I knew it was time to move when I was loading the kids into our van outside of a McDonalds Play Land and Elijah, pointing to an iridescent puddle of oil pooling under the pick-up truck next to us, in wonderment said, “Look, mommy, a rainbow!”
It was by no means an easy decision. For the last decade Troy and I had been city dwellers. From 2001 until just last May, we were living with our dear friends in a two-flat, they on top and we on the bottom. What started out as a financial investment, evolved into an emotional, and spiritual one as well. Together, we pulled off yellow and green floral wallpaper in two inch pieces at a time; we ripped up carpeting and refinished hard wood floors; we planted perennials; we cried in fear over unplanned pregnancies and over pregnancies planned for years without materializing; we earned a Master’s Degree in Social Work; we produced an independent short film; we adopted a beautiful baby boy from Korea. We lived out their experiences and they lived out ours, giving each of us a taste of the holiness within community.
For as long as possible, we delayed the inevitable. I home schooled Elijah. We converted a porch into an extra half bedroom. We cleaned out the basement for a few more precious square feet of living space. With the birth of Mary, however, our family of six was busting at the seams of our 2 ½ bedroom bungalow. And then our garage was broken into. All of the hubcaps were stolen off our van. Troy was almost hit by a car recklessly speeding down our street. I was feeling tense and claustrophobic. The kids were sprouting wings and wanting to fly.
Our house was on the market for three months. Three months of having to show our place at any given moment. Three months of waiting for offers, offers falling through, and discussions about lowering the price. I was as skittish as a heroine in a horror film. By the time the sale was finalized, after a nail biter of a closing, all the nostalgia had been drained from my heart. We found an old Victorian in a quaint neighborhood. Our new house was twice the size, and three times as far from Troy's job down town. Throughout the process of sorting and packing, I was distracted from dwelling on the changes that were just around the corner. Perhaps, in all honesty, I couldn’t bear a formal goodbye. The feelings were too raw for handling just yet, too sore for an intrusive examination. We drove off into the future, without looking back.
Of all of the millions of concerns tossing about in my mind last year, my children and their adjustment to this move, was not one of them. I had packed them up, along with the picture frames and dishes, assuming they were just as unfeeling as the glass and porcelain we wrapped with such care. “They are too small,” I thought, “to notice the difference.” But a week into our new lives as Hoosiers, once the novelty wore off and the permanence was starting to set in, Troy and I found ourselves with a small mutiny on our hands. “This house is too creaky and too scary! I miss my neighbors and our old park!” The disappointment expressed by my kids astonished me. “Are you serious?” we asked. “You have freedom here, and room to play. We live close to the library and bike trails.” But I was missing the point, entirely. Their longings could not be fulfilled using facts and logic. It takes time to develop roots and blossom in foreign soil.
I was reminded of that this month because in January, nine years ago, Troy and I became Orthodox. Like our Chicago exodus, the conversion became imminent when it was obvious staying in place was no longer an option. It was a bold move, a big move and one that affected not just our lives, but also the lives of so many around us. We had been romanced by the beauty and antiquity of the Faith. We felt compelled to move ahead in the direction of God’s leading. We were confident in our decision, and journeyed toward the future, without looking back. Once the novelty wore off, however, and the permanency of sacramental living set in, my soul put on a little mutiny of its own. It wasn’t a matter of facts and dates. I knew in my head how sound theologically were the hymns, creeds, and teachings of Orthodoxy; I would never have leapt into Her depths without this certainty. But being only a tiny seed, newly planted in the richness of Tradition, it was hard and humbling to have to wait on elements outside my control, for nourishment only given by God, Himself, before I could experience the stability of growth.
Like a tree, each year of my continued conversion forms a ring, marking a slow but steady development. A nine-ringed Oak is substantially stronger than a seed, but nowhere near close to reaching its maximum potential. There are Maples, Willows, and Evergreens all around me, thick with leaves, needles, and branches. There are tender shoots of green beside me, peeking out from under grass and dirt. All of us are stretching upward, toward heaven, at our own unique pace. Every tree is dependent on the sun, the rain, and the oxygen so generously offered from the hand of God. A forced asceticism will quickly bloom and wither away, but a consistent and patient yearning to conform to the image of Christ will withstand the storms of doubt and persecution. It takes time to develop roots and blossom in foreign soil.
On our way to Troy’s parents in December, Elijah and Priscilla asked if we could please drive through the city. It was a little out of the way, but they were so excited by the possibility, we agreed to take the detour. It is captivating, all those buildings and the lights reflecting off the water of Lake Michigan. “Ah, Chicago,” said Elijah from the back seat, “the city of dreams!” I realized then, they were not mere possessions. My children were individuals with their own distinctive passions and sorrows. They would adjust, as they were ready, in their own time and in their own way. I was to love, and respect the process. “I think I left my batman in my old room,” four-year-old Benjamin told me yesterday.” I promised him, that we had checked for such things before moving. “Let’s go upstairs,” I said, “to your new room, and find it together.”