As a couple, and now as a family, Dave and I have our inside jokes, our family phrases, and our life maxims. We call ourselves Team Tanderup. There’s this whole thing with dinosaurs that traces back to a nickname from Dave’s coworkers, but somehow ended up working it’s way into our pregnancy announcement, and now features in the name of our WiFi network.
Then there’s a philosophy that we try really hard to live by: Be Where You Are.
When we first began discussing marriage, Dave was already in the process of joining the Army. I had plenty of time to decide if life as a military spouse was something I wanted to do. While 20-year-old Jessica probably wouldn’t have even entertained the idea, the intervening seven years on my own, living far away from my family, prepared me in ways I couldn’t imagine for the life I was headed towards. By age 27, when the decision point arrived, I was ready to be open minded.
The idea of moving around every few years unsettled me some, but having experienced two solo-moves to new states, I was fairly confident that I could embrace the transient nature of Army life as an exciting adventure. What concerned me the most was what I knew about myself: it takes me awhile to warm up, to people, places, and experiences. I knew it was likely, given this fact, that I would just be getting comfortable in a place around the time the movers arrived to pack us out and move us on. And knowing this, I predicted my own defense mechanism: to avoid becoming attached and settled in a place, because I would know it was only temporary.
Given this insight into my own personality, I mentally set an intention to remind myself always, “be where you are!” I didn’t want to look back at my life and see it as a series of temporary stops. I wanted to commit to living it fully, no matter where the road carried us.
I’ll readily admit, sometimes I’ve been more successful at this; other times I’ve really struggled. During our first year in Hawaii, the months between September and Christmas rattled me considerably, because the seasons didn’t change in the way I was used to experiencing them. I’ve longed for familiar restaurants and radio stations. I’ve yearned for my typical family traditions when my physical location precluded me from participating. (This will be our seventh married Christmas, and if I remember correctly, we’ve only spent two of them with family.)
I don’t think there’s anything wrong with experiencing the sense of loss or grief that comes from not being in a place you love. But I’ve also seen the damage it can do, when the heart longs so hard for Somewhere Else, that it can’t see the joy and blessing of Right Here Right Now.
What does it mean to “be where you are?” I’m sure there are as many interpretations as there are people reading this blog, but for me, the following four distinctions are important.
Be WHERE You Are
Maybe you’ve moved to a new place, or you’re temporarily relocated from your normal environment. Be where you are by embracing the physical location where you find yourself. Don’t spend all your time in a foreign country looking for McDonald’s. Find a hole-in-the-wall somewhere and sample the local cuisine. Don’t spend time comparing the place you’re in to the place you’ve been. It might be out of your comfort zone, but it doesn’t hurt to try something new.
When I moved from New York to Alabama a co-worker shared that she’d been to New York City once with a big tour group, but she was so intimidated by the big city, she refused to get off the bus. She spent the money and time to drive from south Alabama to one of the greatest cities in the world, and all she experienced was the view from inside a stuffy tour bus. I found this incredibly sad.
When you move to a new place, it’s natural to compare and contrast where you are with where you just came from. But if that comparing continues for too long, you find yourself never settling in. Over time, you lose touch with the place you’ve been, but you never quite fit where you are either. You remain in a kind of limbo, emotionally homeless. It’s a sensation I’ve experienced and it isn’t pleasant.
The cure: getting involved. Maybe the community/workplace/family situation/church is bigger/smaller/louder/quieter/busier/more/less than what you’re used to. It takes time to adjust and figure out the lay of the land, but once you do, jump in! Find a place to volunteer. Join a committee. Attend the extracurricular activities and special events. Identify a friend or two to act as a guide into unfamiliar territory. (And if, like me, you make some false starts with friendships, keep trying until you find Your People. They’re there, sometimes it just takes some hunting.)
You don’t have to change your personality or your hobbies entirely, but holding yourself apart as The Outsider for too long only leaves you lonely and unhappy. Spending all your time looking back, whether internally or through the lovely/terrible means of social media, can create an invisible wall around you that those in your immediate vicinity feel but can’t quite identify. Only you can tear down that wall by deciding, “if this is where I’m going to be, I’m going to actually BE here.”
