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How to Move to a New City

How to Move to a New City

Six weeks ago I made a one-way trip on Southwest Airlines to my new home in San Francisco. In my suitcase were some clothes and a dream. Despite months of preparation, reality hit me like a ton of bricks after I stepped off the plane. And between unpacking boxes and navigating new streets, I’ve learned a few things that I wish someone told me before I moved.

1) Give Yourself Permission to Grieve

When you move to start a cool new job, go to your dream grad school, or finally move into the same city your boyfriend or girlfriend lives in, you can’t help but celebrate.

The crazy part is that in the midst of celebration you can experience grief. But you’re not grieving because all this cool stuff is happening, you’re grieving because by hopping on a plane to take the risk of a lifetime you have to say goodbye to your old life.

In the midst of change—even good change—you need to give yourself permission to grieve. Allow yourself to mourn or cry. What you’re mourning is the people, places and things that you’ve lost and left behind. There will be deep stuff like missing your best friend and there will be stuff you didn’t think you’d ever miss like the local accent or your favorite Mexican food place. Grieving is acknowledging the pain of loss, calling it for what it is, eating the cake for dessert, then moving on and accepting that you’re life is different now.

Grieving is normal. It’s not weak, sinful, or weird. It’s human. It’s comforting. It’s part of Christ’s Kingdom here on earth. And it helps us to say goodbye to our old life and start our new one.

2) Expect a Weird Neutral Zone

There’s a billion little things you have to do when you move to a new city. Commit to a church. Find a job. Set up the cable. Change your address. Choose a grocery store. Arrange your furniture. Get used to your new work schedule. Make friends. Turn on the electricity. Impress your landlord. Ask around about the best Thai food. Find a Target replacement (if you move to San Francisco). Start working out. Learn when the garbage gets picked up. Get to know your roommates. The list goes on and on and on.

Then, there’s the weird neutral zone in yourself. You don’t know who you are anymore or how you relate to God in this new weird place, you don’t know who you hang out with or where you like to eat, you don’t know where you go on walks or retreat to when you want to be alone. The neutral zone is like the desert of moving. And it doesn’t feel like home at all.

With all the uncertainty happening around you and inside you, the most healthy, real thing you can do is ask God to make His home in you. He understands deserts better than anyone else.

3. Save Up for the Essentials

While making your way through the weird neutral zone, you realize that moving costs way more than you expect. There’s security deposits, pillow cases, lamps, spices, plates, silverware, cable set up fees, PG&E (that’s Californian for gas and electric), desks, mattresses and other stuff that you need but forgot that you had to buy.

Practically, this means you need to save for unexpected expenses. Lots of them.

4. New Relationships Take Time

It feels horrible when you move from a community where you’re known, loved, and appreciated, to a new community where people forget your name.

Embracing healthy expectations for new relationships will save you a lot of heartbreak. You’re not going to be close to people after a month. That didn’t happen in your last community and it won’t happen in this one.

The way to make new friends is to hang out with people and let it happen. It might take months, or maybe a few years. It’s the kind of thing you can’t plan. During this time, it’s OK to call your friends back at home and pour your heart out to them on a regular basis (and to catch up on their lives!). They’ll be more open to it than strangers.

5. God Meets You in Transition

When you’re sick from the emotional roller coaster of moving, almost broke because you didn’t budget for a security deposit and hundreds of miles away from anyone who knows you intimately, it’s the perfect time for the Lord to refine your character.

Because in this transitional place, you are naked, raw and moldable. In a move, our outside world is changing like crazy but our inside world is too. There’s a 99% chance God will expose the places and the people you’ve put your security in before, then lead you to greater dependence on Him. This doesn’t mean your circumstances are magically going to get better. What it does mean is that you’ll be a different person who’s learned how to trust God in real life.

In the past six weeks, I’ve moved into a new house with two new roommates, started two new jobs, committed to a new church, made a handful of new friends and in the whole process I am becoming a new person. It’s been stressful, but better than I could have imagined.

You won’t experience any of those things unless you go.

By knowing these things no one tells you about moving to a new city, your move still isn’t going to be perfect. But what I can promise you is that you’re not alone, there’s thousands of us moving and going. And there’s Someone Else going too, who promised to be with you always.

So, chart the course for adventure—for a new place, and the new person it will shape you to become.

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