by Amber Leberman
There’s nothing like a 1,000-mile drive to put things in perspective.
I left Chicago in late September with my silver hatchback full of my most valuable possessions: my grandparents’ kitchen table, in pieces; my Russian icon depicting Saint Genevieve of Paris; a leather portfolio holding 15 years of work in magazine publishing; my late fiancé’s letters and the bottle of bourbon he’d bought the week before he died.
The night before I left Chicago, my home for over a decade, I said tearful goodbyes to friends who sustained me during my worst days. I invited my friends to visit a home that even I hadn’t seen.
As I drove through Iowa and Nebraska on my way to Wyoming, I considered the risk I was taking. I had given up everything. I quit a more-or-less secure job with incomparable benefits. I was leaving the therapist who helped me in my grief after the death of my fiancé and the slow journey of recovery. I was moving farther from my parents, who would be a two-and-a-half-hour flight away. I was leaving a metropolitan area of 8 million and everything it offers: arts and culture, great dining, myriad potential employment opportunities, a better-than-average chance at finding a mate (should I ever consider that a priority again).
And for what was I leaving?
Or so I thought.
During the drive, my mind strayed to a worst-case scenario that included toiling in a cubicle alongside co-workers who resented me, not being able to pay my bills because I’d accepted a significantly lower salary than the one I’d earned in Chicago, or, worse, not performing well in my new job and being terminated.
I imagined being surrounded by people who wouldn’t accept me because I was a Midwesterner. I imagined that the photos of the apartment I’d rented sight-unseen online had been too good to be true.
My career trajectory was changing, too. My new job would be for publications on topics in which I had a keen recreational interest, but limited professional experience.
I wondered how much I’d really like the city to which I was moving. I’d only spent three days there, and hoped my impressions of it had been accurate.
Regardless of these misgivings, founded or unfounded, I leapt.
I thought I was moving for a job.
It was in a field I’d longed to break into for years. When I spoke to the hiring manager, we had immediate rapport.
I traveled to the interview on airline miles, the money I’d put away for a move, and the kindness of friends who offered the guest room in their home 40 miles south. Reconnecting with those friends, a married couple whom I held dear but whom I’d seen infrequently over the years, was an unexpected gift.
A week after the interview, I received an offer. I took four days to think about it. I did the math, making sure I could live comfortably on the lower salary. It seemed like a big risk, uprooting everything for a job three states West. If things went badly, if my worst imaginings came to be, I’d be far away from my support network.
The voice inside
I talked it over with David, one of my closest friends, on the phone. As I was talking to him, I had started packing, yet insisted I was still deliberating.
“Why are you spending so much time thinking about it,” he asked, “when you already know you’re going to say yes?”
The next business day, I called the hiring manager and accepted his offer.
As soon as I did, things started to fall into place. The hiring manager accepted my ideal start-date. I found the apartment of my dreams on an Internet advertising site, and the landlord accepted my out-of-state application despite having three in-person showings the next day. I shipped the majority of my belongings (in 42 boxes, some as large as two feet square) to my friends 40 miles south of my new town.
And now, I was driving into town on Interstate 80. After 455 miles through Nebraska, the skyline of Cheyenne, with its glinting gold capitol dome, is a welcome sight.
I thought I was moving for a job. After just a few weeks there, I realized I was wrong. I’d uprooted my life for something much bigger than employment. My roots took hold firmly and quickly in the dry soil of the West.
During my first week, my landlords invited me over for dinner, and I found myself immediately fond of the four other people who lived in my building.
The Saturday after my first week at work, a co-worker and I went to the farmer’s market in the snow, splitting a basket of onions and a couple heads of garlic among us.
“Saints are not defined by what they do,” insisted one of my college religion professors, a former nun. “Rather, they glow from the inside out.”
In my new life, I found myself surrounded by saints. As I have come to know each of my new friends better, I have come to realize that many of them have faced nearly insurmountable struggles—illness, abuse, death, injury, character assassination—and come out better for it.
I’ve been thinking about Galatians 5:22 a lot lately, which describes the fruit of the Spirit as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity and faithfulness.
I’ve found myself surrounded by people who personify these qualities and who expect to find them in others. What I’ve found amazing is that, like so many of our behaviors, we’re influenced by those around us. Because I am surrounded by people who express genuine appreciation for each other, so do I. Because I’m surrounded by people who are unflappable in the face of adversity, I believe I can be, too. Because I’m surrounded by people who radiate peacefulness and patience, I find those qualities in myself more often. I am kinder because I’m surrounded by people who are unselfish and thoughtful. I am more generous because generosity is a way of life among those I’m surrounded by. I even feel twinges of faithfulness where my heart had been hardened because I see the goodness in people daily.
I thought I gave up everything for a job. But as it turns out, I gave up everything for community.
1. Have you ever found that something that feels safe and familiar turns out not to be right for you?
2. Do you think you could drop your safety net and security to find your vocation or calling? Why or why not?
3. In your life, has finding your vocation been a non-linear path? Have things unfolded the way you expected?
4. Have you ever lowered your defenses and taken risks to pursue something that others might not understand?
O God, you have called us to adventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths unfamiliar, through places unknown. Give us faith to go out with courage, trusting that you will be with us and your love will support us. We ask this in the name of our brother, Jesus. Amen.
Amber Leberman is an editor in Cheyenne, Wyo.