They say that moving to a new place is the second biggest cause of stress, second only to losing a loved one. And when I say “they”, I mostly mean my mother because she’s the only one I’ve ever heard say this and I couldn’t find anything on the internet to support such a claim. But that woman was dead right when she told me one day I would care about coupon clipping, or that when I got older I would be happy I hadn’t been allowed to get my eyebrow pierced, so I have no reason to doubt her now. Plus, having made a big solo move, I can attest that IT IS SO STRESSFUL AND HARD AND AGH.
Last year I moved to Memphis, TN and I didn’t… I didn’t handle it very well a lot of the time. Let’s just say, I discovered that I am a massive homebody. I love Memphis – truly. It is a way cool city. But even way cool cities are hard when they’re new. Or when they don’t hold familiar faces. Or grocery stores you love like mad (ahem, Publix). I remember my first weeks of Memphis being very lonely ones. I moved to be a nanny so I wasn’t working in an environment where I was meeting lots of new people. No one that I worked with said “Hey! You’re new here! Let’s go get drinks and get to know each other!” because I was caring for a 2 year old and that would be wildly inappropriate. Though quite impressive if he had articulated such a sentence.
I spent a lot of time wandering around Target (OH, the money that I spent at Target when I had nothing else to do in Memphis) (OH, the money I spend at Target anyway…) just to be around other people and be busy. I was nervous speaking to people because I felt like I wasn’t invited to Memphis yet. I was half expecting the people I approached to jerk their heads in my direction and shriek “YOU CAN’T SIT WITH US” Gretchen Wieners style. My biggest source of comfort was a dear friend who I had only met a few months earlier. She had moved to Tampa from a city that she loved deeply and because of this, she was able to show me love really well. Care packages, pieces of home, asking me the right questions. Because I discovered that moving is a unique kind of hard. It takes specific questions — it requires validation. I know that this isn’t always the case; sometimes when people move it’s for new jobs or marriages or exciting things. Maybe home was never amazing so a new space is the most enchanting idea of all. For people in those “happy to be moving” situations, congrats. I can not relate to you at all.
Because in my experience, new space is hard. Feeling like you’ve been broken up with by your home and church and familiar streets is the worst. Feeling like life and God picked up and went ahead without you is dreadful. Are there really lovely fruits from following Christ and meeting new people and eating new foods (Memphis BBQ though..)? Duh. But that doesn’t make Mother’s Day less hard when your mother is 1,000 miles away from you.
And now, I’m about to enter new space again. A space that I have occupied before – a space that does include friends that I’ve known for years and a church that I adore. But it’s still a new chapter, a new space, and it will still be hard. I will yet again have to find where I fit. I’ve had to be really purposeful in keeping myself from thinking that I am just moving back to continue where I left off. Things just don’t work that way. Instead, I must treat this season with tenderness and care and patience. I must be kind to myself as I begin occupying this new, familiar and wonderful but still challenging, space.
So, as someone who has been “new” – as someone who has sat alone in 5 different church services till someone said ‘hello”, I have some advice:
WHEN YOU MEET SOMEONE WHO JUST ENTERED “NEW SPACE”:
- Don’t make them approach you. If you notice someone new in your familiar stomping grounds, don’t assume that they’ll be bold enough to introduce themselves to you. More over, even if they are comfortable with such things, don’t make them need to. I can tell you that when I moved to Memphis and no one came up to me at the different churches I tried, I just left. I didn’t start the ball rolling myself. I was already so worn emotionally that the thought of having to be the instigator was too much.
- Ask them about the space that they left. I believe I lit up every time someone asked me about Tampa and the friends I left behind. It was my joy to bring pieces of my old space into my new one — always provide the opportunity for that to happen.
- Don’t promise hang outs and coffee dates and over dinner conversations if you aren’t going to deliver. I have so many numbers in my phone from people who insisted they would text me soon that I never ever heard from. Again, could I have texted them myself? Yes, but as the new person handling what felt like a life crisis… it wasn’t my job.
- If the person is a member of the opposite sex, HEAVEN ALMIGHTY, don’t try to date them the minute they walk in the door. Seriously give them a minute. I think it is a mighty and terrible disservice, especially in the church, to not allow someone the opportunity to be known individually before being known as part of a couple. Maybe God didn’t send them to your job so you could pursue them like crazy. I know that christians love dating and loveeeee marriage, but calm down. Let them breathe. Let them make friends. Sheesh. (Case in point: I met my boyfriend very soon after moving to Memphis, but he didn’t ask me on a date till more than four months later. He purposefully gave me space because of my situation. And that’s just one of the wonderful things about him)
- Show them what makes their new space great. Show them the parts of your city that are awesome. Feed them good food, show them good sunsets.
I’m beyond thankful for the Memphians that did these things for me. Without realizing it, they were lifting gigantic loads off my shoulders. Because of this, I want to try my hardest to do all of these things for fragile people in new spaces. I pray that you and I will both be brave enough to love new people well.