“I cared for you in the wilderness, in the land of drought.”
October seven years ago, I sat like a squatter in the home of a family I had never met. These generous folks, friends of my mom, were traveling but willingly opened their door to me. It was hard to believe this was me – the girl who spent most of her childhood in one home and frightened to be home alone until I was well into my 20's. I was camping out in a stranger's home in the desert with a few essentials, 1300 miles from the community in which I had been immersed for the past 14 years. Everything else I owned was in a storage unit in another part of Tucson. It felt both incongruous with who I had been but freeing. I found myself in a place of unique tension: resting and waiting. This move, my first ever without parents, spouse or children, was the culmination of a decade full of difficult and significant changes.
On the heel of completing a master's degree, the last day of September, 2010, my brother flew to Kansas City to drive the moving truck. That ride was the longest time we'd spent alone together since our teen years. We drove all night, stopping in the early hours of the morning at my sister's home for a rest. On the following day we arrived in Tucson where several of my brother's friends met us at a storage unit and unloaded the truck. That night I stayed with my family.
Desert living never appealed to me but to the desert I had gone. For what? I didn't have a job or a permanent residence. First, coming was about being near family. Both of my girls lived in San Diego, just a six-hour drive from Tucson; this was both closer and more affordable than San Diego. And being near San Diego gave Jim and I an opportunity to see each other and determine if our long distance friendship was meant for deeper commitment. I spent so many years considering this move that my arrival seemed surreal, more like a vacation.
All those years of longing to move closer to family and coming to the desert soon became so much more than I anticipated. For one month I camped out in a stranger's house, looking for a job and exploring my new community. I lived on a dirt road populated with coyotes, quail, and bobcats, though not all on friendly terms. The haunting sound of coyotes howling in the night was strangely comforting. The murmuring of quail in the early morning hours invited me to sit on the porch and sip coffee. It seemed years since my body had been able to sink into such a calm, restful space.
But the calm ebbed and flowed. I found myself wrestling against this luxurious time of restoration. I had gotten used to being hyper-responsible as a single parent, caring for my girls and planning for a future alone. Like a person being pulled from side to side, two trains of thought yanked me between rest and responsibility: find a job or let myself be cradled in renewal.
I began looking for a place to rent. Having the blessing of living in this empty house temporarily, I had no desire to impose on the home owners upon their return. It was my niece who found my next residence, a nice granny flat just down the road from where I was staying. Crystal and her husband owned the granny flat and lived next door; we became close friends. They allowed me to move in without a job, paying rent from savings. It was more than I could imagine: built-in book shelves, a walk-in closet, a big bathroom with a large jacuzzi tub, a dreamy kitchen with an island, tile floors; all this without leaving behind the coyotes, quail and bobcats.
All my goods were gathered from storage and moved to this new haven. It was November so I set up the Christmas tree early. In a window by the door its twinkly lights welcomed visitors while in some small way mimicked the vast amount of stars seen from my patio in this dark, desert community. I felt safe. Days were doled out in increments of job hunting, networking, reading, walking, colorful desert sunsets, and long phone conversations with Jim.
Jim and I became engaged four months after my move. The biggest, riskiest move I ever made alone left me sitting on the edge of another. He was deeply rooted in his community and I was simply finding my way around, so it made more sense for me to move to San Diego. Happy to say yes to life with him; and the idea of living in the same city as my girls seemed more than a “happily ever after” ending. I was torn about leaving the cocoon in which I had wrapped myself – the environment, my darling home, the people and the change of pace. Friendships had slipped on easily here, like a worn, comfortable pair of jeans.
I began collecting boxes and packing again; my stay here had been reduced to six months. The last eight weeks I was freer to drop into a more relaxed space; job hunting had been postponed. It was like living on an island of time saved just for me. In conjunction with nurturing new friendships, an appreciation for the desert blossomed. Even now as I think back to my time in the desert a calm envelopes me.
My move to the desert evolved into an unexpected, leisurely pause and there I was given a surprisingly new experience with myself and the natural world. In the desert I learned about letting go and embracing. Coming to the dessert required paring down – giving away or selling much of the bulk that comes with marriage and raising kids. Alone in the desert my life was simplified. The anticipation of another move and a new relationship offered an opportunity to reconsider the things I was holding onto still – things supporting a single life. I sorted, releasing items and packing others.
I was making room for a new life. At the same time I was taking more control of my own self-care: walking, eating healthier and spending time alone refueling, and in new relationships I found expansion. Not only had my collection of stuff pared down, so had I. For the first time in years I felt good in my clothes and had a tan I didn’t work on. In the desert I was free to be outside all winter in spite of one surprising snowfall. I was free to move toward others and away as needed.
In the desert, far from my deep mid-western roots, I found myself anew. I was a long way from where I had come and a long way from who I had been. It was as if I left one world, passed through a tunnel, and came out into another. I hadn’t forgotten who I was or all those who had been there for me; I just simply was more myself and starting a new adventure. One brave step released me of a life outgrown to move into a life I hadn’t fully imagined.
God often moves us out of our comfort zones and into a space requiring us to expand and become more than we imagined. Though the desert days were short, they were meaningful and necessary. In the desert I was buoyed for the next step of faith. Most often our desert experiences take place inside our souls. Have you ever had a desert experience? What did God teach you while you were waiting for Him to release you from this challenging space?