Be Where You ARE
This is one that I’m currently working through. Embracing the life stage I’m in for what it is, not expecting it to be something else or wishing it away. For me, this was a struggle for the 10 years I was a single adult. I wonder how differently my twenties would have been had 18-year-old Jessica known she wouldn’t get married until age 28. I think I’d have spent a lot less time agonizing over the future and a lot more time enjoying my life. (Maybe not, but I sure hope so.)
Still, the struggle didn’t stop on my wedding day. Through the different stages of my brief 3-years of motherhood, I’ve found myself both looking back, to the days of independence I enjoyed before Abby’s birth (when I could sleep in on Saturday, when I could eat ice cream without sharing, when I could listen to podcasts in the car without interruption…) and looking forward, to the stages to come (when she can sleep through the night, when she’s potty trained, when she goes to school, when she can do her own laundry…)
Or, day by day: when she finally goes to sleep.
Right now, this very moment, I’m struggling with one such change. Abby is in the process of giving up her afternoon nap. It means that my routine of the past year, where I do housekeeping chores or errands while she’s at preschool, and write or work on more focused tasks while she naps, needs to be reevaluated. In the past few weeks I’ve found myself continuously irritated in the afternoons, because I keep trying to make the old routine fit this new stage of our lives.
It doesn’t work. I’m trying to be where I was six months ago, and that is no longer my reality. It’s time for me to be where we are: in the stage where Abby is three, doesn’t nap in the afternoons, and still needs a lot of my attention. Holding onto a routine from a previous stage is like trying to cram her little feet in the baby shoes that don’t fit any more. It’s making us both frustrated and miserable.
Be Where YOU Are
I don’t think I can write this post without a little nudge for “being in the moment.” There’s been a lot of talk about mindfulness in recent years, and I don’t have a fantastic grasp on it, but I’m working very hard at being present with my people. Turning off my podcasts in the car to have conversations with Abby. Leaving my phone in my purse while riding in the passenger seat next to Dave. Reigning in my mind when it wants to drift away during conversations. Setting aside my worries and mental to-do list while I’m in the presence of Jesus.
I can mentally-multitask myself into a frazzled frenzy with very little effort. Being present is hard. But I know it’s important, and I am committed to continue growing in this area.
BE Where You Are
Recently when I was in Oklahoma for Thanksgiving, I had the privilege of hearing Pastor Barron Longstreth teach and preach at The Church Today. On Sunday morning his incredibly convicting lesson was entitled Stewarding the Now Moments. (The notes I jotted down were the impetus for reigning in all my thoughts on this subject into a coherent essay.) He talked about the life of Joseph, and how each seeming setback on his journey was really a progression of preparation for the responsibility and promise awaiting him. But Joseph had decision points all along the way: he could choose to steward those opportunities well, or squander them. We know that Joseph chose to make the most of every position he occupied. From the pit, to Potiphar’s house, to prison, he stewarded his Now and was prepared for what came Then. As Pastor Longstreth pointed out, when the butcher and baker brought up their dreams, Joseph didn’t respond, “Yeah, well I had a dream once, look where it got me!” He was able to steward that moment well, and he saw the results, even though it wasn’t for another two years.
Like Joseph, I also have dreams. They might not be of family members or celestial beings bowing down before me, but they are ideas and goals I believe God has impressed into my spirit. Dave and I have dreams together, places we believe God is leading us and things He’s promised us. Right now, right here where we are, it doesn’t make complete sense. So how do we steward our Now moments?
By being where we are. Being dedicated. Being disciplined. Being kind. Being consistent. Being wise. Being faithful. By being students of the Word, and our leaders. By being growers of our faith, and our individual skill-sets.
Doing the things which are set before us today, letting go of the past like trees let go of their autumn leaves in preparation for winter snow. Knowing that we don’t have room to hold the past and future together with the present. Releasing unmet expectations and dreams we feel died too soon. Embracing the unknown of a future walking by faith.
We accomplish all this by being HERE, where we are right now. Continuing the work in front of us today, trusting and believing what we see reiterated countless times in His Word: God accomplishes His Big Picture Plan through the mundane, everyday moments of our lives, if we choose to partner with Him.
Whether it’s a physical location or a life stage, a permanent circumstance or a temporary one, wherever I find myself, I want to be there with all that I am.