmas in KC, enjoying warm family togetherness, and now I'm back in my other home with a long stretch of dreary Chicago winter to weather without someone to wake me with coffee and hug me goodnight, without little people to dance with whenever there's music, without the people who've known me the longest and love me anyway.

While we certainly have our quirks and clashes, for the most part I've been blessed with a good, loving, supportive family. And round about this time of year, I wonder why on earth I live so far away from them.

See, I moved to the Chicago area right after college. Back then I was simply glad to finally have a chance to put my brand-spanking-new degree in magazine journalism to use. I really didn't care where that opportunity was located. I'd graduated in May and didn't start my Chicago-based job until the following January, so you can imagine my eagerness to ditch my retail job selling clothes at a Casual Corner in Des Moines, Iowa, and get the rest of my life and career started already.

The position at Today's Christian Woman magazine was my only offer in all those months of job searching. And I thought I'd struck gold, being able to combine my education, my skills, and my faith. So I moved full speed ahead, never looking back, never looking forward to what this move would mean 15 years down the road.

Of course, back then I figured I'd have a husband and kids by now. That next tier of family to call my own, and to help make my presence here in the Land of Lincoln (and a few shadier politicians) make more sense. It's one thing to live far from your family of origin because of your spouse and kids. That feels more justifiable, more biblical—in the leaving and cleaving sense. But for a job? That can seem shallow or materialistic or selfish.

I thought it weird to still be wrestling with these geography issues at my age, to be wrestling with them perhaps even more than I did ten years ago. With my parents looking at retirement, with my niece and nephew sometimes seeming like the closest thing I'll get to my own kids, the wrestling intensifies.

But when I had lunch with my friend Tanya one day shortly after the holidays I realized I'm not alone in these internal struggles. Tanya lives about eight miles from me, and most of her immediate family lives in California. She's done the shuttling back and forth over the holidays for years as well. And as we compared notes about our geography angst, she talked about other single friends who feel the same way.

As Tanya and I chatted, I brought up the fact that my dad went on a short-term mission trip while I was home. While my family joked that I was there to babysit my mom for the five days he was gone, I wondered if I'd be tempted to do that more seriously and long-term should, God forbid, anything ever happen to my dad.

I mentioned the little flutter dance of joy my heart did when Carson, my nephew, spotted me at the airport and yelped out my name. Next thing I knew, he and my parents had me in a bear hug. I had the same feeling the next day when my niece, Luci, burst through my folks' doors (she's a three-year-old force of nature), spotted me, cried "Cam," and soon had me pinned in a half-tackle, half-embrace. After 2008 kicked my butt, these laughing, dancing, exhausting little people were a shot of cheap therapy.

I talked about hugging my mom one night before bed (we're a hugging family) and feeling her small frame surrounded by my arms. Though my mom very capably corrals a roomful of second graders every day in her job as a teacher, at that moment, she felt frail. I had the sudden, aching sense that I won't always have her with me. And I suddenly wanted to close up shop in Chicago and move closer to these people I'm blessed to call family, so that I can soak up whatever time we still have with one another—whether that's decades or days.

Oh sure, my family isn't always all Normal Rockwell hugs and casseroles. We have our moments. And I know all the arguments for living my own life. For following the path God has set out for me. For using the gifts and abilities he's given me. I love the family of friends he's blessed me with in my Chicago home. I appreciate the community of believers who've made up my church family for the past 13 years. I savor the fact that I have a job that allows me to minister to others with the truth and hope and love of Christ.

I have single friends who've used their freedom to move back near family. And many of my local single friends have out-of-state family—in Minnesota, New York, Texas. We watch each other for cues of wisdom, for insight as we try to follow God's best path for each of us.

And I keep in mind another time when my mom seemed frail. Growing up, we lived three and a half hours from her parents and siblings and their families. Every time we'd pull away from the small white house on Greenwood Street, where my grandparents still live, my mom would be in tears. Whether it had been a peaceful visit or one marked by drama, she would once again grieve the miles between her homes, her families, her loves. As I think of that now, it reminds me that this isn't just a single-person struggle. I think nearly all of us wrestle with our physical place in this world, whether we've stayed near or moved far away. Wondering if we've made the right choice.

For now, I let the ache of distance drive me to my knees to pray for God's direction in my life. It's so easy to get comfortable; but this ache reminds me to constantly seek his guidance for my place in the world, both literally and figuratively. Most importantly, this ache reminds me that neither Kansas City nor Chicago is really my home. This side of heaven, I'll always be longing for a faraway home. Until I finally get there, I'll keep racking up frequent flyer miles and spending the distance in between locations savoring the anticipation and the sweetness of the destination.

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