Anchoring in the Midst of Transition


Our journey to living abroad has been marked by "last times" and living like nomads. Like many who embark on new lives across an ocean, we experienced a last Christmas, a last set of seasons at home, a last time for certain experiences, and the list goes on. When we sold our home in the foothills of the Cascades with a view of Mt. Rainier, we lived temporarily with family for three weeks before we drove across the United States to spend a year in Texas. After a week of hard work, we put our condo on the market. I took a photo, wrote a caption, and claimed a hashtag so I could look back on the defining moment for years to come (#goodbyeklahaniehome). We then spent two weeks celebrating Christmas as we knew it before we said goodbye to the place where my husband and I had grown up and where we started a family. Now, we were leaving this place.After a week in the car, including one traumatic hour crossing the Siskious driving in snow and thick fog, we arrived at the next temporary spot: a year in South Texas. It was economical, campy, and boasted the warmest weather I’d ever experienced. We had a hibiscus bush in our front yard, we lived two hours from an ocean worth swimming in, and I kept exclaiming, “I live in a place with palm trees!” We focused on language studies, explored, and took a month-long road trip up the southeast coast and back down through the Midwest. (My husband and I talk about one day making the same trip sans kids, but who knows -- it felt like a big “last” to me.)Then, as suddenly as we had arrived, we were graduating from language school, packing up our apartment, and driving north again for another “homeless” Christmas before our international move. What we thought would be a few weeks turned into six months. At first, I lamented because it fell at the worst time of the year, in terms of weather. I've always suffered from Seasonal Affective Disorder and I wasn’t looking forward to months of darkness and rain and being stuck in a house that wasn’t mine. But in January, I vowed to appreciate every moment, to make the most of all the "lasts" we were experiencing.Things moved so quickly, sometimes I would come home from a park date with my best friend and wonder if it had been the last. Surely, once we have our tickets, I thought, we’ll plan another get-together. Planning a final coffee date is one thing, but you can’t fit it ALL in once the tickets are purchased. I needed a way to anchor myself in the midst of all the impending changes.Even now, we’ve put down roots in our urban neighborhood -- going so far as to enroll our son on a soccer team. But the apartment we live in is too small for long term, and the work we came here to help with is thriving. This means, in the future, we may be called upon to help somewhere else, which will lead to another move. With this uncertain future, I still need to anchor.Here are three ways I feel grounded even when we’re about to move:Anchor with NatureDuring that time of waiting in the States, I appreciated the most beautiful spring I’ve ever enjoyed in Seattle. I gasped over every cherry blossom, every blue-skied day. We explored and learned the names of native trees, making memories I hope my kids will cling to during our first visit home in four years. It’s hard to live temporarily, to always say goodbye, but I hope those six months were grounding for my children. It might not feel like their home each time we return, but we secured a sort of familiarity by embracing each "last" and noticing each "first." In a Charlotte Mason education, students keep a running list of firsts in their nature journal: first bloom, first bird call, first harvested fruit. Developing the habit of noticing how the seasons change, and how our environment changes with it, while also remembering that it happens the same way every year, became a way to anchor ourselves in the midst of our temporary life.In her book Roots & Sky, Christie Purifoy explains how spring’s arrival reminds us that valleys don’t last forever: “the changing light suggests that this winter plain is not, in fact, endless. One day soon, the edge will rise up to meet us, and we will slide right on down into a new day. It will be the day we spot the first purple crocus in the grass. The day we realize the buds on the forsythia are swollen nearly to bursting. Then, we know: winter is over, and every day now for month after month will bring us some new loveliness.”Every day, I walk my son to school two times and I walk to pick him up again two times. Next year he’ll join his sister at the international school in a neighboring town (this was a practical anchoring decision we made for our family so no matter how many times we move, they’ll have their international school), so I’m practicing the habit of anchoring ourselves in spite of these temporary circumstances. I notice nature’s patterns: trees’ changing leaves, the flowers that grow in a natural space, the dogs we see every day. I remember that these things will happen again and again into eternity, and I feel grounded.Anchor with GratitudeIn addition to noticing nature, I count my blessings daily. I’ve lost weight and gained strength from all the walking. I’ve learned a lot of culture from all the neighborhood jaunting. I’ve honed my time-management skills from daily interruptions. I plan afternoons with the friends we’ve made through my son’s school, so we can continue the most important thing we’ve gained: relationships.And I remember: God is with me, all the time, in the most lasting friendship I will ever have. The science is clear -- gratitude changes everything. Gratitude is the opposite of so many negative emotions for me: insecurity, confusion, frustration, feeling unloved. Telling stories of appreciation with your children is also a guaranteed way to help them establish a firm identity, develop a positive attitude, and give them a tool for recovering from negative emotions. I start by asking my children, “tell me about a time you smiled today.”Anchor with CommunityI’ll be honest here, I’m still learning about what is appropriate in my host country in terms of invitations, sharing, and hosting people. But I’ve decided it’s worth the risk to try to connect with someone (and lots of posts here on Taking Route will concur)! So, I’ve invited Spaniards over, I’ve established regular park playdates, we’ve “sobremesa-ed” for hours, and I’ve filled a table at a ladies tea with these friends. For me, it’s food. I love to cook for people and feel most myself when people are satisfied around my table. Lately, I’m into designing cheeseboards, and I’m looking forward to inviting people over to share my creations. For you, it might be cheering your kids on the sidelines together, eating out, getting coffee, doing art, or just going for a walk. Humans were made for community, even when they don’t know it. It’s worth it. My bids for connection over my own dinner table might be out of the ordinary for my Spanish friends, but it comes from a genuine interest and love and joy in being with them, and nobody can resist that. How do you foster feelings of rootedness even when life is transient?